Tag Archives: Sustainability

China’s on-going urbanization  is in many ways unlike any other in history and for the problems this brings there is an urgency to find  sustainable solutions. Our strategy when working in China is to build capacity within our team, our local partners, local planners, politicians and decision makers. In other words it is a two-way learning experience with a goal to empower everyone involved in the planning process, to ask the right questions and to secure resilient cities!

The last weeks have exemplified Gehl Architect’s strong engagement in the Chinese urbanization and our collaboration with China Sustainable Cities Program at The Energy Foundation in Beijing.

Energy Foundation in CopenhagenCHINA IN GEHL: The staff from the China Sustainable Cities Program at Energy Foundation were in Copenhagen for 5 days with Gehl Architects, working together, learning together, and seeing European best practice first hand with a critical and observant Chinese view. Getting an understanding of implemented solutions is key to transferring them in to the local context in China, intensely working together for 5 days is a great way to build strong relations or “guanxi” and create a culture of open communication.

Maria Wass-Danielsen, GEHL ARCHITECTS

GEHL IN CHINA: Every five years, the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) organizes an exceptional 10-day executive training for the top-level personal of the Chinese State and Party apparatus: including Ministers, Mayors, senior decision-makers from the Ministries and provinces. In recognition of the recent EU-China partnership on Sustainable Urbanization signed by  Vice- Premier LI Keqiang in May 2012, and in anticipation of the next meeting of Premier Wen with the EU Leaders, CAG has approached the European Commission to jointly prepare a half-day session on EU urban planning best practices. The EU delegation in China invited Gehl Architects to do a presentation on sustainable mobility at the seminar. Maria Wass-Danielsen from Gehl Architects recommended that Chinese decision makers need to create an inviting, convenient and inclusive environment for people to walk, bike and use public transport, making green mobility a realistic choice for everyone.

David Sim, Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, GEHL ARCHITECTS

CHINA IN GEHL: David Sim, Director at Gehl Architects and Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, Associate at Gehl Architects hosted a one day masterclass for 25 Chinese majors as part of a ten day training scheme at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Asking the right questions was the theme of the day and the weight of the responsibility amongst the mayors for building a sustainable future was very much felt in the room.

The dialogue between chinese cities, our collaborative partner, decision-makers and Gehl architects is as strong as ever as we learn from – and contribute to a deeper understanding of how it is possible to plan for people in this time of rapid growth and change.

Nearly 500 San Franciscans engaged in town hall style workshops and webinars (online presentations and question/answer sessions) for the Better Market Street Project in San Francisco.  Gehl Architects lead a multi-disciplinary team that is working together with four different SF City agencies to re-envision San Francisco’s most important and iconic street.  Jeff Risom and Louise Grassov from Gehl Architects led a series of presentations and dialogue sessions with a diverse and engaged group of local citizens, gathering their input and feedback to the early thematic design concepts for the street.

Learn more about the project and see the material presented here

Read about the project on SF Streets Blog

In 2011, The Economist named Melbourne  the world’s most liveable city. In many circles this was celebrated as the culmination of two and a half decades of investment in the quality of Melbourne’s centre – particularly the amenity provided in the public realm. But this is not a fair reflection of the reality. The Australian and Canadian Cities that consistently top The Economist’s liveability indexes do so in large part due to their suburban densities, the very suburbs that are the focus of increasing criticism on environmental and public health grounds. The rural/urban dichotomy does not adequately describe the modern city.  As we edit our cities to prepare them for the 21st century, the last thing we should be doing is glossing over the form, the fabric that generates the differences, for comparison’s sake.

