» The Fall and Rise of Great Public Spaces

Strøget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. From

This post from Citiwire is an urban design power post—written by Jay Walljasper from the Project for Public Spaces and featuring Jan Gehl. Walljasper compares the activities along Strøget to the conventions happening in Tampa and Charlotte. While Copenhagen’s public and democratic life happens in its streets, ours happens in semi-private auditoriums. At one time, Copenhagen was on the same track as the US, giving space over to cars and watching its cities decline. They just decided to do something about it and created great public, pedestrian-oriented places. The US’ cities and particularly their public spaces have been in decline for years. Danes go to the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen to people watch, but there are few places in America with enough people to make that a worthwhile activity. Why would you drive to the mall to watch people walk? Why not just live in a nice place with a lot of people, where you can watch it from your front door, or participate by walking to a local park or market? Gehl lists some cities, including Portland, Oregon, that have put work into their public spaces and benefited from it. He says there are twelve things a city needs to have good public spaces:

  1. Protection from traffic
  2. Protection from crime
  3. Protection from the elements
  4. A place to walk
  5. A place to stop and stand
  6. A place to sit
  7. Things to see
  8. Opportunities for conversations
  9. Opportunities for play
  10. Human-scale
  11. Opportunities to enjoy good weather
  12. Aesthetic quality

Interview with Jan Gehl |

Jan Gehl. From

Jan Gehl is one of my favorite authors on urban design. His Cities for People is an in-depth analysis of how people use cities and how cities can be designed to better serve their residents. This interview he did for the ASLA is a great summary of his basic design idea. Gehl discusses modern architecture and planning and how it was designed at a massive scale, forgetting what pedestrians experienced on the ground. He talks about healthy cities and how, in a Western world where most of us spend all day sitting in front of a computer, cities should make it easy for people or even force them to have a little physical activity. He defines the human scale, based on the physiological features of homo sapiens, and how it relates to design. He talks about how cities messed up, and how some of them are trying to fix it. He talks about the “soft edge” of buildings, why the Campo in Siena is awesome, and lists some similar project, including Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. A great interview.

Junction design the Dutch – cycle friendly – way – YouTube

I really like videos like this that create simple video examples of how to address urban design problems. This video talks about how to set up an intersection so that a driver doesn’t have to cross a bike path blind to turn right. My only question is, so where’s the parking? if Jan Gehl got his way, the bike lane would be closer to the sidewalk with the parking closer to the travel lanes and a buffer between, so that cyclists don’t get doored. This is great: but then how do you work in bulb-outs for the pedestrians? A lot of good questions about how to design a truly multi-use intersection.


Kortrijk is a smaller city in western Belgium which lies along the Leie River, which connects Lille, France to Ghent, Belgium and later to the Atlantic Ocean. Kortrijk sits at the center of what has traditionally been a textile manufacturing region, and the Leie, along with associated canals, has traditionally been the main transportation route for the goods manufactured in the region. Kortrijk has been working for decades on the Leiewerken, a series of construction projects meant to widen and deepen the river, making for easier transport of larger ships. Along with this, efforts have been made to improve the waterfront and make it more than just a transport route, but also an amenity for those who live near it. This is where architect Jordi Farrando comes in. Farrando designed different public spaces on the north and south sides of the Leie (or Leieboorden) at Buda Island.

On the south side of the Leie and the northeast corner of Buda Island, Farrando built Buda Beach as a “landscaped leisure area.” The space is mostly green, a mix of turf and taller, more natural grasses. These green areas are crossed by paths which connect to the road, Ijzerkaai, above, and the new pedestrian bridge, Collegebrug, which connects to the north shore of the Leie. The swerving paths of both the beach and the bridge work really well together. Part of the idea of the park is that sand can be brought in in the summer to form an artificial beach much like the Paris Plage. All in all, I really like this place, although if I had anything to say about it, I would wonder if there is enough seating.

A variety of seating along the Schuylkill River Trail. From

I would think that someone might argue that people could simply seat on the undulating ground which slopes toward the river, much like people often do along the Schuylkill River Trail; while this may work for younger people, older people will not do this and may not use the park. Another lesson from the Schuylkill River Trail could be to use some sort of non-traditional seating, like boulders, to provide a place to sit without looking like something out of a catalog.

On the other side of the Leie is Diksmuidekaai, which has a much more urban and hardscaped feel than Buda Beach. Starting at the west, it integrates well with the existing bike and pedestrian lanes.

These are divided by a row of trees which will become more beautiful as they grow taller and fuller. In every other gap between trees there is a fashionable light fixture which is set at a good pedestrian scale. However, as can be seen in the images above, the bike lane and row of trees later switches, with the bike lane in the center. The architect argues that the benches separate the pedestrian path from the bike lane, but there aren’t enough benches to form a serious divide. A better technique may be to use slightly different pavers or colors of concrete.

I have a few issues with the benches. First of all, as I mentioned above, there aren’t enough of them. They could be bunched together into small groups so that people could sit near each other without necessarily being right next to each other. The benches themselves are the exact type that Jan Gehl warms against: concrete benches with no back and no sort of rear protection, which may not necessarily face the action. They should be given backs, and though it may be best to face the river, it could be good to have some that face the other way so people could watch cyclists on the other side. There probably is no good way to create some sort of backward protection for for those siting on the benches, although if the row of trees remained at the center it could create somewhat of a wall.

All in all, I really like this project. Buda Beach is great, and Diksmuidekaai is really good and could be improved with simple changes in the future. These projects do a great job of improving both sides of a river without being repetitive mirrors of each other, but providing unique, complimentary amenities.

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