Swanston Street, Melbourne. Melbourne is one of the featured case studies in the Gehl Architects component of the exhibit. Photo credit City of Melbourne

Gehl Architects are featured in an circular video component for Louisiana (Danish Museum of Modern Art) that is part of their summer exhibition entitled ‘ New Nordic Architecture’ which opens today and will run through until October 21st.

Part of the ‘Reconquering of public space’ section of the exhibit, our component is comprised of three themes vital to urban quality– Life, Mobility and Scale. The content for each theme is based on the principles established by Jan Gehl and continually evolved by Gehl Architects to the many different types of projects and scales of intervention.

Each theme features two example case studies of exemplary city transformation projects that Gehl Architects have either contributed to – or others that we admire and deliver extraordinary quality.

Cities include:

Life – Melbourne, Australia and New York City, USA

Mobility – Bogota, Colombia and Copenhagen, Denmark

Scale – Malmo, Sweden and Chongqing, China

Over the course of the next few months we will be exploring these themes in more detail as we invite colleagues, collaborators clients and all readers of this blog to engage in dialogue. A parallel exhibit will be featured at the Venice Biennale beginning in August, so if you can’t make it to Denmark, then maybe Italy is a possibility? There will be many opportunities to contribute and we invite you all to do so.

Read more here

Welcome back to Gehl Institute’s partnership with Untapped Cities in New York, looking at the impact of data, both open and collected, in the design of cities.

On March 7, New York City became the first local government to pass legislation ensuring public access to data. The passing of the bill symbolizes a political embrace of the “open” culture already underway in New York City’s “Silicon Alley.”  City agencies and non-profit organizations in New York are making new correlations between urban conditions and social phenomenon, utilizing crowdsourcing and open data, to support traditional methods of data analysis.

Open Plans, a New York-based non-profit organization with a focus on transportation and urban planning, is an example of such a progressive group. The Open Plans team builds software which enables public agencies and non-profit organizations to crowdsource input from the community. You may recognize their work with New York City’s Department of Transportation’s interactive bike station suggestion map from this past year. In its decade of existence, Open Plans developed open source projects which include OpenGeo, Streetfilms, Streetsblog, GothamSchools, Civic Commons and OpenTripPlanner. According to the non-profit, all the tools serve to facilitate open source software, information transparency and progressive transportation planning.

Recently, Open Plans co-hosted a panel at the American Planning Association (APA) Conference in Los Angeles with Denver-based firm Place Matters, highlighting the challenges to come as we navigate amidst a constant and sometimes overwhelming flow of data. Important questions loom: How do we make sense of the data? With limited resources, should companies focus on making the quality of data better or the analysis tools better?

Publicly submitted requests for bike share stations in NYC

In partnership with Open Plans, the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has also embraced this trend towards a more “open” culture by utilizing crowd-sourced information to plan station locations for the soon-to-be-launched Citibank bike share program. Bicycle commuting has increased in the city (35% from 2007 to 2008), but there are still significant challenges associated with bike ridership, including access. The collected crowd-sourced data, submitted via an interactive map on the NYCDOT website, allowed the public to suggest bike share stations for the rollout.

To read the full article visit Untapped Cities

Last week David and I travelled to Bogotá for the second time to collaborate with the World Bank on a scoping workshop. Throughout the four-day process, we meet and worked with various secretariats, including habitat, planning and mobility on imagining the future of the ‘7a’ avenue, one of the most prominent and historic arteries of the city.

The ‘7a’ project is being lead by the Secretariat of Habitat, under the wing of their ‘Taller de la Ciudad’ or ‘City Lab’. Their aim is to revitalise parts of the city centre beginning by enhancing public life, easing movement and increasing security. The ‘Taller de la Ciudad’ has identified 15 nodes along the 7a where they plan to trial pilot projects. Later this year, they will launch an international ideas competition to help gather innovative ideas for the 15 nodes.

The ‘City Lab’ team has already begun their first pilot between the 19th and 26th streets of the ‘7a’ – cars have been re-routed and the road re-distributed to include space for pedestrians, cyclists and service vehicles. Although it is being pitched to users as a pedestrian street, it seems like the opportunity is much bigger and linked to the current mayor’s slogan – Bogotá Humana (Human Bogotá). The planned initiatives along the ‘7a’ translate into projects that are about making an already incredible and inspiring city into a place that exhilarates our senses by smartly transforming them into destinations, experiences, hubs, and magnetic centers that offer the best of city life to every citizen.

