In cities we each pursue our passions in diverse work, and in doing so we end up looking after each other. Laura looks after our teeth. Arundeep moves gravel to construction sites. Rob looks after teaching our kids. Thor looks after our bodies. Vicki helps me pay for my groceries. Nancy looks after how we keep track of our money. Scott makes decisions on our behalf at city council. Liz looks after kids we seem to forget about. Anand helps make sure the climate for business is healthy. Lin is pursuing nanotechnology. All together, we are, in theory, looking after ourselves and growing ourselves.
There’s another layer to this: we can not assume that we are caring for each other. Care needs to be out in the open, or it isn’t happening.
Care needs to be out in the open, or it isn’t happening.
Assuming we are, in fact, caring for each other is not good enough. It needs to be explicit, not hidden.
At the scale of a partnership, or a family, a group or even a city, when someone tells us they are in need of something, we need to acknowledge they are heard. Hearing is a first step in caring; we have to care enough to hear.
In the messiness of city life people are asking for what they need at every turn. It might be an organization looking for financial support to better serve people that need caring. It might be the message emerging from the Inquiry into Missing Indigenous Women and Girls that took place in my city this month: looking for people in power to care about their struggles. It might be taxpayers asking for better oversight on how we spend our shared resources. It might be an environmental group pointing out the things we do that harm ourselves. All of this work makes our communities better and stronger – but only if we truly care about self and others.
To care out in the open means I have to be willing to first care about what people have to say – to stop and listen, acknowledge what I heard. To care out in the open also means that I need to be willing to change my thinking and my actions because of what I have heard. To care out in the open means I am willing to be changed by what I hear.
To care out in the open means I am willing to be changed by what I hear.
Do you care enough to hear, to be changed by what you hear? If you do, you are improving your city. No matter how small or large.
Not intending to cause harm does not mean that harm is not caused. For those of us causing harm, we use this ‘lack of intention’ as a defence mechanism, to distance ourselves from the discomfort of knowing that we did cause harm. It’s a defence mechanism that makes learning unwelcome because it may mean I have to change my actions, and change my assumptions about who I believe myself to be.
A welcoming city examines how it defends itself from change. Welcoming citizens and organizations examine how we maintains the status quo by denying that we cause harm — even if not intended.
A welcoming city examines how it defends itself from change, how it maintains the status quo by denying that others are harmed.
Three examples this week:
First, 53% of of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe at school compared to only 3% of heterosexual youth. 44% of LBGTQ youth reported having thoughts of suicide, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth. 50% of LGBTQ students reported participating in self-harming behaviours compared to 35% or heterosexual youth (see Edmonton Community Foundation’s 2017 Vital Signs Report). While we are making efforts, in the form of Gay Straight Alliances in any school where requested by students, for example, we have not created a world safe for LGBTQ students. Most adults don’t intend to hurt LGBTQ youth but we are.
Second, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls began in Edmonton this week. A few headlines involve harm, beyond the obvious harm to the missing and murdered women and girls (my synopsis of messages):
I feel alone without the support of the police to find my mother
No matter what my mom did, she’s still a missing person
They lost the police report
I just walked out of the police station – I felt let down
The systems in place to serve and protect and help us – what are they doing about violence?
RCMP destroyed her belongings before anyone was charged with her death
Again, did anyone mean to cause harm? Most people working to investigate these missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls likely did not, yet harm was done.
A third example this week is the discussion of renaming the Edmonton Eskimos football team; it’s time to stop using the word ‘eskimo’. Several callers to a CBC radio call-in show were adamant that if no ill intent was in play decades ago, that it should not be offensive now. Then or now, the intent to cause harm is not relevant. Not intending to cause harm does not eliminate the fact that harm is caused. It merely helps us pretend we are not causing harm. We need to be courageous enough to acknowledge that we are fully able of causing harm — and then do what we can to mitigate the harm. Harm is not decided by the person causing the harm. Harm is decided by the person harmed. It is not up to the people in power – the people causing harm – to decide if their actions are justified. It is up to the people in power, however, to listen well and allow themselves to be changed by what their hear. It is up to people harmed to be clear about what caused harm, to be clean ‘in themselves’ that the action and the harm are connected. (I have found myself mad at one person only to realize later that I was mad about something else, for example.)
