Contented Streets: Why Copenhagen Is the World’s Happiest Capital

Why have Danes again been named the happiest people on the planet? Early this year ABC News cited bikes as "perhaps … the best symbol of Danish happiness," and in this clip from "Contested Streets" it isn’t hard to see why. Here, livable streets guru Jan Gehl and others explain the many ways an increase in bike traffic (now one-third of all commutes) has improved life in the capital city of Copenhagen.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it took four decades of gradual change to make Copenhagen the place it is today. As for replicating that success elsewhere, says Gehl: "if you don’t have enough nice spaces, you can see these [become] overcrowded spaces. Then you should just make more spaces."

  • Shawn

    Would it only be so. I can dream, though. *sigh*

  • gecko

    It should be suspected that not being crowded in with 8 to 9 million people (16 million regionally) also helps.

    Though, the way we do stuff here is awful.

    It’s amazing the level of self-congratulation by so-called transportation professionals in the New York Metropolitan area.

    It would hilarious if it didn’t cause so much hardship and waste.

  • Ian Turner

    It’s true that NYC is one of the most dense cities in the world. (the 12th, to be precise). But New York City was (in 2005) the richest city in the world: Of the top 12 densest cities, nobody comes close — the nearest competitor is Tokyo, at about half of GDP/capita.

    Despite these facts, however, Tokyo has better quality of life than New York. Why? Because despite being dense and (comparatively) poor, Tokyo has their shit together.

  • Ian Turner

    Sorry, I meant to provide some references:

    Quality of Life
    Cities’ GDP
    Cities’ population density

  • paulb

    I find instant, “clever” they-do-things-so-much-better-there analyses of life in foreign places (like this one) witless, vapid, and stupid.

  • What part did you find witless, vapid, and stupid? Was it the visuals, the statistics, the quotations, the bike lane paradoxically protected by parked cars, the pedestrian streets crowded with contented people, the interview with Jan Gehl? Or was it the suggestion that foreign cities may have something to teach us about how to improve the quality of life?

  • gecko

    #5 paulb, Sounds like you’ve been in NY too long.

    Probably most of us have.

    But, there’s stuff to be learned from places where things are easier to do as a starting point in figuring out local solutions.

    Or perhaps, you’re saying we can do things alot better.

    No argument there.

  • It also depends on the citizens to become the world’s happiest capital. If the citizens are usually happy by nature, it’s much easier for a city to win this title, than for a city with angry and frustrated citizens. It’s not only about the fact how the city looks like, right? 🙂

  • gecko

    On the “Happy Planet Index” Denmark is number 99 out of 178 compared to Bhutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan) which has a much better rating of 13.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Planet_Index

    Happy Planet Index, highest rank to lowest rank .The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact, introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in July 2006. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy.

    The United States is ranked as a very low 150 among the 178 listed nations.

  • gecko

    On the Happy Planet Index Denmark ranks a middling 99 while Bhutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan) ranks a much better 13 even though it is extremely poor. The United States rank is an abysmal 150.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Planet_Index

    Happy Planet Index, highest rank to lowest rank .The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact, introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in July 2006. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy.

  • True, although I’ve always wondered what the effect on my mood would be to live in a truly beautiful city, for example, Paris or Venice. To be surrounded every day and everywhere one goes with charming streetscapes and architectural delights can’t fail, I would imagine, to lift most people’s spirits.

    Note: I don’t include New York in this category. While it has some magnificent architecture (the Chrysler Building), green spaces (Central Park), and charming streets (Jane Street), the gestalt is not beautiful–although we’re working on it!

  • Nylund

    I never understood WHY there needed to be so many cars in Manhattan. I LOVED the blackout, RNC-2004, etc. for the way they forced many streets to be car free. It was awesome, especially walking over the bridge during the blackout. I always wished they could limit traffic to just cabs and delivery vehicles. Why the heck does anyone need to DRIVE to their office in Manhattan or when they go to a club on the weekend? Maybe make one big bridge/tunnel/highway for people trying to get from Long Island to Jersey.

    And I also think the car-centric view of Moses with his highways pretty much ruined the ability of NYC to effectively use the waterfront in a pretty and pleasing way (although the parts of the west side of Manhattan does it pretty well these days). Or maybe thats more the fault of the dilapidation that followed the collapse of NYC’s port and harborfront industries.

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