It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it – Joseph Joubert

In connection with the upcoming documentary about people in cities (working title Human Scale, directed by Andreas Dalsgaard), we’ve engaged experts, advocates, citizens and politicians in a series of interviews.

We were invited to participate at this summer’s Louisiana MOMA exhibition titled New Nordic -  Architecture & Identity. It has been a great privilege to work with the Louisiana team and I would like to invite everyone who can, to go and see the exhibition during the next four months.  For exhibition purposes it is important to simplify key messages in order to succinctly and effectively communicate the message. But underneath the clear messages promoting planning for life, people mobility in cities and designing of cities at a human scale are underlying key questions that we would like to discuss. We realize the issues we address in the film are never as simple as right vs. wrong in a complex and pluralist urban world.

We’d like to use our blog, website, and social media channels to explore these issues through a more nuanced lens.  We want to engage with anyone who cares about people and cities in an open and honest dialogue about the issue at hand of creating enduring quality of life in cities.  It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to reflect on the themes for our work, and this exhibition has evolved around 3 aspects – Life in Cities, Individual mobility and Human senses and scale.

Life – cities across the world are experiencing rapid social and cultural change.  In some ways globalization is having a convergent effect on the cultural offer in cities, homogenisation associated with  multi-national led commercialisation reduces the importance or strength of ‘place’.  On the other hand, demands for liveability in the developed world and the growing middle class in emerging economies are divergent forces.  How do we ensure dignified urban environments that both cater for individual physical and social needs that still allows for the very human need for cultural character and identity?

Mobility -  we understand that the car, whether it be powered by oil, electricity or hydrogen, will continue to play an important role in city development. So the crucial question we must ask is how can demands for private vehicular mobility, especially in emerging economies, be balanced with non-motorized and public transit. In order to promote mobility – social as well as physical, and the freedom of the individual in the city without negatively affecting the collective mobility and quality of life for people in cities. How do we balance needs for mobility in order to increase flexibility and individual choice of traveling while still increasing connectivity, flow and safety?

Scale – We recognize the need to build tall in certain contexts and economies.  How can the need for density be reconciled with demands for proximity to services and amenities? How do we plan to accommodate for the needed increased density of our cities globally? If taller buildings are not the only answer, how do we ensure the right balance of functions, densities and uses that ensure socially just and harmonious places to live.

Increasingly cities globally are seeing the value of this approach, and after 12 years of Gehl Architects’ practice we feel the general global approach to planning is slowly changing from a modernistic and functional view of cities to a more holistic approach also offering a role for softer social as well as cultural areas of planning. This paradigm shift is supported in general by the broader sustainability movement.  However the world’s restricted resources as well as ineffective leadership on different levels are making the pace of change slow and some places even incredibly hard to notice.

The urgency of the need for increased rate of change towards planning for people must be reflected in the liveliness and intensity of debate. Join us in our renewed efforts towards this by following the blog as we invite other experts from around the world to contribute and join the debate yourself through comment and other online platforms. We encourage all to contribute to the discussion under these themes and in August, as the exhibit travels to the Venice Biennale to come and meet us in Venice and engage in discussions with our team.

We look forward to the debate and exchange over the coming months.

See clips from the exhibition on vimeo                      See behind the scenes in flickr


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