Saturday, December 19, 2009

Danish Values

Air Date: Week of December 18, 2009

Copenhagen sociologist Peter Gundelach and host Steve Curwood enjoy some Danish hygge. (Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
It’s cold, it’s dark and it’s one of the happiest places in the world. Steve Curwood asks University of Copenhagen sociologist Peter Gundelach how do the Danes do it? Professor Gundelach says it has to do with finding joy in simple pleasures or as the Danes call it, hygge.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood at the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At this time of year, the city is cold and snowy, and the sun sets at around three in the afternoon. In many places this would be a recipe for gloom and grumpiness, but not here in Denmark. In fact, numerous studies indicate Danes are the happiest people on the planet. Here, like in much of Europe, salaries and the standard of living are high, and violent crime and corruption are low. But, the Danes say it's not money that buys happiness. They sum up their secret in a difficult to define Danish word:
WOMAN: Hygge is when you turn on – you light the candles. It's warm, you have some chocolate, you're with people you love. It's like you're just mmm! It's just mmm! [Laughs]
Yeah, that's kind of it.
CURWOOD: We tried out a bit of hygge ourselves. We invited University of Copenhagen Sociologist Peter Glindelock to the apartment where we're staying downtown.
CURWOOD: Professor Glindelock has conducted numerous studies on why Danes are so happy. And over a cup of coffee...
GLINDELOCK: It's called hygge, hygge, which is – Danes like to say it's not possible to translate that into other languages, but it's something like coziness – to be in your home, as we're having our cup of coffee, talking with friends. I think everybody's doing it actually in the all countries, but the Danes really like to think that it's something special for them.

Sociology professor Peter Gundelach (Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
CURWOOD: Denmark scores often at the top of the list of people here being very happy. Americans might look at the Danes being so happy and say, oh, it's all part of their social system because they have education and health – all that's taken care of, that's why they're so happy. What would you say?
GLINDELOCK: I think that's probably part of it. The happiness standard is the quality of life in different societies. And Denmark scores very highly on all those different values, so even though the climate is poor, which is part of that analysis it still shows that the welfare state is very important for people's happiness.
CURWOOD: So, the welfare state is part of the happiness, but not the true secret to Danish happiness because you Danes do better than other similar European countries. So, you can tell us...what is the secret to Danish happiness?
GLINDELOCK: The difference we really found between the Eastern European welfare state was that Danes score much higher on various kinds of social ties. So, they are closer to their family, to their colleagues, to their friends. They meet more often.
And they argue that they have – they have more to do with each other. So, we believe that the character of the social ties is very important. And these social ties are, sort of horizontal. In the sense that it's on equal terms, and not vertical in relationships.
And a lot of theory says that if social ties are horizontal it creates social trust and also happiness. So, this is – if there is a secret, this is probably it.
CURWOOD: So, how do you characterize this Danish social connectivity?

Copenhagen sociologist Peter Gundelach and host Steve Curwood enjoy some Danish hygge. (Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
GLINDELOCK: One way of characterizing it is to call it collective individualism in the sense that people like to be something special, but at the same time they like to be very connected.
So, we have this welfare state, the whole system is working in a very collective way. But still people like to be individuals, so if we were to ask people to choose between equality and freedom, they will choose freedom, but still they – it's such a homogenous society so the way people are expressing their freedom is identical in a sense, but still they like to do both; they like to have a strong collective system and be able to show that they can do something by themselves.
CURWOOD: What problems do you have? In particular, what problems do you have around immigration – people who try to come into this society?
GLINDELOCK: Yes, well, you might say that's the other side of the coin. I mean, some many say that Denmark is like a tribe, so it's – everybody knows each other, have the same names, they live in the same neighborhood, so to speak, in a small country. And this means it's a very close-knit society, but the other side of the coin is that it's difficult to get access into that society. And in particular, immigrants have had hard times doing that. It's becoming better now, but for many years it was very a problem.
CURWOOD: It seems to me that taxes are very high here, in Denmark, compared to other places. Now, in America, high taxes – politicians would get voted right out of office, and yet, this society supports them, why?
GLINDELOCK: Having the salary as tax in Denmark, and people are quite happy about it. I mean, whenever you start up a list, and you ask people, would you like taxes to be lower. They won't say they like to have high taxes, but they prefer high taxes to lower taxes if it means that they can have a well-functioning welfare state.
And in Denmark, everything is sort of state-controlled – the hospitals, the schools, everything is controlled by the local government or the central government – we pay for this in our taxes.
And this kind of welfare state means that everybody gets more or less the same from the state. At least what the Danes like, they like an egalitarian society.
CURWOOD: Peter Glindelock is professor of sociology at the University of Copenhagen. Thank you so much.
GLINDELOCK: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

City of Cyclists

Air Date: Week of December 18, 2009

(Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
Bicycles are everywhere in Copenhagen. The city invests heavily in this low-tech mode of transportation – with wide bicycle lanes, car-free streets, and special traffic lights, to make cycling safe, easy and fun. Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky took a ride round the streets.
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Bicycles are everywhere in Copenhagen. The city invests heavily in this low-tech mode of transportation – with wide bicycle lanes, car-free streets, and special traffic lights, to make cycling safe, easy and fun. Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky took a ride round the streets.

