An Italian in every Dane


If you want to acheive a vivid city. Start with the life in the city then add supporting measures. Copenhagen is a successful example of how constant urban planning has created an attractive city center.
Photo: Lars Gemzoe - A new form of city-life, including recreation, has gradually developed in Copenhagen
A new form of city-life, including recreation, has gradually developed in Copenhagen

Like many other European cities in the 1950’s, also Copenhagen witnessed that its central parts were taken over by cars. However, the inhabitants of the Danish capital did not intend to put up with the noise and the pollution, but started to protest. This forced the municipal authorities, in 1962, to adopt a new urban policy. The process of giving Copenhagen’s streets and squares back to the pedestrians had started.
“Actually, a new city life was created, the so-called urban recreation,” says Lars Gemzøe, a senior lecturer in urban design at Copenhagen’s School of Architecture. “Today, the whole centre is ‘traffic calm’, and all the major railway and bus stations are linked together with pedestrian streets.”
Photo:  - Portrait of Lars Gemzoe
Copenhagen’s first pedestrian street – Strøget - was introduced in 1962. Local shopkeepers were at first shocked. “We will lose all our customers, Scandinavians don’t promenade on a corzo!” They were wrong. On a nice summer day, 80.000 persons walk through the Strøget while they are window-shopping.
Since the new urban policy was adopted 40 years ago, Copenhagen has the area allocated only to pedestrians. Squares have been turned into arenas for cultural activities, and new streets are continuously being added to the car-free zone. Currently, the waterfront is undergoing reconstruction, so that people can go swimming in the harbour.
“To create an attractive city centre which is full of life also in the evenings, you need more than offices,” Gemzøe points out. “Luckily, this posed no problem in Copenhagen, so the city has actually managed to extend the day and even the outdoor season.”
So, what lessons can be taken from Copenhagen’s success? According to Lars Gemzøe, it’s important that the development of car-free zones and squares has been a slow and gradual process. Car drivers and cyclists (bicycling to the city centre has grown by 60 percent
: Lars Gemzoe - The season for a cappucino on the Copenhagen street cafés is extended.
The season for a cappucino on the Copenhagen street cafés is extended.
since 1970) have had time to change their habits, while pedestrians have had time to think out different ways of using the new space.
“It is also important to have facts and figures relating to pedestrians and bicyclists. With these facts it will become necessary for planners to plan also for these groups and not only for cars.”
No less important, politicians have had time to make decisions based on verified data and the positive experiences with the first car-free zones. This can be precisely measured: While car traffic 1970-94 increased by 60 percent for Denmark as a whole, traffic in inner Copenhagen remained unchanged. As a result, the Danes have discovered a new quality of life.
“Originally, we Danes didn’t know how nice it was to sit in the streets,” Lars Gemzøe recalls. “Now, we have discovered that there is an Italian in everyone of us.”


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No 5, June 2005

No 4, May 2005

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Earlier issues

No.1, Aug 2003 - Access Restrictions

Trendsetter workshop on Accessible Cities

The Trendsetter project

An Italian in every Dane

London’s Congestion Charging

Balance traffic restriction and economic growth

Four European Cities on Access Restrictions

Prague Metro recovered from flood disaster

Inspired by practical presentations

Civitas II: The Commission’s Expectations

In Brief

No.2, sept 2004 - Clean Vehicles

No. 3, Nov 2004

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