Livable Scandinavian Cities

Livable Scandinavian Cities

Scandinavians are communing by bike, ferries, train and even on ice skates. Scandinavian urban planning emphasizes well-kept parks in connection with office buildings, design exhibits on walkways from home to work and free outdoor gym. Read more about livable Scandinavian cities.

Copenhagen has, for example, during the past 80 years, evolved as a template for what is possible in cities around the world. Scandinavian architecture might just be the perfect example of “organized freedom”.

“In the Nordics, there has long been an emphasis on people in urban life, and putting them at the center,” explains David Pinder, a professor of urban studies at Roskilde University in Denmark.

Livable Scandinavian Cities
Scandinavian architecture might just be the perfect example of “organized freedom”. Ramboll City Plan. (Deature Image)

Copenhagen’s Five Finger Plan
Already in 1948, the authorities in Copenhagen issued a “Draft Proposal for a Regional Plan for Greater Copenhagen”.  The planner sought to establish urban growth on the basis of an overall regional structure where (a) urban development was concentrated along city fingers linked to the railway system and radial road networks, and (b) the city fingers were separated by green wedges which are kept exempt from development. This became Copenhagen’s Five Finger Plan.

Scandinavians have always had a special bond with nature and that may be one of the reasons for the relatively late advent of industrial revolution in this region. Scandinavians have intrinsically known the basis of functionalism even before it was officially established as a movement.

Livable Scandinavian Cities
Uppsala concert- and congress center. Photo:

Building equal societies
According to Pinder, there’s also been emphasis on building more equal societies, an aim accompanied by “a strong discipline of participation” which encourages decision-makers to think about diverse groups when planning new urban areas and include them directly in discussions.

Copenhagen, for example, is known for its bicycles. There are 675,000 bikes and just 120,000 cars in Copenhagen, which means bikes outnumber cars by more than five-to-one.  For people living as well as working or studying in Copenhagen, that proportion is even higher – 62%. Every day, Copenhagen’s cyclists covered a total of 1.4 million km in 2016. So widespread are cycles and cycle lanes throughout the city that the term “Copenhagenize” has come to meet adding bicycle infrastructure to a city.

Ever since medieval times, Scandinavians have had examples of cleverly designed homes and objects. Seaweed thatching began on the Danish island of Læsø in the 17th century.

Livable Scandinavian Cities
Beautiful houses in Skagen, northern Denmark

Top ranking for quality of living
Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo were all ranked among the top 25 cities in the world for quality of living in 2019, in major studies by global consulting firm Mercer and international lifestyle magazine Monocle. Stockholm recently came second for sustainability in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, while Copenhagen, a city of just less than 800,000 people, came ninth in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking. Although all these studies use slightly different criteria, they each highlight the perceived success of the Scandinavian urban planning model in prioritizing quality of life and striving for a greener future.

Today, and even for a long time now, Scandinavian urban planners know the importance of pedestrian streets and walkable cities and towns. Economically and for health reasons, shopping areas that are pedestrian-accessible make sense because people can easily get from store to store. Infrastructure-wise, you don’t need to worry about parking, traffic, and all the problems that must be addressed therein. Aesthetically, it’s simply more beautiful.

Just like some other European nations, Scandinavians had their own variation of Art Nouveau in the 19th century, called National Romantic style, and even a nationally-based version of Neo-Classicism, called Nordic Classicism. Because Denmark geographically is close to Germany, the Danes started picking up “novelties” and became interested in “new architecture” in the late 1920’s.

Livable Scandinavian Cities
Several studies highlight the perceived success of the Scandinavian urban planning model in prioritizing quality of life and striving for a greener future. Illustration:

Master course in Nordic urban planning
Fueled by rising international interest in why the Nordic countries are doing so well, three of the region’s top universities recently joined forces to launch the world’s first international master’s program specializing in Nordic urban planning.

Taught in English, it is a collaboration between Pinder’s team at Roskilde University, west of Copenhagen, researchers at Malmö University in southern Sweden and The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, 200 miles north of the Arctic circle. The first 32 students began the course in September 2019 and spent at least one semester in every location during the two-year program.

The latest developments in Urban Design suggest that all residences in a city should be no more than 300 meters from a green space. This has lead to an interest in creating small green spaces, rather than larger parks and open areas.

You may also like to read: Ålesund, Norway- a fairytale town with Jugendstil architecture

Livable Scandinavian Cities
New development in Oslo. Photo: Visit Oslo

Mindful relationship with nature
As mentioned above, the late industrialization in Scandinavia might in some ways explain why Scandinavians have managed to find a perfect equilibrium between two worlds – keeping a mindful relationship with nature, and taking advantage of the improvements brought by the industry. A well-designed Scandinavian house is always corresponding with its natural environment, so that both the nature around the house and the architecture itself get the best out of the process.

One of the participants enrolled in the Scandinavian master program, Leo Couturier Lopez, 32, an urban planner from Paris, said, “I have been travelling around the Nordics and I was very impressed by the green spaces, architecture which combines aesthetics and utility, and mobility in urban spaces.”

The future of contemporary architecture in Scandinavia
As many travelers to Copenhagen during recent years have noticed, there have been massive construction sites around the city. The reason is that Copenhagen has expanded its metro system by 17 stops – a huge accessibility improvement.

Several architectural teams have contributed to contemporary architecture in Scandinavia and will continue to design not only with respect to nature, but also with a brilliant sense of using technology the right way.

Livable Scandinavian Cities, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Photo by Kai Pilger / Unsplash

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Journalist, PR and marketing consultant Tor Kjolberg has several degrees in marketing management. He started out as a marketing manager in Scandinavian companies and his last engagement before going solo was as director in one of Norway’s largest corporations. Tor realized early on that writing engaging stories was more efficient and far cheaper than paying for ads. He wrote hundreds of articles on products and services offered by the companies he worked for. Thus, he was attuned to the fact that storytelling was his passion.