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Gehl Architects has called Copenhagen home for over 14 years. During that time our team has flown around the world, working on...

  • We focus on the relationship between the built environment and people’s quality
    of life.

  • Our work crosses the fields of architecture, urban design and
    city planning.

  • We work on
    global projects which always aim
    to create ‘cities
    for people’.

  • Our services
    span across all scales, from strategic visions,
    to design and implementation.

  • Our clients are mayors, city administrators, NGO’s, developers, private and public organizations.

  • We have been researching quality of life in public spaces, around the world, for over
    40 years.

Learn more about our past and present here

Learn more about our services here

Learn more about our past and present here

  • We focus on the relationship between the built environment and people’s quality
    of life.

  • Our work crosses the fields of architecture, urban design and
    city planning.

  • We work on
    global projects which always aim
    to create ‘cities
    for people’.

  • Our services
    span across all scales, from strategic visions,
    to design and implementation.

  • Our clients are mayors, city administrators, NGO’s, developers, private and public organizations.

  • We have been researching quality of life in public spaces, around the world, for over
    40 years.

Learn more about our services here

Blog

News

Talks

Films

Shopfront

Books

Contact Guide

Requests for talks & info
Eva Martinus, Business Development Coordinator
eva@gehlarchitects.dk

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Update from Mar del Plata

The city of Mar del Plata has participated in the 'Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative' by IDB, Inter-American ...

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It’s official: Aarhus gets a new and inventive harbour front

— September 16, 2014

Gehl Architects has been part of an exciting process to rethink and develop the area around basin 7 on Aarhus Island. ...

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Build more bridges for people

— August 28, 2014

A new bridge for bicycles and pedestrians will tie the harbour in Copenhagen closer together by 2018. Explore more ...

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Sharing Cities Bridging Regions

Louise Vogel Kielgast

Project Manager

Oct 3, 2014

City Hall, Malmö

'In search for a Nordic City Model: Trends and tendencies'

 

 

More info at
www.ifhp.org

 

Full program
www.dac.dk

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Christchurch – The rebuild story continues …

Our creative director, David Sim, always says "A city is not only just bricks and mortar. Cities are places of ...

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News

Gehl Architects has been part of an exciting process to rethink and develop the area around basin 7 on Aarhus Island. ...

2

Sharing Cities Bridging Regions

Jan Gehl

Founding Partner

Oct 1, 2014

National Museum, Copenhagen

'Cities for People / People for Cities'

 

 

More info at
www.ifhp.org

 

Full program
www.dac.dk

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Gehl in China: Shanghai #1

In the buzzing, multicultural metropolis of Shanghai, Gehl Architects are currently working with Energy Foundation and ...

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Talks

Sharing Cities Bridging Regions

Louise Vogel Kielgast

Project Manager

Oct 3, 2014

City Hall, Malmö

In search for a Nordic City Model: Trends and tendencies

 

 

More info at
www.ifhp.org

 

Full program
www.dac.dk

REQUEST A TALK
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Shopfront

The Human Scale — DVD

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Global Compact Report 2014

— July 15, 2014

Just uploaded to Global Compact website; Gehl's Global Compact Report 2014 — 'Creating Better Cities'. If you ...

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Lærerkursus

Camilla van Deurs

Partner

Oct 1, 2014

Utzon Center, Aalborg

'Bæredygtig Byudvikling'

 

 

More info at
www.dac.dk

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Moscow – Feature #4

It’s time for Gehl Architects to revisit the capital of Russia to check on the status of public space planning. Two ...

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Healthy cities are built on purpose

A hundred years ago, only two out of 10 people lived in urban areas. Today, more than half of us have chosen a life in ...

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Can we measure the social impacts of public space and quality of life?

— July 1, 2014

Gehl Studio New York is excited to announce that funding has been provided by the Summit and Surdna Foundations for the ...

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European Transport Conference

Henriette Vamberg

Partner

Sep 30, 2014

Goethe University, Frankfurt

'Perspectives on public transport and public space'

 

 

More info at
www.etcproceedings.org

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Adaptive Streets

As a part of my internship with Gehl Architects last year, I collaborated with a fellow student from the University of ...

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Morgenklog

Camilla van Deurs

Partner

Sep 25, 2014

Blågårds Plads, Copenhagen

'Kan arkitektur virkelig fjerne ghettolisten?'

 

 

More info
www.arkitektforeningen.dk

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”Folkemødet” – Denmark’s Political Festival

— June 12, 2014

2014 marks the fourth year that Folkemødet – ‘The People Meeting’ is taking place in the town of Allinge on the ...

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Klimat seminarium

Ewa Westermark

Partner

Sep 19, 2014

Storsjöteatern, Östersund

'Dagens och framtidens hållbara lösningar - framtiden börjar nu'

 

 

More info at
www.ostersund.se

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Gehl Summer Masterclass 2014 – June 18 & 19

— June 3, 2014

Our summer masterclass is just around the corner. A few of you have written to us asking for a spot. Luckily a few places ...

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Update from Mar del Plata

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The city of Mar del Plata has participated in the ‘Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative’ by IDB,
Inter-American Development Bank, leading to a collaboration with Gehl Architects.

In February 2013 the city of Mar del Plata started working on the project ‘Urban Interventions in Public Spaces’ along with Gehl Architects and IDB. We developed interventions in order to create more appealing public spaces that prioritize the human scale and senses. Through studying and analyzing the existing public life and public space in three different neighborhoods of Mar del Plata, we selected Calle Güemes as the first street to get a pilot project.

A multi-disciplinary team of people from across the municipal departments was then formed in order to secure a people focus throughout the project.

The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower.

The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower.

Key findings of initial study

The first major conclusion was that pedestrian space in the city is very limited. In Calle Güemes 74% of the movement activity was pedestrians and 26% was vehicles; however 75% of the space was allocated to vehicles and only 25% for pedestrians. Within the pedestrian space we observed several obstacles; trash, broken or poor quality paving, with café seating and kiosks all decreasing the pedestrian space. Very little public seating was found offering opportunity to sit and rest.

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Implementation

Gehl Architects developed a concept design in close collaboration with the local team. The concept design was then turned into a project for implementation by the local team. To speed up the process we decided to make a pilot project test on one block in Calle Güemes, this way we could take the characteristics of the shopping promenade into account. Eventually eight other blocks will be included.

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Once the test project was implemented, all business owners in Calle Güemes were summoned to learn about the project and comment on it. Over 50 business owners attended the meeting, expressed their approval and made ​​small contributions that we consider very useful for the success of the project.

 

Evaluation of pilot project

Once the pilot project was completed the evaluation stage began. In order to evaluate, a survey was conducted by the same technical team that developed the project. This team was equipped for direct dialogue with the citizens interviewed and was also able to describe the quantitative and qualitative studies that led to the project.

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The evaluation studies and interviews determined several points; increase in pedestrian activity, improved pedestrian comfort, increase in activities and outdoor serving and improvement of public seating. Also the concrete bollards used proved problematic because they were hard to see for people parking in front of them. It was also established that the chosen vegetation was too sparse, and that bigger and more plants was in fact needed to create the intended effect of an urban forest. These findings were crucial in order to avoid repeating the mistakes in the rest of the intervention.

 

Civic engagement

Given the diversity of opinions on the intervention, as well as the functionality and aesthetics, the municipality decided to host a workshop to hear all the opinions, ideas, and suggestions for change. The result of this workshop along with the conclusions made by the technical team led to improvements on the intervention which will be vital knowledge for the next 8 blocks.

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About 100 business owners attended the workshop with opinions and ideas on how to modify the urban intervention. The conclusions from the workshop led to an improved project which was put to a vote of the business owners. 90% voted in favour of the intervention.

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‘Streets for People’ initiative by the city of Mar del Plata

We strongly believe that the participatory process and stakeholder engagement will ensure a much higher project success.

Güemes Street is currently under construction as the rest of the intervention is under way and will be completed on October 10th 2014.

Read the Spanish version of this blog post here >

Read more about our work in Mar del Plata >
Mar del Plata #1
Mar del Plata #2

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Christchurch – The rebuild story continues …

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Our creative director, David Sim, always says “A city is not only just bricks and mortar. Cities are places of people’s stories and memories”.
The rebuilding effort in Christchurch New Zealand continues the process of building new memories and stories to tell about the city.

 

How is the rebuilding going?

Future Christchurch have released a series of online films that document progress in the city as it continues on its path of reconstruction.
For all the films keep your eye on the website

The stories shared in these videos touch on the big themes continuing to face the city;

How is the city dealing with the loss of so much historical fabric?

What is the role of temporary activation in the city as time passes?

How has innovation and creativity flourished in the face of such loss?

The stories of business owners, residents, community organisers, volunteers and others who have helped reshape the city through their endeavours put a real face to the story of Christchurch’s rebuild. These videos are definitely worth checking out, to hear their stories three years after the earthquakes.

Gehl Architects have worked in Christchurch in 2009 and again in 2011 as part of the earthquake recovery plan.
Our involvement with the city is also featured in The Human Scale

 

 

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Gehl in China: Shanghai #1

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The Bund at night

The Bund at night

In the buzzing, multicultural metropolis of Shanghai, Gehl Architects are currently working with Energy Foundation and ‘China Sustainable Cities’ Program.
Learn more about the background and key findings from our recent analysis here.

During the past six months, collaborating with Energy Foundation and SHUPDRI (Shanghai Urban Planning and Design Research Institute), we have been working with a livability and green mobility plan for the Huangpu district, in the heart of Shanghai.

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A new standard for city planning in China

The aim of the project is to help Huangpu and Shanghai redefine their view on public space. By presenting exemplary projects to improve the public realm of today’s Huangpu, hopefully we can set a standard for city planning for the future.
This is truly an exciting project to be part of, since it covers some of the most prominent spaces in Shanghai – spaces relevant not only for the city, but for the whole of China and ultimately the world!

 

The city from a human perspective

Looking at central Shanghai today, you find some of the most prominent public spaces in the world, such as the Bund with iconic views of the Pudong skyline, and Nanjing Road – a pedestrian street with the highest number of users ever recorded in a Gehl study.

Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Shanghai is an exceptionally buzzing city with a rich public life, not only in the big tourist spots, but also in the traditional neighbourhoods. Shanghai local streets and alleyways, especially in the traditional Lilong areas, function as meeting points for the locals and offer a social environment for their everyday life.

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A disconnected network

Walking around the city, you can’t help but notice a lack of connections for people on foot between the popular spots in the city. Although some streets in the network provide good conditions for pedestrians, many in-between streets and spaces lack basic qualities like proper sidewalks and accessible crosswalks.
Also city streets have been widened and transformed into bigger traffic arterials trying to keep up with the increase in car use. This makes it difficult to walk or go by bike around the city, and furthermore encourages people to go by car.

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Towards a people oriented city

However, we do detect a recent change of attitude in Shanghai showing an increased focus on green mobility and quality of life as a measure of the city’s success. In this context, our analysis is a very useful tool enabling the city to change their priorities.

Based on our study of public space and public life, we identified weak links in the pedestrian and bicycle networks, in which the layout of the city actually creates barriers for people moving around. We apply this detailed knowledge of life and movement of Shanghai in our strategies and recommendations. 

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Working in Shanghai is such a privilege, and we look forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration with Energy Foundation and the city. This is a unique opportunity to make a real change towards a more sustainable and liveable Shanghai for the future.

More info about strategies based on our study and pilot project proposals coming up soon. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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Moscow – Feature #4

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Krymskaya embankment – today. Photos: Alexandra Kovaleva.

Krymskaya embankment – today. Photos: Alexandra Kovaleva.

It’s time for Gehl Architects to revisit the capital of Russia to check on the status of public space planning. Two years after making the Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, and a little over a year since publishing ‘Moscow – towards a city for people’, we return to take a closer look.

And indeed things have happened. The Moscow government has launched an ambitious urban revitalization scheme to transform the car-dominated city centre into an attractive and pedestrian-friendly urban space, in line with the main recommendations in the study.

An important theme in ‘Moscow – towards a city for people’ was the inaccessible riverfront and the lack of connection between the existing public spaces in Moscow city centre: Gorky Park, Alexandrovsky Sad and Red Square among others.

One of the missing links identified in the study was Krymskaya embankment, a busy car street along the river situated, between the already upgraded and very popular Gorky Park to the south and the city centre to the north.

The poor environment for pedestrians and bicyclists, the strategic location along the river and the barriers between the site and existing amenities such as the Tretyakov Gallery and Gorky Park, made it an ideal place to start healing the public realm. The report presented a vision plan that suggested removal of the car lanes and improvement of the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists. Furthermore, we suggested improving connections to the art gallery and activating the park for public use.

Krymskaya embankment before

Krymskaya embankment – before

Krymskaya embankment – vision collage from Moscow – Towards a great city for people.

Krymskaya embankment vision collage in Moscow – Towards a great city for people.

Returning to Moscow we are very pleased to find Krymskaya embankment transformed into an attractive and vibrant public space designed by the Moscow based architects Wowhouse and commissioned by Mosgorpark. The design aims at creating many types of opportunities for an active city life during all seasons, as well as inviting diverse user groups into the one-kilometer stretch of urban park.

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Krymskaya embankment – today. Photos: Alexandra Kovaleva.

As a step towards a more livable Moscow, this is an excellent project, not focusing solely on the individual location, but aiming to create new connections and link the city together in a network of high quality – people oriented public spaces. The Krymskaya embankment upgrade is only one of several ongoing projects to improve the public realm, and the city is rapidly changing towards a more livable and sustainable metropolis.

Working with the city administration in 2012-2013 we could feel the wind of change towards a more people oriented approach to city planning, and now this new strategy has a physical showcase along the Moskva river. We are certainly eager to follow this positive process in the coming years.

Read more about our work in Moscow:
Moscow #1
Moscow #2
Moscow #3

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Healthy cities are built on purpose

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A hundred years ago, only two out of 10 people lived in urban areas. Today, more than half of us have chosen a life in the city. By 2050, seven out of 10 will have chosen a life in an urban environment.

I became a part of this statistic, when I was 21 years old and moved to Copenhagen. Since those first baby-steps into the big city, a decade has past, and it’s safe to say that I’ve been around the block a couple of times since then. I have lived in different districts in the city from the old working class district of Amager to the more multicultural Nørrebro and now I live in Frederiksberg, which is considered the Upper-Westside of Copenhagen – all though it is a municipality in its own.

It’s a ten-minute bike ride from Nørrebro to Frederiksberg – but if you measure the distance in life expectancy, it is 6,7 years long. The life expectancy of a woman in Nørrebro is 73 years compared to 79,7 years for a woman living in Frederiksberg.

There are many contributing factors to the big difference: a higher level of education usually equals a higher income and healthier life style choices. But if we zoom out from the different districts in Copenhagen and look at urban environments in general, research shows that just by living in a city, you’re more likely to be physically inactive, consume an unhealthy diet and be exposed to air pollution. Even depression and stress have a higher prevalence in cities. 

Where does health come from?

We tend to view an unhealthy diet and physical inactiveness as personal life style choices – but there are some important questions, we should be asking before we draw that conclusion. Is it easy to walk or bike from A to B where you live? Are there healthy foods available at your local grocery store? Are there enough green spaces, where your busy city mind can take a break and you can breathe in clean air?

Being unhealthy is only a lifestyle choice if there is an alternative. And there are many ways in which cities can encourage a healthier way of life.

The rapid urbanization puts pressure on city planners, policy makers and architects to create healthy, sustainable and socially-functioning cities for the 6.3 billions who will have moved to a city by 2050. One thing is creating homes for all these people, it’s another thing to create the spaces between the homes that encourage us to live healthy lives.

One thing is clear, healthy cities don’t just happen – they are built on purpose. When we don’t just consider health a personal issue, we open our eyes to the health potential in the spaces we share. We could open up for more outdoors classes for school children, and more walking meetings for the workforce. If we make active transportation a priority, we would build cities that make it easy to walk and bike around and thereby reduce commuting by car, and if we acknowledge that a healthy diet can prevent many chronic diseases, we would have more city gardens and the availability of local foods would rise. And if we build spaces that encourage different people to meet and have a conversation, we will have created a city with more cohesion and less loneliness.

Health is no more a personal issue than sustainability or traffic safety is. Furthermore, it is a cross-sector job, where different stakeholders need to work together in order to create a healthy city. Only in the space between city planners, architects, politicians, healthcare professionals and other vital societal arenas can we create cities that are truly for people.

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Adaptive Streets

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As a part of my internship with Gehl Architects last year, I collaborated with a fellow student from the University of Washington on developing a handbook showing opportunities and implementation tools for cities and engaged citizens to transform underutilized portions of the urban Right-of-Way into better spaces for people of all ages.

The Adaptive Streets handbook demonstrates a collection of strategies that can be used to adapt street space, ranging from reclaiming individual parking spaces to transforming entire blocks. The handbook also provides innovative visions for adapting the Right-of-Way based on several prototypical streets in Seattle, Washington. I am excited to announce the handbook is now available to view and download at issuu and hope it will inspire new interventions in the Right of Way.

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Building Community – Summer Masterclass 2014

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This is the second summer that Gehl Architects has hosted the ‘Tools for Change’ masterclass in our Copenhagen office. Having just completed the two day session, we are once again astonished by the breadth of international participants. In 2013 we were joined by professionals from 11 countries, this year that number has increased to 13 countries, including Australia, USA, Canada, UK, Slovenia, Colombia, Sweden, Kenya, Germany and Brasil.

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It’s always fascinating to experience the coming together of a group of people, and to hear them express how universal yet local the challenges faced by each city really are. With the two-day masterclass, we try to provide the participants with an array of tools, from the classic Gehl way of analyzing city spaces, to talks related to Gehl theory and international case studies, to using Copenhagen as the ‘living laboratory’ – a place with good and bad examples which we use as a discussion platform. It’s a two-day flurry of sharing, discussing, cycling (even in the rain!), eating and new knowledge exchanging.

Sharing the Gehl tools for change is key so that those participating can take the tools with them and tweak them to the context of their cities and culture. What we find most fascinating is that together with the 45 people who have joined us between 2013 and 2014, we are building a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about finding local ways to increase the quality of life in their cities.

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Thank you to all of you who participated! We look forward to continuing the dialogue and to meeting again in a variety of ways!

We’re already registering participants for the 2015 ‘Tools for Change’ summer masterclass. If you want to join us in Copenhagen next June, please send an email to masterclass@gehlarchitects.dk with the title ‘Gehl Summer Masterclass 2015′ so that we can add you to our participant list and provide you with information as it emerges.

Even more curious?
Read a post by Cora van Zwam, Masterclass participant.

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‘Tools for Change’ Masterclass

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Life, Space, Buildings

On Wednesday morning the 18th of June, we are welcomed in the Gehl-offices in Copenhagen with Danish pastry and Lego. ‘We’ are an international group of 20 people about to start the masterclass ‘Tools for Change’. Half of the group already met the night before over a pizza, and I am surprised about the diversity of the participants. Not only coming from all over the world (Brazil, Ecuador, Canada, Australia, Kenya, and a couple of European countries), but also with completely different backgrounds and professions. But we’re connecting pretty easily with a shared interest in cities and public life. The Gehl team prepared for us a packed program of presentations, case-studies, discussions, a film screening of ‘the human scale’ and a cycle-tour through Copenhagen.

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You measure what you care for

Why do we know everything about cars and next to nothing about the behavior of people in public space, as pedestrians, cyclist, playing or sitting? This is why Jan Gehl started in de sixties measuring urban life. Necessary knowledge for urban planning as you take public life seriously, and not only want to talk ‘form’ when designing streets and places. So how to measure public life and the quality of places? We’re provided with a toolbox with methods and off we go in Copenhagen. We try ‘ counting’  (how many pass in 5 minutes, how many women, men or children?) ‘plotting’ (mark on maps where people are staying and what they are doing) and ‘tracing’ (drawing people’s movements on maps). These are three of the eight investigative tools described in the book ‘ How to Study Public Life’ (Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre, 2013) and they prove quite easy to use. Together with the 12 Quality Criteria for places, it proves a good start for discussion and getting all the arguments out in the open. The varied character of the group makes this exercise extra interesting. For example: being Dutch, I take bike lanes and cyclist for granted. The others make me realize how special it is to have all those people in their normal day-wear on bikes.

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Changing mindsets

How to make cities for people? Helle Søholt, CEO of Gehl Architects, tells us a changed mindset is necessary. Focusing on the urban life and a people first approach requires a shift in planning. A strong vision is needed that makes it possible to collaborate and build partnerships. The presented life cycle ‘test-measure-refine’ was really grabbing my attention. Try to work out if things work in pilot projects and temporary solutions, seems such a logical thing to do. Use a few planters to make a pedestrian zone, decking to transform parking spaces into a seating area or paint to redesign a street. Simple and cheap. When it is thoroughly tested then a permanent design is made (or a new solution is tested). And here’s the measuring-theme again. Has the number of people walking increased? Do they stay longer? Do visitors appreciate the place more? Proof your success by measuring and comparing indicators before and after. Very inspiring to hear how Gehl Architects applied the tools in cities around the world, from Christchurch, to Copenhagen, New York City, Mar del Plata and Eskilstuna.

The Human Scale

I was already convinced for some time that public life was the most important factor for a good public space. The masterclass provided me with new methods and tools to work with, but the dialogues with the Gehl team and all my fellow participants did make it special. Hopefully we can share our experiences in our own towns and countries in the future. The facebook-group is already there.

We’re already registering participants for the 2015 ‘Tools for Change’ summer masterclass. If you want to join us in Copenhagen next June, please send an email to masterclass@gehlarchitects.dk with the title ‘Gehl Summer Masterclass 2015′ so that we can add you to our participant list and provide you with information as it emerges.
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New York City: A tale of two plazas

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Meatpacking District, Manhattan: One of many photo shoots at Gansevoort Plaza

Last Monday I left my pith helmet at home. I put on a black dress and a pair of Lanvins, and spent the night sipping rosé and eating petits fours with Diane von Fürstenberg and the rest of the locals in the fashionable Meatpacking District of New York City.

Attending this event was part of five months of ethnographic fieldwork focusing on two public plazas, which have recently been constructed by the NYC Department of Transportation. One of them, Gansevoort Plaza, located in the heart of the Meatpacking District.

The rosé and petits fours event was a yearly fundraiser for the local non-profit organization responsible for the maintenance and programming of Gansevoort plaza, the Meatpacking District Improvement Association. The local high-end restaurants had catered for the event and the many local fashion companies sold their previous collections at favorable prices – all to fund another year of successful and dynamic plazas in the District.

Meatpacking District, Manhattan: Yoga at Gansevoort Plaza

Meatpacking District, Manhattan: Yoga at Gansevoort Plaza

Inspired by Gehl Architects’ World Class Streets report, the Department of Transportation has constructed more than 50 public plazas in the past six years throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Most plazas, such as Gansevoort, have been developed in cooperation with local non-profit organizations. Once the Department of Transportation has constructed the plazas, these local organizations are then responsible for the insurance, maintenance and programming of the plazas – a classic variation of the many public-private partnerships in New York City initiated by the former Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn: Dance at the Putnam Triangle

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn: Dance at the Putnam Triangle

By the following Sunday I had taken off my Lanvins and put on a pair of sneakers to participate in a dance event organized by the local non-profit organization at the second of “my” two plazas: Putnam Triangle, located in the not-yet-too-gentrified neighborhood of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Intimidated by the effortless dance moves of the local women, I decided to take a seat with my friend and informant – Jimmy Swagger – to watch the event from the sidelines. Sitting there, smoking a cigarette, Jimmy suddenly asked me, “Stine, you study this plaza, right? But what do you really think of it? Don’t you see that it is nothing like the plazas in Manhattan?”

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Clinton Hill, Brooklyn: Interviews for a documentary about Notorious B.I.G. at the Putnam Triangle

Though the planters, the umbrellas and the movable tables and chairs all look the same, I do see it. The plazas are not the same. By observing the everyday life at Gansevoort Plaza and Putnam Triangle, I have during my fieldwork experienced two very different plazas. By getting to know the context of the two plazas – the neighborhoods, the locals, the non-profit organizations, and the Department of Transportation – I have discovered an essential reason why.

First of all, let it be said that by constructing more than 50 new plazas the Department of Transportation has initiated a very interesting process of reclaiming street space from traffic to people. BUT: In the work with the plazas, Department of Transportation has perceived the public-private partnership with the non-profit organizations as a way of letting the locals take ownership and thereby enlivening the plazas. But with ownership come also a lot of obligations and expenses, which are easier to fulfill and cover for some non-profit organizations than others.

Though “my” plaza in Brooklyn is managed very well, by the Fulton Area Business Alliance, I have still not been offered a glass of rosé or seen a silver tray of petits fours at any of their events. Maybe it is just a sign of diversity. Or maybe the new (so-called) public plazas have become very tangible proof of the inequality in the City.

 

In collaboration with Gehl Architects, Stine Ilum conducted five months of ethnographic fieldwork in New York City in the Spring of 2014. Her research has focused on the construction and the use of a number of new public plazas, built by NYC Department of Transportation as part of the Plaza Program. The collected data will form the basis of her Master Thesis in Anthropology at University of Copenhagen, and add into Gehl Architects’ forthcoming work on public space and social justice in New York City. Read more about this project in our News section.

 

 

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City lessons from private rail operators of Japan

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Tourism and leisure services are a core part of many of the private railways of Japan.

Tourism and leisure services are a core part of many of the private railways of Japan.

In Australia, “privatized rail” is equivalent to dirty words. The privatization of Melbourne’s public transport in the 1990s is still a heated topic amongst its citizens and particularly those in the planning and transport industry.

Although buses were always privatized in the city, the trains and trams were sold-off and the operation given to successful bidders who were awarded fixed-term operating contracts (and within it, various incentives and conditions in the contract to entice better performance and operating results.)  Privatized in a similar vein to the British approach (and also recently, surprisingly, Sweden), the success of whether such a delivery model of an essential service to a city and a region all depends on who you talk to.

Historically, privatised rail was quite a common model of delivery in the 19th and 20th Centuries, particularly in the United States, Australia and Britain. It seemed fairly simple a model for making money; a group of business-folk would form a transportation company and apply to the government for the rights to construct a rail or tram line from A to B. Their financial incentive was not just about ticketing revenue; but about land development.

The cleverest companies coupled real estate and land speculation in the form of new housing and suburbs with places of work (the traditional downtown cores of a city) via public transport. The profits soared from real estate and land sales. This diversified business model continued with railroad companies even getting into the business of tourism, department stores and leisure services to encourage the movement of people along their service.

Land development in Shaker Heights Cleveland OH by the Van Sweringen Brothers that connected workers with the downtown via a streetcar service.

Land development in Shaker Heights Cleveland OH by the Van Sweringen Brothers that connected workers with the downtown via a streetcar service.

However, the days of ‘railroad empires’ were numbered, with the advent of the automobile and pro-automobile policies by governments and many of them, for various reasons, acquired or bought-out these private railroad companies post-war and ran them as a public service; whether it was for declining profitability and the need for bail-outs or improvements to coordinate a complex network for a growing city. In the West, gone are the days of the rail ‘baron’, or ‘railroad empire’ and the unique business model that many of these companies pioneered for a good 100 years of our urban history.

