JAN GEHL’S WINTER LECTURES #1

How do we to bring life to cities? Jérôme Lapierre, our architectural assistant and winner of Prix de Rome, offers his highlights from Jan’s recent winter lectures.

JanLecture

In his recent series of winter lectures for the Copenhagen office, Jan Gehl asked the question “Cities for people – but how?” Questions of this sort have been fascinating him since he met his psychologist wife, which more or less coincided with the thoughts of Jane Jacobs’ book – ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. The 1960’s was a time of drastic changes as Modernist thinking lead to what Jan calls ‘the car invasion’. The result – extreme scale confusion, is visible in these illustrations: People moving at a slow pace (5km/h) mixed with cars wanting to go faster (60 km/h), and architecture caught in the middle. Modernism certainly changed the life between buildings…

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While this change was taking place around the world, some streets, for instance in Denmark, started to get pedestrianized, like Strøget in Copenhagen and Houmeden in Randers.

Left: Strøget, Copenhagen 1962. Right: Randers, 1962

Jan realized that the most important scale is the people-scale, where we move at a natural pace of 5 km/h. This is also the scale in which human life unfolds and where all human senses are involved. Copenhagen as a city made many remarkable modifications to invite people to walk and cycle. It is in fact, the first city in the world where data was gathered, life in the city and its people was studied – to create a human scale city.

 

The Copenhagen Story from 1962-2014

pedestrian-street_cph_Gehl

– from traffic focus to a people-oriented place:

  • Phase 1 / 1960-1980: Pedestrian streets
  • Phase 2/ 1980-2000: Café culture
  • Phase 3/ 2000-now: Recreational activities/playgrounds

 

Copenhagen Today

Since these progressive changes began to appear, the ‘city for cars’ paradigm slowly flipped to a ‘city for people’ in the culture of the city and in people’s minds.

The future looks very promising, since a new Danish architectural policy was published (February 2014), entitled ‘Putting people first’ – A strong gesture to Gehl Architect’s work improving the cities by focusing on the people.
Another sign that these changes have had a positive effect, is the fact that Copenhagen was awarded  ‘most livable city in the world’ several times by the magazine Monocle, most recently in 2014 (watch video below). This proves that people-centric urban planning gets noticed for the positive impact on city culture and vivid urban life.

monocle2013

Liveable v lovable

More on why these “Livable City” and Best Cities to Live in” Indices are not quite what they seem : Who compliles them and who are they for is questioned here in this FT.com  article By Edwin Heathcote 

Vancouver is Hollywood’s urban body double. It is famously the stand-in for New York, LA, Seattle and Chicago, employed when those cities just get too tough, too traffic-clogged, too murderous or too bureaucratic to film in. It is almost never filmed as itself. That is because, lovely as it is, it is also, well … a little dull. Who would want to watch a film set in Vancouver? To see its skyscrapers destroyed by aliens or tidal waves, its streets populated by cops and junkies, its public buildings hosting romantic reunions? Yet Vancouver (original name, Gastown) has also spent more than a decade at the very top of the charts of the best city to live in the world. Can that really be right?

No. Not at all. In fact, Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability”. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.

The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient. So what do these top cities have in common? How exactly do you measure “liveability”?

All the surveys use an index. But what is on it? “There’s always proximity to nature,” says Tyler Brûlé (editor of Monocle and patron saint of liveable cities and airport lounges, whose column appears weekly in the FT’s Life & Arts section). “Global connectivity is important, education and we’ve recently added chain store metrics – is there a Starbucks or a Zara?” he says”

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