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 Opera House, photo courtesy of Heather Josten
By Bonnie Fortune, freelance journalist
Facts and findings are based on Gehl Architects’ report
‘Bylivsundersøkelse Oslo sentrum’
“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
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
“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
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
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.