Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leading Edge: People First

People First

Many challenges face today’s societies: from increasing carbon emissions to our reliance on depleting energy resources, from increasing social segregation to the obesity epidemic. All these challenges come at a great cost: from monetary to environmental, and every inhabitant pays a price. We believe many of these challenges can be addressed simply by thinking about ‘people first’ when planning cities.

The Value of People Oriented Planning

If the urban population is invited to use public space by walking or bicycling, the effects are highly positive in meeting these challenges. It may seem banal that more bicycle lanes equal more bicyclists, a well-connected pedestrian network results in more pedestrians, a well-working public transport system results in more people using public transport – whereas more roads means more cars. It seems simple. More and more studies demonstrate that a good pedestrian and bicycling environment is not in contradiction with good sales numbers. On the contrary, local businesses do better in neighborhoods that favor soft traffic, and cities that perform well on livability attract investors and business.

Planning for Everybody

Creating a good public realm enables different groups in society to meet on equal terms. If we want to take planning for all people seriously, we have to give everybody the chance of being mobile – a key element in today’s society. Good conditions for people, without a car, give more people the opportunity to be a real part of the society.

Lessons from Copenhagen

For the past 45 years Copenhagen, Denmark, has been on a continuous journey to make life better for its inhabitants and, in 2008, the city was named the best city in the world for quality of life. This achievement is the result of a contiguous strategy of turning the focus around from a car-orientated culture to a people friendly environment - one that favors a good public realm, through public transport and amenities. For example, 36% of all Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle - a completely healthy, democratic and sustainable mode of transportation. Our goal is to reach 50% by 2015.

US Cities Leading the Way

‘Planning for people’ can make cities safer, more environmentally friendly, livelier and healthier. Presently, Gehl Architects is working with cities across the United States, including New York City, Seattle and San Francisco, in the joint effort of making these cities even greater. We hope the Obama Administration will support and lead this development even further in the years to come.

Jan Gehl
GEHL ARCHITECTS – Urban Quality Consultants,
Copenhagen, Denmark

Contribution by the author to the world wide collaborative project “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for the incoming Obama transportation team”. See for latest version of this report of the New Mobility Agenda.

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