When Copenhagen won Monocles Worlds Most Liveable City Award in 2008 they rightly made great play of their triumph. Copenhagen’s City Council has clearly had liveability (which to me means happiness) right at the forefront of their minds. With streets full of serendipity where you can find quirky start up businesses next to chain stores, Copenhagen has ensured it hasn’t drifted towards the “Clone Town” status bestowed upon most British towns and cities. Copenhagen has employed urban designers like Jens Gehl to ensure that the city is a joy to walk around and that cars are relegated to fourth place behind walking, cycling (what a great cycling infrastructure they have established) and public transport. Whilst Copenhagen has some fine modern architecture they have correctly realised that iconic buildings aren’t the be all and end all to a city’s attraction. They have realised that projects that add to liveability can be public spaces. Copenhagen now has a fine beach Amager Strand, a 1 ½ km long beach built from scratch. Amager Strand is a piece of public design unparalleled in the UK where greed over land values seems to have prevailed over the past decades leading to the building of crap “Buy to Let” property developments getting priority of great public infrastructure. Copenhagen has also been brave in dealing with Health and Safety issues. The much loved floating timber lidos at Brygge and Fisketorvet is a piece of placemaking that the city uses pictures of to promote itself to the international development community and uses to attract inward investment.
Vancouver is a city that boasts a wonderful natural setting but it doesn’t rely on its natural beauty for liveability. Its commitment to the “green agenda” and the serendipity of being able to find independent cafes, second-hand vinyl record stores and vintage clothes stores right next to the big brands gives the city an ambience that British cities have lost to the land value greed exerted by pension fund landlords and short sighted councils. Vancouver also clearly understands that modern thrusting, city centre living in high rise architecture can we attractive to families if space standards are decent , if there are 3 and 4 bed room apartments on offer, if the spaces in between are designed with family life in mind, and if there are neighbourhood schools Outside of London and perhaps Edinburgh it’s difficult to identify a British large city where a city loving family can bring up a brood and enjoy sport, leisure and education without having to head out from the centre.
For more on liveability indices
In Amsterdam’s architecturally stunning , engineering marvel , the new island of Ijburg, the first thing built was a beach.
Is there a better way to say “welcome to your new home” to a new community of 45, 000 residents ? In the UK developers offer bloomin kitchen upgrades and triple glazing but one-upmanship is surely going the way of fat cat bankers and corporate greed and for many of us the gift of a beach or more cost effectively a communal barbeque, or a great play area is what makes us invest in a place.
There’s an illuminating book “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett which by simply plotting medical data against economic inequality in countries (amazingly this is the first time it has been done) they illustrate how a more equal society makes life better for all of us. Where there are significant gaps between the incomes of the poor and rich sectors of a country or state mental illness, teenage pregnancy, obesity, drug and alcohol problems are more common, life expectancy is shorter, there are more murders and young people’s educational and literacy scores are worse—-the surprising thing is that these scores , in many cases are worse for both ends of the spectrum — its always seemed like common senses but here’s some evidence that an unequal society does us all harm.
The Scandinavian countries have the smallest differences between higher and lower incomes and come out best, Britain + America with the widest disparities between rich and poor come out worst.
Scandinavian countries always fare well in liveability studies and it can be no coincidence that this is down to a fairer, more equal and more community orientated society. Let’s hope that the younger UK generation is realising that the last few decades of boom, greed and now bust don’t make for the best living conditions.
But then again would our “health and safety “driven local authorities let us swim for free, in timber floating lidos on our canals? Don’t get me started on “health and safety” obsessed, nanny state Britain!!