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The Form and Use of Public Space

The Form and Use of Public Space

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The form and use of public space
Jan Gehl, Dr.LittHead, Department of Urban Design,School of ArchitectureRoyal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, CopenhagenPaper for European Transport Conference, Loughborough University, England, 16 sept. 1998
1,
Integration of different types of people activitiesr as an important key to city quality
Among the various people activities taking place in Public Spaces three distinct categories ofactivities can be defined. Necessary activities (transport & buisness activities), Optionalactivities (recreational activities) and Social activities.Necessary activities -what you have
to do.
These activities are generally of a ratherpurposeful character, they take place at all times and more or less regardless of the quality ofthe physical environment.Optional activities - what you like
to do, and get tempted to do,
when given the rightcircumstances:This category describes a wide range of very popular recreational activities.Standing about looking at street life, sitting to rest, sitting for a while to enjoy the place, thescenery, the open air, the trees and flowers, sitting on a sidewalk care, enjoying the streetscenery and so on. These activities are entirely optional -no one is forced to engage in them, butwhenever the circumstances are right -when the quality of the physical environment is fine-these urban recreational activities ends to occur in great numbers because many people findrecreation in urban spaces with other people, especially attractive to engage in.These activities are to a large extent rather spontaneous -impulse activities- often occuringwhen you are actually just passing through the city involved in other purposes, and suddenlygets the inspiration to stay for a while.Social activities -meeting your fellow citizens: In one end of the scale will be the major civicevents, the festivals, parades, protests, ceremonies. Another - and indeed very importantcategory of social activities - are the multitude of humble daily day encounters: Meeting yourfellow citizens on the sidewalks, seeing and hearing people, experiencing what happens inthe city. These social activities cover a broad array ranging from those just passively beingpresent taking in the scene, to those using the public spaces for active communication to theother citizens - - music, theater, vendors, distributors of pamphlets, ideologies and so on. Theunplanned and unexpected meetings.All these humble daily encounters are among the highest valued attractions the city canoffer.Any city will have some necessary activities. A good, popular and loved city will alwayshave necessary plus many optional and social activities.Integration of all three types of
activities as
a key to the spedal attTaclivity of public urban
spaces
A semingly rational and functionalistic approach to urban space design will logically lead tocreating different spaces for different types of activities. For walking and shopping: Streets,sidewalks, and shopping mails. For recreation: Parks and sports fadlities. For sodalactivities: Festivals and special events. This functional approach has been used widely, buthave generally led to dissapointing results, because one of the most important aspects ofpeople activities in the city is not taken into account -namely the fluent and everchangingactivity patterns characteristic of life in the urban spaces. Life is an ongoing proces, different
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activities inspire each other and interacts. If human activities are confined to specificmonofunctional areas the dynamics and selfreinforcing character of life in public spaces getslots.Walking is certainly not only a mode of transport, it is also a social process where youconstantly meet, see and hear other people, and it is an activity from which you -at the spurof the moment- can shift to other types of activity. While walking it is easy, to changedirection, to stop to look at something interesting or to talk to someone. Or you can with greatease transit from busy walking to recreation, when you get inspiered by seeing a bench or acafe chair in just the right spot, waiting for you to sit down for a while.Taking another look at succesful public spaces, it becomes quite evident that these spacesaquire their attractiveness from the fact that they invite and cater for a wide range ofdifferent human activities, and that these activities are generally well integrated.A formula for designing for life
in
the public spaces, is thus to take the complex andintegrated nature of human urban activities as a departure point..
2,
North America and Europe - Two different strategies for public spaces in city centers
Different dries have applied very different policies concerning people activities in the citycenters and the design concepts for their public spaces.A planning policy especially widespread in the North-American dries, is a very comercialand rational approach to people and public spaces. The majority of city streets have beenentirely devoted to car traffic Whatever is left of pedestrian activities have largely beenmoved to private shopping malls, interior arcades, underground shopping concourses or"skywalk systems" placed on the second storeys of the buildings. The activity patterns goingon in these highly controlled privately owned shopping environments, are generally of a verymonofunctional nature: The places are ment for walking and shopping, benches are few andment for resting only, eating places, restaurants, cafes and especially ~Food-courts" areprirnar'flly rnent strictly for eating. (By comparrieon sidewalk cafes have a wide range ofsocial and recreational activities as well) The whole range of popular urban recreationactivities and social activities, are not an integrated part of the highly commercial concepts.If anyone starts to do anything beyond a very limited range of buisness-friendly activities,they are imediately shrown out by the numerous security guards.The cities have been given over to car traffic and a limited range of purposeful, commercialpeople activities.It is interesting to note that an allmost opposite strategy for public life & public spaces can befound in a number of other cities - especially n Europe..After many years of increasing pressure from the car traffic, a distinct change of policy havebeen introduced in many european dty-centers over the past 30-40 years.Realising that the extensive car traffic and the agressive commercial orientation wereeroding the diverse and varied public life in the urban spaces, the car traff/c has graduallybeen pushed back, and the important public spaces -streets and squares - have been given backto people activities. Quite many European titles where this strategy is by now beingfollowed, can be found. There are many such dries in Germany, Scandinavia, Holland, Franceand Switzerland and also by now dries in Spain, Italy and England are following on.Generally the concept of people oriented city centers have been.spreading very rapidly inEurope in the most recent 10-15 years, and many outstanding examples like Barcelona inSpain, Lyon in France and Munich and Freiburg in Germany can be found.
3o
Turning a car oriented city center into a people oriented city in a gradual proces over 36 years :The story of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen (1.5 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area)is one such city, where apolicy on these lines have been followed, for by now 36 years.
194
 
