Mikael Colville-Andersen is one of the world’s leading experts on global urbanism. He’s a photographer, cyclist and urbanite who travels the world delivering keynote addresses and consulting with cities all over the globe. We became acquainted with Mikael a few years ago when we were researching what life is like in Copenhagen prior to our own move to the city and found his blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic. In addition to this blog he also leads the Copenhagenize Design Company, which consults with cities around the world about creating a cycling culture.
Where did Copenhagenize begin? "To be honest it all started with one photo. I took a photo one morning of an elegantly dressed woman on a bike in Copenhagen. I didn’t think much about it but posted it to Flickr and the response was great. People were intrigued with what a true cycling culture looked like. A few months later I launched Copenhagen Cycle Chic just to post photos of people on their bikes. The blog took off and has been named one of the top fashion and street style blogs. I didn’t start off wanting to launch a bicycle culture, I simply posted photos of normal life here in Copenhagen."
"Soon after this I realized that people were talking about the cycling culture and it made me wonder, 'What makes a cycling culture?'" I did a few photo exhibitions around the world showing bicycles and this turned into keynote addresses. Then our consulting firm, Copenhagenize Design Co., evolved as a way of helping other cities design their spaces for bicycles.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? "I think it’s because I’m not an expert and I don’t approach it that way. I’m trained as a film maker, not an engineer or urban planner. My approach is simple, I live in a city that is bike friendly and it’s awesome. I can speak to cities in a way that’s more approachable and is real. I don’t care about arguing about bike rack design or boring details, I export and expose people to the beauty of a cycling culture."
"We’re not selling the subculture side of cycling. We show real people, wearing real clothes moving around the city on their bikes. It’s about cycling but not about the cycling subculture. It’s also about the environment but not in some facts and figures type of way that most people don’t connect to. We’re showing how a 19th century invention solves a 21st century problem."
How do you think you’re story has prepared you for this? "I’ve always been allowed to think freely and I have a strong hunger for knowledge. I’ve also always had a distrust of authority, not in like an illegal mugshot of way, but more like I’ll respect your authority as long as you can teach me something. I was raised to be curious and question things and to not really care what other people think about me. All of this has helped me. Because I’m not trained as an urban planner, I don’t care if people don’t like my ideas. I may not have all of the education of an urban planner but I join thousands of Copenhageners on their bikes daily, and it's awesome. I’m able to present my ideas and thoughts without taking their response personally, and afterwards I hop on my bike and ride home."
We are super grateful for Mikael's honesty. It is so inspiring to hear from someone doing such amazing, globe-changing things who is still so incredibly down to earth about himself and his mission. Sometimes we take ourselves far too seriously. We must be mindful of who we allow to speak into our lives, realizing that someone with a big title doesn't always know better than us. We must trust our instinct, and believe that when we are passionate about something, people will listen.
You may not have all the education in the world, but when something is important to you, it is vital to be honest and vulnerable, and then be willing to simply ride away without looking back for the approval of others.