Copenhagen: cycling and place branding


by Hans Pul

Copenhagen is well-known as a bicycle-friendly city internationally. The city is known for the high share of cycling in commuter traffic (36%), its wide cycling lanes (in Copenhagen 2,5-2,8 metre wide cycling lanes are the new standard, in order to fit 3 cyclists next to each other), as well as for its bicycle friendly public transport. Cycling seems to help establish Copenhagen as a green and friendly place. Copenhagen has become a reference city for policy makers and urban planners. Photos of Copenhagen city scenes appear in planning documents of local governments around the world.

Cycling in Copenhagen has gained new interest in blogosphere and media. The city of Copenhagen gains a lot of exposure with its cycling infrastructure and cycling culture, especially internationally. Recently, for example, Al Jazeera dedicated a 5-minute documentary to cycling in Copenhagen. The video ‘Cycle city’ gives an overview of cycling as an urban transport mode (see video after the break).

Al Jazeera documentary 'Cycle City'
In addition, Denmark is a big exporter of bicycles. The Danish cycling manufacturer Christiania Bikes is probably one of the best known examples. It is famous for its iconic ‘cargo bikes’. The name of the company originates from the famous Copenhagen neighbourhood where it all started. This is also referred to on the company’s USA-targeted website. Similarly, the German-language website of the manufacturer links the country of origin with a certain extent of ‘coolness’ (‘Die kultigen Lastenträger aus Dänemark’). It seems that Christiania Bikes profits from the ‘cycling image’ that Copenhagen has. In turn, however, Christiania Bikes contributes to (re)establishing Copenhagen as a cycling city as well.

Similar to the export of bicycles, cycling has become an important Copenhagen ‘product’ in city tourism as well; in the form of guided cycling tours, bike rental, etc. On the official Copenhagen tourism website, tourists are invited to explore Copenhagen ‘the Danish way’.

Copenhagenize Consultancy

In addition to bicycles and cycling in Copenhagen, cycling policy has become an important ‘export product’ of Copenhagen as well. In terms of city planning, Copenhagen has gained the interest of city planners around the world. Many groups of city planners visit the city to learn from Copenhagen’s best practices. Or they invite Copenhagen planners and consultants to their city to improve their cycling policy. These people are interested in issues like the implementation of cycling infrastructure in cities and ways to promote cycling as a mode of transportation in their own cities.

In Denmark, a number of consultancy bureaus is involved in these excursions and expert programmes. Copenhagenize Consulting, for example, is a Copenhagen-based company that offers policy and marketing recommendations, focussed on cycling. Another organisation that has ‘cycling’ as an export product, is the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. It aims to share cycling expertise internationally. On its website, it offers an interesting range of materials on different aspects of cycling (For other interesting material, have a look at a similar initiative from another country famous for its cycling culture (the Netherlands)). As a third example, Copenhagen organised the Velo-City Global conference in 2010, an international conference aimed at city planners interested in implementing cycling in their cities. In addition to a substantive content-related part, city marketing was part of its as well (see first picture). These initiatives are only three examples of how Copenhagen capitalizes on its cycling experience and expertise.

I think it is important to realise that Copenhagen as a ‘cycle capital’ is not just marketing or image. The brand cycle capital ‘works’ because there is substance behind it. It is the combination of aspects such as excellent cycling infrastrure, dedicated cycling policy, bicycles, as well as „cycling culture“, that all work together to create Denmark, or Copenhagen more specifically, as a place of cycling. Due to the combination of substance and marketing, Copenhagen is on its way to further established its name as one of the world’s cycling capitals.

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