Tag Archives: Jan Gehl

These days we are burning the midnight oil in order to finalise an analytical report about the capital of Norway: Oslo. This particular report has been on its way for about a year, but the Oslo/Gehl relationship was established 26 years ago when Jan Gehl, in collaboration with Karin Bergdahl, made the first Gehl’ish-survey of Oslo for the Norwegian Institute of City Development (IN’BY). In the true spirit of the office, the 2013 report builds upon the same clear principles of observation, as were applied in 1987; there are pedestrian counts and well-documented observational studies of stationary activities from both a weekday (Tuesday) and a weekend (Saturday). The data-collection and comparative ability of the data is crucial. Yet, as the footman that has to type-in, organise and keep track of these numbers, I would like to register a personal note of observation: It seems that the complexity of city-analysis has increased more than six-fold from 1987 to 2013.


Graphics showing how the study area has expanded since 1987.

In 1987 when Jan Gehl and Karin Bergdahl collected data, they had – quite ingeniously – chosen 8 primary locations for their survey. We chose 55. They also limited themselves to span 1½ seasons. We chose 3. They registered pedestrians and stationary activities. We added age/gender registrations on top of that. You might be thinking that this is a great improvement of the survey. I think that it is an insane amount of numbers to collect; 9.425 rows of figures in excel to be exact. I counted them…thrice.

The reasons for this expansion of the survey area lies partly in the expansion of the city itself, but also largely in the changing attitudes towards city boundaries. Today, the old city centre of Oslo only has 900 inhabitants, compared to 8400 in Copenhagen and 3100 in Stockholm (source: Gehl internal data).  Therefore, the city centre is dependent on the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, from where it draws its life. Figuratively, the city centre can be seen as the heart of Oslo, and in order to figure out the well-being of this ‘organ’ it is necessary to check the flows through all the veins that feed into it – hence the expanded survey.

At Gehl Architects, we still rely largely on being in the field. The Oslo report has had almost 100 helpers on the streets to collect data from the 55 locations, on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout 3 seasons. Could we have digitalised the process? Yes and no. Because, although some counts could be digitalised, a computer is still not able to give us clues as to why the daily rhythms appear in the way that they do, on our data charts. When a count drops from 3000 pedestrians per hour at 3pm, to 100 pedestrians per hour at 4pm, the note from the observer stating that “A crazy rainfall left the streets bare” is essential to understanding the numbers. A digitised count would have left us to wonder about the dramatic change. A computer does not have the ability to register street-artists, kids playing, adults chatting, dogs being walked, gardens being tended, jugglers being cheered  by the shopping crowds or crows being fed by elderly ladies. Or any other wonderful, crazy and energetic activity that makes a city lively and lovely!

Once the data has been collected and organised it does create an amazing insight into the life of the city – throughout the days, the weeks and the seasons. The extensive survey is an endless goldmine to understanding the city’s rhythms. We need this understanding in order to deliver qualified recommendations for improving livability. Even if I have to go cross-eyed over 9.425 numbers for a couple of weeks.

Urban Voices - Celebrating Urban Design in Australia is now available from Urban Design Forum. Urban Voices reflects on urban design in Australia over the past 25 years as we confront the challenges of the next 25 years. It is a compendium of contributions from a wide range of people interested in how our cities and towns function and the quality of life they deliver.Jan Gehl has contributed an essay about Gehl Architects' history working with Australian cities and Gehl Senior Consultant Rob Adams of the city of Melbourne also has a piece. Essential reading for Australian urbanists.

ImageIn the latest issue of Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs magazine “Focus Denmark” an article puts focus on the collaboration between the City of Chongqing, Energy Foundation and Gehl Architects working for a more people friendly and sustainable city development in Chongqing!

A few quotes from the article:

“We need to get more people to walk because it is good in every sense: it makes a city more vibrant, more safe, more sustainable and healthier. That is positive, but it is actually also the cheapest policy because it is less expensive to invest in design on a human scale than in infrastructure for cars. And we also benefit from lower healthcare costs,”

Jan Gehl

“In China’s new metropolises they still create urban squares and parks, but the streets – which have always been the core of Chinese cities and the hub of street life – have been replaced from one day to the next with motorways”

Kristian Villadsen

To read the full article go to Focus Denmark (p 28)

Thirty people from the office went to the opening and saw the exhibit for the first time together

My first book Life Between Buildings was published 41 years ago.  Yet today in 2012 the book, and people oriented planning principles embodied in it continues to be much in demand.  I’m delighted and humbled by the staying power of these planning principles which is most recently exemplified by the great international interest in my latest book Cities for People. Already by 2012 this book will be published in 10 languages and a number of new versions are lined up for 2013.

