The form and use of public space

Jan Gehl, Dr.Litt Head, Department of Urban Design, School of Architecture Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen Paper for European Transport Conference, Loughborough University, England, 16 sept. 1998

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 of activities can be defined. Necessary activities (transport & buisness activities), Optional activities (recreational activities) and Social activities. Necessary activities -what you have to do. These activities are generally of a rather purposeful character, they take place at all times and more or less regardless of the quality of the physical environment. Optional activities - what you like to do, and get tempted to do, when given the right circumstances: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, the scenery, the open air, the trees and flowers, sitting on a sidewalk care, enjoying the street scenery and so on. These activities are entirely optional -no one is forced to engage in them, but whenever the circumstances are right -when the quality of the physical environment is finethese urban recreational activities tends to occur in great numbers because many people find recreation in urban spaces with other people, especially attractive to engage in. These activities are to a large extent rather spontaneous -impulse activities- often occuring when you are actually just passing through the city involved in other purposes, and suddenly gets the inspiration to stay for a while. Social activities -meeting your fellow citizens: In one end of the scale will be the major civic events, the festivals, parades, protests, ceremonies. Another - and indeed very important category of social activities - are the multitude of humble daily day encounters: Meeting your fellow citizens on the sidewalks, seeing and hearing people, experiencing what happens in the city. These social activities cover a broad array ranging from those just passively being present taking in the scene, to those using the public spaces for active communication to the other citizens - - music, theater, vendors, distributors of pamphlets, ideologies and so on. The unplanned and unexpected meetings. All these humble daily encounters are among the highest valued attractions the city can offer. Any city will have some necessary activities. A good, popular and loved city will always have 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 to creating different spaces for different types of activities. For walking and shopping: Streets, sidewalks, and shopping mails. For recreation: Parks and sports fadlities. For sodal activities: Festivals and special events. This functional approach has been used widely, but have generally led to dissapointing results, because one of the most important aspects of people activities in the city is not taken into account -namely the fluent and everchanging activity patterns characteristic of life in the urban spaces. Life is an ongoing proces, different


activities inspire each other and interacts. If human activities are confined to specific monofunctional areas the dynamics and selfreinforcing character of life in public spaces gets lots. Walking is certainly not only a mode of transport, it is also a social process where you constantly meet, see and hear other people, and it is an activity from which you -at the spur of the moment- can shift to other types of activity. While walking it is easy, to change direction, to stop to look at something interesting or to talk to someone. Or you can with great ease transit from busy walking to recreation, when you get inspiered by seeing a bench or a cafe 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 spaces aquire their attractiveness from the fact that they invite and cater for a wide range of different 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 and integrated nature of human urban activities as a departure point..

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 city centers and the design concepts for their public spaces. A planning policy especially widespread in the North-American dries, is a very comercial and rational approach to people and public spaces. The majority of city streets have been entirely devoted to car traffic Whatever is left of pedestrian activities have largely been moved to private shopping malls, interior arcades, underground shopping concourses or "skywalk systems" placed on the second storeys of the buildings. The activity patterns going on in these highly controlled privately owned shopping environments, are generally of a very monofunctional nature: The places are ment for walking and shopping, benches are few and ment for resting only, eating places, restaurants, cafes and especially '~Food-courts" are prirnar'flly rnent strictly for eating. (By comparrieon sidewalk cafes have a wide range of social and recreational activities as well) The whole range of popular urban recreation activities 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, commercial people activities. It is interesting to note that an allmost opposite strategy for public life & public spaces can be found in a number of other cities - especially in Europe.. After many years of increasing pressure from the car traffic, a distinct change of policy have been introduced in many european dty-centers over the past 30-40 years. Realising that the extensive car traffic and the agressive commercial orientation were eroding the diverse and varied public life in the urban spaces, the car traff/c has gradually been pushed back, and the important public spaces -streets and squares - have been given back to people activities. Quite many European titles where this strategy is by now being followed, can be found. There are many such dries in Germany, Scandinavia, Holland, France and 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 in Europe in the most recent 10-15 years, and many outstanding examples like Barcelona in Spain, Lyon in France and Munich and Freiburg in Germany can be found.

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 a policy on these lines have been followed, for by now 36 years.


Copenhagen is interesting for three reasons. Firstly a rather extensive effort have been made to improve the pubhc spaces. Secondly there was no strong public life tradition in this part of the world before, so whatever has happened is the result of a deliberate effort to stimulate a new and livlier use of the city. Thirdly in Copenhagen the developement of the public life have 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 is a nice human scale to the place. All important shops and department stores are located in the city 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 in Europe. Then followed - in a gradual process - one pedestrian scheme after the other. Slowly over a period of- by now- 36 years- one street and square after the other, have been turned over to people activities. Parking policy over 30 years have been each year to remove some 2-3 per cent of the downtown parking - in a very gradual process. Doing it slowly enables the citiziens to gradually change their transportation habits- from private cars to buses, trains and bicycles. Parallel to these steps the public ~ansport system has been gradually improved, and especially the network of bicyde paths has been extensively enlarged. (In Copenhagen the bicycles 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 the city planners have succeded in keeping the car traffic stable. There are by now just about the same amount of car-traffic in the Manicipality of Copenhagen as there were in 1970. Over the same period bicyde traffic has increased by 65 %. Concerning the city centre, the policy have -broadly speaking-been to accept the centre gradually being somewhat less accesable by private cars (but improving other means of transport at the same time)- however, when you get there you will find a steadily improving city 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 evident that the population of Copenhagen - in a gradual process - started to find out what such spaces could be used for. One after the other the squares became filled with activities, and new 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 been increased from 15.000 squaremesters in 1962 to almost 100.000 squaremesters by now. Thus the area set aside for pedestrians have been extended to 7 times its original 1962-size and there are 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 most cities have a thorough knowledge about the commercial activities. Copenhagen is interesting because in this city has been pioneered methods for collecting usefull data about the use of public space. These surveys have been conducted by researchers from the School of Architecture 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 to return in 1986 and 1995-6 to carry out new surveys of public life, with the purpose of finding out what changes had occurred during this 28 year period- and after all the previously mentioned improvements to the public environment had been carried out. These research activities places Copenhagen as one of the only cities in the world, where the developements of the life in the public spaces have been systematicly recorded over the past three decades. Findings from the three Copenhagen Surveys (Developments 1968-96):



