Nordic Built Cities – smart, livable and sustainable, the Nordic Way

October 2015 marks the launch of the Nordic Built Cities Challenge, a multidisciplinary innovation competition encouraging the development of new solutions for sustainable, liveable and smart cities. Entering teams are invited to address six carefully selected urban challenges, one in each Nordic country and one in the Faroe Islands.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Nordic solutions for more sustainable cities
The Nordic Built Cities Challenge was launched on 7 October 2015. On this date, detailed competition programmes for each of the six urban challenges were made available as well as information about the competition format and selection criteria. The Challenge is the key element of Nordic Built Cities, a programme that explores ways in which the Nordic countries can contribute to more sustainable city development. It is developed and administered by Nordic Innovation.

An expert jury from the Nordic countries, Canada and Germany selected the six challenges from a total of 37 submissions from municipalities and companies around the region, each of which described a particular challenge in a specific urban space. The choice was made on the basis of the Nordic Built Cities Charter, which describes ten principles for liveable, smart and sustainable cities, and an assessment of the development and export potential of the solutions.

“The outcome is a very interesting and diverse portfolio of urban challenges,” says Kristina Mårtensson, Programme Manager of Nordic Built Cities. “They all have in common that they address problems that are highly relevant for sustainable urban development, not only in the Nordic region but also in the rest of the world.”

Interdisciplinary approach to urban development
The six challenges address not only the environmental aspects of urban development but are also very much focused on the liveability of the urban spaces and the wellbeing of those who inhabit them. Also, competing teams are encouraged to use ICT-technology and smart solutions to achieve their goals of more attractive and sustainable cities. The competition is open for all interested parties and the final deadline for submissions is 17 December 2015.

Mårtensson points to the competition proposed by the City of Copenhagen as an example of the need for multidisciplinary collaboration. Like the rest of the city, the site, Hans Tavsens Park and Korsgade in the area of Nørrebro, has been badly affected by heavy rainfall in recent years. Furthermore, the district is faced with social and cultural issues that the City also wants to address.

“The challenge has two perspectives,” says Mårtensson. “One is to develop innovative technical solutions to handle heavy rainfall and the other is to contribute to the social revitalisation of the area. The teams will need to combine different competences to come up with the right solutions.”

To enhance this multidisciplinary approach, Nordic Built Cities will award grants to a number of teams that are composed in an unconventional way or have been able to demonstrate innovative cross-border cooperation. Also, Nordic Innovation will organise events to enable participants to find relevant partners, including a matchmaking meeting in Stockholm on 5 November 2015.

Malmö aims for affordable sustainability
Providing affordable and sustainable housing is another universal challenge for cities in the Nordic region and in Europe. The challenge in Malmö, Sweden, seeks ideas to how Sege Park, an old hospital area, could be turned into a showcase for sustainable urban development and a climate-smart lifestyle. The City of Malmö has issued a sustainability plan for the area that describes its ambitions concerning energy self-sufficiency, mobility solutions and the community’s benefits of the site’s green spaces.

“The challenge is to find solutions to how we can build climate-smart neighbourhoods at a reasonable price for the people who live and work there,” says Project Manager Linnea Uppsäll of the City of Malmö. “Our aim is to have solutions that contribute to meeting the IPCC’s goal of not exceeding a CO2 load of two tons per person per year. We hope to see interesting solutions for sharing of space and other resources in the challenge proposals.”

“The Nordic Built Cities Challenge gives us access to ideas and knowledge from Nordic and international urban developers that we might not have reached otherwise,” Uppsäll says. “Therefore, we’re expecting a high level of innovation from the competition.”

Smart and innovative solutions around the region
The Finnish challenge focuses on transforming the Kera area in Espoo, a rapidly growing city close to Helsinki, into a 20-minute neighbourhood. This means that residents should be able to commute everywhere in the city and into the centre of Helsinki within 20 minutes, using public transport.

“The aim is to use smart technology and intelligent solutions to change this old industrial site into a modern and sustainable residential area,” says Mårtensson. “Emphasis is on reusing or recycling the existing structures and buildings in order to create an attractive urban environment, based on the concept of circular economy.”

The remaining challenges revolve around urban spaces in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The Norwegian challenge is about revitalising Trygve Lies Plass, a transport hub located in a suburb of Oslo. The entries are expected to address the development of green mobility and climate adaptation solutions, and at the same time contribute to a social and cultural boost to the area.

In Iceland, the municipality of Kopavogur is looking for ideas to transform Karsnes harbour area into a pedestrian-friendly and liveable community with mixed land use of flexible housing, recreational areas and services. Lastly, Runavik in the Faroe Islands aims to establish sustainable family homes on a steep terrain in the municipality. A key objective is to take nature, urban farming and self-sufficiency into account, combined with the values of living in an urban community.

Read more about the six urban challenges of the Nordic Built Cities Challenge

Finalists will be showcased internationally
For each of the six challenges, a local jury will select up to four finalists that will be announced on 3 February 2016. Each of these teams receives a prize of NOK 300,000 and will get the possibility to further develop their solution together with the challenge owner. The final winners of the local competitions will be announced on 17 June 2016.

“Furthermore, some of the municipalities look upon the competition as a procurement process,” says Mårtensson. “The teams could therefore win the local contract and get the opportunity to showcase their solutions, both on the site and internationally, which is our key objective.”

All finalists will be eligible for the Nordic Built Cities Challenge Awards, amounting to a total of NOK 1.2 million. The evaluation of the solutions will be based on criteria in three categories: the ten principles of the Charter, the level of innovation, and development and export potential. According to Mårtensson, these criteria reflect the overall aim of the Nordic Built Cities programme as well as the Nordic countries’ approach to sustainable urban development.

“We’ve been able to combine the environmental and social aspects and develop cross-disciplinary solutions that focus on attractive and liveable urban spaces,” she says. “This holistic thinking is embedded in the way we plan and build. The approach in itself has considerable export potential.”

“They all have in common that they address problems that are highly relevant for sustainable urban development, not only in the Nordic region but also in the rest of the world.”

Kristina Mårtensson, Programme Manager of Nordic Built Cities

textile reuse
Video: The Nordic Built Cities Challenge: Phase 1

Development Indicators

Urban population exposure to air pollution by ozone and particulants
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Read more about the six urban challenges of
the Nordic Built Cities Challenge