However, many Japanese rail companies (and true, to a lesser extent, some European companies) still continue that pursuit of being in the business of rail today. Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, are widely known to be superior examples of public transport, mobility and integrated land-use with transport that those who come from cities with less-than-convincing public transport, are in complete envy at, the author included.  It has always intrigued the Gehl team how this has evolved as an integral part of the Japan’s mobility and we have come up with some ideas on this;

Companies such as Odakyu, Tokyu, Hankyu, Tobu, Hanshin, Keio, Shizutetsu and the JR Group (who were privatised and split up from the former Japan National Railways) are very profitable businesses in Japan and are in constant competition with each other to improve their services and performance. A quick interrogation of their financial results suggests that quite a large portion of their revenue is derived from non-transport related revenue (anything that is revenue besides fares and ticket sales).  Some of them over 50%. These companies each covet various corridors or ‘spines’ in a city, but do not have a problem working together as an integrated network.  They are in competition with each other, but at the same time reliant upon each other for maximizing the network effect of potential passengers and customers. Their fortunes were originally made from land development; housing for a booming country and more recently their focus seems to be on retail and commercial ventures; providing department stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants and cafes, travel agency services, sightseeing tours and so forth.

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Tokyu have redeveloped their Shibuya station terminus with a new retail and commercial complex ‘Hikarie’, complete with a new underground station, theatre, galleries, restaurants, retail and food businesses.

Tobu Railways joint-financed the second tallest structure on earth, the 634m Tokyo Sky Tree and commercial development, Tokyo Solamachi, with over 300 stores on disused rail land. Also worthy of mention is Shizutetsu, based out of Shizuoka Prefecture south-west of Tokyo who have some ‘interesting’ subsidiary businesses including supermarkets, nursing homes, car rental, taxis, restaurants, funeral services and more. Modal share in Shizuoka for public transport is quite low compared to Tokyo and perhaps this limited market led them to a more diversified business portfolio to ensure profitability.

Tokyo Sky Tree and Tokyo Solamachi are infrastructure and commercial developments joint-financed by the Tobu Railway Company.

Tokyo Sky Tree and Tokyo Solamachi are infrastructure and commercial developments joint-financed by the Tobu Railway Company.

There are very few public transport agencies that turn a profit without government assistance and maybe there are lessons that could be learnt from these Japanese private railroad companies for those countries struggling with the eternal problem of limited finances, profitability and reliability of service versus the public’s expectations. The segmentation or compartmentalization of differing ‘modes’ of public transport against each other (whether public or private), and moreover, the separation of railway asset and land ownership, the fare collections and timetabling amounts to a public transport service in paralysis that would find innovation, adaptation for change incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Coordinating agencies do help, but if the profitability is just not there in the contemporary model of public transport delivery across the western world, then maybe there needs to be some more innovative thinking on how governments can turn a profit from this essential service. It has been done historically and more importantly, continues to be done each year in Japan. Let rail companies invest in real estate, lead real estate development on or above rail lines and rent or run the retail, commercial and tourism ventures in and around each station. Turn those profits back into the network and improve the services people are demanding, simultaneously.

JR East advertise direct tourism services to Nikko from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations.

JR East advertise direct tourism services to Nikko from Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations.

There are some good examples out there, such as the MTA’s redevelopment of Hudson Yards and extension of the 7 Line and Network Rail (UK) and their objectives for station investment (with Kings Cross St Pancras being their shining example and Birmingham, Bristol and other cities to follow).  However, a substantial restructure of western rail companies in their current form to allow for diversification and innovation in business is still to happen. Hong Kong MTR, SBB CFF FFS and Deutsche Bahn (DB) are probably the few exceptions as they are companies that understand the diversification of income to ensure profitability and ensure good service.  They diversify in real estate, retail and freight ventures as some examples but not nearly as much as the Japanese private rail company.

Transport planning may be a dull topic to many, but it is a forgotten yet crucial system in allowing city life to diversify and flourish.  Would people happily tolerate a mobile phone network, or sewerage network that only lets you call or flush every 60 minutes; as frequent as the bus that passes your front door to take you to the shops?  Perhaps, but I doubt it. Perhaps it is as much about the expectations of a city, or society, that influences the importance and therefore, performance of their public transport.

Shinjuku is one area in Tokyo where the Odakyu, Keio and JR lines terminate, each with their flagship department store and commercial complexes.

Shinjuku is one area in Tokyo where the Odakyu, Keio and JR lines terminate, each with their flagship department store and commercial complexes.

The private Japanese rail companies are performing a civic role in society by not only providing an essential service (mobility of its citizens) but also of all the other interesting and varied things that city life is all about; access to food, drink, shops, holidays, souvenirs, businesses, friends, bars and meeting places. The profits from these businesses just happen to go back into the company that gets you from A to B to C to K and to W with ease. Whilst the financial report of these companies might look like a messy nightmare to the ordered accountant or policymaker or economist (with multiple and often complex subsidiary companies), they are very profitable and exist like a microcosm of city life; all privately-run and operated to meet and exceed the expectations of the people of their city.

This Odakyu-owned supermarket at Umegaoka, a station on the Odakyu Line, is conveniently located at the station providing convenience facilities for commuters and residents in the area.  Also located at the station are travel booking offices and convenient stores or ‘konbini’, all owned by Odakyu.

This Odakyu-owned supermarket at Umegaoka, a station on the Odakyu Line, is conveniently located at the station providing convenience facilities for commuters and residents in the area. Also located at the station are travel booking offices and convenient stores or ‘konbini’, all owned by Odakyu.

Whilst we are not advocating whether public or private is a better model for public transport delivery, what we would advocate for is the understanding of the importance of mobility with commercial opportunity (i.e. what people want and are willing to pay for when commuting, travelling or living in a city) and broaden the typically singular approach to public transport delivery with other sources of revenue that can be reinvested into the network. That way, perhaps the demands for better service, more frequency, integrated ticketing and timetabling, safer and better-designed stations can actually be realized for many cities at a lesser cost to governments.

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Special events to spontaneous spaces

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Gehl’s ethnographic approach to design involves observing where people are and what they’re doing in a city’s streets and spaces – sometimes this involves looking into the places we least associate with urban-ness.

Recently, we found ourselves in Charlotte, NC, running a series of workshops with the Knight Foundation. While there we had the chance to participate in Speed Street, the center of NASCAR’s annual Speed Week celebration. I was nervous that car paraphernalia would overwhelm the streets, but we didn’t even come across one stock racecar during the entire visit.

We did see thousands of people enjoying S. Tryon Street, in historic Uptown, as a public space. This street is sandwiched by corporate bank towers with plazas at their base, many created apparently via checklist (put in a bench, sculpture, maybe a water feature and your space is done!), but without intentional invitations for use. So while S. Tryon is surrounded by open spaces, many are devoid of people beyond the weekday rush- and lunch-hours. During Speed Week, it’s the ‘non-designed’, temporary pop-up uses, adjacent to these, that attract people to eat and spend time in the street, night and day.

Love for stock racecars or not, Speed Street invites people to enjoy themselves in the city. I could care less about cars speeding around a track, but I’m curious about what’s working when an event attracts 90,000 pedestrians a day (the most of any street in Charlotte all year). Large, organized special events shouldn’t be the only things that do this, but as urbanists we can be more open to why and how they might inform how to create spaces that engage people in a more spontaneous way, on an everyday basis.

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The purpose of our visit was to do just that, and generate strategies with foundations, civic and business leaders, and the departments of planning and transportation to make Uptown – the geographic center of Charlotte – and the area around North Tryon in particular, more of a ‘living room’ not just a 9-5 place.

The momentum to re-think surface parking as public spaces, connect Charlotte’s neighborhoods, and invite intergenerational and diverse residents to enjoy Uptown was contagious. While Speed Street wasn’t discussed – an informal survey of workshop participants found that most were not interested in attending – the people walking on it reflect a demand beyond our workshops for streets as public spaces in Charlotte.

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Working toward the adaptive metropolis

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On May 29th, Gehl Studio and the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning held the Adaptive Metropolis Salon 01, the first of a series of  events that will be bringing together leading voices in the fields of design, planning, civic and social innovation from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond to discuss some of the most pressing challenges our cities are facing.

The Salons Series marks the beginning of a new and exciting collaboration between Gehl Architects and the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. Spurred by the debate generated by the recent Adaptive Metropolis Symposium, an international conference that marked and celebrated the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture Program’s centennial, the Salons will further propel the discussion around some of the themes that emerged during the conference, while also fostering the creation of a coalition of urbanists with shared values and objectives: the Adaptive Metropolis Alliance.

This first Salon was held in the beautiful setting of Arup San Francisco’s headquarters. The topic of discussion revolved around the highly debated – and sometimes contested – notion of urban resilience, addressed as the ability of the urban realm to withstand not only environmental, but also economic and social disruption. We were welcomed and introduced to the topic by Ellen Greenberg, FAICP, Principal at Arup and Louise Mozingo, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning at UC Berkeley. Following, Arup’s senior engineer Grant Schlereth described the work of the firm on the subject, illustrating in detail the City Resilience Framework, a tool for policy makers developed by Arup’s International Development team and supported by The Rockefeller Foundation. His brief presentation set the stage for Helle Søholt and David Sim’s keynotes. Focusing on Copenhagen and Christchurch, respectively, Helle’s and David’s talks addressed two stories that, while radically different, are poignant examples of cities as urban laboratories for social resilience.

After the formal presentations, the 75 participants broke out into 5 groups to further tackle some of the specific issues that emerged during the discussion. For more than an hour the many meeting rooms of Arup’s office filled with clamorous chatter and passionate debate. The amazing turnout (the 75 available spots were filled within 48 hours of invitation launch), speaks of the interest toward Gehl’s presence in San Francisco, toward this new partnership with UC Berkeley, as well as to the fact that Bay Area’s researchers and practitioners from across fields are eager to find new arenas in which to discuss the things they care most about. We will certainly not let this energy dissipate, and move rapidly towards the curation of Adaptive Metropolis Salon 02. Stay tuned for details on topics and locations to come!

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Freedom in an urban framework

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“In an urban area a successful strategy based on ‘freedom in a framework’ will support growth and mobility. It will give every family the freedom to move into a city of its choice and the freedom to move about and interact with all other residents once they arrive” – Paul Romer

I recently lead a two hour masterclass on the opening day of this year’s International Transport Forum (ITF). This conversational format, organized by OECD, was new at the forum and marked one of several important and positive changes this year.
As a co-presenter, Francesc Aragall from Design for All Foundation helped shape the masterclass and provided further focus on user experience and people oriented design.

The masterclass aimed at adding an element of ‘practice’ to the otherwise ‘policy oriented’ focus of the forum. National delegates from countries as different as Canada, South Africa, Korea and Qatar participated in the event, and discussed how to integrate data on people into the decision making process of transport planning, with the aim of making cities more livable.

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ITF Masterclass ‘Designing Cities for People’

I participated at ITF in 2012, at that time the discussions was mainly focused on freight and large scale transport or international agreements. This year however, I congratulated OECD for having turned their focus to people in cities. “Transport for a Changing World” was the overriding theme for the conference, and issues such as urban inequality, social effects of transport investments and development, transport and social mobility where addressed in a few keynote presentations, as well as in side sessions.

In addition, I was invited to participate in a panel debate on “Creating Livable Cities in a Changing Urban Landscape” were Paul Romer, Director of the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University presented his keynote.

Often economist and urban planners are not the best of friends, as many economists tend to think very little needs to be planned and that development should only be led by market forces, but I was very impressed with Professor Romer’s presentation which in so many ways supports my own and Gehl Architects approach to planning.

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Group discussion at ITF Masterclass ‘Designing Cities for People’

For many years I have been talking about how we should not think that we can masterplan cities, but rather base developments on a public space framework. I heard this key message repeated for the first time by a leading American economist.

Professor Romer’s argument was that a public space framework will allow for robustness and adaptability in urban development over time. Cities such as New York have left 30-35% of the land for public spaces – streets, spaces and parks, which has essentially enabled the city to change over time. ”No other strategy for speeding up progress is as promising as giving every family the freedom to move to an urban area that offers more types of interaction with other people and establishing a framework for urban life that encourages the good interactions that density and connection allow,” professor Romer said.

According to Professor Romer the public space framework allows for individual freedom and flexibility. ”In an urban area a successful strategy based on “freedom in a framework” will support growth and mobility. It will give every family the freedom to move into a city of its choice and the freedom to move about and interact with all other residents once they arrive”.

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Reviewing urban development projects at ITF Masterclass ‘Designing Cities for People’

However, in early stages of development when there is not urban pressure and scarcity of land, people might take public space for granted, Professor Romer said: ”Ironically, the options created by excess physical capacity can limit future choices by establishing a dysfunctional framework of perceived rights. In most cities the default informal framework gives every car owner a perceived right to drive on any street at any time. Worst of all, perhaps even the right to park a car on public space.”

Hearing these arguments from an economist gives me hope. Often our qualitative arguments don’t hold up against the hardcore economic thinking. But to hear Paul Romer speak about freedom within a framework reinforces what we already work with and aim for at Gehl – quality of life for all people in existing as well as new cities, based on balanced and integrated modes of transportation within a framework of public spaces that allows for diversity, flexibility and a human scale.

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Minecraft generation

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You might have heard of Minecraft, especially if you have a son or daughter between 5 and 15. Now, the Danish Ministry of the Environment has created the country of Denmark in Minecraft, which means that everybody can go in and re-build Denmark in Minecraft’s 3D cubes via an online server.

It has always been fascinating for me to see how so many kids get absorbed by this basic, old school, pixelated game that looks like something from the 80’s – some of you might remember those days when a tape had to load for about half an hour to get Paper Boy going… My 8 year old son loves playing Minecraft with friends, they create worlds with stadiums, houses with patios and nicely decorated interiors, lightning etc. – an online Lego in other words. However, my son also plays online with people from China and other parts of the world, and this social, create-it-together element on a global scale, is definitely something new compared to my childhood.

Denmark in Minecraft is targeted towards schools, under the topics of Geography, Mathematics, etc., but everybody can use it and they have since it was launched a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if it is a step towards a new generation who will not see planning as an abstract discipline, but as something you can be part of, where you can actually build and test on a 1:1 scale. This is already going on to some extent with many pilot projects. The days of the big plans are over, now we want to build it together, test things and see what works and what doesn’t work.

Two guys from the Ministry of Environment have created the 4,000 billion cubes and have used open source data about the geography of Denmark to create the model. This emphasizes the new possibilities that open data brings about.

The newly released Danish Architecture Policy advocates for architecture to be further brought into the schools. Minecraft can be one element in this process that makes sense, as many of the challenges in society (climate, health, demographic changes, rapid urbanization etc.) will have to be dealt with from the cities. This will also make cities the place for more political questions and answers conversations. Hopefully the new Minecraft generation will gain an interest on urban questions and bring about new hands-on approaches and perspectives to planning processes.

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The London study tour(ist)

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Guided walking tour of Shoreditch with Igloo near Arnold Circus

Guided walking tour of Shoreditch with Igloo near Arnold Circus

In the Gehl Architects family, annual study trips are a well-loved tradition; partly because it is important to keep a social office, but also in large because we actually really enjoy the opportunity to play tourists. Although our work takes us to many exotic and exciting cities, it is sometimes difficult to find the time to marvel at tall, shiny buildings, when the paving is disastrous and we are blinded by visual clutter or by the overpowering presence of D-categorised facades (refer to “How to study public life” or know that on a scale from A-E, where A is a façade that has a dancing unicorn and a coffee-drinking hipster on display, D facades are pretty uninteresting.) Therefore, it was a happy crowd that showed up at Copenhagen airport earlier this month to partake in this year’s two-day, jammed-packed study trip to… London town.

We arrived early in the morning at Gatwick airport, with two hours to get two dozen Gehlians, via our hotel in East London, to King’s Cross station for the first stop of the tour. Argent, who are responsible for the redevelopment of the areas around the station, had invited us to their office to give us an insight into what has been called “the largest area of urban redevelopment in Europe.” (Richard Godwin, Evening Standard Magazine). In the office, we were presented with the grand plans for making a vibrant, diverse and inclusive neighbourhood, along with interesting schemes for an implementation considering both the economic and the social parameters. We wondered: is it possible to transform a polluted and neglected railway area in the middle of London into something truly nice? Afterwards, when we had bought lunch at the exotic food trucks on the plaza between the granary-turned-art-school (St-Martins) and the greened river bank, it was easy to believe in a bright future for King’s Cross.

Colourful food carts and street furniture bring life to the grey plaza in front of Central Saint-Martin’s School at King’s Cross.

Colourful food carts and street furniture bring life to the grey plaza in front of Central Saint-Martin’s School at King’s Cross.

At Stratford, we were introduced to another area of London that has been subjected to ambitious planning strategies: the post-Olympic wasteland, of which we were given a very entertaining guided tour by London Urban Visits. However, as fond as we are of walking, the vastness of the Olympic park and the scarceness of distractions, managed to make our feet and legs growl by the end of the tour. It shall be interesting to see how those large-scale spaces between the sports arenas will be appropriated in the future, and whether they can be brought back to life when the surrounding areas have been developed for residential and commercial purposes.

In Dalston, Hackney, we visited this green oasis known as the Eastern Curve Garden, which is preserved and appreciated by the local community.

In Dalston, Hackney, we visited this green oasis known as the Eastern Curve Garden, which is preserved and appreciated by the local community.

However, my favourite visit of the day was our rendez-vous with Dalston, Hackney, which (according to the Guardian and I) is one of the coolest areas in London. However, you need not fret if you haven’t heard of Hackney yet, because the gentrification of the area has happened so quickly that not even the long-term residents of Hackney have had time to grasp their new status. They are left to marvel at the rapid increase of property prices and the sudden occurrence of novelty bars and tourists, such as ourselves. We met with Hackney Co-operative Developments, which is a non-profit local community organisation, aiming to create an equal and solidary environment for the (small) business owners in Hackney. Our meeting took place in the Eastern Curve Garden, which will definitely be used as a best-practice example in the Gehl office, for how to develop successful, community driven green spaces within a dense, urban fabric.

In the evening, we digested the many impressions of London in a cosy restaurant, which was located beneath the bridge of a functioning railway. Who said re-appropriation?

On the second day during the “creative city”-tour we had lunch in “Lookmumnohands” – a bicycle-themed café at London Fields.

On the second day during the “creative city”-tour we had lunch in “Lookmumnohands” – a bicycle-themed café at London Fields.

For the second part of the tour, we were split into two groups, entitled “creative city” and “retail”. The group, which was investigating creative city co-operations, had the pleasure of visiting Igloo in the London Tech City, the Trampery and Netil House. London Tech City was a very interesting example of the effects that the branding of a city area can have. The Trampery and Netil House proposed two very different working cooperatives, both promoting inter-disciplinary mingling, but with varied means and goals. While the Trampery oozed of creative hub with artwork on the walls and social designer-kitchen spaces, Netil House had a scent of raw concrete (literally) with a hint of squatter and DIY. As some of us were debating the ups and downs of the creative industries in London, the rest were busy scouting retail-strategies in the high-end shopping district of Mayfair. In this area, the streets are groomed with good paving, wide sidewalks and beautiful window-displays, because the shop-owners know that their clientele prefer (are used to?) nice surroundings. Their tour also went by Lamb’s Conduit Street, a sophisticated hub for menswear designers, and the Brunswick Centre, which is a successful example of a mixed-use development (residential and shopping). Their day finished on Camden High Street, which might be said to be diametrically different from where they had started off in Mayfair; In Camden, the streets aren’t “nice” in the physical sense of the word, but the bustle of people rushing in and out of the many little shops gives Camden a uniquely “nice” vibe that attracts Londoners and tourists alike.

So, at the end of a study tour, what does the Gehlian take home, besides sore feet and a million pictures of urban prodigal moments? Firstly, a renewed will and energy to partake in the many changes that cities constantly undergo. Secondly, a ton of questions, answers and ideas to inspire future projects. And, in this case, thirdly: a love of London, as the city which continues to renew and reinvent itself so rapidly that even the flâneur breaks into a run.

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Hypermarkets belong to the past

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The Mid-West in the 1950’s? Could be, but it’s the prospect of a new project in Hillerød, north of Copenhagen; an example of the bizzar type of nostalgia that still exists in Denmark, while other countries are busy rethinking retail.

In Denmark, a unique planning legislation has prevented the construction of hypermarkets for the last 20 years.

However a bizarre type of nostalgia keeps popping up among Danish politicians. For some reason they keep dreaming of a disconnected and absolutely unsustainable phenomenon which other countries long ago labelled as undesirable. The negative consequences of hypermarkets are wide-ranging, and, well, so last millennium.

In the US they haven’t built isolated hypermarkets since 2006. Instead they are talking enthusiastically about mixed-use projects, which combine retail, culture, parks and housing, resulting in something that looks like – yes, you guessed it – cities. Since 2009 hypermarket chains like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco have implemented down-sizing strategies, creating smaller stores in city centers.

At the global retail conference in New York in January 2014 trend spotters talked about the future of retail and showed pictures of markets, bazaars and high streets (including Strøget in Copenhagen!).

Shops belong to the city, and great shops create urban life. They support social relations, increase safety in the streets, attract tourists, enhance property values and inspire people in their daily life. Local shops also reduce CO2 emission. Therefore, the intention of keeping shops in cities – thereby responding directly to basic human needs – can never be retrograde. On the contrary, it is our way to move towards a sustainable future.

American university studies throughout the last couple of decades demonstrate that hypermarkets (example: Wal-Mart) do the opposite.

They increase CO2 emission.

Markets function as anchors to other shops, create more jobs and bigger economic growth than ordinary super markets and are an extremely good investment regarding health, climate – and property values!

Markets function as anchors to other shops, create more jobs and bigger economic growth than ordinary super markets and are an extremely good investment regarding health, climate – and property values!

They lead to the closing down of shops in nearby areas, which effectively reduces urban life and public meeting places; fewer social organizations and lower voter turnouts are de facto consequences of Wal-Mart coming to town. People get fewer reasons to go out and the citizens’ feeling of belonging to a place decreases. The result is lower property values and unsafe ghost towns – and ultimately a loss in the net-tax-income for the city.

Besides, hypermarkets, in the long run, lead to less competition and fewer options for the consumer. When the other shops are out of business, cases show that Wal-Mart rises their prices.

Another consequence is the distortion of the power structures regarding the production of food and other goods. During the 1990’s Wal-Mart achieved market shares that were so big they could control the production of food and non-food; their demands for low prices have had an unreasonably and detrimental influence on natural resources, animal welfare and human working conditions. The cost of low prices is very high.

Retail is a vastly complex field and it is essential to look at all aspects – not only productivity – when considering changing the legislation. As Winston Churchill said: ”We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” – but before that we create commerce and then commerce sets the framework for the rest: Not only our cities but also our infrastructure, our landscapes, our social relations and the power structures of society.

Urban shops support social relations, increase safety in the streets, brings character and diversity to a place and attract citizens, tourists and other businesses alike.

Urban shops support social relations, increase safety in the streets, brings character and diversity to a place and attract citizens, tourists and other businesses alike.

Therefore, let’s jump over the dark hypermarket era, and continue straight ahead to a future of sustainable shopping in living cities!

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A City for Men and Women, Boys and Girls

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I was recently approached by two Danish teenage girls – Mira and Camille – who wanted to do a project about ‘urban worlds’ in Copenhagen, and it immediately sparkled my curiosity – why the interest in that topic? How did they themselves experience the urban worlds of the city? Do they have an urban world where they feel at home? Reflecting on these questions I started thinking more generally about the notion of democratic public spaces.

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In recent years there has been an ongoing debate about girls in public spaces in Copenhagen. There seems to be a tendency towards girls using the newly redesigned public spaces far less than boys. Why is that? Can – and should – we do something about it? In the name of ‘the healthy city’ many of the new public spaces focus on ‘active spaces’ and it often results in trajectories and skate parks. Very few girls are active in these spaces, and if present they are to a large extent ‘reduced to passive spectators’

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A number of municipalities in the Copenhagen area have taken up the challenge of how to incorporate the girls’ perspective into planning. Some of the insights gained from this initiative (which were also echoed in my conversation with Mira and Camille) seem to indicate that many young girls simply spend time at home and not in the public space. Why is that? Are there hidden barriers that we’re unaware of? What types of public spaces could possibly attract young girls to be more ‘active’?

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Design Council – Active by Design

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Active by Design, page 7

Active by Design, page 7

We have just received word that the Design Council in London have launched Active by Design, their new programme to design places for healthy lives. The first step in their launch is the release of their short guide publication, which you can browse through here. Gehl Architects is very happy to be included in the guide with our Brighton, New Road project! Active by Design was created in response to the increasing health crisis affecting the UK. The intention is to promote the use of good design in buildings and spaces to encourage greater levels of daily physical activity and increase access to healthy and nutritious food.

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More life in the small commuter town of Hjärup, Sweden

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Local newspaper 'Sydsvenskan' March 19th. Kommunstyrelsens ordförande (Leader of municipal council), Christian Sonesson (M) and Thomas Heinegård, regional manager at Skanska announced the plans for a new district in western Hjärup at a press meeting last week

Local newspaper ‘Sydsvenskan’ March 19th. Kommunstyrelsens ordförande (Leader of municipal council), Christian Sonesson (M) and Thomas Heinegård, regional manager at Skanska announced the plans for a new district in western Hjärup at a press meeting last week

Last week I had the privilege of attending a press meeting in the small town of Hjärup, Sweden, where the municipality of Staffanstorp and our client Skanska, announced that together, they are now starting the formal planning process of developing a new residential district of about 700 new houses and apartments, as well as commercial and public service in western Hjärup. In 2011/2012 Gehl Architects developed the masterplan that will form the starting point for the redevelopment of the 26 ha. industrial site where Skanskas former concrete factory is located, right next to the Hansa – inspired by the development of Jakiborg.

The new district will add a significant amount of new residents to Hjärups current 5000, and will form a basis for more extensive commercial and public services in Hjärup, as a whole. The proposal builds on qualities found in Hjärup today – the strategic location in the Øresunds region and proximity to the railway, good accessibility by foot and bike within the town and the green and child friendly environments. It addresses the challenge of the barrier effect of the railway by ensuring that more connections in the future can link the existing eastern and the new western parts of the town and by providing new public spaces, a variety of housing types and additional services that will be accessible to current as well as future inhabitants in Hjärup.

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposes concentrating the active and commercial life and a higher density of built mass around the natural node of the railway station while exploring how recreational, spatial and social qualities can be enhanced in the residential areas. The proposal is based on a fine grain network of connections and includes a series of parks of different character and programming acting as meeting places and providing local identities within the area. The residential streets are proposed as intimate laneways where children can play and neighbors meet.  A key challenge has been to explore how row-houses and villas can be mixed and carefully placed in order to achieve high spatial definition and variation.

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Collage from the masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012The masterplan proposal was developed in close relationship with our client Skanska Nya Hem, with representatives from the Municipality through an intense and educative process of creative working meetings, exciting discussions and field trips. All with the aim of jointly illustrating a well-founded vision for a new livable and locally anchored district in Hjärup.

Gehl led collaborative working session together with the Skanska team

Gehl led collaborative working session together with the Skanska team

Read article from local newspaper ‘Sydsvenskan’ March 19th here

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Face to the Fjord: A look at Oslo on the release of their new PSPL

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Oslo Opera House, photo courtesy of Heather Josten

Oslo Opera House, photo courtesy of Heather Josten

Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Oslo was made public today, March 24, 2014.
This ‘special feature #1′ aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Oslo and other cities.

