Comparison Between Pittsburgh and Copenhagen

This past weekend I returned from New York City, a unique city often referred to as the “concrete jungle”. Despite the fact that this nickname often refers to the endless blocks of manmade skyscrapers, the word jungle is an interesting choice – as one of the most defining features of New York City is Central Park, a unique expanse of vast green space in the middle of the city. I feel that, contrary to Pittsburgh, this inclusion of greenery as an integral part of the city serves to make New York have the same camaraderie as Copenhagen, despite the fact that it is one of the most hectic and least laid back cities in America. Because the buildings take up the majority of the square footage of the city, the space within the city limits is made to be multipurpose. There are small areas in between two city streets filled with tables and chairs for people to sit and talk among the cars and skyscrapers. The city itself is beautiful and its landscape has a personality, giving the people within its streets a sense of fulfillment. Sure, it’s a different fulfillment than that the city of Copenhagen provides, but it contributes something to the conversation all the same.
Meanwhile, there might be more differences than there are similarities between Pittsburgh and Copenhagen. Pittsburgh is undoubtedly a beautiful city – but its beauty can be more appreciated by looking at the sum of its parts. For example, the skyline of Pittsburgh, while iconic, is best viewed from across the river from the city limits, overlooking the peninsula from atop a mountain. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s beauty is constant and enveloping: each building has a historic dignity to it, so that from every angle its beauty can be seen and valued.
Pittsburgh is filled with commuters. This practice affects the ability for its people to connect with each other. Copenhagen encourages biking and walking to help the environment; in New York walking is commonplace because all of the cabs, cars, and tourists clog the city streets and make traveling by foot the fastest way to get to a destination. Despite the different reasons, the outcomes are the same: there are more people out and about in the city streets, giving it life, than there are in Pittsburgh. Truly, I think that connecting with others and with the place in which you live is what leads to happiness. So, I think that the happiness levels in Copenhagen are directly related to how the city works with the natural landscape and light instead of, like Pittsburgh, in spite of it.

The View from Pittsburgh

My hometown of Pittsburgh is a very unique city, because of its industrial roots. Previously, those who lived in Pittsburgh worked in coal mines and factories for at least 16 hours a day, meaning that there would be long stretches where these employees never saw the sun. Sadly, because of the smoke and dust from these industries, there was a semi-permanent cloud over all of the city, which made the entire area dark even for those who could be outside in the middle of the day. Although today Pittsburgh’s skies are free from the industrial haze, the climate of the town results in a city that experiences, on average, only about 120 sunny days a year. All of this rain physically prevents people from leaving their houses and enjoying the outdoors, because the weather leaves much to be desired. When the weather is bad, American citizens all across the country look at this development as an impediment instead of an opportunity. We try to create some sort of stability between the winter and summer months and rainy and sunny days instead of simply embracing the extremes.

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The View from Copenhagen

Recently I returned from my two week trip to Copenhagen. In order to enhance my appreciation for the culture and traditions of the country, while I was there I read a chapter each night of a book called “The Year of Living Danishly”, describing a British woman’s adaptation to the Danes unique way of life. The information I learned from this novel, along with the different aspects of daily life that I witnessed firsthand each day only piqued my interest in and love for the country, and I was more sad about leaving than I was excited about arriving. Firstly, I learned that Denmark’s high satisfaction rates have more to do with the cultural response to the weather than to the actual climate itself. Because it is so far north, Denmark does in fact have very long and bright summer days, but that also means that it has very long and dark winter nights. However, instead of using manmade inventions to try to even out these differences throughout the year, the Danes embrace the climate and use the seasonal differences to enjoy the simple pleasures for which each season is suited. When I woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning because of the sunlight piercing through the windows, I pulled the blankets over my head and tried to sleep for as long as possible. However, the Danes have the philosophy that when it’s daylight they should embrace it: during the summer months, the Danish simply sleep less and do more. Meanwhile, during the winter, the Danish “hygge”, meaning that they spend most of their time indoors with family and neighbors enjoying each other’s company. Additionally, the Danes are better provided for by the state, so a lot of the concerns that plague people not only in Pittsburgh but all across America aren’t even on their minds. In Denmark, the work week is supposed to be 40 hours (which is already less than that in the United States), but is often even shorter. This free time allows the Danes to spend more time doing activities that they thoroughly enjoy. Denmark’s taxes are structured so that those who make more are taxed proportionally. Because of this system, more people are motivated to find jobs that they actually enjoy, because there is no one job that is exponentially more profitable than another. Finally, Denmark is one of the greenest countries in the world. The country combines green policies with practices that are actually good for human health: thousands of people bike to work each day, not only reducing the number of cars and car emission but also helping the Danish citizens get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. At all times of day, and down every avenue, I saw Danes out enjoying the sunlight and beautiful landscape of their country. Their cultural values are so important to everyone that their national system and working practices allow them to do so, because ultimately the state’s goal is for its people to be happy.

The Effect of Light in Urban Areas

This summer I will complete an artistic comparative piece between two cities – Pittsburgh and Copenhagen- that differ vastly in geography, lifestyle, and culture. Despite the fact that both cities are urban centers and serve similar purposes with regards to working and production, Copenhagen is consistently rated one of the happiest cities in the world, while Pittsburgh is nowhere near the top of the list. I hope to discover how the differences in the happiness and attitudes of these cities’ populations are reflected in the physical differences of these cities. To do so, I will look at the physical differences between them – most specifically by looking at differing levels of light in both places. I will take pictures of both cities – in Copenhagen, the center of urban life is intrinsically linked with natural beauty, while in Pittsburgh, downtown is filled with nothing but skyscrapers- and recreate the images through my own artistic interpretation. Pittsburgh, which has a very limited number of light and sunny days per year, will be represented using charcoal, a medium that represents the industrial focus of the city. Meanwhile, Copenhagen will be represented through watercolor paints, which is a medium that uses the reflection of the light off of the white of the paper to achieve the desired effect. By using the light as an integral part of the work while depicting Copenhagen’s urban center and using light only minimally while representing downtown Pittsburgh I will be accurately reflecting the actual nature of both cities.