People and buildings are connected – they have been and will continue to be so. Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space is a classic that applies substance and quantitative research to the field of urban planning. Jan Gehl, author of Cities for People, takes his analysis beyond urban design to talk about how public spaces are actually used, why, and what designers can do to improve cities.
“Take good care of the people and the precious life between the buildings,” Gehl’s original message has been little altered after being updated, revised, and translated into 15 languages. First published in 1971, Life Between Buildings discusses what planners and designers can do to activate public spaces. Filled with an array of statistics and case studies, Gehl recounts the unfortunate history of cities and how over five decades of building-focused planning have made public space an unfortunate afterthought.
The book is full of theories that, while generally common sense, most find difficult to articulate. There are many places like Venice, New York, or Buenos Aires that have active street life, while other less fortunate cities can look like ghost towns. Gehl explains why some of these places are inherently attractive to people and draws them to walk and linger in the space. Attracting people into the public realm with festivals, shopping, and dining is as important in an active street as keeping their interest to linger there. Gehl extensively documents each concept using words, diagrams, and images.
Author Jan Gehl at the Velo City Global 2010 conference in Copenhagen
Making the space “multi-use” will make the space “multi-user.” In other words, when planners define certain zones as exclusively residential, commercial, recreational, these spaces are only used by a certain segment of the population. In contrast, mixed-use zones can have a wider appeal and create more dynamic spaces. Gehl shows how mixing uses within a single space creates active, safe, and interesting public spaces.
What is your favorite public space in the world and why?
Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space is available from Island Press. The Grid is giving away 3 FREE copies of the book. Follow the link to Rafflecopter Giveaway to enter for a chance to win your free copy – the perfect read while sitting in your favorite public space. Best of luck and happy reading!
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.