What can the U.S. learn from Copenhagen about designing public spaces to foster healthier, more inclusive communities? One of the most striking cultural symbols upon arriving in Copenhagen is the sheer number of cyclists navigating city streets—in fact bicycles outnumber cars! But during my recent visit, it was the trash cans that actually caught my eye. […]
By Stella Marren, Intern at Gehl Institute For Part 2 of our “Spaces of Play” series, we spoke with George Vellonakis of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Vellonakis was behind the 2007 redesign of Washington Square Park in New York City, and today serves as both Washington Square Park Administrator and […]
By Stella Marren, Intern at Gehl Institute Every kid deserves access to quality public spaces for play. We at Gehl Institute are always interested in learning from activists and professionals with different approaches to achieving their vision of a more kid-friendly public realm. For this “Spaces of Play” two-part series, we chatted with James Siegal, CEO of […]
By Ida Christensen, Intern at Gehl Institute At their best, open-air street markets foster lively neighborhood settings in which people can mix and celebrate community life. Residents and visitors alike head to markets not only to buy goods, but also to experience the everyday pulse of life in a city.  Over the past decade, open-air […]
By Stella Marren, Intern at Gehl Institute. If you’re exploring Midtown Manhattan, you might notice the presence of small, mostly empty paved plazas at the base of skyscrapers. These banal spaces are the result of a specific policy tool meant to encourage public life and access to natural light in New York City while also […]
The following text by Martin C. Pedersen was originally published by Common Edge, and has been reposted with the author’s permission. I spent four glorious days in Copenhagen recently and left with an acute case of urban envy. (I kept thinking: It’s like..an American Portland—except better.) Why can’t we do cities like this in the […]
Public Life Champions is a new interview series by Gehl Institute, where we highlight leaders who are working towards a more just, inclusive public life in cities. Our first interviewee, Alex Peay, is the founder of Rising Sons and One’s Up Corps, and is helping with the planning of Gehl Institute’s Fall 2017 conference on […]
Open Engagement (OE) is an annual, three-day conference on socially engaged art, led by artists, activists, scholars, community leaders, and others. This year’s conference took place on April 21-23 at various sites across Chicago; it’s theme was JUSTICE. Lisa Yun Lee and Romi Crawford’s curatorial statement for OE ‘17 posed a series of critical questions […]
Sometimes, in the name of security, bright floodlights are installed in outdoor urban settings — often in low-income communities. Underlying this approach is the common assumption that the illumination of dark city spaces on its own acts as a crime deterrent. However, a quick review of research on the subject presents a more complicated perspective. Multiple […]
The recent wave of anti-protest bills is troubling. In a clear reaction to the Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock movements, state legislators are proposing exorbitant fines and prison sentences for activists who engage in so-called “economic disruption” or trespassing at “critical infrastructure,” and especially for getting in the way of car traffic. For example, […]
In the wake of the presidential election, Rhodes scholar Jay Ruckelshaus drafted a Facebook status on what Donald Trump’s ascendency to the Oval Office meant to him as a wheelchair user. The response to his post, from friends across the political spectrum, was resoundingly sympathetic. “Nobody wants to be anti-disability,” Ruckelshaus would later write in […]
It isn’t easy to prove, but in many U.S. neighborhoods there are too few public spaces where people are encouraged to congregate. It’s also hard to prove that this lack of places often leads to anti-social behavior where it is least wanted. Further, this does not even broach the larger systemic inequities that underpin patterns of violence. This “lack” of public space is a void, and as such, lack of public space is difficult to measure and currently cannot be compared to injury data, or other tangible, measurable metrics.
Editor’s note: Do you ever wonder it’s like for city staff when there’s an abundance of enthusiasm for new ideas from neighborhood advocates? Here is a candid take from champions among the City of Charlotte staff.
Charlotte has some wonderfully creative and passionate neighborhood advocates! As city staff we are fortunate to have relationships with “doers” and “makers” in our community who want to improve their neighborhoods. We love the creative, inexpensive, collaborative, and flexible public space solutions that our neighborhood advocates bring to us.
The first steps to get more people counting with Public Life Diversity Toolkit are already underway. Gehl is collaborating with Better Block Foundation to develop a prototype training program, by evaluating a project in Frenchtown, Tallahassee, Florida. Better Block Foundation is a recently formed organization that works with residents and local stakeholders and decision-makers to physically create an ideal neighborhood block experience, using temporary design and events, all of which literally show people what is possible.
A conversation with Ewa Westermark and Julia D Day about NYC’s Plazas and Gehl’s ongoing evaluation of their social impact
Individuals often understand what it means to be neighborly, to feel welcome, and to have fun in public space, yet these are the very metrics that have eluded decision-makers as they try to figure out where they should put their money. Where would an investment make the biggest difference in fostering social connections and creating places that attract a diverse group of people?
I found so little in conflict with the ways that public life was debated. Was it the “social activities in public spaces,” as stated by John Bela? Yes. Was it the everyday lives people live in the public realm? Yes. And the dimension that we added in, which will be crucial to the foundation of Gehl Institute’s work, is that it is also very much about promoting civic life, of building up the muscles to pull on the levers of power to enact change.
Why might city dwellers vote so differently? London is a ‘city of difference’, as defined by Julian Agyeman, a Professor at Tufts University, during his Act Urban session in Philadelphia. Statistically, London is a diverse city with 40% of the population identifying as an ethnicity other than white. But a ‘city of difference’ is not just about ethnic diversity. It’s about a ‘place where people can negotiate difference on their own terms’, as Julian described it.
This doesn’t mean prejudice is absent – it isn’t. But as a foreigner who lived in London for two years I felt that the city prides itself as global. Global not just due to its powerful international banking industry, but because its residents value being in a place where people from different countries, backgrounds and experiences live side by side, where you can eat any cuisine you want, and buy newspapers in multiple languages.
I started at Gehl Institute during one of the most divisively violent weeks in recent history in the United States. The events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, are vicious reminders that some people are unwanted in the public realm, that their lives carry little meaning. Casual participation in the everyday, by selling CDs […]
At Act Urban 2016 in Philadelphia, a recurring theme of the discussions was the importance of exposure to differences. Research in anthropology, psychology and sociology has proven that a high degree of social mixing fosters understanding, tolerance and respect between people (Sennett, Hajer & Reijndorp, Cortright et.al.) – traits that are invaluable in cities, where people will inevitably represent a broad spectrum of socioeconomic, ethnic and demographic backgrounds. Therefore, a key obligation of the city is to create a framework for bringing together all kinds citizens in any part of town. It is not enough to simply create invitations in the downtown areas, as Antoni Vives from the City Transformation Agency pointed out in his keynote reflections, invitations must also draw people across neighborhoods along the fringes, regardless of their individual social status.
The relationship between the built environment and well-being There is a shift happening in the world of public health that is expanding the focus from prevention and care to a more holistic view that includes understanding the conditions of people’s daily experience. Recently, I presented findings from the Public Life in NYC’s Plazas project at the […]