Tommy highlights that cars have changed the way our cities are designed and we have moved away from the human-scale. As urban designers we are challenged to create compact, multi-functional urban form that creates ample opportunity for pedestrians, cyclists and economically viable public transport. In my comment I would like to explore examples which have been successful in attempting to resolve some of these challenges.
Two Layer Development
The concept of the city being compact, high density, yet desirable at the human scale would seem contradictory. However in Vancouver, Canada they have achieved both of these things through development based upon two layers, resulting in high building density and good quality urban streets for pedestrians (Gehl, 2010). The lower level is two to four stories high, following building lines along the city streets. Above this is densely built skyscrapers recessed from the lines of the street that do not impact on the pedestrian landscape. The skyscrapers are designed as slender towers to reduce the impact of wind and shading on the streets below, and avoid shielding the waterfront view from the buildings behind. Such design offers a solution to create great cities at eye level, whilst ensuring building density is high, however the importance of good quality ground-floor architecture should not be overlooked (Gehl, 2010).
The waterfront in Vancouver, Canada (Source: Gehl 2010)
A sustainable mix of mobility options is extremely important to tackle these challenges and Beatley (2009) suggests many European cities have built reliable public transport systems. Good examples include a single ticket to use across multiple modes of transport, high service frequencies, and multiple stations that are well integrated and complementary of one another. For example the central train station in Arnhem, Netherlands integrates the high-speed train, conventional train, local transit, bicycle parking, bicycle rental and amenities all in one place.
Beatley (2009) also highlights that public transport should be complementary to land use decisions, in Nieuw Sloten, Amsterdam the tram service began when new homes were built, providing residents with sustainable options from the outset.
Arnhem, Netherlands, a major European transport hub (Source: Guardian, 2018)
Creating a living city where traffic priority is focused upon pedestrian movement at low speeds, as oppose to automobiles at high speed, can be achieved through pedestrianised spaces. Strøget is a collection of streets in Copenhagen and one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets. Cars were beginning to dominate the street and as a result, was converted to a pedestrian zone in 1962 as a temporary trial. Due to its successes this was later made a permanent pedestrian zone in 1964 (Gehl, 2011). The project renewed street life, with the number of people from 1968-1986 tripling, as did the number of people sitting and standing. This marked a major change in Copenhagen’s approach to urban life, placing a greater emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian access into the city at the expense of cars. This demonstrates that through sensible planning expensive building design can be spared as people attract people (Gehl, 2011).
Strøget, Copenhagen one of Europes longest pedestrian streets (Source: Visit Denmark, 2017)
It would seem in order to reverse the concept of the city adapting to the car a holistic approach considering a range of methods, solutions and lessons learnt from other towns and cities need to be considered.
Beatley, T. (2009). “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities”, from The Sustainable Urban Development Reader. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp.249-258.
Gehl, J. (2010) Cities for People, Island Press, Washington
Gehl, J. (2011) Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space
Jan Gehl (1987), Island Press, Washington