Jan Gehl, “Livable Cities for the 21st Century”

In an important paradigm shift around 1960, urban planning was undertaken at a very large scale in response to the challenges of rapidly growing cities. At the same time, traffic planning began to dominate planning at eye level, to address the rapid influx of cars into cities. The concern for the people using cities that had been maintained over centuries of tradition and experience was completely left behind. The idea of “cities for people” was overlooked and forgotten.

In his lecture, Jan Gehl will summarize this history, which is laid out in his book Cities for People (Island Press, 2010), and go on to explain why looking after people is crucial for the quality of cities in the 21st century; how it can be accomplished; and how it is actually done now in many projects and cities. He will show how, after decades of neglect, “cities for people” is once again a central theme in architecture, urban design, and city planning; and how the transformations carried out by Gehl Architects in Copenhagen, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Moscow, and other cities exemplify this new people oriented direction in planning.

Jan Gehl began his practice in the early 1960s with a period of research on public space, supported by a grant from his university, which resulted in the book Life Between Buildings (1971). Focusing on the spaces between buildings, he developed an approach to urban design and planning, based on observation of life in public spaces, in particular the assessment and measurement of usage patterns and quality of life.

Gehl is founder and senior advisor of the urban design consultancy Gehl Architects, with expertise in architecture, urban design, and city planning. With members who have backgrounds in architecture, urban design, sociology, anthropology, and cultural theory, the firm has made a name for itself with a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to urban planning that entails not only the application of urban design theory and ideology but also the use of data and analytical strategy. It has undertaken major improvement projects for cities, including Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Riga, Edinburgh, Perth (WA), Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Amman, Oman, Cape Town, London, New York and Moscow.

Parallel to his firm’s work, Jan Gehl has authored and coauthored various publications—including New City Life (2006), Cities for People (2010), and How to Study Public Life (2013)—in which he has further developed and shared his techniques of observation and analysis. He has taught at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen where, in 1998, he founded the Center for Public Space Research; he has also taught at universities in Edinburgh, Vilnius, Oslo, Toronto, Calgary, Melbourne, Perth, Berkeley, San José, Guadalajara, and Capetown.

Among many honors, Gehl has been awarded the International Union of Architects’ Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize for Exemplary Contributions to Town Planning, as well as honorary doctoral degrees from Universities in Edinburgh and Toronto. He is an honorary fellow of architectural institutes in Denmark, England (RIBA), USA, Canada, and Scotland, as well as the planning Institutes in Australia and Ireland. His work has been the subject of exhibitions at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (2012) and the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” ~Jan Gehl


Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the events office in advance at 617 496 2414 or [email protected]

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].