Biking = Higher Quality of Life?

When visiting cities in Ticino, Bern, Zurich, and Freiburg, many lectures from architects, city planners, urban developers, and transport directors focused on sustainability and the ‘high quality of life’ in their respective city. In fact, the term ‘quality of life’ has frequently come up in both class and guest lectures. As an Architecture major with little exposure to urban planning, I find it very intriguing to hear this term in the context of a city, especially when evaluating urban areas in Switzerland and Germany.

Moreover Professor Wulf Daseking, the chief city planner of Freiburg, greeted us with his opening statement, “either German people live in Freiburg or they want to live in Freiburg”. He attributed the desire to live in Freiburg to the ‘high quality of life’ in his city. He explained this high quality of life was not related to how wealthy the city and individuals are, instead it is largely connected to the individual’s active lifestyle and value for urban life. As we learned in class, there is a strong positive correlation between an increase of bicyclists and a decrease in bike fatality and injury rates. Therefore, as biking becomes more popular, people’s mindset about travel shifts, making it safer to bike. As community awareness increases when drivers are more aware of bikers, it creates a higher quality of life giving the citizens. Children especially have more freedom to walk and bike throughout neighborhoods and around towns.

Furthermore, I think it is important to understand the history behind cities like Zurich and Freiburg, because their sustainable lifestyle has not developed over-night; instead, it has taken a long time to change people’s daily routines and mindsets. A daily routine is created as a result of social norms, local culture, and an individual’s personal schedule. A society’s “daily routine” can change and evolve overtime, especially in response to change in city infrastructure.

We have observed the difference in the Swiss’ daily routine from ours in America. I believe a large part of the difference is due to the Swiss’ integrated transport system and planned city design. It was a great experience for us to observe and experience their transport system first-hand. The city centers have car-free zones, which create safe spaces for walking and cycling. The city infrastructure integrates the modes of transport, creating safer alternatives to driving.

As we observed, the change in city infrastructure can really change the cityscape, public space, and ‘sense of place’. Public space was expanded by replacing car parking spots with a more flexible space for public seating, vendors, and trees; and by investing in (expensive) underground parking gives priority to pedestrians and bikers.

Since arriving in Riva, we have had the opportunity to take many modes of transport. We are fortunate that the villa has bikes available, which I have thoroughly enjoyed riding. Although car travel speeds in Riva are higher than in Freiburg or Zuerich and Riva’s pedestrian infrastructure is not as great as in those two cities, there is a really nice wide bike path that we can take to the nearby town, Mendrisio. One time when biking, a few of us passed a local and instead of greeted with “Ciao”, he greeted us with “Hello”, so apparently we don’t blend in as locals, but it is nice to experience their home through one of their favorite forms of transport. This gives a new perspective on the local culture, allowing one to explore more of the area than on foot or looking through the villa’s windows.

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Morgan Stackman, Undergraduate Architecture, University of Virginia

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