Close to 62% of Copenhagen’s residents commute by bike and the city’s infrastructure, from streets with bike lanes and places to park bikes and shower after a bike ride (like at DIS) are supporting this lifestyle. Biking has many health advantages, has shown positive association with academic performance, as well as economic benefits from reduced healthcare costs. Children in Copenhagen learn to bike as toddlers and use parks to sharpen their skills.
Benefits of Biking
Denmark joined the World Health Organization Healthy Cities initiative in 1987 and is considered one of the world’s healthiest cities. Most Danes have 37-hour work-weeks and enjoy subsidized childcare services (free for low-income families). Parks like Orsteds park in Copenhagen are easily accessible and offer an opportunity to socialize while exercising and benefiting from access to nature.
Spokes Bike Walk Connect offers an Earn-a-Bike program. Director of Spokes, Sheldon Mains, describes it as a program “where people can come in and work for four weeks on a used bike that we give them. We help them figure out how to fix it. And they leave after four weeks with a working bike.” Spokes teaches biking to new immigrants and this commitment is reflected in a mural that adorns the wall of their bike shop. In the words of Mains: “We did a mural on the wall…of the lounge/classroom/kitchen and it’s a big bicycle with a key…and then on the wall we have the bicycle parts in English, Spanish and Somali.”
Spokes Bike Walk Connect
The YMCA works “side-by-side with [their] neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive” (The YMCA, 2015). Director of Member Services Brian Kline explains, “One of our stated goals is to make our facilities and everything available to all people…this means having signs in three different languages even though there is not enough room on the sign…Also, [to accommodate the needs of Somali women, who swim clothed] that means extra stress on our filters, extra stress on the chemicals…You have to be more vigilant on the pool chemicals and replacing filters.”
Hygge is one of the most defining aspects of the Danish lifestyle, capturing feeling warm, cozy, and content through the simple and small things in life. In a home, hygge can be nourished with candles, fireplaces, warm blankets, small treats, doing something simple that you enjoy alone, and gathering with friends. Aloneness is as important in hygge as togetherness. Research suggests that carving out spaces, such as this window seat in a home, is crucial to well-being for both adults and adolescents. Instead of sadness and loneliness, solitude’s benefits include freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality. Kids who spent 25 to 45 percent of their non-class time alone were found to be better adjusted and tended to have more positive emotions than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school, and were less likely to self-report depression.
Daylight along with electrical lighting are important for people’s mental and physical health, impacting sleep quality, mood, energy, and social interactions. Buildings that maximize access to daylight orient windows toward the south and open-up walls to allow for light to infiltrate deep into a space. Combining daylight with electrical light fixtures that play-off light and disperse it aligns with the Danish’s idea of hygge in both workplaces and residential environments.
Importance of Light
Edgerton Community Garden is an organic garden located in Edgerton Park. Community gardens are noted for benefits that range from healthy foods to improving social connections. The Edgerton Community Garden was a recent addition to the park and was supported, “with help from staff in our department to kind of navigate the process of…getting whatever approvals were needed for [the garden],” says Brian Lloyd, Senior Planner of Roseville. The park and garden are located near two apartment complexes that have a large population of Karen, Hmong, and Spanish-speaking residents and therefore, all information is provided in four languages. The proximity of the garden to the apartment complexes increase access to fresh and culturally significant food for these populations. The garden plots are typically reserved ahead of time, showing the need for a community garden in this area of Maplewood.
The City of Ramsey faces such a high demand for affordable housing that new units are typically leased before construction is complete. The median property value in Ramsey is around $210,200 — the Minnesota average is $191,500. One example is Sunwood Village, which offers 1-3 bedroom apartments and amenities such as a shared community space. “We need an opportunity for all of our [residents] to have a housing choice in Ramsey without having to leave Ramsey,” reflects Tim Gladhill, Director of Community Development. “We saw a lot of our younger population have to choose housing elsewhere, because they couldn’t afford housing.” The Center for Housing Policy summarizes the impacts of affordable housing on health as alleviating crowding, making more resources available to pay for health care and purchase healthy foods, improving mental health of residents, and serving the most vulnerable populations.
Roseville, St Paul, Maplewood, and Ramsey County are developing short- and long-term vision plans for the Rice Street-Larpenteur Avenue intersection. The cities see this node as becoming a high energy, mixed-use “Gateway” that serves the neighborhoods and broader community, which includes some of the lowest-income census tracts and a high degree of diversity. Senior Planner Brian Lloyd reflects that, “It’s an area that has seen disinvestment for years and years and the visioning study is designed to bring some attention and some investment both from the public entities as well as…promoting private investment.” The “Gateway” focuses on safety, health, and social equity and will be linked by a continuous multi-modal transportation network with improved streetscape improvements and access to natural features/amenities. Design and redevelopment will promote pedestrian activity, support local business vitality, and create a greater sense of place.
In 2015, 16% of residents living in Beltrami County, in which Bemidji is located, reported severe housing problems, including overcrowding or high housing costs. In response, the city of Bemidji partnered with a non-profit to approve a transitional homeless shelter with wrap-around services by forgiving the sewer and water fees associated with the development. Village of Hope strengthens the community by promoting self worth and independence through the provision of temporary shelter and supportive services for families experiencing homelessness. Likewise, the city has in many cases forgiven permitting fees and hook up fees for developers willing to build low-income, and affordable housing, including Habitat for Humanity’s project. The challenge comes from the less than 1% vacancy rate in Bemidji, which limits families’ ability to find affordable housing.
Village of Hope
Photo credit: Sandy Hennum of Village of Hope