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A grouo of people in front of a house with glass windows.; A grouo of people in front of a house with glass windows.;

Living Lab for Urban Nature, Copenhagen

Urban greening: living lab will measure how plants help cities combat pollution

Urban air and noise pollution are two major factors impacting the quality of life of city dwellers and causing significant harm both to our health and to the environment. A growing number of cities are considering strategic urban greening projects as a high impact economic solution to reduce noise and traffic vibrations and improve ambient air quality.

So how can cities leverage vegetation and green infrastructure to act as a barrier to these pollutants, creating a more inclusive urban environments and regenerating cities into healthier, more climate resilient hubs?

To test the associated benefits of green spaces, Arup’s climate and sustainability experts have teamed up with the Copenhagen Municipality, Aarhus University, the Lundehus school, and several housing associations and private companies in Denmark to design a Living Lab for Urban Nature.

Located in Emdrupvej, a street between Copenhagen’s Bispebjerg and Østerbro districts, the living laboratory will measure pollution at street level and test out creative solutions to improve urban space like flower planting, placement of vertical rain gardens and the reuse of building elements to design wooden urban furniture.

Project Summary

25 flower beds

2vertical rain gardens

Up to14 trees

The Lab’s pilot project will seek to limit biodiversity loss in the city of Copenhagen by encouraging urban greening on this neighbourhood’s roads and streets. Collaborating with the local administration, the lab will promote the role of urban nature as a buffer to climate hazards such as extreme precipitation, drought, or flooding.

Through its learnings, the Living Lab will partner with cities to evaluate the strategic use of plants in the urban environment for reducing pollution, improving residents' health and to support the creation of green neighbourhoods – ultimately enhancing a city’s resilience.

Green interventions: towards climate resilient cities

Urban vegetation is a scalable solution that provides a suite of positive outcomes for cities – ecological, social, and economic – all essential in the context of climate resilience and adaptation. To better regulate pollution and mitigate climate risks, we need to think about what plants can be planted where as part of the urban fabric. For example, adding large trees to street canyons – streets with buildings on both sides –  may reduce vibration and noise waves, while low vegetation or green roofs close to busy streets can improve air quality by increasing deposition. 

A street with trees and wooden benches. A street with trees and wooden benches.

On the street of Emdrupvej, smaller road trees and plants will clean the air and reduce noise pollution. The Lab will place 25 flower beds, two vertical rain gardens, up to 14 road trees and two insect hotels – the largest insect houses in Copenhagen, where students will observe how insects grow and develop through cameras. 

‘Green walls’ to halt air and noise pollution

Arup’s climate and sustainability experts will carry out an environmental baseline noise, vibration and air quality study by collecting local data and measuring street level pollution. The Lab will use design parameters such as wind patterns, temperature shifts, solar radiation, humidity and building façades. This will be followed by a social survey to analyse the socioeconomic impact of the project on the community.  

Our experts will use remote sensing data from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) to identify the cooling effect of different plant types and visualise the impact of urban vegetation on reducing air and noise pollution. Arup’s team will also provide recommendations on increasing a street’s biodiversity index. 

 Arup is collaborating with Aarhus University, Copenhagen University and Copenhagen Business School to account for the natural capital of greening streets in Copenhagen and define the monetary value of urban nature in the living Lab. For the environmental measurement, we will use Google Environmental Insights Explorer on black carbon and ultrafine particles and the Danish EPAs noise map.  

By identifying the plant types that best reduce air and noise pollution, the Living Lab for Urban Nature aims to contribute to creating a resilient climate in cities, with better quality of life for people. ” Peter Vangsbo Peter Vangsbo Associate Director

Community collaboration​

The Lab will actively involve groups from different cultures and ages to ensure local ownership. The concept is already in the process of being replicated in the Frederiksberg municipality in Denmark.

The Living Lab for Urban Nature aims to encourage collaboration between the private and public sector to ensure the continuous mitigation of climate risks in cities. The Lab will act as an education platform for students of all ages to create a social habit around preserving biodiversity.

Find out more about how we plan, design and shape sustainable and resilient cities here.