CURWOOD: Where the rubber meets the road, it's usually cars that rule, but in Copenhagen, bicycles are king. More than one in three residents cycle to work or school, making this one of the top cycling cities in the world.
Living on Earth's Eileen Bolinsky went for a spin.
BOLINSKY: Bicycles are everywhere in Copenhagen. On the streets, on the subways, leaning against buildings, parked on sidewalks.
KASTRUP: Everyone bicycles in Copenhagen.
BOLINSKY: That's Marie Kastrup. Cycling's a huge part of her life; she's the project manager for the city's bicycle secretariat.
KASTRUP: So, I bicycle to work everyday, every time I go visit my grandmother I take my bicycle, when I go do my shopping, everything is done by bike.

Marie Castrop bikes everywhere in Copenhagen (Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
BOLINSKY: Day or night, rain, wind, cold - Copenhageners pedal three-quarters of a million miles each year. But that's not the way it was before the oil embargo in 1973. Back then just about all of Denmark's oil came from the Middle East.
KASTRUP: It has to do with the epic public demand in the 70s because of the oil crisis back then, that the politicians in Denmark and Copenhagen started to prioritize cycling and without the massive political investments in cycling, we couldn't have gotten as far as we are now.
BOLINSKY: You won't find much spandex or fancy biking gear in this city. Most bikes are sturdy – you might say clunkers – with guards that protect business suits and dresses from a greasy chain. Cycling is simply a part of everyday life here in Denmark.
KASTRUP: It's just something that you do because it's the obvious mode of transport. It's not a part of your identity.
BOLINSKY: It's definitely not a part of mine, but I wanted to check it out for myself.
KASTRUP: Right now we're going towards the busiest place in Copenhagen for cyclists. It's a bridge that connects the medieval center of Copenhagen with the more residential quarters of neighborhoods of Copenhagen.
BOLINSKY: Okay, shall we go?
KASTRUP: Let's go.
BOLINSKY: I haven't been on a bike in years. In Boston, where I live, the busy streets make biking downright dangerous.
BOLINSKY: Okay, I'm not used to these back brakes. I had them as a kid.
KASTRUP: Just take your time.
BOLINSKY: Getting back on a bike is like, well, getting back on a bike.
Copenhagen's streets are flat so riding is easy here. There are eight-foot wide bike paths – or tracks – between the sidewalk and parked cars so riders are protected.

(Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
KASTRUP: Here we have to cross and turn too. First, we have to look out for cyclists.
BOLINSKY: At a busy intersection, trucks and cars zip by quickly – and so do bicycles. Copenhagen's city planners are trying a number of experiments to make cycling even faster, safer and easier.
KASTRUP: To the left we can see a piece of the square where we made this experiment with some yellow lines crossing the pavement actually.
BOLINSKY: Usually, it's illegal for bike riders to cross over a sidewalk. The yellow lines allow cyclists to take a shortcut without a penalty.
KASTRUP: And instead of just handing out a lot of fines we wanted to accommodate these cyclists that really needed a shortcut. And it actually does work. We haven't seen any accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.
KASTRUP: Another thing we did was to implement green traffic waves for cyclists, which means that you don't have to stop at red lights at intersections, so the traffic lights are actually following the cyclists instead of the cars.
BOLINSKY: These traffic lights are timed to give priority to bikes during rush hour. 36,000 cyclists pass through this part of town every day.
KASTRUP: Now we will cross the bridge and go out of Norrelbrogade where you can see some more details of the traffic experiments.

Cycling is everywhere in Copenhagen. (Photo: Eileen Bolinsky)
BOLINSKY: Since there are twice as many cyclists as drivers in this part of Copenhagen, some of the streets are closed to cars.
KASTRUP: The cars took up more than two-thirds of the space on the street so we thought why not make the allocation of space reflect the actual use? And so, as you can see we doubled the cycle track which then reduced the space for cars so that there was more space for cyclists and it actually worked.
BOLINSKY: There are 217 miles of bike tracks in Copenhagen, plus 25 miles of tree-lined cycle routes that crisscross in the city center. They're reserved only for bikes and pedestrians and there are plans for even more.
KASTRUP: In Copenhagen investing in cycling is not just for the bicycles, it's to make a better city. And in the city center we just have too much congestion if we want to have cars for everyone so the bicycle is a very space economic mode of transport.
BOLINSKY: And people in Copenhagen who choose pedal power are an enthusiastic bunch.
MALE: It's economical. Its best for our little economy, so we just use the bike.
OLDER WOMAN: It's easier to get around. Also, it costs a lot of money to take the bus. Then it's for free and easy.
WOMAN: It's freedom. You can get anywhere you want in a very short amount of time. And you get exercise, and you get fresh air, and all the good environmental stuff as well.
BOLINSKY: In Copenhagen's harbor is a statue of the city's icon – it's Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid. But now, the city's bicycle project manager, Marie Kastrup, says Copenhagen has a new symbol.
KASTRUP: The bicycle girl is this cultural icon in Denmark, it sort of represents this healthy, authentic, happy, active woman, which is a symbol of Denmark. It's the freedom you can have on a bicycle, and also sort of a healthy, democratic feeling that everyone is free to go on the bicycle and do whatever they want.
BOLINSKY: And what Copenhagen wants is to have half its residents commuting by bicycle in five years.
BOLINSKY: Pedaling the streets of Copenhagen, for Living on Earth, I'm Eileen Bolinsky.