7a avenue pilot

Towards a human-centered Bogotá

Standing and observing the altered flows between the 19th and 26th we were struck by the lack of clarity and conflict between users despite the delineated spaces. There appeared to be very little natural propensity to follow the painted lanes and no alliance between pedestrians and cyclists. It left us wondering how Bogotanos can be moved towards and inspired to respond to something that is entirely new? Does this type of lane segregation and order suit the culture? It seems like an incredible opportunity for both the secretariats and the citizens to investitage city-goer behaviour and to trial innovative urban solutions.

The exponential and ambitious transformations of Bogotá, such as Transmilenio BRT program and associated ‘hardware’ restructuring projects by Enrique Peñalosa, socially experimental and unorthodox ‘software’ approach by Antanas Mockus, have yet to be surpassed in fame or efficiency by successive administrations. These projects were, in thinking and finance a product of their time. Now it seems like a new, more dispersed and open city agenda is surfacing. One in which bottom up processes of small change that inspire participation, social connection and trust are developing, needing an understanding of the inter-play between the hard, and the soft infrastructures of the city. The pilot project shows that one size doesn’t fit all and that intelligent design must come from user and cultural understanding.

Main city centre plaza

Illustration: Gehl Architects

Gehl Architects discuss some ideas for the future of the City in this month’s Monocle magazine. If you subscribe to Monocle you can read it here:

In our ever-urbanizing world it is essential to be both idealistic and pragmatic about how we choose to live. If we’re to make our cities healthy, happy and resource-efficient then we must recalibrate the measures used by practitioners to focus more on quality of life: we should invert the space given to  cars for people.

The framework for this is already in place. In 2011 the UN pronounced a draft resolution on sustainable urban development through access to quality urban public spaces – stating it is a basic human right.  This timely decree happened just days before the right was exercised by citizens everywhere from Cairo to Wall Street. Communities took position of places like Tahir square in Cairo and Pearl traffic Island in Bahrain.

If you looked beyond the politics and the violence, what you could see was cities around the world usually full of cars – that were now full of people. Whilst we understand these as acts of defiance, and displays of symbolic solidarity against the incumbent order – physically  they had also reclaimed the streets from a different insidious order, that of the predominance of the motorcar over the human.

According to a 2009 report (WHO,2009) more people are killed on the road each day than die from Aids, TB or Malaria. Globally in 2004 it was the leading cause of death amongst 15-29 year olds and the second amongst 5-14 year olds. The draft UN resolution begins the necessary legislative process against this skewed order taking a tight grip of cities around the world. In Jeddah sidewalks have become a dumping ground for building waste, developers in some Indian residential developments are not bothering to even build sidewalks at all and in Moscow pedestrians are increasingly forced underground into confusing, extensive underground networks as traffic speeds by above. Whilst people seek out their political rights in the public spaces around the world let us not forget their human right to open space, to walk and be free in the city.

This phenomenon is something I have been studying for many years. In 2007, Gehl Architects undertook an important study of Flushing Main Street in New York City. We found that 97,000 pedestrians walk along Main Street every day, but they are squeezed into only 30 percent of the street space. Some 56,000 motorists have access to 70 percent of the street space.

My contention is that this allocation of space should be reversed. In future we should set targets for investments in cities based on the number people that investment will positively affect. This is especially relevant in emerging economies. Take, for instance the city of Chennai in India where 45 percent of all daily transit trips are by foot or bicycle, yet investment in sidewalks and bike lanes comprise less than three percent of all infrastructures. This stands in contrast to highway investment, which comprises 39 percent of all investment but serves only 23 percent of all the daily trips in the city.

Planning more widely should be optimistic and lead with positive frameworks for what you can do, not bureaucratic legal jargon about what you can’t do. Architects should be asking not what your city can do for your building design, but what your building design can do for the city. With regards to how buildings touch the street, disallow any new commercial building that doesn’t have active thresholds facing the city or contribute in another way to the urban realm by providing some sort of public amenities.

An argument for shifting the currently dysfunctional discourse about driving and taxes in Denmark.

The problems that the Betalingsring is trying to solve originate not in our city centre but in our suburbs, we need to improve the quality of the town centers that comprise Copenhagen metropolitan region ensuring they are walkable, bike-able and provide everyday amenities.  We need to improve connections and accessibility between these town centers and into the centre of Copenhagen.  We need broad investment in a variety of transit options from car-sharing to public transit to ensure high quality alternatives and most importantly we need to consider the suburbs and promote medium density and quality housing.  We want a city that works in the center and at the edges.

