Tag Archives: Research

We are excited to learn about the new statistics for Nørrebrogade, the corridor in central Copenhagen, that has been undergoing a process of mobility rethinking since 2008.

Car traffic has been reduced by 60%, from 15.000 cars to 6.000 cars per day, the number of cyclists using the corridor has increased by 20% to 36.000 cyclists daily. Also 60% more pedestrians are using the bridge connecting the corridor with the inner city area.

We are happy that the tools to measure and analyze urban behavior are increasingly being used by municipalities to gather important data about the present conditions and future development and usability of the urban realm. Gathering new knowledge about how the city is used can be a strong tool in inciting debate around the pros and cons of specific urban space changes and can be especially effective when used in public involvement processes.

Other positive changes mentioned in the article include the reduction of the noise level, which has been reduced by half to what it was in 2008, and the 45% reduction of the number of traffic accidents. Learn more here (in Danish).

Helle Søholt participated at the London Assembly Committee Meeting (Planning coverage) January 15 and her contribution really got the attention of the members. Alex Csicsek, Planning Researcher at London Assembly Labour Group, commented to Helle that “the members really perked up” when she made her presentation.

Building Design’s coverage of the meeting focuses on Helle’s thoughts on densification, in terms of compactness. She pointed out to the assembly that architects and urban planners are in a paradigm shift at the moment, trying to figure out which type of physical form actually supports people and enhances livability. She called for more research into this topic and more focus from government and city agencies. Helle further stated that it is about “managing incremental change. That’s the model for change my company is advising cities on — not fixed masterplans”.

Helle Søholt said densification was the key — not necessarily height but compactness — and cited Barcelona as one of Europe’s densest and yet most popular cities. “It doesn’t mean the public spaces are cramped and dark: the spaces between the buildings are very nice and have a human scale,” she said and further commented, “Spain might not be a great economic model at the moment but Barcelona’s compactness and liveliness are absolutely admirable.”

Read it here at Building Design Online (you may have to register, which is free, to read the article).

ImagePhoto from New Road, in Brighton UK, where Gehl Architects have an implemented streetscape project.


Many modern societies are addicted to speed.  A hurry virus has taken over our lives.  Time pressure is now a serious health issue, linked with stress, depression, lack of physical activity and obesity.  We eat fast food to save time, yet still don’t have enough time for regular exercise.

A common response to time pressure is to go faster, particularly as motorists.  Yet a reliance on cars as a fast mode of transport has literally stolen our money, time and health.  The more we rely on ‘time-saving’ machines such as cars, the more time we lose.  The following anecdote illustrates this paradox.

Imagine you live in a village in the 18th century, where your job each day is to collect a bucket of water from the river.  This takes an hour each day.  To ‘save time’ you build a machine to fetch the water.  However, to make the machine work, you need to spend two hours winding up a spring. 

In modern cities, the equivalent for comparisons sake of ‘winding up the spring’ is the time we spend at work earning the money to pay for all our transport costs.  For pedestrians, this time is virtually nil.  For cyclists it is minimal.  For car drivers, the time spent earning the money to pay for all the costs of cars is usually much greater than the time spent driving.  As Ivan Illich explained in Energy and Equity (1974), the typical American driver devotes 1,600 hours to their car, to travel 7,500 miles.  That’s less than 5 miles per hour.  As speed increases, so does the cost.  When we drive faster to save time, the few seconds we save will cost us much more than that in the time needed to pay for the extra fuel, wear and tear on the car, and stress on ourselves.  Paradoxically, slowing down will reduce time pressure, which itself is a major benefit for our health.

In cities where the active modes of transport are the main modes, people spend less time travelling than in cities where cars are the dominant form of travel.  This is not only because bicycles can be faster than cars in congested traffic.  Even when people travel faster in cars than on trams or bicycles, this speed is not used to save time.  Instead the increased speed leads to longer travel distances as the city spreads out and as local shops, schools and post offices close.  Car-dominated cities pay for their higher speeds with more time spent travelling.  Attempts to boost car speeds are futile, as increased speed leads to higher costs (e.g. in new roads) which in turn requires more time to earn the money to pay for these costs.

