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Denver, Meet Denmark: Mirroring Copenhagen

Lasse Schelde, Bicycle Innovation Lab Co-Founder and Architect.

Strøget leaking into Amager Square.

Steen Andersen working with Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs creatives for a weekend.

Strøget at Amager Square.

Co-author Steen Andersen.

The Innovation Lab's inverted transportation pyramid.

Building cities -- vibrant, diverse and responsive cities at that -- is no easy feat. It would behoove one to find a counterpart. We offer a suggestion for Denver. Let us know what you think.
 
Denver continues to grab headlines and plenty of positive press. The city is becoming becoming a desirable location, not just nationally, but as a place on the international radar regarding everything from biofuels and cleantech to creative capital and innovative urban renewal. 
 
If Denver seeks to become a global player, however, it needs to form partnerships with like-minded cities. This helps our cause as most cities live in the shadow of the megalopolises such as New York, London and Tokyo. Increasingly, eyes are turning to smaller locales because they provide something the big guys don't -- a more manageable scale that encourages participation from everyday users and local organizations. But how do we position ourselves as a city at the forefront of innovation, as opposed to just one more city vying for attention in a sea of many?
 
It is imperative that cities network, just as people do in their daily lives. We can build this network by working with cities that we admire, in essence, finding a counterpart. But what can we offer a counterpart? What makes us attractive to each other and how do we see municipalities setting precedents akin to progressive business partnerships -- the brightest and best ideas put to action?
 
As highlighted in a past story covering the burgeoning connections between Denver and Copenhagen, we are now taking a look now at the physical spaces of the two cities and the parallels of what has been done and what is to come in the very near future. 
 
The 16th Street Mall and StrøgetStrøget leaking into Amager Square.
 
There are two spaces that are eerily similar in both Copenhagen and Denver: the 16th Street Mall and the famous walking street, Strøget, in central Copenhagen.  
 
The 16th Street Mall as we know it today was a controversial idea when plans arose to close down the street to auto traffic in the late 1970s, not unlike Strøget in Copenhagen which actually set a precedent nearly 20 years in advance. Strøget, which means "a street where you take a stroll," shared a similar history of vehicular dominance up until the early 1960s. Both developments were met with criticism that they would scare away business and that by making them pedestrian-focused, that they would not promote a more public life. In fact, the opposite has proven true. 
 
Strøget is currently Europe's longest pedestrian shopping street. It is one of the first pedestrian-only streets in the world, and it has become a central part of the Copenhagen identity. Walking up Strøget on an ordinary day, all types of people can be met: locals with their kids; people from the suburbs looking at the shop windows; tourists clicking their cameras; street artists and old buskers sitting on benches drinking beer while their dogs lay on the street; young people hanging around the historical fountains and statues; skaters; break dancers; punks; people in love; people who want to be seen in their newest fashion findings; gamblers trying to cheat money from passing people; and at night, the young party people invade, bringing all the possibilities and challenges nightlife causes. 
 
Strøget has oscillated between the popular and the elite. For some, it is too commercial and there are too many tourists, while others shop, people watch or try the newest fashion and design. Strøget is a microcosm of Copenhagen: It has an eclectic mix of discount consumerism as one component and haute couture as the opposite extreme. 
 
It is a street that the people of Copenhagen love -- or love to hate. But everybody agrees that it is very much Copenhagen, and that is it fully alive.
 
The same can be said of Denver's 16th Street Mall, and dependent upon the time of day or the day of the week, spaces along the mall invite everyone from the corporate business-type to street performers, families, bike taxis or even a mob of zombies. There is not a particular type of behavior that one expects to convey, nor intends to witness. It is, in fact, one of the most public spaces in the city -- open, voyeuristic and diverse -- and it is what brings people to it, or keeps them away from it.
 
What makes the 16th Street Mall and Strøget so vital is the fact that they transform on any given day. They add life to a city. They add a social platform and a space for planned encounters and unintended collisions. The array of activities that are able to occur, both planned and spontaneous, give these two areas a certain amount of legitimacy as central urban spaces of both cities. 
 
They reflect the true identity of their constituents, albeit their lure is based on attracting paying consumers. Historically, this has been the shopper or one seeking entertainment. However, increasingly, we are seeing new urban planning developments and new architectural interventions that seek to activate areas as a municipal responsibility for citizens in order to make the city center more livable and accommodating for all facets of life -- not just for financial exchange.
 
