Best Country in the World: Professional Networking Edition

After I wrote my last post about which countries are the best in the world and three of the top five were in Scandinavia, I got curious about what it might take to move there. From my quick research, it seems that in all the Scandinavian countries, if you want to get a job, you need to (a) speak the language (working on it) and (b) know someone, because companies want to hire natives before they want to try and bring someone in from another country (or at least a country outside of Europe). So I was curious who I might know in Scandinavia, and if that could again help me focus on one language to learn instead of three. Of course I don’t know anyone off the top of my head, but I knew a way to find people I know who might themselves know someone: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn allows you to do a fairly precise search for contacts, including location, industry, and how well you know someone (1st, 2nd, or 3rd-level contact, it’s kind of like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). So I searched for 2nd-level contacts living in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and in the fields of architecture and planning, research, government administration, and non-profits.

I got about 99 results, although I could only look at about 70 of them before hitting LinkedIn’s commercial search limit (not cool, LinkedIn). I then mapped them out, marking how well their field of work matches my interests, and how well I know our mutual contact, since I have several people on my LinkedIn that I’ve met once or have only corresponded with via email.Map-01I have four cities with a decent number of contacts: Copenhagen (København), Oslo, Stockholm, and Trondheim. Of those, the most contacts in a related field are in Copenhagen and Stockholm. But the highest quality contacts, those where I actually know our mutual contact well, are in Copenhagen. So maybe, for now, I’ll focus on learning Danish.


Rethinking how we live to stop the chronic diseases epidemic

McDonalds, McDonalds everywhere… From

We talk a lot about using urban design to make cities more healthy for people. When we discuss this, it usually comes down to making it easier to walk or bike to destinations: but there is much more to it than that, as is discussed in this post from The Conversation. They describe how we see chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, among others) in cities, both in the developed and developing world, because our cities are designed to make less-healthy decisions easier and healthier decisions more difficult. Industrialization has made our work easier, so we don’t burn as many calories, at the same time that our foods are becoming higher in calories, and we eat more of them. To turn this around, we need to make healthy decisions easier.

The healthy option in this post is Copenhagen, Denmark.Copenhagen is often noted for its easy bike transit, public transportation and green spaces. Part of the reason 40% of people in the city bike is because it is the most affordable option available, and because it is safe, and not limited to people in Lycra, like it is in so much of the US. In addition, local laws require regular access to healthy food, while restricting fast food options. The authors commend efforts like Mayor Bloomberg’s large soft drink ban as an effort to “Copenhagenize,” but point out that we have a long way to go to reach cities where the healthy option is the easiest option.

Where are you from?

This is one of the first things someone asks when you meet new people, and for me, it’s always been sort of hard to answer. For instance, if I’m traveling, I’ll usually say Philadelphia, since that’s where I live, but it’s not where I grew up and I don’t identify strongly with the city. Usually I either tell people I’m from Pittsburgh, where my parents currently live and where I graduated from high school, or that I grew up in Pittsburgh and western Massachusetts, since I spent six years of my childhood in each place. I usually gloss over the fact that I have also lived in California, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon, because I didn’t live in those places as long and they didn’t have as much of an impact on me, but they are still part of the equation.

But what if I go further back, and think more broadly? I was born in the Bay Area, so sometimes I say I’m a native Californian (this is mostly when I’m comparing myself to my wife, who lived her whole life in California except for her first two weeks, when her family lived in Spokane, so she isn’t a native Californian, like I am). My parents grew up California and Nevada, and their parents in California, Washington, Nevada, and Utah, so I could say I’m from the West or the West Coast. But how did my family get to the West Coast?

This, combined with an on-again-off-again interest in genealogy, led me to map the last ten generations of my family.

Click to enlarge.

