There are some cities you walk around, and they seem to give off an air of cool, an understated calm, a feeling of being effortless and even witty. Other cities take themselves very seriously, and as you walk around you feel like there are a lot of rules floating around and you know where you stand. There are, of course, cities that fall in between these two poles, but these huge changes in the character of cities and how they handle different situations, is what makes traveling to different cities so necessary - and so magnificent - and this is at the root of why we take the whole company away at least every year, to experience a different place, see different styles, and learn.
Vienna to me, whilst being a very prim and proper city architecturally, seemed to have the confidence not to be too rigid in the way it presented itself - or more importantly governed behaviour. I have a long-held view, that if we want to influence people’s behaviour - which we need to do for all sorts of reasons including climate change, the inactivity crisis, urban growth, and social exclusion - then the way to do this is by making what is best for the city, society, and people the most enjoyable thing (read more about this here).
In short, Vienna feels very human. It doesn’t give off the feeling that it is a serious machine with rules governing every movement. Instead, it offers gentle nudges – some that are witty and that are serious invitations – that say it’s ok to relax, enjoy yourself, and be human. Whether it’s encouraging people to cycle through main squares (relying on the fact that people on the whole seem inherently courteous); giving children somewhere to park up their scooters on the street outside school like their parents park their bikes; or giving people the odd trampoline in the street so they can bounce to work - the way the city treats people influences behaviour and delivers a relaxed and sociable atmosphere.
The photo that really summed this up to me is shown above. This was one of many examples of this information presented this way, and let’s face it, it is sort of bonkers, right? But think about it some more, as I did, and I started to think that actually, it is so very human. It’s hot out, right? 35 degrees, and you're pushing a double-buggy along the street, up a hill. As a city, why wouldn’t you let people know there are steps up ahead - rather than make people walk there and then have to walk back and around in the midday sun?! It’s just a very human thing to do, and I think there is room for a lot more of the human dimension in cities.
I’ve many more examples of the little things in Vienna that add up to making a big difference: watch out for them in a future post.