Harm is not decided by the person causing harm. Harm is decided by the person harmed.
Moreover, writer Sarah Schulman offers a perspective on this:
In my experience, it is the the person who is suffering who wants things to get better, while the person who is repressing their own conflicts usually wants to be the one to feel better (Conflict is Not Abuse).
To all adults out there: if kids are asking for help and they have an idea about how to help themselves, get yourself out of the way.
To all the non-Indigenous / settler people out there, especially those of us in positions of power: listen well. Notice the power we have by virtue of being white, for example. Look for our bias to help us keep our power — its in our selves and the systems we create to continue the power imbalance.
To Edmonton Eskimo fans: there are mixed messages out there from the Inuit community. I hear some are not offended, I hear some are. We need to ask and listen and do what they ask. It has nothing to do with our intentions, or how long this team has been named the Eskimos, or how attached we are to it. It has nothing to do with what the word means. If it’s the right thing to do to keep it, keep it with newfound pride. And if it’s the right thing to let it go, do it with pride and celebration. Both options are in the spirit of reconciliation alive in Edmonton right now — if we listen and act on what we hear.
It doesn’t feel good when people in your city scream at you. Last month I was on my bike, on a downtown street, making my way to the new bike lanes a few blocks away. A truck driver yelled at the top of his lungs: USETHE F$&#ING BIKE LANES!!!
Only three days before this happened, I jumped on a bicycle, rode 15 minutes on streets of various sizes that accommodated many modes of transportation — bicycles, pedestrians, scooters, cars, trucks, buses and trams – to get to Utrecht’s Central Station in the Netherlands. I got on a train with my bicycle and in 30 minutes was emerging from Amsterdam’s Central Station with a map in my pocket and two hands on handlebars, to make my way on bustling unfamiliar medieval streets to Park Museumplein and the surrounding sights. I was in the busy throng of people moving in many ways through the city.
There were choices about how to move in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I could choose to move by car, on foot, on a bicycle powered by me or electricity or gas, or by bus, tram or train. The city is designed for choice and the inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves. There are people who choose cars. There are people who choose bicycles or scooters. There are people who choose buses, trams and trains. And there are people who choose it all. Most importantly, those choices are available just about everywhere. There is significant public investment made to do this, in the streets and even bicycle parking lots. (Check out this article about the Utrecht Central Station bicycle parking facilities for 22000 bicycles.)
The inhabitants live the choices they have made available to themselves.
There are sensible separations that are responsive to scale and speed, always with a the larger intention to allow choice. There are no bicyles on highways, but bicyles can be on trains or you can ride your bike between cities. In the city proper, bicycles are everywhere and the city is made for it. Make a sidewalk a bit wider, paint it a different colour and there’s room for bicycles on a busy street of any size. On a small local street, bicycles are on the street with the cars. Intersections are made for all modes of transportation and while messy compared to the simplicity of an intersections only for cars, it works perfectly. All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.
All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.
Back in Edmonton, in North America, my experience is a startling contrast. In one 20 minute ride into downtown and back home I realize:
There is no place for me to be. I have to choose to be like a car and be on the road or choose to be like a pedestrian and be on the sidewalk. My ride starts on a quiet street so I choose the street. When the car traffic gets busier I ride on the sidewalk. I don’t like to do this.
The new bicycle path does not go to where I am going, so I choose not to use it, despite wanting to support the public investment.
Friendly drivers don’t know what do to. On a quiet street I choose to ride on the street. At an intersection where I have the stop sign, a driver stops and waves me on. This is nice, but she would not stop like this if I was a car.
The streets with new bicycle lanes downtown do not go where I am going. As I travel through downtown, I pass cross streets with bicycle lanes. I could move south, away from where I am going, to be on a bicycle lane, but that is out of my way and doesn’t feel right. I stay on the street because there are few vehicles.