Yet despite this praise and continued interest in the people oriented planning principles, places, districts and entire cities continue to be developed without any reference to principles along these lines.  This is not an issue of negligence, but of neglect. For over the past 50 years, none of those entrusted with building cities – neither architects, planners nor engineers – have been trained to focus  on looking after the needs of people.  The growing interest in my work from numerous professions and disciplines attests to the fact that this is thankfully changing.  There appears to be a genuine and powerful trend of politicians, technocrats and citizens alike beginning to demand that Cities become more liveable, safer,  healthier, and indeed more sustainable.

It is a great joy for me to see these timeless principles for caring for the life in the cities presented in a new format (animated film) and in a new context joining several Scandinavian colleagues at the New Nordic Architecture Exhibit at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, North of Copenhagen.  The principles illustrated at Louisiana are very much the same today as they were many years ago. People are still people.

The film is in-the-round and divided into three sections, life, mobility and scale

It is equally a joy for me to see Gehl Architects continue to evolve these guiding core values and principles to many different types of projects and scales of intervention.  Working with partners around the world, this young, energetic and stubbornly optimistic team work to tailor and contextualize design, planning and research that builds upon the foundation established during the many years of research and dialogues.  This team is actively engaging in dialogue around the world with colleagues, clients and collaborators to add layers of meaning and new possibilities for application of these core values.  In doing so, Gehl Architects, as the other design practices featured in the Loisianna exhibit, continue to build upon a wider Nordic tradition for architecture and design that is rooted in a fundamental care and appreciation for the human being.

As we progress through the 21st century, I’m confident that the continued dedication of a new generation of city makers – from economists to social scientists to architects to business owners and politicians – that care for the city from a human centered perspective of the Nordic tradition will ensure that the cities  of tomorrow will be much better for people than the cities of today.

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

In the first installment of this series we discussed how data in cities can give visibility to values that were previously neglected or misunderstood. Here we will look at the city of Copenhagen and see how people- focused-data, people-first values have become embedded in the administration and institutionalised in the city over the last 40 years.  These, amongst other factors contribute to Copenhagen as one of the most liveable cities in the world (according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, and Monocle Livability indices).

The city of Copenhagen actually has a municipal department specifically for city life. In addition to the typical departments of planning, transportation and parks, the social life of the city, the human dimension of creating the conditions to encourage public life have also been allocated resources and a budget. Beginning already in the 1960s, people-first strategies began to be embedded in the governance of the city, and institutionalised at different levels. It was a movement, critically not of one individual’s political vision but a generation of politicians, planners, and citizens supported in-part, by the collected data to shape their vision by Prof Jan Gehl and Prof Lars Gemzoe.  The department now has the ambition that by 2015 80% of Copenhageners will be satisfied with the opportunities in the city to participate in public life.

This data has proved very important in the evolution of Copenhagen as a people-first city. Professor Gehl’s research has shown politicians on both sides of the aisle that careful investments in the public realm result in consistent increase in the vitality of public life. Prof Gehl and his students carried on doing these surveys of Copenhagen every 10 years, demonstrating the changes and advocating further change based on how the city was performing for people. This process of continual measuring, evaluating and creating new targets has embedded the values of a people first city at every level. A cycle account is published every two years and initially unsuccessful or unpopular projects are tested, refined and adjusted allowing the city to be courageous, to fail and learn from their mistakes.  Using these methods it is possible for all political parties to evaluate projects successes and failures from a common city for people perspective.

The culture this foments is evident in the streets and in how people engage with the city. If you wish to have an event in the city or start a business the municipality tries to help you – there’s even a special button on the website to press should you encounter any difficulties. Rather than acting in the negative as an imposing authority, the city seeks to act in ways that respond to needs with an intelligent and open attitude. Confronted with the problem of pizza boxes over-flowing out of the bins near a popular pizza restaurant along the newly renovated Søndre Boulevard, , rather than putting up signs saying ‘No Pizza Boxes!’, the city designed bins with an extra-large pizza sized slat to accommodate them.

