Stroget Pedestrian Plaza, Copenhagen, Denmark
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…. Make big plans… aim high in hope and work.” Daniel Burnham, Architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair
When Danish Planner, Jan Gehl, began his work to make the streets of Copenhagen pedestrian and bicycle friendly, what he heard most often from residents was, “We’re Danes, not Italians…We Don’t have a culture for walking”. Businesses along the now famous “car-free” Stroget plaza, claimed that their shops would be shuttered and everyone would desert the City center if no access was allowed for automobiles. Obviously, the changes they made have turned Copenhagen into one of the most livable cities in the world, but the idea of removing car lanes, parking, and more, originally brought nothing but defeatist predictions on the outcome, based soley on the idea that the culture simply didn’t exist…or if it once did, it had long since passed.
And how did they achieve such a status in a relatively short amount of time? Their city leaders were visionaries and didn’t settle for “just enough”. In all of my own advocacy within city meetings, townhalls, chambers, and more, I’ve been struck at how many people who have been placed in positions of authority, had the “Dallas just doesn’t do that” mentality. Fortunately, I’ve recently been heartened by a few that have decided to actually set goals beyond our own predefined boundaries like council members Delia Jasso, and Angela Hunt. I should note, it takes one extra trait beyond vision, and that’s courage. One has to muster quite a bit when putting ideas on the line, while knowing you’ll be taking arrows from NIMBY’s, C.A.V.E. people, and the very vocal “We Can’t” crowd.
So how do you challenge your community, and set out for the unimaginable? You set extraordinary goals. There are examples of this throughout the places we think of as “Great Cities”. Copenhagen set a goal to reach 50% bicycle ridership by 2015. Chicago set a goal to become the “Most Bicycle Friendly City in the United States”. Portland’s goal is to become the “Most Sustainable City in THE WORLD”.
If you strive for mediocrity, and miss your goal, then not only have you settled, but you might as well go home. On the other hand, if you set your vision far beyond what is currently imaginable (think: JFK’s moon challenge), then you’ve found an inspiring endeavor, and you stand the chance to make an entire community strive to its greatest potential. And even if you fall short, you’ve probably achieved much greater strides toward your goal than you ever would have previously, had you set out for “just enough”.
So our challenge to all city leaders is simple…set an unimaginable goal like “Dallas will be the most livable city in the World by 2020”, and even if we fall short, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with only being the “Eighth Most Livable City in the World.”