February 22, 2019

Are Copenhagen's Artificial Islands Sustainable?

“In a bid to create new space for green industries and fossil-free energy production, greater Copenhagen wants to build an entirely new business and infrastructure district on the city’s southwestern edge. Instead of taking up existing land, it would be constructed just off the coast as a new archipelago of islands known as Holmene (“the islets”) that would possess more than 740 acres of new land upon completion. Located in the suburban municipality of Hvidovre, the islands would also serve as a flood barrier protecting the coast, their green fringes and reed beds stretching out towards small islets that would act as an effective sponge for storm surge.

Announced earlier this month, the grand scheme would be constructed gradually using earth excavated during construction work and expansion of the Metro system, whose City Circle line should open in summer 2019. Each new island would be initiated only when the existing land has been allotted for use, a process that could take as long as half a century. Overall, the site could also cut Copenhagen’s carbon footprint, as the islands are also planned to host what would be Northern Europe’s largest waste-to-energy plant—an Urban Power-designed facility which could convert trash into enough electricity to meet 25 percent of Copenhagen’s needs.

The plan sits in a wider development context whose results are ambivalent. Greater Copenhagen has in fact been going through an island-building spree of late, and in some cases, these projects may be working against the city’s long-term sustainability.

The city launched the creation of another major offshore land mass earlier this fall, close to the Danish capital’s heart. Located in the harbor waters just northeast of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue, the planned island of Lynetteholmen would arguably have an even more striking effect on the urban fabric. A predominantly residential island, it would eventually house up to 35,000 residents when completed by 2050. By then, it would join a set of long, complete islets flanking the sides of the city’s South Harbor. Key to both the Lynetteholmen plan and that for the new archipelago at Hvidovre is their cost. They would, according to their official promoters, not cost taxpayers a single cent. That’s because they follow a funding model Copenhagen has been using since the 1990s which has sparked international envy but whose outcomes are increasingly causing skepticism.”

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