The current discourse about the congestion charge (betalingsring) in Copenhagen has focused on the political differences between left leading urbanites and more conservative car owners.  We aim to shift the discussion from mere political grandstanding to what ought to be the key question; how do we achieve good quality of life for all Copenhageners, a question which we all need to take seriously and responsibility for achieving. Improving quality of life and making a better city for our shared future is about more than charging motorists to drive into the centre. It should be visionary, ambitious and holistic in approach. However as with any problem – before we presume to propose solutions we must carefully take measure and assess where exactly the problems lie?

Some of the key ingredients of a good town centre

Besides being poorly named and branded, the betalingsring, (which roughly translates as payment ring) where the current political discourse is centrifugally focused – has also narrowed the view of the problem to within the confines of the city centre of Copenhagen. This is actually the inverse of where we believe the problems originate. The relative lack of quality and offer in the town centres that stretch along Copenhagen’s pioneering finger plan; the quality of other transit options (besides private vehicle) that connect the center to its suburbs and the absence of public transit connections between the suburbs, we believe go some-way to describing the transit and spatial problem. Mobility choices are multi-dimensional and people’s preferences complex so we need to investigate the wider view that encompass  social preferences that influence human choice; Why do we have so many people driving into the centre, and also why do we have so many driving within localities in the suburbs. Because they can? Because they have to? Because they like to? We need to find out if anything is to change. The Danish Society of Engineers have come out to say that amongst experts only 4 out of 10 believe that the betalingsring will work as hoped. Infrastructure and technology to develop safe cities, low-carbon transit solutions, green energy alternatives and other sustainable initiatives can only succeed if people choose to use it, or in the case of betalingsring, it effects change as predicted. Establishing a bike-share program is only sustainable if cyclists use it. Investing in public transport is only worthwhile if it is comfortable and convenient.  Implementing urban elements to promote safety will only be effective if people behave the way we predict they will. Behavioral understanding is central in the design of any potentially successful interventions.

Ways to add quality to the design of town centres

Just as we have made our city centre walkable, bike-able and attractive – this should be applied more widely creating towns that provide everyday amenities.   In our experience with working in transit hubs in both Gothenburg and Skåne, improving  the quality within 1km of the transit hubs including park and ride schemes, reliable wifi connections that support working while commuting and other initiatives that improve convenience can greatly increase the attractiveness of public transport and really affect people’s transit choices. The London congestion charge scheme generated £930 million of revenue between 2003-2007 but such are the operating costs, only 30% of that was re-invested into public transport.  We need efficient investment, from a mixture of public and private investors as well as from social entrepreneurs to invite alternatives in a variety of transit forms from community car-pools and commercial car clubs to increased reliability on existing rail lines.  Finally and most importantly we need to consider the suburbs’ configuration and promote medium density and quality housing as well as educating consumers about the costs and conveniences of different housing choices.  We want a city with attractive suburban hubs that complement the centre.

In defining what kind of city we want, Gehl Architects argue that a congestion charge alone can’t provide what growing families; ambitious professionals, ageing seniors – people who live in small apartments in the centre or have a house and car in the suburbs- most desire from their city. A safe, healthy, vibrant, attractive, accessible, and ultimately sustainable city.  The answer to this ambitious vision lies both in a holistic and comprehensive regional view as well as the technical details of any scheme for charging motorists in Copenhagen City Centre.

Photo: Bruce Chan, cicLAvia

The first picture of the year is from Bruce Chan a planner/architect, and cyclist in Los Angeles.  His blog captures a lesser known side of LA. In his own words; “Most people – especially Americans – have a negative view of LA.  They complain about the traffic, the fake people, ‘hollywood’, sprawl, etc. But i’ve come to love the city.  Part of the reason is my dedication to biking through the city, and really experiencing all the activities – mostly free and public .” This photo is from cicLAvia – a recurrent event that temporarily removes cars from L.A. streets.

Keep sending your wonderful photos, celebrating cities and people. You can read more here

As the year comes to a close, we wanted to share a short film highlighting our recent biking experiences in New York City!  Every other year we take a longer study tour, as part of our continuing education.  These tours contribute to a common reference of best practice and give us a chance to catch-up with friends and collaborators.

We thank Björn Olsson for letting us use this song ‘Göteborg’ , Rune Mielonen Grassov for post-production and last by not least David Byrne for being a great tour guide.

Happy Holidays from Gehl Architects

Make sure you have sound.

Sponsored by the City of Vancouver, the two-day working session allowed local decision makers to utilize international best practice

Partner and CEO Helle Søholt was invited by Vancouver City to participate in a 2 day working session on the future strategy for the city’s Eastern Core including considerations for removal or partial removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

Like Boston many years earlier, and taking a more recent cue from Seattle and Oslo, Vancouver  is engaged in public dialogue to consider removing these highway barriers of the 60′s.  City officials are aware of the value, economically, socially, culturally and economically of prioritizing people rather than cars in prime sites. This is great news!

