Monday, July 19, 2010

Stockholm, tradition and innovation.

Stockholm, the national capital and largest city of Sweden, is composed of 14 islands surrounded by archipelagos on the Lake Mälaren on Sweden’s eastern coast.  Beginning as a small medieval trading town and its name was first recorded in the 13th century.

My experience there was great.  I was on my own in this city, so I did a lot of walking around and exploring.  It is a city that is dense yet very spread out at the same time, as it spans many islands.  The islands are connected by bridges and there are many ways to get from one island to another (driving, bus, metro, cycling, walking).

Stockholm’s long history still affects the identity of the city today.  The people of Stockholm are proud of their small medieval city, which they call their “brick village.”  While it continues to develop around its historical buildings, Stockholm’s cultural inheritance can sometimes hinder dynamic development.  The difference can be seen when comparing Malmö to Stockholm; Malmö doesn’t have the same burden of history that prevents innovation.

Stockholm just won the first ever European Green Capital Award for 2010.  Stockholm has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 24% in the past 20 years and they have the goal of being fossil fuel free by 2050.  Much of this is based on smarter more efficient development of current systems.  For example, most of the cars in the city run on an ethanol/petrol mix and emit much less CO2.  The ethanol is made from local sugarcane, trees, and wheat.  Busses and some cars are fueled by biogas produced wastewater sludge, agricultural byproducts, and food waste.  Three years ago, the city also implemented a congestion tax to help limit the number of cars going to and from the city. 

During rush hour in downtown, more than three-quarters of people going to and from work use public transportation. Since the Stockholm Metro Tunnelbana was introduced in the 1950’s, it has been a quick efficient way to get from island to island.  The trains and busses within the city all run on renewable fuels.  Recently, Stockholm as also reintroduced the tram system in the outer areas of the city.  While new, from my experience the Tvåbana is very successful and well used.  I was able to hop on the tram and take it all the way from Hammarby Sjöstad (southeast) to Alvik (west) seeing all the developed area in between.  I would like to see more trams in Stockholm.  I'm not sure they would implement the system in the central part of the city because of the existing underground metro system, but I think it would be a really easy way to get around the hilly city at street level.

The cycling infrastructure is also very developed throughout the city.  The city also provides city bikes that one can pay a flat fee and use them as much as they want throughout the city.  The program  is not just meant for tourists but for resident Stockholmers as well.  It is not uncommon to see a businessman or woman riding one of these bikes in the city, perhaps going to a quick meeting across town. However, during the time that I was there, I felt like there was more infrastructure than cyclists.  With all the car traffic and relatively empty bike lanes, Stockholm didn't really scream "cycling city" to me.  Maybe they are leaving room for growth...

Stockholm’s first district heating system was developed in the late 1950’s.  Today, the district heating systems accounts for 80% of Stockholm’s heating needs.  The heating is fueled by renewable sources, as well as energy waste and residual heat from factories meaning less greenhouse gasses released, and less need for boilers and heavy machinery that use hazardous chemicals and emit CO2.  The Högdalen cogeneration plant burns much of the city’s household waste and uses wastewater heat to fuel the district heating system and create electricity.

From the Environment Administration, City of Stockholm

Only 45% of Stockholm’s area is developed with buildings.  Much of the rest is made up of fields, forests, nature preserves, and water.  As in Malmö, the Swedes have a long tradition of appreciating and preserving nature.  They have a policy of not interfering with existing greenery in the city, just using it to make it more accessible.  According to the city, 95% of the population live less than 300 meters from green areas. I found that to be true.  While walking around, it was nice to be able to find a park to just sit and relax in the shade a bit. 

Since water makes up 14% of the cities area, waterfronts are everywhere.  In the areas where there are no ports, there are always nice paths and places to sit and hang out by the water.  The Swedes love their beaches too since most of the year the weather is not that great.  The water is also very clean and is used for swimming and recreation.  When I was there, I saw a lot of people kayaking and boating in the waters.

Like most cities, Stockholm knows that it cannot move outwards anymore.  It must develop within the space it has already.  This means densifying within the central city, reclaiming brownfield /former harbor sites, and building more efficiently.  

New developments like Hammarby Sjöstad, Västra Liljeholmen, and the currently under construction Stockholm Royal Seaport area are just a few of the city’s makeovers.  Hammarby Sjostad is an icon for holistic sustainable living with a cyclical plan for energy, waste, and water.  And like many new developments in cities across Europe, Hammarby Sjöstad tries to create community spaces by bringing in water elements and small scale green areas.  I found this very successful since as I walked around, I saw lots of families going out for evening walks and letting their kids run around in the grass.

