Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 3...Livability in the Urban Environment

Unique design--a staircase inside of the Copenhagen Business School

"Hyperdrive"--Dr. McCarthy riding with us on the Metro!
The first car was designed so that passengers can look out the tunnel as they travel underground
Sightseeing--Jamie and I on a Strogarde, a "walking street"

Once we get back to the States, I would like to advise my family to move with me to Copenhagen.  Yes, my usual seven-hour commute from southern New York to St. Lawrence would grow slightly longer, most likely involve winding lines at customs, and possibly even a middle seat on the plane, but from what I’ve learned about this country just in the past two days, Denmark becomes more and more appealing.  Today was a particularly busy one for the four of us—from an invigorating classroom discussion on “Livability” (and what makes Copenhagen an urban space “conducive to comfortable living”), to a walking tour of the city (after which we all could attest to the saying, “when your feet hurt, you know you’re in Europe”).  On a sunny, sixteen-degree Celsius afternoon, though, we were too immersed in hygge to mind… 
The day began with a stimulating lecture by DIS professor Bianca Hermansen, an urban planner (and in many ways, philosopher).  She first presented to us the conditions, or “Livability Rankings,” that Copenhagen prides itself on: public transport, education, cultural outlets, low crime, hours of sunshine, global flight connections, tolerance, and concern for environmental issues.  Bianca went on to explain cities in general as “human habitats” that should address the broader question of our past semester: how, exactly, can cities promote human flourishing?  Ultimately, urban design (which we have also discussed in class, regarding Alain De Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness) has an impressive impact on the human psyche.  Our cities shape us, but more importantly, we shape our cities.
For example, Bianca (who was an extremely engaging and spunky speaker) raised the issue of “jay-waking.”  She called it a “natural human behavior.”  However, while it is dangerous and violates traffic laws, Bianca does not blame pedestrians for this “crime,” but rather city designers.  She argued that jay-walking is “a symptom of poor urban planning,” and it is her job as an urban planner to work with the people of Copenhagen so the city meets their needs. Bianca and other designers are constantly rearranging and trying to improve Copenhagen, in such a way that is beautiful, sustainable, and simply “more livable,” to facilitate human flourishing. 
The walking tour (led by a former American DIS student, Samur, who now lives in Denmark) illuminated today’s classroom experience.  Although the human population in Copenhagen is very homogenous, the landscape is visually eclectic.  Fifteenth century buildings stand across cobblestone streets from sleek Danish architecture.  Large open squares bustle with activity, as vast, interactive forums for Danes, international tourists, tented produce markets, cafes, bikers, performers, and many pigeons.  There is an interesting view from every angle to engage onlookers, for as Bianca and Samur mentioned, the human mind needs to be stimulated every four seconds.  That being said, while there is a lot to see in Copenhagen, the cityscape is on a human scale.  Strict codes limit the heights of buildings, so that structures do not overwhelm the presence of people.  Beautifully weathered church steeples are the tallest man-made objects to be seen.
By implementing this rule, Copenhagen essentially preserves a little bit more of humanity than most sky-scraping American cities.  Like the welfare state, the city itself exists purely “for the people.”  It’s been such an adventure to experience a new cultural mindset, and we look forward to bring this message of human flourishing back to campus.  Hooray for the week we have left!

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