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Putting People First when Creating Liveable Cities

State of Green
By State of Green, March 16, 2017

Danish cities hold a long tradition for implementing urban development projects, where concern for the environment, people and businesses go hand in hand. Last week, a Chilean delegation of engineers and architects toured Denmark to meet a number of Danish liveable cities experts. One of these experts was Gehl Architects, who gave their take on the importance of putting people first when creating liveable cities.

The world’s cities are growing and so are the challenges to make them liveable. Limited space, obstacles, noise, pollution, risk of accident and generally disgraceful conditions are typical for city dwellers in most of the world’s cities – regardless of global location, economic viability and stage of development.These challenges underscore the importance of the human dimension in creating liveable cities. A human dimension, which demands a targeted concern for the needs of the people who use cities, in order to spur liveability and increase quality of life for the inhabitants.

A human-centered approach
For many years, the Danish architectural company Gehl Architects has worked with the human dimension in urban planning. Taking human beings as the point of departure – and not the number of cars, the number of square meters or technical specifications of different transport systems – can create more sustainable cities, environmentally as well as economically and socially. Together with other liveable city experts, Gehl shared their thoughts with a Chilean delegation, who visited Denmark to experience liveable city solutions work in practice. The visit was organised in order to inspire the Chilean delegation and bring Danish experiences into their own city contexts:

– The result of urban transformations should respond to a specific context, quality of life and identity. A place is intrinsically related to local culture. In Latin America, the general culture is deeply rooted on social interaction and focus on people. Large parts of the time is spent with friends and family. A paradox is that the planning process is, in most cases dehumanised, and it is no surprise that this produces hostile spaces, says Mauricio Duarte Pereira, Urban Designer and Associate at Gehl Architects.  

– Realted news: New White Paper: Urban Innovation for Liveable Cities

Gehl Architects works on projects all over the world. Currently, they are also collaborating with the Buenos Aires municipality to create a long-term vision for the city, with  planning processes that focus on public space improvements and urban transformation.

Our main goal would be to shift the planning priorities from a car-centric to a human-centered approach with a more holistic view, working with locals to share our methodology. Quality of public spaces goes hand in hand with long-term economic vitality. Chile is unique in South America with a more stable political and economic system. This offers a solid base for a long-term vision and leap to a focus on better quality of life, explains Mauricio Duarte Pereira.

-Related news: Video: Liveable Cities – A Danish Approach

Another project is the conversion of the former Filton Airport in Bristol to a mixed-use community at the heart of an important cluster of aerospace engineering in the world. Here, Gehl is collaborating with a larger team to design new neighborhoods for nearly 15.000 residents, 10.000 new jobs and wide program of public uses.


Picture by Gehl: Filton Airport in Bristol

The core challenges of urban life related to mobility, public spaces, and the relation between the built and natural environments have similarities in the +250 cities we have worked with in the past 17 years. We have more than 25 years of empirical evidence and with a focus on collaborative work, we help targeting the key priorities suited to local needs and a long-term vision for cities. This forms the basis for our methodology of conducting the process of creating liveable cities, Mauricio Duarte Pereira, Urban Designer and Associate at Gehl Architects points out.

Five days of exploration
In collaboration with the Chilean Chamber of Building and Construction (Cámara Chilena de la construcción), State of Green organised a mission to Denmark for the delegation from the northern part of Chile. The delegation consisted of a mix of engineers and architects, and the visit consisted of a 5-day program in Copenhagen to experience a variety of the liveable city solutions, which the city has to offer.


Photo: Chilean delegation visitng House of Green

Apart from their meeting with Gehl Architects, the delegation visited the Confederation of Danish Industry, Ørestaden, Danish Association of Architectural Firms, Andersen & Sigurdsson Architects, UN City, EFFEKT, City of Albertslund, Rockwool, Danish Technological Institute and ØsterGro.

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