“Oslo is a small city where everyone knows one another,” says landscape architect and project leader for Levende Oslo (Lively Oslo), Yngvar Hegrenes. Norway’s capital city on the Olso fjord recently commissioned a Public Space-Public Life (PSPL) survey that took over two years to complete, despite the city’s compact size. Hegrenes is responsible for commissioning the survey, stating that Oslo was interested in taking a fresh look at their city center with input from knowledgeable outside sources. Hegrenes worked closely with the Oslo municipality, community business owners and organizations, and Gehl Architects to complete the survey.

“We chose Gehl Architects for several reasons,” says Hegrenes. “We wanted their expertise and knowledge, built up over decades of work in cities around the world. We were also aware of the historical benefit of having Gehl Architects lead the survey.”

Oslo in 1987, when Jan Gehl first registered public life in the city center

Oslo in 1987, when Jan Gehl first registered public life in the city center

A PSPL done today is conducted in much the same low-tech fashion as when Jan Gehl, co-founder of Gehl Architects, developed the system in the 1960s. The first public life assessments were completed in Copenhagen, but Oslo bears the distinction of being the first city outside of Denmark where Gehl and his assistants counted people and mapped their activities to determine the quality of life in the city. That PSPL, completed in 1987, surveyed a much smaller radius in the Oslo city center than the newest PSPL, released to the public on Monday, March 24, 2014. This new PSPL surveyed forty-seven different points around Oslo, took place over three seasons (rather than the typical two), and also included a survey which collected opinions from around 1,000 people walking the Oslo streets.

47 study areas were included in the PSPL for Oslo

47 study areas were included in the PSPL for Oslo

“It was very important for us to include the voices and opinions of the people this time around,” says Hegrenes. That said, Hegrenes’s main role has been managing and negotiating with business interests in Oslo to make sure that their concerns are being heard as the city undergoes changes. Oslo is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. The population is expected to burgeon over 30% by 2030, according to Camilla van Deurs, Project Manager from Gehl on this PSPL survey.

A goal that is becoming more apparent after the completion of this PSPL is the need to merge the needs and wishes of a growing, young, and diverse population with the pressures from business interests who desire to maintain the current car focused culture in the city. Hegrenes and his colleagues are working to create an Oslo that looks to the fjord and prioritizes pedestrian traffic over automobile traffic. Both Hegrenes and van Deurs communicated that businesses should see that pedestrian traffic is statistically likely to bring in more customers. People come to the city to socialize and enjoy cultural activities. They visit shopping destinations incidentally, but because more pedestrians can move through an area in an hour than car traffic, more revenue is ultimately generated.

Hegrenes states,  “I think that we now know that we need to cooperate better, if we want to see more city life. City life is not only shopping, or going to bars, or drinking coffee. You have to give people other aims, other goals, in the city center. I think they [business owners] see more clearly now that the former regime, which focused on as much parking as possible, will never create any growth in the retail or business district. We have a need for the space to be put to better use.”

Eidsvolls Plass in Oslo

Eidsvolls Plass in Oslo

Hegrenes sees the PSPL as a key support tool for communicating the importance of improving public life in Oslo. In fact, he has already noticed improvements in the negotiations to reduce car traffic in the city.

Hegrenes knows that it is crucial for the city to become a city for pedestrians. Shifting away from car-centered planning is also seen as a critical security measure, a unique concern for this PSPL that arose in response to the tragic terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011, which killed seventy-seven people. One element of that two-part attack included a car bomb placed near government buildings in the city center. Assessing whether cities convey a feeling of safety via open spaces, good lighting, and foot traffic, have always been a criteria for a Gehl Architects led PSPL, but the attention to anti-terrorist security measures will be a first for the 2014 Oslo PSPL, says van Deurs.

Security measures taken by the city of Oslo

Security measures taken by the city of Oslo

Hegrenes remains positive with the completion of the survey process, as he settles in for the work required for improving the city he calls home. “I would say that city changes take time. That is more obvious after this report. You cannot just change people’s views and what they think about part of the city over night. This is something that you need to work on,” he concludes.

Interested to learn more? Read the report ’Bylivsundersøkelse Oslo Sentrum’ produced by Gehl Architects for Levende Oslo.

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Life in a suburb – take a second look

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Gladsaxe Day, Saturday 24 August 2013, photo: Gladsaxe Kommune

Gladsaxe Day, Saturday 24 August 2013, photo: Gladsaxe Kommune

The issues of suburbia, the everyday, creating better public spaces for everybody, not only in the city centers, seem more pressing than ever for many reasons: the environmental effects of our building and transport patterns, an aging housing mass, a changing demography with shrinking households, the need to be attractive to compete with other cities and regions, etc. Despite many visions, competitions and initiatives, there are still many unanswered questions when it comes to the suburbs and everyday spaces.. Try to find good examples, it can be quite hard, and often what you come up with are the usual suspects. However, many suburban projects in suburbs are on now on their way and for good reason as more than half the population either live or work in the suburbs.

I must admit that I find the everyday spaces of the suburbs some of the most interesting to work with. Suburbs are often hard to grasp, they may even seem a bit banal, but this is what makes them so interesting. The thing is that when you start to take a second look, you will soon realize that the suburbs are much more complex than at first glance. There is lots of life happening in a suburb like Gladsaxe, located around 10 kilometers north of Copenhagen, but you may have to look a little longer and more indoors or in private settings to find it.

We have recently had the pleasure to work with the Municipality of Gladsaxe, a true suburb, built in the 60’s with zones for housing, recreation, work, etc. It has been great to work with a municipality that has been really open to investigate what life in Gladsaxe means. The result is a study of life encompassed into a report called GladsaxeLife, GladsaxeLiv in Danish, which reveals specific qualities in Gladsaxe, not suburbs in general and not public life in general.

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Granny’s, a bakery in the middle of an industrial neighborhood, the only 115 m2 sidewalk that gives life to the place – even without people.

Life in Gladsaxe is not the same as life in the city centers, it has other qualities, it takes place more indoors than outdoors, and it may be more private and tend to be somehow overlooked. We have looked at where life takes place: the train station, the main street – the obvious places – but also the libraries which have high numbers of visitors (800.000 a year) – a meeting place that is non-commercial, democratic, innovative and a knowledge driven space. However, the libraries are enclosed buildings, life is not visible and that is one of the major recommendations to make all the life which is already taking place in Gladsaxe more visible. At one of the local supermarkets the number of visitors is the same, but these everyday spaces, the sidewalk outside the supermarket are not necessarily seen as crucial for life in Gladsaxe. We are somehow stuck in our traditional typologies, but instead of creating new, vast squares, it makes sense to build on the already existing, create new small scale meeting places, celebrate the everyday and all the engaged people in a place like Gladsaxe. It is about taking a second look, where do people meet, how can we add functions and other elements that can spice things up without resorting to wanna-be-urban spaces or the standard café latte answer.

Focus groups with residents of Gladsaxe underlined a wish for more playing elements, places to stop and meet others in a more unplanned way. Photo from Nørrebro, Copenhagen

Focus groups with residents of Gladsaxe underlined a wish for more playing elements, places to stop and meet others in a more unplanned way. Photo from Nørrebro, Copenhagen

To work across indoor/outdoor, private/public, it is necessary to work across silos in the municipalities to make it work as well as including external partners. In the coming months we will continue to work with the municipality of Gladsaxe with an education program, combined with live work on hotspots, on selected sites where we are going to test new ideas.

The answer to what life in a Copenhagen suburb might be does not exist already, but we hope Gladsaxe will soon be able to present new versions of suburban spaces in the coming months and years.

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Winter City Prototype at Frost Festival

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Prototype of the Winter City winning project: DAG by Torpe & Kunzynski

Prototype of the Winter City winning project: DAG by Torpe & Kunzynski

For the past few months, I have been part of the jury for the Winter City competition, initiated by Frost Festival and Open Air Neighborhood and facilitated by Innosite at Danish Architecture Center. It was great to evaluate more than 100 proposals for initiatives and furniture designs that could make it more comfortable and interesting to be out in the city during the cold months. Everything from dreamy, steam installations with light to pink insulating canopies were proposed, and great discussions happened on the potential of the grey and dark winter months, which we tend to turn our back on or flee from by being indoors or running to warmer regions.

A revised prototype of the winning proposal was tested at an ice skating outdoor concert event in Valby, Copenhagen as part of FROST festival, a winter music festival always on the lookout for new venues. As this winter has been quite mild in Copenhagen, the ice had turned to slush, but the temporary furniture made out of straw, covered in black plastic bags and colorful tape soon became a hang out spot where people could enjoy the sun with a little insulation underneath. Now we wait for the winner proposal, a recycled brick stone oven/sitting furniture to be built.

You can see the three winning proposals here at www.innosite.dk – including the jury’s arguments for why they won – and get inspiration from the other proposals, as well as to initiatives that can make it more inviting to go out in the city and stay out during the grey, dark and cold months.

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Evolving Scandinavia

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Free Zone by Rosanbosch, photo courtesy of Anders Sune Berg

Free Zone by Rosanbosch, photo courtesy of Anders Sune Berg

IN CONVERSATION — A conversation with Gehl Partner Ewa Westermark and Project Manager Ola Gustafsson on working in a Scandinavian context and the challenges of exporting those valuable learnings around world.

We find ourselves traveling all over the world, presenting ideas and examples founded on Scandinavian traditions and culture. A platform, which has provided a great starting point for cities to evolve towards considering the people who live in them. The standards are high in Scandinavia, and in many ways, we have succeeded in making our cities livable. But what does this mean in terms of the future of Scandinavian cities? Are we done developing our cities, evolving them even further? Are we happy to rest on what we have accomplished?

This week I had a chance to sit down with Partner Ewa Westermark and Project Manager Ola Gustafsson for a chat on the challenges and possibilities for urban development in Scandinavian contexts and the differences between working in Scandinavia and other parts of the world. Here are some of the essentials from this conversation…

Scandinavia Learning

Ewa: We export Scandinavian best practice knowledge all around the world, but are we consistent in importing the knowledge that we gain when we are out learning new things around the world? What can we learn, for instance, from a US context, where the public sector has traditionally not been as strong and therefore they have had to learn to collaborate with private organizations?

We share global challenges; we share the same health issues, etc., but the thing about Scandinavia is that the general quality of our cities is so high that the sense of urgency is not there. The big challenge in Scandinavian Cities is not always visible to the eye. It is about equity, inclusiveness and integration. It is about people and life. The challenge is to turn lifeless and unsafe city areas around and to integrate and connect all parts of the city together. We need to have much more focus on life and not solely on physical form.
The trust level in the official system is so elevated, that public engagement and collaboration between public and private entities is not very developed, with the result that different roles for key players in city development can lack a bit of variation. Here we have a chance to learn from both bigger and smaller cities around the world.

Ola: When you come to Sweden, it can sometimes be difficult to find that powerful story of change, because the basic needs are already catered for regarding accessibility, safety etc. In many other cities that we work in, you can go out, take a photo of a very poor, inaccessible or even dangerous pedestrian environment and try to change things quickly. Sometimes you lack that possibility in Swedish cities because, at least in the central locations of the city, all the basic needs are covered there. However what is often lacking or is less obvious at least, is the second layering, invitations to use and enjoy the city. It is in many cases a series of smaller changes that will uplift the situation, which is hard to present when talking about a sense of urgency. We don’t have a definitive point where there is a sense of crisis. How do we turn that around?

Collaboration between Public and Private

Ewa: To me the biggest challenge is to engage people and create collaborations between the private and public sector. What could make a difference is getting that engagement and collaborative process working. Currently, we don’t have a tradition for needing that, not like the US has always relied on these collaborations and engagement. Especially in smaller cities where you lack public life and people in the streets, then collaboration is the key for change.

Ola:  I think this is a key issue; to get people to commit to doing things together and not just to be opposed or reactive to what other people are doing. People are already used to participating in workshops, but it rarely results in a commitment to do something concrete.

Ewa: I think that goes back to the Scandinavian tradition of relying on municipalities or the state to fix “it” for you. Now this is not enough, it does not work, not even for the municipalities, because they have realized that they will not be able to pay for all the investments needed in the public realm, infrastructure, etc. They need collaborators, also financially. We see more and more cities where there is almost a rule saying you need to pay for investments in the public realm by selling the plots of land, instead of being strategic about how to communicate the collective benefits of what you are doing, the investment is presented solely as a cost.

In cities where the public sector has been less dominant, the public sector has developed better methods for explaining what they do; otherwise, they could not do it. This demonstrates some cultural and organizational differences we have the possibility to learn from.

I think that the municipalities in Scandinavia could help the private sector to become more organized. We can see more and more that the commercial cores in the smaller cities are dying, shops are closing and shopping centers are growing, and one of the reasons is because shopping centers have an elaborate organization to take care of the common issues, but the private sector along the high streets does not.

Dreamhamar in Hamar, Norway

Dreamhamar in Hamar, Norway

Public Engagement

Ola: Maybe that is the missing layer. Talking about collaborative processes, there are also other aspects lacking in Scandinavia and that is public engagement. It comes back to relying on the public sector to initiate change and then react to it. “Public Engagement” is a buzz word in cities, but I do not think cities have found the right tool for doing this.

It is difficult to engage people through online surveys and traditional consultation processes. I think we are lacking the right tools to engage the public, and I think we can learn and promote some of our experience from New York, for example.

Ewa: Engaging people in 1:1 scale pilots can be very effective, because people can evaluate what they experience and provide feedback on how to make the pilots better. They are not limited by the fear of change. It is not only about getting people to say what they do and do not like, but about being included.

The most interesting thing about the pilot projects in New York is the Plaza Program, where non-governmental organizations can apply to get one of these public space transformations in their neighborhood. The city says “we give this to you but only if you ask for it”. They turn the process around, to “yes in my backyard” instead of “not in my backyard”. The community needs to be engaged and this is a much better foundation for change.

Ola: Including China in this discussion is difficult because the situation and culture are so radically different, both in scale and speed of development. In addition, it is hard to talk about public and private since they are intertwined. It is a completely different world and hard to compare to Scandinavia.

Maybe one thing that is interesting and inspiring in this context, is how Chinese people have other traditions of using public spaces. Chinese people are good at “claiming” space. If the right conditions are present, public spaces can become great group meeting grounds for enjoying dancing, exercise, etc. They have these traditions, maybe especially the older generation, of  spending time in the park, etc. where they use and benefit from the public space.

Ewa: In the Scandinavian context we need a much stronger citizen engagement as well as private (organizations and businesses, etc.) engagement, to be able to transform our city and create these lively cities we talk about. We cannot rely on municipalities to do it for us.

We need to take responsibilities of our cities and learn that we make it happen together.

Parascopes - "imagine potential futures" in Malmö City

Parascopes – “imagine potential futures” in Malmö City

As the conversation ended, I was left with ideas for development in a Scandinavian context but also a renewed view on sharing and learning from each other on a global scale. The different processes of attaining development in cities, highlights not only cultural differences, but also provides examples of collaborations between public and private sectors that Scandinavia could learn from. Also that there seems to be a common factor of engagement that is essential for a project to flourish.

So the final question when considering cities in Scandinavia remains – are we too content to improve?

The will to change seems to be present and with this in mind the potential of re-establishing our approach to development; with collaboration and engagement as essentials which provide possibilities in Scandinavian cities; where the advantages of small-scale are a benefit for cities to work as a laboratory for engaging both public and private interests in urban development. The small city has many possibilities in Scandinavia, because they might be better at creating synergy between different actors in their city due to their need to evolve.

Here are some examples of how Scandinavian cities have started the process of engaging citizens as a means to contribute to the development of their city.

Hamar, Norway – A city that with interesting citizen engagement projects and is one of four pilot cities for a Norwegian BID project as well as working with public life and public space quality.

Dreamhamar, a collective dream to redesign the city center of Hamar.

Hamar Municipality, Buromsplan (report by Gehl Architects).

Malmö, Sweden – A city that actively uses different dialogue tools to engage citizens and evolve
the city.

Parascopes: Imagine potential futures in Malmö City.

New trial pedestrian street in central Malmö.

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A sense of urgency and a need for simplicity

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In early February, Jan Gehl and I went to Washington DC and New York City to present How to Study Public Life and engage in a conversation and debate about how to create cities for people. It was evident from our varying types of public engagements that there is a sense of urgency to create cities for people in the US. There is also the need to acquire simple tools that enable politicians, planners and others engaged in making livable cities a reality – not only a reality for the few or those living downtown – but for all in the city centers as well as in the boroughs and suburbs.

In How to Study Public Life, we outline the field of ‘public life studies’– with many representatives from the US, such as Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte, Peter Bosselmann. This story has not been written before, and we have often been puzzled by how few people work within this field. The weeklong visit underlined many engaging conversations,  the need to address climate issues, questions of equity, health issues, livability, an aging population and many other challenges where the urban – the cities – are key to finding solutions.

It is not only ‘cities’ which see that they have to work with the issues, foundations, developers, NGO’s and many others are also engaged in solving these complex issues which are in  desperate need of intelligent solutions. A part of the answers could be found by asking more qualified questions and learning more about what it is that actually works and doesn’t work in cities – not only in terms of function and intention, but on a daily basis, to bring quality into people’s lives and address the big challenges in society.

From complex to simple

In the 1960’s, Jane Jacobs raised fundamental questions about what kind of cities we want, there seems to be an urge to go from the complex to the simpler. The field of public life studies started with epicenters in Berkeley, California, New York City and Copenhagen, to systematize knowledge on the interaction between form and life and ask basic questions about who, when, where, etc. The tools are more complex today, with more possibilities/techniques, but there is at the same time a demand for the simpler tool to gather what can be really complex: life in cities.

How to Study Public Life is a book that presents tools and stories which are meant to inspire people to look at and experience the city themselves, not only in quantitative ways, but to really understand the essence of the living city. What works, what does not? What kind of city do we want? If the answer is a livable city for everybody, we should go out and document if ‘everybody’ is already there, or who is missing? Children? The elderly? How about activities on a Tuesday morning, a Sunday afternoon, a dark night? And then use the knowledge we already have as well as new knowledge on these topics so it does not just become a series of hollow visions, words on paper, ideal plans with renderings of a varied life in new neighborhoods and then a deserted reality when realized.

We need to pose the right questions

Today, we are gathering more and more data and will only get even more in the future. But then the big question becomes: And then what? What do we do with the data? And in order to pose the right questions to know what data to look for and to know what answers to look for, we need an understanding of how life works.

Cities strive to be attractive, competitive, to do-good for the climate, to be safer, more sustainable, accommodate an aging population and many more challenges, but it is quite rare that we actually learn from what we build and what has already been built. It is not a matter of doing it perfectly, but to make cities better for people based on knowledge in the cross disciplinary field of public life studies which  deals with people’s behavior, the built environment and how we can make cities better for people to supplement other more technical evaluations and input.

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It Takes a Village to Create Transit Oriented Development

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HarborPoint in Baltimore. (Graphic: ASG, Baltimore)

HarborPoint in Baltimore. (Graphic: ASG, Baltimore)

Although the linkage between land use and transportation is well understood, the debate about what is cause and effect causes consternation in the land use and transportation agencies.
Therefore, a few thoughts on urban transit and what it takes to do Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

Even in cities one can find plenty of areas that are not transit supportive.Often brand-new transit stations preside over a hole in the doughnut, when sitting in an old railroad, streetcar, or highway right-of-way.  Neighborhoods grow and shrink, shopping areas shift, attractions get added or abandoned, many reasons why transit supportive urban fabric is not necessarily located where transit is or is planned to be.

Development typically follows “the market”. No market and nothing will happen regardless how much somebody would like to fill a hole in the doughnut.

Baltimore has lost much of its industry and a third of its population. It has tried every transit technology: A subway line, a cheaper light rail line, commuter trains and a spaghetti bowl of bus lines. Now a new $2.6 billion cross-town Red Line light rail is planned, downtown in a tunnel, on the surface beyond. In short, transit stations galore, many of them in doughnut holes.

Seen from the development angle stations fall into two groups, those with a market and those in disinvested areas with no or little demand for new development. Given those fundamental differences it may feel illogical to call both areas “TOD challenged”. But neither absent development nor development without consideration for transit are TOD.

Nothing will change if transit agencies declare “we do transit and not land use” and city departments hide behind the walls of their core responsibilities like housing, parks, traffic, planning and economic development. To make TOD happen, it takes all these parties to interact with each other and bust out of their own comfort zones.

In Los Angeles then Mayor Villaraigosa realized this and directed an interdepartmental TOD Subcabinet

LA TOD, Meridian Village, South Pasadena (Photo ArchPlan)

LA TOD, Meridian Village, South Pasadena
(Photo ArchPlan)

In Atlanta the Atlanta Beltline Inc. and the Beltline Partnership, both non profits, worked with a somewhat reversed priority: Trails and parks, have been created prior to transit creating value which spurred new development.

Atlanta Beltline

Atlanta Beltline

In Minneapolis/St. Paul the Central Corridor and the Green Line light rail projects received a HUD Sustainable Communities grant to leverage community benefits (article) resulting in the Corridors of Opportunity. (Video)

In the Washington suburbs a Purple Line Corridor Coalition pursues similar goals for the planned circumferential light rail line connecting various metro terminals.

One of the granddaddies of successful TOD is Arlington County, VA which has used Washington’s Metro for decades to concentrate growth around the county’s subway stations. (slide show). Which brought smart growth to the county and more riders to transit than surface parking ever could.

Clarendon, Arlington County VA, TOD with retail, offices and housing

Clarendon, Arlington County VA, TOD with retail, offices and housing

In Baltimore the state transit agency (MTA) and the city recognized the TOD challenge in a Red Line “Community Compact” for better communities. Land use improvements are required by the Federal Transit Administration for federal funding. In the spirit of these considerations the MTA conducted community based station area planning and the city created new TOD zoning. Yet, while bad regulations may prevent development, even the best regulations and visions will not make development happen. How to get from plans to actual TOD?

The Baltimore Community Compact names a few: Land banking, land disposition, public private partnerships and creative funding. Other steps would be development “freezes” (to prevent new non transit-supportive investments next to a station), facilitation with developers, and land owners to find out how they could be enticed to invest in high risk zones. This could mean scaling development so that several investors come out of the gate together instead of one early pioneer taking all the risk. It also means carefully leveraging public infrastructure investments. A mayoral TOD working group would not simply review developers submissions, but remove obstacles for investment.

Transit supportive land use is not only good transit, it  also grows the tax base and creates equity within communities, many starved for services and access to jobs. An obvious catalytic element in “market challenged” station areas would be good affordable housing.

To make catalytic projects reality, suitable development lots need to be assembled, master developers found, public private partnerships created and public assets leveraged. Assets can be land, entitlements, tax increment financing or bonds.

A proactive interagency group that goes beyond policy and regulation and focuses on implementation is needed to coordinate these steps.

Uneven markets, fear, false perceptions about transit, sentiments against density and years of auto oriented policies must be overcome, investment in the wrong places be made less attractive. In short: Each city needs the “entire village” before TOD visions can become reality.

Read the full-lenght article on the subject at Klaus Philipsen’s blog Community Architect

 

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Former Gas Station fuels Community

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Once upon a time, a city’s affluence could be measured by its transportation infrastructure: a constant flow of traffic pulsing along asphalt veins, reaching outwards from the heart of the city was an indubitable symbol of progress and prosperity. Today, this attitude is increasingly challenged. In Montréal, I have come across one of the clearest examples of contemporary skepticism towards the automobile-enthusiasm of previous decades that I have ever encountered, in the form of a Mies van der Rohe gas-station-turned-community-centre.  The gas station was transformed to its new vocation by the architects “Les Architectes FABG”, who have succeeded in turning the glass and steel-framed modern building into warm and welcoming place for the local community. While the former gas station fuelled the lives of people in four-wheeled metal confinements, the community centre bursts the bubble of individualization with a message of togetherness and shared responsibility. Though the architectural alterations to the building are subtle, they herald a significant societal change.

In 1966, world-famous architect Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to build the gas station in a relatively unknown Montreal suburb, and for forty years the station faithfully served automotive commuters. The building was both architecturally and substantively a luxurious expression of modernism – a temple dedicated to the two gods of modernity: technology and consumerism.  The era came to an end in 2008 when commercial operation ceased, and the station was closed. In 2009, the building was recognized as an icon of urbanization and given heritage status by the city of Montréal. The conversion was then carried out by FABG, and in 2012 the gas station reopened as a community centre running on collectivity and green energy.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Nun's Island Gas Station (1969), converted to a Community Center and reopened in 2012.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Nun’s Island Gas Station (1969), converted to a Community Center and reopened in 2012.

Today, cars galore are still passing the former gas station, but their rhythm is interrupted; the station fuels a different style of life. Situated on the corner of a busy intersection, the transparency of the glass facades mocks the passing drivers with clear views of the people gathering in the station. Inside the glass volumes, the banter of seniors engaged in an animated round of pool, mix with the voices of teenagers standing around a foosball table. The former sales station is now the “youth lounge” and on the opposite side of the pumping island the car-service has turned into a seniors-lounge.  The project’s success in honoring both the original building and the demands of its new vocation lies in the sensitivity of the discrete transformation. It is the silence of the change that leaves room for the community’s voice. The warmth radiating from the people inside the glass and steel station inspires visions of a world, where all the worn car-pledged marvels from our parents’ generation have become green community centres; a fresh response to our hectic and individualized society.

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The rise of the suburbs: What will become the future of city-living in Christchurch?

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By Julia Suh Architect ? Urban Strategist, Australia

In a suburb called Ilam, only 5 minutes’ drive away from the “red zone” in the earthquake-struck city of Christchurch, lives and works Richard Gardiner, a retired high school design teacher. His one-and-a-half-storey bungalow, built in 1927, was relatively unaffected by the earthquake. “We are very fortunate,” he said and took a moment to reflect before continuing. “We had no major structural damage to the house apart from the chimney. The day after the earthquake I climbed onto the roof to take down the remaining bits of chimney. A silly idea I realised afterwards, with all the relentless aftershocks!” he said. Gardiner set up his architectural model making business Scaled Down not long before the earthquake shattered the city on 22 February 2011. The disastrous event unexpectedly turned what began as a personal hobby into a full-time career. “I would say 75% of the commissions are from ordinary people wanting to keep something to remind themselves of their destroyed houses, and more importantly, the memories they built in them,” Gardiner said. With the opportunity for renewal also comes the tension of how much of our past we should hold onto.

Almost 3 years after the catastrophic day, standing in the midst of vast gravel fields of the Central Business District (CBD) where office buildings, hotels and restaurants once stood, I certainly have difficulty picturing what the city, my hometown since 1994, used to look like. As a high schooler in the mid-nineties, my usual hangouts were limited to friends’ houses, suburban malls and numerous neighbourhood parks, while taking the bus to “the city”, “the (Cathedral) Square” or “Hoyts on Moorehouse Ave” was a special and almost rebellious action. Not that there was anything particularly exciting in the CBD, but at least it was a good place to watch tourists with large cameras hanging from their necks, see who is winning the Giant Chess game and, sometimes, hear the Wizard speak nonsense – or the truth – from the top of a wooden ladder. At the end of the day, after what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of wait, I would be glad to be on the bus back to the comfort and safety of my suburban home.

