If urban planning and design has a folk hero, it’s 74 year-old Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. Gehl has, since the 1971 publication of his book Life Between Buildings, been the go-to brains for figuring out how best to plan and design cities for people, which, as it happens, is the title of his new book: Cities for People.
Cities for People
? 2010: Jan Gehl
Gehl is one of the founding partners of Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants. An aptly named firm considering its focus on creating more livable, sustainable and lively urban places with the pedestrian and cyclist in mind. Though based in Copenhagen, Gehl has travelled the world with his cities-for-people message, with a recent stop in New York City. There he was hired by New York’s Department of Transportation, the results of which were some big changes to the Big Apple: miles of bike lanes and, most impressively, the pedestrianization of Times Square.
On October 7th 2010, Gehl spoke at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design to a packed auditorium and a similarly packed overflow room. With his unassuming and friendly manner, he provided a brief but thorough critique of modernist planning, from the highway mania of the Robert Moses era to Le Corbusier’s obsession with his towers in a park (or, as Gehl quipped, towers in a parking lot). With the requisite nod to the down-to-earth planning style advocated by Jane Jacobs in her 1961 book Death and Life of Great American Cities, Gehl next turned to the ideas that make up Cities for People.
So what are cities for people? With chapters in his book given such titles as “the human dimension,” “the city at eye level” and “life, space, buildings – in that order,” it’s not hard to see where Gehl’s preoccupation lies. Cities for people are those that focus on the view citizens have of their city as they walk or cycle around. Cities for people are those that incorporate “complete streets” – those providing for pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation, as well as for cars. In Gehl’s world, cities are not parks of monumental architecture, but are designed and planned for the people that live, work and play at ground level.
Filled with photographs and explanatory diagrams, Cities for People is an accessible and intelligent look at how much better our cities could be and how we can get there. (2010: Island Press; ISBN 9781597265737)
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