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Cities for People [Hardcover]

Jan Gehl , Lord Richard Rogers

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Book Description

Sept. 6 2010 159726573X 978-1597265737 1

For more than forty years Jan Gehl has helped to transform urban environments around the world based on his research into the ways people actually use—or could use—the spaces where they live and work. In this revolutionary book, Gehl presents his latest work creating (or recreating) cityscapes on a human scale. He clearly explains the methods and tools he uses to reconfigure unworkable cityscapes into the landscapes he believes they should be: cities for people.


Taking into account changing demographics and changing lifestyles, Gehl emphasizes four human issues that he sees as essential to successful city planning. He explains how to develop cities that are Lively, Safe, Sustainable, and Healthy. Focusing on these issues leads Gehl to think of even the largest city on a very small scale. For Gehl, the urban landscape must be considered through the five human senses and experienced at the speed of walking rather than at the speed of riding in a car or bus or train. This small-scale view, he argues, is too frequently neglected in contemporary projects.


In a final chapter, Gehl makes a plea for city planning on a human scale in the fast- growing cities of developing countries. A “Toolbox,” presenting key principles, overviews of methods, and keyword lists, concludes the book.


The book is extensively illustrated with over 700 photos and drawings of examples from Gehl’s work around the globe.

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 “This book elaborates on many of Gehl’s seminal ideas, examines some of the world’s cities that have successfully improved over the last few decades, and states the challenges for the future. Many generations will lead happier lives and cities will be more competitive if their leaders heed his advice.”
(Enrique Pe�alosa former Mayor of Bogot�, Colombia 2010-04-13)

“Jan Gehl continues to astonish us with his insight into what really makes cities work. He has a global reach in this book based on work he has done in Europe, Australia, and America with comparative data on how pedestrians use public spaces. The deep appeal is how quickly he has been able to assist some cities in turning their traffic-riddled streets into havens for people.”
(Peter Newman Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University, Australia 2010-03-15)

“Jan Gehl’s new manifesto…Pages will be dog-eared, margins annotated… accessibly deployed framework of research and a logical, lucid framework for all the telling details and surprising data. The book organizes a set of observations that will strike some readers as obvious, others as radical, but practically all as convincing, revealing how deeply grounded Gehl''s system is in common sense. This kind of synthesis is no small task, and Gehl performs it with aplomb.”

“If Cities for People is widely read and widely applied, the world’s urban life will be immeasurably better.”

(New Urban News)

“Jan Gehl is our greatest observer of urban quality and an indispensable philosopher of cities as solutions to the environmental and health crises that we face.  With over half the world’s population now in urban areas, the entire planet needs to learn the lessons he offers in Cities for People.”
(Janette Sadik-Khan Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation 2010-04-26)

About the Author

Jan Gehl is a founding partner of Gehl Architects—Urban Quality Consultants. He is the author of Life Between Buildings and Public Spaces, Public Life. He has received numerous awards for his work and is widely credited with creating and renewing urban spaces in cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Melbourne, New York City, London, and many others. 

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life Between Buildings V.2 Oct. 15 2010
By Vadim Litovchenko - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Overall this is a great book, a great addition to anyone's architecture/planning library and also is also great for people who just getting into the field of planning.
The problem, however is the fact is that it is basically a repetition of everything what has already been said in another timeless book by Jan Gehl "Life Between Buildings". I am very fond of all the work produced by Jan Gehl, and in the end I do not regret buying this book, but it is disappointing to see how little afford was actually put into it. Even some of the pictures are directly taken from his other books. In the end, I want to give it a 5 star review, because it is nevertheless a great book, especially for anybody who is not familiar with other books by Jan Gehl, but I have to give a 3 star review, because it is really a sort new edition of Life Between Buildings. At the same time Life Between Buildings provides a far more detailed analysis about public spaces and its social dimension and is just way more engaging, and I would recommend buying it before Cities for People.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Change the Way You Think About Cities - [...] Sept. 27 2010
By TheUrbitect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I received the book fresh off the press, and the book was filled with fresh ideas about how we design our cities.

