Lessons learned from Green Cities Denmark


Susanne Renee Grunkin, former President of the Danish Association of Landscape Architects (DL) and professional for the Scandinavian architecture firm Arkitema, represented the Danish branch of Green Cities Europe at the award ceremony for the 2023 Dutch nominations for the Green Cities Europe Award.

Green Cities Denmark members include five green industry bodies: Danske Anlægsgartnere (garden constructors), Danske Landskabsarkitekter (DL), Danske Planteskoler (nursery stock growers), Landskabsrådet (Landscape Councillors) and Park- og Naturforvalterne (maintenance of parks and nature conservation).

Together, they are brave enough to challenge Danish politicians, civil servants, green professionals, and urban planners to adopt a so-called Green Norm by law. Green Norm provides a set of concrete and scientific-based guidelines and tools for Danish municipalities wanting more and better urban nature. Or, as Grunkin puts it, “We want more climate resilient, attractive, inclusive, economically productive and healthy cities, where people thrive and are keen to live.”

In their work, Green Cities Denmark collects data from 29 Danish municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants to gain better insights into their current green urban greenery strategies and plans. Only three of the interviewed municipalities have an urban green space policy, a strategy or a plan in place. In other cities, urban nature is mostly included in other policies and processes – such as municipal development plans, municipal policies for nature development, strategies for climate proofing or long-term visions for the city’s development.

Without a clear definition of green square metres or urban green area, the challenge was to find out how many green square metres per inhabitant are available. Municipalities calculated their green spaces very differently; some added private areas while others excluded these. The conclusion is that it is tough to compare numbers across cities, municipalities, and countries.

A possible solution could be to first look into publicly accessible green areas – as Berlin does. Such an evaluation would pinpoint how many green square metres the city offers its inhabitants – no matter whether people own a garden or are apartment residents.

However, 2016 research found that an objective for increasing green square metres should not stand alone as green square metres say nothing about the quality of urban nature. A tree-free cityscape surrounded by many well-trimmed lawns would score high on the ‘green ladder’ if only the number of square metres were counted. So Grukin suggests this method be used together with other quality parameters.

Regarding the necessity of a uniform definition of green square metres, she put forward the following: “Green square metres in cities equal publicly accessible green areas, which are not reserved for individuals or groups, such as parks, roadsides, paths, flower beds, city trees, school areas, playgrounds, gardens of public institutions, cemeteries, outdoor sports facilities, green spaces, urban forests, natural resorts, green areas close to industry and production, green roofs, roof gardens and vegetative walls.”

The 3-30-300 Rule

In commenting on a remark from the audience, Grunkin said that the 3-30-300 rule of Cecil Konijnendijk, co-director of the Nature Based Solutions Institute, has been gaining traction worldwide since its launch in 2021. In the view of Konijnendijk, the number 3 refers to the minimum number of trees everyone should be able to see from their home. A room with a tree view is suitable for people’s mental health and wellbeing.

The number 30 references the tree canopy percentage every neighbourhood should have. Urban forest canopy provides better microclimates and air quality, reduces noise, and positively impacts physical and mental health. With this in mind, 30 per cent represents the minimum threshold for a canopy cover to be effective.

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