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Global Cities

City to watch: Copenhagen, the pioneer of smart town planning

Stefan Wundrak
Head of Research, Real Estate, Europe
Cycling in Copenhagen

Stefan Wundrak explains why we believe Copenhagen will be among the most innovative and fastest-growing cities in Europe - considering infrastructure, town planning and positive ‘cycle-karma’ culture.

Copenhagen was among the first cities in Europe to take town planning to a new level. In 1947, the city developed the so-called 'five-finger' plan, which defined five development corridors along public transport lines pointing inland away from the city.

Copenhagen pioneered the walkable city approach, investing into public transport from the early 1970s and later progressively expanded cycle lanes. The bicycle-friendly city index puts Copenhagen in first place globally even ahead of self-declared cycling Mecca Amsterdam. Copenhagen has more bikes than people and five times as many bicycles are on the city roads than cars. 50% of people commute to work by bike on 390km of dedicated cycle tracks.

However, the city has not neglected other infrastructure. Since 2000, the motorway and rail Öresund bridge has linked Copenhagen with the mainland of Scandinavia through Swedish city of Malmö. It also has a 43km long driverless circle metro line, which covers 40 stations, due to open in 2019. 2018 saw construction begin on the Fehmarn belt tunnel to Germany, which will place Copenhagen as the gateway between the Scandinavian Peninsula and Mainland Europe, and will shorten the rail connection between Copenhagen and Hamburg by 160km. This puts the infrastructure in place to keep Copenhagen among the most innovative and fastest-growing cities in Europe, while preserving the city's status as one of the most liveable places globally, with an outstanding quality of life.

Copenhagen's success with town planning is as much down to developing a strong culture of using public spaces and a focus on citizens as it owes to specific projects. On a wider scale, Copenhagen’s planners aspire to promote sustainable solutions, using the city as a laboratory for testing new technologies and changing the mindset as much as improving the built environment.

Copenhagen's citizens didn’t embrace cycling from day one, but were cleverly nudged in that direction by making car travel more difficult while cycling was made much easier. That includes 'Karma-policemen and women' who make sure that the good Danish cycle culture and positive 'cycle karma' culture is upheld. They even give out 'karma cakes' to cyclists who show good behaviour towards their fellow cyclists.