Copenhagen saddles up for the world's biggest urban cycling contest, Russia's "Silicon Valley" gets to live by its own rules, and Istanbul, the call to prayer becomes easier to the ear.
Copenhagen is a prime example of what can be achieved when a city’s population embraces pedal power. Over a third of its commuters travel by bike (Copenhagen Council is aiming to make that 50 per cent) and it has 350km of purpose-built cycle paths. All of which makes it fitting that the Danish capital was chosen as host for the world’s pre-eminent urban cycle planning conference, Velo-City Global. Held at the end of June, it was the 30th annual conference of its kind aimed at getting people on their bikes to improve their health, reduce CO2 emissions and ease urban congestion.
“Cycling is one of the fastest growing trends in urban planning around the world,” says Niels Tørsløv, traffic director of Copenhagen City Council and one of the event’s organisers. “We really wanted to have a global perspective this time. Copenhagen has shown how much of a role the bicycle can have in enhancing quality of life. It’s a really simple way to change lives.”
Along with an expo and excursions into the Danish countryside, Velo-City had talks from international transport and city planning experts. These included former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa and Janette Sadik-Khan who, as New York’s transport commissioner, has made great strides in making her city more bike-friendly; and the Danish EU commissioner for climate action, Connie Hedegaard.
Velo-City 2010 had 1,000 delegates from 100 countries.
The conference and expo were held at Øksnehallen and the new CPH Conference Centre.
Which cities are leading the way in terms of quality of life?
For me, Munich and Montpellier because they are surrounded by beautiful nature. That’s quality of life: urban structures as well as a marvellous periphery.
Which cities need to try harder?
All the new megacities. They have to learn to shape and steer urbanisation. I’m just back from Shanghai and there I saw only high-rises and business areas.
What are the biggest challenges facing cities today?
Designing mixed-used zones. Megacities are mostly developed without them. This is like the monotonous residential construction we had in post-war Germany. A city is at its best when it’s a melting pot.
How would you change Berlin?
I would improve the public transport system. I’d like to not use my car when commuting but public transport takes twice as long.
Protection by patent laws isn’t enough for the Russian bosses behind Moscow’s innovation city, or “Innograd”, in Skolkovo. Viktor Vekselberg, the billionaire oligarch charged to run the city, has recently announced that it will have its own police force. Russia’s belated answer to Silicon Valley will house 30,000 people and cost €2bn to build over the next four years. Companies locating in Skolkovo will pay little or no tax but the real eyebrow-raiser is the proposal to police it with special forces – an eerie echo of arrangements in Russia’s archipelago of nuclear “closed cities”.
Not every imam who sings the ezan – the five times daily call to prayer – at Istanbul’s 2,975 mosques has a voice like Barry White. So to spare residents’ ears, the Mufti Mustafa Cagrici has introduced a remedial singing school for imams who fail to hit the high notes, and has insisted that their ezan is chanted by a more tuneful cleric in their absence.
Spain’s non-smoking majority
may soon breathe freely in the country’s tapas bars. Following 2006’s partial smoking ban that stamped out smouldering butts in offices but left loopholes for the dining-and-drinking crowd, the Spanish health ministry is pushing through new laws (taking effect in 2011) that would finally prohibit lighting up in all enclosed spaces.
In a country where nearly 30 per cent of people over 16 smoke, stubbing it out might not be so easy, however. The Smokers’ Club for Tolerance has gathered 27,000 signatures against the proposed law, and the Spanish restaurant and bar owners’ federation FEHR is also opposing the move.
Soviet Russia wasn’t known for its green credentials and its legacy is some of the world’s most ecologically unsound cities. None more so than chemical-polluted Dzerzhinsk, east of Moscow. According to a recent report, life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women.