Sunday, October 14, 2012

weather comparison - Boston, MA to Stockholm, Sweden

regardless of what international weather data says, in my mind I felt like Stockholm would be similar to Boston in terms of weather.  both cities are harbor cities located on the east coast, both have prevailing winds from the west (ish).  both get cold in the winter and warm in the summer and have high humidity.  the latitude difference did not seem that much too me on the globe that I once spun around (which was the extent of my geographical research before coming over to Sweden).

it turns out that I was wrong and my impeccable and detailed research was unfounded.  in actuality it is often more than slightly colder here in Sweden, even in "the middle" of the country.  I put it in quotes because if you look on the map how far north sweden stretches, you'd be amazed.  Stockholm is not close to the midpoint, even though everyone says it's in the middle.  up north?  yeah, I hear it gets real cold up there...

it turns out it gets cold in Stockholm too, just in case you were wondering.  besides the cold, word on the streets is that the sun doesn't shine so much.  everyone knows that it rises late and sets early up here, but the according to my sources it is a little extreme.  Stockholm gets an average of two hours of sunshine (yes, I said two hours) in january to go along with that balmy average high temp of -1º C (30º F).  good times.  good times indeed.

so, the main point of this post is not to complain about the weather, but to share what I have seen and felt first hand while here and to help people draw some comparisons.

the weather in Boston this week is projected to be this:
Jamaica Plain weather, according to weather bug, for the week of October 15th, 2012
Jamaica Plain weather, according to weather bug, for the week of October 15th, 2012

and the weather in Stockholm projected to be this:
Stockholm weather, according to weather bug, for the week of October 15th, 2012
Stockholm weather, according to weather bug, for the week of October 15th, 2012

on average based on this week, according to weather bug, sponsored by the always super sustainable McDonalds, Stockholm appears to be about 12-15 degrees cooler per day and has about 50% less sunshine.  that's a scientific fact.  if that is confusing, let me say this: judging by this week alone, Boston appears to be about 12-15 degrees warmer on average and have double the sunshine overall. 

for more information about weather in Stockholm, spin a globe around a couple times and then google "Stockholm weather".  trust me, it'll work.

Friday, October 12, 2012

City Bikes Stockholm - Part II - it's no Copenhagen (or Boston)

so now that you have read my description of the bike share system in Stockholm, it's time to talk about the pros, the cons, and the comparison between this system and others, most notably the two systems that I have seen and experienced, Boston and Copenhagen.  what?  you haven't read my previous post?  shame on you!  it's all about the Stockholm bike share system, City Bikes.  read it.  you'll like it.

you may remember my not so glowing description of the free bicycle share system in Copenhagen where you only need to slip a small coin (20 kroner or 2 Euro) into a slot to reserve a bike for as long as you want.  at the time this system was launched (1990's), it was groundbreaking in many ways, especially for a well developed city and at such a large scale.  my biggest complaint about that system is that because it is free, (some) people do not take responsibility for their actions and there is no accountability.  I read articles about people putting the coin in the slot, riding the bike around, and literally throwing the bike(s) into the ocean and canals.  vandalism of this nature is possible because there is no system to connect the person who "rents" the bike to the actual bike.

Stockholm took bike sharing to the next level by charging a fee to rent the bikes, by making a direct relationship between the bike and the renter, and by establishing some simple rules (including a slap on the wrist style punishment for violating the rules).  so, how does the bike share in Stockholm compare to Copenhagen?  well, for sure it is a step up in many ways, but it is not perfect either.

I made up a little chart to compare the three bike share programs using a 1-10 scale and assigning a score for each category with 9 as excellent and 1 as pretty bad.  I compared the bike shares looking at these categories: number of stations, number of bikes per station, cost (guest), cost (season), bike quality, access (locations), access (availability of bikes), support, web/ app, ease of use of the system, and range/ time.
bike share comparison chart
comparison chart of three bike shares: Boston, Stockholm, and Copenhagen
let's start with Copenhagen.  the system is free (you put a 20 kroner coin in as a deposit but you get it back when you lock up the bike) which is amazing.  but as I have said before, this leads to issues of vandalism and the feeling that there is no accountability because there is no way to track who is borrowing the bikes.  an additional problem with this system is that people use their own locks on the bikes and basically treat them as personal bikes, riding them around and locking them up anywhere (often not at stations).  almost every station I saw was without bikes and the few stations that had bikes often had problems (the bikes were stuck or locked with personal locks).  

the other major problem with this system is that the stations are hard to find (they don't have a kiosk, signage, or any other way to recognize them).  they basically look like regular bike racks.  because there are so many bikes in Copenhagen, you might not even see the share rack buried under other bikes.  in addition, people use the rack as a place to lock their personal bikes so the bike share rack might be completely full with non share bikes.  the bike share in Copenhagen was innovative and impressive when it was started more than 15 years ago, but it has flaws that make it less successful than some of the newer systems, especially when directly compared categorically.

so let's look at Stockholm's bike share, starting with the good aspects.  Stockholm made some great improvements when compared to Copenhagen.  they added inherent value to the system by making people pay to join.  the amount per season is pretty reasonable, especially if you use the bikes a lot.  they created many stations and spread them out well all over the city, which must have been a challenge because much of Stockholm central is a conglomeration of islands.  the bikes are well distributed and there are almost always bikes at most stations and empty slots to return the bikes.  the swipe NFC card seems to work well (although I had a problem once or twice and had to call the helpline) and the bike locking also seemed successful.  the system is relatively easy to use.  lastly, and most importantly (especially when compared to Boston), the allotment of time on the bike is long and the penalty for going over is minimal.  you have three hours per trip and you get three strikes if you go over before they cut off your card (if you go for more than 5 hours they lock your card).  three hours gives you quite a bit of time to travel around the city and even stop (not at a bike stand) if you are running errands.  I would guess that these simple rules (along with a method to know who checked out the bike) keeps most people in line and keeps vandalism and other problems to a minimum.

