F8 Focus 666 Science & Ideas The Globe and Mail, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008 ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ URBAN PLANNING 8 TEACHING A CITY TO WALK AGAIN Foot and pedal power only: Copenhagen’s famed main drag, the Strøget, is Europe’s longest pedestrian mall. At first, the merchants were convinced that banning cars would be their downfall. PHOTO BY ALAMY A step in the right direction Inspired by a visionary Dane, communities around the world are reacquainting their citizens with the joys of walking and cycling. Can cities in climate-challenged Canada get off car-free as well? ultra-hip current affairs jour- again in 1973, 1980 and 1992. but strangled itself trying to the footpaths, bringing pedes- nal Monocle recently declared From those first 15,800 square accommodate the automobile. trians back in – it’s a sort of Memory lanes it the world’s most livable city. metres of the Strøget, Copen- By the late 1970s, it was a text- broad strategy of slow im- This newfound prominence hagen’s pedestrian network book “doughnut city” – a wide provement.” Especially striking features of rests largely on Copenhagen’s has expanded to about ring of sprawling suburbia sur- In Canada’s many doughnut downtown Melbourne are its CHRIS TURNER .................................................... inviting city centre, which is 100,000 square metres. rounding a soulless ring of cities, the converging climate laneways and arcades, a singular latticed with a half-dozen ped- The city also developed a high rises that hollowed out and energy crises have dra- legacy of city planners back in email@example.com estrian-only promenades and a unique set of empirical data to almost entirely at the end of matically increased the need the 19th century. dozen car-free squares, chart the impact of banishing each workday. A newspaper for this kind of pedestrian rec- To make the place easier to stitched to the rest of the city the auto. In the early 1970s, headline had dismissed down- onquest. “The good news,” navigate, they decided to con- L ast summer Montreal by one of the world’s more ex- Mr. Gehl, then a professor of town Melbourne as “empty, says Mr. Adams, “is if you con- nect long east-to-west blocks transformed 12 blocks of tensive networks of bicycle urban design at the Royal Dan- useless.” vert to a sustainable model for with narrow lanes. Ste. Catherine Street, one paths. ish Academy of Fine Arts, be- In 1983, with new govern- a city, it’s actually going to be- By the early 1990s, however, of its busier thoroughfares, in- At the height of summer, a gan to measure foot and ments at the local and state come a better place to live in. only about 300 metres of this to a vibrant public square. quarter-million people stroll bicycle traffic and the use of levels, a fresh strategic plan Because increased densities, network were still “active” – Outdoor cafés spilled out on Copenhagen’s downtown public space in Copenhagen. recommended that the city mixed use, connectivity, local most of the lanes had been the cracked concrete, and streets each day, and 36 per He soon was joined by col- take several measures – wider character – all the things that walled in and were being used buskers and sculptures filled cent of residents cycle to work, league Lars Gemzøe, and they sidewalks, an expansion of its we did to improve the livabil- merely as service alleys. the curbside parking spaces. with the help of more than started to publish their find- historic streetcar network, a ity of the city – are exactly the To reactivate them, the city The catalyst for all this was 300 kilometres of dedicated ings every 10 years. dramatic increase in down- same things you need to do to obliged developers and property simple: The city closed the bike lanes and guided in con- One statistic measured the town housing – but the most improve the sustainability.” owners to punch storefronts into stretch that serves as the main gested areas by bike-only traf- steep growth in “stationary ac- dramatic, enacted in 1991, was He and his staff are now the lane-facing sides of their drag for Ville-Marie, also fic lights. tivities” in downtown Copen- the partial “reconquest” of pushing for higher densities buildings, reviving several kilo- known as its gay village, to Most days the Strøget – the hagen – people seated at Swanston Street, Melbourne’s and downtown-style “walka- metres and re-energizing the motor vehicles. city’s high street and Europe’s outdoor cafés or around the most important north-south bility” in communities along downtown. In the process, Montreal be- longest pedestrian thorough- rims of fountains, people win- thoroughfare. Only streetcars tram and commuter-rail lines However, “you just can’t pick gan to look like – for 10 weeks, fare – is a forest of marching dow-shopping or watching and service vehicles were per- outside the core area. up one model and transport it to at least – what famed Danish feet. Café seats encircle every buskers. From 1968 to 1995, mitted during the day. As for the inevitable resis- another city,” cautions Rob architect Jan Gehl calls a “rec- downtown square, many of the average number of people Here, too, merchants feared tance, he says, “the way you Adams, head of the local urban- onquered” city. them draped on cool days in so engaged on a summer after- the apocalypse. “The retailers get round that fear is you say, design department. Mr. Gehl is the chief prop- blankets for public use, with noon shot up 330 per cent, an were up in arms – we were go- ‘The amount of city we are “For instance, Sydney is get- onent and visionary for a bur- more sidewalk cafes crowding increase in magnitude almost ing to kill them,” says Rob asking you to change is around ting hung up on the lane culture geoning global movement the narrowest back lanes. The identical to the growth in the Adams, a consultant at the 5 to 10 per cent. We’re not ask- we’ve got in Melbourne. Unfortu- known as “pedestrianization.” whole scene looks as en- pedestrian network’s size. time and now director of Mel- ing you to change 95 per cent nately, they don’t have the lanes, He feels people are healthier trenched and timeless as the The two men also assembled bourne’s urban design depart- of the city.’ ” and they’re not going to gener- and happier when their feet façades of the city’s 500-year- evidence of qualitative success. ment. “Well, we’ve doubled the Along one formerly “grotty” ate them overnight. So they’ve are on the ground, and his old Lutheran churches. For example, their 1996 study, number of pedestrians walking commuter artery just outside got to find their own particular ideas have helped to turn his Copenhagen’s lively inner Public Spaces Public Life, fea- past their doors. You know, Melbourne’s city centre, for character.” native Copenhagen into a ha- city started with a bold experi- tures before and after photos you don’t shop from a motor- example, a stretch of low-rise 66 Chris Turner ven for walkers and cyclists – ment similar to Montreal’s that depict a radical transition: car – not at 60 kilometres an buildings housing car-rental and inspired similar changes summer test run. Traditionally, on the left, in black and white, hour, you don’t.” outlets and auto-body shops in cities as diverse as Oslo, the Strøget had been closed to a desultory 1950s-era parking Soon, Mr. Adams brought in has been replaced with multi- Barcelona, London and Mel- vehicles for two days each lot; on the right, a colourful his old friend, Mr. Gehl – who use residential developments bourne. Christmas, but by the 1950s, it scene of shoppers strolling had taught at the University of six to eight storeys tall – a Now he is facing his greatest was choked with cars, trucks among market stalls and com- Melbourne in the late 1970s – height common in Europe. challenge: bringing this vision and buses every other day of muters hustling by. to sell the city on the plan’s to the car-obsessed cities of the year – as was every other The result, says Jeff Risom, next phase. Mr. Gehl’s 1994 re- CANADA’S HURDLES North America. His company, downtown street. Stately old an urban designer at Gehl Ar- port, Places for People, em- The challenge may seem even Gehl Architects, is working squares served mainly as park- chitects, was a “powerful em- ployed the data-gathering greater for Canadian munici- with municipal governments ing lots. pirical tool for shifting the techniques he’d developed in palities – which are even more in Seattle and New York, and In November, 1962, half-dis- mindset,” and soon Mr. Gehl’s Copenhagen and recommend- sprawling and car-dependent San Francisco may sign on guised as an extended holiday techniques were widely adopt- ed many of the same measures than Melbourne, with much soon. closure, the Strøget went car- ed. Traffic engineers around – expanded pedestrian and harsher climates. Then again, a In Canada, a special case be- free for good. The initiative im- the world were tracking how transit network, wider side- generation back no one cause of our extreme weather mediately ran into opposition, many cars zoom through ma- walks and more “active fa- thought Melburnians would and sprawling urban centres, particularly from merchants, jor intersections, the impact of çades” (such as street-level want to sit out under patio Mr. Gehl has given a series of who assumed that a car-free adding a lane of traffic or the storefronts in office towers) umbrellas in the frequent rain. high-profile lectures. But so far Strøget would be their ruin. demand for parking spaces. plus a radical makeover for And Copenhagen has become no major city has committed Other critics argued that the But they’re still missing Melbourne’s moribund river- a global leader in bicycle com- fully to implementing his ideas move was simply un-Danish – something crucial, says Mr. front. muting despite a winter nearly – which revolve around his “We are not Italians,” they ar- Gemzøe. “We need to make In the decade that followed, as cold as that in most Cana- core message: “Cultures and gued. “It’s too cold here. It pedestrians visible in plan- the residential population dian cities and much drearier. climates differ all over the rains too much. We like cozy ning. All the problems of vehi- downtown jumped 830 per “The natural resistance to world, but people are the meals at home, not outdoor cle traffic are well known and cent. Pedestrian traffic shot up change exists, I think, every- same. They will gather in pub- cafés.” you’d never dream of changing 39 per cent overall and 98 per where,” says Mr. Risom, the lic if you give them a good The fears proved unfounded anything in the public space cent in the formerly quiet eve- only American designer at place to do it.” – the Strøget soon boasted without knowing how it con- nings. More than 250 new out- Gehl Architects. “But luckily, more shoppers (plus an explo- flicts with that. But you have door cafes appeared, almost what we’ve found is that when COPENHAGEN sion in café seating) and even- no information about people.” triple the original number. you begin to plan for people, If the pedestrian revival has a tually a new kind of urban “The secret to our strategy invite them to spend time in birthplace, it is Mr. Gehl’s culture, one focused on out- MELBOURNE has been incrementalism,” the city, they do. And it’s just hometown. Considered a dull door public spaces. Building One of the first cities to call on says Mr. Adams. “We’ve got that simple.” provincial burg in the 1950s, on this success, the system ex- Mr. Gehl came quite a distance about 200 things running at 66 Calgary journalist Chris Turner the cozy Danish capital now panded piecemeal – another to do so. Once an elegant port once. You know, improving is the author of The Geography of routinely tops international street and a few more squares city and Australia’s premier the footpaths, planting trees, Hope. His feature appears month- quality-of-life rankings – the emptied of cars in 1968, and metropolis, Melbourne had all signage, furniture, widening ly in Focus.