Most councils, governments and transportation professionals look to Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Stockholm for inspiration.

These cities boast compact, well-defined central business districts, stylish medium-density residential developments, lower-car ownership, dedicated bikeways and exceptionally high levels of chic and stylish cycling.

Australian and American cities are typically nothing like that. Most are in crisis with a combination of unaffordable housing, traffic congestion, rising living costs, long working hours, sedentary lifestyles, job insecurity, depression and debt. In fact, 82 per cent of all workers are worrying about their financial issues during work hours, one in three people are in major financial stress and one in four are awake at night worrying about how to pay the bills.

Every city is competing to be liveable and the place where people chose to live, work and play.

For decades, Denmark has ranked at the top of the world’s happiness surveys. Some 5.6 million Danes are happy despite living in a country where it’s dark by 4 pm. The Danes are happy even though it’s cold for nine months of the year. And they are happy in spite of paying income taxes that are high, at almost 60 per cent!

So whilst the rest of us are focussed on whinging whilst working out how to save tax, avoid tax and claim next to everything in our annual tax return, our Danish counterparts are healthier, happier and enjoying wonderful work-life balance.

In her book Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World, Malene Rydahl describes the 10 pillars of Danish life:

  1. Trust – I have trust in people
  2. Education – I have a place in society
  3. Freedom and independence – I am free to choose my own way of life
  4. Equal opportunity – I can become whomever I want
  5. Realistic expectations – I have realistic dreams
  6. Solidarity and respect for others – I feel better if you feel good
  7. Work-life balance – I want lots of Hygge time
  8. Relationship to money – I am happy with what I’ve got
  9. Modesty – I don’t think I’m better than other people
  10. Gender equality – I feel free to choose my role

What about if we planned our cities around these 10 pillars?

What could happen if these pillars were the basis of all community engagement and consultation processes?

Can you image what life would be like if these 10 pillars were the foundation of every city and transport policy, strategy and plan?

Just imagine…

  • Community transport and mobility schemes established based on trust not profit margins
  • We could teach our kids to ride a bike and use a bus with the same gusto that we teach them to swim
  • We might ask people what they want rather than telling what they can choose between
  • What if city planning was based on lifestyles? Maybe some people want a tiny one bed apartment and a huge shed for their kayaks, bicycles and tent? Have you ever asked?
  • We might encourage wealthier members of our cities to donate to community programs. Imagine successful business owners kick-starting transitional housing developments for homeless middle aged men and women
  • What about if we were satisfied with borrowing from the community share shed instead of buying everything brand new?
  • What about if we used the local park as much as we use our own back yard?

If we want people in our cities to be as happy as the Danes then maybe it’s time to look at the 10 pillars of Danish life, rather than Copenhagen’s houses, car ownership and bike lanes. Perhaps it’s time to put factors such as trust, modesty, realistic expectations and work-life balance at the centre of city and transport policies.

Perhaps it’s time to imagine something new, so that instead of being depressed and in debt we’re as happy as the Danes.