It’s officially the beginning of 2019. And for people who live in the upper-Northern part of the world, the season of what feels like an endless period of cold weather and darkness. Here in Scandinavia, there’s a pretty wild and slightly weird cultural activity of “winter bathing”: people enjoying swims in freezing temperatures. According to the locals, this is to pay homage to their Viking roots and, oddly enough, to help keep winter sickness at bay. It seems that in Denmark people jump into the open water all year round when the temperatures are friendly and not so friendly.
Last year, Denmark encountered the hottest summer in history. While this might instantly set off global warming alarm bells in your mind, the local reaction was a little different. The Danes took almost every second to appreciate it. The city of Copenhagen was suddenly the perfect yet unlikely location to enjoy a summer of consistent 20-plus-degree days.
As Copenhagen is such a small capital, the distance between the city centre to the seafront is just a 20-minute bike ride. Or, if you don’t feel like taking a biking trip, the city canal is just a few steps away. For many foreigners like me, a clean canal where you can jump in is a special rarity.
“Making nature not only accessible but highly utilised and appreciated is one of the most beneficial things a city can do for its residents.”
Copenhagen was rated as the most swimming friendly city for 2018 – a well-deserved win. The inner city has a 10 kilometre-long stretch of open water that you can easily access. And, for many years, Copenhagen has continuously developed the harbour area, from the eye-catching Kalvebod Bølge area (by JDS Architects) to several open swimming pools. The city has really worked to offer as much as they can to both locals and tourists.
I, for one, am one happy inhabitant reaping these benefits. Last summer, I had friends visit and to celebrate, we went to a fine-dining new Nordic restaurant situated right next to the harbour. When the lovely waiter asked us where we plan to go next, we said: “water”. And, of course, we were able to step out from the Michelin-ranked restaurant and jump straight into the water. And, if you were feeling really festive, you could even go back inside for another glass of wine. Only in Copenhagen!
In addition to the municipality’s many ongoing projects, Copenhagen’s inner harbour also attracts designers and architects to develop their ideas and many others looking to experiment in their own way. A favourite example is BIG Architecture’s Urban Rigger, floating student housing that has been scattered in different locations throughout the city canals. Along with many other sustainable features, the beautiful blue housing units are made from recycled shipping containers. The project aims to not only provide sustainable and affordable housing to students but to also build up a new and inviting social community.
Another great initiative is CPH-Ø1, a project that plans to build several man-made islands, for a variety of functionalities, to eventually create one large floating urban community. For now, there’s only one lonely island but, I look forward to the development.
While it may take quite some time before these large-scale projects are fully functional, it’s clear that people in Copenhagen never stop taking advantage of the harbour. Making nature not only accessible but highly utilised and appreciated is one of the most beneficial things a city can do for its residents. A strategy that many cities all over the world should follow.
Photographs and renderings by Urban Rigger, Copenhagen Islands/Fokstrot.