Creating liveable cities together

Urban life 7 May 2018 Henrik Stener Pedersen

In the first survey of its kind, Danes have been asked what makes a city attractive for them to live in. The results provide a better foundation for both citizens and decision-makers in Denmark and globally to improve life in the city.

6 min

“A good city exists for the sake of a good life – not for the sake of life only.”

The Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle spoke these words of wisdom almost 2,500 years ago. But they seem more relevant now than ever. 

According to the UN, the share of the world’s population living in urban areas increased from 30% (746 million people) in 1950 to 55% (4 billion) in 2015, a figure projected to reach 60% (5.1 billion) by 2030. The UNDP Global Trends report “Challenges and Opportunities in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals” concludes that this urbanisation “presents both significant opportunities and enormous challenges”.

But what is a good life – and what is a so-called liveable city? Most experts agree with Aristotle that a liveable city provides good living conditions for its inhabitants. But what makes a city attractive to the people who live there, how do they rate their own city, and does it meet their wishes? And what does this mean in practice? What do people want most of all? Free-flowing traffic or clean air? A lively sports and cultural environment? Or affordable urban housing? Should cities focus on tackling climate challenges or would people rather have lots of green urban areas – or both? 

A holistic approach 

In late 2017, Ramboll carried out a survey – the first of its kind in Denmark – that focuses on these questions and gives politicians and other decision-makers in the Danish municipalities a better basis for prioritising and planning urban spaces based on what citizens want. It also provides insight and promotes discussion of what municipalities can actually do to create better cities in dialogue with inhabitants and experts. 

In short, urban residents want their cities to be smart, sustainable and highly liveable – a result confirmed by other reports. And the survey offers key insights to politicians and other decision makers by using a holistic, integrated and sustainable approach that is economically and environmentally sound – for those city planners with the courage to think ahead in the long term. 

The survey also illustrates the importance of cities working together and learning from each other so that best practice can be promoted. Politicians and other municipal decision-makers can find out what they can do to improve conditions for people living in cities, while inhabitants can be more active in sharing responsibility themselves.

Liveable cities

Quality of life in Danish Cities: According to the Ramboll Liveable Cities survey in Denmark, there are seven important and interrelated factors that make a city liveable.

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Global solutions 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that all 193 UN member states agreed upon in 2015, and that all nations will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies up to 2030. 

The projects Ramboll undertake and the way they are delivered impact the SDGs, and it is important to mitigate the risks of negatively impacting people and nature. According to a comprehensive assessment, around 40% of Ramboll’s project turnover has a direct positive impact on the 17 SDGs. 

The liveable cities approach 

A few years ago, North American cities began talking about “Copenhagenizing”. Leading magazines such as Wired wrote feature articles on how the Danish capital inspired bike lanes and other two-wheel-friendly initiatives, not just in cities like New York, Montreal and Detroit, but in cities all around the world. Now, experts and researchers point to the fact that global cities are also seeking broader, more general inspiration for urban planning from Copenhagen and the Nordics. 

Holistic planning is not new. For decades, the famous Danish architect Jan Gehl has been a central figure, striving to create vibrant, people-centric cities. But in the last few years, urban planners have been increasingly aware that the Nordic approach can be a cost-efficient way to healthier and more liveable cities. 

Ramboll has worked with the City of Copenhagen to improve living conditions for the city’s residents for more than three decades and we are proud that the international magazine Monocle and other trend spotters have named Copenhagen as the world’s best city to live in several times. 

"Danish cities are among the global leaders in this area and Ramboll is at the forefront of this development. That is why we are pleased to present the results of our Liveable Cities survey, a major study of seven cities in Denmark that aims to find out what makes a city attractive for those actually living there", says Peter Andreas Norn, Senior Market Manager in Ramboll.

Read more about the methodology behind the survey here.


Main recommendations for cities in Denmark

  • Think about environmental challenges as a whole – for example, it is both cheaper and more efficient to protect against flooding while improving green areas at the same time.
  • Use new technology wisely – smart mobility is not only about apps but also holistic and long-term thinking – in order to solve growth, mobility and environmental problems at once.
  • Consider the safety and security of people when designing urban spaces and residential areas – and work closely together with other authorities and other relevant stakeholders.


Written by Michael Rothenborg


Read all the main results from the survey here.


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