Monday, May 2, 2011

Transforming cities into places for people

Here are some notes from this Melbourne Conversation with Jan Gehl (2 May 2011)

In response to a question about Melbournians dread of density, Jan Gehl said that we need 'sensitive and sensible' rather than 'insensitive' approaches to density - always having an eye on the detail of the human scale and what the eye can see.

High buildings should be located and planned with the greatest care and regard for the impact on the street experience. He was critical of architects, landscape architects, traffic planners and planners who have failed - in the main - to create places for people. Instead, these professionals have got the scale all wrong and lost the sensitivity to the street level.

He sees providing for walking and cycling as a critical step in bringing life and vigour back to streets - 'be sweet to cycling, be sweet to walking'. Dividing multi lane streets into space for trees, bike lanes, medians transforms streets from primarily about transportation to places for people.

He sees excellent public spaces as essential for democracy for people to come face to face with the range of people who make up our society. This takes the fear out of people's interaction. A frequently used word throughout his talk was 'care' - 'care' for the public realm, 'care' for the small things. A good public realm and a good public transportation system are 'like bother and sister'. He exuded confidence that cities can and have been transformed by adopting the approaches he suggests. Perhaps my favourite words from the talk were 'exuberance through the bicycle'.

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