Jan Gehl: «Architects know very little about people»

Jan Gehl on his passion and mission for liable and human scale cities

He likes high-rises only from far away, he thinks cars should be banned from city-centers and he wants the public space to be the «living room of a city»: The danish urban planner Jan Gehl visited Basel on an official mission. By Matthias Oppliger  in Tages Woche

Basile Bornand: Jan Gehl: «Traffic is like water, it goes where it can. And when it can’t go somewhere, it stops.»

As adress of welcome Jan Gehl hands a business card. Printed on its back is a photography. It shows the typical yellow-red tram from Baselland. «This should be in Switzerland.» Gehl gathered the various pictures on his business cards during numerous travels.

Despite his hometown Copenhagen being one of the most liveable places of the world, the danish architect Jan Gehl gets about a lot. With his company «Gehl Architects» he helps cities around the world to build «cities for people». A few days ago, he visited Basel on invitation from the local planning department. We met him outside the «Gundeldingerfeld», where he held a well attended public lecture about sustainable cities the day before.

Jan Gehl, how many steps did you walk so far today?

I know that precisely (he fumbles for something and brings out a little red device). This is called a pedometer and it was given to me by the mayor of Kaliningrad. It says I walked 5000 steps so far, but actually it should be more. So I have to walk another 5000 steps today. You get seven more years to live, when you walk 10’000 steps a day.

Where have you been?

I have been walking around with these crazy people here all over this neighbourhood (Gundeldingen).

I’ve read somewhere that you like to stroll around a city and that you always bring your little camera along. What pictures do you take?

People mostly. People using public spaces. And I’m also interested in good solutions to planning problems. Or, of course, in silly solutions. I use this pictures in my presentations as I did yesterday. Or in my books. I’ve done this on five continents for fifty years. So I’ve got a lot of pictures by now. Pictures of people are always interesting. You can go on for hours looking at them, but by looking at pictures of houses or motorcars you will get bored pretty soon.

Did you take a picture in Basel too?

I haven’t had time to take many, because we worked a lot during my stay.

«The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned.»

But did you take one? What drew your interest walking through the streets of Basel?

The first picture I took was of the little ferryboat on the Rhine, which was not propelled by anything but the sun and the streaming river. It’s genius. And I also took one of the Münsterplatz. I like it, it is a fine example of a good old city square. Its dimensions are within the human scale. You can still see the people standing at the far end. Modern squares are often built outside the human scale and therefore you lose sense of its dimension.

Just a few years ago, this exact square was regularly used as parking space. Now we have somehow managed to get rid of them.

This is a general pattern all over the world. The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned. People start to think there might be other qualities in cities than just making space for cars.

Read More

For Driverless Cars to Succeed Wireless Infrastructure is Crucial

For the world envisioned in Minority Report with its driverless cars and big brother surveillance systems to become a reality (for better or worse?) much improved infrastructure is needed – two recent articles give indication of the drive to achieve this- at least in American Cities and definitely for the commercial benefit of the automakers and cyber companies shareholders – so I again have my doubts about the real benefit of continued reliance on private vehicles

Driverless cars from movie Minority Report

The first article is from Urban TImes giving insight into the need and possibility of alternative technologies to wireless in order for the machines to communicate with each other

At CES 2013 driverless cars were big news. And while the likes of Toyota and Google are working on the technology inside the cars to make these a reality – William Webb, IEEE fellow and CTO of Neul knows that the wireless infrastructure needs to be up to scratch too.

IEEE experts have recently identified driverless cars as the most viable form of intelligent transport, set to dominate the roadway by 2040 and spark dramatic changes in vehicular travel.

Related: Google’s Driverless Cars Now Legal in Nevada

As far as I can tell, there is one key barrier to the widespread adoption of intelligent transport (aside from driver and passenger acceptance of automated vehicles) and that is the infrastructure of our roads and vehicles. More specifically, the wireless infrastructure.

Monitoring traffic flow is relatively easy, as is deducing where congestion is occurring and working out where to reroute cars. However, there is still a big piece missing from the intelligent transport puzzle – a way to get information from sensors to controls centres, and from there back to cars, traffic lights, and roadside signage. Wireless connectivity is the only option when facing this challenge. Whilst this might seem obvious in the case of moving vehicles, the cost of installing the wires for sensors in stationary items such as bridges of car-parking spaces is completely prohibitive – making wireless a big issue.

