Price Tags contributor James Bligh checks in from Copenhagen, a city of almost identical population and area to Vancouver.

Yet, while we scrap over bicycle politics — yes, it’s still a thing, don’t pretend otherwise — 62% of Copenhageners cycle to work and school. It’s not controversial, and perhaps it never was; likely due in part to the “Finger Plan“, a 70-year-old rail-oriented transit strategy that has influenced the movement of people and goods in central Copenhagen for generations.

Much like present day transit and housing strategies that, for better or worse, tend to suck up all the oxygen in places like Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Vancouver, it’s a fair assumption the Finger Plan influenced much of the post-war urban development in Copenhagen, resulting in a city that is now so pleasing for people movement. And thus, why it could easily top Vancouver’s claim to “Greenest City” credentials —Copenhagen aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025, the same year 75% of trips in the city will be expected to be made on foot, by bike, or by using public transit.

But all this is just background. One of the main attractions for James and his travel parter Errin is the Copenhagen reputation for also being one of the greatest “design cities” in the world, with a quality (and cost) of living to match.

While we saw shades of Vancouver in Copenhagen, three particular differences stood out: plenty of of young families living in the city centre, the high cost of goods and services (although transit was relatively affordable), and a smorgasbord of creative public spaces at every price point — including free.

One such example of free public spaces follows in this first Instagram post, in which James and Errin literally and figuratively jumped off with a “harbour bath”:

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Copenhagen: "Harbour bath is a free, public dock moored to the Copenhagen "harbour circle" seawall. It's filled with the surrounding ocean water and open twenty four hours a day all summer (with fewer lifeguard hours). Built into a variety of shapes and sizes, the dock accommodates two depths of wading pools, a lap pool, a lifeguard station, a jumping platform, and plenty of poolside real estate to plop down a towel and soak up the sun. The feasibility of swimming in Copenhagen's harbour is predicated on how clean the water has been kept – not dissimilar from HCMA's proposal for such a dock on Vancouver's own seawall. Our water is pretty chilly by comparison; while there are plenty of freeze-resistant Canadians who would dive right in anyway, it's likely the rest of us wimps would opt to lounge along the edge and enjoy the prime public waterfront for what it is. I find it an appealing prospect in any case. Featured above, the harbour bath nearing maximum capacity during the summer heat wave in Europe."

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As James notes in the post, a 2016 exhibition at Museum of Vancouver included a proposal from HCMA Architecture + Design to transform Vancouver’s, ahem, “no fun” approach to public spaces and in particular our stodgy, yacht-ridden waterfront at Coal Harbour, with our own harbour bath. Read more on their web page for this concept, as watch their video presentation below:

And we continue with more Copenhagen, which can also be seen on the Price Tags Instagram feed:

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Copenhagen: "In terms of fun parks with lots to do, we found Copenhagen's Superkilen Park to rival Berlin's Tempelhof Airport – yet in a completely different fashion. Where Tempelhof is an endless flat plain of unprogammed free space, Superkilen is a linear-slender strip of densely packed, highly specific landscapes. Snugly fit between many mid-rise housing blocks and bordered by schools on either end, the park naturally absorbs a lot of people. There is a cornucopia of facilities installed in the park, aimed at people from every age. To count a few amenities we found: tables for two to four that double as chess/checkers/etc. boards, climbing+slide areas for toddlers, swings, a skatepark that is also a basketball court, a quarter pipe, various hardscape materials, a flat lawn, a hilly lawn, picnic tables, drinking water, a workout station, and benches galore. Moreover, the length of the park hosts a combined bicycle and pedestrian pathway that was naturally full of visual interest. Is this park a potential model for lengths of the Arbutus Corridor? In discussing whether we liked Superkilen (highly programmed) or Tempelhof (completely unprogrammed) more as a public park, we concluded that both were highly desirable. I feel it's not one type of public space – but the range of available options – that define a "fun" city to live in."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Copenhagen: "The video featured above is from the food market adjacent Kronburg Castle – not in Copenhagen but still within Denmark. I love the layout of this space, which comprises two attached and repurposed warehouse halls. The first warehouse hall contains two square-shaped food courts; each square court is packed with food vendors along their perimeter and are filled with picnic tables in their centers. The central placement of the picnic tables made for a communal atmosphere, providing sight lines to things such as future meal options, neighbours, a media screen, or one's rambunctious children. Moreover, the generous count of tables allowed people to share the space rather than be forced to eat outside – an issue I sometimes have at the small scale of the Granville Market interior food court (by no fault of its own). Further features of the first warehouse: a spillover mezzanine, a library (by donation), and cardboard recyclable garbage bins. The second warehouse had washrooms, a skatepark, and open space for flexible programming."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Copenhagen: "While the cycling culture of Copenhagen is well known, we were surprised by a few of its characteristics. First, the dearth of helmets – nearly no one was wearing one! Of the roughly thirty parents we saw cycling with their children aboard, we saw only two examples of the children wearing helmets. For the other cyclists we witnessed, the ratio appeared to be similar. Even mobile app-ready rental bikes had no helmets – if you really wanted one you had to go to speak with an official in person to pick one up. We aren't comfortable with our cycling skills, so without the easily accessible helmets we opted to walk and take transit – a slightly slower yet still reasonable alternative as long as one remains in the city center. Second, separation between bicycle and pedestrian was better than what we found in Berlin because a small curb existed between the two modes. However, separation to vehicles was nonexistent along the main roads. I find myself with newfound appreciation for Vancouver's fully physically separated bike lanes and the Mobi helmets."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Copenhagen: "As we departed from central Copenhagen to review some famous pieces of architecture along the city periphery, we began to notice that the buildings were getting farther apart. Featured above: the less photographed rear façade of BIG's "8 House" in Vestamager district. This whole area is spotted with mid rise housing blocks spaced apart by wide thoroughfares, with few ground plane storefronts or activation otherwise. The isolation and distance made this place feel like a North American suburb – however in Copenhagen people seem to cycle more than they drive. The nearest transit stop was inundated with parked bicycles – possibly commuters who didn't want to walk the long distance from their housing block? Do those incapable of cycling have to slog it out in the hot sun or cold winter to get to the station? Once again Vancouver impresses me in ways I wasn't expecting – this time the tightly packed Olympic Village, complete with lots to do at grade and very close to transit options. Of further note: this was one of several new districts we found in Denmark to match the above description."

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