Gehl has been in the field of architecture and urban design for a long time now. Through "Cities for People" Gehl shares his knowledge and wisdom that he has acquired through out the years. As a student intending to be an architecture, reading this book completely changed what I thought being an architecture was about.

Who should read this book?

City Politicians - Read this book and better understand your citizens.

Architectures and Urban Planners - Obviously people in the design field should read it. I believe every student would greatly benefit, I know I did.

Citizens! - Yes, I believe citizens should read this book. For those that live in cities improve your voice in city policy by having an understand of how cities work at the human level, your level. For those that don't live in the city, it will make a well design city a place you desire to live.

Key Concepts

-The most prominent concept in the book is viewing the city through the human perspective. In the past several decades, since the automobile has dominated city life, architecture and urban spaces have been created for the fast pace of the automobile. Buildings are bigger, with less details. Urban spaces are far too large to be enjoyable. Gehl argues that urban planners and architects must begin to view design from a bottom up perspective, from instead of a top down perspective.

-Pictures-- Reading Gehl's book was an experience. I did not read the book from front to back. I continually flipped ahead to look at the wonderful pictures, to return back and re read a paragraph I just read. Without the pictures in the book, "Cities for People" would be a dull experience. However, there are many pictures used to emphasize certain points. Gehl could have thrown tons of numbers at you(which he does have plenty of statistical data), instead he shows you the difference between a car friendly street and a pedestrian friendly street. He shows how a long street with no windows or lights scares people away, compared to a street with open shops and outdoor cafes have an exuberant human interaction.

-Walking, Bicycling ,Staying and Meeting -- Most of the book focuses on getting more people walking and bicycling as means of transportation. Walking and Cycling can also lead to staying in urban spaces and meeting people.

Table of Contents (Chapter Titles)
1. The Human Dimension
2. Senses and Scale
3. The lively, safe, sustainable, and healthy city
4. The city at eye level
5. Life, space, buildings -- in that order
6. Developing cities

The only criticism I have with the book is that Gehl focuses entirely on out door space. Most of what he tells us should apply to indoors, but it would be nice if Gehl took his ideas into the buildings not just outside.

A Great Architect and another great book. Worth every page turn.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great pictures! Sept. 24 2011
By Clint Kuipers - Published on
I write this review from the perspective of a lay person. I'm not an architect or an urban planner - I am a real estate agent. So perhaps I'm best described as an interested observer.

However, I really like this book. I've read a few other urban planning books, and as some of the other reviewers suggest, this book doesn't necessarily break a ton of new ground. But the main reason I'm giving this book high marks is for the pictures. The pictures are outstanding. I'd estimate that roughly 40% of the book is pictures that are perfect examples of the illustrations written in the text. They really bring the words alive and give you pause to think about the cityscapes in your own experience.

You barely even need to read this book to feel its effects. Simply viewing the pictures and reading their captions could convey the author's complete sentiment. I found it to be very accessible - using very little specialized language or terms.
4.0 out of 5 stars Rediscovering Urban Design Principles May 31 2014
By Mr Michael I Jeffreson - Published on
We learn by observing, analysing and acting. The disaster of modernism has been the closing of minds to the rich lessons the past can teach in understanding urban form. This is reflected in several generations of architects who fervently believe that design informed by earlier traditions is ‘mimicry’, ‘mock historical’ or ‘replication’, and without intellectual legitimacy.

This has led to a belief that only a certain type of contemporary architecture, informed by an emphasis on the building as an isolated statement of ‘originality’, is legitimate. It broke a chain of evolution from antiquity to around 1940 where an understanding of the primacy of urban form and place making over individual architecture was well understood by architects.

The pervasiveness of contemporary object oriented architecture establishes a mind set that privileges design statements over habitable urban form, superstructure over street level interfaces, ‘bold’ design statements over expression of habitability.

This approach is consistently reinforced by architecture design schools. Graduates are empowered to believe not only in their capacities as object makers, but with a false sense of entitlement. There is inadequate regard for the fact that cities are places owned by everyone, and demanding that those privileged with influencing the form of those places care deeply about the human experience of those places.