the weaknesses in Stockholm are apparent once you've ridden a little bit.  there are a bunch of bikes out there with problems (such as flat tires, broken lights, and wobbly wheels/ hubs).  several of the bikes I picked up did not shift properly or the seats did not adjust and if there was another bike on the rack I would return the first one, which did present a problem once or twice.  one time I rode home on a bike that had a really wobbly front wheel.  I was going down a hill fearing a little for my life.  another weakness of the Stockholm bike share is the 22.00 (10pm) curfew.  I am not sure whether this is enforced, but it seems silly to limit the bikes to this arbitrary time.  it's pitch black at 7pm now in October here, so why 10pm?  and speaking of 10pm, why 6am for the start time?  what if you need to be somewhere at 6am?  and finally, the app to tell you where there are available spots to pick up a bike or lock your bike back to a stand costs $3.  this should be free.  you're already paying for a membership to use the bike.

so how does Boston compare?  before we go too far here let me say that I have the least personal experience with this system because at home I ride my own bikes to work and around town.  let's start with the good stuff.  Boston's system is clearly the newest.  the bikes are mostly in excellent shape.  they shift properly, the lights work, etc.  they are pretty well distributed throughout the central parts of the city and have expanded significantly in the second year of operation, which is hopefully a good sign of things to come.  the app (run by an independent company called Spotcycle) is excellent and easy to use, as is the website.  people that I have talked with who use the system say very positive things about getting around town on the bikes.  the one time I called the helpline they were very supportive (although they could not fix the specific problem).  

another excellent feature of the Hubway bike share is the range of options.  you can sign up for one (24 hour) day for $5, a three day for $12, or a season membership.  the one day pass is great if you know you are going to take two or more trips in and around the city (a subway/ metro pass costs about $2 per trip).  the three day is great for a tourist or guest in the city.  the system is versatile.  one of the best parts about the Boston bike share system, especially when compared to Stockholm, is the overnight hours.  you can use the bikes whenever you need (during the season) regardless of the time of day.  this means the bikes are accessible to people outside of the 9-5 crowd such as dinner shift waiters, over night workers, and anyone who might need to be somewhere early (or late) in the day.

now to the "room for improvement".  the thirty minute trip.  I am not sure how Boston came up with 30 minutes (I have some guesses), but this does not give you much time to dilly dally.  stations are close together and easily reachable within a couple of minutes, but what if you want to stop and smell the roses?  or what if you want to roll somewhere quick to run an errand and then get back to drop the bike where you started?  or what if you arrive to a station and the slots are full?  now you have to book it to the next closest station.  if you are cruising around town, it is annoying to have to always be on the lookout for a new station to swap bikes.  the three hours of Stockholm might be too much, but 30 minutes seems too quick.  how bout 45 minutes?  

the other major problem is that the system has been seen by people as complicated.  there are lots of instructions to read and understand and many people have complained that it is not crystal clear that you are automatically charged for more than a 30 minute trip.  there are very heavy penalties for running over your time limit ($2 for the first 30 minutes over for a guest and up to $100 for 24 hours over).  ouch.  I understand the desire to keep the bikes circulating quickly and I am sure that there are specific reasons for heavy fees for overages and for the 30 minute trip, but (as someone who often pushes to the last possible minute) this seems pretty harsh.  I'd love to see a less sharp fine, maybe some kind of warning, or even having 45 minutes instead of 30.

so who wins?  well let's just say that when I ran the numbers, magically there was a tie between Boston and Stockholm.  but, to satisfy those of you out there who need winners and losers, let me say two things.  one, I think cities and bike culture are different across the world and needs vary depending on location, climate, culture, market demand, etc.  what might work in Stockholm might not in Boston.  for example, most people in Stockholm ride what people in Boston might call "crappy" bikes.  they are not crappy, they are (often) old, beat up, and simple.  this is acceptable because Swedish people have a stronger and older tradition of simple, functional bikes.  so the bike share bikes are more aligned to that Swedish style than to Boston, which needs sharper looking and operating bikes to meet the market expectations.  if the Boston fleet deteriorates to the level of Copenhagen, Boston people might simply stop riding the bikes.  this may not be an issue in Stockholm or Copenhagen.  

the second thing: any city that can successfully run a bike share system and support not polluting transportation options is a winner in my book.  having the option of personalized transportation that puts air in your lungs, wind in your hair, and human powered wheels on the street is an excellent choice.  thank you to all of the people who are making an effort to make bike travel, awareness, and sharing a successful strategy for transportation in Boston and in other places around the world.  if you have never tried the bike share program in your city, check it out.  you might be surprised about how easy it is and how it makes you feel.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

City Bikes Stockholm - Part I - how the bike share works

Stockholm bike share locking mechanism where bike locks to stand
bike slot #18 at a bike station.  you can see the two access points that lock the bike front basket frame into the bike stand to secure the bike.  red light indicates that the bike is locked.  after swiping the card this little light turns green and the bike is unlocked and can be picked up off the stand.
you may remember my not so glowing description of the free bicycle share system in Copenhagen from a couple of weeks ago.  Stockholm's system started more than ten years later and has a slightly different philosophical approach and structure.
bikes locked to bike stand in Stockholm
typical City Bikes bike stand in Stockholm.  bikes are attached to the stand with two metal pieces that are welded to the underside of the front basket.  these click into a locking mechanism to secure the bike and announce to the system that the bike has been returned by the renter (as well as to update the online/ app digital bike counter)
I will compare the two systems (along with Boston's Hubway system) in Part II.  for this post I will explain how the Stockholm bike share system (called City Bikes) works and how I have been using it here in the city.
all bike stations in Stockholm have the same general setup
at every bike stand/ station, there is a card reader, a description of the program, an LCD screen, a helpline number and email address, and a map of all of the bike stands in the city
there are two ways to rent bikes through Stockholm's "City Bikes" bikeshare system.