The political will of Stockholm and its planning board have driven the development of the city into a friendly cultural and social center.  However, the Swedes are very strict and can be seen as stiff when it comes to following legislation and slow when it comes to implementing major changes.  They admit that they are not as radical or liberal as the Danes.

Stockholm boasts its open planning process where the city planners encourage dialogue with the public.  The legislation states that the planners must consult the public at least once during the process, but Stockholm tries to invite the public on multiple occasions to find out what they really want.  They are invited to make small models of how they would like the area to be developed.  This marks a change in planning culture, at least here in Sweden.  Planning is relying more and more on communication with and involvement of the public.  People need to understand how and why their city is changing.

Stockholm is constantly trying to learn from other international cities. They are learning from the energy efficiency of the Germans, the transportation of the Swiss, the multifunctional cities of the Danes, and more.  But of course it is never “copy/paste.”  It’s about adapting good ideas to fit what each city needs.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Freiburg, a fresh start.

Freiburg im Breisgau is a really nice small city in southern Germany on the edge of the Black Forest.  We only had a couple of days there but we were able to see and do most of the things we wanted to.  Freiburg is a very old medieval city that was leveled by air raids during WWII.  Only a few landmarks like its beautiful Münster Cathedral were left after the bombing.  After the war, they had to rebuild the city as they were occupied by the French. 

The city’s name, which literally translates to “free town,” comes from its history as a free market town.  However, the name still applies today with Freiburg’s tradition of being open-minded and forward-thinking.  Freiburg has also been a university town since the Middle Ages and is still driven by its academic and student population.  The university has shaped the city with its 30,000 students and is the city’s largest employer.  This creates a very vibrant city culture where the majority of the city’s inhabitants has a high education and wants to be involved. 

The center of the old town with integrated, but car-free traffic.

There is a common awareness of being ecological among the residents of Freiburg.  It is omnipresent throughout the city.  Freiburg’s focus on environmental awareness began by developing the tram system to keep cars out of the old city.  And then, in the 1970’s, Stuttgart’s government wanted to build a nuclear power plant nearby to Freiburg.  Like the Danes, the people of Freiburg were wary of this direction because of the tragedy of Chernobyl.  With its large student population, Freiburg began a strong anti-nuclear movement.  The public became more involved in the local government and more aware of how the city acquires and uses energy.  The citizens helped drive further development of the well-used tram system and bicycle paths that run throughout the city and the focus on walking and cycling as normal practices.  Since it is a very small town, this is usually easier anyway.  Sorting household waste and recycling are just part of daily life in Freiburg as well. 

Gauges around the city that show the city's current air quality levels and CO2 levels.

In the 1980’s when they established a rational energy planning strategy.  In 1996, they set their first environmental goals of reducing CO2 by 25% by 2010, increasing use of renewable energy sources like solar power, and setting energy conservation measures for new and existing buildings.  Freiburg is also home to Germany’s largest solar panel manufacturer.  Actively collecting solar energy is also a something normal and expected in the city.  Organizations and normal citizens pool together to buy PV installations. 

Rieselfeld was built in the 1980’s as an experiment.  The basic principles used to plan Rieselfeld were first linking the area to the city with a tram line so that cars would not be essential, medium density housing with height limits, green space and parks allotted ever few housing blocks, ecological building, plan and build at a smaller scale to promote a sense of community.

 Pippi Longstocking: "We make the world the way we want it."

A typical street in Vauban.

Vauban is another neighborhood was once a French Army base located just outside Freiburg.  When the base closed, a group of citizens (mainly academics from the university) decided they wanted to create a place where eco-living was the guiding principle.  Vauban was not developed, designed with the direct involvement of the citizens. Vauban became a community effort and showed how citizens want to be involved.  Vauban approaches sustainability holistically. 

 Solar Garage

Most notably, they are trying to promote car-free living.  With the very accessible tram and cycling infrastructure, owning a car is not as necessary anymore.  Many parents have bicycle trailers for their kids, pets, and groceries.  Also, there is very little parking within the districts. People who need to park their car must pay for a very expensive spot in the Solar Garage on the edge of Vauban.  They also feature low-energy housing, and few passive and energy-plus housing.  Solar-collecting PV cells is the norm on almost every building.  Even their local groceries stores are mainly “Bio,” organic, foods.

Freiburg is set of making itself the world’s greenest city.  Focusing on public awareness, they have been able to push through many initiatives that other cities can’t even imagine being real and have done a lot that other cities can learn from.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Zürich, mobility as culture.

