Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cities for People, not Cars.


I've lived in cities most of my life, and I prefer to live in a city. However, there are frustrations with life in the city, but according to The Human Scale and the Jan Gehl, many of issues are due to poor planning, instead of just being inherent to life in the city.

The Human Scale presents the work to architect and city planner Jan Gehl on creating an inviting, safe, sustainable, diverse, and healthy cities. This could have been a dry, intellectual documentary, but I found it highly engaging. Mostly because it was so smart on the problems of cities and how cities can be changed to favor human connection.

Much of The Human Scale can be summed up by saying that cities have changed in the last century to accomodate cars, not people. And as a result, we have become more isolated from each other, less engaged in city life, and significantly less safe.

Out of frustration over the the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, we bought a home in a condominium complex on the edge of the Central District. The reason was that we found that we left Fremont to hang out in the International District, so it made sense to live where we were spending the our time. Well, there isn't much real estate in the International District, but I now understand why we were drawn to that area so strongly. The International District is a very active community. There are always people shopping for groceries, stopping in at bakeries, going to the temples, playing ping pong in the park, and tai chi near the community center. In addition, you can buy a healthy meal for $6 and during the summer months, there seemed to be street fairs most weekends.

But we didn't end up as close to the ID as we hoped and actually, now I spend more time traveling to downtown for appointments and errands, but once I'm finished, I never stay downtown and head to Capitol Hill.

Well, the mysteries behind my movements were made obvious by the common sense of this documentary. Capitol Hill and the ID are both more inviting than downtown or Fremont. The architecture is on a smaller scale, the shops are open and provide plenty of distraction, catching the eye as one walks by, and Capitol Hill has numeourous outside, public spaces where one can sit in the sun with a cup of coffee and people watch. Apparently it is simply human nature that brings me to this area most days.

Futher more, The Human Scale details the planning behind Copenhagan and how the Danish city became less car centric in favor of humans. It created a situation where people want to walk, bike, and use public transit instead of isolating themselves inside their car or in a home 30 floors above the city. It does this by limiting buiding height, restricitng car infastructure, creating numerous walking paths and car-free zones, and an atmosphere that protects humans from cars. As a result, in Copenhagen, bike use has surpassed driving a car.

I hope that my local officials are paying attention, because these are the sorts of changes that would make Seattle an even nicer place to live. We need wider sidewalks, cycle-tracks, less parking, pedestrian walkways, and even more green spaces. Broadway and Pioneer Square should be closed to car traffic and made pedestrian only. I am so looking forward to visiting Copenhagen in August, to see how the city functions in person. And I plan to get around by bicycle while visiting, just like the locals.

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