Copenhagen: taking back the city | car-free streets & slow speed zones

Copenhagen competes for one of the world’s most bikable – and livable – cities; but it wasn’t always that way.  Like many cities in post-war Europe, as cities were rebuilt, bike lanes were taken over by the car. It wasn’t until the oil crisis of the 1970s and the start of the environmental movement that people started to think differently. In Copenhagen, this was combined with the work of several key urban planners during which the city started to slowly take back its public space by incorporating cycle lanes and opening up city squares, transforming them from parking lots to public spaces. All of this improved quality of life.

Initial plans were met with much resistence from shop owners and residents: shop owners were worried that they would lose businesses, while city residents stated that “Copenhagen was not Southern Europe” and that they would not sit outside in café chairs, because the weather was too cold.  Flash forward to modern day… Today the city has 18 public squares, formerly parking lots. People sit outside all summer and into the late fall or winter – using blankets, jackets or heating lamps to enjoy the public spaces.  Shop owners have learned to appreciate the economies of pedestrian areas – more walkers and wanders means more business, as well as more mixed businesses and small-scale and diversified enterprises have emerged.

“People want to be with people…” And Copenhagen’s planners have attempted to provide the right high quality public spaces to do so.  This includes slow streets (e.g. lowered speeds enforced with signs and physical barriers) as well as biking and walking spaces – with a focus on accessibility and the human elements of urban life.  In Copenhagen, planners have found that once you win public spaces back for the people, they wouldn’t give it up again – byebye parking lots for good.

What does high quality urban living look like?  Check this video, produced by Street Films, featuring Gil Peñalosa (Executive Director of 8-80 Cities) Jan Gehl (founding partner of Gehl Architects & my personal hero) as well as other actors who ensure Copenhagen remains a high quality urban environment for years to come. Love this city!

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7 thoughts on “Copenhagen: taking back the city | car-free streets & slow speed zones

  1. Really excited to visit Copenhagen within the next month! Jan Gehl is the best. His no nonsense and straight forward approach to urban design is a major inspiration: Cities for People!

    1. Yes indeed! Gehl is amazing! Proud to say I know him personally and used to meet up for a glass of wine and people watching when living/ working in Malmö. If you get a chance to head to Copenhagen, hop over the bridge to Malmö too. Amazing planning initiatives underway there. I used to work at the Planning Department & the Environment Dept. That city is my inspiration! (Haven’t written about it yet, because I just don’t know where to begin!) But anyway, enjoy Copenhagen a lot! 🙂

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