An increasing number of community policy makers, planners and residents around the world want their communities —neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities— to be more liveable. Liveable communities provide residents with opportunities to enjoy a high quality of life by preserving or improving the quality of their environment, enabling them to live in a variety of housing options, and by making it possible for them to walk, bike or take public transportation to go to the places they most frequently need to go every day, such as work, schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, parks, recreational areas and health facilities.
Inner Alster Lake, downtown Hamburg, Germany
Green, multimodal mobility systems and networks —such as networks of pedestrian paths, bicycle lanes and public transport, in combination with other community components —such as pedestrian-only shopping streets, dedicated cycling routes and highways, high density housing and mixed-use buildings and neighbourhoods; and the use of renewable energy generated from natural sources —such the sun, water and wind, can all make major contributions towards making our communities more liveable.
Amager Boulevard in suburban Ørestad, Copenhagen, Denmark
This article is based on the findings of a study tour I conducted late in the summer of 2012. It discusses a number of innovations in community planning and development in Germany and Scandinavia, identifies some of the underlying principles for the success of these innovations, and shows that communities can be planned, designed, developed and managed so that they can be made increasingly more liveable.
There were many reasons for me to conduct the study tour. First, for the past decade or so, Germany, Denmark and Sweden have developed a reputation for being world leaders in several aspects related to community planning and development , for example, by building innovative green buildings; amazing cycling paths, routes and highways; world-famous pedestrian-only shopping streets; and excellent parks and recreation areas. Second, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm —in that order— topped 27 other cities in the 2009 European Green City Index. Third, in 2011, the Innovation Union Scoreboard ranked Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden —in that sequence— as the leading countries for innovation among the European Union 27 member states, noting that the overall good performance in innovation of these countries reflected a balanced national research and innovation system. And, fourth, in 2012, the Legatum Institute ranked Norway, Denmark and Sweden —in that order— as the highest countries in the world for overall prosperity.
Furthermore, Stockholm, Hamburg and Copenhagen, have respectively won the 2010, 2011 and 2014 European Green Capital Award, according to the European Commission. When giving the awards, the Commission noted the following: "the City of Stockholm launched a new program that allowed visitors the opportunity to explore the solutions created by Stockholm in relation to a variety of themes, including combating climate change and ensuring an effective and sustainable transportation system. Hamburg has achieved high environmental standards and good performance levels in terms of cycling and public transport indicators." And Copenhagen is "a good model in terms of urban planning and design. It is also something of a transport pioneer, aiming to become the world’s most practicable city for cyclists. Its goal is to have 50 % of people cycling to their place of work or education by 2015 (35 % cycled to their workplace or school in 2010), helping the city reach an ambitious goal of being CO2 neutral by 2025."
People read, socialize, relax and enjoy nature at Planten un Blomen Park in downtown Hamburg, Germany
Green transport infrastructure: a key factor for making our communities more liveable
Green, multimodal mobility systems and networks are perhaps the most visible and common innovations in community planning and development in Germany and Scandinavia. They include integrated networks of public transit by road, rail and water; dedicated pedestrian lanes, paths and networks; and plenty of bicycle infrastructure —featuring dedicated bicycle lanes, paths and networks, and highways, with strategically located bicycle parking areas and pump stations— all of which makes it possible for residents to go to the places they need or want to go, quickly, conveniently, safely, comfortably and economically, and without having to drive their private cars at all times. They also make it possible for residents to have increased opportunities for exercising —and therefore, staying physically and mentally active and fit— socializing, and more particularly, breathing fresher air than residents living in communities where the use of the private automobile prevails.
Fersens väg (street), Malmö, Sweden
Based on empirical evidence at peak hours on a number of streets of Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Stockholm, I was able to devise two dominant mobility trends among people who live and work in these cities. The first trend indicated that when people leave their homes in the morning to go to work, many of them bike to the nearest public transit station, leave their bikes in a safe and convenient parking area at the transit station, get on a train or bus, and then from their stop, walk to their work place; and then, in the afternoon, when they leave their work, they return to their homes using the same modes of transport that they used in the morning. The second trend indicated that a high proportion of the population in these cities either bike, or walk, from home-to-work and from work-to-home, every day of the week. According to the Green City Index research project sponsored by Siemens (Exhibit 2), on average, 48 per cent of the working population in these four cities walks or bikes to work, and an additional 21 per cent takes the public transport. These figures prompted me to conclude that these amounts of green mobility could only result in positive effects on the quality of the environment of these cities, and in invaluable benefits to the health, well-being and life expectancy of their residents.