1.  you can buy a season pass (good from April through October) for 300 SEK (about $45) at the tourism or information offices in the city as well as a couple of major retail locations (there are about 7 places in or near downtown).  you can also order the pass online and save 50 SEK (it takes about 5 business days to receive the pass).  you must be 18 or older and have a valid identification.
bike has 3 speed internal hub, coaster brakes, lever brake, kickstand, front and rear fenders, front basket, adjustable seat post, and front and rear lights
bike stand near Gardet in Stockholm.  one bike left.  the bikes all have front and rear lights (though many don't work), front and rear fenders, adjustable seat posts, front basket, 3 speed internal hub grip shifters, coaster brakes, a kickstand, and a left hand activated "typical" lever brake.
2.  you can buy a three day pass (this seems specifically geared towards tourists).  it costs 165 SEK (about $25) and is not activated until the moment when you first swipe the card to rent your first bike.
each bike stand has an explanation of the system as well as a map
signage at every bike stand in Stockholm explaining the system with the NFC card swipe at the bottom
even though I arrived in Stockholm in September, I chose to rent for the rest of the season (still full price) because Lauren was here visiting and two weekends worth of riding with the three day pass costs more than a season (300 vs 330 SEK).  we picked up the pass at Central Station and also received a map of all of the bike stations, which is also available online.  there's an app for the station locations and bike availability, but it costs $2.99 which is ridiculous, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).
right before swiping the card to unlock a bike
typical bike stand info pole.  this one is at Karlaplan in Ostermalm.  Lauren is about to swipe the card to access a bike.
there are approximately 107 stations throughout the downtown area and beyond, including the most densely populated areas in the outskirts of the central part of the city.  there are multiple stations in a close proximity in areas that are heavily traveled, especially near major streets and subway stations.
map of all bike stations in Stockholm
this is the map at each bike stand which shows locations of all bike stands in the city
you can rent a bike between the hours of 6am and 10pm any time from April through October for up to three hours at a time.  if you want to have more than three hours you simply return the bike to a station and take out a new one for a new three hour slot.
tells you what number bike you are renting as well as other information
LCD screen at each bikestand announcing information such as the number of the bike you are renting
once the card is paid for renting a bike is easy.  there are a few simple strategies to ensure a smooth process.  in the morning before I leave the flat, I look up on the bikeshare website to see that there are bikes available at the closest stand to my location.  then I look to make sure there are empty slots at the stand closest to where I am headed.  as long as these two conditions are met, I can easily go from point a to point b without trouble.
bike share card reader in Stockholm
Lauren swipes the card on the card reader to get a bike from the stand
for a tourist (or anyone without internet access) this is possibly slightly harder because conditions could change.  for example if there is only one bike at the location closest to my place and between the time I leave home and arrive at the stand, someone could have taken the last bike and I'll need to walk to the second closest station to get a bike.  this has only happened once to me so far, so it doesn't seem to be a huge deal.

when you arrive at the bike stand, you simply swipe your card against the NFC (near field communication) style card reader.  the system thinks for a second and then spits out a number.  this number corresponds with the location of the bike you have rented.  you go over to the spot and lift the bike off the rack (within 45 seconds or so) and now you have three hours to return it to one of the 107 stations around Stockholm.  it's that simple.
bike unlocked after swiping card at bike stand LCD screen
after swiping card the screen tells the user what bike slot will unlock (be released), allowing renter to pick the bike up off of the stand and use for up to three hours
Stockholm bike share locking mechanism where bike locks to stand
bike slot #18 at a bike station.  you can see the two access points that lock the bike front basket frame into the bike stand to secure the bike.  red light indicates that the bike is locked.  after swiping the card this little light turns green and the bike is unlocked and can be picked up off the stand.
the bikes are all similar in style, although there seem to be newer ones and older ones.  the newer ones have better functioning (or at least functioning) front and rear lights that work as soon as you start pedaling.  the bikes all have three speed internal hubs (enabled by grip shifters), plus the old school brakes that work when you push backwards on the pedals (called coaster brakes).  they also all have a left hand regular brake (that you squeeze) which is what most typical bikes use across the globe.  they have front and read fenders, quick release adjustable seat posts (to change the height), and two odd sized wheels (smaller in the front and larger in the back).
3 speed internal hub grip shift
grip shifter for 3 speed internal hub gears is standard for all City Bikes.  most bikes shift reasonably well, but some don't like to go down to first gear
most of the bikes are in decent condition, but I have found quite a few that have either a flat tire, don't shift properly, can't adjust the seat post, or have wobbly wheels.  when a bike is not properly functioning (or if you have a problem at any time) you can call the number on the bike stand and report any issues.  I have called a couple of times to report problems with bikes although judging by the fact that I have found more than a handful of bikes with issues, I would say most people probably don't bother to call.  if a bike is not up to your standards or has a problem, you can simply replace it back on the rack.  in about 15 seconds it locks back into place and then you can re-swipe your card to get a new bike (the system gives you the next bike on the rack in numbered order).
metal basket connects bike to bike stand
another view of the "cockpit" of the Stockholm City Bike attached to the stand.  the basket has the locking mechanism (on the bottom) and the light (on the front) as well as a strap to hold stuff in its metal grasp.
if you are going further afield or not near a bike stand and you want to leave the bike, you are taking a slight risk.  the bikes are not equipped with locks and the only way of guaranteeing the bike is safe is reconnecting it to a stand (there are two metal pieces that click into the bike stand and activate a locking mechanism).  several times recently I wanted to run into a shop or museum (or the Ostermalm Saluhall) for a minute or longer and there were no bikestands nearby and I have left the bike unlocked.  I try to make it inconspicuous or block it with another bike.  I haven't had a problem yet.