There isn’t a place to park my bike. I arrive at my destination, Edmonton Tower, for a meeting with City of Edmonton colleagues. There is room for 12 bicycles to park and it is full. I ask, again, for the security personnel to pass along to the management that more facilities for bicycle parking are needed.
Some drivers are ANGRY. On my way home, I decide to go out of my way to use one of the new bicycle lanes, so there is one more visible cyclist using this investment. On my way there I find myself on a narrow street with no sidewalk because of construction. This is when the driver screams out his window: USE THE F&%$ING BIKE LANE!!!! I was in the only place I could be to get to the bike lane.
Another driver is ANGRY. A bit later, while crossing a street (on the street like a car) a driver honks his horn at me. I look (maybe it’s someone I know?) and see him moving his fingers as if I should be walking across the street. I shrug my shoulders. He honks again. Longer.
This is not the Edmonton I want to be, where the power of the car dominates the choices of its citizens. But lets be clear — we give the car its power. It is our choice. We attach ourselves to the car life and feel threatened by the choices that are available to all of us. The car brought us a sense of control, an ability to go where we want when we want. This is, however, a form of power over people who by choice or need do not use a car. More of us have control – in the form of choices – if more of us have choices about how to move around in our city.
To be friendly to all modes of transportation, this is what I envision for Edmonton:
Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens. This means both physical access (is the infrastructure there) but also the financial means of the user. This takes place both on the street and also across the city. (Note – street here means the entire public right-of-way.)
Various modes of transportation are available to all citizens EVERYWHERE. It isn’t about choosing specific places where bicycles and buses and trains will go. It’s about choosing specific places where bicycles will not go. Bicycle infrastructure is cheap and easy. Just do it. This takes place both on the street and also across the city.
There are clear rules for how street users behave because there is a clear place for them. Pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers all have their own place to be on the street and know what to expect of each other. The bicycle is not a pedestrian or a car or a train, but since we don’t have a place for bicycles, we have unnecessary conflict between street users.
All street users are courteous and patient. It’s easy to navigate a street for cars or a street for pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street for cars and pedestrians. It’s more complicated to navigate a street with cars, pedestrians, bicycles, trams and scooters, but it is doable. Millions of humans live this in various parts of the world. The choice is ours, but it will take courage to behave in ways that are courteous and patient both as we recreate our city and figure out how to relate to each other and our city differently.
There is hard work ahead for us in North American cities. We have a built form that serves the car and we need to shift it to include other ways of moving. This is a gargantuan task, but is not the biggest task. The biggest task is to be civil and friendly with each other while doing the difficult work of making cities that serve citizens well.
The shape of a meeting reflects the purpose of the meeting: telling or listening. Both are appropriate depending on the intentional purpose of the meeting, and often telling and listening purposes are simultaneous. Here are questions I ask to figure out what shape I will use in preparing for a meeting:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
What are we listening for?
What is the shape that serves the purpose?
We are most familiar with two shapes of conversation: the board table and the theatre. These shapes, and our behaviour in these shapes, is about expertise and power; at the front of the room, or at the head of the table, is the one from whom we expect will tell us what to do, the boss or the expert. One person has the answers and the rest expect the answers. One person knows what to do and the others will make it happen.
These are shapes for telling and following, for providing direction.
We all participate in these shapes: the boss/expert expects others to follow and the subordinates have steep expectations of the boss/expert. The boss will say how things will unfold. Subordinates expect clear directions.
The shapes of telling and following are the right choice in the right circumstances. A doctor friend has extensive expertise is infectious diseases and she has a role in the health care system to serve as a resource for front-line doctors. She has knowledge they need in their work; when something strange happens in their practice she tells them what they need to know as a speaker at a conference, at meetings around board tables or by teleconference, or a one-on-one consult. While there is room for questions from front-line doctors to understand what she is telling them, they trust the information she conveys, take it and use it directly. My doctor friend is in the telling role. The front-liners listen and follow.
