Urban Up Close: Showing Copenhagen my ass and other Scandinavian things

In All, The Story by Teju Adisa-Farrar

I’ve been in the region referred to as Scandinavia, including: Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (and more broadly, Finland) for over one month. I began in Helsinki in the beginning of August learning about urban planning in the capital city of Finland. fullsizerender-3I spent a few days in Jyvaskyla, a Finnish city north of Helsinki, where notable architect Alvar Aalto is from, with the Planning Department there. Towards the end of August I took a beautiful over night ferry ride from Turku, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden. img_7125I spent a few lovely days in beautiful Stockholm where it was sunny and all the architecture looked even more splendid against the Swedish sun, which stays in they sky for most of the 24 hours of day in the summer.
I then took a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen where I will be living for the next four months.

One of the first things I learned in Scandinavia, well Northern Europe more generally, is that relativity is one of the most important realities in the world. What may be a good quality living standard for one country, or even one city, could be a horrible living quality for another country. This distinction is probably most notable between what we call the developed world, or “The West,” and the developing world, or “the rest.” However, this global north-global south dualism is much more complex. Similarly, within the Western world relativity is also very clear. In Helsinki we were told that in total Finland has about 7,000 homeless people. The woman who was telling us this was saying how horrible this is and that it is a real big issue.

Relatively: In the city of San Francisco–alone–there is an estimated 6,700 homeless (source). Of course the population of Finland is much less than the population of the United States, but this small example shows how relative our world view is. If even half of the American population thought about homelessness and affordable housing the way this Finnish woman from the department of Helsinki Department of Housing thinks about it, then I think much more policies and actions would be happening to decrease the number of homeless in U.S. cities. While Scandinavia has some of the highest living standards in the world, Finnish people (and a couple Swedes I met) still complained about there not being enough affordable housing and integration issues.

Coming from the Americas where there is no universal healthcare and no free education, being in Scandinavia really solidified relativity for me. Even when the quality of life (housing, education, healthcare, transportation) seems really high to me when I learn about how life operates in these countries; for a person who has been raised and is currently living in a Scandinavian country, they can see how much better it could be. I could write much more about this, irregardless the main takeaway is that we should always strive to increase the quality of living for everyone, despite where we are in the world.

I took a five hour train ride from Stockholm to Copenhagen at the end of August. It was a quick and comfortable train ride with wifi. After four and a half hours riding through the Swedish countryside, we crossed the Øresund Bridge, which connects Malmö (Sweden) to Copenhagen. The bridge is a 8 kilometers (5 miles long) combination railway and motorway bridge across the Øresund Sound, which is the body of water between Sweden and Denmark. It is the longest bridge of this type in Europe.img_7209

When I arrived, I instantly liked Copenhagen. I love the architecture, both the old 17th-20th century architecture in the historic center as well as the modern, minimalist architecture at the Faculty of Humanities at Copenhagen University, and everything in between. The city is filled with water from canals, to lakes, and of course the Sound, aforementioned. My first week here I met a writer from New York who has lived here for 17 years. I ended up hanging out with her on her house boat fullsizerender-4one evening, it was wonderful and truly showed the beauty of the past Merchant City Copenhagen once was. The city has a wonderful vibe, and since it is not yet cold I can really enjoy the beauty and ease of the city.

Although many people bike here, I choose to take the driverless metro they have. It’s really cool to me to be sitting in the very front of the train as we flow through tunnels and switch tracks; no conductor, just technology. A fun and scary thought though that a machine has my life in their hands, so to speak, while I’m on the metro.fullsizerender-5

I live in a lovely district called Vanløse, which was a small village that was incorporated into Copenhagen some time after they took down the city walls (ramparts) in 1872. I have four beautiful big windows and no curtains. I often sit in the windows looking at the people walking down the street, chatting, hanging out. I live above a cafe so there are always interesting conversations happening, not that I can understand any of them because I speak no Danish. The area has a nice personality and at all hours of the night something is happening and the smell of bread baking in the morning is so nice. A few days a week I have the feeling a Bollywood movie is being filmed because Hindi Music is being blasted from somewhere in the neighborhood, and it’s so loud it fills my entire room up with music. It is pretty awesome. Other days teenagers are skate boarding and hanging out on the streets well past their bedtimes. It feels like a little lively town.

For the first week I would go about my daily schedule, getting up, showering, getting dressed. Then one day as I was standing there in my room, naked, getting dressed I casually glanced across the street and saw the person cleaning the office building looking at me. He continued to sweep as he casually glanced at me. At that moment, it dawned on me that I had been showing my ass to the neighborhood for the entire week. Although I spent so much time looking out the windows, I forgot that people could also see into them. I mentioned this to some colleagues in my program and one of them who from the Netherlands said it was common for Dutch people to get dressed in front of their windows with their curtains open. She basically meant: it’s fine that I have no curtains. However, I am not Dutch and this is not the Netherlands. img_7193

I’m sure over the past couple of weeks many Danish people have now seen me naked. This does not bother me as much as maybe it should. Sometimes in life we show our ass to Copenhagen and it changes nothing about how we move through the city. I still have no curtains and I’m not too worried about it anymore. fullsizerender-6