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Jan Gehl's Cities for People Reviewed: Two Copies for Gi...

Jan Gehl's Cities for People Reviewed: Two Copies for Giveaway

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.” – Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher Danish architect, Jan Gehl’s, latest book, Cities for People (Island Press, 2010), explores the better designs of cities through designs for the people to live and work simultaneously. In this follow-up to Life Between Buildings (1971), Gehl explores the shifting

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.” – Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher

Jan Gehl Cities for People

Danish architect, Jan Gehl’s, latest book, Cities for People (Island Press, 2010), explores the better designs of cities through designs for the people to live and work simultaneously. In this follow-up to Life Between Buildings (1971), Gehl explores the shifting focus from the automobile to pedestrians and bicyclists in the past fifty years and how this shift affects urban design today. Using consultations and recommendations completed by Gehl himself, he illustrates many points in Cities for People via Copenhagen, Melbourne, and New York City, among others.

Jan Gehl Cities for People

Gehl outlines four goals in Chapter One of Cities for People, of which are further explored during the remaining chapters:

The Lively City refers to providing more than the most basic of needs or broadening opportunities for interactions with society. A city must join those who use public space with attractive, inviting public spaces; "Public space is the key to urban attraction." The Lively City aspect focuses on soft edges of the city: where people meet buildings.

The Safe City outlines different methods to create sound city spaces, involving traffic safety and crime prevention techniques. Gehl mentions a focus on cars leads to decreased safety; pedestrians must be the design focus. Also, an "open city" allows for people of all different socioeconomic background to intermix. Safety is also increased with soft-edge boundaries between private, semi-private, and public spaces.

The Sustainable City highlights the high priority on pedestrians + bicyclists and their respective infrastructure, allowing fewer resources used and a lessen impact on the environment. The focus on pedestrians + bicyclists also allows for denser cities; their infrastructure is less massive. Give the city to the pedestrians + bicyclists versus the automobile to help transition society from the automobile. Using transit-oriented development also helps connect people, bicyclists, and their "collective traffic network." Lively cities and social sustainability means greater options, more than the most basic needs, for a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The Healthy City focuses on combining health policy with city planning. To quote Gehl: “The price of the loss of exercise as part of a daily pattern of activity is high: a decrease in quality of life, a dramatic rise in health costs and a shorter lifespan.” Creating greater options for walking within the planning culture will result in a change in society's acceptability of walking, similar to transforming away from the automobile.

Understanding the interconnectedness of these four goals is vital for city planning. Focusing on these goals at eye level within a city will lead to a better environment for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the city as a whole.

Jan Gehl Cities for People

Cities for People has a stellar layout. The book is full of pages upon pages of color photos from a plethora of cities around the globe. As most designers tend to understand information in the form of graphics, tables, and visual sources in general, Cities for People really hits a positive nerve.

Perhaps the selling point of Cities for People is the “Toolbox.” Though the entire book can be seen as a toolkit for safe, walkable, interactive cities, this final ‘toolbox’ is the most simple and straightforward. Located as Chapter Seven towards the end of the book, the toolbox provides an overview (with graphics) of the basic planning principles concerning the layout of a city. These range from the flow of traffic (pedestrian, automobile, bicycle, etc,) to twelve, quality criteria for an excellent city space at eye level. The highlight of the Toolbox are the last few pages titled “Reordering priorities, please.” These vital pages use real life examples, again, to highlight putting pedestrians first with simple yes and no photos. This part of the Toolbox depicts the ‘automobile first’ mindset of the past fifty years, and the solutions to change back to pedestrian-focused cities. If you are one for graphics to see the problem (and solution for that matter,) clearly, the Toolbox will speak to you as well.

Cities for People is available online via Amazon, Island Press, and Google Books, (among others). For more information on world-renown architect Jan Gehl and his other publications, visit Gehl’s website.

Do you believe in Jan Gehl's approach to cities?

The Grid is giving away two copies of "Cities for People." If you would like to enter to win your copy, please enter here: Rafflecopter giveaway.

Credits: All quotes and images from Cities for People, unless otherwise noted.

  • Anne Hamilton

    Thanks for offering the giveaways! Sounds like an interesting book – would like read more about how health is related to cities.

  • Lily Mathews

    Looks great. I remember the first time I checked out Life Between Buildings from my school design library and it was this great, eery blue paperback with a graphic straight from the 1970s. Love that this conversation has evolved and is still relevant today.

  • Po Sun

    Love Gehl’s work and all of his principles to make cities truly for the people that live in them.

  • Alie Cote

    It seems to me that a majority of contemporary writing on cities and sustainable cities, is a reiteration of the classic, Life and Death of American Cities, by the ‘Mother of Urban Design’, Jane Jacobs. What I find interesting in Gehls book, is that he has been part of the conversation about cities for the last 40 years, and seems to have evolved his theory to match current trends and practices in both everyday life and practice.

    However, I am skeptical as to the ‘toolbox’ approach to simplifiing city theory. I do not think dynamic cities and spaces can be compartmentalized into 12 criteria, yet contemporary practice continually tried to create rules to follow for good urban design. True ‘good urban design’ is an understanding of the criteria which can respond to a city or space and enhance the unique charateristics of the place and more importantly, the people who live there.

  • Prior to the 2010/11 earthquakes in Christchurch NZ Gehl had prepared a report on revitalising the city centre. After the quakes his firm was commissioned to collate the 100,000 submissions from ordinary citizens in the ‘share an idea’ workshops. After preparing an extensive plan for a clean green people focused 21st century city reflecting a consensus the National government adopted the failed top down ‘Katrina disaster recovery model’ and set about rewriting the plan to suit a narrow set of oligarchical interests. Gehls ideas have been severely diluted if not completely ignored at this point in the rush to rebuild a poor facsimile of what had previously existed.

  • I’m glad some have enjoyed Gehl’s work as much as I have!
    Alie: I agree that most authors today look back to the classics; as history repetes itself, we (society) will always look to the past for guidance, solutions, etc. I also feel Gehl has more of a focus on specific design aspects, whereas Jane Jacobs is possibly more on the sociological side. (With that said, both authors have insight into both the design and sociology of urban spaces and cities.) Gehl, in both Cities for People and Life Between Buildings, seems to focus on the bicycle as a solution to the automobile dependency we have seen in the last decade, where Jacobs does not seem to address the ‘age of the automobile.’ Yet, they both have a strong connection between the liveliness of cities and their respective public spaces. There are quite a few similarities, but I think Gehl has made some strong points visually in Cities for People for society today.
    In terms of the toolbox approach, I still like Gehl’s straightforward approach. He is simply giving possible solutions that have worked in other cities (i.e. Copenhagen, Melbourne, etc,) of which can be tweaked to apply to other cities around the world. I have always liked City Comforts (Sucher, Revised 2003) as a ‘toolbox’ as well; it follows three important guidelines for ‘comfortability,’ all of which can be applied almost universally to commercial, urban spaces. I have not read all of Gehl’s work, nor have I followed him for the years he has been active, so I cannot answer to whether he has evolved his theories to match current trends. I would like to think he is providing more evidence for the solidarity of current trends? Thanks for your feedback!

  • Danny: Thanks for sharing! That’s interesting to learn about Gehl and his team in NZ. I’ll have to find an article about it!

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