When I turned 16, I had a weekend job in a souvenir store on Colombo Street. A short segment of Colombo Street to the south of the Cathedral Square was lined with restaurants and shops then, mainly serving foreign tourists, and in turn activating the otherwise quiet CBD. In the following decade, I would frequently visit my hometown from Auckland, New York or Sydney, and enjoy its slow-paced suburban life as well as urban renewal projects in the CBD: the Christchurch Tram reappeared after 41 years of absence, as a tourist attraction; the City Mall underwent significant facade and landscape upgrades to become more pedestrianised; public buses became better organised at a central bus interchange; and a new NZ$47.5M art gallery became a welcome addition to the arts precinct. All of them are now partly or completely closed due to post-earthquake repair works.

Skeleton of the Christchurch Cathedral remains for now

Skeleton of the Christchurch Cathedral remains for now

The site of former City Mall is cleared for new developments.

The site of former City Mall is cleared for new developments.

Some vacant lots have been turned into parking lots. They largely remain empty

Some vacant lots have been turned into parking lots. They largely remain empty

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament awaits future demolition or restoration. In the meantime shipping containers support its edges.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament awaits future demolition or restoration. In the meantime shipping containers support its edges

Now constant road works and the lack of amenities in the CBD are driving businesses to relocate to or start new in the suburbs, begging a question that needs to be asked: what characteristics do we intend our suburbs to have? While suburban malls like the Westfield in Riccarton have been busy around the clock with the loss of CBD, earthquake-displaced boutique stores were left with no place to go for a while. A recent redevelopment of a former tannery site in Woolston, rightfully called The Tannery, is already proving to be a success. The 1.8-hectare site is to house 70 tenants when completed, including a pilates studio, an art gallery, bars and shops. “No corporates. We only accept boutique retailers. Keep things nice and local,” Bruce, a project manager of The Tannery, said.

Julie, a manager at a home store called Cosi Fan Tutte, likes being able to stay close to her neighbourhood. “The earthquake changed everything from the way we shop and work, to the way we socialise. To be honest, I hardly used to spend much time in the CBD before the earthquake, apart from picking up a few things from Ballantynes (department store). And now, I never go there. The roads are bad, and there are more stores popping up in my neighbourhood. I shop here, work here, live here and socialise in friends’ homes. There is a stronger sense of community than before but I do miss live music – there aren’t that many places to go for entertainment,” Julie said.

Hornby, one of the damage-free suburbs, is also booming. Mitre 10, a giant hardware store, set up a mega store there following the earthquake. Next door, other big boxes selling things like curtains, paint and bikes followed suit. (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has wonderful mapping of rebuilding efforts including the current status of demolition/building works, population change, and “anchor projects” in the CBD.)

However, this unique opportunity to recast a vision for Christchurch must not look at the suburbs and CBD in isolation. Evan Smith, a community organiser of CanCERN (Canterbury Communities’ Earthquake Recovery Network), argues the city must be built upon “village values”. In the first instance the phrase scares me (and also reminds me of Howard’s diagram of The Three Magnets, where he advocates values of Town-Country). A city is not a collection of suburbs, it is not a village or a town. A city must aspire to innovation, culture, education, creative arts: it must be a hub that fosters congregation of people in an organised and accidental manner. I appreciate “Village values” interpreted as self-organising communities that help each other at times of needs or as a set of more independent infrastructure systems. I also don’t see the suburb as the devil in urban development – some folks like my parents enjoy living in their suburban house of 20 years with a large vegetable patch, two cars, and kind neighbours. However, the City of Christchurch must not go back to its past that had two separate entities: the CBD for working and suburbs for living.

While the city presents an ambitious vision for a new CBD with various specialties from Retail Precinct to Health Precinct, it is not clear, without residential or mixed use mapping, how these precincts will accommodate and foster vibrant city living. Cafes, restaurants and bars alone do not make public spaces vibrant; people do. The city centre needs to be a place for living, not just for working or socialising. In contrast to suburbs that can take on distinct, excluding characteristics over time, Christchurch Central Development is an opportunity for more diverse, walkable, mixed communities in the city centre. One that I hope, will encourage my parents to try out city-living as they reach their 70′s.

World Buskers' Festival takes place on the site of Re:START, CBD's transitional pedestrian mall.

World Buskers’ Festival takes place on the site of Re:START, CBD’s transitional pedestrian mall.

RAD Bikes is one of many community-led initiatives to activate the city centre. Everyone is welcome to use the workshop or seek help from a volunteer on duty to repair bikes.

RAD Bikes is one of many community-led initiatives to activate the city centre. Everyone is welcome to use the workshop or seek help from a volunteer on duty to repair bikes.

New bike lanes are encouraging residents to cycle more. The network is still far from complete, but it is a start. Check out the network map on Transport for Christchurch

New bike lanes are encouraging residents to cycle more. The network is still far from complete, but it is a start. Check out the network map on Transport for Christchurch

Read more on Julia Suh’s observations on city-living at her urban research blog Urbia.

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Tokyo – Small Scale in Mega City

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Six years ago, Gehl Architects traveled to Tokyo on a study trip. Throughout the many planned site visits, meetings and collaborative sessions, we managed to meet Darko Radovic, who recently joined our ‘team of specialists’ – our external collaborators who bring ‘specialist’ knowledge to our projects. Darko is founder of Co+Labo at KEIO University, where David Sim, Partner at Gehl Architects, has been a guest lecturer for the last 3 years.

Students mapping 'life' in Tokyo

Students mapping ‘life’ in Tokyo

In the spring of 2013 David collaborated with students from Co+Labo to observe and map ‘life’ in the streets of Tokyo. As a result of this collaboration, a new publication from Co+Labo at KEIO University is in the pipeline, the fifth book in the series called “Measuring the Non-Measurable”. The “Measuring the Non-Measurable” topic encompasses seminars and publications which highlight the methods of putting numbers to, and understanding what livable (and loveable) cities contain, while determining key qualities of best practice human centered urban environments. In book number 3, “Intensities in Ten Cities” David also contributed an essay entitled “Notes on Nyhavn – 34 Observations”.

Yesterday I had the chance to sit down with David to talk about the collaboration with Co+Labo. We talked about the Tokyo experience and what we can learn from this fascinating city and how we can further inspire each other to continue developing better cities for people. Here are some of the essentials from the conversation, which highlighted the importance of focusing on details and the necessity for the human scale in mega cities.

Capturing City Life

Gehl Architects has a tradition and methodology for capturing city life, and these methods have been transformed and developed since they were first introduced by Jan Gehl in the 1960’s. Different contexts and cities influence the evolution of the methodology and how it is applied. For example, the city of Tokyo provides, through its careful attention to detail, culture, and small-scale experiences, inspiration for how we capture and measure the broader picture of city life. This awareness to details and small-scale situations fits perfectly  with the Gehl methodology of listening and looking to evolve an understanding of city ‘life’, and therefore serves as an inspiration, and points to a possible evolution of our methods.

Small-scale situations in a big city

When you visit Tokyo you are immediately struck by the scale, size and intimacy of the things and environments around you. You come to understand that a big place can actually have a human scale, a combination, which we can learn from as our cities urbanize at a quicker and quicker pace.

City 'life' in Tokyo

City ‘life’ in Tokyo

The human scale can be introduced when you connect the physical environment to the people and businesses using them, for example in Tokyo where small design shops and creative businesses are reusing basements, former apartments, etc. over the expanse of neighbourhoods. This is a tendency which is the opposite from the symptom of gathering a cluster of shops in one place, as we see in large scale malls. Acknowledging that this can be part of the urban fabric, an urban environment with an emotional appeal as well as a functional and physical one, offers an interesting way to introduce the human scale into a highly urbanized environment.

There are many ‘life’ situations that you can never recreated in malls or high-streets. The experience of personal encounters between people is a value for city life that has been overlooked in the functional and effective evolution of western cities. Thereby, Tokyo’s small scale offers us some insight and inspiration on how to introduce the small scale in big cities.

Scale in Tokyo

Tokyo is a mega city and there is a paradox in its attention to the small. Although the growth in Asia is increasingly rapid, Asia has an incredible tradition for detail and small scale interactions which offers many opportunities for creating new developments that apply best practice knowledge of planning and designing for the human scale.

Human-scale in Tokyo

Human-scale in Tokyo

The Japanese tradition for sophisticated and detail oriented design and behavior resonates with an attention to the human scale in city development. Japan has  an interesting focus on quality, highly developed and sophisticated design, combined with a tradition of smallness and human scale, a focus that might help us as we develop mega cities around the world.

Inspired by the experience in Japan, our tools, for determining and developing city life, have potential to evolve for and in an Asian context, and could add to the global experience of inspiring for small-scale development in cities around the world.

Have a listen, to another thought about the  Tokyo, where children and families benefit from the human scale in their everyday life. From The Urbanist broadcast from Monocle (Tokyo Story starts 23 min into the program)

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Brussels – a city of cars, Amsterdam – a city of cyclists

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In September, I moved to Brussels for my studies. Before arriving I knew little about the Belgian (and de-facto European) capital besides what I learned when I visited in 2010 and what I heard from friends:  tasty waffles and fries, a strange statue of a boy peeing, two official languages and a good system of trams. I had been told it often rains and each time I told someone my Master’s program involves studying in four European cities, unequivocally Brussels prompted the least enthusiastic response.

It turns out that Brussels is an incredibly interesting city – the politics, the culture, the diversity and its interesting past make it great material for learning about cities. It is also a liveable kind of city; with everything an urbanite needs (although public transportation could be better: all transit ends by midnight during the week). However, there is one major problem:  the car culture.

The thing that hands down surprised me the most about Brussels is the number of cars and the sheer place devoted to automobiles in the city. Cycling in Brussels is challenging for several reasons (the hills, the cobblestone), not least the cars.  In fact, Brussels is arguably the most congested city in Europe.

This surprised me not only because of the stereotypes I had about European cities being from North America, but also because during my internship at the Montreal Urban Ecology Center last year we would often cite the progressive highway code in Belgium, which (it would seem) gives priority to the most vulnerable road users (pedestrians first and then cyclists). However, after five months in Brussels, it seems that at least in this Belgian city the code is not fully embraced – or enforced.

First, pedestrians are not given priority. At crosswalks they often they wait for cars to stop and often the cars do not. Distance between crosswalks exacerbates the problem as pedestrians choose to cut across to avoid long detours. In 2009, there were 88 deaths for every 1 million inhabitants in Belgium (compared to 43 in the Netherlands) and Brussels has the most traffic accidents of Belgium with 1000 accidents per million vehicle kilometers driven in 2010, in comparison to less than 500 in both Gent and Liège (CEESE – ULB et Transport & Mobility Leuven 2009).

The Atomium in Brussels

The Atomium in Brussels

Second, there are cars everywhere, even under the Atomium, which is something like the Eiffel Tower of Belgium. There are many parking lots in Brussels, including large lots in front of the town halls. Finally, there are even cars in the parks. One of the largest parks, Bois de la Cambre, is cross-crossed by roads, with few pedestrian crosswalks, forcing pedestrians to cross traffic to continue walking, running or cycling (although the roads at closed Friday to Sunday in the summer months).

In comparison, Amsterdam is a cyclists’ paradise. This came as no surprise, Amsterdam is known to be one of the most cyclable cities. However, I felt it all the more after living in Brussels.  Amsterdam is smaller and flatter than Brussels, which makes walking and cycling easier and more enjoyable, especially along the canals which give a romantic feeling to the city (Brussels also has a canal, but it remains largely industrial). The bicycle paths are extensive, connected and separated from traffic. Cyclists have priority, even over pedestrians it seems, as many times I had to stop to allow cyclists to pass as I walked in the centre.

Cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam

In the four days I was walking around Amsterdam I only heard a car honk once, while in Brussels drivers honk habitually. In Brussels you must plan your trip by bicycle ahead of time to avoid congested roads and steep inclines, but in Amsterdam even as a tourist I was able to manoeuvre the city with little difficulty though it is true that pedestrians must be wary of oncoming bicycle traffic. I was even able to cycle outside the city, explore residential areas and make my way back to the centre thanks to a system signage along the bicycle path network.

The level of car usage and congestion is a problem for Brussels. So much that recently the mayor of Brussels commune, which is the city centre of the Brussels Capital Region, has talked about decreasing cars from the city centre, namely from Anspach, a large boulevard. The Netherlands do not have significantly less cars than Belgium (449 per 1000 inhabitants versus 471 in Belgium), yet car usage is visibly lower in the Netherlands. While there are challenges to shifting mode choice in Brussels – a car culture, a sprawling urban population, and a challenging topography – the city should move towards a less car-dependent model, as the current state of congestion, stressed drivers and vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists resembles more an American city than a city that wishes to be capital of Europe.

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‘SkyCycle’ in London

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Image by Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax

Image by Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax

IN CONVERSATION – Just before, we entered into the new year, Foster + Partners, Exterior Architecture, and Space Syntax presented their spectacular, and maybe utopian, project SkyCycle.

A project, which would provide over 220 kilometres of safe, car free cycle routes on elevated decks above the existing suburban rail corridors of London. For details of the project visit Foster+Partners website.

It’s not a wonder that this radical suggestion for improving cycling in London has been proposed in the wake of recent tragic cycling accidents in London, and the media attention this has evoked.

The challenge of improving cycling in London was already a hot topic in the Gehl office, so it did not take long before the SkyCycle project sparked a conversation between three of the Gehl partners; Kristian Villadsen, Henriette Vamberg, and Jeff Risom. (Please note that we do not know all of the details related to the SkyCycle project, but would love to know more!).

Here is a peek into the conversation between the three…

The ´Skycycle´ project

Kristian: SkyCycle can been seen as a conversation starter for discussing the topic of cycling in London. Visualizations can be a great way to motivate a discussion as long as they don’t elude people into thinking it’s simple solutions, putting bicycles up in the air isn’t going to solve all conflicts, they are bound to come down at some point and then how do they fit in to the cities network, we need  integrated thinking.

Jeff: In short, I think it is part of a trend of Architects visualizing bold ideas and perhaps exaggerated ideas to start a discussion.  It is great that other major architecture firms help to put focus on bicycling as a part of a sustainable, healthy and economical beneficial model for cities

Henriette: I do not think you should put it off as a crazy idea, because the idea should be understood in its context. Overall bicycles in cities can be used in two ways; The short convenient ride, or the longer commuting ride, the SkyCycle project presents a way of using the railway corridors for efficient commuting by bicycle, going to the city center and then continuing via the cycle lanes, it demonstrate an interesting view on how to commute. Providing people with long tracks for longer and faster transport, and creating an alternative to the daily train ride.

Jeff: It is interesting, but bicyclists are not train riders, and this solution is built on an assumption of what users want when commuting 25 km a day. As opposed to train riders, we have to give bicyclists choice to stop simultaneously, alter their route and interact with their surroundings in another way then you do moving by train.

Henriette: Trains, are overcrowded and break down. This opportunity to cycle provides another possibility that is independent of anything other than you.

Commuting on bicycles?

Kristian: The city of Copenhagen has seen that the willingness of users to commute long distances on bicycles is growing every year, when you make these super quality routes. What is important is that these super cycle highways are a complementary solution, and not a sole solution to the cycling infrastructure of a city. An integrated network into a city, where the flexibility of designing your route every day from your bicycle is still possible. You can diversify your route to incorporate your shopping, visiting the library, or pick up the kids. If you are up on a segregated highway, you are not offered the conveniences that characterize the bicycle ride.

Henriette: In London you have a number of big train stations in the periphery of the city, and it is interesting that a lot of these corridors link the suburb to the city center. I see the SkyCycle network as a possible complement for commuters.

Kristian: But it could be a heavy investment to create this segregated bicycle network.

Henriette: Well not compared to developing the overburdened railway line. The smart thing about using the existing railway corridors in London is that they are continuous, where bicyclists can ride undisturbed by red lights. It is interesting since there are journeys that you just want to use to get from point A to B, a completely different thing than riding your bicycle in a city centre. Important to understand it in that context.

Kristian: There are three aspects related to the height. First, the height itself might exclude children and elderly and people with poor health conditions, simply by being too steep and these are really the groups that needs bicycles to go around. Second, it does seem a little out of the way to put the mode of traffic most influenced by weather conditions up in the air where winds are stronger and there is no protection from climate… they actually end up protecting the trains. Third, of course there is also a safety aspect, when you are up in the air you don’t have the same level of passive surveillance from people in windows and if you meet someone you don’t want to meet, how do you get away if the nearest exit is a mile away, you can’t really jump off…

Cycling in London 2014

Henriette: London has a rising bicycling population, as we know from Andrew Gilligan, Cycling Commissioner for London that accidents are actually going down, there have been a lot of unfortunate accidents.

Kristian: There are lot of other measure you can take other than segregation, when you are aiming for a safe bicycle infrastructure. We had a lot of right turn accidents in Copenhagen, but then a campaign was made and the right turn accidents were radically reduced. It is also about building a culture, not just infrastructure and street. More bicyclists will in themselves generate awareness because car drivers will start to expect cyclists. Still only 2% of people are traveling by bicycle in London, and they still need to get used to the consequences of incorporating cyclist into the city landscape. There are other ways to incorporate cyclists into the city infrastructure without putting them up in the air.

Jeff: It is about creating a joined-up mobility network, with many choices and comfortable, safe viable options where it is possible to go from bicycle to public transport easily and …

Henriette: There is a difference between commuting and city bicycling, the challenge is to integrate the commuting with the bicycling street infrastructure in the city.

Kristian: Another solution is the Green Wave, as in Copenhagen. Where the lights are matched to the bicycles through sensors that will register the speed on the bicycle lanes and adjust the lights. This is not about insisting on being very analog; it is about being smart about using new technologies and ideas for supporting an integrated network.

Jeff: My biggest concern would be a project that invests in mono-functional infrastructure. In 2014, given limited funding and material resources of today, we have to find ways to design and build the next generation of infrastructure that satisfies numerous problems and demands simultaneously. Could investments like this that would be good for cyclists also aid in distributed district heating, trash collection, material recycling,  or work together with regional production and distribution networks to make the ‘last mile’ of supply distribution more efficient.  Or we have to find smart ways to utilize disused infrastructure to satisfy current demands. Could dedicated bicycle tracks run along disused rail corridors?

As the conversation came to an end it was clear, that there is probably not a golden solution to the challenging task of creating a bicycling infrastructure in London. The thing that struck me as the main consideration after hearing the three partners, is their repeated efforts to bring the attention back to the users and their varying needs in the city. What do you think?

On a side note, here is a different type of cycle project in Hamburg that you might enjoy.

And an interesting piece of background to the latest media focus on dangerous bicycling in London.

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People in my city can walk too!

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Following on from our Winter Activities posts, we received this fantastic (and real) story from Chicoutimi, Quebec in Canada. Thanks to Sylvie Pilotte for sharing.

Something strange happened in my city, a concrete bridge caught fire at minus 25 degree Celsius two weeks ago. Repairs were being done under one of the pillars of the bridge; the wooden scaffold that was used caught fire during the evening. As a result, the bridge had to be closed for two weeks. It has not reopened yet.

Fortunately, beside the 40 year old concrete bridge stands an 80 years old steel bridge that is solely used by pedestrians.

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In the midst of a very unusual cold wave, temperature varying from minus 15 to minus 25 (minus forty with the wind factor), the citizens of Chicoutimi started walking…

This morning between 6AM and 8:30AM, we counted 3200 people crossing the one-kilometer long old steel bridge from the north shore to the south shore. We assume that maybe a thousand people were walking the opposite way.

The concrete bridge, «le pont Dubuc», supports an important traffic volume, 50 000 vehicles pass the bridge every day. With its closure we have to make a detour of 42 kilometres to reach the other side. That is the reason why the municipality decided to put in place an alternate transportation system to accommodate people who were willing to walk a little. The answer was amazing. I am flabbergasted by the response of my fellow citizens. Not only did they massively choose to walk and use the public transport system, which is free for the length of the crisis, but they also did it with joy and serenity.

So despite the fact that it can be quite problematic for certain aspect of the economy and quite difficult for certain individuals, this interlude in our normal life (it is supposed to end on Sunday) will remain for many a happy souvenir. The atmosphere on the bridge is joyous; we are sharing a new sense of community and the landscape around us is spectacular and we have time to admire it.

For two weeks, we have had a walkable city. As a landscape architect, an advocate of active transport and a true admirer of Jan Gehl’s principles, I can now prove to everybody around me that people in my city can walk too!

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Reflecting on Urban Play in Denmark

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The undulating deck of the Maritime Youth Center located in Amager Strand in Copenhagen invites rolling, climbing and exploration of the sloped surfaces.

The undulating deck of the Maritime Youth Center located in Amager Strand in Copenhagen invites rolling, climbing and exploration of the sloped surfaces.

A sign declaring, “Please Don’t Touch” sits in front of an indestructible 12 meter tall steel sculpture in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Oblivious to the warnings, kids run up to play on the massive red steel structure until, inevitably, someone points to the sign instructing them not to touch the artwork.

This sign, and other familiar signs such as “Please Don’t Walk on the Grass” characterize a common understanding of the urban landscape and its features as something to visually admire from a distance rather than interact with. While play and physical interaction with our surroundings is an intuitive social behavior, playful uses of the urban landscape and its features are often regarded as an illegitimate use of city space.

Over the last five months, I have had the opportunity to travel from my hometown of Seattle for an internship at Gehl’s office in Copenhagen. In the projects that Gehl does, and in a number of public spaces and buildings I have visited in Scandinavia, I’ve seen ways in which designers, artists and city inhabitants are challenging this traditional view of urban space as something to be passively observed from a distance.

A financial plaza at the SBC bank headquarters in Copenhagen is designed for many users, including skaters who find new challenges on a series of sloping concrete ramps.

A financial plaza at the SBC bank headquarters in Copenhagen is designed for many users, including skaters who find new challenges on a series of sloping concrete ramps.

A trampoline along Copenhagen´s waterfront invites many users to test their own limits, as well as spectators to watch.

A trampoline along Copenhagen´s waterfront invites many users to test their own limits, as well as spectators to watch.

A sculpture by Robert Jacobsen in Denmark doubles as a fun place to hang out.  (Image Credit: Jan Kronvold, "Robert Jacobsen Sculpture, Odense").

A sculpture by Robert Jacobsen in Denmark doubles as a fun place to hang out. (Image Credit: Jan Kronvold, “Robert Jacobsen Sculpture, Odense”).

These are a few examples that show that play does not need to be limited to spaces designated as such, but many features of the urban landscape can be designed and thought of as playscapes.

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In search of modern Hanoi: an identity crisis of a 1,000-year-old city

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“Em o’i!” called out the vendor when she caught my eyes examining her basket full of fresh baguettes. We exchanged glances, promptly followed by customary bargaining and transaction. She then swiftly disappeared to find her next customer. At sunrise, street vendors and shoppers in Hanoi’s Old Quarter begin signaling the start of a new day: red and blue plastic stools are laid out on the sidewalk to receive noodle soup seekers; megaphone-equipped metal carts make sure contained footwear does not go unnoticed; makeshift motorcycle-wash is quickly set up in the lane way marking its territory on dampened asphalt. Some mobile vendors nimbly move about on foot or by bicycle to deliver goods to their regulars, while others search for eyes lingering on their baskets of vegetables, fruits, snacks and flowers.

From each end of a bamboo pole pivoted on the vendor’s shoulder hang two baskets that delicately balance each other, forming an iconic image of Vietnam’s mobile street vendors. ‘Fixed’ vendors on the other hand, often with fast-food push carts, operate from sidewalks and lane ways serving patrons daily from the same spot. It is not unusual for ground-level eating houses to spill out onto the sidewalk with their mobile cooking facilities (cylindrical briquettes), food carts and plastic tables and stools, compensating for insufficient indoor space. I picked my favourite blue plastic stool facing St. Joseph’s Cathedral and sat for a while sipping Vietnamese iced tea under a striped awning. Later in the afternoon, an old lady with a baby in her arms would walk in as usual – the baby was passed around and entertained, until the lady decided she had enough chat for the day and took off. Some restaurants are more permanently equipped with a fixed kitchen, generously sized tables and comfortable chairs with backs, but curiously remain almost empty. Despite the fumes and noise from motorcycles zipping by, the locals’ preferred eating and drinking spots are still the sidewalk where food is cheap, space is flexible and people-watching is easy. The mask-wearing locals are certainly concerned about their polluted environment, however, coupled with inadequate public transport, Vietnam’s high motorcycle ownership in fact affords mobility and vibrant street life all over the city.

A woman delivers vegetables to eating houses early in the morning

A woman delivers vegetables to eating houses early in the morning

A mobile vendor comes around to sells snacks.

A mobile vendor comes around to sells snacks.

Sidewalks are promptly filled with informal workers providing services from shoe shine to motorcycle repair.

Sidewalks are promptly filled with informal workers providing services from shoe shine to motorcycle repair.

A motorcycle-wash is set up on a quiet street.

A motorcycle-wash is set up on a quiet street.

'Fixed' vendors set up outdoor seating in the lane way. Lane ways are a typical feature of a tube house, and provide 1-2m wide access to rear courtyards and houses.

‘Fixed’ vendors set up outdoor seating in the lane way. Lane ways are a typical feature of a tube house, and provide 1-2m wide access to rear courtyards and houses.

Eating houses provide plastic stools for eating and drinking on the sidewalk.

Eating houses provide plastic stools for eating and drinking on the sidewalk.

Ground level activities in Hanoi’s Old Quarter are largely associated with its trading tradition. The city centre’s urban fabric is predominantly shaped by ‘tube houses’. The deep and narrow plot size is dictated by centuries-old tax law: the wider the street frontage, the more the property tax. The regulation has led to an urban fabric of 3-4 story mixed use apartments bordering the streets (some growing taller, despite recent height regulation enforcement), with wide open ground level shops, offices and eating houses. Living spaces on upper floors are connected by internal stairs, accommodating 2-3 generations of families. Even when the ground level is not used for a family business or rented out, its façade still opens wide onto the street, fitted with glass sliding doors and metal gates. It is used for motorbike parking, tea drinking, TV-watching, cooking and eating, and the doors are often left unlocked and open to welcome visitors, both planned and unplanned.

There is a strong sense of community here. Robbers, as daring as they may have been to enter the house, would have a hard time leaving unseen by neighbours or street vendors. Children often eat and play outside their houses, claiming the sidewalk as an extension of their play room. At different times of the day, children, mums, teens, grandparents, travelers, workers spontaneously gather in Hanoi’s small and big pockets of public spaces. As I start walking to my usual bus stop for work, I must be prepared to dodge flying shuttlecocks, weave through chatty crowds, and most importantly safeguard myself from accelerating motorcycles.

Tube houses are modified at the owners/residents' discretion.

Tube houses are modified at the owners/residents’ discretion.

Active street frontages of tube houses keep neighbourhoods safe and engaging.

Active street frontages of tube houses keep neighbourhoods safe and engaging.

A motorcyclist pauses to watch a good game of badminton in the city centre.

A motorcyclist pauses to watch a good game of badminton in the city centre.

School children spill out onto the few public spaces in the city after school. Badminton is very popular amongst the young and the old.

School children spill out onto the few public spaces in the city after school. Badminton is very popular amongst the young and the old.