Zürich is located in central Switzerland, in the German-speaking part.  It is an old medieval city that grew up around Lake Zürich and is split by the Limmat River.  Zürich is a small but fast moving city.  I visited there for a few days with my sister and we had a really good time.  Although we didn’t stay near the downtown area, it was very easy to catch a train right to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station).  From there you can walk or take the trams around the city.

My impression of Zürich after being here for a few days is that mobility is everything.  The lightrail (trams) are ubiquitous within the city and serve as a symbol of its connectivity and efficiency.  

One aspect of this that I found very interesting is how they have made the transportation system so user-friendly.  "Ein Ticket for Alles," meaning one card for everything, refers to Zürich’s initiative to integrate its traffic system.  Zürichers can buy a monthly pass that works for all trains, trams, busses, and boats in the public transportation network, so it is very easy to switch between transportation modes to get where you need to go.  Also, they have made it much easier to use the train system.  The trains in Zürich run on regular schedules arriving at the station at a specific interval throughout the day.  For example, at a certain station, the train will arrive at :20 or :50 past the hour every hour, so one who uses that train to commute to work every day knows exactly when it will come throughout the day. It is not about making the train the fastest; it is about creating long-term reliability and ease of use.

Zürich’s current driving concept is to create the shortest possible distance for people moving throughout the city.  This includes creating short connections for pedestrians and public transport users.  Flying into Zürich, one experiences this immediately at the airport.  The airport is also a major train hub; and you can go from plane to train into the city by just going down a few floors.  It is very convenient and easy to connect.

The lightrail system has been long established in Zürich.  In an effort to modernize the city in the 1973, the government wanted to build an underground metro system, but the people of Zürich were against it.  They wanted the transportation to be on the surface where everything could be seen because they believe it would be safer and cleaner.  So they developed their intricate tram and bus system.

The pros: Both trams and busses run on electricity- no direct pollution, can be powered by renewable sources, quiet, clean, organized, safe, reliable, frequent
The cons: Cables above the streets — do they make the city ugly? Also, the system is organized but can be complicated—transportation squares are can be difficult to cross and need to be developed more.

Now the plan is to simply kick the cars out of the city slowly.  Developing the public transportation system so well makes it easy for a Züricher to live without a car, which more than 50% do.  The city is limiting parking more and more starting in the city center and concentrating the parking available to municipal parking garages.  Car traffic is slowed and calmed in the city.  Priority in Zürich traffic is given first to trams and busses and second to cyclists and pedestrians.  Traffic lights are set up to give public transportation green lights and a control system is set up making trams and busses reliably on time always.

Traffic is integrated within the streets.  Many streets have dedicated tram and bus lanes. However, on most streets, the trams run in the same spaces as cars and bicycles.  Zürich’s goal is not to separate everyone into their respective zones, but to create a mobile community.  Everyone (cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trams, buses, and pedestrians) must be aware and watchful of everyone else.  They share the street organically.

One example is Limmatquai Strasse, the street that runs along the Limmat River’s east bank.  Originally the large, busy harbor street was used to move products coming up and down the river, and it grew into loud busy with heavy car traffic.  Now it is a quiet clean promenade along the river where trams run regularly and pedestrians can walk freely because almost all cars are banned.

When I talked to someone from Zürich, I was not surprised to find out that when trains or trams run late just by a couple minutes, people freak out and get upset.  Because the system is known for being very reliable, commuters plan their journey to work down to the minute.  If one train is late, the whole system and plan of how that person gets to work is messed up.  It happens, but not often.

Other than transportation, Zürich also has an interesting way of dealing with waste management.  Since the early 90’s, Zürich has had their “Zürich Recycling” system where over 170 recycling stations were established throughout the city.  Soon after they introduced the “Züri-sack,” which is basically a standardized garbage bag that people must buy to dispose of non-recyclable household waste.  Charging for each sack, the city has made people more aware of what they put in these sacks and has encouraged people to use the recycling system more.


The Swiss are very democratic.  The government is described as a center left government that pushed public transit very early.  There is no one leader, as in most countries.  Switzerland is governed by 7 ministers coming from all the different parties.  All decisions are majority decisions and sometimes come very slowly.  Change doesn’t happen fast in Switzerland, but it is an issue of quality over speed.  Because of the government is so balanced and rational, the country has a reputation of being very stable.

Most of the Swiss have a good education.  Switzerland is not an industrial country and wasn’t known for producing more than clocks and banks.  Many of the people are well educated and have white collar jobs.  The result is a business-oriented country with a high standard of living.  The Swiss are also quiet people, nor very rash or aggressive.  Even though they have money, they don’t need to show it off and therefore don’t have any qualms about arriving to work by tram or bicycle instead of an expensive car.


