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The Good City

Mobility, the origin of health, prosperity and happiness.

cycling-cityAre Lisbon, Porto, Faro and other cities in our country above all places that are people-friendly? Do we live in municipalities with good public spaces and a plan that encourage people to walk or to ride a bike? Does good local public transport reduce dependence on cars? One idea from other European cities is that drivers are obliged to leave their cars at a car park outside the city and a free bus shuttles every five minutes between the car park and the city centre.

Walking and cycling in public traffic are important social integrators. Safe roads, healthy living conditions and space for development are beneficial for all income groups. They can improve the lives of everyone. For the sake of social justice, it is necessary to shape public spaces to be people friendly.

From their physiology, humans are primarily created as pedestrians. The bicycle has the possibility of combining the benefits of physical locomotion with a wider radius of travel. But even motorised public transport is very dependent on good conditions for foot travellers because the route to and from the stop is often covered on foot.

And so, out of respect for the individual, there must be good conditions in a city for non-motorised traffic. Cities and infrastructures must be just as usable and safe for eight-year-olds as they are for eighty-year-olds, the Danish architect Professor Jan Gehl says. Unsafe footpaths and cycle paths, badly parked cars and an imbalance in the use of space in favour of motorised traffic show a lack of respect towards the individual. Lisbon, Porto, Faro and many other cities in Portugal have nothing to offer their inhabitants and visitors in this regard.

Jan Gehl, professor of architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, rigorously pursues the ideal of a lively, safe, sustainable and healthy city. Much of a city’s appeal stems from the green in an urban area. Parks and planted spaces improve air quality and lower the temperature in a city. In addition, they make it more pleasant for people to spend time in cities. Gehl also points out that energy-efficient, ecologically sustainable buildings are also necessary for a “green city”. Energy efficiency should be at the heart of every city. Solutions should be researched on the basis of local and regional conditions.

The bicycle itself is a means of transport that is both socially and ecologically fair because it has running costs of almost zero. The establishment of public bicycle hire companies and their integration into existing structures could also have a positive effect on cities and on life there. In Gehl’s view, sustainable cities of the 21st century should be lively, safe, sustainable and healthy.

These characteristics could be achieved by setting a single political goal. If humans were put at the heart of things and an attractive environment with a good structure were created for pedestrians and cyclists, there would automatically be life in the city. The more people use and occupy public spaces, the safer they are. With a strong public transport system (buses, underground, trams) and a high proportion of pedestrians and bicycles in overall traffic volume, means of transport dominate that are efficient both in terms of energy and the area they cover. This will make cities more ecological. People will become healthier because they move around more. In particular, the heart and circulation diseases and secondary conditions caused by overweight, which are expensive for the health system, would diminish.

cyclingcityWith the travelling exhibition “The Good City”, the Bicycle Innovation Lab from Copenhagen aims to offer a public space for discussion about, and new approaches to, the infrastructure of tomorrow. With the exhibition, attention is also paid to sustainability and cycling culture, and it provides food for thought as regards a change of direction in traffic policy. The motto is: cycling as a platform for change – for better cities (Lisbon, Porto, Faro and others) with fewer traffic problems and more space for living. Because the bicycle is in many ways an undervalued and little researched means of transport that has a number of advantages.

In many ways, the city of Copenhagen is an ideal point of reference for cycle traffic and for the field of new and “sustainable” means of transport. On the one hand it is one of the best cities to live in in the world, and, on the other, one of the best cities for cyclists. This is shown for example by cycling’s 35% share in transport used by people for going to work and to study. However, the number of trips made by bike in Copenhagen is falling. In other words: the use of bicycles is stagnating. For this reason, Copenhagen too is having to think about ongoing urban planning, the structures that are available or missing, and improvements for cycling! Because even Copenhagen can learn from other cities…

A decision about investing in infrastructure construction should always be taken with an eye to effectiveness, efficiency and the alternatives. How many people will use the infrastructure? What effect will the construction have on the whole transport system, the environment, prosperity and on individuals? Sometimes it seems that engineers, designers and architects need to be reminded of this principle. It is all too understandable that what is technically achievable, spectacular and sensational appears to be most attractive. But the implementation of these projects is mostly disproportionately expensive or unrealistic as a whole. The Good City could soon be seen here too.
Read our interview “Faro Bike Launch” by João Gonçalves and the comment piece by our cycling colleague from Lisbon Hugo Lopes on the same topic.

More information about sustainable mobility at:

About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)


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