Jan Gehl

Jan Gehl

Jan Gehl is a founding partner of Gehl Architects—Urban Quality Consultants. He is the author of Life Between Buildings and Public Spaces, Public Life. He has received numerous awards for his work and is widely credited with creating and renewing urban spaces in cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Melbourne, New York City, London, and many others. 


#ForewordFriday: Building Density for Everyday Life

In Soft City David Sim, partner and creative director at Gehl, shows how cities with well-designed density can result in a higher quality of life.

Imagine a city where you can sleep with an open window and where walkability starts at your apartment door. The soft city is about ease and comfort, where density has a human dimension, adapting to our ever-changing needs, nurturing relationships, and accommodating the pleasures of everyday life.

In Soft City David Sim, partner and creative director at Gehl, shows how cities with well-designed density can result in a higher quality of life. He draws from his vast design experience to make a case for a dense and diverse built environment at a human scale, which he presents through a series of observations of older and newer places, and a range of simple built phenomena, some traditional and some totally new inventions.

Want to learn more about the soft city approach and what inspired it? Read the book's foreword by Jan Gehl and the introduction below.

Walkability is a global movement: The Walk21 Conference and Jan Gehl

Walkability is a global movement. Every year walkability professionals come together at the international walking conference, Walk21. In October of this year for the first time the conference...

Walkability is a global movement. Every year walkability professionals come together at the international walking conference, Walk21. In October of this year for the first time the conference was held in Asia, in Hong Kong, where over 800 people from 38 countries gathered to learn from each other, to share their successes and to share their difficulties.

In the walkability field there is perhaps no one more persistent nor better known than Jan Gehl, the Danish urban designer and architect who has been studying walking and advocating for people-focused design of cities for over 50 years. Much has been written about Jan’s theories, methods and successes in cities like Copenhagen, New York and Melbourne, but not much is known about the man himself – how his theories progressed, who influenced him nor of his life more generally. Our new book People Cities: The Life and Legacy of Jan Gehl  shares this inside story, combining biography with personal stories of influence. For anyone wanting to be a walkability advocate the book will help you see how Jan has done this through combining academic, personal and political skills with an enormous amount of energy and gentle humour.

Despite the growing recognition of the critical role that walkable urban design plays in terms of creating health, environmental and economic benefits, enabling walkability is not easy. Car-based planning is readily entrenched within our planning systems, particularly in the United States and Australia, and the tools that put car-based transport first, such as traffic impact assessments, are hard to overcome. The recent Walk21 conference highlighted the need for policy change (presented on by Peter), large demonstration projects (such as the major transformation of New York’s Time Square as presented in People Cities) and for small interventions such as the Wray Ave Solar Parklet – a small public space that will provide free solar power currently being converted from 2 motorcycle parking bays (as presented on by Annie and parklet designer Jean-Paul Horrè). These interventions provide hope, and importantly provide a political impact. People flock to them, reinforcing that if you provide human-focused places people like them and will use them.

The conference also highlighted the need for data on how people use public space. Most cities know how many cars are using their streets, both for movement and for staying (parking). But most cities don’t know how many people are walking on their streets or where people are stopping to spend time. To make real change this data needs to be part of the regular planning process. The substantial amount of information on public life that has been collected by Jan clearly demonstrates that a sound knowledge base can enable changes to the planning system and to city design. This data empowers local decision makers and gives them the tools to overcome some of the entrenched modernistic, car-based planning strategies. Studying people breaks planning down to what it should be about–providing for healthy, vibrant and liveable places.      

That walkability is now a social and political movement is an important legacy of Jan Gehl and the Walk21 conferences.

Photo Credit: Rockaway Youth on Banner by Flickr.com user Light Brigading

Cutting Back: IP Authors Reflect On Their Carbon Footprints

With the end of COP 21 and the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, it’s not just countries that are thinking about how to reduce emissions—individuals are...

With the end of COP 21 and the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, it’s not just countries that are thinking about how to reduce emissions—individuals are reflecting on how their habits and actions impact climate change as well.

Island Press authors shared what they’re doing to reduce their carbon footprints and, in some cases, what more they could be doing. Check out their answers and share your own carbon cutbacks—or vices—in the comments. 

Jason Mark, author of Satellites in the High Country:
Very much like the Paris Climate Accord itself, ecological sustainability is a process, not a destination. Which, I'll admit, is a squirrely way of saying that I'm doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint. I ride my bike. I take mass transit. Most days my car never leaves the spot in front of our home. Most importantly, I have sworn off beef because of cattle production's disproportionate climate impact. The (grass-fed, humane) burger still has a siren song, but I ignore it. 

Grady Gammage, author of The Future of the Suburban City:
I drive a hybrid, ride light rail to the airport and don’t bother to turn on the heat in my house (which is possible in Phoenix).  My greatest carbon sin is my wood burning fireplace.  I don’t use it when there’s a “no burn” day, but otherwise, I have a kind of primordial attraction to building a fire.