City development goals are to increase the density of the already dense city and making use of all the space of the city efficiently and in a balanced way to prevent urban sprawl.

Reduce energy consumption from 3 tons per person to 1 ton per person in the city.

A fun ad campaign for Zurich transportation.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Copenhagen, home of the Debating Danes.

I've spent a short time in Copenhagen, but in that time I was able to get a sense of what a multi-functional and diverse city it is.  In addition to all the crazy modern architecture they have (not to mention BIG and JDS) Copenhagen has a very unique urban fabric that makes the city active. 

Copenhagen is located on Zealand, the most western island of Denmark.  It is located on the Oresund Bay and has been a center for trade and commerce since the Middle Ages.  Its name is derived from “merchant’s harbor.”  The city is made up of many districts that create a diverse urban fabric. 

Copenhagen has been at the forefront of environmental scene.  Before anyone else really acknowledged our impact on the environment, they established their Ministry of the Environment in 1971 and in 1973, passed their first environmental law.  Since then, Copenhagen has been developing itself as a comprehensive eco-friendly city, embracing ecologically responsible lifestyles on all fronts. 

One of the major instigating events that set Copenhagen on its path was the oil crisis in 1974.  At that time, Denmark was 90% dependent on oil; and like most other countries, Denmark was hit hard by the rising prices of oil.  Realizing the danger if this were to happen again, the Danes decided early that they did not want to be dependent on foreign oil. 

The government tried to introduce the building a nuclear power plant, but the Danish people organized a movement against it and the government gave up on the idea.  They also did not want to use nuclear energy afraid of possible consequences, remembering the tragedy of Chernobyl. The Danes were even strongly against the nuclear power plant built across the bay in Sweden near Malmo.  The Danes were also aware of the fact that nuclear energy is not long-term; it cannot sustain us forever.  So if they couldn’t use oil or nuclear energy, what was left?  Denmark was the first and largest producers of wind turbines in the world, first developing the technology on the 1970’s.  Now offshore wind farms account for 4% of the city’s energy consumption. 

At the same time, Copenhagen was changing.  Copenhagen, as an industrial city, was greatly affected when many industries left in the 70’s and 80’s to move to developing Asian countries.  The city shifted from an industrial city to a service oriented city with administration, creative businesses, and knowledge-based businesses.  This transition created a new economy in the city as well as a new environment.  Copenhagen has been cultivating its urban culture and trying to attract people to the city. 

Current Efforts
Public transportation in the city has a developed network with the Re-tog (the regional trains), S-tog (the suburban trains), Metro, and bus system within the city.  However, many Copenhageners don’t use the trains within the city much.  I even asked a cyclist for directions if I wanted to get there with the metro, and he had no idea how to use the metro system.  With extensive cycling infrastructure like dedicated bike lanes, special cycling greenways, bicycle traffic lights, and ability to bring bikes on other transport systems, Copenhagen is definitively a cycling city.  Thirty-six percent of people commute by bike every day.  The city even provides City Bikes, where anyone can borrow a bike within the city for a deposit of 20 kronor.  Bicycle-culture in Copenhagen has been picked up and dubbed by other cities as “Copenhagen-izing.

Despite the city’s immense growth, Copenhagen has kept its total energy consumption the same.

90% of construction material is recycled

75% of household recycling is used again to produce heat for the households. 

97% of homes are heated using waste heat from Copenhagen’s power plants.

Solar collectors at becoming more prevalent in households.

There is a new model to promote the direct involvement of public in wind turbines.  Because the city cannot fund everything on its own, people can buy shares (75% of their 5,500 turbines are privately funded and owned by coops).  Newer wind turbines can produce up to 3mW of energy.  Three hours of energy collected by a wind turbine could sustain the average Dane for a whole year.

Transportation breakdown:  32% bike, 30% car, 20% bus, 13% train, 5% walk.  

The Danes have a very democratic culture that is based on debate.  Their previous social democratic government helped to drive environmental projects, but the people were always very involved and engaged in the discussion as exemplified by their movement against nuclear power plants.  From this dialogue, sometimes comes radical change because they are not always just looking for the right solution.  This is what keeps the people of Copenhagen open to new ideas and makes willing to change.

Where can Copenhagen go from here?
Copenhagen plans to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

Make the dense city more efficient by planning amenities close to public transportation stations, maintaining clean harbors for the environment and for recreation, developing more green park areas to cool the city and absorb rain, reducing car traffic to create a quieter safer urban life, redeveloping the city’s brownfield sites to long term sustainable districts.