Which city is the most runnable?
To quench my thirst for travel and adventure, I've discovered the art of running and exploring new cities. Whether I am traveling for business or leisure, during or in between layovers, I look to experience a new city by hitting the pavement with my running shoes. I enjoy absorbing culture by running the streets, parks and open areas around new cities- it's the best way to get familiar with a city and observe its character. Here's a rundown of The Big Five, my latest cities and respective distances ran during my travels:
I see this project as an opportunity for me to observe and study how each of these cities are organized and managed- is the public landscape designed to be people-friendly? How does the structural environment support physical activity? When I'm out running in a new city, I often have these questions running through my mind:
How easy is it to navigate through streets, across streets, etc?
How ‘pedestrian-friendly’ are these cities? Do I feel safe running along the sidewalk/across the streets?
How can we help create a 'runnable' city? What factors/characteristics might that involve?
Is there a ‘running’ culture across these cities? If not, how can we create that?
How does public transportation impact personal transportation? Or vice versa?
What are some cultural insights that I've picked up on during my running?
Here’s my personal way of measuring 'runnability' from 1 through 5 for a ‘run-friendly’ city:
1 = poor air quality and no public space for running (i.e. park, lake)
2 = indoor running facilities (i.e. gyms)
3 = wide enough sidewalks for possible running
4 = designated running areas/facilities
5 = accessible running paths/routes integrated into traffic system with clear streets signage for navigation and environmental context (runner-friendly)
COPENHAGEN: CYCLE CITY
On a scale from 1 to 5 (one being runner ‘unfriendly ‘and 5 being runner ‘friendly’), I give Copenhagen a solid 4 for its running and biking lanes along the Søerne (also known as The Lakes). I ran 7.31 miles around and in between these five rectangular shaped lakes that are perfect for running without worrying about dodging cyclists.
Although the sidewalks in Copenhagen can be narrow, the streets are relatively close enough to each other to get from place to place, making the city ‘run-able.’ However, Copenhagen is definitely a biker-city with long roads and lanes established exclusively for bikers. At night, these bike lanes are often used by runners who are squeezing in a late-night run. Aside from the fact that Copenhagen is truly a biker and runner city, I learned a few small things about this remarkable city:
1. Drivers/bicyclists do not yell or honk at you if you’re in the way. They’d rather wait patiently and spare themselves of any possible conflict with others.
2. Restaurants have no problem splitting the bill between however many guests.
3. The ‘Copenhagen minute’ is the ‘New York minute’ times 10.
4. You won’t need a Kryptonite lock to ensure your bike will be waiting for you after a stop at the grocery store.
5. Bikes are an extension of one’s physicality. To not know how to ride a bike is to not know how to walk.
BERLIN: Running into Familiar Faces
Berlin is bigger than I thought. I’d say it’s a city of many subcultures just like NYC, but twice as expansive when it comes to size. Thankfully, there is a bike-sharing system integrated into their public transportation, however, the city itself is not as walk-able or run-able as the city of Copenhagen. The sidewalks are a bit more narrow, and certain areas are far more congested. However, there are some hidden gems in the form of mini parks scattered throughout the city.
I ran a little over a 10k this morning at Volkspark Humboldthain, which is a small park just a mile from the apartment I’m staying at. It was a nice, quiet run weaving through the different trails within the park. I found myself running into familiar faces after a few laps around and through the park trails. It felt like a close community of runners- we were comforted by the rhythmic breathing, passing strides and upswing of momentum in each other. Overall, it was a refreshing run, but I was honestly a bit anxious to be running through the enclosed pathways when other runners were out of sight! So, I ended up running a bit faster than usual. When I reflect back on the things I think about while running, I really can’t put my finger on one thought. It’s usually a chain of random thoughts that are purely observational and insignificant, so much so that I cannot recall a single thought at the moment- they’re these mini bites of observation. And when I have things on my mind, I tend to experience what Murakami would call, ‘nostalgic silence,’ to keep me in rhythm and in motion during my run.
"Nostalgic silence, a vibrant memory that you keep alive in your heart and mind; it’s that thing you keep (easily) accessible in your memory bank when you want to feel that emotion right away; or more often, when you want to relive that moment in your life, again and again, without any inhibitions. You want to relive these moments because you’ve tucked these realities away for reasons you cannot explain or simply for reasons you do not want to justify."