Hoàn Ki?m Lake provides a much needed break for pedestrians in the city centre.

Hoàn Ki?m Lake provides a much needed break for pedestrians in the city centre.

A badminton court at Hoàn Ki?m Lake transforms into a dance floor on Saturday nights.

A badminton court at Hoàn Ki?m Lake transforms into a dance floor on Saturday nights.

Motorcyclists will drive on the sidewalk if that has a chance of saving time. A number of traffic lights are set up and several zebra crossings exist, but a typical driver will accelerate through intersections, park on the sidewalk and dismiss pedestrians. The city is occupied by an urban population of 6.5 million people with a rural mentality: individual desires are prioritised over long-term collective gain.

On the one hand, the motorcycle has empowered people to be more mobile, allowing mums to pick up their kids from school, students to get to school and traders to transport goods for sale. On the other, it has become the central dictating principle in Hanoi’s urban planning. A number of provinces and districts were merged into Hanoi’s metropolitan area a few years ago, tripling its land area. Many commute long distances daily using the most viable transport option: motorcycles are affordable, convenient, and fast. Cycling is unsafe and slow, while the only local public transport mode, the bus network, is disconnected, slow and overcrowded. Despite the cheap bus fare (about 25 cents per ride, regardless of distance) and reasonable frequency of buses, driving a motorcycle makes sense for most adults. “The newer the model the better of course,” my 20-something-year-old students in Hanoi said. “You look cooler if you have a cool motorcycle. A bicycle, not so much,” they added. With a new Bus Rapid Transit system and light rail underway, the city hopes to see a gradual decrease in the use of private motorised transport.

Tr?n Phú street is getting ready for a new elevated light rail.

Tr?n Phú street is getting ready for a new elevated light rail.

St. Joseph's Cathedral plaza mainly functions as a pick-up/drop-off area for motorcyclists and cabs.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral plaza mainly functions as a pick-up/drop-off area for motorcyclists and cabs.

Vietnam’s leaders seem to envision a new modern Hanoi without its poorer past. While informal sector workers are being driven out from parts of the Old Quarter, ambitious plans for New Towns and large-scale developments are on the rise. Singaporean, Japanese and Korean developers are responding to Hanoi’s demand for more private and exclusive neighbourhoods away from the city centre, best accessed by private cars. The new housing largely consists of quasi-European villas with backyards and parking space, and nondescript high rise apartments. Shopping is conveniently done at a nearby mall that offers everything from food to clothes. “You can safely assume the villa residents will have their own cars and maids. They may have another house in the city centre closer to work, and spend the weekend in the villa, away from the polluted, crowded city. Or sometimes, they just leave the villa vacant for years as an investment property. Either way, they want this European look,” said a local architect currently finishing a project at Vincom Village.

As the Vietnamese get richer and aspire to more spacious, car-oriented living, we will see less of the vibrant public life than that which currently keeps streets safe, active and engaging, and more of a monotonous, large and unoccupied cityscape. Perhaps today’s economic downturn is a golden opportunity to reconsider what modern Hanoi should look like. I would start by acknowledging the informal sector workers as part of the economy, and applying housing principles that are in line with 1,000 years of Hanoi’s vibrant history.

The first of 9 phases of Ecopark, a US$8.2 billion development, is now occupied. By 2020 the 500 ha of land will be complete with more gated villas, schools, hospitals, parks, gyms, shops and offices.

The first of 9 phases of Ecopark, a US$8.2 billion development, is now occupied. By 2020 the 500 ha of land will be complete with more gated villas, schools, hospitals, parks, gyms, shops and offices.

Read more on Julia Suh´s observations on dense Asian cities at her blog “Urbia”

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Public Presentation in Lille – St. Sauveur

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A great update on the Lille Saint-Sauveur project…

The project is off to a great start after the public presentation on Thursday, November 28th, where David Sim, Creative Director and Partner at Gehl Architects was present.

Here is a chance to see some reactions from the public – children and adults – and further glimpses of the idea. (Click here to see the video).

Enjoy!

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Winter Activities

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Children of all ages sledding in the snow on a slope in the park. Ørstedsparken, Copenhagen.

Children of all ages sledding in the snow on a slope in the park. Ørstedsparken, Copenhagen.

The winter season is upon us in the northern hemisphere and in Scandinavia that means few hours of daylight, low temperatures and less people spending time outdoors in our cities and public spaces. But the darkness and the cold also bring possibilities. In cities all over Scandinavia the ‘Winter City’ is being celebrated with beautiful lighting and outdoor activities that invite people to enjoy city life and the changing seasons.

Here are some examples of winter-time activities and ‘spaces for people’ in cities…

Ice on the lakes in Copenhagen invites for curling. Curious spectators line-up to watch the game.

Ice on the lakes in Copenhagen invites for curling. Curious spectators line-up to watch the game.

The frozen lakes of Copenhagen invite for various activities. Combined with the wind, which is well known to Copenhageners, 'blokarting' is possible.

The frozen lakes of Copenhagen invite for various activities. Combined with the wind, which is well known to Copenhageners, ‘blokarting’ is possible.

A spot in the sun to enjoy the view, and a rest in the daily bicycle commute. Copenhagen.

A spot in the sun to enjoy the view, and a rest in the daily bicycle commute. Copenhagen.

Even in the winter most people in Copenhagen prefer to commute to and from their daily activities on their bicycle.

Even in the winter most people in Copenhagen prefer to commute to and from their daily activities on their bicycle.

A Christmas market in central Copenhagen attracts people.

A Christmas market in central Copenhagen attracts people.

Winter barbecue in Vinterparken in Östersund in Sweden.

Winter barbecue in Vinterparken in Östersund in Sweden.

Building a snowcastle brings together children of all ages and adds a new building to the city, framing a new public space and meeting spot. Östersund, Sweden.

Building a snowcastle brings together children of all ages and adds a new building to the city, framing a new public space and meeting spot. Östersund, Sweden.

Deckchairs form a great spot in the sun for people watching. Östersund, Sweden.

Deckchairs form a great spot in the sun for people watching. Östersund, Sweden.

Night-time ice skating framed by historical buildings and beautiful lighting. Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen.

Night-time ice skating framed by historical buildings and beautiful lighting. Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen.

Does your city lack opportunities for spending time outdoors in the winter? Or is your city already a great ‘Winter City’ that can serve as inspiration for other cities?

We hope that this served as inspiration for your ‘Winter City’ or has inspired you to share how your city stays active through the winter months.

Enjoy the season!

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Gehl Architects wins Lille – St. Sauveur Competition

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT – Helle Søholt, CEO & Founding Partner of Gehl Architects, reflects on winning the international competition for the ‘Saint-So’ neighbourhood of Lille, France.

On November 28th, Mayor Martine Aubry publicly announced a team led by Gehl Architects as the winners of an international competition for the ‘Saint-So’ neighbourhood of Lille, France. The team will have responsibility for the urban design of this new district, formerly a train yard. The 23hectare site will become a new neighbourhood of 2000 residences and will include shops, cultural and sports facilities. Our team was one of four shortlisted teams from 70 applicants, and we are honored to be chosen to stitch a new piece of fabric in this city that so critically connects Europe.

The team is comprised of our representative in France, urbaniste Claire Schorter, and in Lille architects Béal et Blankaert, Mageo, Artelia and tribu; and landscape architects Signes-Ouest.

A piece of city

In September, when we were finishing our entry for the Lille – Saint Sauveur masterplan competition in France, I had a dream …

In this dream, I did not see shiny tall buildings and stand-alone architecture. I saw the new district from the air, quiet and at night. All the streets and spaces were beautifully illuminated illustrating a network of lively streets and spaces that continued into the city center and surrounding neighborhoods.

When you see our proposed development framework for the Lille – Saint-Sauveur site, you will note that it has small urban blocks that enable development at a human scale, combining big urban infrastructure and legible spaces with a fine grain urban form. So where is the big idea, some might ask …

What I have described above, is our “big idea”:
To build a piece of the city that connects to Lille – to build a piece of future Lille.

Our team is passionate about what we do.
Gehl Architects does not take a traditional building approach to urban development.
We believe in a knowledge driven process, shared intelligence and great team work.

We are grateful to win this competition. We believe the qualities and goals described in the project – a sustainable, livable and people oriented place, are a perfect match with what we can deliver as an organization.

The types of cities that work with us show great leadership and have a remarkably simple focus in common: They want their cities to be especially kind to people. They have come to realize that people are the key to success in cities today!

And they are ready to work in new ways through a new process.

I started Gehl Architects together with Professor Jan Gehl in 2000, and today we represent a new generation of urbanists and a great team with the ambition to change the traditional planning paradigm and build ‘Cities for People’.

We are already advisors to some of the greatest and most innovative municipalities around the world. Winning this project in Lille enables us to take a next step as an organization. We will now also manage the design development and implementation of these ideas in a lead position with Lille. A city which offers a unique location in central Europe and a great tradition of courageous leaders and great decision makers. Thank you for this opportunity and congratulations to the team!

The Idea

David Sim, Creative Director and Partner talks about the winning proposal.

“First of all just working in Lille was a very enjoyable experience in itself. Lille is a beautiful city with a fascinating historic core – very much at the human scale – as well as being a dynamic city which has been at been at the forefront of urban innovation for the last couple of decades. Everyone has heard of Euralille and the infrastructural investments which have put Lille at the very heart of Europe – an hour from Paris, an hour from London and half an hour from Brussels.

The Saint Sauveur site is an exciting challenge. As so often with big pieces of railway infrastructure, the site divided the city and there was an opportunity to connect four very different parts of Lille to each other – we just had to work from the outside in and from the inside out, talking to each part of the surroundings in their own urban language and then bring each of these places and identities together into a great public space at the heart of the site for everyone to share.” – David Sim.

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Cyclists & Cycling Around the World

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"Cyclists & Cycling Around the World - Creating Livable & Bikeable Cities", a new book - edited by Juan Carlos Dextre, Michael Higes & Lotte Bech - was released at the opening of the 3rd Eimus Conference about Mobility in Lima. Peru Nov. 3rd, 2013.

“Cyclists & Cycling Around the World – Creating Livable & Bikeable Cities”, a new book – edited by Juan Carlos Dextre, Michael Higes & Lotte Bech – was released at the opening of the 3rd Eimus Conference about Mobility in Lima. Peru Nov. 3rd, 2013.

At the Eimus Conference about Mobility in Lima, Peru earlier in November, cycling was a hot discussion topic. The book “Cyclists & Cycling Around the World – Creating Livable & Bikeable Cities” was released at the launch of the conference.

The book presents 25 different experts from around the world who have contributed with cases covering topics such as, Cycle Culture, Liveable and Bikeable Cities, Cycle infrastructure, Safety for Cyclists, Bicycles, Cycling Policy, Cycle Advocacy and Education. Professor Lars Gemzøe from Gehl Architects was a keynote speaker at the conference and has contributed to the book with a case about Copenhagen and the development of cycle and pedestrian life. The book can be bought here.

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Urban interventions in Mar del Plata #2

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Pilot project in Calle Güemes – Phase 1

The first round of pilot project implementations has been carried out in Mar del Plata by the Municipality, and is ready for the busy summer season! The pilot projects have come to life in a close working relationship between Gehl Architects, the Municipality, the citizens and local business owners as well as through numerous surveys and registrations on site in the city – see Urban Interventions in Mar del Plata by Ola Gustafsson for more information and background story.

Calle Güemes March 2013

Calle Güemes March 2013

The pilot project is the first of three and is situated in the busy shopping and leisure street of Calle Güemes. As a first step towards changing the street layout, one block has been implemented in order to test the solution before extending it to eight more blocks. Testing the pilot in one block allows the municipality to measure the effect of the changes and to make possible adjustments before carrying out the rest of the pilot projects. As part of the test period of one month, follow up surveys and interviews are being carried out in the street.

Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

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Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

The pilot project consists of; improved pedestrian crossings in the intersections with enhanced corner spaces also holding bicycle parking, seating and shade; better space for pedestrian movement along the street – space that has been located by allocating the outdoor serving along the street to a series of small parklets along the sidewalk, freeing the sidewalk space from chairs and tables; parklets that are located along the sidewalk and holds both spaces for outdoor serving as well as public seating areas with chairs and tables, benches and urban lounges, umbrellas that provide shade and planters to green the street and to create a safe zone between the parklets and the vehicular lanes. Bicycle and motorcycle parking has been integrated in the parklet zone that also holds spots for car parking.

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The local team has been working very hard on getting to this stage of the process and we are super exited to see that citizens of all ages have already taken the interventions into use.

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Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

Calle Güemes November 2013 (image courtesy of Municipality of Mar del Plata)

Click to see interview with Santiago Bonafatti, Head of Department, Municipality of Mar del Plata

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São Paulo – Feature #1

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In the effort to make the historic downtown of São Paulo lively, safe and attractive to people, Gehl Architects have been hired by Itaú Unibanco to assist São Paulo Urbanismo in the development of new public spaces.

A new heart for São Paulo

“When darkness falls, people quickly disappear from the sidewalks. The shops close their shutters and the streets turn into long, dark alleys. The historic downtown is not a place where people go for a drink, a coffee or a walk. In fact it seems a bit deserted at night”

This description is given by CEO of Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt, who shares her thoughts on the ambience in the area surrounding Vale do Anhangabaú, one of the largest and most central squares in São Paulo.

In the 1970′s the city was ahead of the curve in their approach to public spaces. At the time,
car-free zones were established. The city center was filled with pedestrian areas where people
were seen relaxing on benches or strutting around among colorful telephone booths, shaped like giant oranges.

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An ambitious plan

São Paulo has always had a strong architectural foundation, influenced by ground-breakers, like Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier.  However, during the 1980s, city planning ceased.

Following the end of the dictatorship in 1988, the city evolved rapidly but also randomly, according to Helle Søholt. Jobs disappeared from downtown, families started to move away, and slowly the area was transformed into a place with many vacant buildings. Most of the businesses that used to occupy the ground floors closed down, and nowadays upper floors are used primarily for product storage and ground floors for parking.

The area has become a place people mainly go to if they have a specific errand to run or if they work in one of the public sector offices. Few go there for leisure, explains Helle Søholt, unless attending one of the many events. Now the city has decided to do something about it.

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“A new mayor and a new operational chief for city planning were elected in November of last year, and one of their goals is to rectify the old city center. The municipal council is currently working on a very ambitious plan. They are serious about generating more life and daily day-time activities into the area.”

One of the visions is to breathe new life into Vale do Anhangabaú. Today the large central square functions mainly as an event space and does not facilitate everyday use, even though there is a large body of potential users that pass by on the nearby streets and cross the square every day on their way to and from public transport, going to work and school in the area.

An inclusive process

“Our job is to facilitate the process, but we believe that it is important to understand and respect the historical and cultural context. In order to broaden our perspective, and include a variety of voices and viewpoints, we’ve held a series of workshops, where we have included various local experts,” explains David Sim, Creative Director at Gehl Architects.

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The people attending the workshops have been a mixture of architects, engineers, police officers, bicycle enthusiasts and people who work to conserve Brazilian cultural heritage.

“If a city needs a new heart, it’s important to include everyone in the process. It’s their city. That’s why it is only right to give them the opportunity to make their mark. Only by including people in the planning process can they truly engage and get a sense of ownership in a project like this one.”

Observing city life

For example, a part of the workshop included a simple exercise in observation –  a group of 30 people going to the square and observing life unfolding.
“Basically we started by identifying all the things we could agree upon. Generally when you have a lot of people involved in a process like this – a good starting point is unity. Finding similarities instead of differences.” he says.

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“We quickly agreed that there was a need for more trees, as well as a need for more activities so we should include kiosks, cafes and free wifi. There was also a general consensus regarding some form of water on the square, and a more uniform surface and universal access, so everyone would be able to go there, regardless of any disabilities. On the whole we agreed that it should be a flexible place suited for both large events as well as an everyday place where you would want to eat your lunch or just chill.”

Acupuncture for cities

Gehl Architects define one of their ways of working as ‘urban acupuncture’. The idea is that if you make an effort to create an area that is inviting and people- friendly, the effect will spread to other neighbourhoods.

In addition to the project in Vale de Anhangabaú, Gehl Architects has been commissioned to facilitate a process for 4 pilot projects in selected parts of the city, says Architect Sofie Kvist.

“Currently city life in the old city center is very objective-based: You go to the market, visit a pedestrian street for shopping or you go there for work or to study. Everyday life is not particularly supported, so there’s no incentive to hang around in the area.”

A better pedestrian environment

The purpose of the pilot projects is to improve the environment in order for everyday life to flourish. The first one is expected to be launched in December 2013, and is aimed towards the area surrounding the busy shopping street of 25 de Março, which is typically crammed with people.

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The pilot project gives space back to the pedestrians and reorganizes the street vending to create a better pedestrian and shopping environment. This is already part of a reoccurring Christmas event. The pilot prolongs the period of street closure and adds elements such as wayfinding, seating and art into the street.

“Including local stakeholders and creating partnerships with possible contributors and locals to the area is crucial in order to make the pilots a success,” explains Sofie Kvist

One of many ideas is to transform a side street which today is used for parked cars, into a small recreational square, where people can take a break, relax, and get a drink in between shopping on the busy 25 de Março. There are among other initiatives plans to install benches, tables, parasols and food stands that sell local delicacies.

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Helle Søholt hopes that Gehl Architects can contribute by making São Paulo more inviting to people.

“We want to contribute to changing people’s impression of the city center. Hopefully these pilot projects will place the city center on people’s ’mental maps’, and change their perception of the urban spaces.”

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Cycling in Nürnberg

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In 2009, the City Council in Nürnberg developed a cycling strategy, and since a lot of initiatives have been made to encourage cycling in Nürnberg.

In an aim to further develop Nürnberg as a city for cyclist, the film crew visited Copenhagen for inspiration. They stopped by the Gehl office for an interview with Camilla van Deurs. In her interview, Camilla provides examples from a variety of Gehl project and shares simple solutions for making improvements to cycling conditions in cities.

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The Monocle Guide to Better Living

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Monocle just published their first book, “The Monocle Guide to Better Living”, and we are happy to be presented among the inspiring “20 Ways To Make Your City Better” section on cities.

To get your own copy!

 

 

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“Whispering Dishes” launches “Living Innovation Zone”

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A kind of blend of place-making and place-based leaning, the first Living Innovation Zone (LIZ) called ‘Whispering Dishes’ launched on Tuesday, October 26th along Market Street in San Francisco. LIZ’s are a new type of public space tailored to the unique context of Market Street of wide sidewalks, but a lack of invitations for public life together with an active community interested in culture and innovation. This LIZ is a collaboration between the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, SF Planning Department, The Exploratorium, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District and Gehl Architects.

Our role has been to help in developing the concept for LIZ as part of the Better Market Street project. The ‘Whispering Dishes’ space is the first of ten spaces that Gehl has identified along Market Street, which will be designed and built in partnership between the Mayors Office and interested private sector partners.

We have worked with the Exploratorium and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District to develop the design parameters and success criteria for LIZ in general and will collaborate with the Exploratorium to evaluate the impact of the intervention on the social life of the street. This feedback and knowledge will then be applied to the next nine LIZ’s which will be rolled-out in the coming months and years.

A few days ago, we received a nice email about the results!

Hello GEHL Architects,

I was walking down Market Street, San Francisco, this morning, and Wow! I came upon your new art installation. How fun it is, how refreshing – thank you. I sat on all the benches, and the two little seats. And I pedaled, that’s the best part of all.

Best,
Mary

"Whispering Dishes" features two 8-foot-tall dishes facing each other on the sidewalk 50 feet apart. Sound is focused in such a way that two people whispering across the 50-foot distance will be able to hear each other even with surrounding street noise.

“Whispering Dishes” features two 8-foot-tall dishes facing each other on the sidewalk 50 feet apart. Sound is focused in such a way that two people whispering across the 50-foot distance will be able to hear each other even with surrounding street noise.

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Read more here:
SF Gate, SF Examiner, San Francisco Sentinel & ABC News Radio

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Torontonian Happy Halloween Tale

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Brownfield-to-greenfield conversions offer many challenges for planners and architects – but how these become embedded in the social fabric of a community is a completely different story.

The story of this Toronto Halloween tradition is also the story of how a seemingly trivial decision on City vehicles’ parking allocation spurred the creation of a popular local park, and how events grow organically from the strong sense of community the park evokes.

In the early 1990’ies, the residents of Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood objected strongly to the City’s decision of allocating overnight parking for its garbage trucks to a local site previously used as a garage for city busses. The area was in dire need of green space and the community therefore proposed building a park ‘on top’ of the concrete pad of the parking lot. Created from a very limited budget but on extensive community volunteering and support, Sorauren Park was inaugurated in 1995 for the enjoyment of the many residents of this West Toronto neighbourhood.

Despite its small size, Sorauren Park sports two five-a-sides soccer fields, two tennis courts, a dog off-leash area, and a baseball diamond. The baseball diamond is surrounded by a swale which also functions to manage surface water run-off and doubles as an ice skating rink in the winter. The park is wonderfully landscaped, a gravelled footpath runs along the edges of the park has benches donated by individuals and local businesses alike, and there’s water posts for people as well their four-legged companions.

A small fieldhouse is a great setting for community events which spans from a weekly farmer’s market and yoga classes to private birthday parties and the monthly meetings for the park’s ‘friends of’ community group, called the Wabash Building Society.

The park is extremely popular with residents of all ages and draws scores of visitors from neighbouring areas too. People meet and chat and socialise while their dogs run loose in the off-leash area or their kids play Little League baseball. Friendships are formed, information is shared. Others play tennis, while others still sit on one of the benches reading or watching the spectacle going on in the park. And there’s always something going on! Not only did the residents of Roncesvalles initiate and realize the creation of this park, they continuously support and invigorate its ‘life’ by using and reinventing uses in the park. One of such ‘new’ uses of the park is the annual Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade.

In 2007, Colleen Kennedy, a local resident, took the initiative to suggest doing a display in the park of the neighbourhood’s jack-o-lanterns on the evening after Halloween. The event was an instant success and the park was adorned by some 120 pumpkin lanterns on the first year of the parade.

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Since then, the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade has become a much-loved annual tradition and the number of pumpkins has increased many fold – this year almost 2000 pumpkins are expected to be displayed in the park. The parade attracts thousands of visitors from all over Toronto and has inspired other communities to initiate their own pumpkin parade in their local park or street.

The parade is so popular and attracts so much attention that it has almost become “a pumpkin carvers convention” as one local observer puts it. ‘Old fashioned’ jack-o-lanterns sit next to ones almost overly artistic as well as pumpkins carved with political statements.

Despite its popularity, the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade has remained true to its original idea of being about neighbourhood kinship and artistic and personal expression – there are no hotdog vendors or concession stands, and there are no competitions or prizes to be won. The only commercial enterprise being the pre-Halloween pumpkin sale at the Fieldhouse which helps raise funds for the Wabash Building Society’s (the park’s ‘friends of’ group) efforts to acquire the adjacent derelict factory building and convert it to a community centre.

Another appealing feature of the citywide pumpkin parades are that – in recognition of their popularity – the City of Toronto collect the pumpkins, which amass to many tonnes, and make sure these are composted correctly. So the pumpkin parades of Toronto are organic events in more sense than one; people coalescing unprompted to create a community event displaying their Halloween pumpkins, and at the same time strengthening the social fabric of the neighbourhood, while the City has responded reasonably sympathetically to ensure that the ‘organic matter’ of the event stays part of the natural cycle. It’s almost frighteningly perfect…!

Happy Halloween to all!

All pumpkin parade photos courtesy of Hamish Grant.

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Developing a public space network in Chongqing

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Energy Foundation and Gehl Architects teams enjoying the local cuisine.

Energy Foundation and Gehl Architects teams enjoying the local cuisine.

Gehl Architects have been collaborating with the Energy Foundation and their Sustainable Cities Program for several years, offering capacity building to the Chinese planners and participation in several concrete projects to improve public space, invite to a different use of the streets and spaces of the cities, and in the long term create more sustainable and livable cities around China.

Chongqing, a multi-million city in central China by the Yangtze River is one of the cities where we have had the longest and closest cooperation. Our work goes back to 2010 and the first Public Space & Public Life analysis ever conducted in Asia. As a result of this work, a pedestrian route through the city was upgraded, using recommendations and concept drawings from Gehl Architects. This project was a great success, resulting in happy citizens, improved use of the route and a Chinese planning award.

This year, we have found ourselves back in Chongqing, once again working together with the Head of the Planning Institute, Mr Yu, and his young team of professionals. Coming back three years later, you notice that an even greater amount of skyscrapers have been added to the skyline (currently ranked #16 in the world for the impact of its skyline), but there are also improved streetscapes in the CBD area of Jiefangbei. You are reminded of the great potential of Chongqing, located where the Yangtze River meets Jialing River (on  Chaotianmen Square you can come down to the water where the red water of Yangtze mixes the yellow water of Jialing) and of the hilly city creating dramatic views of the rivers and surrounding landscape. But also of its challenges with congested streets, poor quality of the pedestrian environment and the vital street life that is increasingly being killed by insensitive new buildings showing their back-side to the street.

30 degrees street bar, an example of good poublic space design in Chongqing

30 degrees street bar, an example of good poublic space design in Chongqing

...50 meters away the pedestrian environment is of very poor quality.

…50 meters away the pedestrian environment is of very poor quality.

Our task this time is to look at the overall status of the public space network and how we can connect the important destinations of the city with high quality public space also in the ‘in-betweens’. Besides looking at the overall network, we are developing a series of ‘pilot projects’, projects aimed at giving examples on how to develop the city in a more human oriented direction. These pilot projects include recommendations for signage and tourist information centres, upgrading of pedestrian crossings and metro entrances and upgrading of specific streets and spaces. These pilot projects will show concrete examples of how to interpret the overall recommendations and will form the ‘Case Study’ part of Public Space Network Plan.

Youju Alley, one of the places to be upgraded within the city centre.

Youju Alley, one of the places to be upgraded within the city centre.

During our last visit to the city we had the chance to present to the Mayor of central Chongqing as well as the political leader, both showing great interest in the project and set on elevating the city of Chongqing to the level of cities like Melbourne and New York. A high target to set, but Chongqing certainly has the potential to be a great city in the world of mega cities, showing a different path of development for Chinese cities in the future.

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NYC, after 12 years of Bloomberg

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Park Avenue: Renewing the green tradition

Park Avenue: Renewing the green tradition

When Janette Sadik Khan and Amanda Burden visited CPH back in 2007, they were impressed with the overall vibe of the city as well as some of the practical design details. They were inspired by the diversity of public life, the quantity of cyclists, and quality of streets and spaces as well as by smart designs, like allowing parallel parked cars along streets to form a protective barrier for cyclists (aka Copenhagen Style bike tracks).  At that time, we emphasized again and again that as wonderful as Copenhagen seemed on that visit, it took 40 years of hard work by countless city leaders, advocacy groups, and citizens to get it to that state. They replied that it was fine that Copenhagen had 40 years to get it right but that they only had 600 days until the end of the 2nd Bloomberg term!

