Envisioning the 'Soft City'

Density and diversity—where boundaries between spaces and uses are lessened—create more vibrant, livable places and more functional cities.

September 18, 2019, 6:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Walkable Street

Marques / Shutterstock

In the new book Soft City, David Sim, creative director at Gehl, looks at how cities can foster relationships between physical spaces and the people in them. One way to achieve this, says Sim, is developing "layered" buildings where a variety of uses happen in close proximity, the boundaries are minimal, and the spaces encourage vibrancy and interactions.

"Good cities, from Sim’s perspective, are ones that make these connections possible. They can look different and exist in different contexts, but they share an overarching and essential quality, which Sim calls 'softness'—a stark contrast to the rhetoric of 'grind' and 'harshness' that’s often applied to urban life," writes Eillie Anzilotti.

Sim points out that design strategies for softness are varied and, in general, are not costly or dependent on technology. Wider sidewalks, courtyards, and street-level retail are all ways to activate and connect streets and buildings, notes Anzilotti. "And creating multiple entrances into a building, Sim says, perforates the boundary between the streetscape and what happens inside buildings so the lived experience of a person becomes one in which the whole city feels more accessible and connected, and much softer."

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