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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.

StudyArea

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.

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

 

Jan Gehl - here photographed in Sydney.

This is a fabulous city with a fabulous setting and a fabulous waterfront, what are we waiting for?” Jan Gehl has been in Hobart, Tasmania for the launch of Gehl Architects Hobart Public Space and Public Life survey – 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 Architect also look at the quality of the appearance of the streetscapes at eyelevel.

Listen to an interview with Jan on Australian radio: From New York to Hobart; making cities ‘people friendly’ – ABC Hobart – Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Here are some of the reactions in the press to Jan Gehls visit and Gehl Architects survey.

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

Chongqing visiting Copenhagen

Chongqing is one of the fastest developing cities in the world and Gehl Architects has just made a Public Life Public Space survey and a strategy for how to make the city more livable under these rapid transformations.

Director Yu Jun, Ms. Zhang Meining and Ms. Wang Mei from the City of Chongqing and Mr. Jiang Yang and Ms. Zhou YUXIAO from Energy Foundation in Beijing just spend the last days in Copenhagen working with Gehl Architects, both in workshops in the office as well as ‘on the ground’ around the city of Copenhagen. At Gehl Architects it was primarily Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, Camilla van Deurs and Ola Gustafsson who were responsible for Chinese delegation when they were visiting.

Chongqing visiting Copenhagen

Christchurch, New Zealand, after the recent earthquake

In 2008-09 Gehl Architects was invited to take a critical view on how the public spaces in Christchurch, New Zealand, were perfoming in terms of public life. Sia Kirknæs and Tom Nielsen of Gehl Architects spent several weeks in Christchurch and in the wake of the recent earthquake, that hit the city, they contributed to the local debate with this perspective on the issue of rebuilding:

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