The Afternoon Plenary Session of the 7th annual Northeast Sustainable Communities Workshop kicked off with the question, "What kind of City do we want to create?" This question may have fallen flat several years ago, but the recent COP21 Paris climate talks have succeeded in shifting many cities into high gear around climate change and adaptation.
Hoboken, NJ and Copenhagen, nearly 4,000 miles apart, are both struggling to stop intrusion of coastal and rain waters ("cloudburst") from flooding their cities. Dramatic pictures of cars covered by water and storm surges made clear that these real-time natural disasters require leadership and vision to address the recurring crisis.
Panelists Dawn Zimmer, Mayor of Hoboken, NJ, Pernille Andersen, Managing Technical & Environmental Director for the City of Copenhagen and Christian Nielsen, Head of Department and Global Services for Ramboll Environ (Copenhagen) provided an inspiring mix of vision and practicality in their approach to adapting their cities to climate change.
Copenhagen's vision is solidly grounded in a long-term approach, backed by a $16 billion investment over the next 30 years in flood-control measures. These adaptation measures are rooted in community-led initiatives and include above and below ground integrated solutions to manage flood water, pubic amenities, and open spaces. Political courage and clear priorities are at the cornerstone of Copenhagen's well-deserved reputation as a "liveable" city.
Mayor Zimmer of Hoboken spoke about the $230 million Rebuild by Design grant awarded to Hoboken to address flooding due to low lying areas, storm surge and a rise in sea levels. They are designing and implementing a water management strategy that centers on all the ways that water can be resisted, captured and delayed from going down into sewer system. This translates into new pumping stations, rain gardens, cisterns, green roofs, porous pavements, new parks, and coastal defense.
The two cities were united in their advocacy for city-driven solutions with strong civic engagement. The unifying message: more can be done when we work in collaboration and engage citizens. Both use social media, town hall meetings and other methods of engagement to educate, get input, allay fears and prioritize public amenities.
When asked if we wanted to visit Copenhagen, we all raised our hands.