I was recently phoned up by BBC Scotland to ask for my comments about Copenhagen being included in the top ten cleanest cities of the world. The researcher wanted to know my thoughts on why the streets of Copenhagen were so clean and litter-free and how a city like Glasgow could pick up some anti-rubbish tips.
Well, after telling the poor researcher that this was a complete myth – that they should come and visit on a Sunday morning and see the litter chaos for themselves – they strangely enough decided not to use my humble opinions on air as I didn’t fit into the myths they were perpetuating.
We love to create myth! And so too, it seems, does the European Commission, which has named Copenhagen the European Green Capital of 2014. I am sorry, but if you think Copenhagen is one of the most litter-free and greenest cities in the world, I would recommend you visit Valbyparken. Head towards Kalveboderne and discover for yourselves the amount of rubbish by the side of the shore. It is simply embarrassing. I feel sorry for the poor local swans who are probably some of the most toxic birds in Europe right now. Or does this simply not matter because it’s outside the city centre, and out of sight from the tourists?
So Copenhagen’s crowning as the 2014 European Green Capital has to be due to the ambitious goals the city is trying to achieve – like becoming carbon neutral by 2025 – and not for the actual reality on the ground, right? I bet the European officials who voted for this didn’t consider that in 2014 this city would more resemble one big dirty building site than a harmonious, green and pleasant place to be.
Obviously Copenhagen didn’t award this accolade itself, but the council did nominate itself and produce a glossy multimedia brochure to showcase the city. Yet in my view, the city should be embarrassed by winning this award, and looking at the council’s meagre budget, I can only assume it’s not their top priority. Right now all they are doing is recycling the same old ‘green stories’ that we’ve all heard over and over.
So how will next year be celebrated then? Well the council’s overall strategy will be all about ‘sharing’ – basically collaborating with its ‘paying partners’, who haven’t even been decided yet! In my interpretation this is a lazy way of getting others to do your own publicity, and could potentially turn into a bonanza for corporate ‘green washing’.
Of course there is a lot that Copenhagen can be proud off. Yes, I know we have world-class bike lanes, fantastic district heating systems, impressive renewable energy targets, pioneering wind technology and, amazingly, a harbor you can swim in. And yes even I admit that Copenhagen will eventually become one of the greenest cities in the world, yet maybe this accolade right now was just a little bit premature? Won’t eco-tourists coming here, especially to experience Copenhagen’s green credentials, be disappointed to find that on the surface it’s still pretty much grey.
Call me a cynic, but unless the city officials starts telling us the environmental story in simple, effective imagery and describe what this 2025 carbon neutral vision is all about, I will carry on huffing and puffing!
My advice to the City Council is this: start by doing something very unDanish and put up billboards apologising for the current state of the city and explain why right now it’s in a mess. Then do another very unDanish thing and start shouting out loudly about all these fantastic sustainable solutions and innovations the city is implementing to make it eventually one of the greenest and most wonderful places to live in. And if this means having to recycle some of the old green stories, then I will promise to keep my mouth well and truly shut!