17 July 2013

Lulu and the Life-Sized City

Some of you may remember the article about The World's Youngest Urbanist - Lulu-Sophia - a couple of years back. Since then, Lulu-Sophia continues to fire off brilliant, simple and rational observations about her life in Copenhagen. Many of them are simple observations.

We were riding down the cycle track along a busy street once and then turned off onto a bike path through a park. "Ooh, Daddy! Listen to how quiet it is all of a sudden!"

Always simple but poignant. Noticing things on her urban landscape that often go unnoticed.

A few months ago, Lulu-Sophia took it to the next level. We were walking and had stopped at a pedestrian crossing, waiting to cross.

We were quiet at the moment. Lulu-Sophia's urbanist mind was, however, in full swing.

She looked up at me and said, quite simply, "When will my city fit me, Daddy?"

Fantastic. And of course, life as a child in a city is spent staring at the asses of grown ups. Garbage cans are as tall as you. The distance when crossing a street is magnified when you're that short and your legs are that small.

"Don't worry. You'll keep growing and pretty soon your city will fit you perfectly."

She was content with this answer, nodding and saying, "yeah" as she turned back to look around the streets.

As always with Lulu-Sophia's observations, she makes me think. Right then and there I started a longer thought process, wondering if my city fits ME. A process that has become constant as I move about my city and all the other cities I visit and work in.

It's an interesting way of thinking. Does my city fit me? Am I at scale on the urban landscape?

Spring Sunshine 05
If I think about Copenhagen, there are certainly places where my city fits me hand in glove. Riding along the busiest bicycle street in the world - Nørrebrogade - and crossing Dronning Louises Bridge on 5 metre wide cycle tracks, wide sidewalks and only a single car lane in each direction... I feel like my city fits me.

In the medieval city centre - like all medieval city centres... my city fits me. Cities were designed to fit us for 7000 years, after all. Things, however, are different now. Ever since we discarded all rationality and started engineering streets for automobiles.

Even in Copenhagen there are far too many places where my city doesn't fit or makes any attempt to. Consider Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard, that vast expanse of political and engineering arrogance with eight lanes of crap slicing through the heart of the capital. Even on the wide cycle tracks on this stretch, I am not at scale.

Big City Nature Intersection My Town Morning Rush Hour
Top left: Hans Christian Andersen Blvd is the place where flowers die, thanks to the emissions of over 50,000 cars a day. Top right: Looking down at an intersection, from above, you lose all sense of city and realise that the engineering Matrix is firmly in control. Bottom left: This should be the ultimate central geographic and liveable point in the city. City Hall Square. Instead, the boulevard roars through like an angry, swollen river, cutting the city in two.
Bottom right: I count around 22 individuals in motor vehicles (excluding the 60 or so on the bus). Look at the space allocated to them, compared to the 50 odd bicycle users.

Vintage Copenhagen - HC Andersens Blvd 1907 Copenhagen Rush Hour Traffic ca. 1950
It used to be different. At left is the boulevard in 1907 - read more about that here - and at right is the late 1940s/early 1950s, with wide medians.

Another place that I don't feel like my city fits is right outside my flat in the City of Frederiksberg. It's an intersection in Denmark's most densely-populated city and yet the city allows over 26,000 "parasites" to drive through. It's a dead intersection, only used for transport. It's unique in that it's the point where north-south and east-west streets meet. It's also the intersection we used for our Choreography of an Urban Intersection anthropological study.

I use this intersection several times a day and yet I certainly don't feel like my city fits me. My city doesn't seem to give a shit. They are keen to prioritize the cars and their parasties by doing things like this. The street in front of my flat used to be so much nicer. And even during my lifetime.

Ved et kryds med over 26,000 fucking biler dagligt. #ffrederiksberg #dkpol #løgn
But they still have the nerve to put up this poster at the intersection. "Frederiksberg - the healthy, pulsing, green heart of the Capital."

Thinking about other cities, there are some where I feel at scale. Amsterdam, for example. A lot of smaller cities in Denmark and the Netherlands, too. But I'm a city boy so I focus on bigger cities. Most cities have pockets where you feel like you fit, but sadly they are often few and far between.

What about your city? Do you feel like it fits you?

Lulu-Sophia, as ever, inspired me. She instigated a new way of thinking for me - and for Copenhagenize Design Co.. A new goal.

The Life-Sized City. We used to be so good at nurturing life-sized cities. We did it for 7000 years. Now it's time to do it again. With human observation and design principles.

If you follow me, Mikael, on Instagram (@zakkatography), you'll often see The Lulu going about her daily business. Often on bikes.


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