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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

Methods

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


Cycling in Chennai - a daring adventure.

What is cycling like around world? We chose Chennai in India as our first stop on Gehl Architects new adventure: Cycling in Cities. Take a look at this trip around T-Nagar and Panagal Park, the major shopping area, in Chennai. Henning Thomsen of Gehl Architects is wearing the helmetcam on this trip.

Please allow the film to load.

Henning Thomsen, Gehl Architects, in Chennai on Mahesh Radhakrishnan's bicycle, and wearing the helmet cam.

Also check some of our pictures from the trip:

An ordinary day on a street in Chennai.

Being a pedestrian on the streets of Chennai, India, is not the easiest of things. On the third day of the Public Life Public Space workshop, that Gehl Architects is giving to ITDP and Chennai City Connect, the topic of Public Space was on the agenda. Detailed investigations and documentations of the public life and how it unfolds were the focus and the workshop participants were on the streets studying these issues.

Lars Gemzøe, Gehl Architects, explaining how to study public space

To see for yourself how challenging it is to be a pedestrian in Chennai take a look at this little film from Sir Thyagaraya Road:

Second part of the third workshop day was the introduction to the volunteers, who are going to help carry out the Public Life Public Space survey over the next three days. Gehl Architects, ITDP and Chennai City Connect workshop participants and volunteers, who come from four different architecture schools in Chennai, met at Chennai City Connect offices for the briefing.

Architects and architecture students being briefed before they hit the streets to carry out the very first Public Life Public Space survey in India

Doing a Public Life Public Space survey requires a tremendous amount of preparations and planning

...but the whole thing is also a lot of fun - Mahesh Radhakrishnan, MOAD, and Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects in the middle of planning the PLPS survey activities

Mahesh Radhakrishnan briefing students on the PLPS survey

Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects, along with Mahesh Radhakrishnan, instructing students on the PLPS survey

And here is the plan. The PLPS survey will be carried out over the next three days - more on this to follow.

And take a look at the Public Space Survey Manual developed by Gehl Architects:

Ready to count!

Today was day two of the Public Life Public Space survey workshop carried out by Gehl Architects for ITDP, Institute for Transport and Development Policy, and Chennai City Connect in Chennai. The morning started with an introduction by the three Gehl Architects staff – Sia Kirknæs, Lars Gemzøe and Henning Thomsen – to prepare the workshop participants for the first excercises dealing with counting public life.

Lars Gemzøe, Gehl Architects, introducing the theme of the day: counting pedestrians.

Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects, explaining some of the challenges faced when counting pedestrians

Counting seems like an achievable task. But to be succesful the public life part of the Public Life Public Space survey requires substantial preparation and planning – getting to know the city and the survey area, choosing the proper locations, time of week and day, and actual position in the streets surveyed. But it also requires the ability to make swift decisions and to be focused and consistent. These and many more skills were trained in todays workshop, where the participants themselves tried to count pedestrians and to note down the basic variables of age and gender – which for the age part can be as challenging as counting pedestrians itself can turn out to be for the unprepared and untrained.

Pedestrian #1 - the counting has begun!

Keeping calm and focused and keeping count!

Comparing counts - but why did we not get to the same result? Counting is not the easiest of tasks it turns out.

Discussing discrepancies and sharing solutions.

Sampling pedestrians age and gender - focus is required, when both genders walk by at the same time in opposite directions and all the data needs to go down on paper!

Surveying staying activities

Comparing notes

 

Ranganathan St, T-Nagar, Chennai, India

Part of any Public Life Public Space survey – the core city study method deviced by Jan Gehl et. alli. – is counting people. This may seem a daring endeavour in a country like India, soon to be the most populous nation in the world. But even around busy streets such as Ranganathan Street in the heart of the Chennai shopping area, T-Nagar, this is an integral part of understanding how this part of the city is working. In this case, the counting of people will make it possible to balance the counting of cars and vehicles already performed by the city in their quest to secure more road space – because maybe more road space is actually needed, but for people, not for cars.

The meeting of Ranganathan Street and South Usman Road, T-Nagar, Chennai, India

Gehl Architects are back in Chennai, India, at the request of ITDP, Institute for Transport and Development Policy, to carry out a Public Life Public Space Survey workshop. The aim is to enable the staff of ITDP and of their Chennai partner, Chennai City Connect, to carry out studies of the public spaces and the public life in Chennai, but also in other Indian cities. The workshop will continue the rest of the week and involve both workshops, on-ground excercises as well as two actual survey days.

The workshop participants from ITDP India and Chennai City Connect together with Gehl Architects staff, Henning Thomsen, Sia Kirknæs and Lars Gemzøe

...and Balchand, who took the picture of the rest of us!