People relax and socialize in a cozy square in the Old Town of Stockholm, Sweden
High speed trains: a key to making our communities more liveable and sustainable
During my study tour, I travelled on high speed trains between Hamburg and Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm, Stockholm and Malmö, Malmö and Copenhagen, Malmö and Helsingborg, and Copenhagen and Aarhus. I enjoyed all these wonderful, quick and relaxing trips and never missed driving a car, taking a car ride, or wasting time at airports in order to travel by plane. I found that high-speed trains are absolutely timely, efficient, reliable and affordable, very quiet, comfortable and environmentally friendly; and since their trips always begin and end at a city centre location, they enable travellers to make immediate and convenient connections with all other modes of local and regional transport. Indeed, one of the most fascinating things is that, the green, multimodal mobility systems and networks currently in place in Germany and Scandinavia —which include the high-speed trains— enable passengers to travel from city to city and from country to country, just as easily, fast, and conveniently as they can travel within their own cities.
The Central Train Station in Hamburg, Germany —a key hub of an extensive, multimodal transport network
Transport infrastructure: a key component for community sustainable economic growth
A key goal of my study tour was to see and use the world-famous Öresund link. A
ccording to a report by Øresundsbro Konsortiet
, Denmark and Sweden built together this 16-km long link.
It combines a
four-lane roadway and a double-tracked electrified railway into a seamless bridge-and-undersea-tunnel that connects the Swedish city of Malmö
and the Danish city of Copenhagen
over the Øresund, a strait in the Baltic Sea. The objective was
to integrate Denmark's and Sweden's geographic areas around the Øresund Region and to enhance their overall economic and cultural ties. In 2010, an average of 69,100 travellers crossed the Øresund link every day; of these, nearly 58 per cent travelled by car and 42 per cent by rail. Around 60 per cent of the train passengers commuted to work or college/university; the remaining 40 per cent were largely leisure travellers, with only a small proportion of business travellers or holidaymakers. Of the passenger cars, 42 per cent travelled for commuting reasons, 19 per cent for business, 18 per cent for leisure, and 20 per cent for short-breaks and holidays.
The same report indicates that the Öresund link has indeed integrated the Danish and Swedish geographic areas around the Øresund Region, strengthened the economies and cultural ties between Denmark and Sweden, and made it easier, faster and much more attractive for people to travel and commute between Malmö and Copenhagen. Over the first ten years of the link's life, 2000-2010, many more Swedes than ever before worked in the Copenhagen region and many more Danish than ever before lived in the Malmö region; and commuting across the link increased tenfold. In 2010, nearly 20,700 commuters travelled to work or college/university on the other side of the link.
The Øresund Link —in the far distance, as seen from the Western Harbour in Malmö, Sweden
Travelling by train between Malmö and Copenhagen across the Øresund link is a popular public transport option both for residents and visitors; it only takes about half an hour, and trains go every 10 minutes at peak hours. From my own judgement, I can also say that it is very apparent that the Öresund link has been a key step towards regional integration, increased green mobility between Malmö and Copenhagen, and sustainable economic growth in both Sweden and Denmark.
Transport infrastructure: key to reducing travel time for travellers and the transport of goods
A totally new and surprising experience came up when I was travelling at 300-km per hour in a high-speed train between Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark. When the train reached the town of Puttgarden in northern Germany, it rolled smoothly —and unnoticeably to many of us, the passengers, went into a nice, cruise-like white ship (ferry) that carried it across the 19- km wide strait of Fehmarn, in the Baltic Sea, to Rødby Harbour in southern Denmark. The ride in this ferry was very gentle and comfortable and only took 45 minutes —enough time for the train passengers to have a coffee, enjoy the views over the sea and do some duty-free shopping in the upper deck of the ship. In no time, after reaching Rødby Harbour, we were again riding our high-speed train and on our way to Copenhagen!
People from all ages and walks of life enjoy a wide range of activities in Copenhagen's famous New Harbour
Everyone to whom I spoke in the high-speed train seemed to be very satisfied with the current ferry link between Germany and Denmark, and many were highly impressed by it. But the Danish are not, and they have new ideas, and a plan to making this connection much more permanent, fluent and faster, and capable of improving the market conditions for passenger road and railway transport, and for the transport of goods and services between the two sides. Their plan is to build a combined-road-and-rail, undersea tunnel between Rødby Harbour and Puttgarden —known as the Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link
. This latest Danish innovation in transport infrastructure is scheduled to open by the end of 2020, and it is expected to substantially reduce travel time for travellers and the transport of goods, and to support and further promote social and economic development and integration within the Fehmarnbelt region, between Germany and Denmark, and more important, between Scandinavia and continental Europe. No doubt, the Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link will also boost green mobility along the way and improve Europe's transport connectivity.
