20 September 2009

What Jane said

As modernism in city planning reached its high peak in the early 60-ies, we faced a new way of planning cities that never had been seen before in the history of humankind. The idea was to separate, housing, work, recreation and communication, as in Le Corbusiers Vertical Garden Cities, and Robert Moses´ Manhattan Highway. The turning point came with Jane Jacobs book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” In this book she showed the world what happens when architecture and planning preferred cars to humans. (Jan Gehl)

Today Jan Gehl stresses the, for him, five most important issues in city planning; and that is to make the city lively, attractive, safe, sustainable and healthy. These are also key issues in order to create Co2 neutral cities.

Gehl uses Copenhagen as an example of good city planning. They have a lively city center where pedestrians and bicycles are favored instead of cars, making it the city in Western Europe with the least traffic.

In Whites study “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” of 1980, he maps several small spaces in New York, and finds six factors that stimulate and makes a successful space. They are; sittable spaces, street (flow of people), sun, food, water, trees and triangulation (which means a happening that connects strangers, like entertainment etc).

Kirk Westphal takes a closer look at the lively downtown, in his analysis of the downtown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. These are some of the factors he found that helped making a lively and energetic city center;

An accented core (as we say at BAS: making it clear!) Ann Arbor had done this through lighting and planting of trees, making this part stand out from the rest of the town. Westphal also points to, as Jane Jacobs did, the importance of historical buildings and diversity in architecture. He even claims it to be the best investment for a lively downtown.

He interviewed people of Ann Arbor to find out what attracted them to the city center. They mentioned restaurants, shops, coffee, outdoor seating, lighting, window displays and diversity in architecture. But the most important was people. The number one activity in a city center is people watching people. This brings us to the very known fact; that people attracts people. And a way to increase the number of people on the streets was, in Kirk Westphals opinion, to slow them down. If you made them walk half as fast, you would double the number of people. Ways of doing this was making spaces to pause. Somewhere to sit, something to watch (like people, pretty window displays, triangulations) or snacking (eating and drinking whilst walking).

Both Jan Gehl and Kirk Westphal turn to Jane Jacobs in understanding the life and energy of a city center. They stress the importance of diversity, choice and concentration, (that we see the shopping malls so successfully has copied). Jane Jacobs took it further. Also being an economist, she claimed that cities that replaced import with production (Import Replacement Theory) would thrive and grow. The way for a city to grow, both in economy and in vitality was not through specializing, separation and renewal but through diversity, density and restoration of what is already there. This is of course a parallel to what we have read in ”I prefer not to”, by Iñaki Ábalo, and one could claim that this could be a cities way to a sustainable economy.

It would be interesting to look for proof of this in Malmø. Jacob’s Import Replacement Theory is a city theory, but can one break it down to city areas, like Rosengård, a city within the city? Do we see any import replacement, production within the city, and does this amplify growth?

Has Malmø come as far as its sister city Copenhagen in making it a pedestrian and bicycle friendly town?

Is there an accented core, a downtown Malmø for the whole of the city, or do we find several cores, or none?

I am not sure in what direction to go with my investigations yet, so I will take the advice of a great Swede, Jenny Wilson, and let my shoes lead me forward.

The Jane Jacobs dress.

1 comment:

Dahl og Uhre arkitekter said...

Tove, you say:
“The way for a city to grow, both in economy and in vitality was not through specializing, separation and renewal but through diversity, density and restoration of what is already there”.
With this Point of Departure in your text, if you stick to that, it implies an exploration in the western city of today – with Malmö as the field of exploration – that opens up for a critically sharp reprogramming of growth, as we now it, programs of what is to be constructed and strategies for transformation on a large geographical scale and time scale. Challenging, and here you can be supported be researchers as Thomas Ziewerts and his texts on Zwischenstadt (heavily used in the Aarhus schools research project on The Borderless City). May be its more than your shoes that has to lead you forward here.