Urban planning

Thanks partly to good planning, Danish urbanites enjoy a bit of green

Researchers have measured green space surrounding almost every residential address in Denmark. Although increased greenery is partly due to warmer and wetter climate, they also emphasise the role of urban planning regulations. Photo: Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.com / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Over the last 20 years, residential areas across Denmark have become denser and greener

Story highlights

  • The idea of increasing densification and more green space in cities is often seen as incompatible
  • Urban green space is important for resident health and wellbeing, but also climate mitigation and adaptation
  • Although Denmark’s increasing greenery is partly due to climate change, urban planning regulations helped prevent urban expansion into green space

GREEN, URBAN AND RESIDENTIAL: There is more to Denmark than Lego, mermaids and salty licorice. It turns out the Danes are good at keeping their cities green too.

New research comparing satellite images over the last 20 years shows that cities across Denmark have managed to become both denser and greener, challenging the assumption that urbanisation means grey, paved and devoid of nature.

The study in Environmental Research Letters led by Karl Samuelsson from the University of Gavle with a team of researchers including Stephan Barthel from University of Gavle and Stockholm Resilience Centre measured green space surrounding almost two million addresses - almost every address in the entire country.

Our results show that cities in our climate zone can become both denser and greener, and we know that greenery in cities is important for people’s physical and mental health.

Karl Samuelsson, lead author

Important insights about urban life

The researchers investigated the amount of greenery and number of people living within a 500m radius of each address between 1995 and 2016. It is the first time national population density has been mapped based on individual address points.

“With increasing availability of large high-resolution spatiotemporal datasets and better methods for analysing them, we’re better suited than ever for generating important insights about urban life,” say the authors.

Urban densification is key for achieving less energy intensive cities for our growing population. But green space is not only essential for the health of urban dwellers. With climate change set to cause more extreme weather, it will play an increasingly important role in keeping temperatures bearable and reducing flood risk.

Theoretical 250 m neighbourhood centred around the address point represented by the red house. Click on illustration to access scientific study

Preventing urban expansion

Although the authors attribute Denmark’s increasing greenery in part to an increasingly warmer and wetter climate, they emphasise the role of urban planning regulations, which prevented expansion into green space.

“Our results lend support to the possibility that cities in industrialised nations can become both greener and denser, and call into question how urban planners and landscape architects can adapt planning policies that seek to enhance green space already present in built-up environments. ” conclude the authors.

Methodology

To measure population density and exposure to greenspace, individual address points were used. This data was derived from the 2016 version of the geocoded Danish Residence Database from the register of official standard addresses. The researchers used only records with exact coordinates (~2 million addresses, or ~97% of all records within the borders of Denmark), excluding some entries where the address was recorded only within a 1 × 1 km area. For each address point and for each year 1995–2016, they calculated the number of residents and amount of greenspace within circular areas of 250, 500 and 1000 m radii.

Link to publication

Published: 2021-02-24