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Climate change adaptation

Urban planning and development

Climate City Middelfart: a synthesis of climate adaptation and urban development

2. December 2022

Solution provider

Middelfart Municipality

Middelfart Municipality (MM) on the island of Fyn has worked with climate actions since 2007. The municipality is one of the first in Denmark to hold a Climate Action Plan together with a political agreement prioritizing the climate actions. Known as a frontrunner for over a decade.

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As the world heats up, we can expect an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. Extreme precipitation or cloudbursts is just one of the adverse types of weather the Earth’s inhabitants will need to be prepared for.  And while prevention is always better than cure, we do need to devote resources to preparing our lived environments to adapt to a changing climate, where more frequent extreme rainfall is the norm.

In Denmark, policy makers, engineers and local governments alike are grappling with the challenge of how to design and adapt local environments so that they can better withstand extreme rainfall. While expanding the sewerage system is one option, this is extremely costly. Therefore, the challenge is how can we manage the impacts of cloudbursts on our local environments in a more effective way?


The city of Middelfart is situated on the Danish island of Funen. A market town in central Denmark with approximately 16,000 inhabitants, its combination of coast and wooded areas is very picturesque. However, in recent years the Kongebro area in the western part of the city was increasingly being impacted by vast amounts of rain, flooded cellars, water in the streets and overflow to the Little Belt (Lillebælt in Danish) strait.

Therefore, in 2012, Middelfart Wastewater, the City of Middelfart and the philanthropic organisation RealDania initiated a preliminary study to assess how excess rain would affect the area in the future. The results indicated that unless climate adaptation measures were implemented, the negative impact of these challenges would only increase in the future. Based on this assessment, the partners behind the study resolved to establish the project ‘Climate City Middelfart’. The project had a clear aim that not only would it develop solutions to manage excessive rainfall on the surface, rather than underground in pipes, but in doing so, it would also foster urban development. Director Hans Peter Svendler from RealDania stated:

“We want to create new solutions within the fields of climate adaptation and sustainability, which, at the same time, take the existing urban space into account as well as developing it. For us, it is essential that the new technical solutions foster city life.”

Climate City Middelfart commenced with the launch of an architectural competition to select which firm would create a more climate-resilient, more beautiful and more recreative town. The winning architectural firm, LYTT, made involving local citizens in the project, so that their support and insights were secured, central to their process. In addition, incorporating and strengthening the integration of blue and green elements into the Climate City project were key. This means that rather than being a problem, water is conceptualised as a resource and an aesthetic element. This takes place through the creation of three so-called ‘Water ways’, which take advantage of the area’s naturally sloping terrain to divert rainwater through the town’s streets via the water ways and out to Little Belt. Doing so solves the risk of flooding, and simultaneously creates new recreative spaces, where citizens can be active. In residential areas, deliberately diverse flora has been planted to absorb rainwater, while the water ways collect extreme rainfall and divert it through the town to Little Belt. The streets in the residential areas are disconnected from the sewerage drains, so that all rainwater is managed on the surface.

In the area known as the ‘Activity Forest’, several waterways meet and are amassed into a larger stream and in small lakes, where the rainwater from one of the other areas of the project is collected and can seep down during larger cloudbursts. Between lakes and streams there are areas for ball games, play and exercise.

In total, Climate City Middelfart covers an area of 450,000 m2 that spans a number of different terrains – from residential areas on the outskirts of the town through to the centre of the town and down to the historic area by the water, with a height difference of 38 metres between the different areas.

Middelfart - The climate city

Credit: Middelfart Municipality

The project was officially inaugurated on September 19th, 2019, and is Denmark’s largest demonstration project, managing to integrate urban development and climate adaptation. It forms part of the City of Middelfart’s strategic platform, “The Climate Laboratory in Middelfart”, which focuses on co-creation and value-creation in the fringe between urban development and climate adaptation.  Furthermore, the Climate Laboratory has a strategic focus on knowledge sharing, gathering experiences, prevention of climate change and the establishment of additional climate projects.

Climate City was developed in collaboration between town planners and engineers from the City of Middelfart, architects, engineers, and Middelfart Wastewater’s engineers.


Climate City Middelfart is an innovative project, where climate adaptation is melded with the development of a greener, more enjoyable, and more beautiful town. Water and nature are connected in order to transform drainage routes into attractive urban spaces.

In addition to securing efficient rainwater management, Climate City Middelfart has added value through the creation of unique urban spaces, additional recreative options and areas where social gatherings can take place. These new spaces have not only strengthened the city’s climate resilience, but also greened the city. With its emphasis on citizen involvement and co-creation, the project has also strengthened social cohesion in the city. Throughout the entire project, the knowledge of the local community, industry and other stakeholders was taken into account. The result of this is that residents feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the project, and a new identity for Middelfart has been forged – that of Denmark’s first climate city. Residents take pride in their city’s green profile and the availability of blue-green spaces they can utilise to live, work, and play in.

The success of Climate City Middelfart spurred to the development of its sister project, ‘Climate Harbour’, which addresses rising sea levels.

The project can also function as a source of inspiration for other cities seeking to implement climate adaptation measures as to how they can develop climate-resilient cities that are also beautiful and desirable to live in.

Finally, recognition of the project’s innovative approach is the fact that Climate City Middelfart was a finalist in the Green Cities Europe 2020 Award, which is an annual competition that selects inspiring green urban projects.

Urban green transition

This case is a part of the white paper “Urban green transition”:

A 40-page showcase of why holistic and strategic city planning and development within mobility and infrastructure, climate adaptation, as well as environmentally conscious architecture and construction, must take centre stage in the transformed cities of tomorrow.

Explore the white paper