Copenhagen’s mayor explains why even the best cities should focus on improving top-notch transport and Kobe bans high-rise residents in its urban core.
Copenhagen’s brand new metro line, the Cityringen M3, is a 16km loop around the inner part of the city that promises to significantly improve mobility in a place already known for being transport friendly. Nearly 10 years in the making, the line includes 17 new stations and will be particularly useful for those heading to the north of the city, as it links the likes of Nørrebro and Poul Henningsens Plads to the Central station by underground train for the first time.
For lord mayor Frank Jensen it’s not just about infrastructure: he considers the metro an important part of a larger campaign to continuously improve a city that is known for its quality of life. “We’re trying to create the greenest and most liveable city in the world,” he says. “And as part of that we try to offer a truly high quality of public space for people to use, so that Copenhageners and visitors alike will want to spend time in these spaces. It should always be a special experience.”
Indeed, city officials and designers have worked hard to do something special with the design both of the stations and the spaces directly above them; think landscaped public areas with plenty of bicycle parking and other similarly functional touches. The underground stations are built so as to bring natural light down to the platform, which is an unusual perk for a metro.
It helps that Copenhageners overwhelmingly support the investment in – and improvement of – the city, especially when it comes to how people are able to move around it. The Cityringen metro line passes through parts of the Danish capital that have the highest concentration of traffic, which has meant that many of its central junctions and squares have been transformed into building sites for years. Now, however, as those sites have at last given way to those thoughtfully upgraded public spaces, the city’s residents are experiencing many benefits beyond improved mobility.
“This transformation of Copenhagen is done, in a sense,” says Jensen, before noting that a further extension of the metro to Nordhavn is due to open in 2020, while another to Sydhavn is slated for 2024. “We will also continue, in the coming years, to expand our public transport system, making additional bicycle lanes and continuing to invest in green solutions. Copenhagen, in 10, 20 and even 50 years time, will continue to be one of the most liveable cities in the world.”
Does where you live affect your happiness? Nicholas Boys Smith thinks so. He’s the founder of Create Streets, a UK-based social enterprise that analyses polling, data and neuroscience to better understand the places that make us happy, advising local authorities, housing associations, landowners and developers on their strategies.
What was the catalyst for setting up Create Streets?
It grew from an irritation at what I saw happening in London. Good, functional buildings were being torn down and replaced but not improved upon. I spoke to planners, designers and architects about the buildings that made people happy and I wasn’t convinced they had the answers, so I started using data to do something about it.
What type of homes do most of us like to live in?
Around 70 per cent of people say they want to live in a detached house – so that’s what gets produced. But if you look at where people pay the most to live, it’s in neighbourhoods that are walkable, mixed use, green and have communal public space. People who live in tall buildings in open spaces tend to be less happy.
Is there an archetypal house people feel positive about?
Visual preference surveys tell us that symmetrical buildings with colourful facades and textural complexity generally hit the right neural notes. Something that looks proportionally familiar makes us feel welcome.
How can streets be improved to boost wellbeing?
Widening pavements and planting a few young trees isn’t enough. We all walk faster along streets where buildings are oversized, themed, aggressive or angular. When the streetscape is broken up we tend to slow down and take in our surroundings. People who live on streets with traffic know fewer neighbours and move out faster. Car-free days show that city life can be cleaner and more sociable.
The Japanese city of Kobe has announced a ban on the construction of high-rise condominiums in its urban core; the move is an attempt to stop the flight of residents from the suburbs to its denser centre. While the policy might sound good, it fails to address key issues that often lead would-be urbanites to abandon these outlying areas: a poor mix of residential, commercial and retail offerings.
In order to retain residents in the ’burbs, the city might see better results by working with communities to diversify housing stock and create opportunities for shops and offices to thrive without having to move to the city centre.