Our co-director, Steph Nappa, is writing this series to share her experiences and lessons learned from her study abroad in Europe. You can also follow along on Instagram with #stephlovesbikes.
One of my favorite parts of visiting Copenhagen was seeing how many families were living in the city. There were families and children everywhere and there were tons of public amenities and open space to accommodate them. I feel like there is this assumption in the US that raising a family in a big city can't possibly work, but Copenhagen stands as an example that a well-planned city can in fact work very well for families.
There are multiple reasons I think Copenhagen works so well for families, based off what I observed during my time there. First, there are schools, parks, and play spaces in every neighborhood. Second, with the strong bike culture, there are lots of products parents can use to transport their children by bike such as carts that attach to the front of the bike or small seats that either sit behind the handlebars or over the back tire. Third, there is an overlying sense of trust and community within the city. Older children can walk themselves to school and parents often leave strollers outside shops as they run in to pick up what they need. I don't know what it takes to foster the conditions for this third factor, but I think it's amazing and something that we should work hard to create in the US.
The most mind blowing piece of child-centered infrastructure in the city is what's called the Traffic Garden. This is a space with a mini street system where children learn the rules of the road from the perspective of biking in a safe and secure environment. Schools bring children as part of class, but families can also visit at any time and use the bikes for free. There are streets, traffic lights, cross walks, bike lanes, and bus lanes. An on site shop fixes up any bikes that break down and the employees help assess when children are ready to move from the balance bikes to the pedal bikes. When we visited there were children around three or four years old pedaling away through their mini street system. Talking with the staff it sounds like most parents let their kids bike around the city alone at age ten. This combination of early education and a safe and easy to use bike system has given children in Copenhagen so much more freedom to experience city life at an early age and in a way that parents in the US would likely never even think about.
While we were at the Traffic Garden our class had a discussion about its role in making the city work for kids and families. Professor Schlossberg made a comment that if you have a city that works for children, then you have a city that works for everyone. I think Copenhagen is a perfect example of this theory, and it certainly seems to prove it's true.