Untapped Cities and Gehl Institute on Data in Cities

Gehl Institute is pleased to announce its partnership with Untapped Cities for a series of collaborative posts on how data is reshaping the way cities are designed.  With our experiences on making people the main driver in urban design – we will be writing about how data has shaped this process and cities themselves. Untapped cities will be responding by pairing these lessons with posts on new processes, platforms and publications coming out of New York City’s budding open data movement.

Untapped Cities write;

On March 7, New York City became the first local government to pass legislation ensuring public access to government data — a high-water mark, some might argue, in the open data movement. Nowhere is the impact of this trend more apparent than in cities, where data is the densest and networks most complex. As people begin to sort through and make sense of all this data, government decision-making is coming under increasing scrutiny as savvy citizen groups and organizations create stronger and stronger cases to challenge the status quo. 

Ahead of this curve are Gehl Architects, the Danish urban planning consultancy and design firm that helped produce the World Class Streets document which laid the ground work for the NYC DOT’s remarkable transformation of Broadway—most notably reclaiming public space at Times Square, Herald Square and Madison Square. For decades Gehl Architects co-founder Professor Jan Gehl has been challenging the status quo and working to make people more visible in the planning process by collecting data on life in cities – specifically how people use streets and spaces.  The best place to experience the constantly evolving people-oriented approach to planning is the city of Copenhagen.  Over the past 40 years, Copenhagen has been transformed into one of the world’s most livable cities.

Gehl Architects build on Jan’s data collection methodologies to gather information that enforces a people first paradigm through both design and education. With newly available numbers now quantifying the quality-of-life improvements their projects have helped produced, the Open Data movement is in many ways just beginning to catch up to Gehl’s pioneering moves.

As Gehl Architects told Untapped:

“Through the selective collection and presentation of data around human physiology and behavior correlated with the usage patterns of different city streets and public spaces we have demonstrated the direct relationship between city design and life in cities. Observations and data collected from across the world suggests that many aspects of the relationship between urban form and public life are dependent on fundamental aspects of the human experience– such as our senses, our height and way we soak in our surroundings at the speed in which we walk . These universal aspects can then be combined with the unique and contextually driven characteristics of place to create a more humanized city with healthy public life and mobility. Strategies to these ends we have been deploying around the world for the last 12 years. ”

In this series of blog posts, Gehl Architects’ Institute department and Untapped will interrogate the way in which we produce and use data on cities (as in spatially specific data). We will explore how data collection and selection influences city leaders’ decisions, and how it is often the data that is hardest to collect, that counts the most for our quality of life. This data is therefore often the most neglected in city decision making.

From a lens of people centered planning, these posts will track a course from the pioneers of data collection in cities through to tomorrow’s outlook. We will begin, as many urban geography courses do, with Charles Booth’s 1889 poverty map of London. The series will continue with an interview with Birgitte Svarre, Jan Gehl’s co-author on an up-coming book on people oriented data collection followed by an exploration on how we can use data to compare and contrast life in cities.   We will take a critical look at livability in Melbourne and how data will shape urban design practice in the coming years, using the remarkable public engagement effort in Christchurch following the devastating earth quake there one year ago as an example.  

Throughout, we will continually highlight how decisions around how we collect and map data on the city affects actual built results and how city design today begins with data. Whether we are aware of it or not, data drives change in our cities. 

Bloggers from Gehl Institute are; Simon Goddard, Claire Mookerjee, Jo Posselt and Jeff Risom

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