Opinion | Cities: The most important engines for growth

CopenhagenÂ’s residents and the companies headquartered here can look forward to another year with their mayor as the head of Eurocities, an interest group representing 135 European cities with a total of 120 million residents. The goal of the presidency will again be to ensure that cities have a say in determining the EUÂ’s agenda, because just as Copenhagen is DenmarkÂ’s engine for growth, EuropeÂ’s cities are the engines of growth for the EU. It is cities that generate the exports that will secure our prosperity in the years to come.

Europe’s cities play a decisive role in a global growth competition that’s currently being led by cities like Shanghai, Bangalore and Singapore. The numbers are clear – cities generate growth: 75 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, 85 percent of GDP is created by cities, and 90 percent of jobs are created in cities.

In Denmark, for example, 20 jobs are created outside Copenhagen each time 100 jobs are created in Greater Copenhagen. Promoting urban growth is not the opposite of promoting rural growth. The two go hand in hand. Investments in cities benefit the country as a whole. This is something that is important for me, even though I am the mayor of the nationÂ’s capital and the network of European cities.

When cities grow, so too does their resource consumption. Growth and energy use have always followed each other closely. In the EU, 80 percent of energy is used in cities. Cities consume resources and emit carbon dioxide, but they can also be a part of the solution by coming up with new ways to address climate change. In Copenhagen, we are fortunate to be able to say that our own green solutions have inspired other cities to prioritise green growth. Together with representatives from the Danish state and our international partners, I visited Brazil and Australia in the past year to encourage them to call on Copenhagen when the time came for them to put their green ambitions into reality.

Copenhagen’s green sector businesses are a growth spurt of Chinese proportions. Between 2004 and 2009, a time when most industries experienced a moderate growth rate, the city posted a 12 percent growth rate in this area. Greater Copenhagen as a whole saw explosive growth in the volume of greentech exports – fully 77 percent between 2004 and 2009. Green exports were worth 18 billion kroner to Denmark. By way of comparison, social welfare technology and IT contributed 7 billion kroner and 9 billion kroner respectively to the economy. These figures only serve to underscore the importance of capitals and other cities when it comes to creating growth in the years to come.

Copenhagen is also off to a good start in its efforts to attract investment and highly skilled workers. Among the draws for entrepreneurs and foreign life science companies is the investment being made to develop the University of CopenhagenÂ’s North Campus. Companies working in the field will have easy access to research institutions and open up the door to collaboration with researchers and students. The area will feature new hothouses for innovation and the research park COBIS.

With a total investment of 5 billion kroner in Rigshospitalet, the Panum Institute and the new Niels Bohr Science Park, the foundation has been laid for an internationally-orientated knowledge village at North Campus. The development will see the university open itself up towards area businesses, and North Campus will become attractive to foreign students, researchers and companies.

The new commercial district will be integrated into a lively and diverse part of the city, serving as a hub in the Øresund region’s Medicon Valley, one of Europe’s key growth clusters. The type of collaboration practised by Medicon Valley should serve as a model for Copenhagen and the rest of Europe’s cities. Cultivating new commercial opportunities, areas of collaboration, and partnerships is something cities need to do to strengthen their position globally. Holding the presidency of Eurocities makes it possible for Copenhagen – in partnership with the Greater Copenhagen Regional Council, the city of Malmö, the Øresund region or Hamburg – to broaden collaboration with major companies and research institutions throughout Europe. International co-operation can help us establish new strategic relationships.

Discussions about urban development cannot be limited to the local or regional level. The benefits of globalisation include inspiration, vision and making international contacts. These are benefits we need to draw on! Fortunately, businesses in Copenhagen – and in Denmark as a whole – are ready to do so. This was something I had confirmed first hand this past week, when I travelled to Sydney and Melbourne as part of a major trade delegation that included representatives from 50 prominent Danish companies. Both cities are aiming high when it comes to cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and on a national level the Australian government recently implemented a carbon tax. When it comes to green export opportunities, the land down under is rich in opportunities, and it knows to look towards Copenhagen for inspiration. Sydney is in the midst of switching from coal power to wind, solar and geothermal, and its planned district heating plant will be modelled on Copenhagen incinerators to generate heat, cooling and electricity. Copenhagen is well out in front in the area of trash-to-energy: currently, 60,000 homes in the city receive their heat this way, and 120,000 their electricity.

I hope that we can inspire Sydney and Melbourne to invest in Danish solutions and create jobs here. We need to work to promote the solid growth rates Copenhagen needs if we are to maintain our standard of living and employment levels. Our goal is an average growth rate of 5 percent. If weÂ’re going to reach that goal, we need to export more, and we need to attract more foreign companies and employees.

We can’t afford not to go green – and why should we, when we know our green ideas have already spread to the other side of the planet?

The author is the lord mayor of Copenhagen. In 2010, he was also elected as president of the Eurocities Network.

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