a) More people use the public spaces: Pedestrian traffic have increased by 25 % - the very important recreational & social activities have increased fou~ limes (+300 %) (Findings refers to the summer season which in the Scandinavian two-season culture is the all important season) Though the population of Copenhagen have not increased in this period more people are by now using the public spaces of the city center. 25 percent more pedestrians does not sound of much - but already by 1968 the major streets were almost filled to capacity. By 1986 and 1995 all the streets and sidewalks were carrying all the pedestrians they could possibly handle. By far the most interesting finding were however, that the number of people involved in recreational activities have increased by 300% (four times more street life)during the 28 years between the investigations. The average person visiting the city center by now spends 34 times more time in the city, standing, sitting, participating in various activities, enjoying the scenery and the fellow citiziens. This increase in the use of time in the city largely explains the remarkable increase in the liveliness and charm if the city. Any city can have much pedestrian traffic. But only in a really nice city, a high proportion of those walking will feel tempted to stop, to settle down to enjoy the spaces, the scenery and the other people. This is exactly what has happened in Copenhagen. The city centre have become a well used living room - a meeting place - for the citizens. Street life patterns in the urban spaces of Copenhagen are throughout caracterized by a valuable mixture of different activities -people walk, shop, sit, eat, have coffe, watch street entertainment and all the other fascinating things going on i lively city -and all the activities goes on side by side in the same spaces. A monofunctional traffic- & shopping city have over some 30 years become a diverse and much loved people city.

b). The public spaces axe used in new ways (From passive to active use of the public spaces).

While the city centre in 1968 was mainly used for rather passive activities such as walking, shopping, and window shopping, the activity patterns some 27 years later have developed significantly. On top of the shopping and walldng patterns the public spaces are by now also used for an array of more active events. Popular, spontaneous activities are much more frequent. Street music, street theater, vendors of all types, people presenting ideological, political or religious messages to their fellow citizens. The city has become much more of a clxltural and popular forun~ The new attractive public spaces have also served as a great inspiration for arranging many new types of city gatherings of all kinds: Festivals, theater, ballet, art, jazz, and other dty events. c). The quality of the public spaces is very important for the volume and character of the life

in the public spaces.
The total area set aside for pedestrians and popular activities have been quadroupled between 1968 and 1995. This corresponds interestingly to the quadroupling of the life/activity level in the streets and squares. Indeed, the matter of sufficient space for people activities, and freedom for the hazzards, noise and pollution from traffic, is very important, but certainly a number of other quality issues were found to have a major influence onthe use crf each single space in the city such as location, climate, dimensions, furniture, detailing and the attractiveness of the groundfloor facades facing the streets. These corellations are known from other surveys, but were strongly confirmed in the Copenhagen surveys -underlining the importance of careful planning if the recreational anti'social dty-activities are to develop. Summing up the lessons from Copenhagem All public spaces of good quality which have over the years been established are being intensively used. Though there was not in Denmark a tradition for public life, the Danes, when gradually given the spaces and the opportunities, have over the years developed a remarkable, new culture of using the city intensively, underlining that in the present day society many citiziens has a strong desire to utilize the special qualities a lively city can offer. Another important lesson from Copenhagen will be the quiet, gradual approach. A new Public Life Culture have -in small steps- been developed. The Citiziens have taken their time in


finding out w h a t a nice city can be used for. Also in this area Copenhagen is an interesting example of a positive circle of events. Each year the city h a v e become somewhat better than last year, and more people are c o m m i n g out to use the city spaces.

Copenhagen,July 1998. Jan Gehl References: Gehl, Jan; '7LifeBetween Buildings", Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1987. Second edifior~ Danish Arcitectural Press, Copenhagen, 1996 (Also published inDeamark, Norway, Holland, Costa Pdca, Czech Republic, Taiwan & China) GehI, ~ a n : "Changing Street Lifein. a C h a r t gl_ng"Society",inPLACES, Joumalof Environmental Design, 1989. Gehi, Jars *Public Spaces & Public Life, Oslo 1987, In-By, Oslo, Norway, 1988. *Public Spaces & Public Life, Stockholm 1990, City of Stockholm, ] 991 *Public Spaces & Public Life, Perth, Western Australia, 1994. w/City of Melbourne: ~Places for People, Melbourne City, 1994. Book specifiely describing the developement of Copenhagen City Center 1968 - 1996: Gehl, ~. & Gemz~, L: '~Public Spaces - Public Life -Copenl-mgen 1996", Danish Architectural Prees, Copenha~;en 1996. (Sales Dept Tel: +45-32 83 69 64) (Awarded the EDRA/Places Research Award, USA, 1998)



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