22 August 2013

Taking notes

For every time I travel, I find myself looking at cities more and more through the eyes of a city planner. I find myself occupied with how they maintain the trees, how much space is allocated for pedestrians and bikes, and how they handle the garbage situation. I recognize what a huge difference the lower speed limits in city centres have (30km/h in Paris vs. 50km/h here), with less noise and less stress.

Some things we do really well here, and cities from all parts of the world look to us, when it comes to things like bicycling infrastructure. In some cases they even improve it (like the shared bike systems, by far exceeding ours).

Velib Paris city bikes

The city planners of Copenhagen need to do the same: look to other cities, pick what really works, and implement it here, if possible. For instance, in cities like Berlin and Stockholm they don’t use salt on the roads in the wintertime, but here we have killed off nearly half of our road trees with salt, over the last few years, and we are still counting. We urgently need to look into that!

The biggest difference from Copenhagen is how the city planners seem to put people's need first. Below Hotel de Ville the public square, summer edition.

Beach volley on Hotel de Ville, Paris

The Seine beach in Paris

The Seine beach.

Streets are for people, not cars. This street is reserved for cyclists and pedestrians in the hours between 11-19. Are you paying attention here,  Mayor Jensen?

Road reserved for cyclists and pedestrians

The police is not the enemy of cyclists, but among us. Showstoppers:


And how do we get a farmers market? Skip the part with the greedy developer chopping down everything green, to make space for parking, renting out his square metres to chain stores at a rate, no independent farmer can afford. All it takes is this:

Farmers market in Paris, off hours

This space can be used for everything from flea markets to farmers and flower markets. Everything is possible, it's a public space, right? Whatever rigid rule is standing in the way of this, should be looked into, and eliminated. Let the city breathe, please.

And, this has become a small ritual of mine: I go to visit the vertical garden at BHV Homme. Having followed it from the early stage, my feelings for this wall are bordering on maternal.

BHV Homme vertical garden
BHV Homme vertical garden

Clearly this was not just meant to be a quick greenwashing smokescreen, but a lasting piece.

BHV vertical garden, Paris

Look how far our baby has come (links: early stage and later stage). It seriously makes my heart swell.

Lastly the love for the city and respect for the people shows in the way they cover up their construction sites. Yes, cities grow and need maintaining, but it does not have to be ugly and unbearable. 
Trompe l'oeil scaffolding
Mirror mirror

A construction site is not just perceived as an opportunity to rent out advertising space to the highest bidder. More important things are at stake here: like the quality of life for the citizens.

Pedestrians on scaffolding

I want for my city to be treated with the same degree of love and respect. And it will happen, I will do everything in my power to see to it.

End Paris report.


  1. I don't think you can be interested in exploring cities for very long before you become interested in city planning - of course you become curious about *why* things are the way they are, and why different cities are so different from one another. You see things you love, and things you don't understand, and you naturally wonder how you can get more of the first, and less of the second.

    If there is one thing about Portland that I would try to export to the rest of the world, it's the availability of good food, both in restaurants, and in markets and grocery stores. We do a pretty good job with farmer's markets, too, and a wide variety of not only produce (fruits and vegetables) but meats, eggs, dairy, and processed things like jam, baked goods, cheese, wines, beers, etc are available.

    It depends a bit on where you live in Portland, as the lower income areas (as with all facets of life) are not served as well by markets, grocery stores and farmer's markets, so their options primarily consist of cheap supermarket food.

    1. Ah, that is interesting, everyone should make a list of things we would like to export to other countries. We could definitely use your availability of good food, you make it sound so yummy (I am so hungry right now, haha).

      Recently someone said that we couldn't even gather enough independent farmers in Cph, to have a real farmers market, I really hope he is wrong. The supermarket mafia is controlling pretty much everything here, it is discount before quality. And, they market only big suppliers, maybe because the small ones can't afford to play along on their terms. Such a pity.

      But I am hopeful that we will see a change. If we demand it, maybe it will happen.

  2. so glad about what happened in the train. there is hope. nobody could believe it when i told your story, there were "what, here, in paris??? incredible!!!" well no, not really like that, because that level of enthusiasm would not be very parisian ;-) but the idea was there. the idea is to spread the news, so people will know it is possible to be kind, helping, and in paris. it could be the beginning of a change in mentalities.

    1. It was a rare and beautiful gesture, there is definitely hope, I am not even sure that it could have happened in Copenhagen. But it inspires me and hopefully others to help out others.

      Maybe you are right, we are seeing a change in mentalities. You know, I have only encountered very sweet Parisians. : )

  3. My wife actually also had a really good experience in Paris, before we were married, with both a younger guy (who may have also been trying to pick her up, but still) and an older couple being very kind to her in situations where she was a bit at a loss. My own experience with the people of Paris is both limited and pretty neutral. I was only there for a few days, and nobody we talked to seemed overly kind or overly hostile, which is about what I expect from most places when meeting strangers who I have no connection to - civil and rather neutral.


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