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Island Press
Cities for People

Cities for People

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For more than forty years Jan Gehl has helped to transform urban environments around the world based on his research into the ways people actually use—or could use—the spaces where they live and work. In this revolutionary book, Gehl presents his latest work creating (or recreating) cityscapes on a human scale. He clearly explains the methods and tools he uses to reconfigure unworkable cityscapes into the landscapes he believes they should be: cities for people.

Taking into account changing demographics and changing lifestyles, Gehl emphasizes four human issues that he sees as essential to successful city planning. He explains how to develop cities that are Lively, Safe, Sustainable, and Healthy. Focusing on these issues leads Gehl to think of even the largest city on a very small scale. For Gehl, the urban landscape must be considered through the five human senses and experienced at the speed of walking rather than at the speed of riding in a car or bus or train. This small-scale view, he argues, is too frequently neglected in contemporary projects.

In a final chapter, Gehl makes a plea for city planning on a human scale in the fast- growing cities of developing countries. A “Toolbox,” presenting key principles, overviews of methods, and keyword lists, concludes the book.
The book is extensively illustrated with over 700 photos and drawings of examples from Gehl’s work around the globe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597265737
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 09/06/2010
Edition description: 1
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 486,990
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jan Gehl is a founding partner of Gehl Architects—Urban Quality Consultants. He is the author of Life Between Buildings and Public Spaces, Public Life. He has received numerous awards for his work and is widely credited with creating and renewing urban spaces in cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Melbourne, New York City, London, and many others.

Read an Excerpt

Cities for People

By Jan Gehl


Copyright © 2010 Jan Gehl
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-984-1


1.1 The human dimension

the human dimension — overlooked, neglected, phased out

For decades the human dimension has been an overlooked and haphazardly addressed urban planning topic, while many other issues, such as accomodating the rocketing rise in car traffic, have come more strongly into focus. In addition, dominant planning ideologies — modernism in particular — have specifically put a low priority on public space, pedestrianism and the role of city space as a meeting place for urban dwellers. Finally, market forces and related architectural trends have gradually shifted focus from the interrelations and common spaces of the city to individual buildings, which in the process have become increasingly more isolated, introverted and dismissive.

A common feature of almost all cities — regardless of global location, economic viability and stage of development — is that the people who still use city space in great numbers have been increasingly poorly treated.

Limited space, obstacles, noise, pollution, risk of accident and generally disgraceful conditions are typical for city dwellers in most of the world's cities.

This turn of events has not only reduced the opportunities for pedestrianism as a form of transport, but has also placed the social and cultural functions of city space under siege.

The traditional function of city space as a meeting place and social forum for city dwellers has been reduced, threatened or phased out.

a question of life or death — for five decades

It has been almost 50 years since American journalist and author Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. She pointed out how the dramatic increase in car traffic and the urban planning ideology of modernism that separates the uses of the city and emphasizes free-standing individual buildings would put an end to urban space and city life and result in lifeless cities devoid of people. She also convincingly described the qualities of living in and enjoying lively cities as seen from her outlook post in Greenwich Village in New York, where she lived.

Jane Jacobs was the first strong voice to call for a decisive shift in the way we build cities. For the first time in the history of man as a settler, cities were no longer being built as conglomerations of city space and buildings, but as individual buildings. At the same time burgeoning car traffic was effectively squeezing the rest of urban life out of urban space. In the five decades since 1961 many researchers and urban planning theoreticians have contributed to the studies and arguments in the discussion of life or death in cities. Much new knowledge has been accumulated.

progress despite the odds

Valuable progress has also been made in practical urban planning, both in terms of planning principles and traffic planning. Particularly in recent decades, many urban areas around the world have worked hard to create better conditions for pedestrians and city life by making car traffic a lower priority.

Again, primarily in recent decades, there have been a number of interesting departures from modernist urban planning ideals, particularly for new towns and new residential areas. Fortunately, interest in building dynamic, mixed-use urban areas instead of conglomerations of freestanding single buildings is growing.

There has been a corresponding development in traffic planning over the past five decades. Traffic facilities have been made more differentiated, principles of traffic calming introduced, and a number of traffic safety steps taken.

However, the growth in vehicular traffic has been explosive, and while problems have been addressed in some parts of the world, they have simply grown apace in others.

far greater effort needed

Despite the negative trend of increased automobile use, there have been some positive developments as a reaction to the lack of concern for urban life as found in around 1960.

Not surprisingly, progress and improvements are seen primarily in the most economically advanced parts of the world. In many cases, however, prosperous enclaves have also adopted the ideology of modernism as the starting point for new urban areas and for positioning introverted high-rise buildings in city centers. In these brave new cities, the human dimension has not really been on the agenda, either now or earlier.

