How Jan Gehl Turned Melbourne into a Pedestrian Paradise

Danish architect Jan Gehl and a steadfast group of local collaborators have transformed Melbourne from a lifeless 9-5 city into a preeminently livable place. Mitra Anderson-Oliver looks at the principles that have guided their work.
Fernando de Sousa / flickr

"Working with the City of Melbourne in 1993 (Gehl was invited by the council to conduct a Public Spaces and Public Life survey – and again for a 2004 update [PDF]), a key recommendation was to create opportunities for outdoor dining, mimicking the success of the grand boulevards of Paris and the communal squares of Rome," notes Anderson-Oliver. "The suggestion was ridiculed in a city famous for its icy southerlies and four-seasons-in-one-day climate. Yet, twenty years later, Melbourne boasts the highest ratio of street furniture per person in the world; outdoor cafes have increased from less than 50 in 1990 to over 600 today; the number of pedestrians in the city on weekday evenings has doubled; and Swanston Street has more pedestrians per day than Regent Street in London."

"Forty years of this close observation of human behavior (rather than a more theoretical engagement with urban studies: 'I am not much into reading', he confesses) lies behind Gehl’s core beliefs of treating pedestrians and cyclists 'sweetly' and the need for the city to be an 'invitation' to spend time, a welcoming and sustaining place for people to live. 'A good city is like a good party', he says. 'You know it’s working when people stay for much longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves.'"



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