This post started simply because I have some good photographs of shop signs in Copenhagen. These signs are clever, well designed, well made and couldn’t be further from the signage that most major national/international companies put up as part of their corporate image - the sort of logos and name plates that simply ignore their surroundings and use the visual equivalent of shouting to attract customers.
Then what I realised, as I walked around Copenhagen on my last evening there, was that one of many things I like about the city is the lack of street signs - or at least the restriction of street signs to the places where they are necessary if there is a lot of traffic going through that particular area.
I like that and the well thought-out surfacing for roads and pavements ... again of a very high quality and in a range of materials but these are thought through so that appropriate finishes are used in the right places: lines of cobbles define areas, neatly kept gravel covers larger areas and shallow water features stop all but the most stupid from cutting across where they shouldn’t cut across.
Shop owners are proud of their shops but also take pride in the street frontage, putting out flowers and seats.
Copenhagen isn’t perfect - the area around the central railway station is still pretty grim and there are scruffy areas - but it comes close.
But Copenhagen isn’t a coy film set slavishly preserving the past or reconstructing a past for the tourists. New architecture here can be edgy and very controversial and if you have a design savvy population then potentially you have lots of articulate critics.
Maybe good, high-quality urban landscape is one reason why Monocle magazine in their July issue, in the seventh year of their annual survey, have just decided that for this year Copenhagen comes top of the list of the 25 best cities to live in in the World. It is also pretty significant for this blog that Helsinki came in at 3 and Stockholm at 7 out of the top twenty five.
The Monocle team judge important things like infrastructure, crime rate, health care and political and social openness. However, their big question was “how do you make your city a place where people want to live?”
All along the water front in Copenhagen there are seats or swimming platforms or small parks with large sand sculptures that have not been vandalised. There are curiously few waste bins but virtually no litter; there are few yellow lines but virtually no one parks on the pavement; there are no barriers between the quay side and the water of the harbour and few people seem to fall in or cars drive in.
A couple sat on the edge of the quay with their feet out over the drop to the water and chatted in the low glow of the last of the warm evening sun. And I realised Copenhagen is confident and comfortable and a grown up place for grown up people.