Everyone knows by now that study after study has declared Copenhagen the best city in the world. We’ve racked up distinctions like ‘smartest city in Europe’, ‘best quality of life’, ‘best city for cyclists’ and, of course, Copenhagen is the capital of the ‘happiest nation on Earth’, to name but a few.
But Copenhagen doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘best of’ tags. As fate would have it, I am currently wrapping up an extended stay in another ‘best of’ city: Fort Collins, Colorado, which was Money magazine’s 2006 pick for best place to live in America.
So, just how do these ‘best’ cities match up? I’ve decided to put it to the test in a variety of categories that aren’t meant to be all-inclusive, but rather touch on some of the differences that have struck me over my three months back in the US. Let’s begin.
The environs (natural): Look to the west from any spot in Ft Collins and you’ll be greeted with the sight of the Front Range foothills, with the beautiful Horsetooth Rock looking down upon the city. Hop in the car, and I’m snowboarding at some of the best resorts in the world in just a couple ofhours. Copenhagen may have a lot going for it, but it doesn’t have this. Winner: Fort Collins. Ft Collins 1, Copenhagen 0
The environs (manmade): For all of the natural beauty of Fort Collins, and its cosy Old Town area, in some ways it is still a typical American city. Sprawl and endless commerce in the form of strip malls, fast food joints, bright signs and big box stores. Not particularly charming. Winner: Copenhagen. Ft Collins 1, Copenhagen 1
Weather: Look, almost any city is going to beat Copenhagen here, particularly during the winter months. November temps in Colorado hit what would be a ‘hot’ summer’s day in Copenhagen and I’ve had three months of sun – glorious, glorious sun. Winner: Fort Collins. Ft Collins 2, Copenhagen 1
Value and convenience: Among all those fancy titles given to Copenhagen is one that means far more to my daily life: consistently ranking as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Plus, the shopping hours are short and the stores are small with limited options. Another clear winner for the homeland. Winner: Fort Collins. Ft Collins 3, Copenhagen 1
Progressive policies: It’s more than just a bit ironic that while Colorado voters were legalising marijuana, Copenhagen Police were increasing their pointless crackdown on small-time cannabis buyers in Christiania. Danes love to look at their country as a progressive bastion while ridiculing some of the puritan ideals that still permeate America. Yet, just as I like to remind Danes that my home state of Iowa legalised gay marriage three years before ‘progressive’ Denmark did, here is another example of a US state being more forward-thinking on social issues. Winner: Fort Collins. Ft Collins 4, Copenhagen 1
The locals: While Danes may rank as the happiest people in the world, they’re hardly the friendliest. How refreshing it has been to have spent the last few months being greeted by strangers with a smile, a wave or even – gasp! – an impromptu conversation. Yes, sometimes it seems fake, but usually it’s not. And anyway, I’ll take less-than-authentic warmth over genuine coldness. Winner: Fort Collins. Ft Collins 5, Copenhagen 1
Kid-friendliness: Our temporary house in Ft Collins is just a short walk from three quality playgrounds, but the same could (almost) be said about our home outside of Copenhagen. My kids’ daycares in Ft Collins have been wonderful, particularly my five-year-old’s preschool, where he has learned much more than he does in his largely freeplay-based Danish daycare. Yet, they seem overly structured and too much like a factory when compared to their Danish counterparts. Plus, the gunning down of 20 young children in a Connecticut primary school really affected me. While the odds of something like that hitting me personally are minuscule, there is no doubt that they are higher in the gun-crazy US than in Denmark. Winner: Copenhagen. Ft Collins 5, Copenhagen 2
Getting around: Another reason Copenhagen gets the nod in kid-friendliness is the sheer amount of time my kids are in a car in Fort Collins. While it is better than most US cities in that it has bike lanes and an extensive trail system, I was sick of being behind the wheel less than one week after being back Stateside. I’ll take the bike/train combo anytime. Winner: Copenhagen. Ft Collins 5, Copenhagen 3
Verdict: So, what does this prove? Absolutely nothing, of course. Although I’ve spent the last three months living in Ft Collins, I’ve still been working for a Danish company with a Danish holiday allowance and, more importantly, a Danish approach to the work-life balance. If this were a fully-fledged return to the American rat race, the scales could have easily tipped the other way.
But of course it should come as no surprise – to myself or anyone else – that the familiarity of America would win me over on this extended return trip. And while I admit to a certain trepidation about returning to Copenhagen, at least I’ll be coming back to the greatest city in the world. Or so they tell me.