As the Bloomberg Administration winds down (The mayoral elections on November 5th will select Bloomberg’s successor to take over on Jan. 1 2014), one of the final acts of the administration is to rezone East Midtown to incentivize new investment and development. Although the area includes Grand Central Terminal, Park Avenue and numerous cultural icons, they are difficult to enjoy, as sidewalks are narrow and congested, public spaces are uninviting and public life is mono-functional comprised mostly of business lunches. The district seems to be better suited to the lifestyle of the Mad Men era, than of the dynamic urban culture of 2013. Together with Jonathan Rose Companies and Skanska, we created a vision for the district’s public realm, addressing issues from the large to the small scale. Our plan to re-engage with cultural and architectural icons, to re-imagine the streets and public spaces and to get the details right block by block was unveiled by Deputy Mayor Steel at the MAS Summit last week. The project is a result of an inclusive process engaging hundreds of citizens and stakeholders through a series of public workshops and in collaboration with numerous city agencies and City Hall. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, see more at: www.crainsnewyork.com or www.untappedcities.com

Vanderbilt Plaza: A great outdoor public space for Grand Central.

Vanderbilt Plaza: A great outdoor public space for Grand Central.

The balcony: Bringing public space to an entirely new level.

The balcony: Bringing public space to an entirely new level.

By coincidence we also launched the NY premier of the Human Scale, which explores the efforts of people around the world, who have been inspired by Jan Gehl and Gehl Architects to make their cities better for people. The film touches on numerous subjects looming large for the next Mayor of New York such as health, income inequality, social justice as well as climate change and resilience. Regardless of who is elected we urge him to remember the human scale in all plans and policy, from the grand plans for East Midtown, Penn Station, and Hudson Yards to the small, such as parklets, bike lanes and neighborhood plazas. To paraphrase Jan’s closing monologue in the film, it is surprisingly affordable and simple to be good to people that live in cities. We can achieve win-wins of economic growth and sustainable development if we prioritize the needs of people and focus on ensuring access for all to amenities and services so vital to quality of life in Cities. Imagine what NYC could achieve with constant dedication and focus on being ‘sweet to people’ for 40 years!

Read the full plan here.

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Urban interventions in Mar del Plata

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The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower.

The project team in front of Gehl Architects pop-up office in the old watertower.

The implementation of the first pilot projects in Mar del Plata is approaching completion, a mile stone in the fruitful and inspiring collaboration between Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the City of Mar del Plata and Gehl Architects. Oh, how exciting to see in reality, the result of the hard work undertaken by the great team involved in this project!

Initiated by IADB as part of their Emerging & Sustainable Cities Initiative, Gehl Architects were invited to work with the city of Mar del Plata, a coastal city in the Buenos Aires province of Argentina. Trading Scandinavian darkness, rain and snow for the Argentinian summer, I set off for Mar del Plata in late January of 2013, bringing my family on a three-month adventure to the other side of the globe. Arriving in Mar del Plata I was met with immense hospitality and kindness by city officials and coordinators Santiago Bonifatti and José Luis Ovcak and their team of dedicated, curious and hardworking planners, architects and engineers. Santiago and José Luis had, during an earlier visit to the Gehl office and home town of Copenhagen, agreed on what they themselves called the ‘Copenhagen Treaty’, setting out to create the first ever cross-departmental team in Mar del Plata dedicated to urban planning and public spaces. The shared dedication from both IADB and the city, ranging from Mayor Gustavo Pulti to the local team of planners and merchants and general public, has been key to the success of this project.

Busy but crowded street life on Güemes street.

Busy but crowded street life on Güemes street.

After an initial inspiring workshop led by myself and Gehl Architects partner, Creative Director and vagabond David Sim, the team set to work analyzing the chosen survey areas of Microcentro, 12 de Octubre and Güemes, three important but very different commercial and civic centres of the city. We were studying how people behaved in the streets, parks and squares, counting people flows and registering the state of the physical environment, using the Gehl methodology but with great local input. The analysis was used to develop general recommendations for improving the public realm, as well as specific strategies for short-, medium and long term changes. The team met for weekly workshops, often in my temporary office/ workspace in the old water tower overlooking the whole city, to discuss progress and exchange experiences.

Meeting with local merchants in the 12 de Octubre area, discussing local history, problems and possible interventions in the area.

Meeting with local merchants in the 12 de Octubre area, discussing local history, problems and possible interventions in the area.

The short term strategies for the different survey areas included a series of pilot projects focused on the low-cost, high-impact model used in other cities such as New York to create awareness of the importance of good public space and the power of showing this change in reality instead of plans and renderings. My colleague, Urban Designer Sofie Kvist visited for a week, developing the design of the pilot projects first on-site and later from Copenhagen. After the implementation of the pilot projects we will evaluate the effect, measuring changes to how the spaces are used as well as the economic effect for local merchants to give the data needed for adjusting the pilot projects or for doing more permanent changes.

Plans for temporary interventions along Güemes street, including improved pedestrian crossings and widened sidewalks, inviting people to stay and enjoy the atmosphere of the street.

Plans for temporary interventions along Güemes street, including improved pedestrian crossings and widened sidewalks, inviting people to stay and enjoy the atmosphere of the street.

Being on-site for the duration of the project has allowed for a very close cooperation with the local team, building capacity and creating strong personal ties between the slightly more reserved Scandinavians and the ever so open and generous Argentinians. The inspiring working sessions, late night asados and mate moments will always stay with me as I think of (and hopefully visit) Mar del Plata in the future!

The project manager with his trusted means of transportation in Plaza Mitre.

The project manager with his trusted means of transportation in Plaza Mitre.

The cooperation between IADB and Gehl Architects will continue with projects in other Latin American cities, using the shared experiences from Mar del Plata to further develop our methods.

Link to IADB blog post about the project (in Spanish).

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Designing for the Social Experience of Bicycling

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Attractive and inviting pedestrian spaces that put people in proximity to one another contribute to a lively and livable city. Photo: Peter Cromwell

Attractive and inviting pedestrian spaces that put people in proximity to one another contribute to a lively and livable city. Photo: Peter Cromwell

During the many years in which pedestrian traffic was primarily treated as a form of transport that belonged under the auspices of traffic planning, city life’s bounty of nuances and opportunities was largely overlooked or ignored. The terms used were ‘walking traffic’, ‘pedestrian streams,’ ‘sidewalk capacity,’ and ‘crossing the street safely.’ But in cities there is so much more to walking than walking! – Cities for People

What if bicycle facilities were designed with the same care and attention as a park, plaza, or public square? What if designers began to think about programmed activity when designing for cyclists? To do so would take a monumental paradigm shift in how we think about cyclists, their relationship to others, and what they need from the facilities they use. One might well consider whether we design for a cyclist as little more than a deconstructed automobile, or something closer to a pedestrian. Truthfully, they have characteristics of both: they can move like automobiles but experience the world like pedestrians. While most contemporary bicycle facility design does well to allow cyclists to move like an automobile, little effort has been made to study or understand how to design for cyclists experiencing the world like pedestrians.

Can bicycle facilities be designed in a way that fosters social interaction and facilitates cyclists to contribute to the vitality of a city? Photo: Kasey Klimes

Can bicycle facilities be designed in a way that fosters social interaction and facilitates cyclists to contribute to the vitality of a city? Photo: Kasey Klimes

One does not generally think of the social needs of a cyclist, yet this is the key to rethinking what makes a complete cycling experience. In response to the Modernist approach to urban design many observed that, when properly designed for, pedestrian activities can contribute to the vitality and livability of a city. Jan Gehl’s critique has been that Modernist urban design – both the architecture and street design – creates a dull urban experience for pedestrians, depriving them of interaction with others, and resulting in lifeless cities where people do not want to live or visit. Through his research, Gehl found that what people want, and is the basis for what creates life in the city, is social interaction. He described this as the need for contact. Thus, designing cities to encourage life between buildings means rich and inviting landscapes that encourage social interaction.

There are two types of social interaction: direct and indirect. Direct social interaction is primarily verbal communication while indirect social interaction is non-verbal. Gehl noted that the latter is of particular importance because it is the most common form of social interaction and the precursor to other interactions. Anthropologist Edward Hall made an extensive study of indirect social interaction, observing that eye-contact, body language, olfactory experiences, or just being in proximity to others are all forms of indirect social interaction. Much of his book, The Silent Language (1966) focuses on how humans use space to communicate. Hall noted that by being in proximity to others a social interaction is triggered, even if it is outside one’s awareness. This means many will not attribute indirect social interactions as a component of livable cities since they do not recognize when it is happening. Still, many of the solutions Gehl developed for creating life between buildings simply aims to put people in proximity to one another.

Riding alone in the city is a lonely experience. Photo: Peter Cromwell

Riding alone in the city is a lonely experience. Photo: Peter Cromwell

Those who have cycled in world class bicycle cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Portland (US) understand that there is more to a complete cycling experience than the safety and efficiency of the bicycle facility. Like Gehl’s observation that there is more to pedestrian experiences in the city than walking, there is more to a cyclist’s experience than pedaling – there are social interactions as well. If bicycle facilities are designed with the acknowledgement that cyclists experience the world like pedestrians then they will foster social interaction. While we commonly think of the proven benefits cycling confers to personal health, environmental quality, and even the economy, this research suggests that when properly designed for, cycling can provide the additional benefits of contributing to the vitality and livability of a city.

For a more in depth analysis about this topic and an exploration of how we might design bicycle facilities to foster social interaction, please see the author’s Thesis and the film Cycling on Stage, which was produced in collaboration with the Scan|Design Foundation, The Green Futures Lab, and Gehl Architects.

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Drowning in Data

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These days we are burning the midnight oil in order to finalise an analytical report about the capital of Norway: Oslo. This particular report has been on its way for about a year, but the Oslo/Gehl relationship was established 26 years ago when Jan Gehl, in collaboration with Karin Bergdahl, made the first Gehl’ish-survey of Oslo for the Norwegian Institute of City Development (IN’BY). In the true spirit of the office, the 2013 report builds upon the same clear principles of observation, as were applied in 1987; there are pedestrian counts and well-documented observational studies of stationary activities from both a weekday (Tuesday) and a weekend (Saturday). The data-collection and comparative ability of the data is crucial. Yet, as the footman that has to type-in, organise and keep track of these numbers, I would like to register a personal note of observation: It seems that the complexity of city-analysis has increased more than six-fold from 1987 to 2013.

In 1987 when Jan Gehl and Karin Bergdahl collected data, they had – quite ingeniously – chosen 8 primary locations for their survey. We chose 55. They also limited themselves to span 1½ seasons. We chose 3. They registered pedestrians and stationary activities. We added age/gender registrations on top of that. You might be thinking that this is a great improvement of the survey. I think that it is an insane amount of numbers to collect; 9.425 rows of figures in excel to be exact. I counted them…thrice.

The reasons for this expansion of the survey area lies partly in the expansion of the city itself, but also largely in the changing attitudes towards city boundaries. Today, the old city centre of Oslo only has 900 inhabitants, compared to 8400 in Copenhagen and 3100 in Stockholm (source: Gehl internal data).  Therefore, the city centre is dependent on the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, from where it draws its life. Figuratively, the city centre can be seen as the heart of Oslo, and in order to figure out the well-being of this ‘organ’ it is necessary to check the flows through all the veins that feed into it – hence the expanded survey.

At Gehl Architects, we still rely largely on being in the field. The Oslo report has had almost 100 helpers on the streets to collect data from the 55 locations, on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout 3 seasons. Could we have digitalised the process? Yes and no. Because, although some counts could be digitalised, a computer is still not able to give us clues as to why the daily rhythms appear in the way that they do, on our data charts. When a count drops from 3000 pedestrians per hour at 3pm, to 100 pedestrians per hour at 4pm, the note from the observer stating that ‘A crazy rainfall left the streets bare’ is essential to understanding the numbers. A digitised count would have left us to wonder about the dramatic change. A computer does not have the ability to register street-artists, kids playing, adults chatting, dogs being walked, gardens being tended, jugglers being cheered  by the shopping crowds or crows being fed by elderly ladies. Or any other wonderful, crazy and energetic activity that makes a city lively and lovely!

Once the data has been collected and organised it does create an amazing insight into the life of the city – throughout the days, the weeks and the seasons. The extensive survey is an endless goldmine to understanding the city’s rhythms. We need this understanding in order to deliver qualified recommendations for improving livability. Even if I have to go cross-eyed over 9.425 numbers for a couple of weeks.

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Crowd-funding Public Space

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Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

Living Innovation Zones in San Francisco

It is in our common interest to create a city where quality of life is the key objective. We all have an opportunity as well as a shared responsibility to help the city to become an attractive place to live and work.

But what does it take to inspire private companies to invest effort and money in developing the quality of the public space? Over time numerous financial models for private investment and operation of public spaces have been tested – models for POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces), BIDS ( Business Improvement Districts) , PPP (Public – Private – Partnerships) have all been implemented and many lessons have been learnt. Now something new is happening in San Francisco. The acronym for this new initiative is LIZ – Living Innovation Zones. They have been developed in partnership between San Francisco’s planning department, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation MOCI and Gehl Architects as a spin-off of the three-year development of the Better Market Street project on Market Street in San Francisco.

In a way, LIZ is as an evolution of the concept for San Francisco’s Park-Let program which over the years has become a more and more formalized part of San Francisco’s strategy for the development of quality in the ‘public space’. In short, a model for temporary transformation of parking spaces into spaces for people to spend time – financed and operated by private owners of neighboring properties, organizations, café – owners, etc.

By initiating the LIZ program the city is attempting to take the Park-Let concept to a new level. The city in collaboration with Gehl Architects has identified 10 potential sites for Living Innovation Zones on the sidewalk along San Francisco’s iconic main street Market Street. 10 sites that in popular terms are considered to be “Bureaucracy Free” zones where the sometimes slow and frustrating processes associated with developing projects in public spaces, are being lifted and streamlined to create greater incentives for private sector organizations to invest in urban projects. As it is the case with Park-Lets, the private party finances, maintains and operates the projects and must also remove and clean up afterwards. In return, the LIZ operators have control over a piece of real estate on the sidewalk on San Francisco’s busiest and most visited street.

Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San francisco

There are, however, some limitations. LIZ projects are both subject to certain constraints and objectives that all projects in this initiative must meet. Physical limitations will vary from location to location but all projects must be publicly accessible without direct commercial gain (i.e. outdoor serving, sale of products, etc.)

Success Criteria

Also, the projects must target this initiative’s overlying four success criteria – defined as:

ENHANCE PUBLIC SPACE
We want to create public spaces for people to meet and socialize. We believe that public spaces that are good for people are places where people are safe from traffic and crime. Where people feel comfortable walking, standing and sitting. Where everyone feel invited and spaces that are attractive for people to spend time.

STRENGTHEN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
We believe that people are the city’s largest resource. People are attracted to people – And therefore we believe that public spaces that are good for people are good for business as well. Public spaces that accommodate basic social functions for people to meet and invest time are also the spaces where people choose to invest their money.

ENCOURAGE INNOVATION AND EXPERIMENTATION
We believe that people’s imagination is the source of all progress. Our cities must create opportunities for experimentation and testing of new innovations in everyday situations. What place is more suited for this than our public spaces? Where everyday people go about the everyday?

LEARN AND SHARE
We want public spaces constantly to adapt to the latest innovation, trends and needs of our society. This means we have to document, learn, share and adjust our experience we get from working within the public realm – where innovations are tested by real people.

Yerba Buena LIZ – The first of 10

Gehl Architects have in recent months been worked with the conceptual development of the first LIZ pilot, located at Yerba Buena lane which connects Market Street to Yerba Buena gardens, SFMOMA, the Jewish Museum , Falcone Convention Center and a number of other important cultural destinations in the city. The pilot project is a collaboration between San Francisco’s popular science exhibition center Exploratorium, the local business organization Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD), Gehl Architects, Summit Foundation and the city. In addition to meeting the LIZ program’s built-in goals, the pilot is testing the development process in itself. The process of iterative design development, process of collaboration between partners, process of permitting, financing, measuring of effects etc. In many ways it is considered to be a pilot of a pilot.

See video from Yerba Buena Pilot here

Pilot Study Area. Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San Francisco

Pilot Study Area. Photo: courtesy of MOCI and Exploratorium in San Francisco

The initial prototypes are developed by the Exploratorium over a period of three months and the best ones will be installed in position at Yerba Buena lane for the big launch on the 28th of October 2013. However, the projects are “finished” when installed. They will continue to function as living prototypes in the public space at Yerba Buena lane, to be constantly adjusted and refined over a 6-month lifespan.

And it is also an inherent part of the concept that LIZ projects are constantly measured and weighed, in order to collect relevant data, to improve the effect of the program and ultimately create better value for both the private investor and the city.

Crowd-funding in Public Space

It is not only the models of collaboration , partnership and physical street installations which are being tested here – The Yerba Buena LIZ is also testing a new form of financing. With contributions from YBCBD and Summit Foundation the concrete prototypes are being crowd-funded via a regular crowd-funding campaign on the website indiego-go. At the moment of writing this post, 40 % of the funding goal has been reached – by 128 contributors, with 35 days left on the campaign. Why is crowd-funding a public space project interesting? Well, a part of this pilot is actually testing a way of democratically delegated private initiatives in public spaces – where the general citizen, in principle, can engage and take desired ownership for creating initiatives to finance good ideas that change the city’s public spaces into something better.

Time will tell how this initiative fly, but the overall experiences from this first LIZ, will create a foundation for the development of a manual for future LIZ projects in San Francisco. A manual which Gehl Architects is developing, in cooperation with MOCI and San Francisco’s planning department.

Read and see more:
LIZ, Yerba Buena LIZ, Exploratorium Living Innovation Zone & indiego-go

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Engaging in Quality: Developing a Public Realm Vision Plan for East Midtown

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As a teenager in New York City, I spent countless hours walking. The streets were troves of activity and my friends and I had endless energy to expend. We covered a lot of ground, but never spent time in East Midtown (a 73 block area, roughly between Madison and Third Avenues and 57th and 39th Streets) – the sidewalks were packed and overall it felt boring. Iconic Grand Central Station and the Chrysler building were easier to admire in pictures, it seemed, than from the street.

Although we were young, it turns out this wasn’t just a childish perception. Over the past four months, at three workshops organized by Jonathan Rose Companies (JRCO), Gehl Architects and Skanska, held to inform our developing public realm vision plan for East Midtown, I heard hundreds of New Yorkers say they avoid East Midtown because of congestion and monotonous street life.

In June, JRCO and Gehl began a process to identify how East Midtown’s open space can be improved, and more of it created for the 250,000 people who work there regularly and the millions of others who live nearby or travel through. On streets such as Vanderbilt Avenue, pedestrians outnumber vehicles eight to one, but vehicle road width outnumbers pedestrian space four to one. With pedestrian crowding so bad that people often walk in the street and subway entrances so narrow that queues form to get underground, the challenges to East Midtown’s streets and open spaces can’t be ignored.

Qualities identified at the first workshop guided the design process and were used at the third workshop to evaluate design renderings.

Qualities identified at the first workshop guided the design process and were used at the third workshop to evaluate design renderings.

A key finding from our research was that East Midtown stakeholders want the streets to be dynamic and multi-functional. They want the streets to support moving quickly from point A to B, but also socializing or sitting quietly. At the third and final workshop, September 18th, with those aspirations in mind, we asked attendees to review design concepts and renderings, developed over the past two months, and answer: what do you love? what qualities are missing? what do you like best and why? By stepping back to understand how design concepts can best illustrate the overarching qualities people want in East Midtown, and not just what specific design features are desired, we can create a vision plan that focuses on why, and not just how, streets design change must be prioritized.

Comments and critique were drawn and written directly on design sketches.

Comments and critique were drawn and written directly on design sketches.

Attendees prioritize designs they like best and explain why. The final report will be delivered to the NYC City Departments of City Planning and Transportation in October. More information at East Midtown Places for People www.eastmidtownplacesforpeople.com

Attendees prioritize designs they like best and explain why. The final report will be delivered to the NYC City Departments of City Planning and Transportation in October. More information at East Midtown Places for People www.eastmidtownplacesforpeople.com

In the city that pedestrianized Times Square, change remains controversial. (A lawsuit against a Brooklyn bike lane reminds) But with the right vision, change is possible and East Midtown’s streets could be next: only 4% of the land is open space, but when streets and sidewalks are added in, this grows to 30%. East Midtown is like a text book environment to apply the Gehl approach and study how existing resources – in this case streets, sidewalks, and privately owned plazas – can be redesigned to better support how people currently use space, and what they would like to be able to do in the area. An approach similar to that of William H. Whyte in the same area, decades ago.

This fall, a comprehensive vision plan for East Midtown’s public realm will be delivered to the New York City Departments of City Planning and Transportation. Once design changes are implemented, the same qualities that guided the design can be used to evaluate progress and impact. Maybe there will be even be some teenagers enjoying East Midtown’s streetlife.

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Parking day in Copenhagen

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This year was the eighth annual celebration of Park(ing) Day, a global event where people take over parking spaces and turn them into temporary parks. Park(ing) Day was started by Rebar Group in San Francisco in 2005 as a guerrilla art intervention.

Quite by coincidence, I found myself in Copenhagen during Park(ing) Day, taking part in a month long designer-in-residency at Gehl Architects. I borrowed a cargo bike for the day from my friends at N55 and set out to see how the world’s most livable city would engage in the event.

First stop was in Valby at a Park(ing) Day installation set up by Dorte Grastrup-Hansen at Mellemtoften 1, close to Valby Station.

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Dorte and friends had set up a nice, tiny, social space and were serving coffee and dream cake to passers-by, while a colleague was doing air quality and noise monitoring, using the park to demonstrate the need for calmer streets and more green spaces in the area.

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We were paid a visit by the Copenhagen environmental and engineering Mayor Ayfal Baykal. Ayfal and I had a great conversation about the City’s goal to increase bike ridership.

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Next stop was across the city to Nordre Frihavnsgade where a group of folks were sharing coffee and beers in a Park(ing) space. We chatted and hung out for a while and were given a great laser cut wooden plaque that says “one less driver” to attach to our Moble XYZ cargo bike.

Apparently there was also a Park(ing) installation set up right in our neighborhood on Flintholm Allé, which we somehow missed. This space was created by the Creative Roots group. See the Parking Day Copenhagen facebook page for more photos and info on this year’s event.

It’s been wonderful to see the growth and evolution of Park(ing) Day from a guerrilla art event into a global movement that engages everyday people in the process of transforming the city. You don’t have to be an architect or a planner to participate in Park(ing) Day although many do. It’s also been gratifying to witness the change in thinking that has occurred in city governments and within the private development community whom now engage in temporary projects, interim use, and pilot projects to kick start the process of remaking the city while cultivating life and activity in the commons.

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In San Francisco, Park(ing) Day has been eclipsed by the Parklet Program, an initiative led by the SF Planning Department which created a permit process to enable people to semi-permanently transform a parking space in front of their home or business into a tiny public park. And this is just one example from around the globe of an emerging synthesis between strategic and tactical actors, top down planning and grassroots actions, all of whom share a vision for a more livable, resilient and socially just cities.

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My wife Denise and I created a minimal but mobile park for the Park(ing) Day Copenhagen event and so we pedaled over towards the ‘Stork Fountain’ to catch some rays of afternoon sun and celebrate the 8th annual parking day, an incredible month in Copenhagen, and a fantastic time in collaboration with the smart, energetic folks at Gehl Architects.

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Moscow – Feature #3

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Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City was made public on July 16. This ‘special report #3? aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow and other cities.

Towards a reinvigorated Moscow

Moscow is poised for a bright future, brimming with ideas and opportunities One of these ideas is to transform the traffic-filled waterfront into a green river park. The Russian capital is ready for change – the wish for a more liveable city is sprouting from all levels of society, according to the field team from Gehl Architects.

‘Most human beings feel good when they are close to water. It is like taking a break from your everyday life. It makes you relax, and gives you a sense of calmness’.

According to Gehl Architects’ Project Manager, Solvejg Reigstad, the rivers and canals in Moscow hold great recreational potential.

Unfortunately most of the waterfront near the city center is currently surrounded by heavy traffic. 93 percent of the space is allocated to cars, creating a barrier between the city and the river. The roaring traffic makes it a noisy place that discourages people from lingering and promenading.

But with the right effort, the long stretch of riverbank could be turned into a beautiful river park – an attractive green area with bike paths, generous sidewalks and floating platforms where people could see and touch the water.

This is one of many ideas for the future outlined in the report ‘Moscow – Towards a great city for people’ which Gehl Architects have recently presented for Moscow Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, and his team.

It is difficult to reach the water

It is difficult to reach the water

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A green vision

“It would make the city a lot more attractive – for Moscovites as well as for tourists. A lot of people see Moscow as a tough city – an efficient metropolis fit for working but with little room for relaxing, raising children, or even growing old. The river park could create appealing conditions for leisure and family life and generate a lot of optimism”, explains Partner at Gehl Architects Henriette Vamberg. In collaboration with Jan Gehl, Solvejg Reigsted and other team members, she is responsible for the ‘Public Space Public Life’ study that Gehl Architects have recently conducted in the city.

Prechistenskaya today

Prechistenskaya today

A sketch for a new Moscow riverfront
A sketch for a new Moscow riverfront

A city for people

According to the team at Gehl, Moscow is currently undergoing a sweeping transformation in order to become more liveable and sustainable. A good example is Gorky Park which used to be a nearly forgotten amusement park. Today it contains cafés, boat rental areas, recreational gardens, and outdoor facilities for theater, lectures or film. The park has become extremely popular with thousands of daily users.

Another example is the new bike policy. The transport department is currently working on finding ways to ensure better access to the city by bike and to connect the green park areas in the outskirts of the city with a bike sharing system.

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A break with the past

Alexey Mityaev, who works as an advisor for the deputy mayor of Moscow, Maxim Liksutov, hopes Moscow will become a city with a friendlier cityscape.

‘Now we have a list of streets in the city center that need improvement – streets where we are going to widen the pavements, reduce the number of parked cars – and of course provide pedestrians with places to sit, talk and observe’.

This year one of the central streets, Bolshaya Dmitrovka, has been redesigned in that spirit, he adds.

‘The street has always been full of cars and parking spaces, leaving very little room for pedestrians. Now it is a quiet street with almost no parking, wide pavements, and benches where people can rest. This is only the beginning of our work on public spaces. For the last 20 years Moscow has been perceived as city designed for cars, but nowadays we are going to put that behind us’.

Vorovskogo Square today

Vorovskogo Square today

A sketch for a new Vorovskogo Square

A sketch for a new Vorovskogo Square

A new direction

Moscow is ready for change Solvejg Reigstad elaborates.

‘I sense it on several different fronts, both from politicians, grassroot movements, and regular citizens. There are many people who wish for a city with more room for life to unfold, and a lot of passionate people who create initiatives to make this happen. It is an extremely exciting evolution’.

With the presentation of the Moscow report Gehl Architects have made a series of recommendations for the city, where the people focused approach serves as a general baseline for initiatives to come. According to Solvejg Reigstad the Russian capital has quite a few under-utilized assets which can reap more benefits than they do today.

‘Moscow’s city center is a compact city, perfect for walking and cycling, and the wide boulevards make it possible to give adequate space to all modes of transportation. In addition to this, Moscow has great forests and parks close to the city center. By improving the accessibility for pedestrians and bikes it will become easier for people to use and enjoy the green amenities and it will create a more sustainable use of the city’.

‘The city is already a destination for many visitors and tourists and has a great potential for attracting even more visitors and investments’, she adds.

City acupuncture

But is it in fact possible for a city of Moscow’s size to change within a foreseeable number of years?