Listening is a crucial part of telling and following. The subordinates, or the audience, are there to listen and are expected but the boss/expert to listen. This is listening as an individual: I hear what the boss/expert has to say, I take some notes, and I will adjust my actions as dictated.
The shape of a conversation shifts dramatically if the gathering has a purpose different from telling and listening. The intentional purpose of a conversation may be to explore and digest, and figure out a way forward together. In this case, the shape shifts to circle, where the expertise and contributions of everyone–rather than one or select few–are welcomed. The listening is done by individuals and the group because the purpose of the conversation is about collective discernment: we have something to figure out together.
These are shapes for listening–as individuals and as a group–that lead to wise action.
Shapes of listening and discernment are the right choice in the right circumstances. A city planner colleague of mine is working to create a new set of rules to guide infill development in his city and he recognizes that there are people with different perspectives on this that need to be taken into account: other people in city hall, builders and developers, and citizens and community organizations. He recognizes that they all have pieces to the city-puzzle we are making. He needs to listen to them all and he recognizes that as these different perspectives listen to each other, better solutions come forward. He offers, around little tables and within the whole group, ways for people to listen to each other and find ways forward that look after a wide range of interests. This tangibly helps him in his work and it enables everyone else make a city that serves them well.
All of these shapes are right in the right time and place. It all depends on the purpose: telling or listening, direction or conversation.
As you design and prepare for your next gathering, ponder these questions:
What is the purpose of the gathering?
What needs to be told and who needs to tell it?
Who will be listening and to whom are they listening?
We signed a 30-page contract with a client last week, full of legal details and formalities. It took about 10 minutes to sign it all. As I was getting the corporate seal and my fancy blue pen all ready to do their work, I realized that this formal contract is not as important as the contracts behind the contract. Continue reading Learning journey contracts
To get where we want to go, a clear purpose – our sense of direction – is everything. If we don’t know where we are going, and why were are going there, anywhere will do.
Let’s use the metaphor of a city bike tour. The organizers have come together because they know they want to offer something. Their overall purpose is to offer an experience that allows citizens to see their city in a new way, to feel more connected to the city. They imagine that after the bike tour, the impact on citizens is inspiration to find new ways to participate in their city, to simply enjoy it and work to improve it. To pull off a good event, the organizers then need to dig deeper, more specifically, into the purposes of the bike tour, and the purposes of the events that will happen along the way. They have a few options.
They could explore the bike trails along the river the city:
They could visit the best three diners in the city:
They could visit the top four parks:
They could simply head out, unsure of what they would do:
There is nothing wrong with any of the above options; they all meet the overall, ‘intrinsic’ purpose of going on a bike tour to see the city in new ways. There is another layer of purposes that needs to be held: the instrumental purposes of each stop along the way. Once they are known, they will start a dance with the overall purpose and they inform each other. For Steve McIntosh, intrinsic and instrumental purposes are the nature of evolutionary progress. This dynamic takes place even when designing a bike tour of the city.
Knowing what the purpose of each stop along the way is instrumental. If unknown, we lose the overall purpose.
Designing a process without purpose in mind – whether the overall or instrumental purposes of the stops along the way – is not design. It is exploration. Both of these are valuable activities – when aligned with purpose. Sometimes exploration is the purpose…
A clear invitation needs clear purposes.
When the organizers of the bike tour have a clear purposes, they will be able to craft a clear invitation to put out into the world; people to have a clear choice of what kind of bike tour to sign up for. The next layer of purposes are needed – the overall purpose is not enough. For example, for the river valley trail tour, there could be radically different offerings that meet the overall purpose:
Ride the trails of your city river with friends and family. You will have all the support you need along the way, from washrooms, snacks and technical support. Ride the whole thing, or part. The choice is up to you. See the city from a new angle!
Learn about the wild in our city. On our bikes, we will take a day to ride the length of city trails with stops along the way to learn about geologic and natural features of our land from local experts. Lunch and bikes provided.