more information as well as a comparison in Part II.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

the world's greatest cookie... the Sarah Bernhardt

yes.  I said it.  the world's greatest cookie...
the world's greatest cookie
the world's greatest cookie, nicknamed the "Sarah Bernhardt", also commonly called a "biskvi" by Swedes
if you ever go to Sweden, or ever stumble across a Swedish bakery, there is only one thing you need to buy.  it's simply the world's greatest cookie.  if you can even call it a cookie.  it's called a Sarah Bernhardt.
Sarah Bernhardt cookies and other assorted pastries and treats
the first shop on the right when you enter the Ostermalms Saluhall (the Saluhall gets its own separate post) from the square serves sandwiches, cakes, and pastries of all kinds, including the unforgettable Sarah Bernhardt
the short story is that Sarah Bernhardt, a world famous French actress ("the most famous actress the world has ever known"), stumbled upon a a bakery in Amsterdam around the turn of the 19th century and tasted this immaculate confection and told the shop owner it was the best thing she'd ever eaten.  in her honor he named the cookie after her.
almond macaroon, chocolate mousse buttercream, and chocolate on top
the Sarah Bernhardt is a delicacy like none other.  a soft, chewy almond macaroon on the bottom, a dark chocolate mousse buttercream in the middle, with the top dipped in chocolate.
during World War II, the cookie, which resembled a radio dial was used as a code to connect members of the resistance.  after entering the shop, one would ask for a "Sarah Bernhardt" which served as a signal identifying the shop patron as a member of the resistance.  if I thought starting a revolution could somehow bring these delights to the United States, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  viva la Sarah Bernhardt!

macaroon, chocolate creme, and chocolate coating of a Sarah Bernhardt
this is a Sarah Bernhardt right before it disappears.  at this point one takes smaller sized bites to fully enjoy the delicate but palpable crunch of the chocolate shell and the smooth, soft, melt in your mouth creme inside.  once you get past about half way, it takes all the willpower in the world not to devour it in one bite.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

a dip in the Oresund Strait before sunset

the day after I took a walk along the western edge of Daniaparken in Bo01, I stumbled across a series of people jumping (or dipping) into the ocean.  when I arrived at a stepped stonework area that led directly into the ocean, I knew this was the place.  the water must be cold, but if they are doing it, I try it too.  I pedaled home as quickly as possible.  even me, a crazy person who is willing to jump in the cold waters of Sweden, knows that scary monsters inhabit the ocean after dark.

I returned with a backpack loaded with a towel and an ice cold 50 cl (500 ml) Swedish beer.  I leaned the bike against the concrete wall, stripped down to my suit, carefully removed my flippie floppies, and waded ankle deep onto the wooden platform.  I stood for quite some time, skeptical of the temperatural (yes, that is definitely a word) effect of the sea on my body.  finally, after courage came and went several times, I swan dived into the icy blue water...
beer, flip flops, and the Oresund Strait
the aftermath of a dip in the ocean before sunset, as evidenced by flip flops and beer

nothing solves the world's problems like taking a dip in the ocean at sunset and drinking a cold beer.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

sunset in Vastra Hamnen

as the sun began to dip lower in the sky, I made my way along Ribersborg beach, aiming back toward Vastra Hamnen.  I stopped several times along the way to admire the kite surfers.  or are they called wind surfers.  judging by the amount of wind along the Western Harbor, this must be a great place to surf, regardless of what it's called.
kitesurfing in Sweden
if you google kite surfing while in Sweden, "kitesurf Sweden" comes up second, behind only the wikipedia page.  clearly there is a lot of wind here, even if Malmo is not listed as one of the hotspots.
as the sun went down, I walked along the boardwalk at Daniaparken in Vastra Hamnen on the edge of Bo01.  the weather was mild, maybe 64 degrees and the wind was not fierce.  as I walked along the boardwalk I saw many people eating bread and cheese, drinking wine, and sitting atop the wooden planks on the water's edge.
Daniaparken Malmo
people eating, drinking, and watching the sunset on the western edge of Daniaparken in Vastra Hamnen
I passed by wooden steps leading down into the ocean and admired the platform, complete with a ladder into (or out of) the ocean.  the waves calmly lapped over the metal grating and splashed softly against the lowest steps of the wooden descent.
wooden steps dropping directly into the ocean
wooden steps leading into the ocean in Vastra Hamnen along the westernmost edge of Daniaparken.  in the summer this is, according to locals of Malmo, the best spot to jump into the ocean in all of Skane. 
I continued along the boulevard, admiring the quantity of people who were enjoying the setting sun, the mild air, and the light breeze.  it tasted like a perfect combination of summer and fall, neither too hot nor too cold.  people were sitting out at the restaurants, sipping wine and eating dinner.
restaurant on the westernmost edge of Bo01
people eating dinner as the sun set in Vastra Hamnen along the edge of the Oresund Strait
I passed by the corner building of Bo01 that houses Salt Och Brygga, a well known eatery anchoring the restaurants along the waterfront's western edge.
solar thermal panels in Vastra Hamnen
one of the most notable buildings in Bo01 is the building that houses Salt och Brygga (salt and bridge), a well known restaurant marking the corner of the first phase of Vastra Hamnen, easily picked out in photographs due to the giant wall of solar thermal "panels" on the southwest corner of the building 
this building is known for two things besides the restaurant: 1. it is the least energy efficient building in Bo01 according to post occupancy studies.  2. it has a giant vertical solar thermal array that ended up being slightly under efficient because its evacuated tubes partially shade themselves.
sunset in Oresund as seen from Bo01 in Vastra Hamnen
sunset along the Oresund Strait with the Bridge to the left
as I continued north along the water's edge, I stopped to capture the sun as it dropped lower in the sky and highlighted the Oresund Bridge.
sunset in the Oresund Strait as seen from the western shore of Vastra Hamnen
Finnlines ship sliding along under the setting sun in Oresund
a Finnlines ship, which seemed to arrive in the harbor at least once per day, slipped under the sun toward the north harbor, the only area of the harbor that remains industrial in the 21st century.
Finnlines ship north of Vastra Hamnen
Finnlines ship passing just north of Vastra Hamnen

