At first glance, the square known as Tåsinge Plads doesn’t look much different from other parks in Copenhagen. A young couple lounges on a small hill surrounded by newly planted trees and wildflowers. Children laugh and play. Old women sit chatting on benches under the shade of tall sculptures shaped like upside-down umbrellas. But there are hidden features that make Tåsinge Plads part of this seaside city’s plan to survive the effects of climate change.
During heavy rains, the flowerbeds fill with water and wait to drain until the storm runoff subsides. The upside-down umbrellas collect water to be used later to nourish the plantings. And clever landscaping directs stormwater down into large underground water storage tanks. Above those tanks are bouncy floor panels that children love to jump on—when they do, the energy from their feet pumps water through the pipes below.
Just a few years ago, this square was paved with asphalt and dominated by parked cars—a small grassy area was used more as a toilet for dogs than as a park. Now, it’s the cornerstone of a plan to make the surrounding area of Saint Kjelds into what planners here are calling the world’s first “climate-resilient neighborhood.”
The tarmac has been torn up and the greenery reduces the urban-heat island effect. More parks like it are being built to purposefully turn into small ponds during heavy rains, allowing them to capture and retain water on site until the drainage system has capacity to handle it. During the worst deluges, certain streets with raised sidewalks will become “cloudburst boulevards,” creating a Venice-like cityscape of water channeled safely through the city until it can empty into the harbor.
Eventually, Saint Kjelds will be able to withstand—and even welcome—heavy rainfall and flooding. The plan is based on a vision drawn up by Copenhagen-based landscape architects Tredje Natur. Flemming Rafn Thomsen, a founding partner at the firm, says it’s an example of how the job of adapting to climate change can be turned from a seemingly negative thing into a positive one.
“Water is used as a resource to improve urban life,” Rafn Thomsen says. “We look at Copenhagen as a hybrid city where you can fuse nature, urban biology and human beings in a more appropriate balance.”