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Pressure on cities is driving innovation

Photo: cowi


Nature, the sharing economy and strong communities. Those are the cornerstones of distinctive new urban development projects aimed at accommodating the flow of people into the major cities. COWI is the selected main consultant on several new urban areas.


Around the world, some 1.2 million people migrate to urban areas. Every week. All year round. The people flow puts pressure on the cities’ ability to meet their residents’ need for an everyday life with security, mobility and fresh air, and this has driven urban development projects in many parts of the world. Not least in China, where new cities with populations of up to 600,000 are mushrooming in empty rural areas around the largest cities.

In Denmark, new urban areas are also being developed, such as Nye and Nærheden near Aarhus and Copenhagen, respectively, where fields are being developed right from scratch with modern, energy-efficient housing and easy access to shops, leisure activities, schools, nature and public transport.

“It is a unique opportunity to be allowed to start right from scratch and develop a modern suburb that is more future-oriented and sustainable than the suburbs of the 60s, when large, almost identical areas of single-family houses were rolled out next to monotonous blocks of flats. Today we have learned that no-one benefits from being surrounded by so much uniformity,” says Ole Møller, project director of Nærheden, a new urban development area in Hedehusene in Høje-Taastrup Municipality about 20 minutes’ train ride from Copenhagen.

No-one should feel fenced in behind high hedges

Ole Møller, who has previously worked as a consultant engineer at COWI and been technical director of Roskilde Municipality and chief executive of Faxe Municipality, has a clear vision for the new suburb; creating the optimum framework for community life and everyday convenience.

“No-one should feel fenced in behind high hedges. We wish to combine the density of the city and urban life with the suburb’s green qualities and possibilities of having your own private outdoor area. The residents should have the best possible opportunities to use the local facilities and pursue shared interests,” says Ole Møller. 

Outside the project office windows in Nærheden, construction machines and people wearing helmets are busy laying out the first roads and utility pipelines for the district. On the opposite side, a sunshine yellow sales pavilion has been set up on the site where the construction firm MT Højgaard is building the first rows of terraced houses. The plan is to build a total of 3,000 homes plus schools, institutions, sports facilities, grocery stores, a healthcare centre, etc. for the expected 8,000 residents on the 65 hectares of open land that will become Nærheden.

And although the first houses are not expected to be finished until the autumn of 2017, many people have already shown an interest in the project. According to Christina Jørgensen, division director at MT Højgaard, 11 homes were reserved in connection with the very first open house viewing.

“We believe strongly in the visions and values on which Nærheden is based and see it as an attractive residential area for e.g. young families with children who want nature, a good community and more space, but at a lower price than in Copenhagen,” says Christina Jørgensen. 

Why own when you can share?

Sharing things – such as cars, spare bedrooms, office workspaces and workshops – will be a key element of both Nærheden and Nye, reflecting a growing trend in especially the young generation – the Millennials aged 18-34. This generation does not necessarily want to own material goods, and certainly not if this has a negative impact on the environment and sustainability. Instead, they embrace new business models such as Airbnb, which has really made the sharing economy take off.

"I see a strong interest in alternatives to high hedges and sharply divided plots – also in the older generation. People want to know their neighbours. And anyway, it makes no sense to build a lot of square meters that are left unused most of the time. Instead, we need to do something that will benefit us all and help us to take care of the resources we have,” says Jørn Tækker, CEO of the Tækker Group, which is in charge of developing the Town of Nye, where the first newly-built houses are expected to be ready in the spring of 2017.

Challenges can be turned into new opportunities

COWI is the main consultant in connection with the development of Nærheden – including roads, water and digital infrastructure. In the urban development project Nye north of Aarhus, COWI has been responsible for e.g. development and design of roads and all water management, including innovative use of rainwater and protection against cloudbursts. The locations of the new urban areas have been chosen so as to combine natural surroundings with proximity to public transport, which creates fast links to the large cities.

CEO Lars-Peter Søbye points out that the growing cities and climate change are global challenges that are at the top of the agenda for many clients – and hence also for COWI’s many specialists:

“How do we continue to provide space and mobility for the residents of the growing cities, who want to be able to enjoy nature and move around easily, instead of having to waste their time in car queues on their way home from work? What do we do about the growing volumes of water? Could this water in fact be an urban development resource and not a problem if we find the right solution? I think so. Nærheden and the Town of Nye are just two examples of how complex challenges can be turned into new opportunities if we are innovative, and I am proud that COWI is contributing to this development,” says Lars-Peter Søbye.

About Nye and Nærheden

The Town of Nye


  • Nye is located north of Aarhus, between Lisbjerg forest, Egå meadow lake and the suburbs of Lystrup and Elev.
  • The whole project area, covering some 140 hectares, is currently agricultural land, but the ambition is that Nye will eventually be home to around 20,000 people.
  • The Tækker Group is developing the town in phases, based on a master plan for the whole area.
  • Phase 1 is a 17 hectare district with approx. 600 homes for some 2,000 people. The first 50 homes are expected to be ready in 2017, when the new Aarhus Light Rail system, which will also stop at Nye, opens.
  • COWI has been in charge of the development and design of roads and all wager management, including innovative use of rain water and protection against cloudbursts. Furthermore, COWI has developed a biodiversity strategy and e.g. seed mixtures aimed at ensuring diverse and value-adding nature in the town’s open spaces. All this has been done in close partnership with Tækker and relevant authorities from the City of Aarhus and Aarhus Vand.



  • In cooperation with Høje-Taastrup Municipality, Realdania is developing a modern and sustainable suburban district – Nærheden – in Hedehusene between Taastrup and Roskilde.
  • The 65 hectare site is partly located in a former industrial area, partly in a nature area with lakes.
  • The ambition is to build up to 3,000 new homes for the expected 8,000 future residents of the area, as well as schools and other cultural institutions.
  • As in Nye, it is envisaged that people will live close to each other, that the homes are energy-efficient and that there will be easy access to public transport, optimum conditions for pedestrians and cyclists and plenty of green and sustainable recreational areas.
  • COWI is the main consultant and is in charge of consultancy services and design of roads, paths and open spaces, including leading away water from ordinary rainfalls and cloudbursts, coordination of pipes, drainlaying, lighting, etc.
  • The task is being solved by interdisciplinary teams of landscape architects, road engineers and hydraulics specialists, etc.

LAST UPDATED: 17.10.2017