In Oslo they are one step ahead, taking down Bispelokket as of this moment, forever changing their city for the better by reconnecting citizens to the water.

Left: The Elevated highway cutting through Boston's central business district. Right: How the area looks today after the Rose Kennedy Greenway replaced the highway.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway at eyelevel

In other cases working with the barriers might be the solution. Life has returned to the area under the 36 arches of the railway viaduct in Zürich West. Controlled use of signage, high quality shops, simplicity, transparency and openness as well as a sensitivity to the historic structure and industrial surrounds have created a really special new place in Zurich.

Helle recommended Vancouver city to stay true to their values as an innovative city region.  Emphasizing the need for a value based transformation rather than a simple ‘plan’, Helle gave insight into how the City can ensure a dynamic design process to best take advantage of this opportunity in the face of great economic uncertainty. Helle focused on inviting for diverse uses and users to the sites in the future Eastern core, enabling the existing neighborhoods to re-connect to each other and the water front after the infrastructure is removed.

The Swedish Transport Administration invited Helle Søholt to contribute as Key Note speaker and to take part in the panel discussion at the seminar Think Future, Strategies for the transport-system of tomorrow, in Stockholm on the 8th of November.

The Swedish Transport Minister Catharina Elmsäter- Svärd opened the seminar, but with no references to the importance of urban areas, cities, towns and villages not to say the people using daily transport systems.

This was indeed the focus of Helle’s contribution to the future thinking of transport. The need to address a micro level of planning and not just the traditional macro level. The micro level where we understand the behavior of people and make transport networks that multiplies choice and quality of life for the individual. Cities that are walkable, bikeable and have a well developed public transport system are both more sustainable and much more lively and safe as a consequence of the people moving at eyelevel in the streets.

The Seminar aimed at providing an arena for dialogue on issues of strategic and long-term importance related to the further use and development of the Swedish transport system. One of several important policy tools to promote sustainable economic growth, at a time when global structural change of demography, economy and trade increases. The necessity of serious considerations to energy and climate change constraints where considered in the seminar.

Trafikverket is a new administration, comprising all modes of transport, and with the brave ambition of gaining a wider identity as not only contributing to the building of the society but a pro-active ”society developer”.

As the first national authority merging transport silos, we hope at Gehl Architects to see a more integrated thinking and approach also to city building and the need of people.

The discussions at the seminar were to serve as strategic input to the national transport policy-making process and influence future strategies and action plans in the National Assembly, the Ministries and the Administrations.

We are looking forward to see the results of integrated thinking in transport solutions contributing to improve cities for people in Sweden.

Thanks to an unusual fun day of transport discussions in Stockholm on old and new paradigms.

Helle Søholt was Key Note speaker at Think Future, Strategies for the transport-system of tomorrow, in Stockholm.

The following panel discussion at the seminar.

Urban decision makers need to understand not just how and why people walk, bike or take transit, but how mobility choices can improve the quality of everyday life and promote human flourishing.

High quality public space is only worthwhile if it invites for a mix of user and diverse user groups

Human behavior, people’s preferences, local culture, and other types of ‘software’ can vary widely and are therefore difficult to measure and predict.  Subsequently, many design professionals, and the local authorities or private investors that employ them, typically shift their attention to ‘hardware’ that they can better control and measure, such as technology and infrastructure.

The built environment can promote physical well-being only if streets are safe and accessible and people choose to walk and bike to work and school every day.

But the infrastructure and technology to develop low-carbon transit solutions, green energy alternatives and other sustainable initiatives can only succeed if people CHOOSE to utilize it.  The built environment can promote physical well-being only if streets are safe and accessible and people choose to walk and bike to work and school every day. Investing in high-quality public space is only worthwhile if it invites for a mix of use and more importantly diverse users and thus provides opportunities to meet and interact and promotes cultural tolerance.

This shift from ‘hardware’ to ‘software’ is complex and difficult and requires that design professionals learn more about human behavior.   This requires a multi-disciplinary, joined-up and integrated approach that marries empirical analysis with design know-how. This type of approach addresses the interaction between the cities that we BUILD and the cities that we LIVE in.

Jeff Risom discusses this topic in a recent podcast on the Cisco Smart Connected Communities Institute website here.  The topic is further expanded as it pertains to cycling and public transit in the current September issue of Bicycling Mobility.


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