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Turning Torso: the anchor of Vastra Hamnen

you can't spend several weeks in Malmo and not take pictures of the Turning Torso.  in fact, many would argue you can't spend several hours in Malmo and not take pictures of it.  you may even recall that I took a picture of it the first night I arrived in Malmo.  once the tallest apartment building in Europe, the Turning Torso twists upward 54 stories and 623 feet, the top floor at a 90 degree angle from the ground floor.  the Torso was envisioned by the government of Malmo as a new beginning, a fresh start, and a much needed strengthening of the skyline to the north of the city center.  it rises 2 times higher than Kronprinsen, the previous tallest building in Malmo.
turning torso by Santiago Calatrava
the Turning Torso approached from the southern main access road to Vastra Hamnen from the city center.  the Torso, designed by Santiago Calatrava, rises 623 feet and 54 stories.
the Kockums crane (Kockumskranen) which was sold to a Korean company in the early 2000's was the last and highest symbol of the working class city of Malmo's shipbuilding industry.  it's last duty was to assist in the building of the Oresund Bridge, the lifeline connection between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden.
looking up
looking up at the Torso from the street
in the years leading up to the decision to construct the Turning Torso, there were three major focused objectives of the city of Malmo, partly in an effort to move forward after the financial collapse caused by the shipbuilding industry abandoning the city (among other financial challenges), partly to jump into the 21st century, and partly to recreate and rebrand the city and its identity.  the three objectives were, at first blush, quite simple:

  1. improve education and heighten the focus of the city on advanced education
  2. strengthen connectivity and interconnectedness of Malmo within the region of Skane and beyond
  3. use sustainability and sustainable initiatives as a method to advance the city and its planning

these three objectives were simultaneously addressed starting in the 1990's and moving into the first decade of the 21st century.  though the Turning Torso was not, in itself, a cornerstone of any of these three specific objectives, it played a significant role as a new symbol of Malmo, the city of the future.  the Torso is an excellent example of how cities use architecture (tall, unique, or important buildings, often designed by famous architects) to promote an agenda and "put themselves on the map" as Malmo has been doing for the last 15-20 years.
the tallest building in malmo
Turning Torso in Vastra Hamnen, Malmo as seen from the neighborhood
the three most obvious physical manifestations of the three objectives are quite powerful, and together have helped shaped Malmo as a growing, changing city with an eye toward the future.

1.  one of the brightest examples of the city of Malmo putting a new focus on higher education was the creation of Malmo's first University, Malmo Hogskola.  the University, now a central hub of the Dockans neighborhood adjacent to the central train station and Vastra Hamnen, has grown to more than 24,000 students in just over ten years of operation (the school opened officially in 1998).  the school has many disciplines and areas of study, including several in sustainability such as master's degrees in "Leadership for Sustainability" and "Sustainable Urban Management".
structural expressionism
the style has been called "structural expressionism" and is most evident in the exposed structural elements on the building exterior 
2.  the most obvious physical manifestation of the idea of interconnection in Skane and beyond is the Oresund Bridge and the improvements in the train transportation into Malmo.  the Oresund Bridge, completed and opened in July 2000, has created amazing opportunities for growth in Malmo as well as the opportunity for people living in Malmo to commute easily to Copenhagen.  besides the construction of the bridge itself, Malmo created new and improved train stations and rail lines from the bridge through the city center (called the City Tunnel Project) that simplify, enhance, and speed up travel to and from Malmo as well as through it up the western coast of Sweden and beyond.
green sustainable grocery store in the adjacent parking garage
the Turning Torso sits in a pool of water at the base (the parking complex in the background contains a sustainable grocery store and restaurant on the ground floor)
3.  in terms of sustainability, the list, as you may have seen from earlier entries in this blog, is endless.  I would argue that the most notable catalyst for the physical manifestation of making sustainability part of the city's future is Bo01, brought about as part of the European Housing Exposition in 2011, and evidenced in the European Village as well as the surrounding neighborhood and corresponding infrastructure.  this neighborhood, anchored on one corner by the tallest building in Scandinavia, is a beacon of hope for the future of sustainable cities and neighborhoods.
the top twists 90 degrees from the base
the Turning Torso as seen from the neighborhood school.  the top is 90 degrees twisted from the base.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

bike repair in Malmo - Part Two - "the cycle kitchen"

if you missed the exciting beginning of the story of the flat tire, here's Part One.

Part Two:

so the all day conference on Monday ended at 17.30 and I hopped on the train in Hyllie (by the way, it's not pronounced "hill e" as I was saying for the first few days when I arrived here in Malmo.  it's actually pronounced "hill you" in a kind of french manner where they roll the tongue during the you part).  I was home in less than 35 minutes after a quick train ride and a quick bus trip.  the transport was free because the conference gives every participant a 72 hour free public transportation card!  imagine that... the conference you are attending in a city offers a free method to use public transportation.  what a nice idea... thanks Malmo!
now a hub for local non profits in Malmo, including cykelkoket, the cycle kitchen
Stapelbaddsparken building (underneath where ships were pushed out to sea from the shipbuilding port, Dockan) is now a hub for local non profits in Malmo, including cykelkoket, the cycle kitchen
I was home just past 18.00 and the cycle kitchen was open until 21.00.  I hopped on my bike with the wheel in my hand and pedaled over (five minute trip from northern Vastra Hamnen to Stapelsbaddsparken) to the center of what was once one of the largest ship building areas in the world.  this area (also located north of the city center) is in Dockan, on the edge of what is now called Vastra Hamnen (western harbor).  this used to be the home of Kockums, the center of the shipbuilding universe for much of the 20th century.  they don't make ships here any more, but guess what they currently make.  that's right: wind turbines!
bike repair space in Dockan, Malmo
cykelkoket (the cycle kitchen) in Dockan where free tool time combined with volunteer bike experts leads to an amazing experience
the building is sloped from about 5 meters to nothing where it meets the ground at the new skate park and served as the location where giant ships were pushed into the ocean when this area was a shipbuilding hub.  the area below the slope has been converted from a workers area for Dockan into an incubator/ center for local non profits (called Stapelbaddsparken) including cykelkoket (the bike kitchen).
area for relaxation and computer/ art work in cycle kitchen in Dockan
"creative space" in cykelkoket which sits immediately adjacent to the bike repair area.  looks like a great spot for lounging when there are no bikes being fixed.  it was empty when I was there because everyone in the shop was working on bikes or bike parts.
I arrived at the bike kitchen and went down some stairs into the depths.  I talked with a very nice guy about my situation.  he told me all of the tools were free to borrow and he would help me if I needed it.  as it would turn out, I needed help and about two hours to get to the bottom of this seemingly simple flat tire...
Swedish military bike in progress
work being done to fix up a Swedish military bike which are surprisingly common in Malmo.  the guy fixing it up comes to cykelkoket every monday night to work on it.  he bought it on Craigslist.  he was riding it around the city with no brakes for awhile.
Bert (Bertil), who helped me off and on for the entire time I was in the shop, is a volunteer at the kitchen.  I asked him how it worked and he said basically some people pass away without a will or relatives and their money goes to the state.  the state divides the money into a wide range of non profit organizations that help people in communities.  the cycle kitchen is one of those organizations.  it uses the money from the state to pay to rent the space, keep the lights on, and buy tools as necessary.  all of the people working in the shop are volunteers.  pretty neat!  Bert said that there are other cycle kitchens opening up around Skane (southern Sweden) including places like Goteborg (the second largest city in Sweden).
free tools at the cycle kitchen in malmo
some of the free tools available for use to fix up your bike.  the shop also collects and fixes up old bikes that have been confiscated by the city or abandoned.
so my flat was a complete pain.  I will not bore you with all of the long drawn out details, but I will tell you what happened anyways.  if you are bored by bike talk, skip the next two paragraphs or simply look through the pictures.
Swedish style valve stem in unheard of in the United States
most common style of valve stem in Sweden is actually English, called the Dunlop valve.  in the US, almost all tubes have a German or Italian style (Schrader or Presta).  I had never seen this English version before.
the wheel was a very old 26" (which was actually somewhere between a 26" and a 700), but the tire was a true 26" so it wouldn't come off without a special "heavy duty" Park Tools tire lever that Bert had to get in the back of the shop.  because the wheel was not a real size, the tube we had didn't properly fit, but we decided to use it anyway.  the rim was so old and rusty that I decided to scrape it with a brush to get off the rust burrs and then wrap the rim in homemade rim tape (really just duct tape ripped to the right width and stuck on).
trying to retrofit the old wheel to change the flat, unsuccessfully
desperate first attempt to replace the flat tire involved using a special heavy duty tire lever to remove the tire, sanding off the rust and burrs in the rim, lining the rim with makeshift (duct tape) rim tape, and two grown men manhandling the tire to get it back over the rim with the new tube.  let's just say that this method failed and we ditched the entire wheel for another one (after about an hour of effort).
after struggling (the two of us plus some other folks who were there fixing their own bikes and volunteered to help as well) to get the tire back on over the tube and rim, we inflated with a foot pump.  slow hiss.  sad face.  after fiddling around some more we decided to ditch the wheel altogether and find another used wheel that was a true 26" to replace it.  we pumped it up and it was good to go.  Bert even took the time to take apart the hub and lube it up so that it ran smoother.
recycling at the cykelkoket
recycling at the cycle kitchen
all in all it was under two hours of exploring, talking, and learning about the place as well as fixing the flat and replacing the tire altogether in the end.  Tamara got back a new (used) wheel with a smoother hub (a better feeling roll) and a more common sized setup (so if she ever gets a flat again it will be easier for the next person to fix).  I got to learn about this cool and amazing place in Malmo where community building, sustainable practices, and education are taking place.  it reminds me quite a bit of one of my favorite Boston non profits that connects people, communities, and bikes for the betterment of the local area as well as for people all over the globe.  it's called Bikes Not Bombs.  maybe you've heard of it?  if not, I highly recommend you read a little about what they do.  if you are in a giving mood, they stretch dollars (and all kinds of currency) quite far.  it is a fantastic organization!
Bert, an expert bike mechanic at the cycle kitchen
Bert, a volunteer for cykelkoket, helped me solve what turned out to be a very complicated flat tire (I don't think I have ever heard the words complicated and flat tire in the same sentence)
thanks very much to Bert and the crew at Cykelkoket (in Swedish) and the other folks who were there fixing their own bikes (including Joakim) in Stapelbaddsparken in the Dockan (also in Swedish) area of Malmo, right beside the skate park.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

bike repair in Malmo - Part One - free city infrastructure

so you borrow the old city bike from the owner of the apartment that you are renting.  you ride around town with your buddy who is visiting for a couple of days.  bam!  a flat tire.  now you have this bike with a flat that is not yours and needs a fresh tube or at least a patch and some air.  it's sunday afternoon and most of the bike shops are closed.  monday you're at a conference all day and won't get out til after 6pm at least, when all of the shops are closed again.  the repair could be simple, pop off the tire and replace the tube.  a matter of minutes....
public posted bike map in Malmo
cykelkarta of Malmo.  a map of (free public) bike pumps, bike lanes, and everything else relevant to bicycles in Malmo.  these maps are handed out like candy in the city, online for download or viewing, posted all over the place as physical maps, and at major bike intersections, etc
 so, you pull out your trusty Malmo bicycle street map - cykelkarta (they give these away free all over the city).  this map has all sorts of useful information including:

