People and buildings are connected – they have been and will continue to be so. "Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space" is a classic that applies substance and quantitative research to the field of urban planning. Jan Gehl, the author of "Cities for People," takes his analysis beyond urban design to talk about how public spaces are used, why, and what designers can do to improve cities.
“Take good care of the people and the precious life between the buildings,” Gehl’s original message has been little altered after being updated, revised, and translated into 15 languages. First published in 1971, "Life Between Buildings" discusses what planners and designers can do to activate public spaces. Filled with an array of statistics and case studies, Gehl recounts the unfortunate history of cities and how more than five decades of building-focused planning have made public space an unfortunate afterthought.
The book is full of theories that, while generally common sense, most find difficult to articulate. There are many places like Venice, New York, or Buenos Aires that have active street life, while other less fortunate cities can look like ghost towns. Gehl explains why some of these places are inherently attractive to people and draws them to walk and linger in the space. Attracting people into the public realm with festivals, shopping, and dining is as important in an active street as keeping their interest to linger there. Gehl extensively documents each concept using words, diagrams, and images.
Making space "multi-use" will make space "multi-user." In other words, when planners define certain zones as exclusively residential, commercial, recreational, these spaces are only used by a certain segment of the population. In contrast, mixed-use zones can have a wider appeal and create more dynamic spaces. Gehl shows how mixing uses within a single space creates active, safe, and interesting public spaces.
What is your favorite public space in your community? How could public spaces in your city be improved? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
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Credits: Creative Commons images courtesy of Victor Santos and Daniel Frese. Updated December 8, 2017.
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