Self-driving car Toyota Prius prototype. Via Google

The second article is  note from Smart Planet a few days ago highlights the amount of effort being put into these machine communication systems – again – one has no doubts about whose interests this is in – only a  nagging suspicion that this all looks very familiar in terms of science fiction – anyone see a likeness to the Matrix here – machines in control – humans in servitude?

Google’s secretive wireless network could impact urban connectivity, Wi-Fi

By  | January 25, 2013, 2:19 AM PST

Google’s secretive wireless networking project could have severe repercussions on the consumer market it seems.

Filing an application to build an “experimental” wireless network on the tech giant’s Mountain View headquarters, Google is petitioning the FCC to allow 50 base stations to be built on the campus, in order to support 200 user devices for an “experimental radio service.”

The application and proposal state that the area covered will be close to the firm’s Android building, but small, indoor base stations will only reach up to 200 meters, and outdoor systems will go no further than a kilometer. In total, the network will have a two-mile radius.

The experimental network remains under wraps for now, but who knows what Google is planning for the future. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the FCC request may be in relation to the tech giant’s partnership with Dish Networks.

The filing, uncovered by Wireless engineer Steve Crowley, would provide coverage for 2524 to 2625 megahertz frequencies — which wouldn’t be compatible with most of the consumer mobile devices currently available, such as Apple’s iPhone or smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. It would, however, work well in densely populated areas.

Petrol, chocolate and a sales meeting:Business lounges in service stations

What’s the reality of “walkable cities?” If you are one of the mobile business consultants, salesmen or any one of a large range of contractors, who everyday you spend more than half their time traveling in their car,  truck or van, with no options for using public transport or working over the internet, but having to see people face to face, inspect works or transport their workmen to sites distributed all over  the sprawl. Amongst a series of recent posts and articles on car related themes these caught my attentions and gave me pause to rethink a little about how we see the transition from our present high carbon cities to a lower carbon  “neutral” future?

The first one is this from The Economist, which is appropriately on the growth of facilities catering for this car culture, any of you who have traveled in Britain are aware of these large aglomerations on the freeways, we have our own versions here in South Africa, not yet this extended but with the growth of controversial toll-roads, no doubt soon to get there:

AT 10 o’clock on a mid-week morning, there’s already a goodly queue at the McDonald’s in the Cobham service station. Kingdoms may rise and kingdoms may fall, but mankind’s need for Egg McMuffins and coffee shows no sign of weakening. Elsewhere at the facility, which recently opened on the M25, London’s orbital motorway, drivers and their passengers play other traditional service-station roles, buying petrol, using the loos, shouting at their children, wincing at the sandwich prices. With its Shell garage, Days Inn hotel, Marks & Spencer, WHSmith, McDonalds, KFC, a couple of other restaurants and some slot machines this is a normal, modern motorway stop. Look up on the first floor, though, and you see a more unusual amenity with views out over the service-station floor: a Regus business lounge.

Is nowhere safe from business travellers these days? An ever-expanding army of mobile workers needs an expanding number of places to meet and work. Regus has been opening a lounge a day since early 2011 and now has them in over 500 cities, including in railway stations in France and the Netherlands (in Britain, Network Rail has done a deal with another provider of flexible working spaces, the Office Group). In its efforts to dominate in what it calls “third place” working environments (where the first place is the office and the second is the home) Regus recently decided that motorway service stations were the next battleground. It is running three new operations beside British motorways, as well as several in France. And though the atmosphere of a typical business lounge is rather different from that of most service stations, the two do appear to complement each other.

Read more 

We all know our frustration with cell phone/mobile use in cars, texting is especially dangerous and despite the laws against it and the surprising frequency with which we see drivers of large SUV’s with handset to their ears, which I would think should have a handsfree as standard equipment, here is an extreme version of this trend from Things I grab, motley collection :

Click to visit the original post

Forget texting while driving. German police say they nabbed a driver who had wired his Ford station wagon with an entire mobile office.

Saarland state police said Friday the 35-year-old man was pulled over for doing 130 kph (80 mph) in a 100 kph zone while passing a truck Monday.

