Skip to content

Posts from the "Jan Gehl" Category

Streetsblog USA No Comments

Talking Headways Podcast With Special Guest Jan Gehl

Danish architect and urban planner Jan Gehl, who led Copenhagen’s turn away from car-domination toward streets and public spaces for people, is on a U.S. tour. I got to sit down with him this week in Washington.

Photo courtesy of Island Press

Photo courtesy of Island Press

Where traffic engineers count cars, Gehl and his colleagues count people. So instead of telling city officials to widen roads, they propose to widen sidewalks, build bike lanes, and create beautiful public spaces.

“If we make better conditions for walking and public life, or if we make better conditions for bicycling, we can see that these things are favored,” Gehl told me. “And that’s exactly what they’ve done in Copenhagen. They’ve actually turned down the cars for quite a while and upstepped the bicycle facilities.”

In this episode of Talking Headways, you can hear Gehl in his own words about everything from his assertion that “the tower is the lazy architect’s answer to density” to the Moscow mayor’s hyper-efficient way of getting people to stop parking on Main Street.

You can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

No Comments

Jan Gehl Joins Advocates to Talk Public Plazas in Low-Income Neighborhoods

Ask a New Yorker about the city’s plazas, and they’re likely to first think of Times Square. While the city’s marquee pedestrian space gets most of the attention, there are dozens of neighborhood-scale plazas across the city, with dozens more in the works in communities requesting them from DOT. Not all local groups have the financial might of Midtown Manhattan behind them, but there is still a need to maintain and support these spaces. Without city funds or donations, it can be hard to keep a good thing going — or to get it off the ground in the first place.

Jan Gehl speaks at an event today about plazas in low-income neighborhoods. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jan Gehl speaks at an event today about plazas in low-income neighborhoods. Photo: Stephen Miller

That’s where the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) comes in. This group, a project of the Horticultural Society of New York, works with community groups that have signed on to be a plaza steward. Mostly, this involves pledging to keeping the space clean and organizing events in the plaza. But small merchants associations or non-profits often need a helping hand.

Last November, NPP received an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to fund the upkeep of plazas in low-income communities. That money is helping support up to eight plazas this year, NPP’s Laura Hansen said. Today, her group and Transportation Alternatives hosted a panel discussion on the importance of plazas to low-income communities, featuring Danish architect and livable streets luminary Jan Gehl.

Plazas are a central component of healthy neighborhoods and cities, Gehl said. “Every good neighborhood should have a heart,” he said. “Public life and lively cities is very important for social inclusion and for democracy.” (Gehl’s point isn’t just theoretical: Last June, Queens Community Board 3 became the city’s first community board to meet in a public plaza.)

Although the plaza program was started by DOT, today’s event focused not on city government but on how different communities use and support their plazas. In addition to finding and sustaining funding, panelists said that local groups have to find a way to create events and programming that’s relevant to the city’s diverse population while maintaining an engaged group of volunteers.

“We have to take seriously how a plaza looks different in Brownsville or in the Bronx than it does in Times Square or Park Slope,” Council Member Brad Lander said during  introductory remarks, which also connected plazas to Mayor de Blasio’s traffic safety goals. “They’re essential for moving forward street safety and the Vision Zero idea.”

Read more…

12 Comments

How to Plan Good Cities for Bicycling

Bicyclists on their way through the city are part of city life. They can, with ease, switch between being bicyclists and pedestrians. Photos by Jan Gehl.

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in our series this week featuring Danish architect and livable streets luminary Jan Gehl. The pieces are excerpts are from his book, “Cities for People,” published by Island Press. Donate to Streetsblog and Streetfilms and you’ll qualify to win a copy of the book, courtesy of Island Press. Here are part one and part two.

Bicyclists represent a different and somewhat rapid form of foot traffic, but in terms of sensory experiences, life and movement, they are part of the rest of city life. Naturally, bicyclists are welcome in support of the goal to promote lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities. The following is about planning good cities for bicyclists, and is handled relatively narrowly and in direct relation to a discussion on the human dimension in city planning.

Around the world there are numerous cities where bicycles and bicycle traffic would be unrealistic. It is too cold and icy for bicycles in some areas, too hot in others. In some places the topography is too mountainous and steep for bicycles. Bicycle traffic is simply not a realistic option in those situations. Then there are surprises like San Francisco, where you might think bicycling would be impractical due to all the hills. However, the city has a strong and dedicated bicycle culture. Bicycling is also popular in many of the coldest and warmest cities, because, all things considered, even they have a great number of good bicycling days throughout the year.

