Cycling Across Scandinavia: You Don't Have To Be A Starchitect Ambulance Chaser To Be Impressed


Guest poster Robert Ouellette has written for the National Post, Corporate Knights and his own Reading Toronto. He is cycling across Sweden and reports:

In our search for some kind of Grand Tour enlightenment, the first lesson we learn is that in Copenhagen the war on cars is over. Bicyclists won. The fight wasn't even close.

Treehugger.com readers know the statistics already: 1.3 million kilometers cycled each and every work day by about 160,000 people; 50% of the city's adult population ride their bikes to work or school; 24% take transit; 13% walk; 13% drive. Copenhagen will be the world's first climate neutral city by 2025...

Bike facts don't tell the whole story. In a world obsessed with making cities smarter through computer-driven technologies, what is often forgotten is that well-informed, healthy people are the foundation of sustainable cities. And here those people do more than just cycle. The real secret of Copenhagen's success is how its citizens embrace unified urban planning strategies, and how design thinking saturates every built form decision.
With a population roughly equivalent to that of the City of Toronto, people here understand that transit planning and urban design go hand-in-hand. It shows. At the same time Torontonians decide to throw out the coherent 'Transit City' plan shaped over half a generation, here the decision to design an integrated bike, car, bus, streetcar, subway, and rail system drives massive returns on investment. Copenhagen attracts more corporate head offices than any other similar municipality. Good planning subsidized by taxpayers pays off. Why don't our current politicians get this?

For example, in our three days in Copenhagen we cycle out to the new development called the 'Linear City.' Built along a surface rail extension in ørestad, the Linear City boasts some of the most breathtaking examples of contemporary, livable architectural design anywhere.

Sarah and I are not starchitect ambulance chasers, but when designers like Jean Nouvel, Daniel Libeskind, and Danish locals BIG Architects turn their minds to urban and architectural design you know the results will be noteworthy.


Images Credit Robert Ouellette

Linear City ends at a bucolic pasture punctuated by a housing complex nicknamed '8-talet' (The Number Eight in English). Designed by architecture firm BIG, around a generative concept they call 'Hedonistic Sustainability,' the development throws together more ideas about housing than are found in any second year architecture school design studio. But the complexity works--big time.

Le Corbusier might approve of the approach. Building a city for 80,000 people from scratch is a challenge. What impresses about this development is that it shows that housing buyers are attracted to good design that is sustainable. In fact, being green is such an important part of livable design here that people pay more for it. Green living isn't the scary thing Rob Ford thinks it is. Here is the proof.

Further up the transit line is another BIG project. 'The Mountain' explores new ways of integrating sustainable housing with car culture. Here the living units all cascade south down the 'mountain' for maximum solar gain while a parking structure supports them from below. A great innovation here is that access to the units and parking is by an tram-like elevator system that climbs the interior mountain like a tractor lift at a ski resort. Sublime.

What is surprising to an architect from Canada is that many of the ideas we see here have been explored at home, especially by Arthur Erickson. Finished in 1981 on Toronto's waterfront, King's Landing proposes a similar parti. The building is arguably one of only two Harbourfront Toronto condos that gets waterfront design in a cold climate right.

Next we're cycling north from Copenhagen to Helsingborg, Sweden. The weather here has been bad. Five centimeters of rain. Our Canadian made Argon 18 bikes have withstood the elements and we are looking forward to the road trip up to Gothenburg for the start of the cross-Sweden leg of the trip. We've heard that Gothenburg is doing a major development of their old industrial waterfront in a way that can inform what we do in Toronto.

I have to be honest. What we've seen so far confirms our belief that Canada is falling behind in the global race towards livable, sustainable economic growth. By deciding to boil half of Alberta to release oil from sand as a way to balance our exports drives us further away from the culture of innovation we see driving growth and prosperity here. We are falling behind.

See Also:
A New "Lost Generation" Cycles Across Scandinavia To Understand North America
More on BIG Architects:
Bjarke Ingels of BIG Wins European Prize For Architecture
Bjarke Ingels Designs Ski Hill Wrapping High-Tech Incinerator
Bjarke Ingels talks Hedonism Sustainability
BIG wins Big in E2 Wood Design Competition

Tags: Architects | Bikes | Biking | Copenhagen | Green Building | Sweden

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