The Lærdal Tunnel in Norway —the longest road tunnel in the world
The Lærdal Tunnel —or Lærdalstunnelen in Norwegian— runs for 24.5 km in a stretch between the municipalities of Lærdal and Aurland in Western Norway and is located about 200 km NE of Bergen, the second largest Norwegian city, and 300 km NW of Oslo, Norway's capital city.
Nowhere else, but in Norway, have I seen so many road tunnels. These tunnels are ingeniously built across intricate topographies, are key to the country's mobility network, shorten dramatically travel distances for the movement of people and goods, interconnect regions, cities and towns, and facilitate access to spectacular natural sceneries —including many breathtaking fjords.
Storfjorden —or Great Fjord— in Western Norway, as seen from Jan Olav Hesthaug Gard, a B&B place located at 6215 Eidsdal, about 3 km West off the Rv63, the road connecting the villages of Eidsdal and Geiranger
Malmö is set to inspire other cities to achieve increased environmental sustainability
Malmö —the third largest city of Sweden after Gothenburg and Stockholm— used to be an industrial city, driven primarily by heavy manufacturing industries, such as ship building and auto making; and for many years was very little known internationally. However, since the opening of the Öresund link in year 2000, Malmö has been increasingly being noticed by the international planning community for its positive economic transformation, sustainable development practices, and growing importance as an international centre of knowledge.
"Malmö's positive economic transformation had to do in particular with its economic integration with Copenhagen through the Öresund link, the establishment of Malmö University, and the development of the Western Harbour. There is no question that the current economy is very diverse as compared to a few years ago," a Swedish commuter seating on my side told me while travelling on the train between Malmö and Copenhagen. According to a 2010 report funded by URBACT —an exchange and learning programme promoting sustainable urban development— Malmö has become a prime example of a comebackcity; its economy has been modernised and transformed into a largely service-based economy, focusing on three main sectors: trade and communications (23.4%), finance and consultancy (20.6%) and healthcare (14.5%).
Housing in Malmö's Western Harbour, Sweden
The City of Malmö claims that a number of planning and development policies, practices and programmes have contributed to making Malmö well known as a model of excellence in sustainability. It says, for example, that its accumulated sustainable development practices in the Western Harbour —a newly developing district with a rich mix of high-density housing, businesses and workplaces— have made it possible for the entire Harbour to be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy; that its bicycle infrastructure with numerous bicycle paths and strategically located parking areas, attracts between 25 and 30 per cent of all travellers to ride their bicycles to go to the places they need or want to go every day; and that its policies to develop itself as a sustainable city from the social, economic and environmental points of view is unique and promises to bring about improvements in the quality of life of all its residents in the long term. With its 2009-2020 Environmental Programme
, through which it has taken the challenge of becoming the best city in the world for sustainable urban development, while committing itself to become climate neutral by 2020, and to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030, Malmö will most likely maintain a leadership position in sustainable development for a long time.
My one-day walking tour to the Western Harbour started with a "green" surprise one morning when I asked the receptionist at my hotel, in Malmö's old town area, how I could get there. She said, you have three choices: you can take the bus just across the street; you can walk, which will take you about 20-25 minutes; or you can borrow one of our bicycles for the day and bring it back when you are finished —While she never mentioned the car as an option, she really surprised me with the bicycle option!
And more good surprises developed along my walking tour. For instance, a local resident told me that the Harbour's renewable energy was generated from natural sources, such as the sun, water and wind, and from biogas produced from food waste. When we were standing by the Turning Torso building — Malmö's famous landmark building combining residential and office space— the same resident pointed out to it and said: "the apartments in this building are fitted with a mechanical system in their kitchen sinks which blends the food waste and then it carries it to a central container —instead of disposing it into the sewer system— and from this container, the food waste is taken to a plant to be processed into biogas."
As I continued walking through the Harbour, I noticed a few other interesting community design features. For example: rainwater in the Western Harbour is channelled into a combination of ponds and canals that lead smoothly into the Baltic Sea —as opposed to disposing it into the sewer system; there are plenty of green and hard-surfaced areas throughout the Harbour for residents to exercise, recreate and socialize; and a wealth of bicycle paths and lanes provide residents and visitors with an environment-friendly transport option to travel to almost anywhere within the Harbour.