Before and after changes made along Kompagnistræde, Copenahgen


The methods Gehl used to collect data were simply readings of the city from ‘eye-level’, which was a very important aspect of the data he generated. Rather than being another specialised data set, belonging to one silo of abstract knowledge Gehl’s research could be understood by all who lived in as well as acted on the city making it easily understandable in decision making discussion. Birgitte Svarre the co-author of the forthcoming title with Jan Gehl, How to study public life (working title), comments that ‘data that can evaluate projects can engender politicians with a qualified base from which to talk…..they can measure the success of projects and create momentum for asserted change’.

But what can we learn about this methodology and the way it has become embedded in municipality and culture of Copenhagen in light of Open Data?  As the European data forum 2012 came to a close in Copenhagen yesterday we reflected on the sheer amount of data that will be available in the coming years, both about the physical space, the hardware of the city collected by sensors but also digital fingerprints of our social behaviour, the software through social media, ecommerce and search engines. So many new opportunities are on the horizon from better informed mobility choices, to entrepreneurial opportunities in the exciting whole new sector being labelled the ‘data economy’.

However – if ‘empiricism will always confirm the status quo’ , it falls to us to make sure that as it becomes possible to measure, generate and collect more data, we have clear eyes as to what values drive the work, and whose interests it serves. We must be careful of not merely making correlations between that which is easy to compare, measuring the interaction between hardware and software of the city will continue to be difficult. And of course, we must remember to inject imagination into the political debate around city living. We want people to dare to dream, through projects such as Sustainia in Denmark- a collaborative imagining of what the sustainable future city might be. If data is the ‘raw material of the 21st century’ it will surely have a key role in its shaping, but we must be weary of a data determinism – to face the immense challenges of our urbanising world we must also be inspired.

Gehl Institute bloggers are Simon Goddard, Claire Mookerjee, Jo Posselt and Jeff Risom

Planetizen, the public-interest information exchange for the urban planning, design, and development community, have published their ninth annual list of best books on urban planning, design and development. Among the Top 10 books published in 2010 is Professor Jan Gehls, Cities for People, published on Island Press.

Here is what Planetizen have to say about Cities for People:

“With a physician’s understanding of humanity, Jan Gehl is able to examine planning questions of the last forty years with impressive clarity and focus. His ideals – rejection of ideology in favor of common sense, respect for people and scale – offer a panacea to many of the environmental and health crises faced in urban areas across the globe. This volume is organized succinctly, first into sections focused on human responses to locations and then, as it becomes progressively more practical, cities themselves. There is a careful blend of analysis and case study throughout, providing a backdrop to Gehl’s tenets of urban living, which are disseminated at junctures within chapters.”

Among the other noteworthy books on the ist are:

What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane JacobsStephen A. Goldsmith and Lynn Elizabeth, Editors

Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About CitiesBy Witold Rybczynski

Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban SpacesBy Sharon Zukin

Check out Planetizens full top 10 books list here.

The 10 principles for sustainable transport at the Our Cities Ourselves exhibition at the AIA in New York City

“Our Cities, Ourselves”, a traveling exhibition about the future of urban areas, opened February 2nd in Mexico City and in Rio de Janeiro. The exhibition builds on “10 Principles for Transportation in Urban Life” created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in consultation with Gehl Architects.

In Mexico City the exhibit will include lectures from Jan GehlGehl Architects, and in Rio de Janeiro David Sim of Gehl Architects will be speaking.

Read more here.

Professor Jan Gehl at The Economists conference 'Creating tomorrows liveable cities' in London earlier this week.

Earlier this week, professor Jan Gehl was giving the closing keynote at The Economists conference in London, Creating tomorrow’s liveable cities. View the full programme and the other speakers at the conference here.

Well-being, community cohesion and a thriving local economy are now high on the agenda for today’s citizens. Intelligent policies and design for urban areas can provide answers, in one way or another, to all of these concerns and more; while stimulating local economies and creating jobs becomes more important than ever against a background of budgetary constraints and slower economic growth. A new government in the UK and a new austerity budget will dictate the climate in which urban planning and regeneration policies are formed but, as local governments begin to take this into account, what will tomorrow’s priorities for urban living be?

Watch Jan Gehls presentation here.


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