There are in fact two Melbournes: Greater Melbourne and the City of Melbourne. Greater Melbourne is the full extent of the Melbourne Metropolitan Region with a built-up area of around 2,152 km² and a population over 3.4 million. It can take two hours to drive across. This region is what The Economist bases its liveability survey on. The City of Melbourne is a small municipality within Greater Melbourne with a population of 100,000 in an area of just 37.6 km². It is the commercial hub of the region and can be cycled across in 30 minutes. The City of Melbourne has been celebrated for innovative urban design while Greater Melbourne has been criticised for suburban sprawl. 73% of residents of Greater Melbourne live in detached, single-family dwellings compared to 77% who live in apartments in the City of Melbourne. In this way, two distinct patterns of habitation are described by the same moniker: Melbourne.

The trumpets have sounded and the critics have heralded mankind’s passage into an age of cities, with more than 50% of the world’s population now ‘urban’. Indeed, The London School of Economics has declared the beginning of the Urban Age. But is it too soon? Or as Malu Byrne in the NYT suggests, is it too late, and the young creative class is fleeing cities in search of affordability. In Melbourne’s case, is it right to label a predominantly suburban agglomeration (defined by a flexible administrative boundary) a city? Or is it the case, in fact, that we need a better definition of what constitutes a city, particularly when we discuss quality of life, sustainability and health in relation to urban form?

Suburban densities of the kind found in Greater Melbourne (1,567 ppl/km²) and many western cities are the subject of intensifying criticism for their environmental impact, exposure to increasing oil prices, congestion and over-representation in lifestyle disease statistics. These statistics are often embedded in an administrative boundary that describes both suburban and urban conditions, just as The Economist’s quality of life data is. The endemic lack of articulation has resulted in situations such as people leaving cities to pursue a ‘healthy lifestyle’ in the suburbs – when studies have shown they should do the opposite. Likewise, when we say the majority of the world’s carbon emissions come from cities this is misleading – they come from the suburbs (of cities).

A better definition

What if we took the rural/urban definition and added a third category: suburban. In Australia it may work like this: According to The Economist, 89.1% of Australians lived in urban areas in 2011. But if we include 2006 Australian Census Data for housing typology a different picture emerges:

11% of Australians lived in rural houses (rural)

67% of Australians lived in detached houses (suburban).

22% of Australians lived in apartments and attached houses (urban )

Australia is not in an Urban Age, nor is most of the Western world, and most of the cities that top the quality of life indices (Vienna is a notable exception worthy of further study) – the same cities that have some of the highest per capita carbon emissions and obesity rates in the world. We have declared globally that it is the beginning of the ‘Urban Age’, romanticizing humanity’s migration towards the cause and panacea of its problems: the city. In fact, many western cities are in a Suburban Age where large, detached, single-family homes are considered a birth-right. As liveability, health and sustainability merge, it will become increasingly evident just how suburban the world’s most liveable ‘cities’ actually are.  One of the great architectural challenges of our age will be urbanising suburbia. Another will be convincing developing countries what first world cities have experienced first-hand – that cities built for cars are less successful than those planned around pedestrians. Liveability data should be carefully studied before it is used for anything other than what it was intended: a tool for remuneration. Until we link urban form with quality of life in a more robust way it will be difficult to argue that sustainability, liveability, health, connectivity and competitiveness are one and the same – as many of us already feel to be the case. Meanwhile, we can celebrate Melbourne, the world’s most liveable suburb.

Further Reading: Urban does not necessarily mean central city, as this article by Christopher B. Leinberger of the Brookings Institute explores.

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

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.

On April 12th, the  UN- Habitat released a draft resolution from the Twenty-third session held in Nairobi, that reaffirms the importance of public space and its impact on quality of life in cities. The draft resolution issued by the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme  is entitled Sustainable urban development: The right and access to the city reflected in quality urban public spaces.

For many years the term sustainable urban development has been overly used yet narrowly defined.  This resolution which recognizes that “persons have the right to find in the city the necessary conditions for their political, economic, cultural, social, and ecological realization” is an important step toward addressing sustainable urban development beyond  Co2 emission reductions alone to one that promotes quality of life as well.

Read the draft resolution here

From everyday routines, to daily and weekly occasions, to the exceptional event – quality public spaces that are safe and inviting shape life in the city.