It is into the context of a deskilled profession that Jan Gehl’s book Cities for People must be seen. Gehl must start from a very low base in rebuilding understanding of what makes city spaces work. Concepts that architects of the pre-modern era would have known intuitively or learnt through observation, now have to either be spelt out, or given scientific rationalization.

This context also informs a core concept of the book, a statement of priority: ‘life, space, buildings, in that order’. This concept would have been ridiculous to past architects, and is largely contradicted by topics covered in the book that show the critical role buildings have in framing space and housing life. Clearly, these elements must be considered together in an iterative process, and elsewhere the book acknowledges this. But the statement is still important and true in prioritizing thought processes. For a generation of architects whose statement of priority has been ‘object, justification, photography, award, in that order’ it forces the thinking process to start at life, to start at urban space, to give these priority over singular architecture to create a constructive, rather than destructive, engagement with the city.

The problem for Gehl, however, is not only the low base from which he must start, but his realization that to engage his professional audience, he cannot alienate them. There are ample examples of good, human scale urban form making, and while these are popular with the general public, they carry a lot of baggage for architects.

New Urbanism, for instance, confronts architects by rejecting the idea that reference to earlier design traditions is mimicry. It acknowledges that those traditions embody all of the elements Gehl spells out in his text: vertical proportions, urban spaces at human scale, small modules at street level, detail and delight at the footpath, a rich array of urban types, from street to lane to square to mews, a range or strategies for creating defendable transition zones, such a colonnades, verandahs, bays, loggias and porticos. By adopting vernacular and traditional architecture as a starting point, New Urbanism creates a kind of shorthand for re-establishing the primacy of urban form over object oriented architectural form making. While at times this approach can result in a certain cuteness or twee character, at least the fundamentals are in place.

However Gehl references New Urbanism only once, and then dismissively: the introduction to the book by Richard Rogers, whose work could not be more antithetical to Gehl’s agenda, points up Gehl’s need to remain within the ‘club’, to try to reform from within. This leads to reliance on some rather weak contemporary examples of good urban design, which look very sad next to the images of traditional cities and towns that Gehl also references.

The contrast points up a fact understood by New Urbanists but still not understood by other contemporary architects: it is not enough, for instance, to create an active street edge, that edge has to have a generous and engaging quality. And the reality is that while the work of architects such as Ralph Erskine that Gehl cites approvingly is meritorious for at least trying to break the modernist object oriented mould, the streetscapes created by the constituent architecture are still relatively joyless and bleak.

To create those great urban boundaries, the soft boundaries with thoughtful transition spaces that invite habitation, the variety of detail that invites exploration, the diversity of urban spatial types, requires a design language that has a rich palette to draw from, and this is where Erskine’s work ultimately fails. Shopfronts are mean, there are few cafes spilling out under protective canopies, windows are standard modernist horizontal rectangles, cues to human scale are few, blank walls and grim undercrofts are too common, and there are frequent problems with street edge activation and corner reinforcement.

Gehl’s book remains valuable however. It provides some solid evidence to support the characteristics of good urban form, based on observation of human behaviour in various urban contexts, and these are some of the most useful lessons in the book. It is probably best that Gehl seeks to remain within the ‘club’, clearly a more confrontational approach such as adopted by many New Urbanists and critics such as Prince Charles has not opened the professions eyes to its failings, but rather generated a range of extreme defensive positions that have made constructive dialogue all but impossible. What is needed is bridge building between the need of communities for good urban design and the re-education of architects and designers to both prioritize this in their processes, and learn once again how to do it, and Gehl provides some good starting points.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for people! March 2 2014
By Kathy Kam - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Over half the world lives in cities. We ask how can our urban environment adapt to our needs as human beings. Without tackling the big issues of poverty, inequality and human rights, Gehl provides examples based on his international experience of ways to design space and place that foster communication, mobility and community. The examples are inspiring and the author presents his projects in a way that makes them seem adaptable to a range of settings. The book is thought provoking and motivating.

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