  • all bike paths and bike lanes in the city (differentiated so you can choose one or the other if you prefer - paths separate from the traffic or lanes next to the traffic)
  • "cycle tracks" - dedicated bike highways to get into and out of the city center, especially for commuting and long distance connections 
  • public water closets to change or "freshen up"
  • bathing locations (showers) 
  • free public air pumps to fill the tires
  • bridges and tunnels (for bikes) 
  • a radius that tells you how far you are from the city center in minutes of bicycle travel
free public air station
guy filling his tires at a free public bike pump station
the street map helps you locate a city pump (you don't know yet that your super new super sustainable apartment complex has a pump and bike workstation in the basement garage).  you hop on your working bike with the tire dangling off the handlebar to the nearest pump, about five minutes away.  when you arrive you set up to remove the tire from the rim and replace the tube (like a complete bike nerd you brought a spare tube from home).  unfortunately, you can't get the tire off the rim because the tire is too small and you need heavy duty tools to wrench it off.  who knew?  
guy filling bike tires at free public air station
snapped a couple of pics while waiting at a free public air pump station
so you watch the guy in front of you fill his tires, followed by a couple who fill their tires, then a family, then another guy, then another couple.  the whole time you are struggling to remove the tire from the rim to no avail.  you feel like you are the star in a show called amateur hour.  sad face

so... you take your working bike and your not working tire and go home, disheartened by the circumstance and your apparent ineptitude with bikes (but mostly because you don't have the proper tools to do your repairs).  on the way home you think about what Boston is doing to benefit cyclists, such as the new repair stations cropping up all over the city that have free tools chained to a "mobile" repair station.  pretty innovative and exciting, especially when you think about the fact that this kind of stand might have helped you in this specific situation in Malmo...

these kinds of bike repair stands are being installed all over the cities (Boston/ Cambridge)
Cambridge/ Boston is installing free publicly accessible bike repair stations for cyclists to make small to medium repairs such as a changing a flat tire, adjusting saddle height, and other repairs that can't easily be done in your office but could be done by many commuter/ average cyclists if they have access to the proper tools
allen wrench, tire lever, pump, 15mm open wrench, etc
tools available on the bike repair station next to my office in Kendall Square include tire levers, allen wrenches, screwdrivers, and of course (for the fixie crowd) a 14/15 mm open ended wrench
when you arrive home, saddened by your un-success and by the fact that you will have to admit in your blog and to your bike buddies that you couldn't change a simple flat tire, you are greeted by the owner of the apartment.  guilty, you explain to her that you have a flat that you can't fix without some better tools.  she smiles brightly (she always smiles brightly, which makes everything seem a little less bad) and tells you about a free bike shop where they allow you to use the tools for free and do repairs on your own bike.  "they even have volunteers that will help you if you don't know how to solve a problem with your bike," she says.  it sounds too good to be true.  you google it together.  she tells you to look up cykelkoket, which literally means the cycle kitchen.  sure enough, there's a website...

stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the flat tire experience in "Part Two" tomorrow.
will I get out of the conference in time to get to the open hours for the shop?
will I be able to fix the flat?
will I meet cool and exciting people doing interesting things?

the answers to these questions and more... in tomorrow's post: Part Two!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

energy use reduction through behavioral changes

another very interesting presentation at the CLICC Conference was made by Wictoria Glad of Linkoping University.  her focus is on energy use reduction through behavioral change with a specific angle of the psychology of choice, action, and change.

Ms. Glad started with the most important, perhaps obvious, fact that people are hard to change.  we are stuck in our ways and there are many reasons for that.  then she delved quickly into the fact that much of energy use is not about behavior but about other factors such as physical factors (location, climate, building type, building systems, etc).  she also pointed out that there are studies directly correlating energy consumption to social factors such as employment status, income, etc.

after the basics were out of the way, she got into the meat.  behavior and choices are clearly linked.  she cited a psychological explanation of how we choose to buy energy consuming goods and services.  there is habitual (unconscious), rational (conscious), and symbolic (status).  one might buy the same brand of recycled toilet paper without thinking every month from the store (habitual), but one might look carefully at buying a long lasting reusable wash cloth to replace throw away dish sponges (conscious).  and then there's the symbolic prius sitting in front of your house...

then Glad started getting into some interesting explanations about choice and behavior.  she talked about the opposite of economies of scale (she called it the un-economies of scale).  she cited several examples about household consumption.  for example, some people think that there needs to be a tv in the bedroom and one in the kitchen and one in the living room.  they are all plugged in all day, wasting phantom load (more commonly called standby power).  the need to have multiples of the same thing does not end with seemingly identical items such as tvs or computers.  lots of households have more than one kind of coffee maker (french press, espresso machine, etc) or toaster (toaster and toaster oven, etc).  many households prepare multiple meals simultaneously (parents' dinner and baby's dinner, special meal due to allergy or health condition, etc).  children of the current generation won't think it strange to have several televisions, cook several versions of the same meal, or be able to prepare an item such as toast using more than one different appliance.  my parents' generation only had one (or less) tv, coffee pot, or dinner option.

Glad then talked about feedback.  she explained that feedback has been proven more successful when it is easy to understand by the user, clear in content, and timely.  if you want to give direct feedback to someone about energy use, here is a worst to best example:

  • WORST: a yearly summation of the energy use presented in therms to the homeowner
  • BETTER: a monthly update on energy use in dollars for the homeowner
  • BEST: a weekly (or monthly) comparison of energy use versus last year's use and also compared with a neighbor (or neighbors)

it sounds obvious, but most people (especially in the US) get energy bills (electricity, gas, etc) in a monthly bill that does not easily translate or compare to anything else, so the information feels like it is in a vacuum.  the user does not know if this is better or worse than last year or last month.  changing behavior cannot be directly linked to any specific improvement.  additionally, many people have changed their energy bills to be automatically deducted online, so the connection between energy use has been strained even further by technology in the 21st century.

