HOW CAN WE LIVE AS HUMANS?
J A N
Danish architect Jan Gehl has issued a plea
for town planning to be consistently
oriented toward human needs. Over the past few
decades, he has transformed Copenhagen into a
model example of a city geared towards tangible
human needs, which has since been copied
all over the world.
T H E H U M A N M E T R O P O L I S
When cities today create new cycle paths, establish pedestrian zones or ban cars from the centre, we owe our thanks to Jan Gehl. The Danish architect is seen as one of the most influential urban planners of our time. Cities of several million people such as Singapore, St. Petersburg, Sydney, Melbourne as well as London and New York have all come to him with the same question: how can our city’s quality of life be appreciably improved? Ultimately, his vision is very simple: let people have their towns and cities back!
Mr. Gehl, mayors and urban planners from around the world ask for your help as they seek solutions for improving quality of life. But it seems only very few can define what that really means?
J A N G E H L
There is one quite reliable indicator for the quality of life in a city: look around and see how many children and old people are out and about in its streets and squares.
Could you please elaborate?
The way I see it, a city is worth living in if it respects human scale. That means it runs at the pace of pedestrians and cyclists, not cars; that its streets and squares are of a manageable scale so that people can come together in them. That epitomises the basic concept of a city.
But why children and the elderly, in particular?
I was recently in Hanoi where I met a Vietnamese woman who had just returned from Denmark: “Has there been a baby boom in Denmark?” she asked. “Copenhagen is full of parents with pushchairs and five-year-olds on bicycles!” As it happens, there has not been a baby boom in Denmark—quite the opposite, actually. But as Copenhagen is so safe, we can let our children play on the streets. The same applies for the elderly—and as you know, their numbers keep rising. In Hanoi, the roads are quite simply too dangerous for them.
What do architects and urban planners need to do in
order to get the population back out on the streets?
That is easy to answer. They should plan their housing
and cities for the people.
Is this not already the case?
No. Most new buildings and neighbourhoods don’t take the human scale into account. You can see this in their overinflated dimensions: buildings, streets and squares are getting bigger and bigger, while we—the people who use, appreciate and should feel comfortable in them—are as small as we ever were. This has resulted in cities which constantly seem to be whispering: “Go home my friend, as quickly as possible, and shut the door behind you!” This has damaging consequences.