One of the benefits of travel is the opportunity to see things from a new perspective, often reinforcing that for all of our differences, we’re really all the same. And while most people like to leave work behind when they take a trip, visiting parks and spending time outdoors is something that both my husband and I really enjoy, so luckily traveling to new destinations means that this park nerd gets the chance for both work and play.
On the latest trip, I had the opportunity to visit two new countries, Norway & Denmark. We were both a bit in awe of the gorgeous photos of the Norwegian fjords that we had seen online and wanted to see them in real life. And since we found cheap flights into Copenhagen (thank you Matrix!), Denmark was added to the itinerary as well. The two countries definitely don’t disappoint when it comes to views, bakeries (I finally experienced what a real “Danish” was), and also their parks & recreation. Here were some of my favorite observations:
Kids Everywhere Will Show You What Makes a Cool Park
It’s kind of like the proverbial cardboard box on Christmas morning – the toys that adults dream up for kids to play with aren't nearly as exciting as the adventures kids have with their own imagination. We really didn’t see many kids using traditional playgrounds while we were in Norway, but places like this were in high use.
Lawsuits aren’t as prevalent in Norway as they are in the United States, but it reminds me of some of the amazing things done with creative placemaking when “public art” is created versus a “playground.”
Don’t Distract from the View
Norway has some epic scenery. And with epic scenery comes epic viewpoints. Once I’d picked my jaw up off the ground, I made sure to also appreciate the design of each of the viewpoints, which were carefully crafted to blend in with the surrounding scenery and somehow enhanced instead of detracted from the landscape around them. Each one was an impressive example of how to marry function and design.
Work with What You Have
Incredible landscapes are a blessing, but when it comes to some things, including transportation, they can also be a bit of a curse. It’s always interesting to see how different land poor communities squeeze in park & recreation amenities where they can, which meant that we drove past a community football (soccer) game taking place right underneath a waterfall. Although I wasn’t able to grab a photo of it since we were driving, this photo of another football field in Norway that proves my point even further.
Seriously, with the beautiful landscape surrounding these fields, I’m not sure how anyone could concentrate on a game!
The Sky’s the Limit
As I’d mentioned earlier, the amount of lawsuits and safety regulations in the US means that you’ll often find recreation opportunities in other countries that many people here would be shocked by. The one that we found that we thought was the most fun was this one – a large tree turned into a climbing wall, in a local school yard in Denmark. We never saw anyone using it, so I’m assuming that it was only used under supervision, but the fact that it existed, at a school, and was left out in public still shows a big difference between the thoughts on personal responsibility here and there.
After a frustrating experience with the lodging that we’d booked for our two nights in Copenhagen, we found ourselves without a place to stay. Luckily I had an app on my phone and booked a last minute hotel right on the water. However, it didn’t take too long to see that the water wasn’t the main attraction in front of our hotel. At first, they kind of looked like large sewer grates, but upon closer inspection, we realized that they were a set of in ground trampolines.
Every time that we passed them, kids and adults were using them, both for fun and for fitness. I’m not sure what kind of magical lure they had, but they were impossible to pass up, and also kind of impossible to stop using once you’d started. Between the exercise and the instant social connection you had smiling at other strangers doing the same crazy thing you were, what a smart, fun, and easy to implement streetscape feature!
Things That Are Also Other Things
Moving on to the relatively flat Denmark after spending days driving through, around, and under the fjords of Norway was a bit of a shock. That’s what made the next thing I spotted all the more genius. We all know that there are some necessary evils in terms of infrastructure that must to be built in order for a city to function, but if you think creatively, they don’t need to come at the expense of public open space. When building a new waste-to energy power plant, not only has Copenhagen created an environmental benefit, but also a social one.
By rethinking the design, they integrated a slope in the roof to make one of the world’s longest artificial ski slopes. I really appreciate such smart urban design and the person who took the time to ask the question, “How could we build this better?”
Good Design is No Surprise
Between LEGOs, IKEA, and a host of other companies, Scandinavia is definitely known for innovation and good design. But it’s nice to see that it extends into their public parks and open spaces as well. I hope that these examples have inspired you to think a little more creatively about your own parks and public spaces!
Do you have any cool examples of parks & recreation spots you’ve come across during your travels?