Having been well traveled over the last year, I feel it necessary to compare two of the main cities I’ve visited, Copenhagen, Denmark and Manhattan, New York. If you were to visit both for even a brief period as I have, you would in all likelihood find the differences to be that of night and day.
The city of Copenhagen and the borough of Manhattan are similar in population: about 1.6 to 1.9 million people live in each. Manhattan obviously has a much higher population density as metropolitan Copenhagen is much larger in size. That’s where I found the similarities ended, however.
The first thing I remember noticing when I arrived in Copenhagen was how expensive everything was. The cost of living was a shock to the system as a simple bus fare cost about eight dollars American. The cost of food & housing were high as well, as were the taxes and I couldn’t help wondering why anyone would want to live here.
In the cab on the way to the hotel I couldn’t help but realize the lack of traffic on the highway, even during rush hour. There just weren’t any cars. The cab driver told me that car owners had to pay as much as a 180% tax on their automobile purchases so most residents decided to ride bicycles. He wasn’t kidding. When I arrived downtown there were a vast amount of parking lots for bikes, not cars and of course parking the bikes was free.
Another thing I noticed was the lack of recycling bins which was curious to me as I had always thought that Copenhagen was at the head of the pack when it came to recycling and renewable energy. As it turns out, most of the waste that is collected is sorted and recycled and the garbage that cannot be reused is incinerated and used to heat people’s homes. In the end, only 3% of the waste is put into a landfill.
The last major observance I made was the food. The first meal I had in Copenhagen consisted of three small pieces of unusual cheese and some crackers that set me back about twenty dollars. The prices didn’t shock me as much as the portions did; everyone received quite little at least by western standards. At least I never had to wonder why there weren’t that many heavy set people in Denmark
Upon arriving in the great borough of Manhattan at the center of New York and many would say the world, one thing I spotted almost instantly (aside from the traffic) were the parking lots. Cars stacked on top of each other in rows, sometimes three or four cars high. I didn’t even think people drove much in New York with all the taxis.
As I made my way down Broadway, I realized that Manhattan, like Copenhagen, also had no public recycling bins. I even noticed that the sidewalks in the fronts of businesses were littered with recyclable garbage. According to a recent article in the Gotham Gazette, most NYC waste is driven out of the city and into landfills in other states and only 15% of residential waste is recycled and less than a quarter is recycled citywide. A far cry from Copenhagen.
Seeing all that garbage naturally made me hungry, but I was actually hard pressed to find a restaurant of quality, at least near time square. I finally found some nourishment at an Olive Garden restaurant and ate a big plate of spaghetti with garlic bread. All for a fairly moderate price, unlike the cheap fast food everywhere else I was all but forced to eat most of the time. At any rate, I didn’t have to think too hard about why there were so many obese heavyweights walking the streets.
During the ride home I pondered for quite a while about what I had seen in both towns. It made me mad that us as westerners, whether we’re rich or poor, old or young still value money and comfort above the actual city and world we live in. In fact we even seem to cherish money and comfort above ourselves. Something has got to give.
I would happily trade in cars, garbage and cheap junk food for a cleaner, healthier city regardless of how much higher my taxes are. Can you imagine how much better Manhattan would be if bikes and bixies replaced cars and cabs? Now that would be a sight to see…