Half of the world’s inhabitants – 3.6 billion people – live in urban areas. People move to cities in search of a better life and fortune, turning them into colourful melting pots. But to ensure that cities remain livable for its inhabitants and to accommodate the constantly rising number of newly arriving urban dwellers, strategic and smart urban planning is required.

Aerial view of Gamla Stan (old town) in Stockholm, Sweden
Aerial view of Gamla Stan (old town) in Stockholm, Sweden

A livable city means many different things: green parks, breathable air, well-functioning infrastructure, a safe environment. The capitals and cities of Scandinavia have long been hailed as trailblazers when it comes to urban planning and design.

Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Stockholm – they all have one common goal: to minimize environmental impact, reduce C02 emissions and thus offer its inhabitants a greener and improved lifestyle.

Copenhagen, for instance, is widely known as one of the most bike-friendly cities worldwide. Almost half of the people living in the Danish capital choose to commute by bike every day – be it on hot summer days or chilly winter nights. While the Danish cycle-culture already started in the late 19th century, city planners in Copenhagen continuously come up with new ideas to increase the bicycle traffic in the city – even much so that when New York City wanted to become more cycle-friendly, they hired urban designer Jan Gehl from Copenhagen to make it happen.

An elaborate plan by the City Council sees Copenhagen transform into a “City of Cyclists” by 2025 by using ITS (Intelligent Traffic System). This includes the installation of LED lights in the asphalt, signaling which transport form has priority and when. Selected stretches will be turned into one-way streets for cars at certain time periods during the day. An improved bike share system will be an integral part of the public transport system, and more parking spots for bicycles will be added across the city. New short cuts and bicycle lanes will make sure that commuting by bike is going to be the fastest and most flexible form of transport. After all, a bicycle-friendly city is synonymous with less noise, cleaner air and healthier citizens.

Sweden’s capital Stockholm also ranks among the most livable cities in the world, hailed for its picturesque beauty and rich cultural heritage. As more and more people discover the assets of living in “the Venice of the North”, the city has faced rapid growth and responded quickly to the challenge. The city’s layout today sees buildings and houses constructed around compact lanes, with an abundance of parks and promenades connecting the different neighborhoods.

Stockholm’s exemplary public transportation system has been applauded worldwide. Easily accessible, commuters can comfortably switch between subway, tram, bus or train with only minimal walking. This well-functioning system has helped to reduce automobile traffic in the city.

In 2015, Finland was named Europe’s happiest nation, while its capital Helsinki this year ranked ninth among the world’s most livable cities. Relatively small compared to other European capitals, Helsinki’s effective public transportation system and bike culture have been key to successful urban planning. As the city is likely to grow rapidly, an expanded metro and railway network will play a crucial role to connect the various urban centres. New housing plans to accommodate the growing number of Helsinki’s population will not affect the city’s green spaces.

The city government of Oslo, Norway even went a step further, proposing a ban for private cars from the city centre by 2019, in a bid to slash greenhouse emissions. One of the city’s most ambitious urban development project, Fjord City, began in 2000 and is constantly evolving, with the plan to make the areas along the shores more accessible to residents and tourists.

What works well in Scandinavia, however, unfortunately can’t be simply transported and copied in other countries. Each city faces its own challenges – here in Jakarta, we only know too well – and comes with its unique set of cultural and social elements that need to be taken into account, not to forget the question of finance.

What is crucial though in every city, is to come up with a master plan, one that is tailored to the needs of the city and its people. If city planning is regarded as an economic investment for society, urban life can improve quickly – the Scandinavian cities are proof of that.

NOW! Jakarta

NOW! Jakarta

The article is produced by editorial team of NOW!Jakarta