John Cleveland, co-author of Connecting to Change the World:
We just installed a 12 KW solar array on our home in New Hampshire. At the same time, we electrified our heating system with Mitsubishi heat pumps. So our home is now net positive from both an electricity and heating point of view. We made the solar array large enough to also power an electric car, but are waiting for the new models that will have more range before we install the electric car charger.  The array and heat pumps have great economics.  The payback period is 8-years and after that we get free heat and electricity for the remainder of the system life — probably another 20+ years.  Great idea for retirement budgets!

Dan Fagin, author of Toms River:
Besides voting for climate-conscious candidates, the most important thing we can do as individuals is fly less, so I try to take the train where possible. I wish it were a better option.

Photo by Bernal Saborio, used under Creative Commons licensing. 

Darrin Nordahl, author of Public Produce:
The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and how we produce food in this country is responsible for much of those emissions. From agriculture, to the fossil fuels needed to produce bags and boxes for pre-packaged food, to the burning of gas and oil to transport both fresh produce and pre-packaged food, I have discovered I can reduce my carbon footprint with a simple change in my diet. For one, I avoid processed food of any sort. I also grow a good portion of my vegetables and herbs and, thankfully, local parks with publicly accessible fruit trees provide a modicum of fresh fruit for my family. We also eat less meat than we used to and our bodies (and our planet) are healthier because of it.

Yoram Bauman, author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change:
I try to put on warm slippers or other extra layers around the house in order to not have to heat the house so much, but I still like to take long hot showers. (Maybe those two things are connected).

Rob McDonald, author of Conservation for Cities:
I try to pay attention to my daily habits that make up a lot of my carbon footprint. So I bike to work, or take mass transit. That gets rid of the carbon footprint of driving. I also try to only moderately heat or cool my home, so I’m not burning a lot of energy doing that. The biggest component of my carbon footprint that I haven’t managed to cut is for travel. I have to travel once or twice a month for my job, and unless it is a trip in the Northeast (when I can just use Amtrak!), I am stuck travelling. The carbon footprint of all that air travel is huge. I try to do virtual meetings, rather than travel whenever I can, but there still seems to be a big premium people place on meeting folks face to face.

Emily Monosson, author of Unnatural Selection 
We keep our heat really low in the winter (ask our teenage daughter, it's way too cold for her here!) and I hang my clothes on the line in the summer. Because it’s so cold, I love taking really hot long showers. I should also hang my clothes in the winter too, and ditch the dryer. 

Jonathan Barnett and Larry Beasley, co-authors of Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs:
We both live in a town-house in the central part of a city – on opposite sides of the continent: one in Philadelphia the other in Vancouver. Our neighborhoods have 100% walk scores. We each own one car, but don’t need to drive it very much - most of the time we can go where they need to on foot.  We wrote our book using email and Dropbox. What they still need to work on is using less air travel in the future.

Jan Gehl, author of Cities for People:
I live in Denmark where 33% of the energy is delivered by windmills. A gradual increase will happen in the coming years. As in most other countries in the developed world, too much meat is on the daily diet. That is absolutely not favorable for the carbon footprint. It sounds like more salad is called for in the future!

Photo by Katja Wagner, used under Creative Commons licensing. 

Suzanne Shaw, co-author of Cooler Smarter:
Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living provides a roadmap for consumers to cut their carbon footprint 20 percent (or more). My approach to lowering my carbon footprint has gone hand in hand with saving money through sensible upgrades. Soon after I purchase my 125-year-old house I added insulation, weather stripping and a programmable thermostat. When I needed a new furnace, I swapped a dirty oil furnace to a cleaner, high-efficiency natural gas model. And now have LED bulbs in every fixture in the house, Energy Star appliances throughout, and power strips at my entertainment and computer areas. This summer, I finally installed solar panels through a 25-year lease (zero out-of-pocket expense). In the month of September, I had zero emissions from electricity use.  Living in the city, I am fortunate to have access to public transportation and biking, which keeps our household driving to a minimum.

Peter Fox-Penner, author of Smart Power Anniversary Edition:
I’m reducing my footprint by trying to eat vegan, taking Metro rather than taxis or Ubers, and avoiding excess packaging.  Right now I travel too much, especially by air. P.S. Later this year I’ll publish my carbon footprint on the website of the new Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy. Watch for it!

Carlton Reid, author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars:
Our family has a (small) car but I cycle pretty much all of the time. My kids cycle to school (some days) and my wife cycles to work (sometimes). It’s useful to have the car for some journeys, long ones mostly, but having a family fleet of bikes means we don’t need a second car. Reducing one’s carbon footprint can be doing less of something not necessarily giving up something completely. If everybody reduced their car mileage (and increased their active travel mileage) that would be good for the planet and personally: win/win.