Dwelling on Place

A renewed interest in community, from Denmark to Colombia, prompts urban-revitalization

| June 30, 2005


As more and more Americans turn away from the suburban ideal and look to re-engage with their surroundings, urban renewal advocates are looking to Europe and the developing world for ways to upgrade mass transit systems, improve public spaces, and re-invigorate city-dwellers' sense of place.

Jay Walljasper writes in E Magazine that Europeans have long been committed to maintaining a high quality of life for urban residents, whether it is through the promotion of public and alternative transportation, anti-sprawl initiatives, or renewal projects in working-class neighborhoods. Since 1962, for instance, Copenhagen's municipal leaders have been increasing the city-center's car-free zone and routinely investing in urban neighborhoods without driving out low-income residents. The city of Heidelberg, Germany, intent on promoting the use of bicycles for transportation, recently appointed bicycle activist Bert-Olaf Rieck to the new position of bicycle commissioner.

Rich and poor alike thrive in healthy communities, but only the affluent can create private havens to escape urban ills. So, when citizens and public servants commit to improving public life, everyone reaps the benefits. Enrique Pe?alosa, the former mayor of Bogot?, Colombia, understood this and worked to construct 186 miles of new bike trails and 13 new libraries, and improved and created countless public parks. Americans are just now realizing, as Pe?alosa tells Walljasper in Ode magazine, that there 'are problems with building cities for cars and not for people.'

An increasing number of Americans are following in the footsteps of the residents of Copenhagen and Bogot?, revitalizing their own communities and making their cities more livable. The Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based organization where Walljasper is director of strategic communications, works to create squares, parks, gardens, and other commons that foster strong, democratic communities. To encourage more Americans along that path, Kathy Madden, writing for Yes! Magazine, identifies the five characteristics of a 'great place': They're full of activity, visible and accessible, comfortable and safe, they invite affection, and are places you can count on.



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