In developing countries, the plight of the human dimension is considerably more complex and serious. Most of the population is forced to use city space intensively for many daily activities. Traditionally city space has worked reasonably well for these uses, but when car traffic, for example, grows precipitously, the competition for city space intensifies. The conditions for urban life and pedestrians have become less and less dignified year by year.

the human dimension — a necessary new planning dimension

For the first time in history, shortly after the millennium, the majority of the global population became urban rather than rural. Cities have grown rapidly, and urban growth will continue to accelerate in the years ahead. New and existing cities alike will have to make crucial changes to the assumptions for planning and prioritization. Greater focus on the needs of the people who use cities must be a key goal for the future.

This is the background for the focus on the human dimension of city planning in this book. Cities must urge urban planners and architects to reinforce pedestrianism as an integrated city policy to develop lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities. It is equally urgent to strengthen the social function of city space as a meeting place that contributes toward the aims of social sustainability and an open and democratic society.

wanted: lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities

Here at the start of the 21st century, we can glimpse the contours of several new global challenges that underscore the importance of far more targeted concern for the human dimension. Achieving the vision of lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities has become a general and urgent desire. All four key objectives — lively cities, safety, sustainability, and health — can be strengthened immeasurably by increasing the concern for pedestrians, cyclists and city life in general. A unified citywide political intervention to ensure that the residents of the city are invited to walk and bike as much as possible in connection with their daily activities is a strong reinforcement of the objectives.

a lively city

The potential for a lively city is strengthened when more people are invited to walk, bike and stay in city space. The importance of life in public space, particularly the social and cultural opportunities as well as the attractions associated with a lively city will be discussed in a later section.

a safe city

The potential for a safe city is strengthened generally when more people move about and stay in city space. A city that invites people to walk must by definition have a reasonably cohesive structure that offers short walking distances, attractive public spaces and a variation of urban functions. These elements increase activity and the feeling of security in and around city spaces. There are more eyes along the street and a greater incentive to follow the events going on in the city from surrounding housing and buildings.

a sustainable city

The sustainable city is strengthened generally if a large part of the transport system can take place as "green mobility," that is travel by foot, bike or public transport. These forms of transport provide marked benefits to the economy and the environment, reduce resource consumption, limit emissions, and decrease noise levels.

Another important sustainable aspect is that the attractiveness of public transport systems is boosted if users feel safe and comfortable walking or cycling to and from buses, light rail and trains. Good public space and a good public transport system are simply two sides of the same coin.

a healthy city

The desire for a healthy city is strengthened dramatically if walking or biking can be a natural part of the pattern of daily activities.

We are seeing a rapid growth in public health problems because large segments of the population in many parts of the world have become sedentary, with cars providing door-todoor transport.

A whole-hearted invitation to walk and bike as a natural and integrated element of daily routines must be a nonnegotiable part of a unified health policy.

four goals — one policy

To summarize, increased concern for the human dimension of city planning reflects a distinct and strong demand for better urban quality. There are direct connections between improvements for people in city space and visions for achieving lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities.

Compared with other social investments — particularly healthcare costs and automobile infrastructure — the cost of including the human dimension is so modest that investments in this area will be possible for cities in all parts of the world regardless of development status and financial capability. In any case, concern and consideration will be the key investment and the benefits enormous.


First we shape the cities — then they shape us

city planning and patterns of use — a question of invitation

If we look at the history of cities, we can see clearly that urban structures and planning influence human behavior and the ways in which cities operate. The Roman Empire had its colony towns with their fixed and regimented layout of main streets, forums, public buildings and barracks, a formula that reinforced their military role. The compact structure of medieval cities with short walking distances, squares and marketplaces supported their function as centers of trade and craftsmanship. Haussman's strategic urban renewal of Paris in the years after 1852, the broad boulevards in particular, supported military control of the population, as well as providing the platform for a special "boulevard culture" that sprouted promenades and café life along the city's wide streets.

more roads — more traffic

The connection between invitations and behavior came to a head for cities in the 20th century. In the efforts to cope with the rising tide of car traffic, all available city space was simply filled with moving and parked vehicles. Every city got precisely as much traffic as space would allow. In every case, attempts to relieve traffic pressure by building more roads and parking garages have generated more traffic and more congestion. The volume of car traffic almost everywhere is more or less arbitrary, depending on the available transportation infrastructure. Because we can always find new ways to increase our car use, building extra roads is a direct invitation to buy and drive more cars.

fewer roads — less traffic?

If more roads mean more traffic, what happens if fewer cars are invited rather than more? The 1989 earthquake in San Francisco caused so much damage to one of the vital arteries to the city center, the heavily trafficked Embarcadero freeway along the bay, that it had to be closed. Thus a significant traffic route to the city center was removed in one fell swoop, but before plans for reconstruction were off the drawing board, it was clear that the city was managing just fine without it. Users quickly adapted their traffic behavior to the new situation and instead of the damaged double-decker freeway, today there is a city boulevard with trolley cars, trees and wide sidewalks. San Francisco has continued to convert freeways to peaceful city streets in subsequent years. We can find similar examples in Portland, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Seoul, Korea, where dismantling large road systems reduced capacity and the amount of traffic.

