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Integration in Action: Cycling Lessons for Better Social Inclusion

Dansk Rode Kors

September 9, 2009

Promoting core city values like bicycling helps integrate newcomers into the mainstream

In the Danish city of Copenhagen, one in three residents uses a bike for their commute and each day, they cycle over 1.2 million kilometers around the city. In fact, there are actually more bikes in Copenhagen than inhabitants.

Cycling is an intrinsic part of the daily life of the city and one that the local government strongly supports. Copenhagen spends on average DKK 165 per resident a year (equivalent of CD 34) on improving road infrastructure and safety and in 2008, Copenhagen was selected as the best Danish city for cycling.

Copenhagen has also incorporated cycling into the physical planning of the city, and hopes to have 50% of residents cycling to school or work by 2015.

In addition, the city is working to deliberately expand the groups from which they recruit these residents by reaching out to newcomers to make them a part of this movement.

A newcomer’s ability to participate in the popular activities of a city can be pivotal to their comfort and engagement level and learning to ride a bicycle is a skill not taught in all countries.

The Danish Red Cross realized that by providing immigrants with the ability to participate and enjoy a unique aspect of Danish life (Danes cycle more than any other Western population), they would also be helping them to adjust and physically engage in the life of the city.

Danish Red Cross volunteers teach newcomer adults how to cycle, the rules of the road, and how to repair bicycles. The classes are free for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Most of the participants are older immigrant and refugee women who come from countries where women do not traditionally ride bikes.

The classes are also an opportunity for Danes to share their skills and culture with newcomers and provide a chance for both groups to socialize and share this national past time.

The bike riding classes are popular with newcomer communities since cycling is cheaper than both cars and public transportation and can also help increase employability of newcomers (as certain jobs in the care sector require certification that the applicant can ride a bike).

But most of all, the cycling lessons allow newcomers to develop physical ownership of their city and to move freely and confidently through the streets of Copenhagen along side their neighbours.

Making it Work for You:

  • Adult sports and other active recreational activities provide an often overlooked opportunity for community building
  • Look for opportunities to provide newcomers with the skills or background to join in popular local traditions and activities
  • Local immigrant integration policies do not need to be 'stand alone' policies.  Bicycling, for example, can be categorized as a traffic, environment, health promotion or recreational activity.

Maytree

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