Gehl Institute Welcomes Executive Director

New Institute, leadership to provide tools necessary for cities to design more inviting, economically vibrant public spaces

After 15 years at the forefront of urban design focused on innovative and inviting public spaces, Copenhagen-based Gehl has launched Gehl Institute to foster an expanded presence in America and cultivate the next wave of leaders committed to building vibrant cities and communities. Gehl Institute will work with leaders and institutions not only to improve physical spaces but also to strengthen civic muscle and equip people with more tools to contribute to and improve public life.

Gehl Institute will expand upon the life’s work of Gehl’s co-founders, Jan Gehl and Helle Søholt, who have driven groundbreaking people-first design projects in over 250 cities worldwide.

“The American legacy of building industry and prosperity for the few on the backs of many can be transformed to a new legacy of utilizing the collective agency of all to address the crises of our time,” said Jeff Risom, Chair of Gehl Institute. “Communities that are comprised of informed and engaged citizens are capable of tackling problems of greater scale — whether it be climate change or how to foster a greater sense of belonging. Empowered communities working toward common goals benefits society at multiple levels.”

To jump-start its work, last month Gehl Institute hosted Act Urban, a convening of 90 innovative urban leaders from around the world. Conference sessions explored places, tools, metrics, and communication that Gehl Institute can provide cities to better unite urban design and city governance.

A further sign of Gehl Institute’s commitment to thoughtful research and experimentation, and its desire to foster a new wave of leadership on this issue in the U.S., Gehl Institute just announced the hiring of Shin-pei Tsay as its first executive director. Tsay will lead Gehl Institute to support leaders and communities with meaningful resources and assets that encourage a more equitable, sustainable, and welcoming public life.

Tsay, who brings diverse leadership experience with non-profits and research programs in start-up settings to Gehl Institute, most recently served as the deputy executive director of TransitCenter. Prior to this, she served as a program director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, and chief operating officer at Project for Public Spaces.

“With Gehl Institute we hope to synthesize Gehl’s incredible people-first project work around the world and broaden its positive effect through the creation and dissemination of new knowledge on public life, to better serve the growing number of leaders and communities that seek to reinvigorate the public realm,” said Tsay. “Given the global challenges we must face together, a sense of shared humanity in everyday life is more important than ever.”

Gehl’s influence in changing urban life has been felt over the years via radical transformations to public spaces. In New York City, this included a research project that began in 2007 to dramatically overhaul the experience for pedestrians along Broadway, from Times Square to Washington Square. When Gehl found that 90 percent of space in Times Square was for cars, yet 90 percent of people there were pedestrians, they implemented a plan to redesign public spaces in the area to make them more people-friendly, including installing more seating, green-space and bike lanes. The pilot project increased satisfaction with the area among residents, workers and visitors; enhanced safety and reduced injuries to pedestrians and motorists; and increased overall travel speeds.

In the coming months, Gehl Institute will continue its agenda researching social-mixing in public space under a grant from Knight Foundation. This will include testing and sharpening new tools developed last year as part of the Public Life Diversity Toolkit. Urban Intervention Research aimed at inviting public life is also underway in Charlotte, NC, Lexington, KY, and West Palm Beach and Tallahassee, FL. New urban interventions in Washington D.C. and New York City will examine diversity in public spaces, and other research that connects the public realm to climate change, public health, and other critical issues of the day will be developed with additional support.

Read more about Gehl here

For additional information, please contact: Katie Andriulli     

kandriulli@mrss.com     917.438.4605