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Article: Making San Francisco into a People-Oriented City

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  • Brandi de Garmeaux
    ... The original article can be found on SFGate.com here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2008/06/15/INEC111T1A.DTL ... Sunday, June 15,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 18, 2008
      The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
      Sunday, June 15, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
      Making S.F. into a people-oriented city
      Tim Holt

      Most San Franciscans have never heard of Jan Gehl, but he could
      their lives, or more precisely, their neighborhoods.
      The city recently hired Gehl and his staff at Gehl Architects to
      look at
      four San Francisco spots - Jefferson Street at Fisherman's Wharf, Castro
      Street, Mission Street, and the Ninth and Irving area in the Sunset
      District - in hopes of making them more pedestrian friendly.
      Gehl, who has been described as an urban planning rock star, has
      reshape the urban landscapes of London, Stockholm, Zurich, Sydney,
      Melbourne and his native Copenhagen. He will conduct his San Francisco
      study this summer and present his recommendations in the fall.
      When I caught up with the 72-year-old Gehl at his home in
      Copenhagen for a
      recent phone interview, he discussed more than three decades of studying
      how pedestrians move around cities - and provided some hints about how
      might try to help facilitate such movement in San Francisco.
      Q: Is San Francisco on its way toward becoming what you have called a
      "reconquered city" - one that is actively recapturing public spaces from
      the car and returning them to human, pedestrian uses?
      A: Well, you have a good start. The reclamation of the Embarcadero
      pedestrians (after the 1989 earthquake) is one example, and your
      replacement of a portion of the old Central Freeway with Octavia
      is talked about around the world. You have one of the loveliest cities
      the world, for the most part, although I have to say that your
      Wharf strikes me as one big commercialized tourist theme park.
      Q: What would you say to San Francisco business owners who are
      they'd lose business if auto access to their street is blocked or
      A: I would say to them, first of all, that there are a variety of
      approaches we can take that fall somewhere in between the extremes of an
      all-pedestrian or a car-oriented street. Melbourne took a balanced
      approach that involved widening sidewalks, adding street trees and
      furniture and saw a 40 percent increase in pedestrian traffic in the
      daytime, a 100 percent increase at night, and a big increase in jobs and
      sales for businesses in their central city.
      Q: You've said in previous interviews that you supported the gradual,
      step-by-step approach that Copenhagen has taken toward making its
      more pedestrian friendly. Is that the kind of approach you'd take with
      A: Actually, different approaches are possible. In Melbourne, they've
      completely changed their city in 10 years. In Copenhagen, it took over
      four decades. You have to remember that Copenhagen back in the '60s was
      still experimenting with what would work for pedestrians - we were
      learning as we went along. Now we don't need to be so unsure about what
      we're doing. We can be more direct and to the point. So I think with San
      Francisco we could lean more to the Melbourne approach.
      Q: What sparked your interest in improving urban public spaces?
      A: Well, I got a degree in architecture in 1960. And then I married a
      psychologist. And the psychologists I met through her started asking me
      why I was just interested in buildings and not the people who use them
      are impacted by them. So I began looking into the relationship between
      life and form, how the physical environment affects those who live in
      Q: What factors determine if a street can be successfully converted
      to a
      pedestrian street?
      A: You know, I hate that kind of question because it misses the
      What you want to aim for are high-quality walking routes in your city.
      Don't just focus on converting one street or another for pedestrians.
      Cities that take that approach often end up with short pedestrian
      that are nothing more than open-air shopping malls.
      Q: Can you give us some primary examples of the kinds of street
      improvements that encourage people to get out and walk on city streets?
      A: Widening sidewalks and removing obstacles like lampposts and
      providing shade trees and benches are some obvious examples. But the
      thing is to make pedestrians feel welcome on the city's streets, to give
      them the message that walking is something this city supports. As the
      of cheap oil comes to an end, you are going to see amazing changes over
      the next 10 to 15 years in how we get around our cities. You will
      certainly see dramatic improvements in public transportation. There will
      be a major change from car-oriented to more people-oriented cities.
      Q: You've talked about a "great upsurge in interest in the human
      side of
      city planning." What has brought this about?
      A: We had the car invasion for at least 50 years, and 50 years of
      petroleum. All that is over now. But long before it was over, there were
      people asking: Is driving in cars what we have made the cities for?
      Also, there has been a dramatic change in lifestyles. People are
      longer - they have more leisure time. Cities are used much more for
      recreation and enjoyment than they were 30 years ago. I call what is
      happening now "the public life of the leisure-time society." It is
      replacing in our cities a more purposeful, point-A-to-point-B society.
      The folks in this leisure-time society have more opportunity to
      People see what other cities like London and Copenhagen are doing, and
      they come back and say, "Hey-ho, Mr. Mayor, why can't we do some of
      things here?"

      Jan Gehl's books on urban planning include "Life Between Buildings"
      "Public Spaces Public Life." Tim Holt is the author of "Songs of the
      Simple Life" and a dedicated pedestrian and cyclist. Contact us at
      Copyright 2008 SF Chronicle

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