My family came to America in two large groups, what I could call Mormon and pre-Mormon. My Mormon ancestors converted to the church in their home countries of England, Denmark, and Norway, and then emigrated to Utah, some of them later spilling out into California. The pre-Mormons came from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, and Germany, and settled up and down to east coast of the US and Canada, some of them later converting to Mormonism and heading to Utah, with others coming west for new employment, such as mining and ship building.

So that’s the larger, geographic explanation of where I’m from: mostly Scandinavia and the British Isles, where my ancestors came from seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom, eventually settling in the western United States, where I was born and from whence I returned to the East Coast. But geography isn’t the only part of where a person is from; geographically, I’ve lived all over the US, but I consider myself a Pittsburgher because I love the Steelers and Polish food, and a New Englander because of my left leaning politics and the fact that my family has, in the past, made our own maple syrup. So what were the places where my ancestors lived like? I decided to leave out the places where my ancestors moved to or from (the lines on the above map), and focus on the places where they lived for at least one generation (the circles).

Click to enlarge.

Originally I thought that I would spotlight each of the places, but excluding counties there are 32 of them, and that would get tedious, so I’m going to include an image gallery so you can get an idea of what they look like and identify some trends.

Most of the places my ancestors lived in were small towns, villages and hamlets. Only four (Copenhagen, Glasgow, Baltimore and London) are metropolitan centers, and I would only add Walsall and New Haven to to that to make a list of cities. The rest are too small. This makes sense, considering that it is only fairly recently that our world has had more than half of its people living in cities.

Along with being small, most of the places my ancestors lived were very rural. The graph above divides the places based on my matrix of settlement types, showing that they are mostly rural villages. What I think is interesting though is that there are very few suburban places; only Ballerup and Middletown fit this description. Ballerup is a historical town that has been sucked into Copenhagen’s sphere of influence, and Middletown is on the edge of the New York metropolitan area. I wonder how different they might have been when my ancestors lived there. It’s important to note that the suburb as we experience it today, with separated uses, cul-de-sacs, car dependency, and dependency on a larger nearby city, is very much a modern phenomenon, something our ancestors were unfamiliar with. Note: while some might call Walsall a suburb of Birmingham, it features mixed uses and a connected street grid, which give it a more urban character; I would call it a city that is part of the Birmingham metropolis.

I really enjoyed learning more about my ancestors and the places they lived. Check out the gallery below to see more of what these places look like. » The Fall and Rise of Great Public Spaces

Strøget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. From

This post from Citiwire is an urban design power post—written by Jay Walljasper from the Project for Public Spaces and featuring Jan Gehl. Walljasper compares the activities along Strøget to the conventions happening in Tampa and Charlotte. While Copenhagen’s public and democratic life happens in its streets, ours happens in semi-private auditoriums. At one time, Copenhagen was on the same track as the US, giving space over to cars and watching its cities decline. They just decided to do something about it and created great public, pedestrian-oriented places. The US’ cities and particularly their public spaces have been in decline for years. Danes go to the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen to people watch, but there are few places in America with enough people to make that a worthwhile activity. Why would you drive to the mall to watch people walk? Why not just live in a nice place with a lot of people, where you can watch it from your front door, or participate by walking to a local park or market? Gehl lists some cities, including Portland, Oregon, that have put work into their public spaces and benefited from it. He says there are twelve things a city needs to have good public spaces:

  1. Protection from traffic
  2. Protection from crime
  3. Protection from the elements
  4. A place to walk
  5. A place to stop and stand
  6. A place to sit
  7. Things to see
  8. Opportunities for conversations
  9. Opportunities for play
  10. Human-scale
  11. Opportunities to enjoy good weather
  12. Aesthetic quality

Why Has Scandinavia’s Biggest Development Project Abandoned its Master Plan? – Design – The Atlantic Cities

Short answer? It was a bad plan.

