Copenhagen Part 1 - A human-centred City

After a successful exhibit at the Gardiner Museum, we headed to Copenhagen to participate in and present our findings at the conference ’Culture in Urban Space.’ 

The first three days of the conference were spent touring around and learning about the danish city.

Copenhagen is thoughtfully planned, with the design prioritizing the human experience. Much of this approach is influenced by Jan Gehl, an architect and urban designer who, in the 1970s, posited that designers and planners should always begin by looking at the space between buildings. His ideas for a well planned city were shaped by his interest in the intersection of architecture, planning, psychology and sociology (Read more about his theories and concepts here). Crazy Dames had the pleasure of visiting Gehl Architects (and meeting Jan Gehl himself!) to discuss our work and the work that the firm is doing in Toronto specifically with the TO Core Parks and Public Realm plan. Specifically, we are intrigued by the firm’s process, which is rooted in consultation and ethnography and aims to be ‘human-centered’.  

As a human-centred city, Copenhagen is a cycling and pedestrian paradise.* Every road is accompanied by a bike lane. In the newer areas of Copenhagen, the mantra ’ build it and they will come’ rings true. Bike paths are built first - they weave through forested, unpaved areas. A recently built bicycle bridge (Cycle Snake or Cykelslangen) connects you over the harbour to the downtown. 

Even though international, Copenhagen is a mid-rise city, with most buildings ranging between 3-6 storeys. There is a by-law that prohibits tall buildings in the centre. In the sprawling Orestad, which hosts some of the best architecture in the world (including 8Tallet designed by BIG Architects), there are many apartments still empty. Some argue its because high-rises are not ‘hygge’, a word that means ‘cozy’ in Danish.  

As a human-centred city, art is integrated within it as it resolves. With an expansion of the metro currently underway, much of the City is under construction. Not only does the construction barely affect the bike lanes and pedestrian pathways (there are always temporary paths built around the obstacles), the City incorporates construction hoarding that features beautiful, innovative and interesting works of art. Toronto has a similar initiative - The Patch Project (Public Art Through Construction Hoarding) - which is working to convince the City that art on construction hoarding can greatly improve the experience of traveling through a City. In Copenhagen, this concept is greatly appreciated and celebrated. 

Because the City is dense, public space is produced in a creative way - sidewalks were animated with cafes and temporary furniture, mid-rise residential buildings encircle shared courtyards, schoolyards and public squares co-existed and creative swimming areas were created. 

We were especially interested in the relaxed rules on safety - play and discovery were prioritized. Children’s schoolyards were placed in urban squares and beside cycling lanes, the Tivoli amusement park incorporated log games that in Canada would be deemed unfit for children. This allowance for playful interaction with the City is missing in North American cities.   

*Sara’s cycling paradise quickly turned to hell when she got her foot caught in the spokes of an electric bike, which contributed to an interesting and not so accessible second half of the trip.  

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