Copenhagen is interesting for three reasons. Firstly a rather extensive effort have been madeto improve the pubhc spaces. Secondly there was no strong public life tradition in this part ofthe world before, so whatever has happened is the result of a deliberate effort to stimulate anew and livlier use of the city. Thirdly in Copenhagen the developement of the public lifehave been dosely recorded throughout this period of change.The Copenhagen city centre (CBD) has an area of I million square metres (1 x I ldlometre).The street pattern is originally medieval, the buildings are 5-6 stories and generally there isa nice human scale to the place. All important shops and department stores are located in thecity centre and all the important city functions are located on the ground level.In 1962 the main street "Stroget" was pedestrianized as one of the early such schemes inEurope. Then followed - in a gradual process - one pedestrian scheme after the other. Slowlyover a period of- by now- 36 years- one street and square after the other, have been turned overto people activities.Parking policy over 30 years have been each year to remove some 2-3 per cent of the downtownparking - in a very gradual process. Doing it slowly enables the citiziens to gradually changetheir transportation habits- from private cars to buses, trains and bicycles.Parallel to these steps the public ~ansport system has been gradually improved, andespecially the network of bicyde paths has been extensively enlarged. (In Copenhagen thebicycles have special bicycle paths placed next to the sidewalks in all major streets).The overall effect of the Copenhagen traffic policy, have been that for the past 25 years thecity planners have succeded in keeping the car traffic stable. There are by now just about thesame amount of car-traffic in the Manicipality of Copenhagen as there were in 1970. Over thesame period bicyde traffic has increased by 65 %.Concerning the city centre, the policy have -broadly speaking-been to accept the centregradually being somewhat less accesable by private cars (but improving other means oftransport at the same time)- however, when you get there you will find a steadily improvingcity quality, the city becoming more and more people oriented and delightful.As more and more space was taken from traffic and given to people activities, it was evidentthat the population of Copenhagen - in a gradual process - started to find out what suchspaces could be used for. One after the other the squares became filled with activities, andnew pedestrian or pedestrian-oriented streets and squares were added to the system.During the period 1962-1998 the total area reserved for pedestrians have gradually beenincreased from 15.000 squaremesters in 1962 to almost 100.000 squaremesters by now. Thus thearea set aside for pedestrians have been extended to 7 times its original 1962-size and thereare now much more room for a varied street life.
.
The effects of improving the conditions for people in the city centre.
-
Street life suraeys in the city centre of Copenhagen 1968, 1986 and 1996.
Most cities have excellent data concerning their traffic and parking situation. Lflcewise mostcities have a thorough knowledge about the commercial activities. Copenhagen is interestingbecause in this city has been pioneered methods for collecting usefull data about the use ofpublic space. These surveys have been conducted by researchers from the School ofArchitecture of The Royal Danish Academy in cooperation with the City of Copenhagen.The first major survey was made i 1968. This early investigation enabled the researchers toreturn in 1986 and 1995-6 to carry out new surveys of public life, with the purpose of finding outwhat changes had occurred during this 28 year period- and after all the previously mentionedimprovements to the public environment had been carried out. These research activitiesplaces Copenhagen as one of the only cities in the world, where the developements of the lifein the public spaces have been systematicly recorded over the past three decades.Findings from the three Copenhagen Surveys(Developments 1968-96):
T
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