The fact remains that a considerable number of cities worldwide have a structure, terrain and climate well suited for bicycle traffic. Over the years, many of these cities have thrown their lot in with traffic policies that prioritized car traffic and made bicycle traffic dangerous or completely impossible. In some places extensive car traffic has kept bicycle traffic from even getting started.

In many cities, bicycle traffic continues to be not much more than political sweet talk, and bicycle infrastructure typically consists of unconnected stretches of paths here and there rather than the object of a genuine, wholehearted and useful approach. The invitation to bicycle is far from convincing. Typically in these cities only one or two percent of daily trips to the city are by bicycle, and bicycle traffic is dominated by young, athletic men on racing bikes. There is a yawning gap from that situation to a dedicated bicycle city like Copenhagen, where 37 percent of traffic to and from work or school is by bicycle. Here bicycle traffic is more sedate, bicycles are more comfortable, the majority of cyclists are women, and bicycle traffic includes all age groups from school children to senior citizens.

Read more…

8 Comments

The Art and Science of Designing Good Cities for Walking

There is more to walking than walking. Photos by Jan Gehl.

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a three-part series this week by renowned Danish architect and livable streets luminary Jan Gehl. The pieces are excerpts are from his book, “Cities for People,” published by Island Press. Donate to Streetsblog and Streetfilms and you’ll qualify to win a copy of the book, courtesy of Island Press.

It is a big day when at about one year of age a child takes that first step. The child’s eye level moves from the vantage point of the crawler (about 1 foot) above the floor to about 2.6 feet.

The little walker can see much more and move faster. From now on everything in the child’s world — field of vision, perspective, overview, pace, flexibility and opportunities — will move on a higher, faster plane. All of life’s important moments will hereafter be experienced on foot at standing and walking pace.

While walking is basically a linear movement that brings the walker from place to place, it is also much more. Walkers can effortlessly stop underway to change direction, maneuver, speed up or slow down or switch to a different type of activity such as standing, sitting, running, dancing, climbing or lying down.

A city walk illustrates its many variations: the quick goal-oriented walk from A to B, the slow stroll to enjoy city life or a sunset, children’s zig-zagging, and senior citizens’ determined walk to get fresh air and exercise or do an errand. Regardless of the purpose, a walk in city space is a “forum” for the social activities that take place along the way as an integral part of pedestrian activities. Heads move from side to side, walkers turn or stop to see everything, or to greet or talk with others. Walking is a form of transport, but it is also a potential beginning or an occasion for many other activities.

Read more…

StreetFilms 29 Comments

Copenhagen’s Car-Free Streets and Slow-Speed Zones

In Copenhagen, you never have to travel very far to see a beautiful public space or car-free street packed with people soaking up the day. In fact, since the early 1960s, 18 parking lots in the downtown area have been converted into public spaces for playing, meeting, and generally just doing things that human beings enjoy doing. If you're hungry, there are over 7,500 cafe seats in the city.

But as you walk and bike the city, you also quickly become aware of something else: Most Copenhagen streets have a speed limit of 30 to 40 km/h (19 to 25 mph). There are blocks in some neighborhoods with limits as low as 15 km/h (9 mph), where cars must yield to residents. Still other areas are "shared spaces" where cars, bikes and pedestrians mix freely with no stress, usually thanks to traffic calming measures (speed bumps are popular), textured road surfaces and common sense.

We mesmerized you last month with our look at bicycling in Copenhagen, now sit back and watch livable streets experts Jan Gehl and Gil Penalosa share their observations about pedestrian life. You'll also hear Ida Auken, a member of Denmark's Parliament, and Niels Tørsløv, traffic director for the City of Copenhagen, talk about their enthusiasm for street reclamation and its effect on their city.

4 Comments

Jan Gehl on Sustainable Transport in Copenhagen and NYC

While in Copenhagen to film the Danish capital's world-beating bike infrastructure, Streetfilms' Elizabeth Press caught up with urban planner extraordinaire Jan Gehl for a brief, canal-side chat. In this clip, Gehl explains how cycling and transit fit within the city's sustainability agenda, and why "unnecessary transportation" threatens the global climate.

With Mayor Bloomberg in Copenhagen today for a gathering of mayors at the UN climate summit, Gehl also got in touch with Streetsblog recently to offer his take on New York's recent livable streets advances. Apparently, word has reached Copenhagen of the Bedford Avenue bike lane removal, a setback which Gehl says shouldn't obscure the Bloomberg administration's track record on walking, biking, and public space:

A heartfelt welcome to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Michael Bloomberg can participate in the assembly of mayors from the major cities of the world backed by impressive accomplishments achieved in just a few years as part of the ambitious and impressive program for making New York one of the world's leading cities regarding sustainability policies.