as a conclusion to an interesting and unique presentation, Glad makes some key points.  penultimately, she describes eight (8) influential factors in decision making, choice, and behavior.  understanding these factors and using them to one's advantage can, she says, greatly improve the quality of the message as well as the rate of success, both of which are important in a campaign to influence people to change.
  1. the messenger.  it's important who gives you the information and what that person's status is.  is the person an authority, a friend or family member, someone with status in the community, a hero or star?
  2. incentives.  having incentives can be useful, especially if the incentives are explicit.
  3. norms.  these can be learned at school, work, or home.  kids often learn from their parents, but there are plenty of examples where children learn about recycling at school and come home to school mom and dad...
  4. default.  our material world (what we face every day) is, in itself, an influence.  customary procedures and standards will need to be broken for change.
  5. salience.  we are influenced by our surroundings, by beautiful things.  people pay more for pretty or well designed objects (iphone, etc).
  6. priming.  we prioritize what we talk about and we are heavily influenced by mass media and certain kinds of messages.  change doesn't typically come from nothing, it is built over time through messaging and targeted communication, as well as through consensus building.
  7. "affects".  this is really emotions.  we are driven by our emotions (some more than others)  not only logic.  emotions can sell ideas (this is common in tv commercials for example).
  8. commitments.  most people set some kind of goal or goals for life (sports, health, exercise, etc).  some people keep these goals to themselves and others talk about them.  communicating goals in an explicit fashion makes them more real, more attainable, and more likely to be reached.
  9. ego.  we aim to better ourselves and no matter what we think, there is some piece of every person that is about an attempt to be successful.  this takes many forms, but can be reinforced by simple understanding of self and desire to be what we say we are.  "I take my bike to work every day."
at the end of the presentation, Glad made a simple point that is quite relevant when talking about climate adaptation, energy consumption, and aiming toward a more sustainable future.  she said (this is paraphrased but pretty accurate): 
"we need to design the message...  maybe we should learn from other fields or parts of society.  shouldn't we learn from advertising, marketing, and industries that are aimed at influence?"
Glad's presentation was intriguing to say the least.  her work for Linkoping University falls into the category of "thematic studies, technology, and social change", but clearly it directly relates to issues that we are grappling with today as we aim toward a more energy conscious and sustainable future.

for more information on Linkoping University's work in this area, visit their website.

energy action: a UK case study on addressing fuel poverty

Rachel Jones of the Energy Action program in the UK spoke in the afternoon at Covenant Capacity about some of the projects she has worked on related to energy, comfort, and health.  she talked about something scary that is a big problem in the UK that I had not heard about before her presentation.  one of the biggest issues in the region is "fuel poverty".  fuel poverty (or energy poverty, depending on the specifics of the issue and the country/ location) takes place when a person or family cannot afford to adequately heat the home.  in the UK the figure used as a starting point to determine fuel poverty is if it costs more than 10% of the household income to heat the home.  according to statistics, approximately 20% of the UK suffers from fuel poverty.  Jones explained that not just elderly people with lower incomes, but young people and even families with babies or small children are suffering from the high cost of heat.

not being able to heat the home is more than just a little problem, especially in places like the UK.  it leads to unhealthy and uncomfortable living and actually creates significant health problems and causes thousands of "excess winter deaths".  according to Jones, approximately 25,000 people die in the UK every year from "excess winter death", much of which can be directly attributed to fuel poverty.  to me this sounds like an alarming and almost unbelievable idea, that people are dying because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

I had a chance to talk with Jones after the conference.  the story gets even worse when she explains how challenging it can be for her organization to support people.  she tells me an anecdote about how sometimes people don't want something, even if and when you think it is in their own best interest...

the government started trying to address this problem (fuel poverty) along with huge inefficiencies in older homes by offering heavy rebates on home insulation (this is a current strategy in many places, including the US).  owners were skeptical and typically refused support.  eventually the government started offering the insulation for free (much of the funding was coming from the EU and the money needed to be spent by a certain date).  still, most homeowners did not want the free insulation.  in an amazing and unheard of strategy, the government even offered to install the insulation for free and then give the homeowner a cash gift with no strings attached.  we are talking free insulation that will make your house warmer, save you money every year starting immediately, and we will give you cash in addition to the free insulation.  still, it was a struggle to spend the money down and reach the households and homeowners in need.

this story put my jaw on the floor.  I will admit that I am naive and always imagine people jumping at the chance to do good in the world, but in this case we are talking about what may be the single most influential strategy for sustainable living: saving money.  I can't imagine people not wanting to do something that saves money, especially in an extreme case like this, where the work is free.

Jones explained very simply in her presentation; it's about more than energy efficiency and more than improving the homes.  the issues need to hit the people directly and in a way that is both personal and significant.  she listed off some of the key strategies and factors for connecting people directly to their energy use:
  1. it has to be about the people (not about their houses)
  2. you need to understand the audience and their needs
  3. it has to be personal.  the message, the idea, everything
  4. partnerships need to be formed
Jones told a story about a project she worked on called "Warmer Worcestershire", which was directly related to the fuel poverty issue.  she explained that everything from the concept to the story to the strategies was about cultivating and sending a clear message, about understanding the audience and really connecting with them, and about being simple and clear.  why call it Warmer Worcestershire?  because it is about the people, about their lives, and it touches everyone, especially people who are suffering from the circumstances of cold, uninsulated homes.
warmer worcestershire home heat loss map
screenshot from Warmer Worcestershire website showing homes and their heat loss scores.  red is bad.  green is good.
one of the ideas that they came up with for this project was called a thermal flyover.    during the winter of 2009 they flew over the entire county, taking thermal images measuring the heat escaping from each home.  they compiled this information onto a gis map and put it on the internet, color coding each house.  now, any person in the area can look up any property and discover how the home performs in terms of heat loss through the roof.  red is bad.  green is good.  simple.  and on the same page where the person discovers how badly the house is performing: links to government and other sponsorship opportunities, advice and more information, and even direct connections to installers. simple.  effective.  successful.

and one last related anecdote that Jones told about energy use and conservation.  her agency asked the people to come together and help strategize ways to decrease energy use to show the effectiveness of conservation as well as more thoughtful energy use.  they picked a specific week to showcase these ideas and lots of folks got involved.  one of the ideas:  local restaurants offered "dine by candlelight dinners".  what a concept: the restaurants are saving energy (and hopefully money) and the patrons are getting what many would consider a better, intimate, more cozy experience.  simple.  effective.  genius.