Jan Gehl is a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist. He is a founding partner of Gehl Architects.
Gehl first published his influential Life Between Buildings in Danish in 1971, with the first English translation published in 1987. Gehl advocates a sensible, straightforward approach to improving urban form: systematically documenting urban spaces, making gradual incremental improvements, then documenting them again.
Gehl’s book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Copenhagen’s Strøget carfree zone, one of the longest pedestrian shopping areas in Europe, is primarily the result of Gehl’s work.
Gehl participates in and advises many urban design and public projects around the world:
In 2004 he carried out an important study in to the quality of the public realm in London, commissioned by Central London Partnership and Transport for London, and supported City of Wakefield and the town of Castleford in developing and delivering better public spaces, as part of an initiative known as “The Castleford Project”.
In 2007–08 he was hired by New York City’s Department of Transportation to re-imagine New York City streets by introducing designs to improve life for pedestrians and cyclists. The DOT used Gehl’s work to “directly inform” the implementation of their new urban planning and design policies and projects.
Gehl has been influential in Australia and New Zealand as well, where he prepared Public Life studies for the city centres of Melbourne (1994 and 2004), Perth (1995 and 2009), Adelaide (2002) Sydney (2007), Auckland (2008), Wellington (2004), Christchurch and Hobart.
Gehl credits the “grandmother of humanistic planning” Jane Jacobs for drawing his attention to the importance of human scale. “Fifty years ago she said – go out there and see what works and what doesn’t work, and learn from reality. Look out of your windows, spend time in the streets and squares and see how people actually use spaces, learn from that, and use it.”