How to Study Public Life
8.25 x 10
Full color, 57 illustrations
How do we accommodate a growing urban population in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and inviting? This question is becoming increasingly urgent to answer as we face diminishing fossil-fuel resources and the effects of a changing climate while global cities continue to compete to be the most vibrant centers of culture, knowledge, and finance.
Jan Gehl has been examining this question since the 1960s, when few urban designers or planners were thinking about designing cities for people. But given the unpredictable, complex and ephemeral nature of life in cities, how can we best design public infrastructure—vital to cities for getting from place to place, or staying in place—for human use? Studying city life and understanding the factors that encourage or discourage use is the key to designing inviting public space.
In How to Study Public Life Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre draw from their combined experience of over 50 years to provide a history of public-life study as well as methods and tools necessary to recapture city life as an important planning dimension.
This type of systematic study began in earnest in the 1960s, when several researchers and journalists on different continents criticized urban planning for having forgotten life in the city. City life studies provide knowledge about human behavior in the built environment in an attempt to put it on an equal footing with knowledge about urban elements such as buildings and transport systems. Studies can be used as input in the decision-making process, as part of overall planning, or in designing individual projects such as streets, squares or parks. The original goal is still the goal today: to recapture city life as an important planning dimension. Anyone interested in improving city life will find inspiration, tools, and examples in this invaluable guide.
"fills a gap in the literature...Gehl is an unassuming but essential guide to this criminally underutilized method of analysis."
Planetizen's Top 10 Books of 2014
"...it serves also as a knowledge map for those interested in understanding the roots of the renaissance of public spaces as a field of attention in urban planning, looking back at authors that influenced the works not only of Jan Gehl, but also of all those addressing a new understanding of the importance of public life in our cities nowadays."
Ciudades a Escala Humana
"In sharing how public life-public space interactions can be systematically approached and taught, I don’t hesitate to say that How to Study Public Life is must-read for anybody and everybody entrenched in urban development, design and planning—from students and practitioners to municipal officials and policy makers."
"For decades, the public space, public life studies developed by Jan Gehl and his team have been a great inspiration for professionals, academics and city planners in all parts of the world. Now their secret tools are available to everyone in How to Study Public Life. It is just a matter now of getting out there and putting them to use."
Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University, Australia
"This important book is published at a time when the dynamics of urbanization dictate a better integration of urban activities, which Gehl has long shown how to achieve."
Peter Bosselmann, Professor of Urban Design, University of California, Berkeley
"Applying the principles of public life studies at the City of Melbourne has proven to be an invaluable tool for making our city more livable. How to Study Public Life is an essential tool-oriented book for all those striving to create better cities for people."
Rob Adams, Director of City Design, City of Melbourne
"Gehl and Svarre's How to Study Public Life is a refreshing manual for how to engage design professionals and the general public to observe, analyze, and assess the nature of their city."
"Thanks to Gehl and Svarre, urban designers have a helpful reference for getting started with the process of getting outside into public spaces to look and learn"
A Daily Dose of Architecture
"Danish architect Jan Gehl and coauthor Birgitte Svarre provide a nicely illustrated overview of the the field they call 'public-life studies' in How to Study Public Life."
"This is an excellent primer on how to 'recapture public life' as an important dimension in the design of vibrant, pedestrian-friendly city spaces. Gehl and Svarre... offer fine-grained guidance on the range of behaviors to observe, tools to employ for observing and documenting, and the types of life-enhancing design solutions generated from interpretation of collected data... This is an important book for architecture and design programs at all levels."
How to Study Public Life was named one of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles of 2014.
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.
Dr. Annie Matan is a researcher and lecturer at Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, interested in creating sustainable, vibrant and people-focused urban places. Her research focus is on active transport, particularly walking and cycling, pedestrian planning and urban design, focusing on how people interact with the built environment and human health outcomes of planning decisions. She has worked for State and Local Government before joining Curtin University in 2011.
Peter Newman is the Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and Director of CUSP. Newman has served on the Board of Infrastructure Australia and a Lead Author for Transport on the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report.