Nordic City Solutions: Making the World More Sustainable One City at a Time

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The rapid pace of urbanisation affects millions of people around the globe, posing challenges for health, safety and the environment. It also creates a growing global demand for solutions for the urban environment.

Nordic City Solutions is a flagship project under The Nordic Council of Ministers and The Nordic Council’s initiative Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges that seeks to shed light on this challenge from a Nordic perspective.

But what makes a city sustainable? And how can global cities meet the growing challenges of an increasingly complex world? #DenmarkInNY spoke to Pamela Tiller the Senior Trade Advisor Greenbuild & Urban Solutions at the Consulate General of Denmark in Canada and lead on the Nordic City Solutions initiative about smart cities, the Nordic project and the urban challenges facing North America’s cities.

DKNY: How do you define a ‘smart city’ and what makes a city sustainable?

PT: The definition of smart cities can sometimes be overwhelming. However, we feel it boils down to using technology solutions in civic infrastructure to improve the lives of citizens. This can be done in many different ways — from a large-scale meta-data system where you can track long-term health impacts in the urban population or use an algorithm to reroute traffic based on volume, to simple problem solving such as putting sensors on garbage bins so that city employees know when to empty them.

A sustainable city is where there is a conscious effort to manage urbanization in a progressive way to mitigate or reverse negative effects on the environment and improve the lives of citizens.

What is the Nordic City Solutions / Nordic Sustainable initiative? Why does the world need it?

The world needs sustainable solutions because our urban migration is growing at an unprecedented rate. More people are moving to cities than ever before in history and this trend will only continue to grow. This massive migration crush has resulted in considerable stresses to the global population and economic base. By 2030, it is expected that cities will account for 86% of global GDP. Without sustainable solutions to make our cities healthy, resilient and smart, the global population and health of our planet are at risk.

Nordic City Solutions is a platform for the Nordics to share successfully implemented urban sustainability solutions with the world. We are focusing on three major markets: China, India and North America.

What’s the aim of Nordic City Solutions? What cities are you focusing on and why?

The aim of Nordic City Solutions is for Nordic experts to collaborate with local partners, which include Cities, the private sector and NGOs to solve problems and implement solutions in local markets, abroad.

In North America, we are focusing on markets with the strongest Nordic synergies, enthusiasm and willingness for collaboration and change, and places where local actors are keen to understand the Nordic business case for sustainable urban solutions.

At this time, we are collaborating on various specific initiatives with the cities of Ottawa (Canada), Brampton (Canada), the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Rochester (MN) and Houston. We have also received interest from a number of other cities in the United States and Canada and plan on expanding our relationships over the next 18 months.

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Copenhagen harbour baths are a result of an extensive cleaning initiative that has rid the water of industrial pollutants and sewage. Bathers can enjoy access to Copenhagen’s three harbour baths and two urban beaches all year round.

What challenges does North America face and how can Nordic solutions solve these challenges?

North America faces a number of challenges relating to sustainable urban development. Some of the biggest themes that stood out to us in North America as far as challenges were:

· Resilience — and the ability for cities to insulate themselves from shocks and stresses, whether that be environmental, natural disasters or security-related;

· Equity and the opportunity for everyone to access a high level of services; and

· Urban Health — the need to reverse the effects of decisions made in the urban environment that have negatively affected urban health such as reliance on the automobile, pollution and building materials for example.

· Energy — a new way of thinking about energy and how the energy transition will be happening in North America.

All four of these topics are areas where the Nordics have had considerable innovation and successful project implementation. However, we are most excited to show the positive impacts of the business case, which we know works, to our North American partners.

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Umeå, Sweden invites commuters to soak up the benefits of light therapy at bus stops. Installed with anti-SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamps, the repurposed bus stops have supported an increase in public transport usage while bringing the benefits of nature’s best qualities to residents in the dark winter months.

Why does North America need Nordic solutions for their cities?

The Nordics are the first to admit that we do not have all of the solutions. However, we have had considerable success in implementing successful urban solutions in our own back yard.

The Nordics consistently rank highest in the world happiness and quality of life indexes, as well as overall population health. Part of our success in these metrics have been making a firm commitment to high quality infrastructure, livability and design thinking. Things like urban resilience have always been a part of the Nordic way of life — not just a model we have implemented in the last 5 years. Our size, climate and position in isolated areas of Northern Europe have required us to insulate ourselves from shocks and stresses for centuries in order to survive. Ultimately, we have not only achieved success in this area, but indeed we have thrived.

So, it is in regards to these specifics, that we are excited to share our success with North American cities but also to collaborate and learn from each other in order to continue a dialogue of global partnerships to make the world a more sustainable, functional place for everyone.

You were recently in New York for the Smart Cities New York meeting. What was the takeaway?

The biggest takeaways from SmartCities NYC were the strength of the Nordic brand and the general openness of American cities to collaborate on solutions within their own jurisdictions. The world’s major cities are now at the forefront of the global movement for change and are exhibiting extraordinary leadership on a range of issues, including climate change, gender equity, and local economic development. It is at the local, city level that we see these concerns addressed through innovative, bottom-up approaches. There is so much openness to collaborate — and we are excited for the opportunity to have a dialogue about Nordic City Solutions and promote our perspective on how to tackle the leading challenges of our time.

Written by

The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.

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