Throughout the world the New York programs of introducing an extensive bicycle infrastructure, a new bicycle culture and a general improvement and humanization of the public realm has been well noticed and hailed, and the City of New York is now seen as an inspiring example of things to do to improve the quality of city life and in the same process to address the climate challenge through city policies.

I keep up when I can on news from New York. I recently saw someone express the idea that bicyclists should protest against Mayor Bloomberg when he comes to the climate meetings next week in my home town of Copenhagen because part of a bike lane in Brooklyn was moved.

You will have to excuse me if I tell you that that is one of the more absurd things I have heard in a long time. Mayor Bloomberg should properly be celebrated as one of the world's most important leaders in making cities more friendly to people and bicycles.

It is easy to get excited when something like a local bike route changes. But I ask my friends in New York to also consider a wider perspective.

Read more...
29 Comments

The Crossroads of the World Goes Car-Free

TSquare_band.jpg

I've lived in New York City for just about twenty years now but yesterday was my first trip to Times Square.

Sure, I've been to Times Square before. Plenty of times. But until yesterday Times Square had never ever been a destination for me. Rather, it had always been a place to avoid or, if unavoidable, a place to get in and out of as fast as possible on my way to somewhere else.

The New York City Department of Transportation's "Green Light for Midtown" plan brought me and a lot of other people to Times Square yesterday. And it kept us there. By simply removing motor vehicles from Broadway around Times and Herald Squares and inviting pedestrians in with seating, street performers, good people-watching -- and a naked cowboy -- New York City has created two great new public spaces for tourists, office workers and, yes, even jaded residents.

NakedCowboyTough.jpgStreetfilms' Clarence Eckerson squares off with the Naked Cowboy. Icon Parking Systems, the Cowboy's sponsor, may be one of the few businesses unhappy with the new Times Square. The Cowboy is pleased.

The space is still raw and unfinished and it'll be interesting to see how it works during the weekday, but my two young sons and I had a blast yesterday along with thousands of others. Times Square is suddenly a place worth visiting and staying a while (especially if you're a parent desperate for an easy, low-cost weekend adventure for your kids).

Read more...

No Comments

Streetfilms: A Streetside Chat With Jan Gehl

In November 2006, Danish planner Jan Gehl met Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton in Times Square to reflect on the state of the city's public spaces. In this Streetfilm by Clarence Eckerson, EIC Aaron Naparstek catches up with Gehl in the new Madison Square to talk about what has changed in the intervening two years, and what can still be done to make New York a world-class pedestrian city.

2 Comments

Streetfilms: A New Vision for the Upper West Side

Residents of all ages, electeds and planner-about-town Jan Gehl gathered at PS 87 last Thursday to mark the launch of "Blueprint for the Upper West Side: A Roadmap for Truly Livable Streets." A year-long community-based project of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance campaign, the Blueprint [PDF], as its name implies, offers a detailed vision of street designs intended to improve safety, access and mobility for the car-free majority. Streetfilms' Robin Urban Smith was there and filed this report.

1 Comment

Gehl-O-Rama: City Agencies Take Lessons From Copenhagen

gehl_workshop.jpgAfter evaluating downtown streets, city staff reported their findings on public life. Photo: Shin-pei Tsay.
Before hitting the "World Class Streets" launch Thursday night, Jan Gehl addressed about 70 staffers from DOT, City Planning, and NYCEDC, part of a day-long exercise that introduced participants to the Danish planner's site evaluation methods. Commissioners Amanda Burden and Janette Sadik-Khan gave a hero's welcome to Gehl, whom they called "instrumental" to revamping New York's approach to planning.

Calling the assembled city staff "the pied pipers of the new way of doing business," Sadik-Khan touted the city's transition to more human-centered street metrics. "The tools that we've used in the past have done a really good job of helping us measure cars and traffic," she said, "but as we're looking to improve the condition of our streets for other users of the system -- for pedestrians, for cyclists, for people whether they're walking around, riding around, chatting, strolling, having lunch -- we need a much more comprehensive approach."

After a powerpoint from team Gehl, everyone got a feel for what Sadik-Khan was referring to. Fanning out from City Planning's Reade Street headquarters, 11 groups headed to different sites downtown, timers in hand, to see how well New York's streets and public spaces serve the people who use them. The evaluation combines hard stats like pedestrian and cyclist counts with open-ended questions that touch on the quality of the public environment and how well it supports social activity. The same technique underlies much of the data presented in World Class Streets.

DOT Assistant Commissioner Andy Wiley-Schwartz, who heads up the Public Plaza Program, said that the day's events presage permanent changes. "We are going to be working on different ways of building some of these methodologies into our standard operating procedure," he said, "so that we are more versed in studying street life." DOT will both perform the evaluations on its own, he added, and insert the work into consultant contracts.

Read more...