“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.” – Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher
Danish architect, Jan Gehl’s, latest book, Cities for People (Island Press, 2010), explores the better designs of cities through designs for the people to live and work simultaneously. In this follow-up to Life Between Buildings (1971), Gehl explores the shifting focus from the automobile to pedestrians and bicyclists in the past fifty years and how this shift affects urban design today. Using consultations and recommendations completed by Gehl himself, he illustrates many points in Cities for People via Copenhagen, Melbourne, and New York City, among others.
Gehl outlines four goals in Chapter One of Cities for People, of which are further explored during the remaining chapters:
The Lively City refers to providing more than the most basic of needs or broadening opportunities for interactions with society. A city must join those who use public space with attractive, inviting public spaces; “Public space is the key to urban attraction.” The Lively City aspect focuses on soft edges of the city: where people meet buildings.
The Safe City outlines different methods to create sound city spaces, involving traffic safety and crime prevention techniques. Gehl mentions a focus on cars leads to decreased safety; pedestrians must be the design focus. Also, an “open city” allows for people of all different socioeconomic background to intermix. Safety is also increased with soft-edge boundaries between private, semi-private, and public spaces.
The Sustainable City highlights the high priority on pedestrians + bicyclists and their respective infrastructure, allowing fewer resources used and a lessen impact on the environment. The focus on pedestrians + bicyclists also allows for denser cities; their infrastructure is less massive. Give the city to the pedestrians + bicyclists versus the automobile to help transition society from the automobile. Using transit-oriented development also helps connect people, bicyclists, and their “collective traffic network.” Lively cities and social sustainability means greater options, more than the most basic needs, for a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Healthy City focuses on combining health policy with city planning. To quote Gehl: “The price of the loss of exercise as part of a daily pattern of activity is high: a decrease in quality of life, a dramatic rise in health costs and a shorter lifespan.” Creating greater options for walking within the planning culture will result in a change in society’s acceptability of walking, similar to transforming away from the automobile.
Understanding the interconnectedness of these four goals is vital for city planning. Focusing on these goals at eye level within a city will lead to a better environment for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the city as a whole.
Cities for People has a stellar layout. The book is full of pages upon pages of color photos from a plethora of cities around the globe. As most designers tend to understand information in the form of graphics, tables, and visual sources in general, Cities for People really hits a positive nerve.
Perhaps the selling point of Cities for People is the “Toolbox.” Though the entire book can be seen as a toolkit for safe, walkable, interactive cities, this final ‘toolbox’ is the most simple and straightforward. Located as Chapter Seven towards the end of the book, the toolbox provides an overview (with graphics) of the basic planning principles concerning the layout of a city. These range from the flow of traffic (pedestrian, automobile, bicycle, etc,) to twelve, quality criteria for an excellent city space at eye level. The highlight of the Toolbox are the last few pages titled “Reordering priorities, please.” These vital pages use real life examples, again, to highlight putting pedestrians first with simple yes and no photos. This part of the Toolbox depicts the ‘automobile first’ mindset of the past fifty years, and the solutions to change back to pedestrian-focused cities. If you are one for graphics to see the problem (and solution for that matter,) clearly, the Toolbox will speak to you as well.
Cities for People is available online via Amazon, Island Press, and Google Books, (among others). For more information on world-renown architect Jan Gehl and his other publications, visit Gehl’s website.
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Credits: All quotes and images from Cities for People, unless otherwise noted.