Looking at Copenhagen with Jealous Eyes

Copenhagen's positive attributes are clear, but how transferable are they?

July 3, 2017, 2:00 PM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark

Copenhagen Bikes

William Perugini / Shutterstock

For years, American urbanists have visited Copenhagen and returned with what Macho Man Randy Savage once called "jealous eyes." The city’s thriving active transit community, density and overall civility are legendary. Martin C. Pedersen writes in Common Edge that there's good reason for the city's success: "It’s the product of a shared belief that transcends urban design, even though the city is a veritable laboratory for pretty much all of the best practices in the field."

While fewer than one percent of Americans bike to work, "Half of its residents commute to work on bikes (snow or shine), a large number even for Europe," Pedersen writes. Bike safety is taught to Copenhagen residents up through high school.

While American cities must move toward some of Copenhagen’s accomplishments to become more sustainable and equitable, Pedersen is realistic about how difficult it would be to "transfer" the city's success. One issue is that, as a city of 600,000, Copenhagen's challenges differ from a larger city's challenges. For instance, the city is getting richer and is, consequently, struggling to make room for lower income families. Tensions also simmer around the topic of immigrants. To export the city's strengths without its weaknesses is a tricky task.

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