Famed Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl in Town to Consult on PlaNYC

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The Urbanist Musketeers: Alex Garvin, Jan Gehl and Fred Kent in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sept. 30, 2006.

Jan Gehl, the famed Danish urbanist, is in New York City this week where, sources say, he has been hired as a consultant for Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC program.

At a presentation to the board of the Regional Plan Association on Wednesday at the offices of PriceWaterhouseCoopers at 41st and Madison, Gehl said the city must tame the automobile if it is going to become a truly great city for pedestrians and for public life.

Asked during questions what he would do specifically for the city, Gehl said he would make pedestrians more comfortable in the city by adding street furniture, widening sidewalks and creating "oasises" for them. In addition, he would put immediate emphasis on better conditions for cyclists. And finally, he said attention should be paid to the mass transit system. Good mass transit and good pedestrian environments, he said, "are brothers and sisters," each depending on the other.

In his lecture and slide show, Gehl talked of how in Copenhagen they had added bike lanes and additional sidewalk space by converting most four-lane streets to two lanes. Looking back over the last few decades, Gehl showed how big urban cities like Barcelona, Melbourne, Copenhagen and others are "reclaiming" their public spaces and streets for pedestrians by putting less emphasis on accommodating cars. He mentioned how in 1962, all of Copenhagen's principal squares, 18 of them, were being used for parking lots. Now all are used for public life. Gehl said that he sees enormous potential for similar improvements in New York City.

The Dept. of Transportation's press office declined to comment on Gehl's work at this time. In an interview with Streetsblog in June, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said she was "hoping to bring Gehl over at the end of next month to help us work on a pedestrian and public space strategy much like what he did for London."

Photo: Aaron Naparstek