Over the long term, a switch from cars to active modes of transport will save huge amounts of money and time, for both individuals and cities.  By choosing not to own a car, an average income earner could have a shorter work week, or retire 10 to 15 years earlier.  Through more walking, cycling and use of public transport, years of active healthy life are also extended.

Read more:

Tranter, P. 2010, Speed kills: The complex links between transport, lack of time and urban health, Journal of Urban Health, 87(2), 155-165.

Tranter, P. 2012, Effective speed:  Cycling because it’s “faster”, Chapter 4 in Pucher, J. and Buehler, R. (Eds) City Cycling, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At Gehl Architects we just luuuv data. Since the very beginning of professor Jan Gehls research we have been fascinated with data and also aware of the power it excercises over decisionmakers. Data works wonders!

Therefore we also found Gapminder to be very interesting. Gapminder was founded in Stockholm by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling on February 25, 2005. The initial activity was to pursue the development of the Trendalyzer software. Trendalyzer sought to unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics. The current version of Trendalyzer is available since March 2006 as Gapminder World, a web-service displaying time series of development statistics for all countries.

Opening of 'Plads for alle' (Square for everybody) on Vesterbro february 2009 - a square to be shared by drug users and cafe visitors

Our good friends at Hausenberg, together with artist Kenneth A. Balfelt and Spektrum Arkitekter, have analysed and brought together experiences from six public spaces in Copenhagen, Odense and Ålborg, focusing on the opportunities for socially disadvantaged people to make use of the spaces and be part of the urban life. The homeless, drug and alcohol misusers, the mentally ill and prostitutes count among the people most in need of care, and the analysis has looked at the use of the public space by these groups.

The beginning of the end for 'Plads for alle' (Square for everybody) may 2010 - a fence is now dividing the area for the drug users from the area for the cafe visitors.

Gehl Architects consider the issue tackled in the publication and analysis to be of major importance and warmly welcome the work by Hausenberg et alli.

Take a look at the publication (in Danish only):


In the UK, the ‘compact city’ model for urban development has heavily influenced Urban Renaissance planning policy of the last ten years. This  ideal has been greatly simplified and selectively implemented throughout London.

In their paper for the recent 2nd Annual International Conference on Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development, hosted by The Center for the Study of Architecture in the Arab Region and held in Amman, Jordan, Jeff Risom, of Gehl Architects, Copenhagen, and Maria Sisternas, of MedCities, Barcelona, examines the guiding framework for this form of ‘compact city’ policy and offers a critique of some of the approaches to ’compact cities’, that have been put forward in recent years, and in some cases put forward without much critical distance.

In a follow up interview with Risom and Sisternas, by the German infoportal for sustainable business and policy,, the two authors underline that it is not the fundamental idea of a more compact city, that they criticize, but rather what seems to be an unholy alliance between urbanist, promoting densification, and developers aiming to make a buck on the individual site and failing to respect the larger urban needs and challenges of an area. This alliance, it seems, can lead to catastrophic results that eventually make neighborhoods less livable (and sustainable), rather than more livable (and sustainable), in spite of heavy investments in an area.

Some Urban Renaissance policies are reminiscent of the Garden City model put forth 100 years earlier. Jeff Risom and Maria Sisternas paper and presentation in Amman investigates these “sustainable” policies as they manifest themselves specifically through a proposal for a tall building in the Garden City suburb of Ealing.

"The key components of a mixed-use and integrated urban neighborhood", according to Lord Rogers of Riverside - illustration by Andrew Wright Associates

The analysis leads to a critique of regional policy used to designate the scope and scale of development at the local level as it fails to identify key socio-economic and spatial characteristics that contribute to the phenomenology of each specific location.  This failure stems from an ideology that is largely rooted in convenient but overly simplified notions of what constitutes ‘urban’ and ‘suburban’ areas.

The paper concludes with two bundles of policy and urban design interventions that address the flawed relationship between the regional and the local, identifying new evaluation criteria, while maintaining the strengths of  current policy’s main goals and aspirations.

