New Kinder Institute survey compares most automobile-dependent city in US with ‘Green Capital’ in Europe

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May 27, 2014

Rice University

Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations

David Ruth


Amy Hodges


New Kinder Institute survey draws comparisons between most automobile- dependent city in US – Houston – and ‘Green Capital’ in Europe

HOUSTON – (May 27, 2014) – The nation’s most automobile-dependent large city – Houston – and Europe’s “Green Capital” – Copenhagen, Denmark – both believe traffic is the biggest problem facing their respective areas of the world, but for very different reasons, according to the first Copenhagen Area Survey. The survey is the first formal international evaluation conducted by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Copenhagen, Denmark

The survey draws comparisons between Houston and Copenhagen, two cities that are dramatically different in many ways, yet roughly equally ranked on global city scales, which measure centrality in the global system of cities based on economics, cultural influence, political power and human capital. Michael Emerson, co-director of the Kinder Institute and the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology, conducted the survey.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Both Houston and Copenhagen residents rank traffic as the biggest issue in their respective cities.
  • Only 27 percent of Copenhagen residents felt that “religion is somewhat or very important in my life,” while 84 percent of Houstonians agreed with this statement.
  • Eighty-one percent of Copenhagen residents said “most people can be trusted,” whereas only 33 percent of Houstonians agreed with this statement.
  • Houstonians are more positive about local job opportunities than Copenhagen residents.

Like Houston, the Copenhagen metropolitan area is a dynamic, growing region that serves as a cultural, economic and social hub,” Emerson said. “It is also a world leader on many fronts, from its bicycle culture to its current status as the Green Capital of Europe.”


However, Emerson noted, dramatic differences exist between the two cities. While the survey’s key finding revealed that 29 percent of Houston and Copenhagen residents view traffic as the biggest issue in their respective cities, Emerson said that the general category “traffic” meant completely different things to the two regions.

“In Houston, an area almost completely dependent on cars for mobility, people think there are too many cars for the number and size of roads, and more lanes are needed to improve the traffic flow,” Emerson said. “This was starkly different from what Copenhagen-area residents regarded as ‘traffic problems.’ To them, traffic meant too many cars causing pollution and a lower quality of life, and too many people not using the alternative forms of transportation.”

Emerson said that nearly half of Copenhagen residents – 46 percent – use public transit, compared with only 4 percent of Houstonians.

Emerson also said that there are vast differences in trust levels in Houston and Copenhagen. While 81 percent of Copenhagen residents said, “Most people can be trusted,” only 33 percent of Houstonians agreed with this statement.

“Trust so greatly impacts what can be done by cities and communities with regard to doing things needed for the good of community, from addressing issues of joblessness to confidence in government,” Emerson said. “In lower trust environments, general cooperation is more difficult and people fear issues like crime more.”

There were also dramatic differences in religious beliefs. While only 27 percent of Copenhagen residents felt that “religion is somewhat or very important in my life,” 84 percent of Houstonians agreed with this statement.

“Religiosity can be measured in many ways, but when it is measured simply as how important it is to the person, despite cultural differences, clearly far more Houstonians highly value personal religion than do Copenhageners.”

While the majority of residents from both cities agreed that their respective job opportunities are excellent or good, only 53 percent of Copenhagen residents felt this way, compared with 63 percent of Houstonians.

“Houston has long prided itself on its ability to create jobs and spur economic growth, and this appears to be reflected in the findings,” Emerson said. “While Copenhagen is a top economic engine of Scandinavia, more Houstonians are positive about the job prospects in their city than are Copenhageners.”

The Kinder Institute Copenhagen Area Survey is the first study focusing on the Danish city’s economy, population, life experiences, beliefs and attitudes. The 2014 survey included 1,093 respondents from the Copenhagen metropolitan area. Epinion conducted the interviews in Danish between March 20 and April 7. The Houston findings come from the 2013 and 2014 Kinder Institute Houston Area Surveys. The study was funded by the Kinder Institute and supported by the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.

For the full report, visit


For more information, contact Amy Hodges, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or

This news release can be found online at

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Related Materials:

Michael Emerson bio:

Kinder Institute for Urban Research:

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