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How to make ‘cities for people’

Photo: Das Büro

Top of the world: architect Jan Gehl's career has focused on creating healthy, comfortable city spaces for people.

Rather than trying to build the tallest skyscraper, architects should focus on building comfortable parks or safer bike paths, suggests renowned architect Jan Gehl.

Good cities are like good parties, observes the globetrotting architect Jan Gehl.

“When people are having a good time, they tend to stay much longer than necessary.”

Invitation to the slow laneAnd the best way to get people to stay and enjoy the party, says Gehl, is to “invite them into the slow lane”.

“City life develops naturally when you can sit, walk or bike and experience what’s going on around you, by looking at other people or interesting facades,” says the architect and professor who has worked extensively with COWI on urban development projects such as the Rijeka Gateway in Croatia.

When things fall apartHis recently published book “Cities for People” includes some of the insights he has gathered while trying to infuse a human element to life in New York, Melbourne and Guangzhou and other cities.

According to Gehl, in the rush to design “weird-looking buildings that resemble perfume bottles”, the majority of architects have lost touch with the everyday needs of city dwellers.

“When it comes to designing housing for other people, things just fall apart. Architecture schools do not really teach tomorrow’s architects what it takes to make cities thrive.”     

Bottom floors and the bottom lineRather than trying to test the limits of who can build higher or more extreme, architects should draw on bike lanes, park benches and pedestrian streets and other elements which can introduce a human element to cities.

Gehl insists that such additions can also make good business sense, because they invite people to slow down and study storefronts.

“When sections of Broadway were closed to traffic,” he notes, “people started lingering longer, and rents shot up 75 per cent.”

And by introducing bike lanes, cities in the developing world like Bogota can take steps to become more healthy and sustainable.

“I want developers and city officials to understand they need to show empathy and sympathy towards city residents. They need to know that it is better to set up benches than it is to build high-rises and then hope people will come out on their own.”
Published: 12.10.2010

LAST UPDATED: 17.09.2016