London during the summer of 2020, streets finally made for people!

Cities for people: discovering what makes cities enjoyable

Patrick Westöö


In the mid century a few notable people started to ask serious questions and looked around to understand how cities actually worked. One of them was Jane Jacobs. She was a journalist, living in the upper west side in New York and her book “The life and death of American cities” became an instant classic. In this book she describes what she sees from her window and from walking around in the city. She describes how people live, act and grow in their city. She describes what actually makes a city special. Like many things back then it was assumed that life in a city would go on regardless of what was changed but we have since proven that life in cities is a fragile thing which can be lost.

She said, go out of the door, walk around and watch people and how they behave in the city, where they spend their time and where they avoid to go. Finally planners started to do something that Corbusier never did, they asked what do people actually like in cities?

Jan Gehl, a danish architect was one of the pioneers of this new way of looking at cities. His wife, a psychologist, asked him why architects didn’t focus on people as well as buildings? In the end people are the ones who are supposed to live in cities and enjoy the buildings. It was a good question and it started Jan’s life’s work of trying to understand how people actually used cities. In his native Copenhagen he tried many things that today have become commonplace, such as biking. Jan had the luxury of a close relationship with the city of Copenhagen and as he came up with theories he could try them out on a small scale and see how real people reacted to them. Once I started to learn about this I saw the principles everywhere, both in effect but also absent in many cities.

One of the first things one might ask is what is a city for people? How can a city not be for people? It’s a city not built for cars, unlike most of the cities that we have grown up in. When the car made its entry in the 1950’s cities around the world changed to suit it. Streets were widened, parking lots built and big highways created. Before the car everything was local, it had to be local because people could not get around otherwise. Most people stayed in their neighborhoods and walked everywhere. When the car came it was possible to rearrange life and…