Explore the wilderness in our city. Bring your journal and your geocaching skills to explore, and navigate, your self and your city. Bring your own lunch and be prepared to look after your own technological troubles. Washrooms will be provided.
The instrumental purposes of each of these invitations are very different. The first is about providing an opportunity for families to explore the river trail system in a relaxed and supportive way. The second event is about offering a traditional learning environment in the natural habitat, learning specific things about nature in the city from experts. The third is a way for individuals to spend time alone in the valley, learning both about themselves and nature. The instrumental purposes shape the overall purpose.
Each of these invitations has a different vibe to which people respond. Knowing the purposes mean we know what we are inviting.
Why the metaphor?
While designing social social habitats, I find it useful to try metaphors on for size, to tease out purposes. I used the metaphor of a city bike tour to figure out what I had to say about purposes here. (I had an email this morning about organizing a bike tour this am!) It helped me reach for the ‘meta’, high level information I was looking for to inform a discussion in a hosting team I am part of, about the need for purpose to be articulated sooner than later.
Metaphor is a great way to explore and define purpose. And once purpose is known, metaphor is an effective way to test if the design is aligned with purpose, a good way to look sideways at our work. Is the purpose of the bike tour more like a fun run, a traditional classroom, or a personal wilderness learning journey?
A note on designing with purpose vs exploring for purpose.
If we start organizing a bike tour by laying out the routes and sites and people we want to use out before us, and start putting them together in ways that make sense to us, we are exploring. We are figuring out what needs to be figured out and in this journey we may find the purpose of the design, but the purpose comes at the end. What have designed only if what we craft reflects the purpose that came at the end.
There is a big trap in designing social processes: while exploring we may think we are designing and miss knowing purpose, or neglect to test our work against the purpose. If we gather a series of tools and methodologies that feel good together and assemble them into a process, we miss the mark because we have not connected to the purpose of the gathering, and the purposes of each part of the gathering. We can even fall into the trap of naming outcomes that will come from the process and feel good about those. It may look good, and feel good – and be false.
Design takes place when purpose is in mind; activities are chosen because they meet the purpose.
WARNING: Purpose can be hard to find.
It is tough slogging to find purpose, as though ‘purpose’ is purposely making itself hard to find. That’s because it’s important.
One of the reasons we fall into the trap of thinking we are designing when we are not is because it is easy and familiar. It is easy to pull out the familiar ideas, or the things we are dying to try, lay out all the ideas and put them to work in ways that feel good. And if after our time exploring we nail down the overall purpose of the event, the smaller purposes are then hard to pin down. It seems to never end, but the pursuit of purpose is necessary for the ultimate design to serve well.
I offer this meta view of purpose as a window into intentional design.
Yesterday I went for a walk on the shrinking shores of Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Washington. With my friends Ann, Christina and dog Gracie, we descended rickety stairs to a dodgy bulkhead to explore the ocean shore near their home, on Puget Sound.
As we walked we noticed the sandy bluffs above us, and their constant sloughing. We noticed homes on the edge. We noticed grey water drainage pipes that drain onto the bluff, accelerating erosion, accelerating the risk to their homes.
Perhaps they have a great view of the ocean and do not have a relationship with the ocean.
Perhaps they have not noticed this:
Nature erodes the shores of land. This is unavoidable and undeniable. Where we choose to settle and how we choose to settle is best done when in relationship with Nature.
Moreover, when we realize that we have a structure that is no longer useful, we have to figure out how to ensure that structure causes no harm. If this stair falls toward land, it will accelerate erosion. It will accelerate the shrinking shore, hastening peril to the homes above.
Ann and Christina’s community has to figure out how to build new stairs – I know what they won’t do.
Does density bring better public transportation, or does better public transportation bring density?This is the question I’m grappling with after beginning a series of posts reflecting on my family’s winter holiday – a tour of the capital cities of the Nordic nations at the heart of winter.
