When we are children, adults make every attempt to teach us about sharing in school, on the playground, and at home. They teach us that sharing is the appropriate action when others around you desire or need the same things. Remember that time you got a new bike and your friend came over to check it out and immediately wanted to ride it and your first thought is, “damnit.” And your mom says, “Give Jonny a try!” and your second thought is, “damnit Jonny.” Remember when you were playing blocks in Kindergarten and the bully in the class felt left out, so in return they knock down the block city. Keep the bully at bay by sharing. Kidding aside, it’s a great lesson that we really should carry over into the other times in our lives.
The unfortunate thing is that as we age into adults, it seems like we share less and less, at least in America. We have grown into a society that expects, and sometimes even requires, us to have our own everything. Our own yard. Our own car. Our own bicycle. Even our own washing machine. Because of this, we have lost an opportunity to create a stronger, safer community around us. There is that famous quote, “Know your neighbors.” But without any need to know them and sometimes not even given the opportunity without seeking them out, especially in the city, we lose that sense and chance of community.
In Denmark, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that the locals took pride in their community. The first sense was when our friends Henrik and Eva were so proud to show us the community green space behind their home. Henrik and Eva are baby-boomers who are nearing retirement. They raised their kids in the same building and took advantage of the amenities and culture around them. They cycle to their local destinations and even bought their son a cargo bike so he could offer an easy ride for the girls he was taking on dates. The space they are so proud of that they toured us through is shared by all of the apartments and row houses that surround the block. It very quickly reminded me of the many Japanese Gardens that I saw in Tokyo, where each home has a meditation area, and each community has a shrine of similar fashion. I found myself jealous at such a local amenity built for socializing and community. As we walked through each community space, block after block, in Copenhagen’s Christianhavn, it was hard not to recognize the community pride glowing.
During our walk through Christianhavn’s gardens, we detoured into the basement of Henrik and Eva’s building. The building is over a century-old so it was definitely creepy at first, but as we made our way through we found plenty of bicycle parking and a separate room for laundry. The building of 15 or so units has two washing machines and one large dryer for use. The detergent is pre-filled from street-level by a vendor and released into the machine for each load. There is a countertop for folding with a scheduling book sitting in the middle. Each resident selects the time they want for laundry and there is no further trouble from there. Think about how expensive your laundry appliances are. Think about how many times they have broken down. Think about the times that the detergent ran out and we weren’t able to properly wash the gym clothes. Copenhagen residents don’t deal with these daily stresses because of sharing and community. As our class was walking through the gardens of the community, we all thought about how far from mainstream this sharing economy, and in turn this sense of community, we are in the US.
On a grander scale, we can think about transit and bicycle-sharing as additional amenities that can create community and tear down the racial and social barriers that we continue to face in our cities. Compare the interaction we have in our car to those that we have on transit. In the car, you might have one interaction on a daily basis, MAYBE. If you are having any more interactions than that, you may want to get rid of the road-rage a bit! On transit, you can have zero interactions, or you can maximize them. But either way, there are people sitting around you sharing a similar routine that may look different from you, they may have a completely different life from you, and that is a good thing! Social interaction is arguably the greatest benefit of transit. Look past the typical transportation and economic metrics, and see how much pride in our community it can create.
The same can be said for cycling around the city, which bicycle-sharing makes easier. When you ride along a jam-packed bicycle lane, seeing some in professional clothing, and others in their gym clothes, it can be a really interesting and fun social interaction. It pushes us to learn about our city and the people we share it with. A particular story that I heard from Meredith Glaser, a PhD candidate in City Planning at the University of Amsterdam, was that her three-year-old daughter already knows her way to school on a bicycle. She knows her neighborhood, which likely grows into love and pride in her neighborhood in the future. How amazing is that!
Traveling around these cities and seeing a pride in community that I have never seen before has given me mixed emotions. I found myself saying, “THEY DO EVERYTHING RIGHT HERE!” Is this something we can do in the USA? Is this something we even want? Don’t we want to save our monetary AND social capital of our communities? Don’t we want to share with others, spend less money and time doing monotonous things, and rid ourselves of the bullies?
Who knows, maybe the bully is Corporate America?