I was unable to attend the Jan Gehl lecture on January 24th, as I was off exploring another city – familiarizing myself with Seattle – which had been a much anticipated adventure. I covered as much ground as I could in the two days I was there, visiting several neighbourhoods and finding interesting sites/sights in between.
Having learned about the lecture only days before my trip, I was faced with a difficult decision but knew in my heart I would have regretted postponing my first visit to Seattle. That being said, I realize I missed a rare opportunity to be in the presence of a profoundly influential man. Gehl’s book Life Between Buildings is a widely cited text that has inspired countless planners and architects, and inspired me to begin Pedestrian City.
Reviews of Gehl’s lecture reiterate his focus on designing “cities for people”, which happens to be the title of his new book. He’s an advocate for human-scale design that accommodates a wide variety of users, interesting and engaging public spaces that encourage people to stay rather than simply pass through, and infrastructure that encourages multi-modal and active transportation.
In June 2010, Gehl Architects and the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy released a booklet called Our Cities Our Selves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life. Presenting case studies from around the world, the booklet examines transportation-related needs and concerns with a wide lens, highlighting the need for a paradigm shift when thinking about transportation planning, quality of life and the environment. The key is to examine cities from an eye-level rather than a bird’s-eye view, and integrate alternative modes of transportation to a degree that decreases the need for cars and focuses on the human-scale. In doing so it’s important to consider the needs of various life stages, from the toddler to seniors. If neighbourhoods are accessible to these age groups, they’re inherently walkable by everyone.
With the City of Vancouver looking to establish a Pedestrian Advisory Committee before the elections in November, and hosting Walk 21 in October, Gehl’s visit couldn’t have been more timely. I hope he has inspired more concrete action in truly making Vancouver a greener city.