In our previous article, we challenged city leaders to set extraordinary goals and to think beyond what is currently the defeatist “Dallas is a car city” mindset. The above picture illustrates a comparison of attitudes towards Dallas city planning and Copenhagen city planning. You’ll notice Dallas looks like a moonscape filled with massive gray parking lots, and a perfect place to live if you happen to be a car. We also noted Danish planner Jan Gehl’s efforts to return Copenhagen’s streets to a people-first model, and specifically his successful Stroget project. To recap, the Stroget turned from an auto-centric street, to a pedestrian only in 1962:
Gehl’s ideas were shaped largely by the observations of noted author and architecture critic, Jane Jacobs, whose seminal book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, was released in 1961. The key to the success of his projects was a gradual shifting of mode planning. Gehl strived to reduce parking each year by only 3%. Similar efforts to create pedestrian plazas in the US in the late 70’s often failed due to efforts to simply remove all parking in hopes that people would come out. The problem with this idea was that residents had no time to adapt to the changed environment, and quickly lead to several of these project’s failures. Along with the pedestrianization efforts of city plaza’s by Gehl, the city of Copenhagen also noticed a large drop in bicycle ridership. It hits its lowest point in the 1970’s, where city officials then took great measures to begin the buidout of a major bicycle infrastructure network. Due to these efforts, bicycling rebounded, and has now grown wildly in popularity:
The focus of efforts to increase ridership centered on building safe streets for all residents, from ages 5 to 85+. Gehl illustrates this point in the following slide from a recent presentation with his 85 year old mother-in-law:
In the end, city leaders were willing to take risks, and drop assumptions they’d built over time on how people wanted their city to look and feel. To contrast this split in planning, Dallas began its Downtown underground mall in the 1970’s, completing its vision to remove all signs of life from its streets.