I first noticed how our modes of transportation were so different from our life in Edmonton, a city on the Canadian Prairies. The city planner in me needs to explore what is structurally, there and here. When I explored the population density of the cities we explored, I found that most Nordic cities were far more dense than the large cities on the Canadian Prairies (Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg). For example, Copenhagen is six times more dense than Edmonton.
In my last post, Nordic density, I noted the physical differences of these densities. In this post, I take a look at public transportation, but before I do, let’s take a quick look at the population density of the urban area for each of these city-regions. (I’m using Thomas Brinkoff”s calculations based on the agglomeration of an urban area – a central city and the neighbouring communities linked to it by continuous built up areas or commuters.) This is an vital way to look at density without the inaccuracies of vast tracts of land that are undeveloped in some municipalities, and not others.
The numbers below reflect the density of the actual built-up area, regardless of the location of the municipal boundary. This is the number that most reveals what’s happening on the ground.
On the ground, Reykjavik, Oslo and Stockholm are the most dense cities. Edmonton and Winnipeg are the least dense. The reason why they are less dense is the large area of developed land, with low population. The bar charts below are using numbers relating to the built area – not the municipal boundaries.
Some Public Transportation Numbers
Not all of these cities provide LRT or Metro/Subway transportation to residents (Winnipeg and Reykjavik do not). The first to start was Oslo in 1898. Stockholm was next in 1950 (with “pre-metro) service in 1930. Edmonton, Calgary and Helsinki completed LRT / Metro service between 1978 and 1982. Copenhagen added its Metro line in 2002.
Stockholm has the most kilometres of track at 105.7km, followed by Oslo at 86km.
Stockholm also moves the most passengers per day, at 898,630 by rail.
To compliment LRT/Metro service, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki also provide tram/trolley options for movement in the city. Oslo and Helsinki accommodate an additional 132,000 and 200,000 riders daily. (I am unable to locate ridership for Stockholm.)
Edmonton had 90 km of tram service from 1908 to 1951, and 127km of trolleybus service from 1938 to 2009. Calgary had trolleybus service from 1947-1975 and is looking at its streetcar history for future transit. Winnipeg had 193km of streetcar service from 1918 to 1955. These services have been replaced by bus.
Stockholm moves a great number of people by bus, as do Edmonton and Helsinki. I am unable to find bus ridership numbers for Reykjavik and Copenhagen, but it is clear that ridership for Stockholm is again high, at 814,000 passengers, in addition to high numbers of passengers my Metro, and tram/streetcar. Edmonton and Helsinki have higher numbers of passengers moving by bus than LRT/Metro.
The Mesh and the Linear Patterns
Stockholm is both the most densely populated city and the city with the largest investment in track and the largest ridership. Oslo also has a significant investment in the T-bane.
Copenhagen has the most the recent rail system, first complete in 2002, and they are now constructing The City Circle line (not shown), which will add an additional 15.5km of track to the 20.4km system. The current system below, is 20.4 km.
In contrast, Edmonton’s 21 km of track, barely more than Copenhagen’s track, serves the city in a radically different way. Instead of serving the population at the core (remember there are many more people in the core of Copenhagen), the Edmonton system serves the population along a length of track.
Even with the planned construction out to 2040, Edmonton continues to serve a sparse population with a sparse LRT.
Helsinki has 21.1 km of track. It, too, stretches in linear fashion through the city.
Calgary’s CTrain, at 60 km, is still fairly linear in nature.
There are two patterns at work here, and they are connected to density. The mesh of Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm appear with higher population density. The linear pattern of Edmonton appears with low, sparse population.
Does density bring better public transportation, or does better public transportation bring density?
If you are interested in exploring the ground I’ve covered in reflecting on our visit to these winter cities in winter, here’s the thread of these Nordic posts:
On Monday, I started a series of posts as part of my reflection on my family’s tour of the capital cities of the Nordic Nations with a post on our Nordic modes of transportation.
It seems there are two city pattern at work: one aimed at serving the movement of cars, and another aimed to serve the movement of people. The city planner in me needs to dig into what is different about cities there (Reykjavik, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki) and here.
