A couple of weeks ago I attended the talk by Jan Gehl which was entitled “Cities for People”, also the name of his last published book. Having read one of his first books “Life between buildings” which was a kind of bible in my work as urban planner, I was very eager to hear his presentation.
“Life between buildings” mainly represents the importance of low density contacts for the life of the city, the kind of contact that occurs spontaneously, which is different from the relationship we have with friends. It is the opportunity to be with others in a relaxed and undemanding manner.
In “life between buildings” the experiences are stimulating and are not given because the buildings are colorful or exciting, but because of the intimacy of the human scale characteristic of medieval cities and totally lost in the modern cities of the 60’s, which were designed from the airplanes.
“The city was not a goal in itself, but a tool formed through use”, as they grow streets, squares, focal points and meeting points were formed promoting pedestrian traffic and outdoor stays.
Social interaction or lack of it is mainly conditioned by whether there is a sphere of political, economic or ideological interest in common among residents. But the physical frame in a greater or lesser degree can also influence the social situation of the inhabitants, giving a wide spectrum of possibilities available so that the processes and buildings allow reciprocal support.
In “Cities for people” he manifest that through a hierarchical division of the urban fabric in residential areas, one can give sense of belonging and the most important elements of that will constitute the public spaces. As a prerequisite for the integration of various types of people and activities urban planners should reject the mono-functionality of the different areas of the plan.
In his speech Jan Gehl tells us that after the invention of the automobile, the quality of cities disappeared, for that reason we should be grateful to Jane Jacobs’ fight, the Grandma and hero of urban planning.
“First we shape cities, then they shape us”, cities designed on a human scale at the level of the human eye should become the new paradigm of urban design. Livable, healthy and sustainable cities that kill the Sitting Syndrome, where meeting with people in a spontaneous and unpredictable way is one of the most important goals in urban regeneration.
According to Gehl we can improve the quality of cities taking the following steps:
– Turn them into cities for walking and biking
– Turning car oriented streets into pedestrian streets
– Freeing the streets and gathering places from cars and promoting the stay of people
– Creating parks and playgrounds
And finally, in order to have a strategy to renew the cities we should have a motto: “The best city in the world for people”, promoting the creation of a culture of use of public space, putting as urban policy and purpose of the architects that “people first”.