AP Photo / Saarland State Police

Built on a wooden frame on his passenger seat they found a laptop on a docking station tilted for easy driver access, a printer, router, wireless internet stick, WLAN antenna, and an inverter to power it all.

Read more

All of this is variously blamed on everything from Fordism through neoliberalism to America’s Oil Wars, but as most of us who have one know – we love our cars and even of we have a placebo Toyota Prius like me, we are in love with driving them and we construct our identities with them, this post from URBAN TIMES

The Growth of Car Culture

What is car culture? It is the practice and regular usage of cars in cities around the world. It is the feeling you get when you wake up early in the morning eager to get out of the house to drive. It is a lifestyle built around using cars.

The culture or social behavior of using cars has spread throughout the world. It has become an international social phenomenon attributable to both developed and developing nations.

As Wilfred Owen points out in in Wheels, in 1900 the world had hardly ten thousand automobiles, but eight decades later, there were more than 360 million motor vehicles and their effect on mankind has been enormous.

A personalized version of the cheapest car in the world – the Tata Nano. (Image: vm2827 / Flickr)

John Urrey observes that car-culture is a culture which is presently being followed by the general public although it was primarily consumed by the rich and elite classes in the 20th century.

According to theOICA (automotive issues in world forums), a total of over 50 million cars were produced internationally in the year 2011. Presently, more than 500 million cars are being consumed world-wide and this “figure is expected to double  by 2015“.

Read More

With this culture being actively driven by the automobile and big oil and their differential adaptations to  soliciting customers either through more and more powerful cars – a la TopGear, or through their offerings of alternative smaller, more fuel efficient cars and by undertaking extensive urbanization trends studies such as this one by P-Rex , an MIT research lab

Toyota’s vision: The right vehicle,
at the right place, at the right time

This ambitious project attempts to “take the temperature” of urbanization of the entire U.S.  Conceived of as a Drosscape 2.0, we are collaborating with Toyota to assess and project the urbanization patterns in the metropolitan landscape.  With the echo boomers entering prime house-buying age, we see this as an opportune moment to envision how the basic urbanization will proceed over the next few decades.  We are more metropolitan, more southern and more western as a populous than we  were in the 20th century.  Will these trends hold?  How  will the complex of jobs, housing, and transportation interact with this new metropolitan landscape?  These questions and more will be addressed in this multi-year research contract.

Extract from Toyota Alternative Fuels Presentation

An presentation using some of the initial results is available here; Our Shared, Sustainable Future: Progress and Challenges which clearly highlights whose future it is that Toyota are most concerned with!

Read More

So how does this look in under African Skies; – here is a piece that might let you judge somewhat for yourself:

The first is on the role of the “Black Diamonds” and the growth of South africa’s middle class:

Counting Cars to Measure Africa’s Middle Class  by John Campbell from Africa in Transition

Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto's Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto’s Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)

That Africa has a growing middle class has become conventional wisdom, and the prospect of a new and expanding consumer market excites investors. How to define the “middle class,” to say nothing of how big it is remains unclear. Uri Dadush and Shimelse Ali show a way forward in their article, “In Search of the Global Middle Class:  A New Index,” recently published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

They suggest that in developing countries, the number of cars in circulation is indicative of the size of the middle class. Car ownership indicates arrival at an income threshold (around $3400 ppp) where households can begin to afford non-essentials.  Further, they say car statistics are usually reliable. So study of car circulation statistics can indicate how rapidly the middle class in a given country is growing.

Using the “car index” they conclude that of South Africa’s fifty million people, almost nineteen million are middle class. This is significantly larger than this African Development Bank’s  study on the size of middle class (PDF) (but smaller if you add the “floating class”—people living on $2-$4 a day).

Given South Africa’s economic and racial inequality, the purchase of luxury cars can also tell us something about how the wealthy have fared.  Indeed, it appears they have done well. 21.5 percent of automobiles sold in 2010 were “luxury.”  (Of G20 countries, in China, it was 2.8 percent;  in Mexico, 2.8 percent, and in the United States, 9.6 percent. Only Germany at 26.6 percent exceeded South Africa.)

The car index appears to support the view that South Africa’s middle class is growing.  With eighty percent of the population black, most of that growth must come from blacks.  But the high percentage of luxury vehicles sold would imply that the nine percent of the population that is white is also doing well.

