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.


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’.


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’?


The presence of both men and women in public spaces are good indications of spaces with a high level of sense of security, and for this reason we at Gehl Architects also do gender mappings as part of our PSPL’s. But perhaps we need to sharpen our understanding of how – not only men and women but also boys and girls use and perceive the public spaces differently? Surely ‘girls’ are by no means a homogenous group and it may not – despite all good intentions – be possible to create ‘public spaces for all’ as is often stated in vision documents, but an increased awareness of the issues at stake seems to be an important place to start.

Vienna has since the early 1990’s worked consciously and strategically with the implementation of a gender mainstreaming programan initiative which has led to an increased focus on the many different needs related to public spaces (Read more here) . Some would (rightly) argue that it would be a shame to start creating spaces for either men or women, but to see ‘defining needs as a continuous process’ doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

For inspiration I invite you to take a look at the website created by Mira and Camille based on their impressions from a tour looking for ‘urban worlds’ in Copenhagen.



The process of developing cities for people can flourish in various ways. In Lublin, Poland, they have nominated 2014 to be “Year of Jan Gehl”, and we are curious to follow the initiatives and the outcome. Follow the blog “2014 Rok Jana Gehla w Lublinie” to keep up with initiatives.

In November 2013, Jan Gehl sat down with Jakub Zasina from the University of Lodz for a conversation on what determines a ‘Livable City’. Have a look right here.

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.


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.

Collage from the masterplan

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

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


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  made the first registrations of public life in the centre of Oslo

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.

Study areas

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 mesarues

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.

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.

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

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

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.

2014-02-23 16.30.22_2

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 – 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.


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.



HarborPoint in Baltimore. (Graphic: ASG, Baltimore)


By Klaus Philipsen, FAIA, Baltimore USA.
President ArchPlan, Architect, urban designer, writer.
Blog: Community Architect with weekly articles about urban issues and architecture.

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 (Report)


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.

Beltline Map

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

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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