An average day in Times Square

Weekend evening dancing in Chongqing, China

Watching the 2010 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro


Gehl Architects have handed in our first Communication of Progress (COP) for the UN Global Compact initiative.

Launched in July 2000, the United Nations (UN) Global Compact is both a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.

Gehl Architects joined the UN Global Compact in 2008.

Read about our first COP on – The Danish Architecture Centre (in Danish only).

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.

Street scene, Chennai

The spirit of ’Let’s do it’ emanates from all the decisionmakers, Jeff Risom and I have met and made presentations to during our 10 day long trip to India.

Beforehand I had been told by my good Indian friend, architect Sanjay Prakash, that Indian city and government officials were hard to impress. And certainly Mr. Asheesh Sharma, the municipal commissioner (IAS) of the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, Maharashtra,  seemed less than impressed during my whole presentation on 21st century housing based on the best practice case of Bo01 in Malmö. And yet, his first reaction afterwards were the words: “How can we take this forward?”

Left to right: Henning Thomsen, Gehl Architects, mayor of Chennai M. Subramanian, Jeff Risom, Gehl Architects, and Rajesh Lakhoni, Chennai City Corporation Commissioner

Jeff and I receiving gifts from Chennai mayor Subramanian

The same happened in Chennai (former Madras) some days earlier. Initiated with the playing of the Tamil Nadu state anthem, Jeff and I gave a presentation on Copenhagen cycling best practice to the mayor of this 8 million people city, Mr. M. Subramanian, the City Corporation Commissioner, Mr. Rajesh Lakhoni, and a host of city councillors. After our presentation the very lively and empathic mayor gave a talk (in tamil) about his reflections on cycling in Chennai and referring to his own trips to Europe, where he had had the opportunity first hand to witness the potential of cycling in cities, he boldly stated, that Chennai would have its first dedicated cycle tracks in nothing less than 20 days.

Audience at the Gehl Architects lecture at Anna University, School of Architecture and Planning, which included professor Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi as well as professor and dean of the Department of Architecture, Anna University, Dr. Suresh Kuppuswamy.

Check out some of the news clips on Gehl Architects visit to Chennai:

The Hindu

New India Press

The Times of India

ITDP India staff working in their office in Pimpri

Gehl Architects are visiting India on request of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP). In the case of Chennai also Chennai City Connect, a Chennai based non-profit organization, have been responsible for the invitation and for the many presentations and meetings, we have been part of while in Chennai.

See below a list of the activities we have been performing since entering India on the 17th august:

17th august: Meeting with professor Dinesh Mohan and M. Muthaia on Chennai history and urban development in India

17th august: Lecture at Anna University, School of Architecture and Planning

18th august: Presentation to the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Foundation (TNUDF)

19th august: Presentation to the Chennai Metro Rail Limited

20th august: Lecture for the Mayor M. Subramanian, the City Corporation Commissioner, Mr. Rajesh Lakhoni, and city councillors

20th august: Presentation to the Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu State, Mr. K. Sripathy

20th august: Lecture for Executive Committee members of Chennai City Connect and Marg representatives at the Sheraton, sponsored by Marg Limited

21st august: Workshop with Tamil Nadu Urban Development Foundation (TNUDF) and Jones Lang LaSalle on pedestrianisation of T. Nagar

23rd august: Presentation to the Chief Commissioner Asheesh Sharma, of the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Maharashtra and the CEO Suhas Diwase, Pimpri Chinchwad New Town Development Authority (PCNTDA) and other city officials

23rd august: Lecture to ITDP staff at local office in Pimpri

24th august: Two presentations at seminar with delegates from Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pimpri Chinchwad New Town Development Authority (PCNTDA), builders, architects and planners

Street in the main shopping area of Chennai, T. Nagar, after rainfall.

The reception of the thoughts and practices we have shown in all of these lectures and presentations has been very welcoming. The notion of people-friendly development and the need for the introduction of new planning principles to succeed the traditional modernistic planning principles is warmly welcomed by the Indians.