Certainly the car index accords with what I saw during two trips to South Africa last spring

Finally, for now, a piece I wrote last year on  No quick fix to save our cities, so we’d better start now

Nevada issues Google first license for self-driving car

The future’s, here – its just not evenly distributed yet – to paraphrase William Gibson- the end of traffic jams and the start of Minority Reports automated freeways – and all the visions of a distopian future a la Blade Runner around the corner are banished by your ever ready and willing Google – now they not only know where you are all the time – they’re taking you there! See my other post of today for more of the same story: A warning for mankind: Beware the new Big Brother

Gov. Brian Sandoval takes a spin in a driverless car Wednesday, July 20, 2011, in Carson City. Sandoval described the experience as “amazing”; he took the test run with a Google engineer and DMV Director Bruce Breslow. They started their trip at the DMV offices in Carson City and went north to Washoe Valley, where they turned around.

Google’s Toyota Prius Autonomous Vehicle

CARSON CITY — Nevadans will soon see driverless cars being tested on streets and highways.

Google received the first license Monday from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to test the autonomous vehicles. It is believed to be the first such license issued in the country.

The 2011 Legislature passed the first law in the nation to permit testing of driverless cars. But state regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Tom Jacobs, a DMV spokesman. “The system regulates the brakes, accelerator and steering.”

Google has equipped a test fleet of at least eight vehicles — six Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT and a Lexus RX450h.

License plates issued for driverless cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol on the left side.

“I feel using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future,’” DMV Director Bruce Breslow said.

DMV officials have been in the vehicles during demonstrations on the Las Vegas Strip and in Carson City. There have been other demonstrations of the technology on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and around Lake Tahoe.

The system permits a human driver to take control by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel.

Google says it hopes to market the technology to auto manufacturers. It combines artificial intelligence software, a global positioning system and an array of sensors to navigate its way through traffic.

The DMV says other companies have indicated their desire to test and develop autonomous technology. “Google has a lot of competition,” Jacobs said.

When transportation shapes cities

A history of transportation from Innov the City by Andrew Perrier translated courtesy of Google

Until August 26, the City of Architecture and Heritage in Paris presents an exhibition devoted to the history of transportation in cities. Through a set design in twelve steps, “Flowing – when our movements shaping cities”, offers to browse the history and issues of mobility in cities and in our societies.

It is possible to understand the evolution of transport by a simple analysis of the evolution of footwear: “changing shoes will stagnate when the car will take off,” says the speaker of the exhibition “Move” . Original entry in this frieze of human figures, of homo sapiens to homo mobilis, to immerse yourself in the history of transportation. To understand that ultimately, the history of transportation is a constant renewal. In Roman times already, rivers conditioned the organization of cities, the boats are the only means of transport and communication. Today, shuttles and river freight are back, thanks to the emergence of sustainable development.

Farewell and the return of the tram

In the 19th century, transportation becomes the “sinews of war” to allow the development of cities, especially with the arrival of the train. In parallel, the arrival of the railway will lead to major changes in architectural and urban “stations Palace” will be highlighted by successive expositions. The first transport will emerge, including animal-drawn omnibuses. As is the case today in some sparsely populated areas, one could speak of “transport on demand”, with non-regular lines. Railways are progressively installed to make way for tram, winner of the late 19th century.Again, it is quickly supplanted by the bus, uses less heavy infrastructure. Nowadays, if the bus is still sought, particularly through the BRT (Bus High Level of Service) in urban areas, plans for new trams and tram-trains can not be counted in all cities of the world. Finally appears the subway, which develops first in London before arriving in Paris late.

The zoning of the Charter of Athens
In 1933, the Athens Charter dictates the principles of “functional city”, which created the concept of zoning, separating the residential areas of transportation: it is the beginning of “metro-work-sleep.” The backlash is in 1994 with the Aalborg Charter, which advocates instead a mix of urban functions. The cities are recovering to develop public transport so-called “soft” to rediscover the joy of “crossing the landscape” instead of spending his life in tubes. For that is the subject of this exhibition organized by the architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul: reintroduce the slow transport and distribute again the notion of pleasure associated with travel.