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Copenhagen Needs More Jane Jacobs, Says Jan Gehl

FEARGUS O'SULLIVAN

 City Lab, AUG 15, 2016

 

Jan Gehl is a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist. This quote from an interview in City Lab may confuse those who feel "Neighbors" are anti-development. It's clear PED reps didn't meet with Jan when they visited Copenhagen in 2015 to see how the Danes do development, although Jan's got a clear bead on the Ford development.

“In many of these developer-driven projects they almost don't give a damn about making a good area. They put almost everything into making a fast-selling commodity,” Gehl says. “That means that the major considerations for them are the interior orientation and organization of the apartment, plus the view to the water.”

“They try to fit in as many flats as possible, as luxurious as possible, while creating a nice climate when you go out of the door is often sacrificed.”

Copenhagen’s Orestad: visually striking apartments placed in a windy, unpeopled environment. 

It’s not that Copenhagen is especially bad, Gehl insists. It’s more that it is not immune to a general sea change across the West where the quest for short-term profit is allowed to override any longer term place-making goals. In fact, Copenhagen already contains perhaps the supreme example of this trajectory in Northern Europe: the entirely new, high-income neighborhood constructed at Ørestad.

Constructed from 2001 onwards largely on reclaimed wetlands just south of Inner Copenhagen, Ørestad contains some of the most eye-catching, aesthetically novel apartment buildings in Europe. Strung along a new elevated metro line, it is an unlikely collection of ziggurats, rotundas and spiked cubes in which affluent residents move through their glass-fronted, open plan apartments like so many expensive goldfish. Views and marketable aesthetics are clearly a paramount consideration. The result, however, is an under-populated, arid architectural theme park where wind howls through overly large, ill thought-out gaps and most street life is tidied away into a shopping mall. It’s a glittering but ultimately dispiriting space. For Gehl, Ørestad’s failure is due to both its funding model and its failure to think hard about how its buildings would interact.

“They made the neighborhood’s climate substantially worse than it would normally be in Denmark, by the way they built the place. In Ørestad they have succeeded in creating a very cold, shaded and windy place, and that is exactly what we Danes don't appreciate. It could have been different, but that would have meant buildings being not so high. One would also have had to moderate certain things in the layout to make the wind curve, but that might have taken away from the profit.”