Henriette Vamberg is positive when it comes to the prospect of transformation in Moscow. Like the human body, the city’s organism can recover through a focused treatment to specific areas. By gradually improving the most vital parts of the city center – such as the waterfront, selected main-streets and parks – and using the same recipe on similarly challenged areas, a gradual improvement can occur – and spread.

‘I think a vision like the new river park can be implemented within a few years. Once there is political endorsement behind a project, things can develop very quickly in Russia’.

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Adapting underutilized urban spaces, facilitating “hygge”

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Weekend Trip to Århus, Denmark

Weekend Trip to Aarhus, Denmark

When looking at ways to improve cities, planners and developers have traditionally focused on the longer-term permanent solutions to revitalize urban spaces. There is often a sentiment that an urban space that is not performing will be better once [insert new project name] is completed. The qualities and experience of the place in the present tensein the here and the nowis cast aside with a distant goal that the space will be better at some point in the future. However compelling this vision may be, it frequently leaves the space in consideration empty or deserted until the future project gets underway.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of many tactical or incremental urban projects that have challenged the convention of waiting for new construction to be implemented. Parklets and pop-up street corner plazas located in underutilized urban spaces have shown us that we can quickly adapt parking spaces, streets corners and other city land for new types of uses. While tactical urbanism projects can range in scale, and in terms of their temporary or permanent nature, they share a commonality in that they engage with the existing conditions of a site during various points in time, rather than at some distant point in the future.

Over the weekend, I joined a group of students visiting from the University of Washington on a trip to Århus. As part of an annual ten-day festival, the city had temporarily transformed many spaces in the city with interventions ranging from shipping container structures to playful wood furniture. On one street, a retaining wall had been retrofitted with stepped seating into an accessible public space. This modest intervention not only provides a much needed utility on the streeta place to pause and socializebut also could be described as crafting the experience of ‘hygge’. (While the Danish word “hygge” lacks a direct translation, it was described to me as a cozy or intimate atmosphere. I.e. the sense of contentment experienced while enjoying a beer on a long summer afternoon or curled up in front of a fireplace).

Tactical interventions not only have the ability to quickly activate an underutilized space, but also have the potential to inform longer-term planning processes. By quickly testing out an intervention at full scale, a temporary project can provide valuable data on how a space is being used, leading to a more responsive permanent design. In addition, the rapid implementation of a pilot project can avoid lengthy permitting processes, jumpstarting the use of the space and providing an invitation to experience “hygge”.

On September 27th-29th, UC Berkeley will be hosting Adaptive Metropolis, a symposium which will explore user-generated urbanism for a resilient, livable and just city. The conference will focus on the relationship between tactical urbanism and long-range strategic planning. Gehl architect’s Jeff Risom will be speaking at the symposium. Click here to find out more.

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Berlin – A City Reinvented

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I just returned home after spending six-weeks in Berlin. Six sunny weeks in a charming and exceptional city that has drawn strength from adversity. Berlin is a favorite destination among
creatives who are attracted to its vibrant art scene and renegade spirit.

I knew Berlin to be a place with a strong underground culture, but I had a hard time pointing out how it had become that way. I set off on my trip with a question in the back of my head: How did Berlin become the creative hub it is today?

I presupposed that the lower cost of rent and welfare policies helped sustain the livelihood of artists, but that answer left me unsatisfied. There had to be more to it than economic incentives. At the end, my visit led me to realize how the city’s turbulent history had nurtured the non-conformist spirit that
characterizes it.

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An appreciation for adaptive reuse

War and authoritarianism during the 20th century left much of Berlin in ruins. Buildings in the city center that survived the WWII bombings were demolished to clear the area along the Berlin Wall, while empty factories on the waterfront crumbled in silent neglect. The desolate landscape made residents and authorities of the unified city more receptive to innovative ideas that could breathe life into the dead structures.

The devastation of the city fostered a welcoming environment for adaptive reuse and urban reinvention.

The devastation of the city fostered a welcoming environment for adaptive reuse and urban reinvention.

This freedom to create made the city an attractive canvas for artists and creatives from around the world.

This freedom to create made the city an attractive canvas for artists and creatives from around the world.

Those who visit Berlin today can: Ride their bikes on the runway of a former airport;

Those who visit Berlin today can: Ride their bikes on the runway of a former airport.

swim at a floating pool built on an old industrial pier;

Arena Badeschiff is a 105 feet floating pool on the Spree river. It is part of a larger multi-purpose entertainment and cultural venue, developed on an old industrial site.

Arena Badeschiff is a 105 feet floating pool on the Spree river. It is part of a
larger multi-purpose entertainment and cultural venue, developed on an
old industrial site.

see an electronic music show at an old power plant;

After sitting abandoned for many years, the former East Berlin power plant is now being used as a space for exhibits and special events.

After sitting abandoned for many years, the former East Berlin power
plant is now being used as a space for exhibits and special events.

or attend an opera performed inside an old pool.

Stattbad Schwimmer is an indoor public pool that was damaged during the war and is now used as a center for contemporary arts

Stattbad Schwimmer is an indoor public pool that was damaged during the
war and is now used as a center for contemporary arts.

A low cost for quality of life

Artists started flocking to Berlin in 60’s when the city’s special status and subsidies by the allies made it a haven for people who may have struggled elsewhere. In spite of the economic difficulties many Berliners enjoy a high quality of life, even at low-income levels. Social provisions ensure universal access to health and education and the lower cost of real estate democratizes housing access.

The city continues to be relatively affordable compared to other western European capitals although in recent years some of the neighborhoods started to show increasing signs of gentrification, and rent prices have soared.

Space everywhere

Berlin’s special status during the cold war slowed down the building process and left the city teeming with empty lots, many of which eventually became parks. Today 32% of the metropolitan area is allocated to parks (14%) or wilderness (18%)[1]

Girl blowing bubbles in Prenzlauerberg, 2013

Girl blowing bubbles in Prenzlauerberg, 2013

The generous allocation of land to parks adds beauty to the city and gives it a relaxed
bohemian feel.

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For decades, residents have occupied and transformed many of the vacant lots. These DIY initiatives leave a tangible mark in the built environment and contribute to the independent atmosphere of the city.

Gorlitzer Park, popular among a young and diverse crowd is notorious as a place where anarchists have set their home and questionable behavior is tolerated.

Gorlitzer Park, popular among a young and diverse crowd is notorious
as a place where anarchists have set their home and questionable behavior
is tolerated.

In Prinzessinnengarten a group of volunteers converted an empty lot into a thriving urban garden with a café and a regular program of educational activities.

In Prinzessinnengarten a group of volunteers converted an empty lot into a
thriving urban garden with a café and a regular program of educational activities.

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Almost as an allegory of the non-­?conformist ethos of the city, these signs invite residents to a flea-­market; announce a forum to protest the construction of a highway; and welcome passersby to Utopia.

Almost as an allegory of the non-­?conformist ethos of the city, these signs invite
residents to a flea-­market; announce a forum to protest the construction of a highway; and welcome passersby to Utopia.

In spite of the positive picture, Berlin is far from being a utopia. Twenty-five years after unification, residents still face many economic challenges. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in Germany, and the municipality lacks the tax base to cover its costs. Notwithstanding these challenges, I was inspired to see the transformative effect that artists and makers have had in the
city. Their collective actions refreshed Berlin’s identity and made it an attractive destination for technology entrepreneurs seeking to recruit creative talent.

Betahouse is one of the coworking spaces that have become popular in recent years.The building is a hub for the emerging startup community.

Betahouse is one of the coworking spaces that have become popular in recent years.The building is a hub for the emerging startup community.

In the coming years it will be interesting to see the extent to which creative industries can make Berlin overcome its economic hurdles. The challenge will remain on how to foster growth without pricing out the artists and grassroots groups that helped reinvent Berlin as a center for the avant-garde.

1 Figures of the senate administration for urban development
and environment http://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de
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Moscow – Feature #2

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Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City was made public on July 16. This ‘special report #2? is the second of 3 posts which aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow and other cities. Look for ‘special report #3?, coming soon, which will highlight findings and recommendations from the report.

Streets can invite for healthier lifestyles

A city with generous sidewalks, interconnected bike paths and green parks can incentivise people to exercise more. Moscow is currently working towards becoming a more walkable city.
We ride cars instead of bikes. We take the elevator over the stairs. And at work, we sit still, except for the occasional run to the coffee machine.?This is the reality of life for many people around the world. Lifestyle diseases caused by physical inactivity are currently one of the major threats to our health – in fact, in 2009 it was identified as the fourth leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases, an overall term including cancers, diabetes, heart disease, etc. These figures from World Health Organization (WHO) have been reported by the medical journal ‘The Lancet’. (View the full report)

To the sidewalks

According to CEO and Founding Partner of Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt, expenditures related to health services could dramatically decrease, through strategic city planning that inspires people to move around and use their own muscle power.

‘As humans we respond to the surrounding environment – for better or for worse. Cities and especially public places are an under-utilized health resource,’ she says.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity each week. This is equivalent to a 15 minute walk, two times a day. Hence a ‘walkable’ city can actually become a sound investment for the general public health, Helle Søholt says.

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(View the full report)

Intrusive cars

Unfortunately many cities don’t invite people to walk. Since the1960’s there has been a vast increase in the number of vehicles worldwide. This growth has required large parking areas over parks and squares. Meanwhile pedestrians are often referred to narrow sidewalks filled with honking and growling cars around them.

This is also the case in Moscow. For a city with almost 12 million people there are remarkably few people strolling on the main street, Tverskaya. The street is surrounded by eight lanes, occupying 91% of the urban space, says Project Manager at Gehl Architects, Solvejg Reigstad. She is one of the main architects behind the Public Space Public Life study, that Gehl Architects have just conducted in the city.

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‘In Moscow the streets are basically multiple lanes with cars, with very few crossings for pedestrians. In fact if you wish to cross the street you have to walk below ground. So instead of walking out in the open, you’ll find yourself walking in these long, underground passages’, she says.

‘The poor pedestrian conditions result in people taking the subway. Even when traveling short distances. Moscow is not a city for walking’ says Solvej Reigstad.

Towards a city for people

Hopefully that is going to change inthe foreseeable future as Moscow moves towards becoming a city for people. Paid parking and higher cost speeding tickets in parts of the city center have already been implemented. Gradually more parts of the city will be included in the new regulation zone.

Within the garden ring, Moscow City is upgrading 4,000,000 m2 of sidewalks along major roads and new pedestrian streets are being planned and built in order to improve the pedestrian conditions in the city center.

Things are moving in a very positive direction according to Solvejg Reigstad – and more is to come, such as a parking strategy for the whole city center.

‘By reducing parking on streets and squares, new public spaces will invite public life to unfold. A parking strategy for the whole city center will ensure that the reduction of parked cars in the cityscape happens according to a coherent mobility strategy for all transport modes including pedestrians.’

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A better balance between the different transport modes is necessary if Moscow is to become a sustainable and livable city, she elaborates. To support pedestrian movement in the city, a street level public transport system needs to be developed.

‘Today the system of buses and taxis are under-developed and there is a huge potential in developing a system that can cover transport for shorter to medium distances. Moscow already has some light rail trains in the periphery of the city center and that system can be developed so that it also connects the city center.’

POPULAR METRO: Studies in other cities suggest that 13 people per minute per metre of sidewalk width is the upper limit for an acceptable walking space. Beyond this level the situation turns into crowding. At the passage outside the Arbatskaya metro station, 1290 people were recorded in 10 minutes at 18.00 on a weekday, which equals 32 people per minute per metre of sidewalk width (2,5 times the limit for walking with comfort).

POPULAR METRO: Studies in other cities suggest that 13 people per minute per metre of sidewalk width is the upper limit for an acceptable walking space. Beyond this level the situation turns into crowding. At the passage outside the Arbatskaya metro station, 1290 people were recorded in 10 minutes at 18.00 on a weekday, which equals 32 people per minute per metre of sidewalk width (2,5 times the limit for walking with comfort).

A challenge in many cities

Moscow is not a rare example of a city with too many cars. One of the major challenges of modern cities is how to balance the number of cars with the number of pedestrians.

In some cities in the United States, moving around by foot is simply not an option, says Helle Søholt.

‘I’ve felt very ‘trapped’ in several of the cities that I’ve visited over there, because I had no other choice than to drive around in a ‘metal box’. I felt it limited my sense of freedom not being able to go where you want to, when you want to.’

City planners who weigh cars over people miss an important detail, she adds.

‘Walking is also about freedom and equality. In fact, I would argue that we are all pedestrians. You might take your car, you might take the bus, you might even cycle. But the minute you park your mode of transport, you become a pedestrian. And this should be reflected in good urban planning.’

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The Human Scale and the Future of our Civilisation

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Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

The future is bright the future is “smart”, it might be smart but we must make sure its human and humane!

The UrbanIxD advisory board gathered in Split Croatia last Sunday night for an introductory meal, my flight got me in late so I missed the screening of “The Human Scale”, which I am glad to report was well received and fully understood. The summer school had kicked off on the Friday with a group of very international super smart participants working on the challenges of the “hybrid city” using critical design; results will be exhibited Sunday 1 September 2013. This is one of the first steps in a momentous journey that could, or should I say will, impact all our lives and critically the lives of all who come after us.

I love the time I live, I am interested in our evolution as a species and the cultures, which define us and fascinated by the way we dream and shape the future.

The different visions of what could be described as a “smart city” as portrayed in the film can be a sobering window into the our deep seated desire to be less “human” – if I think of films that capture some of my fears and preoccupations about the notion of a smart future, what comes to mind is:

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” describes the dark mechanised and stratified world in which the individual struggles and human emotion is surpressed.

Jacques Tati’s “Mon Oncle” where we see Mr. Hulot’s comedic antics, a humorous take on how cleaver domestic landscapes which don’t understand simple human needs can become confusing and bewildering.

Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”s similar to Fritz Lang but with a focus on an individuals desires compromised by the “clever” totalitarian bureaucratic system.

The “Terminator”s series where we have been taken over by the smart systems we have created.

To one of my favourite films ever, Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” where again the dystopian society is, in a way, one of the result of the fact that we have outsmarted ourselves by creating systems, machines or entities which really are not for the common good.

What does this tell me? Well it makes it clear that we need to make sure that what remains central to this evolving future is the “common good” not the wealth and well being of a sophisticated individual or minority.

So to the advisory board, Martin Brynskov and Gianluca Zaffiro lead us through the rather intense agenda. Martin posed an interesting and thought provoking question “what would you rather have a city designed by Apple or a Favela?” Although I am a designer and use probably too much mac kit and there is real temptation in the sterility of style combined with fabulous functionality, the answer must be a Favela; remember the human and humane statement.

Don’t misinterpret what we at Gehl are about; we are not luddites we embrace technology if it makes things better for us. But we need to realise that the third law of physics, you know the one about actions and reactions, still applies and we need to ensure that ‘the making things better’ for us as individuals or as a privileged elite does not subjugate, cause pain or suffering to other people.

So the work of UrbanIxD is critical, if we as Europeans can evolve a system which is not based in “Taylorism” but in the notions of the “common good” and “people centred design” to facilitate the development of our Hybread City / Society then the scary notions of the films I mentioned may not become our reality.

Please take part in this important conversation let UrbanIxD know your thoughts via Twitter and Facebook.

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A Chicago for the Future

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Photo: Kasey Klimes

Photo: Kasey Klimes

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”
– Daniel Burnham, Author of “The Plan for Chicago”, 1909

For over a century, the city of Chicago has lived by these immortal words by Daniel Burnham. This is the city that responded to a massively destructive fire with the world’s first skyscraper. For much of the 20th century, however, Chicago hasn’t much discerned between the scale of its vision and the scale of urban development. As landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted once pointed out, “Chicago has a weakness for ‘big things’…”.

Today, however, Chicago has committed to recreating the urban environment at the human scale. I had the pleasure of visiting my old stomping grounds in Chicago recently and was pleased to see the progress the city has made in its public spaces and bicycle infrastructure. The changes may be small, but the vision is as big as ever.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has committed to installing 100 miles (160km) of physically protected bicycle paths over his first four year term. Three weeks after Emanuel took office, a physically separated cycle track was built on Kinzie Street. Bicycle traffic increased by 60% over pre-cycle track volumes. This past december, a two-way physically separated cycle track was installed on Dearborn through the heart of downtown Chicago (see below). It appears Emanuel is on track to reaching his goals.

Dearborn Street two-way cycle track (Photo: Kasey Klimes)

Dearborn Street two-way cycle track. Photo: Kasey Klimes’

The city’s busiest bicycle street today is Milwaukee Ave, which had a 22% bicycle mode share at rush hour in 2011. Since then, several stretches of separated bike lanes and bright green intersection markings have been added along the route.

The city has also turned heads with the launch of its new bike share system (called “Divvy”), with 400 stations and 4,000 bikes throughout the city. In its first three weeks, the system logged over 50,000 trips with 150,000 miles (241,000km) traveled.

Milwaukee Ave Divvy Station, just before launch. Photo: Kasey Klimes

Milwaukee Ave Divvy Station, just before launch. Photo: Kasey Klimes

The bikes are built for comfort and utility–not speed–with three gears, a built-in basket, fenders, a chain guard, and an upright geometry. (I must also admit, I’m a pretty big fan of the branding. That sky blue goes well with everything.)

The Divvy Bikes. Photo: Whet Moser, Chicagomag.com

The Divvy Bikes. Photo: Whet Moser, Chicagomag.com

Back in 2004, Chicago completed construction of Millennium Park–one of North America’s largest public space projects of the last decade. Today the city is making progress on two more public space plans; the redesign of an old elevated rail line in the city’s North Side and the transformation of Navy Pier.

The latter project seeks to reimagine (and re-dignify) a major component of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 masterplan that has since succumb to pressures of commercialization and tourism. The $85 million project is set for completion by the Pier’s centennial in 2016 and led by James Corner Field Operations in collaboration with several other architects and designers including Bruce Mau and French botanist Patrick Blanc.

Navy Pier, 2016. Rendering: James Corner Field Operations & n Architects

Navy Pier, 2016.
Rendering: James Corner Field Operations & n Architects

The old rail line (called the Bloomingdale Trail) will be transformed into an elevated park à la New York’s High Line, but will be twice as long as its East Coast predecessor at 3 miles (5km) and feature bicycle access. The Emanuel administration has secured initial funding for the $100 million project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2014.

Bloomingdale Trail Today. Photo: David Schalliol

Bloomingdale Trail Today. Photo: David Schalliol

The old way of doing things is coming to an end. As Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein bravely announced, “We can’t say we want to be more sustainable, but we also want to widen our roads and make it easier to drive, it just doesn’t work that way.” As these projects for pedestrians and cyclists come to fruition, their message is clear: Chicago’s future is one for people. We think Mr. Burnham would be proud.

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Student-run Pilot Projects in Lisbon

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Students cleaning up a project site in Graca. The designed intervention will be implemented on Sunday 18th.

Students cleaning up a project site in Graca. The designed intervention will be implemented on Sunday 18th.

If anyone visits Lisbon in the next couple of weeks, they should be sure to venture into the neighbourhood of Graça, which is currently hosting 200 international designers and architects for the annual Meeting of Design Students (MEDS). Every summer for the past four years, a new European city has been subjected to the experiments and interventions of the participants that spend two weeks designing and building pilot-projects, with the aim of improving public spaces.

This year, the organising team of MEDS has themed the workshop ‘RE:action’, asking the student to design for a response from the inhabitants of Graça, which in recent years have experienced a decay of public spaces, with the loss of public life to follow. Each of the 15 pilot-projects are designed and built by a team of 10-18 enthused international students that have been chosen through a competition to represent their respective country. The projects are described in detail here.

Besides the pilot-projects, this year’s MEDS also comprises a series of conferences that aim to activate the critical minds of the participants. Every evening, an ‘Urban Parliament’ takes place, in which the students discuss ‘urban rights’ and topics related to the theme of the year. The debate is filmed and will be published at a later date, but it will also be summed up in the ‘Declaration for Urban Rights’ that is to be presented at the upcoming Lisbon Trienniale.

When I was in Lisbon last week, I took part in the event for the third year in a row. Every year I have been amazed by the ambition and enthusiasm of the participants, but this year is especially precious, because of the projects’ large involvement with the community in Lisbon. One team is developing a unique signage identity for the neighbourhood, another is redecorating some of the run-down facades and others focus on creating hubs for the community, including shade and activity options. Unfortunately I had to leave before the end of the workshop, but all the results will be formally presented on Sunday the 18th, and they will also be posted on the reaction website (see above) and on the official MEDS webpage.

The series of experimental pilot-projects are implemented in Graça for at least a couple of months, and will make an interesting visit for anyone concerned with public life in public spaces!

Pavilion by Kieran Donnellan and Meds Student, 2012, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The pavilion has for the past year given the citizens of Ljubljana a place for serenity and reflection. Installations like this are currently being built in Lisbon.

Pavilion by Kieran Donnellan and Meds Student, 2012, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The pavilion has for the past year given the citizens of Ljubljana a place for serenity and reflection. Installations like this are currently being built in Lisbon.

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The Design of an Interaction

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An easter egg hunt is a designed experience

An easter egg hunt is a designed experience

When you eat your breakfast in the morning, do you slurp through your coffee while dressing yourself (or someone you love) and chomp down your toast on your way out the door? Or are you one of those who savors your meal, enjoying the peaceful calm of the early hour?

The ceremony of drinking tea in Japan is a careful sequence of small events called sado. At the center of the ceremony, one drinks a small portion of tea, yet this tea drinking would be nothing nearly so special if it were extricated from the entire experience. Sa in this context means “tea,” while do means ‘way,’ which comes  from the Chinese word, which transliterates as tao.  It implies the method or approach one applies to the behavior or activity in question. Rather than focusing on the product, in this case, the cup of tea, the word describes the process by which the experience of drinking tea is conjured.

Sado is famously elaborate, site specific, and temporal. In essence, it involves a lot of waiting around for something to happen, in progressively uncomfortable physical positions. When the time for the main event finally takes place, one gulps the tea in one or two sips, as efficiently as possible: neither wasting time, nor rushing. The tea drinking is practiced as a moment: it is now or never. The bitterness of the tea powder swirling in hot water is overpowering, and then it is simply over.

There are some consolation events after the tea, where a small molded sugar candy is served, and then it is time to (attempt to) elegantly rise up off your knees, bow to your hosts and walk away. Out over the stones, past the pond, through the garden, past the bench where you waited in the dewy air for what seemed like too long to be called in, and through the bamboo gate.

The tea ceremony is the design of an interaction.

Are there ways to design parts of the city as a sequence of events that build to a single moment? Can we curate those events so they carefully and seamlessly become a full and coherent experience? The commute to work is a sequence of events that many go through five times a week. You grab your bike from its storage place, bring it out to the street, adjust your sunglasses, and set off. You wave to the baker. You arrive at the cycletrack or bike path and join the other cycling commuters. At a stoplight a couple kiss and then wave goodbye, the light turns and one of them peels off to the right. Pedestrians cross the lane and smile apologetically as they hop on the bus. The clock strikes 9:00 as you arrive at work. You park your bike in the courtyard of the building where you work, consider buying a coffee to brace you for the day. Up four flights of stairs you climb, through the heavy door, and there you are, ready for another day.

Freeways and roads are usually designed prioritizing utility, making the commute to work bland, introspective, and somewhat isolating. Infrastructure enabling active mobility (biking and walking), in contrast, has the opportunity to lay out an experience of the city and one’s place within it. Although it may not reach the intense beauty of the rigorous sado, the “way” of urban design offers another kind of beauty, that simple beauty of public life.

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Moscow – Feature #1

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In the next few weeks Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City will be made public. As a lead-up to this release we will issue a series of special reports with the aim to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow.

People come first in modern cities

An increasing number of vibrant metropolises have adopted people first policies as city planning strategy. Livability has become a criterion in which cities around the world compete. London, Paris, New York — and now Moscow — have realized that vivid public spaces define a city more than anything else.

When studying the world’s hottest and highest ranked cities, it is not difficult to realize that good public spaces play an important role on how the city is experienced and the kind of reputation and branding the city has. The attractive public spaces literally serve as trademarks and symbols for the vibrant cities of this world.

Champs Elysees in Paris, The Rambla in Barcelona, Broadway in New York, Strøget in Copenhagen, Regent Street in London, Swanston Street in Melbourne. These streets are all famous for the myriad of people promenading and creating a vivid urban atmosphere in the surrounding areas. Most attractive cities have memorable squares as well: Times Square in New York, Piazza Navona in Rome, Place de Vosges in Paris, Plaza Mayor in Madrid, The Red Square in Moscow.

‘These spaces, and the public life they invite, are the reference points for people around the world, when they are talking about the cities they have visited and enjoyed. Great people friendly public spaces are the places which, more than anything else, define the cities’, states Project Manager Solvejg Reigstad.

Solvejg Reigstad is one of the architects behind the latest report from Gehl Architects, Moscow – Towards a great city for people that will be shared with Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and his team this week and which will be discussed publically via the press and lectures. With the commission of the report, the local authorities in Moscow have invited Gehl Architects to come up with a set of recommendations for creating a more inviting urban environment.

For cities today, it is very important to be the ‘place to be’ — and never the opposite, elaborates
Jan Gehl founding partner of Gehl Architects

‘Metropolises all over the world contend for inviting tourists and attracting congresses. In that game it is of high value to have a good reputation. To be known for something good.’

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Inviting cityscapes

According to Solvejg Reigstad that is one of the reasons why people first policies as city planning strategies are increasingly being adopted by a large number of cities throughout the world.

In Copenhagen, Lyon, London, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney and New York intense efforts are continuously being made to make the cityscape more people friendly and to invite the citizens to walk and cycle as much as possible.

‘If more people spend time in the public spaces, the city will become more vibrant and inviting. This is in itself a self-reinforcing process: People come where people are. In our present day society — with people being spread out more and more in small, increasingly privatized households — there is a growing need for meeting other people in the shared spaces of the city’, she states.

A new mind-set

According to Jan Gehl, the increasing awareness of the human dimension marks a fundamental paradigm shift in city planning.

“For many, many years — in the era of the modernists and motorists — finding space for cars was the predominant theme for city planners. But in recent years a number of new challenges have  become even more important and persistent”, he says.

‘The city planners have realized that lack of human scale leads to streets with no people and deserted streets are unsafe to walk in. They have also found out that a city full of cars leads to pollution and nevertheless physical inactivity is bad for peoples’ health. The human oriented urban planning can accommodate all those challenges. A people oriented city is safer, healthier, and more sustainable.’ 

In addition to this the rising environmental awareness has left its footprints in town halls all over the planet, says Solvejg Reigstad.

‘Most cities want to be ‘sustainable’ — a word that is very defining for our time. And in that context people friendly city planning has a great potential to actually make a change.’

Moscow’s vision

Moscow also has a vision to become a metropolis that encourages a  richer ‘life between the buildings’.

The Russian capital has a fascinating cityscape which includes both impressive boulevards, beautiful historical squares, and wide rivers. Gorky Park and the 2,2 kilometers of pedestrian streets in the city center attract many Moscovites. But like in many other metropolises the life between the buildings is challenged by expanding parking needs, and the huge number of vehicles driving through the city each day.