Henry Grabar brings another post, this time on development in Ørestad, a district in Copenhagen. This section of the city was supposed to be the most recent finger of development in the city. They built the Øresund Bridge connecting to Malmö, Sweden, and a new metro line extending south, and brought in starchitect Daniel Libeskind, master of the building that wants to stab you, to design a master plan for the area. The plan included a number of large-scale features that all had to be built at once, such as large underground parking garages, and would cost a lot. This was in 2006. Then 2008 happened, and anything large-scale came to a grinding halt. So while Ørestad has already had a lot of development, including a lot of major works from Bjarke Ingels and other well-known architects, they are surrounded by vacant lots.

8Tallet (8House) by BIG, center right, under construction. From

So Copenhagen, in response to economic conditions, ditched the starchitect’s all-at-once plan for a new master plan by COBE Architects. The new plan, while still mixed use and very walkable, can be implemented piecemeal, as funds become available. This allows more adaptable urbanism, as demand and funding change. A much better plan.

Climate Adapted Neighborhood / Tredje Natur | ArchDaily

Sankt Kjelds Square. From

This project for a neighborhood in Copenhagen by Tredje Natur is Landscape Urbanism done right; it creates usable green space and manages stormwater without breaking up the existing urban fabric. I also really like their plan images and diagrams (honestly not wild about their renderings; their really well done but quite dark, and I don’t think it gives the message that this is a new, fun green space to enjoy), so I’m going to be showing a lot of them.

The three squares. From

The plan mainly consists of three squares and the streets that link them. By expanding green infrastructure through these areas, the neighborhood can better manage stormwater and will create a green network that will connect it all the way to the harbor.

Click to see original at full size. From

The central square is Sankt Kjelds Square.

Click to see original at full size. From

Among others, one major intervention is that this flat site will be given some topography, enough that the surface area of the site will be more than doubled.

Click to see original at full size. From

The plans go through step-by-step diagrams like this one below, which I love, to explain further interventions.

Click to see original at full scale. From

Although I certainly have a beef with some of the doctrine and even the works of the Landscape Urbanists, this is one project that I wouldn’t want to argue against. Not only does it achieve environmental goals without disrupting the social fabric of the neighborhood, but it looks good while doing it.

Penthouses and Rooftop Terrace

As interested as I am in the projects that I cover, I usually don’t find them to be something that I would like to live in. That changes with these homes in Copenhagen. Though the units are fairly simple, the amenities are great, and the neighborhood is a sight to see.

The penthouses, designed by JDS Architects, are part of a co-op in the high-density neighborhood of Elmegade, Copenhagen. Though fairly standard for contemporary Scandinavian design, these two- to three-bedroom units are spacious, simple, and very light, with wood floors and large windows overlooking Birkegade and the inner courtyard of the block. What makes this project special, however, is what is on top of the penthouses.

As seen here, in SketchUp-esque glory, the roof terrace is divided into three zones: a wooden “sun terrace,” a grassy hill with a wooden area and grill below, and an orange-clad, shock-absorbing sports and leisure area. Not pictured on the diagram but evident in the first picture are the viewing platform at the top of the hill and a set of bathrooms at the far end of the sports area.

Despite this image bearing a striking resemblance to the cover of Muses “Black Holes and Revelations,” it does a good job of showing how the different zones come together, as well has how they are used. Also, there is an absolutely adorable Scandinavian child playing with a big red ball. I believe each penthouse comes with one of these.

If there’s one mundane thing that I get geeked up about when it comes to architecture, it’s railings, something Penn students seem to be unaware of. While the lack of a railing along the steps would probably discourage my grandpa from living there (as well as the temperatures and those beautiful Scandinavian socialists), I think it works for the target group of young families. If kids fall off the steps, they fall into the grass and possibly roll down the hill. If that’s the case, there are railings surrounding any significant drop, including that of the outdoor kitchen, which would protect the child from injury.

The view from the roof is spectacular, and although they don’t seem to have any pictures of it, I’m sure the scene from the viewing platform is even more so. If I were able to snag a penthouse like this, I would gladly continue this blog from my rooftop terrace in Copenhagen.

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