Crossing the street from one workshop venue to the other can be a daring endevour in Chennai

Lars Gemzøe, Gehl Architects, sharing four decades of Public Life Public Space research in Copenhagen with the Indian workshop participants

Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects, explaining the results from the Public Life Public Space Survey on Sydney to illustrate the data that can be brought forward in such studies

The Times of India reporting about the weather conditions on our first workshop day - good thing the actual survey didn't take place yesterday!

Hobart in Copenhagen

Gehl Architects is working in Hobart, Tasmania – just finalizing a  Public Space and Public Life survey and a strategy for how to make a city with people in mind. The survey is first stage of Hobart Inner City Development Plan

The Public Space and Public Life survey report is focusing on a series of main themes: How to take advantage of and underline Hobart’s unique setting as a city by the sea sitting in a wonderful landscape, how the city can become a fine place for people to move around (more on foot, cycle and transit compared to now), how the public outdoor spaces can be more inviting for all sorts of people and have greater diversity of use. Finally Gehl Architects also look at the quality of the appearance of the streetscapes at eyelevel.

A delegation from the city: Neil Noye, Director Development and Environmental Services, Andrew Tompson, Director City Services and George Wilkie, Manager Architectural Projects spent last week in Copenhagen working with Gehl Architects in a workshop in the office to discuss the draft report in more detail and in particular the recommendations.  The workshop also contained ‘on the ground’ tours of the city of Copenhagen, Malmø, Sweden and Oslo and Bergen, Norway. At Gehl Architects it was primarily Sia Kirknæs, Lars Gemzøe and Jan Gehl who were responsible for the Hobart delegation when they were visiting.

Hobart in Copenhagen

Hobart, Tasmania

Gehl Architects very own Lars Gemzøe is currently touring the beautiful island of Tasmania. Both in Hobart, the main city, and in Launceston, Gehl Architects together with the local municipalities and universities have carried out surveys of the public life and public spaces of the two cities. Lars is touring the island to deliver some of the first insights into the results of these surveys.

Read about some of the first findings and the local reactions:

Image by Samanthakotz on Flickr

Sønder Boulevard, Copenhagen - prizewinner in 2008 European Prize for Urban Public Space

On Friday 11 June, the award-giving ceremony of the European Prize for Urban Public Space also featured the presentation of a catalogue that commemorates the ten years of the Prize.

It gathers together both theoretical issues, to be found in the in-depth articles in the opening pages that discuss the collective nature and political potential of public spaces, and practical cases with the illustration of the 29 winning projects. Each of them is presented with a text written by architects, urban planners, writers, sociologists and political representatives, bringing out, one by one, the common strands of the first decade of the Prize.

Take a look at the publication here.

Lars Gemzøe, senior consultant and architect with Gehl Architects, is featured in the book with an article on the harbour baths in Copenhagen. And Tom Nielsen, senior consultant from Gehl Architects, was on the ‘Board of Experts’ for the award in 2010.

Harbour bath, Copenhagen - special mention in 2004 European Prize for Urban Public Space

The European Prize for Urban Public Space is an initiative of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). It was established following the exhibition “The Reconquest of Europe”, which was held in the CCCB in 1999, in order to offer testimony to the process of rehabilitation of public spaces that has been occurring in many European cities.

The aim of the Prize is to recognise and foster the public character of urban spaces and their capacity for fostering social cohesion. While acknowledging the ambiguities inherent in the notion of public space, this Prize – the only one of its kind in Europe – is distinctive in both recognising and promoting a public space that is at once public (open and universally accessible) and urban. The Prize, in highlighting the relational and civic aspects of the typically urban space, thus differs from other initiatives that are focused on the figure of the architect, and from awards given for landscape-centred projects.

Other articles in the book ‘In favour of public space’ by Arnold Bartetzky, Oriol Bohigas, Ole Bouman, David Bravo, Peter Cachola Schmal, Judit Carrera, Zeljka Corak, Luis Francisco Esplá, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Kjartan Fløgstad, Beatrice Galilee, Luis García Montero, Lars Gemzøe, Huib Haye van der Werf, Andreas Huyssen, Hans Ibelings, Sarah Ichioka, José Miguel Iribas, Gabriele Kaiser, Dirk Laucke, Luca Molinari, Rafael Moneo, Joan Nogué, Shane OʼToole, Antoni Puigverd, Francis Rambert, Josep Ramoneda, Xavier Ribas, Marina Romero, Manuel de Solà-Morales, Dietmar Steiner, Elías Torres, Montserrat Tura, Philip Ursprung, Ana Vaz Milheiro, Adam Zagajewski.

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