Interview with Mr. Niels-Peter Mohr from UBC Planning Cities

Mr. Niels-Peter Mohr is a Head of Strategic Planning in the municipality of Aarhus, Denmark. On the regional level, Mr. Mohr is a chairman of the UBC Planning Cities Commission. The matters of urban planning are rather relevant for the work of the Sustainable Cities, especially for several projects that are currently being developed in the Secretariat. Therefore, we decided to take a short interview with Mr. Niels-Peter Mohr to let you know more about the work of the Planning Cities Commission and the presence of the UBC priorities in Aarhus.

 

The work of the Planning Cities Commission covers a range of urban planning themes related to both public and private domains. What are the main recent outputs and findings that the Planning Cities Commission has achieved?

Our main achievements are being together, exchanging ideas and building up an understanding that we practically have the same visions concerning "the good life". We have a lot of history and culture in common and our cities are very much alike. However, economic, political and market conditions are different, so our achievements are a lot about how to develop our cities in the right direction, looking at it in individual perspectives for every city.

 

"We do not make revolutions,

but every time we come up

with new ideas and perspectives"

 

What is the UBC network's added value for your work and how many active members take part in the Commission's activities?

We organize one or two workshops per year in different host cities with 30-60 planners from the UBC member cities. Every time the steering group plans the workshops with the host city ensuring a template that has a focus on challenges which are on the local agenda. It is very often about regeneration of brown fields, handling surface water, traffic, public space and quality of urban life. On the last day we present our works to the local politicians and the press. We do not make revolutions, but every time we come up with some new ideas and perspectives, and it is my experience that some of the works are very useful in the local debate.

 

In the middle of October the city of Klaipėda will host the session of the Planning Cities Commission. The theme of the session is "Rediscovering water in the city: public realm strategies on the waterfront". Could you expand on the chosen theme and explain the major water trends and challenges in planning today? For example, how is the water aspect approached in the Aarhus city planning, since this city is located at the seashore? Is water playing any role in Aarhus next year when hosting European Capital of Culture?

Klaipėda is dominated by a big harbor, which results in a clear conflict between the ongoing development of the harbor and the citizens’ need to have access to the waterfront. In the same time, the coastline is influenced by climate change and perhaps the harbor piers. The result is that the nice beach to the north is washed away and valuable residential areas behind the beach are in danger of being flooded.

In Aarhus the harbor is developing more and more into the sea and the old harbor areas are being transformed to new city areas with housing, offices and public space. Such a development seems very difficult in Klaipėda. Water is not playing any role in relation to the European Capital of Culture in particular, but the waterfront, the marines and the beautiful coastline and beaches in Aarhus are in general an excellent arena in the cultural life. For more than twenty years Aarhus has worked hard to open the stream through the city, which for many year was covered by a four-lane street going to the harbor. Now the project is completed and the whole inner city has changed its character.

 

"It is easy to say the right words:

livable, sustainable, healthy, green, attractive"

 

The idea of planning is tightly intertwined with the concept of the future. What is the future you want to build?

It is easy to say all the right words: livable, sustainable, healthy, green, attractive etc. But to make a city develop in a certain direction – given through a democratic process – is very complicated. Public interest and private interest have to work together. At the moment I see many places where projects are only "money machines" that do not do their host city any good. This can only be avoided through good planning and politicians who stand up to their own design.

Aarhus