Speaking about the 2nd Annual International Conference on Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development, Jeff Risom said that,

“In many ways the conference expanded the traditional sustainability debate to include issues of public/private space in predominately muslim portions of North Africa (Sudan and Libya), environmentally sustainable housing in Turkey, and the economic, social, and environmental impact on the sprawling refugee neighborhoods in Amman.  This exposure was both a breath of fresh air and at the same time disheartening as it emphasized that several of the issues we tackle in high-income western cities simply aren’t relevant to a vast percentage of the world’s population.  In addition to papers regarding technical design solutions to improve mobility and reduce energy consumption of individual buildings and city districts, conference presentations highlighted fundamental obstacles such as illiteracy, poor access to information, lack of democratic transparency and an abundance of corruption that must be addressed in conjunction with good design to achieve truly sustainable development.  This notion of removing such obstacles to achieving quality of life as well as designing contextually sensitive interventions will only become increasingly important as we do more work in lower-income countries and in non-western cultures.”

Read the full interview with Jeff Risom and Maria Sisternas in here (in German only).

Check out Risom and Sisternas presentation for the 2nd Annual International Conference on Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development, held in Amman, Jordan, here:

Jeff Risom is MSc of City Design and Social Science, LSE, and is an associate at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.

Maria Sisternas is MSc of City Design and Social Science, LSE, and works as Urban Development Project Manager at MedCities, Barcelona, a collaboration of Mediterranean cities formed in 1991.

Senior Consultant and Culture & Communications Manager Henning Thomsen from Gehl Architects was on the Scientific Committee for the conference.

Times Square, New York City, after improvements to the public realm in 2009

The improved public realm of Manhattan in New York found its initial inspiration in Copenhagen. Transport Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, visited Copenhagen and Gehl Architects in 2007 to learn about pedestrian improvements and cycling, and next week she returns as one of the plenary speakers of the Velo City Global Conference 2010 in Copenhagen.

After the Janette Sadik-Khans visit in 2007, Gehl Architects analysed the condition of NYC’s public realm using The Public Space/Public Life survey method.

The results formed a strategic vision aimed at improving conditions for pedestrians and promoting a balance between modes of transportation. The vision manifests itself in a series of quickly implemented and affordable pilot projects along the new Broadway Boulevard including projekts on Times Square, Herald and Greenly Squares and Madison Square Park reclaimeing nearly 500,000 ft2 (45,000 m2) of public space alongside initiatives throughout the City’s five boroughs.

The project has so far doubled the amount of bicycle lanes in NYC and as a result twice as many New Yorkers commute to work on bicycle. A seven mile car-free route, known as Summer Streets, from Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, opened in the summers of 2008 and 2009. Over 300,000 people attended the events, some trying bicycling on city streets for the first time. The event earned rave reviews from New Yorkers and local papers, catching the attention of cities across the world.

The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) analysis of the data (in Green Light for Midtown) shows that the project has improved mobility by increasing overall motor vehicle travel speeds and accommodating growing travel volumes. The data also show enhanced safety in the project area with reductions in injuries to pedestrians and motorists alike. Additionally, the project has dramatically increased satisfaction with the Times and Herald Square areas among residents, workers and visitors.

Cover of English edition of Jan Gehls 2010 book, Cities for People, published on Island Press.

Cities for People, the new book by Professor Jan Gehl, is published on May 20th at 15.00 at a public event at the Danish Architecture Centre.

In a global perspective the book summarizes more than 50 years of research, studies and projects dealing with urban life and the relation between cities and people. The fact that the book is published in Danish, English and Chinese simultaneously, which for any book on urban planning is an astounding fact, underlines the importance this book carries with it.

The publication of the English and the Chinese versions will be marked at events in the USA and China later in the summer and fall of 2010.

Among several to endorse the new book, Lord Richard Rogers has the following remarks:

No one has examined the morphology and use of public space to the extent that Jan Gehl has. Anyone who reads this book will get a valuable insight into his astonishingly perceptive understanding of the relationship between public spaces and civic society, and how the two are inextricably intertwined.

In Denmark the book is published by Bogværket whereas the English version is published by Island Press.


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