21 May 2008

It's Not Just About Bike Lanes

Bike Lane
Much is written about the Danish urban planner and architect Jan Gehl with regards to creating segregated bike infrastructure in cities in order to keep cyclists safe and to increase the number of cyclists in the urban landscape.

It's worth mentioning that it's not all about the bike lanes. They are a fantastic symbol of intelligent urban planning, but Gehl's thoughts and experiences with urban planning in general are far-reaching. His consultancy company Gehl Architects continue his important work.

I like this excerpt from an interview with Metropolis Magazine:

"One of the interesting things about Copenhagen is the gradual approach. "Public Spaces, Public Life" is the first ever recording of the life of a city. Every city counts its traffic one or two times a year, but hardly any city knows about what people do in a city and how the city is being used.

"In Copenhagen we've pioneered this as a working method: study what's going on, look at the problems and potentials, improve it, and check it again, so that you can follow the development. Observations like being able to point out that we have four times more public life in Copenhagen after twenty years of work, have been very strong in convincing people about the value of what has been going on. This book demonstrates for the first time the systematic study and recording of the people just as you would cars.

"In my new book "New City Spaces", we describe nine fascinating cities from around the world which have been made much more people-friendly, including: Barcelona; Lyon; Strasbourg; Freiburg, Germany; Portland, USA; Curitiba, Brazil; Cordoba, Argentina; Melbourne and Copenhagen. We talk about how these cities have applied different strategies to make them people-friendly.

"Copenhagen, in this context, is interesting because of the gradual approach. The city has never had a master plan. If city officials did have a master plan that would say for example, "Ten years from now we will have 100,000 square meters of pedestrianized and people-friendly streets, and we will remove 2,000 parking spaces from the downtown area," they would utterly fail in the next election."

And this excerpt about the four types of cities:
"In "New City Spaces", we talk about four types of cities. The first is the "Traditional City" which was built for people moving about on feet and where you still have all the traditional city functions like meeting spaces and marketplaces. You can find this old model in cities like Venice, or in developing countries where cars have not yet penetrated.

"The second type is the "Invaded City". These are old cities where the balances among the various things going on in the city have been upset because everything is now car dominated. We have many of these cities in South and Central America, Europe, Asia, and in many developing countries. They were originally built for another type of city life and people are suffering heavily from this inundation of cars.

"The third city is the "Abandoned City," which is the next step an "Invaded City" goes through. That is when people give up walking and cycling and gradually the whole city fabric becomes adapted to everybody moving in cars: the public life ceases to exist. We have a number of examples in the book. I've seen plenty of examples of this in America, like a city in Mississippi, where there are no sidewalks, and everything happens in the mall or on television. That's why I find a city like Portland interesting, which is at the other end of the same country, and is very much like a European city.

"The fourth type of city, called the "Reconquered City", is included in a chapter called "Winning Back the Public Spaces". It's about a number of inundated or invaded cities which decided that unlimited car traffic is unacceptable, and have turned to improving their cities through public spaces and walking and cycling. We then give examples of reconquered cities--the nine aforementioned cities, and describe specific spaces, streets and squares all over the world that have been interestingly changed or newly built."

I found a great podcast from the City of Sydney featuring a talk with Jan Gehl. Listen to it on this website and hear the man speak.

Here's a good piece from Metropolis Magazine about Copenhagen's 10 Step Program.

While at the Royal Library to see a Sally Mann exhibition I saw Jan Gehl's books in the bookshop. I've heard they sometimes are hard to get a hold of but I've discovered that they are Available from The Danish Architectural Press. In English. They are wonderful sources of inspiration, not just for creating bike lanes and segregated bike infrastructure, but for creating cities worth living in.

Life Between Buildings - Using Public Space

First published in 1971. Currently in its 6th edition.

Public Spaces Public Life
Authors: Jan Gehl, Lars Gemzøe
This book describes the remarkable qualitative inprovements which have taken place in central Copenhagen over the past 34 years, and how they have been accomplished, and is a handbook on how to create human qualities in the city.

New City Spaces
Authors: Jan Gehl, Lars Gemzøe
This book presents an overview of the developments in the use and planning of public spaces, and offers a detailed description of 9 cities and 39 selected public space projects from all parts of the World. The book is extensively illustrated by drawings, plans and photographs.


Philboy said...

Way to go to you and the Copenhagen city fathers! Bicycling is just one manifestation of a people friendly city. When I talk to our city council or transportation department I shouldn't represent myself as just another special interest group asking for tax dollars, I should be talking about developing as an accessible, public, high-quality-of-life place to live. (oh by the way, a place like that would include safe bicycling lanes).

Several years ago in Albuquerque traffic barriers were built in intersections of depressed neighborhoods in order to slow down and discourage automobile traffic. The idea was that would decrease drug related drive throughs. It seems to have worked in many neighborhoods but it also made them much nicer neighborhoods (no drug dealers and fewer cars). Fewer cars turns the streets into nice bike paths (without spending tax dollars on bike paths). Fewer drug dealers turns the neighborhoods into ones you're not afraid to ride through (or live in). I apologize for being long-winded, I'm adding my two cent's worth to your point of how people-scale urban planning (as opposed to automobile scale) can benefit quality of life issues and bicycle transportation issues because there is so much overlap in the two they can be seen as the same thing.

burrito said...

Gehl is my hero (I'm an urban planner). He gave a lecture here (in Vancouver BC) and said many inspiring things (he's also quite funny). My favorite quotes of the night: "Cities are for people." and he suggested we design our cities to "be sweet to the people".

christopher.lopez said...

Eye! Very good reading today. Thanks for that sum-up.

I live in Houston, TX USA and believe we will be a people friendly city soon. It's slow going, but now that people are just blown away by fuel prices they realize our society has just gone too far. It's time to take back our lifes'.

Stéphane Brault said...

You want to do something good for your city?


Koll said...

What a wonderful post. Not just the beautiful results that you get to enjoy in Copenhagen, but also a glimpse into the nuts and bolts as to how real change can happen in cities that need to work within certain confines.

I love this blog and tell everyone I know about it. The shots of Copenhagen are really stunning, but stuff like this makes me think that, yes, things can be similar where I live. And they should be.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks for the kind comments. It'll be interesting to see if the oil crisis you guys have over there will increase cycling.