The Innovation Lab's inverted transportation pyramid.Infrastructure and the inverted transportation pyramid
 
Within these city cores, an analogy to the basic components of a healthy, functioning organism reside -- the communication network, mobility, economy, and the senses. As we can look to the two examples of the 16th Street Mall and Strøget as locations of programmatic building, it is also central to understand infrastructure must be reworked to enhance encountering, connection and social vibrancy. 
 
These changes are occurring in Denver and are giving easier access to new transportation possibilities in car sharing, light rail and more bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure development. And the range of transportation options are key to the success of creating versatility and opportunity for a vibrant city -- it gives peoples options. The example of the inverted transportation pyramid can be said to resemble the food pyramid, representing, in scale, the ingredients for a balanced organism. Furthermore, infrastructure gives the impetus for innovation and enterprise. 
 
In Copenhagen, known for its initiatives in creating a sustainable bicycle culture, there are new entrepreneurial and social enterprises being created to take this momentum even further. These enterprises commence on the grounds that even in a city that seems to outwardly convey that it has figured out how to successfully address urban car reduction, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
 
A critical look a Copenhagen's cycling culture
 
Bicycle paths, bicycle parking and bicycle traffic lights dominate the landscape in Copenhagen, and the city is working to become the world's best cycling city in 2015. The bike is already a primary means of transport for residents, because Copenhagen has made a determined effort to improve infrastructure, security and parking facilities for cyclists. 
 
Every day, 55 percent of all locals cycle to and from work. Furthermore, the 11-year-old metro system in Copenhagen transports hundreds of thousands of passengers daily, was named the world's best in 2008, 2009 and 2010 by the international MetroRail conference, and in 2018 the metro city ring will be finished connecting 15 new stations. 
 
So in the minds of many people, Copenhagen is a good example of a green and sustainable city. However, that is not entirely the whole picture; rather, far from it. Public transportation prices have continued to increase over the last ten years and there have been attempts to make more car-free streets and neighborhoods, inspired by Strøget. And though the city's network of more than 400 kilometers of bicycle lanes and green bicycle routes have been growing in recent years, space taken up by cars is still highly out of balance, and many times higher than that of bicycles, public transportation, walking areas and green recreational area such as parks altogether. 
 
It is still true that over 22 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in Copenhagen comes from cars and 500 people every year die because of air pollution. In addition, car pollution has increased asthmatic illness and in the Nørrebro district, the middle age lifespan is at the same level as countries such as Ukraine. And every time the municipality talks about their plans for making another car-free street, a tsunami of protest arises, even from the big groups of daily bicycle users, because they are afraid the car free zones in the short run will result in falling housing prices, job loss and prevent their own use of cars in the often bad weather in Copenhagen.

Infrastructure begets enterprise
 
How a new balance of more spaces for bicycles and walking instead of driving will redevelop the city for the long term, no one really knows. In fact, many critics point out, the Danes know very little about their own bicycle culture and all the hidden resources that 150 years of bicycling has given. 
 
This is exactly where a new enterprise, the Bicycle Innovation Lab, is making an effort to fill in those gaps.  The Lab is situated on Amager, an island southeast of the Copenhagen city center where the airport is situated. Here, the Lab is Denmark's first bicycle culture house, where people can learn about the Danish bicycling culture, borrow all types of bicycle models from the bicycle library and participate in workshops, talks and studies. Bicycle enthusiasts and companies can also come and share knowledge and experiences, test their newest bikes, accessories and concepts, and perhaps enter new ways of cooperation spreading out the Danish bicycle culture to the rest of the world. 
 
The goal is that these initiatives will enhance efforts towards cleaner cities and health for inhabitants, and concurrently can also led to new jobs, export possibilities and be a way to persuade even more people to jump on a bike.
 
This is the first in a series of stories comparing and contrasting Denver and Copenhagen. We hope to start a conversation about what is working well and what could be better. Could we see the Denver version of the Bicycle Innovation Lab opening soon? Could the 16th Street Mall and Strøget conduct experiments together to see how we could enhance user experience in two locations with similar urban typologies? Could Copenhagen learn from Denver how to develop products and market them hyper-locally? Co-authors Steen Andersen and Rori Knudtson are working to make Copenhagen and Denver sister cities. Email them here.
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