Professor Jan Gehl
Jan Gehl serves as Head of the Department of Urban Design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Professor Gehl, has spent 36 years studying how people socialize/play in urban settings. His research has been replicated throughout the western world - with the same results. In the late 60's, Professor Gehl and associates developed the vision that transformed Copenhagen from a traffic-congested city that was losing population to a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly place. This dynamic urban designer single-handedly dispelled the notion that cold-weather cities cannot develop pedestrian life, and for his decades of persistence, the Environmental Design Research Association presented him with its 1998 award for the world's best environmental design research.
Other awards include the Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize by the International Union of Architects for his contribution in the field of urban planning and development. This prize is awarded by the
International Union of Architects for exemplary contributions in the area of town planning. This is actually the most prestigious award in the world for architects who focus on town planning and they gave because they thought it was very valuable that the behavior and opinions of people and how people use the spaces can be used as a tool in town planning. (It is interesting that this kind of thinking has been praised as a valuable tool in architectural town planning.)
Professor Gehl was awarded an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh because Professor Gehl developed not invented but developed this area of research over many years and stuck to it.
Here are the comments of architect Roger Evans from the journal Urban Design Quarterly (http://rudi.herts.ac.uk/ej/udq/68/topic_1.html)
Jan Gehl changed my life in 1976 when I read his book Livet Mellum Huserna. It was then available only in Danish, but fortunately I had just acquired a girlfriend - now my wife - who could translate it for me - life between the houses. It demonstrated that towns and cities were not primarily for looking at but living in. To non-architects, this may seem unremarkable, but believe me, to an architect who had studied the visual world for five years this was a painful realisation, the urban design equivalent of a bright light on the road to Damascus. Jans observation that a good urban space should be like a good party, something that you dont want to leave, remains a neat litmus test for assessing public spaces.
Part Of An Interview with Urbanist Jan Gehl
For People-Oriented Cities
Finally, throughout the world you can see examples of pedestrians being badly treated. One of the things to watch is the very high priority put on traffic and the very low priority on people. I have watched
stop-lights at intersections throughout the world: in Australia, in Japan and found appalling comparisons between the time that is allowed for people to get across the street and the time that is allowed for
cars to pass through the intersection. But I must tell you that the most striking example I have ever seen was here in Prague yesterday. I will now use this throughout the world as an example of what not to do.
Right at the end of the Charles Bridge you have a stoplight. Pedestrians have seven seconds to get across the street and cars easily have two minutes before another seven second interval happens for people to cross. And what you see is that people refuse to wait for two minutes. They take their chances with the traffic. To me it is a fantastic downgrading of people to give them so little time. I think that each
mode of traffic should have the same access so that may be 15 seconds for people and 30 or 45 seconds for the traffic or something like that. But it should be modified; it is appalling as it currently stands. It
will have to be changed very significantly.
Jan Gehl's (simple explanation of how socializing/play interactions occur): ...something happens because something happens because something happens. (Fromm 1991: 153) While one person is feeding the chickens, someone walks by and stops to chat. Still another sees these two talking and decides to join them. This phenomenon can occur outside in the garden, in the parking lot, in the common house, and along walkways. Opportunities are countless. To be sure, spontaneous interactions occur because the physical and social environment are conducive to them happening. They are all but impossible occurrences in the typical suburban development where concrete guides people right to the front door, and neighbors have been conditioned to mind their own business.