Reflections: Urban Exploration Goes to Copenhagen

July 8, 2019

As city builders, we know that one of the best ways to build our cities and drive our work forward is by learning from each other. Whether we’re seeking inspiration for our public spaces, discovering ideas on how to improve transportation infrastructure or looking for ways to strengthen how our individual organizations operate, cities all over the world can provide inspiration and learnings that drive our city building work.

Earlier this month, the Downtown Denver Partnership took 125 of Denver’s public and private sector leaders to Copenhagen to study one of the  happiest and most bicycle-friendly cities in the world for our Annual Urban Exploration trip. We explored the city via their world-class bicycle infrastructure, met with their world-class urban place management leaders, learned how to get “hygge” and experienced first-hand how their public spaces are bringing joy and belonging to people young and old.

With a bias for action, we strive to bring learnings back and apply them in our city. Here are some key things that Copenhagen taught us:

  • Create fun public spaces: spontaneity comes from fun—let’s create this in our public spaces and find ways to bring the kid out in all of us.
  • Build bicycle cities: if you build the infrastructure in a user-friendly, people-first, and safe way, you won’t have to convince people to use it.
  • Keep thinking innovatively about financing: let’s be creative and capitalize on our public assets when it comes to financing within our cities and districts.
  • Elevate our work by building together: Continue to leverage public-private partnerships take our work to the next level.

We asked Urban Exploration participants to share their takeaways from the trip to Copenhagen: 

“I have always believed climate change is a major issue facing our country. After visiting Copenhagen, I know now it is THE biggest issue. Denver needs to be a leader in this regard like Copenhagen. If they can build an island to address rising waters, we can definitely take steps to prevent and protect our city and state from the negative impacts of climate change.” – Brittany Morris-Saunders, Seawald Hanfling Public Affairs


“I’ve already scheduled a lunch and learn with my staff to discuss biking culture, activating public spaces, and the inclusive process of planning public neighborhood parks.” – Karen McNeil-Miller, Colorado Health Foundation


“From mobility, to multi-use developments and housing, there are so many opportunities to continue to build a world-class city right here in at home! Most importantly, the Partnership has brought together an eclectic mix of local leaders to learn alongside each other. I am confident this experience will lead to real progress.” – Leslie Herod, Colorado General Assembly


“We shouldn’t be afraid of fun. When Copenhagen started improving their public spaces in the 90’s, there was lots of stone and things, like fountains, to look at. More recent public space interventions have focused on the people who use those spaces, and having fun is often central: the mini trampolines on the waterfront; the fountain with a bench IN the fountain; The basketball court with banked sides where we watched little kids on tricycles zooming around.” – Fred Glick, Columbia Group


“[I am inspired to] leverage my role on the [Downtown Denver Partnership’s] public realm council to reach deeper into the city to develop more trust and partnership in how we can create projects that better impact the public realm and work within the grey area.” – Jon Gambrill, Gensler


“I was inspired by the thoughtful decision-making many of our speakers expressed. Copenhagen didn’t become “Copenhagen” randomly, it was about choices made by city leaders and their constituents. We can do that in Denver.” – Jack Todd, Bicycle Colorado | Read Bicycle Colorado’s full recap here.


About the Urban Exploration Program

The Downtown Denver Partnership believes that we can learn a great deal from the successes of other downtowns throughout the world. For this reason, the Partnership created the Urban Exploration Program in 2008, bringing city leaders and business leaders in Downtown Denver together to learn about the best practices of other cities.

The 2007 Downtown Area Plan – the 20-year vision for Downtown Denver’s development – provides the foundation upon which the trip is organized. In addition, the trip provides a wonderful opportunity for these community leaders to network and immerse themselves in an educational setting where they can learn about infrastructure, economic development, transit and transportation and public private partnerships in other cities.

To date, Urban Exploration has taken hundreds of public and private city leaders to cities like Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, San Fransisco and Washington, D.C. These trips have resulted in significant advancements in mobility infrastructure, public policy, innovation and more.