The Copenhagen Harbor: An Urban Example of Sustainable Development  

For a multitude of reasons, Copenhagen’s harbor is critical to the urban environment and it has been for centuries. Today, the city of Copenhagen is focused on the sustainable development of the harbor area in order to preserve it as a natural resource for current citizens and ensure the positive future of the city. For the purpose of this analysis, I will discus the development of the harbor within the framework of the normative principle of inter-generational equity. At this point you may be wondering, what is a normative principle? Quite simply, “Normative principles are moral statements that specify what is good or bad, and mould attitudes and guide behavior” (Baker, 35). Specifically, inter-generational equity is one of the six key principles of sustainable development outlined by Susan Baker in the text, Sustainable Development. Essentially, it means considering the needs of future generations in the design and implementation of current policies.


The Harbor Baths have been instrumental in the Harbor’s evolution from an industrial harbor to the social center of the city.

Why is the Copenhagen harbor important for inter-generational equity? 

First of all the harbor is a huge part of the city’s identity. The name København, meaning “merchants harbor,” reveals the importance of trade and water in the city. In fact, some historians believe the city was originally called Havn, or Harbor. Needless to say, the Copenhagen Harbor is an incredibly important element of the urban framework of the city; it has always been a lifeline for the city’s economy, society, and environment. As such, it is important to maintain as a center of city life.

Secondly, the harbor area may challenge the city as climate change affects the world. In particular, Copenhagen’s Climate Adaption Plan outlines two primary challenges resulting from climate change: more and heavier downpours in the future and higher sea levels. From this it is clear that Copenhagen’s adaption issues are centered on water and the harbor in particular. Already, floods have inundated the city on more than one occasion during my time here in Denmark. Not surprisingly, the most vulnerable area to flooding is alongside the harbor. This begs the question, how can the harbor be developed to be resilient to these changes? The city of Copenhagen has already begun to create a plan to redesign the harbor for future success.

History of the harbor 

In order to consider the needs of future generations, it is important to look into the past. The Copenhagen harbor has been around since the 1100s and it has been developed over time by previous generations to facilitate maritime trade – a key part of the Danish economy. Unfortunately, previous generations did not leave the harbor in good shape. Historically, urban waterways – particularly harbors – have been thought of as dirty and undesirable. Copenhagen’s harbor was no different several years ago, surrounded of industrial sites and full of all kinds of waste. However, in recent years there has been a trend to take back urban waterways for the people. Due to a mass exodus of industrial companies in the 1990s, this became possible in Copenhagen and the harbor is now regarded as one of the cleanest urban waterways in the world.

Our class learning about "Go Boats" an example of sustainable entrepreneurship by the harbor.

Our class learning about “Go Boats” an example of sustainable entrepreneurship by the harbor.

The Modern Harbor 

Today, major industries have abandoned the harbor almost completely – creating a huge opportunity to develop more “green” space in the city, which will bring people closer to nature and leading to a more livable environment. Existing examples of successful sustainable development in the harbor area include the harbor baths at Islands Brygge, a Water Front Park, and more. For example, during core course week, we explored an innovative new business called Go Boats, which hopes to bring people into the “blue space” of Copenhagen. Additionally, we took a boat tour through the Danish Architecture Center where our guide discussed the city’s efforts to bring people together by the harbor and create mixed-use developments in the area. I was really interested to see how successful development has been so far to increase resilience to climate change for the city and future generations!

This harbor-side development "Kalvebod Waves" won an award for reuniting the city of Copenhagen with its harbor.

This harbor-side development “Kalvebod Waves” won an award for reuniting the city of Copenhagen with its harbor.

To view the sources used to develop this blog post, please visit the reference page.

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