In 2002 the City of London instituted road pricing for vehicles driving into the city center. The immediate effect of the new "congestion charge" was an 18% traffic reduction in the 24 km2 (9.26 sq. miles) central city zone. A few years later traffic increased once again in the area, after which the fee was raised from 5£ to 8£, and traffic has lessened once more. The fee has made the invitation to drive to and from the city a guarded one. Traffic has been reduced, and fees are used to improve public transport systems that by now carry more passengers. The pattern of use has been changed.

better conditions for cyclists — more cyclists

The City of Copenhagen has been restructuring its street network for several decades, removing driving lanes and parking places in a deliberate process to create better and safer conditions for bicycle traffic. Year by year the inhabitants of the city have been invited to bike more. The entire city is now served by an effective and convenient system of bike paths, separated by curbs from sidewalks and driving lanes. City intersections have bicycle crossings painted in blue and, together with special traffic lights for bicycles that turn green six seconds before cars are allowed to move forward, make it considerably safer to cycle around the city. In short a whole-hearted invitation has been extended to cyclists, and the results are reflected clearly in patterns of use.

Bicycle traffic doubled in the period from 1995 to 2005, and in 2008 statistics showed that 37 % of personal transport to and from work and educational institutions was by bicycle. The goal is to increase this percentage considerably in the years to come.

As conditions for bicyclists improve, a new bicycle culture is emerging. Children and seniors, business people and students, parents with young children, mayors and royalty ride bicycles. Bicycling in the city has become the way to get around. It is faster and cheaper than other transport options and also good for the environment and personal health.

better conditions for city life — more city life

Not surprisingly, a direct connection between invitations and patterns of use can also be demonstrated for pedestrian traffic and city life.

Many old cities were established as pedestrian cities, and some continue to have that role where topography has made car traffic impossible, or where the economy and social networks are still based on foot traffic.

Venice enjoys an entirely special status among the old pedestrian cities. In its thousand years of history, Venice has functioned continuously as a pedestrian city.

Even today Venice is one of the few cities in the world that is still a pedestrian city because its narrow streets and many canal bridges have prevented cars from gaining access. In the Middle Ages, Venice was the largest and richest city in Europe. This, combined with the fact that for centuries the city was designed and adapted for pedestrian traffic, makes Venice of particular interest today as the model for working with the human dimension.

Venice has everything: dense city structure, short walking distances, beautiful courses of space, high degree of mixed use, active ground floors, distinguished architecture and carefully designed details — and all on a human scale. For centuries Venice has offered a sophisticated framework for city life and continues to do so, issuing a whole-hearted invitation to walk.

Fortunately, we can now study the results of the invitation for increased pedestrianism and city life in cities formerly dominated by car traffic and years of neglect of the human dimension. In recent decades many such cities have made targeted efforts to give pedestrian traffic and city life better conditions.

Developments in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Melbourne, Australia, are of special interest here, because not only have these cities systematically improved the conditions for city life and pedestrian traffic, they have also recorded the development and can document changes and growth in city life in step with the improvements carried out.

Copenhagen — better city space, more city life

After many years of pruning back pedestrian areas, Copenhagen was one of the first cities in Europe to grasp the nettle in the early 1960s and begin reducing car traffic and parking in the city center in order to create once again better space for city life.

Copenhagen's traditional main street, Strøget, was converted into a pedestrian promenade already in 1962. Skepticism abounded. Would a project like this really succeed so far north?

After only a short period it was clear that the project was enjoying greater success faster than anyone had anticipated. The number of pedestrians rose 35% in the first year alone. It was more comfortable to walk and there was space for more people. Since then, more streets have been converted for pedestrian traffic and city life, and one by one the parking places in the city center have been turned into squares that accommodate public life.

In the period from 1962 to 2005 the area devoted to pedestrians and city life grew by a factor of seven: from approximately 15,000 m2 (161,500 sq. feet) to a good 100,000 m2 (1,076,000 sq. feet).


Excerpted from Cities for People by Jan Gehl. Copyright © 2010 Jan Gehl. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Preface by the author,
2 - Senses and scale,
3 - The lively, safe, sustainable, and healthy city,
4 - The city at eye level,
5 - Life, space, buildings — in that order,
6 - Developing cities,
7 - Toolbox,
Notes Bibliography Illustrations and photos Index,
Illustrations and photos,
About Island Press,
Island Press, | Board of Directors,

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Cities for People 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
rakerman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A lucid explanation of why urban design should be driven by how humans actually move through and perceive spaces, the integrated details at sidewalk level as seen by pedestrians. Stands in opposition to the modernist trend for the past 50 years to plan individual buildings as seen from an aerial view, which gave little consideration for how buildings and spaces would be experienced on the ground.