The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Photo: 26 percent of commutes in Copenhagen are by bicycle. Credit: Wikimedia.
Their journey began last month in Chicago at “The Doable City” forum, organized by 8-80 Cities and sponsored by Knight Foundation. Delegates from 19 Knight communities, large and small, participated in the forum. They came to learn the latest on how to make their cities comfortable for people ages 8 to 80, putting more emphasis on biking and walking, transit and improved public spaces.
Delegates heard a powerful lineup of speakers, including Jeff Risom of Gehl Architects, Mia Birk of ALTA Bike share and Charles Montgomery, author of “Happy City.” They also accompanied Dan Burden on a walking audit and had the chance to experience first-hand Millennium Park, the 606 trail and Chicago’s new bike infrastructure. Some even received a hardhat tour of the new Maggie Daley Park.
In addition to taking away lessons on how to create more livable communities, delegates also brought their own experiences to share—successes and lessons from their communities.
But the learning didn’t end in Chicago. Five city teams were selected to travel on a six-day study trip to Copenhagen, which consistently serves as a model for cities seeking to improve their own quality of life. In the 1970s, Copenhagen was just another major metropolitan area starting to choke on its own suburban commuter traffic; now it’s one of the most walkable, bikeable cities in the world with strong public transportation infrastructure, vibrant downtown businesses and residents who consistently rank among the world’s happiest.
The trip, scheduled for Aug. 23-29, will include a master class at the Copenhagen studio of Gehl Architects, meetings and tours with Copenhagen public officials and a side trip to Malmo, Sweden, to explore its transformation from industrial port city to burgeoning high-tech economy. Participants will view everything in both cities with an eye for how it could be adapted and improved in their own communities.
A panel of judges from 8-80 Cities and Knight Foundation selected the participants for the trip based on work already underway in their cities and the potential for high impact in those communities. Here’s a look at who’s going:
Charlotte, N.C.: The judges noted Charlotte’s strong track record of action after attending previous study tours and saw an opportunity for this trip to build on the momentum generated by a recent Charlotte Chamber of Commerce visit to St. Paul, Minn. Brian Collier, Leslie Johnson, Vi Lyles and Todd Mansfield will attend.
Detroit: Detroit’s commitment to becoming the greenest city in the nation—even with the city’s severe budgetary pressures—impressed the judges. Ron Brundidge, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, Brad Dick and Lisa Nuszkowski will travel to Copenhagen.
Lexington, Ky.: Lexington is set to complete significant investments in trails connecting disparate neighborhoods, investments that both respond to and support a 400% increase in bike commuting in the past five years. Lisa Adkins, Jeff Fugate, Steve Kay and Scott Shapiro will attend.
San Jose, Calif: San Jose has an ambitious goal of reducing single-passenger trips from 80 percent to 40 percent of all trips by 2040. The panel also appreciated the city’s significant funding commitment to bike infrastructure. Colin Heyne, Johnny Khammis, Zahi Khattab and Paul Smith will attend.
St. Paul, Minn.: The judges were impressed by the political will demonstrated during the presentation and the firm commitment to producing a network of interlinked, multimodal transportation routes rather than concentrating on discrete projects. Jessica Treat, Amy Brendmoen, Matt Kramer and Reuben Collins will attend.
In addition, several outstanding individuals were invited to attend.
• Akron, Ohio, City Councilman Garry Moneypenny: Even before leaving Chicago, Garry had sold his fellow council members on doing Open Streets events in every council district.
• Columbus, Ga., Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Sam Wellborn, Georgia Department of Transportation: The panel was impressed with Teresa’s strong record as a champion of creating livable cities and Sam’s potential to spread ideas across the state of Georgia.
• Macon, Ga., Alex Morrison, executive director of the Macon Bibb County Urban Development Authority. Macon is developing a new plan for downtown where better biking, walking and public spaces are bound to be key.
• Miami, Meg Daly, founder of Friends of the Greenlink: The panel was impressed by Meg’s ability to bring together multiple political jurisdictions in support of the Greenlink project, a vision similar to the High Line for a portion of Miami-Dade County’s Metrorail.
At Knight Foundation we believe that informed and engaged communities are essential to a strong democracy. The ability to build a culture of robust civic engagement relies, in no small part, on active public space, places where neighbors meet serendipitously on common ground. Producing more livable cities that encourage people to walk, bike, mingle and engage with the city, and one another, is an important step Knight communities can take toward ensuring that our democracy thrives.
Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation.
Watch the insights of civic innovators at the Doable Cities forum in Chicago.