The Strøget is 1.1 kilometers long and claims to be the world’s longest urban pedestrian zone.
I’m not sure if this is still true (a lot of pedestrian zones have been built or extended in the past decade), but in any case the main significance of the Strøget is not how long it is but when it became carfree — in the 1960s, when most cities were still busy widening streets, narrowing sidewalks and trying to make non-motorized movement as cumbersome and demeaning as possible. (Remember what Frankfurt am Main looked like in the 1960s? Ogottogott!)
Of course a lot of people were involved in the creation of the Strøget. One of them was the Danish architect and urban planner Jan Gehl (born 1936), who is the author of the books Life between Buildings and Public Spaces, Public Life.
In recent years Jan Gehl has built up a consultancy firm, consisting of about forty architects and other specialists, called GEHL Architects, Urban Quality Consultants. On their website, GEHL Architects describe their vision: “Gehl Architects work to create sustainable environments for the 21st century. Our approach to design extends beyond the use of sustainable materials and advocating walking, cycling and alternative transport. We promote a holistic lifestyle.”
Jan Gehl is generally credited with coining the verb “copenhagenize” meaning to transform cities through bicycle culture and urban cycling, but he stresses that Copenhagen was “copenhagenized” gradually, in small steps, with each step being evaluated before the next was taken.
Actually Strøget is not the name of one particular street, but of a series of streets with different names that lead from the City Hall Square to Kongens Nytorv, where the old theater is. (Sort of like the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, which is the collective name for five or six different streets with different official names.)
The official names of the Strøget streets are Frederiksberggade, Gammel Torv, Nytorv, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Amagertorv and Østergade.
Signspotting at Nytorv
Part of the Strøget is called Nytorv (New Square). During my visit in 2009 there was an outdoor display at Nytorv called “Signspotting”, showing funny signs from around the world in English. These were signs that people found and took pictures of, and then they were re-made as signs for the exhibit. (So they were not stolen from their original locations.)
Copenhagen was an excellent place to show this, because so many people speak such good English that they could really appreciate it.
I of course particularly liked the sign reading “UNNECESSARY REPETITIVE DRIVING PROHIBITED”.
Also I liked the text written by the curator, Doug Lansky, particularly this part:
The curator is American, by the way, so some of those signs are simply British English expressions that seem quaint to an American. Like “Changed priorities ahead”, which as far as I know is perfectly normal in the UK (meaning they have changed the rules about who can drive first at the next crossing), but in the US the word “priorities” is mainly used in its more lofty meaning of what goals you have decided to concentrate on in the near future or for the rest of your life.
After being shown for a month on the Nytorv in Copenhagen, the Signspotting Project moved on to Århus, Denmark, then to Edinburgh, Scotland for the Fringe Festival and after that to Gothenburg, Sweden.
Just off the Strøget is another one of Copenhagen’s main squares, with lots of people and bicycles, and a bi-directional bicycle route. Højbro is the name of a nearby bridge. Høj means hill or high, bro means bridge and plads means square, so I suppose Højbro Plads means High Bridge Square. (Not that the bridge is very high, but never mind.)
The girl in the foreground in this photo has a green cloth shoulder bag which I didn’t pay any attention to at the time.
Later I noticed that the text on the bag is in German. It reads:
Auto? Habe ich nicht nötig! autofrei leben!
This means: “A car? I have no use for one! Live carfree!” — followed by the internet address of the German Carfree Society, a member of the World Carfree Network.
This young lady has a plastic Illums Bolighus bag in her bicycle basket. (I don’t know if they still use plastic bags today, but they did back in 2009.) Illums Bolighus is an up-market store for interior design and accessories (“By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark”) located at Amagertorv 10, which is on the Strøget close to Højbro Plads. This for me is a typical Copenhagen scene: an unpretentious young Illums Bolighus customer rides her bicycle there to go shopping, wearing pink trainers (sneakers or tennis shoes to us Americans), grey trousers, a red pullover and a black leather jacket.
Here is a typical Pølsevogn (sausage wagon) doing business on Højbro Plads, behind the bicycles and in front of the equestrian statue. (Click here to hear how the Danes pronounce the word Pølsevogn.)
My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: more posts about Copenhagen.