A tale of two cities


Bioniciconic founder John Jackson on visiting Paris and Copenhagen in short succession found himself thinking about the differences between these two capital cities. In this post he shares his experience. If you have experiences of cities you’ve visited feel free to add them in the comments section at the end of the post. 

For me cities are intoxicating. Never simple, they thrive with their complex layers of history, culture, commerce, politics and architecture. Add in people who perform their daily roles amidst the maze of streets, and it’s easy to see why cities make for some of the best theatre you can witness. I find a great city to be a place that feeds my mind, makes me ask questions and offers me countless opportunities to see and discover new experiences.

Towards the end of last year I visited two of Europe’s most exceptional capital cities, Copenhagen and Paris in quick succession, and this heighted my appreciation of the unique aspects of each of them. And this set me thinking about how even the smallest of “differences” are part of the identity that characterises each of them. 

Of course all cities have their own unique characteristics too, however by visiting these two cities in the space of just a couple of weeks highlighted to me how significant these differences are in the role they play in defining the identity of each city.

This isn’t about saying which city is “best” - that will always be subjective. Instead seeing the differences has given me a deeper appreciation of each city, and although by no means scientific I’m happy to share with you the differences I’ve noticed between each of them.

The most obvious of differences between each is their iconic symbols. For Paris the Eiffel Tower is a majestic beacon whose presence can be felt across the city. Whereas in Copenhagen the Little Mermaid, is small, thoughtful and understated. You won’t see her unless you go to see her. Each acts as symbols for their city and even their respective country, is the Eiffel tower a confident reflection of French pride? Is the Little Mermaid a reflection of understated Danish confidence? I like to think so.

In Copenhagen you know when the traffic lights have changed, as the most eclectic peloton of cyclists glides past you. Invariably including smartly dressed business people, parents with children sitting in baskets and even builders with their tools. All flowing through the streets in an orderly way heading to their respective destinations. Meanwhile in Paris, mopeds weave their way through the traffic individually finding their way through the smallest of spaces. Seemingly chaotic, this two wheeled ballet performs at every traffic jam and is in complete contrast to the near silent flow of cycles in Copenhagen. 

Design, now this is going to be an entirely personal perspective, so advance apologies if my experience differs from yours. However, that in itself is testimony to how, as individuals, we take away different impressions from seeing and experiencing the same things. Anyway, back to design, from my perspective in Copenhagen I never seem to be far away from highly considered, reduced minimal design as typified by Hay and Normann Copenhagen. By contrast, Paris always impresses me with its breadth of diversity in terms of design. 

People are at the heart of any city, and again I can only comment based on the people I’ve met in each city. So in Paris my conversations have always been with people who say it with real and immediate emotion. In Copenhagen, I always sense I’m being listened too and that my words are being mindfully considered. In both cities I’ve consistently found people to be warm, friendly and welcoming - sorry can’t give you a difference there. I guess this observation can only ever be personal as it based on my interaction with the people I’ve met. 

From my experience of these cities, if I had to choose one of them to live in I know my head would choose Copenhagen, whereas my heart would choose Paris. This is because part of me relishes the highly considered sense of order that underpins Copenhagen, whilst at the same time the more decadent aspect of my personality would find itself perfectly at home amidst the passion the Paris excudes. 

Either way I always have a sense of eager excitement when I know I’m going to visit either Paris or Copenhagen as they always deliver unexpected experiences that enrich my zest for life. However, I know there’s a long list of other cities I must visit and hopefully soon!