Moving towards sustainable urban living requires fundamental – and often costly – changes at many levels. Luckily the most important change is within reach – and often free of charge. Four Nordic cities, Helsinki, Malmö, Copenhagen, and Reykjavik, have stepped up in bringing about a change in attitudes and helping residents to move towards more environmentally conscious lifestyles.

Is there a lesson to be learned in these projects?

HELSINKI – CLEANING DAY

What started out as a grass-roots initiative, has during three years grown into a city-wide event, where the public spaces of Helsinki – parks, squares, and boulevards – turn into a massive flea market for one Saturday every May and August

Instead of fearing the chaos and mess that could follow thousands of people laying their unnecessary goods on tables and blankets, the City of Helsinki has joined the event organizers at Yhteismaa in the celebration of the recycling ideology.

The idea is simple. The Cleaning Day website offers a platform were sellers can upload their location and buyers can find popular locations for the pop-up flea markets. In support of the festival the City of Helsinki Department of Public Works has agreed to waive the sellers' permits on the condition that they register their stand online.

In cooperation with different charities and disposal facilities, a variety of recycling points are organized around the city to make sure that the unsold items will not be left behind, but either donated or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.


MALMÖ – BIKE&RIDE

Located in Southern Sweden across the Øresunds Bridge from Copenhagen, Sweden's third largest city Malmö is home to almost 100 000 residents that travel to and from Malmö every day. To make lives easier for those travelling at least a part of their daily commute by bike, the City of Malmö has established a state of the art bicycle center at each and every one of its railways stations. Bike&Ride Malmö C, the largest and most advanced one, opened at the central station in February of 2014.

Bike & Ride Malmö C can accommodate up to 1500 bikes, and even its smallest details have been planned with the cyclists' needs in mind. It is located underground, with direct access to the station and can be entered by rolling in directly from the bike path. Inside the facility, there is a perfectly equipped rest station for all types of bikes and their owners.

The station is open 24 hours a day, free of charge and among other things provides lockers, toilets, water fountains, ticket machines and a repair shop. There are several screens that offer real time information about buses and trains and and, for those seeking for extra security, parking in a subscription-based area with chip-card access, can be acquired for under 10 euros/month.

Bike&Ride is not Malmö's first project to increase green travel and attitude change among the residents. Since 2007 the city has promoted cycling through an aptly named project “No ridiculous Car Trips” and has since experienced a strong increase in the number of people riding bikes to work, currently reaching up to 30%.


COPENHAGEN – CITY OASIS: URBAN BIODIVERSITY PETTING ZOO

In the heart of Nørrebro, Copenhagen you can find some unusual inhabitants. The neighborhood called “Den Gamle By” is not only the home to schools and retirement homes but has also been hosting different farm animals for the past few years. Chickens, goats, rabbits, Guinea pigs and many different birds in the Orangery.

Every year Byoasen organizes more then 100 activities for all ages. The main goal is that everybody can enjoy Byoasen. It’s a social place where people can meet. “Young and old, of every social background, everybody is welcome!” says Charlotte Lund, who is responsible for the project.

This location was chosen because the neighborhood got neglected and the municipality wanted to bring new life into the area. Both the elderly as well as the children in the city have found the Byoasen: “We come here every day, it's the only place where the children get to experience nature in the city.” Another reason for the popularity of the urban farm is the fact that Nørrebro has the lowest amount of square meters of green space per inhabitant, and the locals were in need of a public urban meeting point.

For the first few years Byoasen was running only on volunteers but because of the great success, the municipality of Copenhagen started supporting the project. “The cooperation has been fantastic ever since” says Charlotte.

And not only the residents have benefited from Byoasen, Charlotte told us that the chickens went through a make over after moving to a spacious henhouse from their cages.


REYKJAVIK – VINNUSKOLÌ: A SUSTAINABLE SUMMER JOB

Located right below the Arctic circle, the northern location of Reykjavik sets a challenge to vegetation, but nevertheless, the city is full of green. This is possible with the help of the local teenagers who take part in the annual Vinnuskóli-project. Since 1955, the department of Environment of the City of Reykjavik has been employing teenagers to take care of the Iceland capital's greens for many decades.

Vinnuskóli is a cooperation between different schools in Reykjavik and the municipality. The project employs the Reykjavik youngsters in the outdoors and teaches them about nature and urban biodiversity. Their work is not limited to the public areas; the pupils can also help the elderly to take care of their gardens and other outdoor work.

After receiving training, the teenagers start their summer job and take care of the different green areas in Reyjavik. The project is not only about taking care of the plants and parks but also about teaching the young Icelanders about values like responsibility, punctuality, and orderliness.

Vinnuskolì is a very inclusive project, with up to 75% of all pupils take part each summer. The duration of the project says much abut its success; With the first youth in the project being born in 1941, many Reykjavik families already have their third generation taking part in Vinnuskolì.