Jan Gehl: Cities for people

By  Staff Writer

The most famous and successful town planning has been the transformation of Copenhagen. Jan Gehl, a Danish Architect has influenced the street culture and sustainable development of many cities. He transformed a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-friendly space.

According to Gehl, “a lively and healthy city should encourage the people to use public spaces. By eliminating heavy traffic infrastructure with bike paths, wider sidewalks, and other systems of private mobilization, the city will become a space to inhabit and enjoy rather than just a point of passing.”



Gehl developed keys to building successful cities for more than fifty years; Cities for people is like a sequel to Jan Gehl’s influential book Life Between Buildings, the book observed the association concerning patterns and use of space, and particularly outdoor. The interplay between built and unbuilt and the essential to take care of life between buildings. Both the books collide with similar ideas and you may even find repeated pictures from Life between Buildings. However, the contents of Life between Buildings is far more elaborative with analysis about public spaces and its social dimension. Jan Gehl considers himself as someone who has studied “people rather than bricks”. He has hosted several discussions and seminars with young architects and Psychologists, he questions why architects are not really interested in people, how architecture can “influence people’s lives”, and “how cities are used by people”.  Eventually, the notion was to contemplate ideas or ways to make cities that people would be happier using.

His research has reconstructed urban spaces and environment based on the ways people live and use space.  He has led design ideas and revolutionary acts to create and recreate cityscapes on a human scale.

His views are clear, methods and tools he utilizes to configure ineffective cityscape are evidently described into spaces that believes will help people have better environment and experience. For instance, turning desolate urban space into the landscape and inviting people to use the space, he changes the language and the context of the city.


New York City in 2017, by Jörg Schubert

Accounting to changes in demographics and ever changing lifestyles, Gehl highlights four Human issues that are as essential as design to develop a successful city planning. The urge for developing cities with constant view on experiences and the quality of life that the city offers to its dwellers emerged when the global population began rapidly growing. He elucidates on how to improve cities that are Lively, Safe, Sustainable and Healthy. Furthermore, the focus on human dimension scale in terms of city planning is integrated to create a sustainable and more functional society. His note on the lively city is that when people walk, bike and stay in the city is its true strength. The significance of life in public space is particularly in the social and cultural opportunities and also the attractions associated with the city.


“Good public space and good public transport system are simply two sides of the same coin.”


Jan Gehl continues to explain a safe city, 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 the activities around city spaces. The sustainable city is designed to reduce environmental impact, he argues it can generally be strengthened if a large portion of people uses transport system that conserves the energy and reduces pollution. This can take place as “green mobility”, that is when people prefer to travel by foot, bike or increase use of public transport. This ideology or method benefits the economy and the environment, also reduce resource consumption, limit emissions and decrease noise levels. Another important sustainable aspect is that the attractiveness of public transport system is boosted if users feel safe and comfortable walking or cycling to and from buses, light and trains. Gehl interprets good public space and a good public transport system are simply two sides of the same coin. A healthy city is strengthened dramatically by walking or biking, says Gehl, which can be a natural part of the pattern or daily activities. We are encountering 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-door 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.


Photo by Sigfrid Lundberg, 2012


By 2010, bicyclists accounted for 50% of commutes by Copenhagen residents.


“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

~ Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Philosopher


In the concluding chapter, Gehl makes an appeal for city planning on a human scale in this fast- growing cities of developing countries. A “Toolbox,” presenting key principles, overviews of methods, and keyword lists conclude the book. The book is exclusively explained with over hundreds of photos, illustrations and drawings of examples from Gehl’s work from around the globe.  You barely even need to read this book to understand and contemplate its contents. You can simply view the pictures and read the captions to fairly comprehend. This would convey the author’s complete sentiment.


 If curiosity kicks in, you can find more about creating sustainable cities and reframing transport systems in a short book called ‘our cities ourselves: 10 principles for transport in urban life’, an important read for any involved in city design and urban planning.

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