European Sustainable Cities

My STEP Project was a study abroad excursion to several European cities, including Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, and Amsterdam. The goal of the project was to examine the sustainable planning practices that those cities use. As a group, we got to attend lectures from several local architecture and planning firms and conducted case studies on several key urban spaces.

 

The trip definitely changed my view on how urban spaces should be planned, in regards to both form and function.  European views on public transportation and housing are quite different from American views, and it was eye-opening to see the many examples of how spaces could potentially be planned in Columbus.  Americans are very much reliant on the car, a very unstainable means of transport, to travel to most places, and I would love to see more public infrastructure being built to sustainably support cities like Columbus.

 

All of the cities that I studied took measures to avoid suburban sprawl, with most of the population living relatively close to the city center. These density levels allow for public transportation to be a viable and sustainable way for people to get around. I had the chance to frequently travel around these cities via train, bus, metro, and bicycle, and I was very impressed.  Amsterdam and Copenhagen also featured canal tours, which also provided a charming, creative alternative means of transport.

 

Copenhagen, ranked the world’s most livable city in 2014, had a very impressive bicycle system, which was separate from both the roads and the sidewalks. The roads, bicycles, and sidewalks all had individual traffic signals, so the potential for crashes was minimal. In winter, the bike paths are paved before the roads, showing their commitment to the city’s bike friendly atmosphere. Measures like parking limitations and zoning have also helped greatly in reducing automobile traffic and emissions, thereby maintaining the city’s impeccable sustainability record.  Using methods similar to Copenhagen could greatly improve US cities.

 

Navigating subway and bus systems was another one of the highlights of my trip. In the cities I visited, there didn’t seem to be a negative stigma about using the bus or the subway, because it was a practice where everyone was participating. In those cites, buses and trams are simply more convenient to use than cars, so it is an all-inclusive activity. The lack of funding in public infrastructure in US has led buses and trains to be slow and unreliable, so the only people who really use them are those who cannot afford private vehicles to get around.  In the European cities, the public interest in bus and train systems allows more funding, which helps maintain the reliable service that these cities are known for.

 

This experience provided me the insight and motivation to pursue transportation planning and engineering, so I can help facilitate, in the United States, the kind of sustainable practices that one can find in European cities.  I believe that walkable cities are the key to a sustainable future, and the cities that I have seen provide remarkable inspiration for future goals that I hope to accomplish.

One of Amsterdam's many canals.

One of Amsterdam’s many canals.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.