Density by the numbers
I have chosen to compare the five Nordic cities with the three largest cities on the Canadian Prairies, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. With the exception of Reykjavik, the cities’ population ranges from just over 600,000 people to just over 1 million. (Note – the population of Copenhagen includes the municipality of Frederiksberg, which is surrounded by Copenhagen.)
The Prairie cities and Oslo have cover the largest area of land, with Reykjavik and Copenhagen covering the least area of land to house their inhabitants.
The resulting density of inhabitants per square kilometre is remarkable. Copenhagen and Stockholm are the most densely populated, at 6792 and 4782 people per square kilometre. Edmonton is the least densely populated at 1122 people per square kilometre. Winnipeg and Calgary come in at 1492 and 1555 people per square kilometre.
These are very different cities.
A feel for the density
In each city, we chose to stay in neighbourhoods to get a feel for the city. In Copenhagen, we stayed in an apartment in Frederiksberg. Thanks to Google Maps, I can show you the primary city pattern that accommodates high density without high-rise buildings. The overwhelming pattern is 6-storey buildings around the edges of the block with a courtyard in the center.
Every apartment has access to daylight. Every apartment has access to outdoor yard space that is semi-private. All services are stitched into the fabric of the neighbourhood. Businesses, schools and shopping centres are all at hand. So, too, are transportation systems to move people in various ways – by car, by bike, on foot, or bus. Nearby is a Metro station.
In contrast, my neighbourhood in Edmonton is mostly single family dwellings. When I moved in 7 years ago the neighbourhood was fighting a second tall building. Now there is spurts of uproar, though not always, about new rules that are allowing duplexes and secondary suites as a strategy to increase density in the city. There’s one tall building (look for it’s shadow) that raises the overall density, but the pattern is simple: 10 homes per block.
It’s not ugly. But it is different.
This low density pattern means that I have a 20 minute walk, one-way for groceries and some services. Adequate bus service is nearby. The streets are lined with wonderful trees. In short daylight hours of winter, the sun shines in to our homes. The low density means the use of cars is inevitable (though we are active and fit enough to walk or ride our bikes most often, or take the bus).
Copenhagen is 6 times more densely populated than Edmonton. Copenhagen and Edmonton exemplify two different cultural patterns of city building. One compels us to live physically closer to each other. The other compels to live physically apart from each other, creating space for us to be alone, both on our properties and in our cars. Both patterns have merits.
In my next post I will explore how public transportation infrastructure shows up in these cities and tease out how density relates to transportation infrastructure in practice.
In the meantime, which habitat feels more comfortable to you? The density of Copenhagen, or the expansiveness of Edmonton?
Your choice shapes your city.
Population, area and density: Thomas Brinkhoff: City Population, http://www.citypopulation.de
Last week I returned from my winter tour of the capital cities of the Nordic nations: Reykjavic, Iceland; Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; and Helsinki, Finland. Over the next few weeks, will be sorting and sifting through my thoughts about the trips, searching for better understanding of cities, both Nordic and those on the Canadian Prairies.
The first thing I noticed is that these Nordic Cities are not the same as my home city, Edmonton. The way we moved around was totally different.
We chose to stay in apartments in neighbourhoods in close proximity to the city center in each city. We were able to get groceries and all services within a couple minutes walk from each location. We were able to access public transportation in most cases right outside the building, or at most a 3 minute walk. We noticed each city had schools everywhere. We noticed streets that were alive with people and business. We noticed an explicit infrastructure for bicycles (and the bicycles!) on busy streets, along with cars and buses and trams and trolleys.
These city amenities are found in tiny pockets in Edmonton. They are are everywhere in these Nordic cities.
In contrast, our arrival was significant time in a car, stuck on a highway, then a freeway.
Over the next few posts, I will dig into two city patterns at work here: one that aims to serve the movement of cars, an other that aims to serve the movement of people. The cities were designed for different purposes.
The city planner in me needs to dig into what is different about there and here.