Bringing European Cities Home

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This May, I traveled to Europe to meet up with 45 strangers that would become my travel buddies for the next month. Through the European Architecture study abroad program funded by STEP, I learned first hand from world-renown architecture landmarks and urban areas. We traveled through Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria to complete one month of exhausting, but unforgettable trip.

In the course of my one month abroad, my view of the world changed dramatically. As shallow as it sounds, I think that Americans have a view of the world that they’re superior compared to other cultures.   However, traveling to over 20 new cities around Europe, I grew to love the European culture. They have a culture deeply rooted in history, a culture that allows them to take life at a slower pace and enjoy every moment. In learning about their architecture, it was clear they design buildings and cities with people at the forefront of their design. More so than in America, their modern spaces are kind to the environment and designed to be highly functional for creative interaction. Many historic European buildings are older than the country of America. They preserve this history and value it to create unique cities that have a character incomparable to anything in the U.S. I could not have gained this new appreciation for European cultures without immersing myself in their way of life for a month.

While driving through the German countryside, we joked that the flat landscape and agriculture looked like Ohio, but one thing stood out to me. The most common crop we saw was a bright yellow flower called rape. Rape is used to make a biofuel that is widely used in Germany. Every small town that we passed had windmills outside the town and small traditional German houses had solar panels on their roof. In cities all over Europe, the number of people that rode bikes to work instead of driving continued to amaze me. All of these observations are a lifestyle difference in the European culture. Rather than tear up the landscape to put those small towns on the power grid, they outfitted their towns with renewable energy sources. Rather than tear down their beautiful historic cities to make room for cars, they forget the cars and save the earth by riding bikes.

The lifestyle in Europe is laid back and allows more time for things that bring happiness like friends, family, and good food. Their cities allow for this type of interaction because they are more densely populated and have creative outdoor space that brings people out into their neighborhood. As a city planner, this was uplifting to see so many people actively enjoying the space. At night we got to explore the cities on our own. In one small classical Roman town, Vicenza, Italy, the town was alive all night with people enjoying live music, restaurants, art galleries, and public spaces.

After I complete my undergraduate and masters degrees in City and Regional Planning, I will become a practicing planner. My hope is to work for a small private planning firm that makes comprehensive plans for progressive downtowns needing economic development. In many of my classes, we study the layout and character European cities. Without my study abroad, I would have never gotten to experience these cities that I continue to learn from. I will use what I leaned in Germany about sustainability and bring back how Italy can transform an aging town into a thriving urban area to improve our cities here in America.