At the end of the day, I concluded that the range of sustainable development practices in the Western Harbour reflected Malmö's growing importance as an international centre of knowledge and its good effort to present itself as an international model for sustainability;
and that Malmö's leadership in sustainable development was further enhanced through a number of initiatives of the City. For instance: it invests in centres of learning on urban sustainability, such as the Institute for Sustainable Urban Development
—a joint venture with Malmö University— which allow for the transfer of knowledge between researchers and practitioners; it offers local technical visits
on a variety of themes for municipalities and all kinds of organizations and universities interested in finding out about Malmö's experience in sustainable development; and also hosts high-profile international conferences and exhibitions on sustainability, such as the Eco Procura and Sustainable Week
held in mid September of 2012.
The Turning Torso building —tall grey building in the center— in Malmö's Western Harbour, Sweden
Cycling, walking and public transport are key modes of transport for green mobility
As I travelled through the streets of Copenhagen, Hamburg, Malmö, Oslo and Stockholm, I was increasingly convinced of the extraordinary level of popularity of three key modes of transport among people living in these cities: cycling, walking and taking the public transport. And the huge numbers of cyclists and pedestrians on the streets, and big crowds of people using the public transport, particularly at the peak hours of the weekdays, prompted me to wonder why so many people would bike, walk and use the public transport, instead of driving their cars.
There are two very good reasons why cycling, walking and taking the public transit are so popular in these cities, one Danish woman I met during my study tour told me.
First, cars are very expensive to buy, taxes on car purchases and ownership are incredibly costly, gasoline prices are extremely high and constantly skyrocketing, downtown car parking costs and restrictions are on the rise, and new congestion charges (or environmental taxes) such in the case of Stockholm, and tolls for ring roads such as in the case of Oslo, are all making driving a car in the city much more difficult and expensive than ever before.
Second, these cities have the kinds of urban infrastructures and policies that are key to enabling and attracting residents to cycling, walking or taking the public transit to go the places they most frequently need to go every day, such as work, schools, grocery stores and recreational areas.
For cyclists, for example, local governments provide excellent bicycle networks and systems, with safe and fast lanes and pathways, and strategically located parking areas and pump stations, all of which, makes it easier, and more convenient and affordable for many people to use their bikes, instead of their cars, to go to the places they need and want to go every day.
Local governments have also introduced policies that have prompted more and more residents to use their bikes to go to the places they need or want to go. In Copenhagen, for example, where planning policies have been implemented to make biking within the city, safer, easier and more convenient, bike-use doubled between 2000 and 2010. In 2010, nearly 37% of Copenhageners used bikes, as compared to 27% who used cars, and 70% of those using bikes continued to use their bikes during the winter. In 2010, also, nearly 25% of parents used tricycles to take their children to school —according to Danish architect Jan Gehl, a world leading planning expert on sustainable mobility and cycling in urban settings.
In 2011, 25% of all families with two kids in Copenhagen had a cargo bike they used to transport the kids to kindergarten and for grocery shopping, etc., according to The Official Website of Denmark
An important question frequently raised at conferences dealing with cycling is whether snow in the winter can influence the use of bicycles. What I learned in my study tour is that it does, but I also learned that snow should not be a big issue when policies to facilitate and encourage people to cycle in the winter are introduced. In Copenhagen, for example, cyclists do not seem to experience much of a difficulty when cycling in the winter because local planning policies
ensure two important things: first, that bicycle lanes and paths are cleared from snow promptly after snow falls, and second, that snow clearance from bicycle lanes and paths has priority over snow clearance from car lanes and roads –except for car lanes on the four largest roads, which are cleared at the same time as the bicycle lanes and paths.
Winter biking in Copenhagen at 8:51 in the morning of March 13, 2013 — Courtesy of Lars Gemzøe, Associate Partner, Gehl Architects Aps, Copenhagen, Denmark
So that I could see an example of how much housing in Copenhagen supports cycling, the same Danish woman I mentioned above referred me to "a house" in suburban Copenhagen where residents can bike within it. When I went to visit this house, I realized that it was the world famous 8 House (or 8 Tallet, in Danish), designed by the world-famous Bjarke Ingels Group. "The 8 House" is actually a multi-storey, mixed-use, townhouse and apartment building, with office and retail space and excellent on-site bicycle parking; it is located within a short walking distance from the Ørestad subway station, and features a unique promenade-and-cycling-path that travels through the building while going up all the way to the top floor, thus making it possible for residents "to bike within the house," just exactly as the Danish woman had told me.