‘The current traffic levels are a serious impediment to the continued growth of the city and tend to lead to a lack of investment and a gradual deterioration of the public spaces in the city center’, the Moscow report concludes.

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Gehl Architects’ work in Moscow is based on the Public Space Public Life studies conducted using the methods of Jan Gehl and Gehl Architects. The team has analysed selected streets, squares and parks in the city center and documented the way people are using these spaces. The purpose of the study is to identify, improve and create a hierarchy of public realm spaces in Moscow.

According to Jan Gehl all cities can change for the better.

‘Some might think that our ideas about people friendly spaces, cycling and livability are all just a bunch of European rubbish. But in the cities we have worked with our methods have been quite successful. I’m sure they will work for Russia as well.’

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Summer Streets – Regent Street

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Regent Street, north of Picadilly Circus.

Regent Street, north of Picadilly Circus.

If you are in London this summer, take the chance to experience beautiful Regent Street without traffic! A Summer Streets event will take place every Sunday in July 2013 (7th, 14th, 21st, 28th) the street will be closed to traffic between 11am and 6pm on each of the pre-arranged dates.

Visualization of a 'Summer Streets' event.

Visualization of a ‘Summer Streets’ event.

Seeing the city in a new light

There is a lot of interest surrounding the competitiveness of global cites, firstly there are few truly global cities and London is in among the top five.  Altering the way people use, or can use city streets, invites new experiences and interpretation of spaces. Our experience in other major international cities has shown that temporary interventions introduce people to architecture they never knew existed; they can look up without fear of being hit by a moving vehicle. Visitors to these spaces are often struck by the silence created when cars are not present, as well as by how the air immediately feels cleaner. The ability to walk between landmarks and neighborhoods opens up as wandering and getting lost become more pleasant and people are invited to linger on the streets. The power of place has been documented in a number of recent studies and is a contributing factor to economic performance. For example, a recent New York City Department of Transportation study found that retail sales increased by 172% after a parking triangle on Pearl Street in Brooklyn was converted into a pedestrian plaza (2012).

Regent Street – Popular but crowded

Regent Street in London is one of the most popular shopping destinations.  The Architecture of Regent Street and Waterloo Place – Built in the early 1800s, Regent Street is an example of early British town planning, and while the original buildings no longer exist, the street layout does. At certain times and due to its popularity Regent Street can be overcrowded, with more than 200,000 pedestrians walking there daily. The recognised standard is that more than 33 persons/minute/metre on a pavement area is considered overcrowding that leads to restricted movement and poses a challenge to walking and crossing the street. Regent Street grossly exceeds this number. Monthly counts from New West End Company show numbers ranging up to just above 30,000 per hour. In addition, pavement width is often reduced by 50% due to interspersed pedestrian barriers, such as advertisements and bus shelters.

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Reducing harmful emissions

The volume and nature of vehicular movements on Regent Street is detrimental to health and contributes to an environment with up to five times more Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions than current EU limits, most of which come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis. Yet this does not have to be the case, as traffic free days have demonstrated how quickly the air quality can improve.  Researchers at King’s College London have carried out two studies into the impact of traffic free days on air quality along Oxford Street and Regent Street. Pollution levels were recorded for periods prior to, during and following the traffic free days in fixed locations and carried out by pedestrians using mobile monitors. A range of analysis methods were used to quantify changes in concentrations resulting from the traffic ban, independent of other influences such as the weather and unrelated vehicle emissions.

Most of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions on Regent Street come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis.

Most of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions on Regent Street come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis.

Summer Streets – a catalyst for change

Creating a pedestrian priority event on the street would help visitors and Londoners alike to enjoy and experience the fantastic opportunities on Regent Street. Gehl Architects have been involved with the process of facilitating. The Summer Streets 2013 initiative which consists of a series of temporary pilot projects. If used carefully, pilot projects are excellent catalysts for permanent change; both in the physical layout and perhaps more importantly, in peoples’ perception and experience of the city. We believe that one of the critical drivers is the need to create an environment which will invite people to come into the West End to explore the adjoining districts; areas such as Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Soho, Carnaby Street, Heddon Street, Market Place, Cavendish Square, Fitzrovia and St. James´and Regent’s Park. One of the aspirations of the Summer Streets project should be to provide more space for visitors and by doing so bring the Fruin* levels down to more acceptable levels and to reduce the harmful emissions levels.

Mayor Boris Johnson supports the initiative and describes Regent Street as the perfect destination to launch this type of project. Click here to read more:

*Fruin levels refer to the judging of crowding; 23-33 ppl/metre/min on a pavement is Fruin Level B, as seen in the diagram above. Numbers above that amount is considered overcrowded.

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Stanford d.school prototypes with Gehl

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The Stanford students used prototypes and catalytic props to engage Market Street users to evaluate how willing people are to play, socialize and interact with other citizens and their city in new ways.

The Stanford students used prototypes and catalytic props to engage Market Street users to evaluate how willing people are to play, socialize and interact with other citizens and their city in new ways.

How do we invite people to spend time along city streets?  In what ways can design facilitate new forms of social interaction?  How can innovation provide clearly defined public benefits? How can design respond to the needs identified by the adjacent community? Can public space programming demonstrate emerging technologies that enhance or enable a rich visitor experience?

These are some of the questions the Exploratorium and Gehl Architects posed to Stanford d. school students in the design for science multidisciplinary course.  Given the limited time frame, the outcome was inspiring and fun.  Research work that the student engaged in onsite revealed the public’s interest and curiosity as many passersby engaged with props and art pieces planted on site by the students.  Two student projects can be seen here:
http://marketstproject.weebly.com/the-process.html
http://citywindow.weebly.com/index.html

As with many meaningful processes, the ideas generated by these dedicated students, led us to more questions. Can the d.school IDEO inspired methodology of ‘make it good for one specific type of user and you will make it good for many’ that is so brilliant to products, also be applied to urban design? What is at stake for designers when providing a public good like small public spaces`?

As part of our ongoing work as Design Lead for the Better Market Street project, Gehl developed a concept for activating street life, showcasing innovation, and catalyzing civic society. In collaboration with the Exploratorium, the Mayors Office of Civic Innovation and SF Planning department, this concept has evolved into Living Innovation Zones (LIZ). Living Innovation Zones designate parts of the city for the demonstration of innovative solutions that improve the physical realm of the city and promote quality of life.  As part of the idea generation process, we asked Stanford d. school students to define concepts and prototypes for the space.

Living Innovation Zones are an evolution of the many parklets (shown here along Valencia) that have popped up all over the city and have transformed parking spaces to meeting places.

Living Innovation Zones are an evolution of the many parklets (shown here along Valencia) that have popped up all over the city and have transformed parking spaces to meeting places.

The Exploratorium, a world renowned learning laboratory and prized San Francisco Institution brings unprecedented knowledge and experience with prototyping.  For more than forty years, The Exploratorium built creative, thought-provoking exhibits, tools, programs, and experiences that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning.  Always focused on solving problems through city and citizen collaboration, The SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) is working to create community-sourced solutions that improve the efficiency and accessibility of government. Gehl is thrilled to be collaborating with these partners.  Our role has been to establish the overall concept, as well as the spatial framework for community sourced solutions.  The City is working to make a policy framework to make it easier for citizens to engage in the design and programming of city streets and spaces.  Over the course of the summer and early fall the team will be working with prototypes that close gaps in the city

  • Physical Gap – spatial, scale, underutilized space
  • Social Gap – social distance between people, neighborhood, lingering, inclusivity
  • Civic Gap – between citizen and decision maker – open ideas, crowd-funding, streamlined permission process

Keep an eye out for ways to get involved – both from San Francisco and from around the world!

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Tools for Change – Gehl Masterclass 2013

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Gehl Architects hosted their very first, in-house, ‘Tools for Change’ masterclass on June 13th and 14th in their home-base of Copenhagen. Twenty-three international participants, from Bogota, Cape Town, Lausanne, Torino, Perth, Horsens, Edinburg, Glasgow, Barcelona, Brussels and Moscow joined the two-day, action packed course. Experiences included varied presentations, focused on capacity building, the human scale, quality criteria, round the world case studies, along with cycle tours, ‘The Human Scale’ film screening , dinner and many good discussions. Participants also got a sneak peek into the new Gehl book entitled ‘How to study public life?’ Thanks to the enthusiasm, intelligence and curiosity of the participants, the two days were a great inspiring success!

Gehl Architects is extremely passionate about the process of learning and sharing knowledge with like-minded, multi-disciplinary people from around the world. Exchanging experiences, tips, stories and solutions is crucial in these complex times.

Dialogue is key, as is growing the connectivity between people around the world. That is why we will be hosting the Gehl Masterclass every year in our home-base of Copenhagen! If you or someone you know is interested in attending our summer 2014 Gehl Masterclass, please send an email to mail@gehlarchitects.dk with the tagline – Gehl Masterclass 2014. We will sign you up and send you further information over the coming months.

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Play and City Life

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A shooting game using wifi + smartphone.

A shooting game using wifi + smartphone.

My niece is named Zooey. She is 4, and she loves to play.

Her name happens to derive from the Greek word for ‘life’. Actually, in Greek, there are two separate words for life, bios and zoë. The first indicates life in the sense of a single organism, which will eventually die. Zoë names the life that continues through the generations: the life force, the gene pool. This sort of life is associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry[1].

As illustrated in the film The Human Scale, many of us suffer from the conditions of modern urban life. Our actions are regulated by shame, passiveness, and loneliness. Our access to resources is more abundant than ever, and our yet our time is more parcelized and scarce than ever before. Deprived and stagnated, the ranks of living dead are growing. But there is hope…

The Copenhagen Play Festival occurred on the 25 and 26 of May in Frederiksberg, and presented a world of games in urban space. The format combined opportunities to try new board games, aleatory games, and even word games with lectures by professionals and intellectuals specializing in interactive design and game design.

Why should we play? The lecturers at the festival offered many possible answers:

  • Play is neurologically linked to innovation through the random poetry available from the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated ideas[2].
  • Play is often a shame-attacking exercise. Within the alternate reality of the game, it is safe to play the fool.
  • Play, especially in urban space, offers an invitation to transgress: to work productively between the rules of the game and the rules of society.
  • In summary, opportunities for ludic intervention (‘playfulness’) disrupt and juxtapose layers of perception to facilitate (social) innovation. For example, many of the games in urban space considered at the festival used smart tech (smartphones or tablets) to cast a fictional layer over the built environment. Players interface with the screen, wherein an alternate, video game reality is portrayed, to (in one case) shoot at other players with smartphones within range. In this case, the ‘soft architecture’ figured by wifi, radio, satellite, and cellular service disrupts or is at least juxtaposed with the ‘hard architecture’ or the physical built environment. Stretching the metaphor, Isabel Fróes, a scholar of interaction design and a lecturer at ITU in Copenhagen, proposes that each time we participate in online social networking from a device while circulating in the city, we are, in a sense, joining a game.

Johan Huizinga in his book, Homo Ludens (1938), calls the playground a sort of sacred space of play. On a playground, we have every expectation that play will occur. In this way, it is less rich for social innovation because there are fewer opportunities for the disruption of our expectations of public space or of our layers of perception. In contrast, spontaneous games are a way of reminding people of their own agency.

Viktor Bedö presented the methodology of writing games that he and his colleagues use at their collective, Invisible Playground. This Berlin-based group makes site specific games at a variety of scales ‘from lightweight design workshops and playtesting events to elaborate transmedia productions.’ To make site-specific games, the group conducts a site analysis of the spaces, forms, and flows on the site, and then derives a game from the existing conditions.

The explicit rules of the game must be boiled down to 3-4 rules, according to Bedö, if excited newcomers are expected to remember. The games range between fact and fiction: some games incorporate the built environment and the flows of people into the game (in one game, if your marker was kicked through the metro station by passing commuters, then you lose points. But it is within the rules of the game to ask passerbys to help you protect your marker from other players. In another case, the pedestrian signals for crosswalks were incorporated into the rules of the game.) Other games construct a parallel alternate reality that depends on the existence of the surrounding built environment but does not interact with it (such as the smartphone shooting game I described above, or in the most common cases of Live Action Role Play). In the games where the gap between game and reality is smallest, it becomes easier to read instances of affordance or empathetic design in the city, Bedö suggests. These could be a place, such as deep, hip height, south facing window sills that offers a seat in the sun, or a material choice, such as a wood finish on something anticipating human touch, like a handle, bench, or column. Where the world of the game coincides with the physical built environment, players notice these elements more than usual, Bedö argues.

How is it that people move from everyday life to play in an urban environment?

Sylvan Steenhuis, to whom I owe credit for the water gun video embedded above, has written a very clear, perceptive Master’s thesis on playfulness in public space. It is available to view online through the link below. The key diagram visualizes the transition from not participating to playing as a soft edge.

In the case of the water gun game, this edge was constructed socially, through the sudden availability of water guns, encouraging team members, and social energy on a hot day. On a playground, this edge is constructed physically with clear territorial edges for what does and does not pertain to the playground. In the case of public life spaces, it becomes possible to merge the built edge and the social edge through considering simple human dynamics, for example: people are attracted by people. A great restaurant not only serves great food but provides a bustling, interesting atmosphere. In creating places for people at GA, I find we use somewhat related or analogous techniques as is proposed by Steenhuis. Even the language overlaps: in both cases, as Helle Lis Søholt has said, ‘people respond to the invitations they receive.’

What possible benefit do spontaneous ludic interventions offer?

For the individual, a disruption of the public sphere can result in social innovation. One’s social network could increase, leading to a date, a new friend, childcare, or work. Revealing or superimposing layers of perception could result in new insights, or an expanded sense of the possible. Spontaneous interventions can become self-perpetuating, and transformative (like the Greek  zoë) . They can make our experience of urban space more lively.

For the city, increased liveliness and spontaneity in urban places stimulates exchange, which can invigorate local economic life. People attract more people, and a fun and lively city is likely to be a safer city, as Jane Jacobs proposes with the concept of ‘eyes on the street’. With more people on the street, more people are watching, and crime is less likely to occur unchecked.

Most of all, spontaneous games are a way of reminding people of their own agency. One can choose to accept an invitation to play, or reject it: one has choice. The opportunity to participate in urban games implicitly reminds people that they are participating in urban life, and that, in itself, is a choice. Engaging in play, or reflecting on why one has rejected play increases social capital, interconnectedness and interdependence. Improved social capital usually correlates with increased willingness to care for the commons, a caring which improves life for everyone. Care for the commons encourages nascent human tendencies, such as gratitude, generosity, empathy, compassion, responsibility, and self-respect. Engaging in spontaneous and purposeless play secures youthfulness and life.

Future urban games festivals:

Here is a bibliography of urban play that you might enjoy reading:

  • Johan Huizinga Homo Ludens
  • Thomas S. Henricks Play reconsidered: sociological perspectives on human expression
  • Jacques Rancière The Emancipated Spectator
  • Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, Annika Waern, Pervasive Games Theory and Design: Experiences on the Boundary Between Life and Play

[i] Hyde, Lewis The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property quotes Carl Kerényi’s book on Dionysos [sic]
[ii]Kay Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist, author of Exuberance: The Passion for Life

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Friday Fun April 25th 2013

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Hello everyone and happy Copenhagen spring time! We kick off one day early due to tomorrows national holiday here in DK

Inspired by all the smiling faces I met biking to work this morning, this weeks’ Friday Fun features a bunch of links related to bikes and cycling.

Great Ideas; “Can a bicycle make up for everything a car have done? The Carma Project believes it can”. This Lisbon based project is using scraps of old cars to build brand new bikes, with the mission of compensating for the emissions lead out by the car. Everyone can join in and ride ‘a mile for a mile’.  renewpurpose.com - carma-project.com

Inspiring Companies; Ride a bike and change the world! Buenos Aires based La Vida en Bici launched Bikestorming.org at the Rio +20 summit.  ‘Bikestorming.org is about creating a systemic, global change on urban mobility for sustainable cities of the 21st century’ – by having 51% of the worlds’ population biking by year 2030! Check out their www: www.bikestorming.org - lavidaenbici.com

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Blog Love; The Guardian Bike blog is packed with interesting articles, facts and figures and useful tips on how to maintain your bike. www.guardian.co.uk.

This article from the Bike blog takes up the issue of how to get more children in GB to ride their bikes to school. “Only 1% of children aged 5-10 and 3% of children aged 11-15 cycle to school, even though the average distance travelled is just three miles. Aside from the obvious physical health benefits, the CTC believes cycling can help “confidence, independence and sense of self-worth”…….. With 45% of children currently travelling by car contributing to 29% of traffic between 8-9am, encouraging more children to cycle to school would reduce local congestion and pollution.” www.guardian.co.uk

Cities; on another note and the complete opposite of my morning experience of a lively Copenhagen is; ‘visions of cities without people’. Artist and photographer duo Lucie & Simon have created this post-apocalyptic series entitled ‘Silent World’ showing famous places in major metropolises emptied from the people that make them vibrant and lively.  www.lucieandsimon.com

Data & Infographics; last but not least a wonderful diagram showing the simplicity of bicycle planning in Denmark from Copenhagenize:  www.copenhagenize.com

For more Friday Fun, check out the Gehl Pinterest pinterest.com/gehlarchitects

Have a great sunny weekend and be sure to send some smiles back, I know I will!

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Is a more fearless city possible? – reflections from Buenos Aires

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A neighbourhood street in Palermo Viejo

Project manager at Gehl Architects, Louise Vogel Kielgast, has spent the past 3 and a-half months in Buenos Aires. Aside from appreciating the very unique urban character that characterizes Buenos Aires one theme was recurrent in most conversations: seguridad – from discussions over the choice of neighborhood to live in (“Why have you chosen to live in this neighborhood (Palermo Soho) and not Recoleta or Puerto Madero?”) to choice of holiday destination (“Punta del Este is great because it’s safe”) to general discussions of the development of Buenos Aires (“the city is just not so safe anymore..”) to urban planning discussions (“before addressing anything else we need to think about security”). The issue of safety or security is not unique to Buenos Aires – rather it seems to be one of the most pressing issues to tackle in many cities around the world (and definitely in Latin America) and thus one to be addressed. But the many comments kept me puzzled. Is Buenos Aires really that unsafe or is it also people’s perceptions of insecurity that are on the rise? And what is the most appropriate response to this inseguridad?

Whether there’s a discrepancy between statistics on safety and people’s perceptions of security is debatable, but the important thing is that statistics as well as perceptions influence the way that the city evolves and the ways that people generally perceive and use the city. In recent years the number of street police has increased tremendously in Buenos Aires, but the issue of security also manifests itself in other ways. Many of the new apartment buildings that are being built these years are small gated communities with a fence around, or if that is not possible, they will at least have security personnel who oversee people leaving and entering. This type of development is taking place both when renewing older neighborhoods and when building new city areas on the outskirts of the city. Apparently people are not only one of people’s greatest joys but also one of people’s fears.

When fighting security in cities like Buenos Aires, these fears must be taken seriously, but there seems to be a risk of escalating fear and crime if this gated community trend continues. Could we perhaps not fight back these trends by stressing and reinforcing the joy side of being with other people? Areas like Palermo Viejo that are quiet and walkable yet extremely lively and full of people who enjoy the many attractive public spaces with cafés, shops, restaurants, markets, children playing etc. demonstrate that people do like meeting other people in the public space. But it seems like these types of urban environments are taken somewhat for granted, and perhaps this is a place to start? Perhaps we need to create more awareness of and nurture the urban qualities that these types of neighborhoods offer. This is a task that politicians and planners can’t handle alone; the awareness has to reach a broader public – reach all those people who spend time in the city every day, and who eventually have to use and take care of the public spaces.

Another Latin American city, Bogota, has successfully up-graded many of its public spaces, thus demonstrating the potential of public space to act as a social equalizer in the city. Improving streets for people to walk and public spaces for people to spend time in is not a luxury, but a prerequisite for people (of different social and cultural backgrounds) to meet and through these meetings possibly minimizing the growing fear between people.

The City of Buenos Aires is currently taking the first steps of implementing a comprehensive plan for Micro Centro, which aims at making this part of the city more pedestrian friendly. Along with a number of other initiatives that strive to improve the public spaces in the area this seems like a step in the right direction of avoiding both safety and sense of security to escalate.

2013-04-18_plazaserrano

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Mighty Mouse: Can Small Cities be Global Cities?

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Livable. Strategic. International.

Livable. Strategic. International.

It seems like a predictable law of physics; ­the cities with the greatest gravity in the urban universe are some of the largest. Tokyo, New York, Paris, London, and so on–these global cities are the vital nodes of the global economy, epicenters of cultural influence, and tireless contributors of world-changing ideas. A behemoth mass of life, however, is not the sole predictor of global influence. A handful of outliers–San Francisco, Zurich, Miami, and Copenhagen–prove that with smart urban planning, strategic policy, and the prerequisite embrace of internationalism, small cities can also be global.

First, some frame of reference for these chosen case study cities. Consider the global influence of San Francisco, Zurich, Miami, and Copenhagen in relation to other cities with populations under one million in Western Europe and the Unites States:

2013-03-21_population-rankings-01

Though their character, culture, and geographic position vary widely, these cities stand out as centers of considerable global influence despite their relatively small populations. They are not, however, outliers by accident.

Livability

One common thread among them is a high quality of life. Those who follow popular quality of life surveys (The Economist, Mercer, Monocle, etc.) will be familiar with Zurich and Copenhagen’s frequent jostle for the top positions as the world’s most livable cities. San Francisco is similarly well-regarded for livability among North American cities. Small global cities are walkable, with generous public space and high quality public transport. In some respects, these cities’ small size puts them at an advantage–they have been built to a human scale rather than buried beneath skyscrapers like Manhattan or central Tokyo. They are attractive places to live for native residents and internationals alike.

Though they may not all possess tall skylines, these smaller global cities are indeed compact. The scatterplot below compares the population densities of similarly sized cities with their populations:

2013-03-21_global-cities-density-01-01

Population vs. Density

Higher densities may well contribute to these four cities’ ability to hold such an important place in global economics and cultural exchange; more people in less space spurs more social interaction, more potential for new ideas, and a higher productivity of the local workforce. Furthermore, density correlates with a greater efficiency of public services, providing more funds to invest in higher quality of life and economic development. Small or large, global cities must be compact cities.

Strategic Policy

Each of these case study cities has also capitalized on notable successes in a specific field of specialization. Zurich has assumed the role of Europe’s financial center (where finance accounts for a higher percentage of business than in New York). Copenhagen is a thought leader in design and a global exporter of green technology. San Francisco has been a cultural pioneer and become the world’s foremost city for tech startups. Miami has earned the title of “the Capital of Latin America” by providing stability and a multi-lingual environment to Latin American entrepreneurs. It is no coincidence that all four of these small global cities reside within nations with business-friendly regulatory environments. The economic opportunities of their urban populations expand as a result. When countries invest in innovation and nurture entrepreneurialism, cities–large and small–will serve as the incubators of their success.

Internationationalism

At the risk of presenting a truism–it’s a bit more complex than it seems–global cities must also embrace internationalism. Many cities seek international corporate investment, but they often forget to consider how people play into this equation. As shown below, small global cities boast an above-average presence of foreign-born residents:

2013-03-21_global-cities-density-01-01

Population vs. % Foreign Born

This is where Miami’s strength lies–a majority immigrant population–and the other case study cities break away from the pack. Their acceptance of a diverse population opens the doors to the synthesis of new ideas and a vibrant cultural experience. Though Switzerland, Denmark, and the United States have all tightened immigration policies in the past decade, data suggests this will be to the detriment of these global cities. Specialized firms will face a more difficult time recruiting the best talent in the world, and recent studies even suggest that fewer businesses will be opened in the first place.
The world’s larger global cities are well aware of the benefit immigrants provide their development; cities like Chicago, Toronto, and Vienna have begun intensive initiatives to attract immigrants despite national policies. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (From a city of 8.3 million with over 3 million immigrants) has called the United States current immigration policies “economic suicide”.

All this is not meant to overlook the fundamental question: why become a global city? Clearly not all small cities can become global cities, but the benefit of stepping up as an international hub means an enriched array of opportunities for people–more employment options, a more diverse array of neighbors, and the heightened potential for new ideas to emerge. Furthermore, the correlative metrics outlined here provide a higher quality of life for residents regardless of success as a global city. The means to an end are a virtue in and of themselves. Support for localized economics and consumption will continue to be the sustainable route for cities, but access to a global network of knowledge and culture is available to smaller cities taking meaningful steps towards our ever more interconnected future.

2013-03-21_global-cities-density_foreign-born

Outliers

*Miami & San Francisco images by Robin Hill (West 8) and Kelly Allen (File Magazine), respectively. Copenhagen & Zurich images by Kasey Klimes.
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How does living in a city contribute to health and well-being?

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2013-01-03_health2

Several noted physicians, including Ian Robers, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have claimed that in the 21st century architects and planners will have a larger impact on health than health care professionals. In the forthcoming book, Safety Sustainability and Future Urban Transport, Ian argues that despite the safety risks of cycling in cities with rough traffic density like Delhi or Sao Paulo, the risk of not being physically active is higher. Jeff Risom and Claire Mookerjee have also contributed a chapter to the book with insights from New York, Copenhagen, and Chennai, India that is scheduled for release in early 2013.

At Gehl we are utilizing a people first perspective to explore how built form directly affects (positively or negatively) health, happiness, safety and well-being. Helle Søholt recently participated in the TEDxFMUSP event in Sao Paulo with a focus on health in cities, participating in a discussion about planning not only taking into account the social need of people, but the possibility of architectural provisions favoring the networks that scientists call “social capital.” Kristian Villadsen was a keynote speaker at Then/Now#6 hosted by NAI (Netherlands Architecture Institute) in a discussion and investigation of fruitful forms of cooperation between architects, governments and private commissioners which can lead to new spatial visions for a healthy society.

In the attached video of Kristian’s presentation he highlights research by Bente Klarlund (“Byer til at gå i” Weekendavisen 16 october, 2009), where she points out that since the 1990’s life expectancy in USA has increased 2.5 years, but in the same period life expectancy in New York has risen 6.2 years. Cities are healthier simply because we walk.

A person who lives in a suburban density is at least 10 pounds heavier than the average person who lives in an urban density, all other things being equal.

So what is the difference between the suburb and the city, one factor is the closeness and convenience of walking and biking. Cities, with their higher density, greater proximity to services and higher intensity of uses promote physical activity because we have more of a tendency to walk and use active forms of transportation in the city.

“If all non-cyclists in Denmark became cyclists, about 12000 deaths linked to too little physical activity would be prevented every year as a result of cycling activity; and there are only 30 cyclists killed in traffic accidents annually.”
– The Lancet Volume 380, July 21, 2012

In the creation of a city facilitating human activity, it is all about the awareness of distance and convenience. Generally people do not move because they want to be healthier, they move because it is the easiest way to get from A to B in your everyday.

So the ways we build, how close things are, affect the human activity and the health of the population in a diversely developed city.

“For instance, a straight-line distance of about 400 to 500 meters between where you live and a grocery store or an eating or drinking establishment will result in directly increased walking … Walking increases for individuals about 20 percent for each park that is within a 1-kilometer distance of a residential area.”
– Mark Holland – a former director of Vancouver’s sustainability office and a founder of the Healing Cities Institute

Amenity is a key factor in the development of a city supporting the health of the population, when people move not because they need to – but because it is convenient.

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