At the same time we on our side have to acknowledge that the urban context, societal circumstances and even the economic structures are indeed very different from the context, circumstances and structures, we rely on when dealing with cities in both Denmark, Europe and most anywhere else. India seems to be a case of its own.

Street scene, Chennai

The little we have seen granted, we still are left with an impression of a country and of cities where growth is staggering, be it in numbers of people, numbers of vehicles and even kind and type of vehicles, and be it in pressure on the land and on its ressources, and on the structures that try to keep this extraordinary country together.

Slum settlements in front of new housing development in Pimpri

Even understanding the importance and scale of the so-called informal economy is mindblowing to a person coming from the US, as Jeff, and from Denmark, as myself. Poverty, as we have witnessed in slum developments in both Chennai and Pimpri, is evident. The relation of the informal economy and the informal settlements to the larger urban context is, to say the least, complicated. That the lifestyles of some, cannot be maintained without the help of cheap labour supplied by the others, the slumdwellers, is openly accepted. But it is also evidently hard to deal with for planners as well as politicians and city officials when redeveloping existing cities or even planning and building new cities and towns.

Informal economy - street vendors in the main shopping area in Chennai, T. Nagar

Informal economy - hawkers to the left and shops to the right co-existing and both relying on the business that the other brings to a section of the sidewalk

During our visit we have been discussing pedestrianization, improving conditions for cyclists and implementation of better cycling infrastructure as well as raising awareness on cycling as a healthy, sustainable and effective mobility form, and also how to develop people-friendly housing developments for the 21st century.

New urban development around a BRT streetcorridor in Pimpri - these streetcorridors will be between 45 and 75 meters wide!

Recycling garbage forms an integrated part of the informal economy and of the slum settlements

And also during our visit we have been exposed to many issues that seem to be particular for the growing megacities of the developing world, issues that call for their own context-based solutions to be developed and where the example of Copenhagen as a livable city, sometimes falls short of the realities that people are dealing with in a society such as the Indian. Thus even if we think we still have a point in pushing the issue of a more people-friendly planning in a context such as India, we must also make it a point to learn more about the megacity context in order to find ways in which the principles of people-friendly planning become more applicable in for example an Indian context.

Traffic - It is all over the place!!!

That said, I must say that the visit in general and the people in particular have been an extraordinary experience. The entrepreneurial, warm-hearted and extremely humoristic Indians have been a joy to get to know.

A special thanks for organizing the whole trip and for taking such good care of us goes to Shreya Gadepalli and the staff of ITDP India, that we have met, as well as to Raj Cherubal and Balchand Parayath of Chennai City Connect.

Children in the streets of a low-income housing development in Pimpri

Not only the food was hot!

We were kept busy! Jeff adjusting slideshows in the cab between presentations

Only a few weeks ago, our good friend at Streetfilms, Clarence Eckerson Jr., launched a new film on Streetfilms, highlighting the cycling culture of Copenhagen as it appears to American eyes in 2010.

But already back in 1937 Copenhagen was a bicycling city, and another American traveller and documentarist, James A. Fitzpatrick’s, visited Copenhagen and was awestruck by the cycling culture of the city.

Enjoy his reflections but be a little patient as well. There is both some rather harsh talk about ‘a white race’ as well as a lot of images of Copenhagen as such. But the first few minutes and again the last few minutes of the 9 minute film, shows how cycling was already in 1937 a big thing in Copenhagen.

A big thank you to another friend, Frank Sejersen, for pointing me to the 1937 film.

Keep in mind, though, that almost all of the cycling culture of the 1930′s was lost, in Copenhagen too, during the car-invasion of the 1960′s and early 1970′s, and only through patient and deliberate work has been re-instated and even improved dramatically, within the last decade or two.

Below, as a little aside, a film showing many of the same things, as they are shown to the world today. Enjoy in particular the reference to the Long John, the transport cycle of the 1930′s, and the new and updated version of the same bike anno 2010.


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