"The 8 House" —in suburban Ørestad, Copenhagen, Denmark— with its unique promenade-and-cycling-path ramping up from the ground floor to the second floor, as seen in the far distance along the sunny side elevation to the right
One of the bicycle parking areas at "the 8 House" in suburban Ørestad, Copenhagen, Denmark
is another very popular mode of transport in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Stockholm, and there is no doubt that this can largely be attributed to the remarkable high-density housing and mixed-use buildings and neighbourhoods in these cities, particularly within their city central areas. Pedestrian-Only Shopping Streets (POSS) —which is another distinct and common element in the urban fabric of these cities— attract big crowds of people of all ages and from all walks of life every business day of the week, provide unique opportunities for people to walk, shop, and socialize, and are key to making these cities safe, lively, livable, attractive and famous. One of my previous articles, Pedestrian-Only Shopping Streets Make Communities More Livable
, discusses four successful POSS examples in Germany, and identifies the underlying principles for the success of a POSS.
Karl Johans gate, downtown Oslo, Norway
Drottninggatan street, downtown Stockholm, Sweden
Strøget in downtown Copenhagen --believed to be the longest pedestrian-only shopping street in the world-- celebrates its 50th anniversary
Colonnaden (street), downtown Hamburg, Germany
The public transport in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Stockholm is also highly popular, not only among residents but also among visitors. I used it a lot, almost every day, particularly in Copenhagen, Hamburg and Stockholm and found it to be an integrated and efficient system of networks of buses, trams, and Metro and regional trains which make it possible for people to go from point A to point B within, and in and out of the city, in a much faster, timely, and more convenient and affordable manner than driving a car.
The Metro in downtown Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm has the highest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe, and 75% of the city’s public transport network runs on renewable energy, according to The Green City Index
Cyclists, city buses passengers and train passengers, all commute daily through the Central Station in Malmö, Sweden. About 42% of the city buses run on biogas, according to The City of Malmö
One of the bicycle parking areas at the Central Station in Malmö, Sweden
Perception vs. reality
At the end of my study tour, I was still amazed about the numbers of people I had seen biking, walking and taking the public transport in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Stockholm. This prompted me to do find out what shares of the populations in these cities would use different modes of transport to go to the places they needed to go on a daily basis.
Most frequently, Copenhageners travel by bike (32%), Osloværings by foot and car (34% and 35% respectively), Stockholmers by public transport (34% ), and Hamburger by car (42%), according to Exhibit 1 below.
And of the populations in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Oslo and Stockholm, 93% of Stockholmers, 68% of Copenhageners, and 57% of each Hamburger and Osloværings either walk, bike or take public transport to go to work, according to Exhibit 2.
Sources — Exhibit 1: Copenhagen 2011: Cityof Copenhagen, Denmark. Traffic counts 2007-2011. TU-municipal report data period 2011. Hamburg 2008: City of Hamburg, Germany. Ministry of Economy, Transport and Innovation. Office of Transport and Road Research. January 3, 2013. Oslo 2009: City of Oslo, Norway. 2009 Norwegian National Travel Survey. Institute of Transport Economics. TØI rapport 1130/2011. And Stockholm 2011: City of Stockholm, Sweden. Transport Administration & Environment and Health Administration. January 2, 2013.
Sources — Exhibit 2: The Green City Index. A research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens, Munich. Copenhagen 2007: City of Copenhagen. Hamburg 2008: HVV. Oslo 2005: European Green City Award application. Stockholm 2007: Stockholm Statistics First European Green Capital.
Around the world, more and more community policy makers, planners and residents want their communities to be more liveable, that is, more able to provide their residents with increasing opportunities to enjoy a high quality of life.
This article discussed a number of innovations in community planning, development and management, in Germany and Scandinavia; identified many of the underlying principles for the success of these innovations; and showed that communities can be planned, designed, developed and managed so that they can be made increasingly more liveable.
Clearly, the opportunities for communities to explore and implement these types of innovations will increase over the coming years, as residents become increasingly aware of the range of options that are available to increase the quality of life in their communities and of their potential benefits, and of the actions that are necessary to implement the most promising options.
The next step, therefore, will be for community policy makers, planners and residents to find out —specifically at the local level— what kinds of innovations and actions are necessary to make their communities more liveable and implement them as necessary and possible.