An Implementation Critique of Jan Gehl’s “Cities for People”

Jan Gehl Cities for People (belik13, Aug'14)By Renard Teipelke

In 2010, Danish architect and urban design thinker Jan Gehl compiled his profession’s key urban design principles and convictions in the well-received book “Cities for People”. I like the way he describes how the planning and development of urban spaces should be done and I can easily underwrite most of his statements/conclusions about how cities can be supportive or detrimental to urban dwellers’ lives.

Underscoring the importance of quality urban space and a human dimension of cities; correcting an often wrong perception by practitioners of the relation between human senses and dimensions in cities (human scale versus car scale); and proposing numerous solutions for achieving a lively, safe, sustainable, and healthy city – Gehl makes valid points against modernist planning theory and practice. For him, city planning and development should combine “life, space, buildings”, and prioritize them in that order. His “city at eye level” contributes to a people-centered perspective on how urban space can truly function. Nevertheless, I think one can formulate a critique against his propositions by putting them to a reality check and discussing their implementation side – because, even a good book should not be spared a critical discussion. Continue reading

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Further Densification – Are They Ready for This?

2015_10_06_Apartment (Fort Bonifacio) (27) KK Best OfBy Renard Teipelke

Eight out of the 30 most densely populated cities of the world are located within Metro Manila, Philippines (here). Number 30 is Makati City with about 19,000 people per square kilometer. Number 1 is Manila City with about 43,000 people per square kilometer. Metro Manila consists of 17 cities/municipalities and has a population between 12 million (“National Capital Region” – NCR) and 24 million (“total urban area” including the urban agglomeration beyond the NCR boundary). The NCR accounts for more than one third of Philippines’ gross domestic product and is the country’s center for basically everything – from government and politics to economy and culture. Continue reading

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Key Messages from the ICLEI Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific Forum in Melaka, Malaysia, March 2016

2016_03_03_Malaysia - Melaka - ICLEI RCAP (2)

By Renard Teipelke

The following are a couple of key messages and interesting thoughts from the ICLEI Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific Forum, held in Melaka, Malaysia, 2-4 March 2016.

On capacities and partnership:

  • There will always be trade-offs for convincing actors to join your effort.
  • Youth are not only leaders of tomorrow, they are also leaders of today.
  • You need to build the capacity of people before they will listen and engage.
  • Use smart monitoring – engage stakeholders, as they provide the feedback service at no cost.
  • Mayors better use the youth, as they are a strong force.
  • Pay attention to capacitate several departments, as often qualified city staff is leaving to new opportunities.
  • We should rather talk about mistakes: Not what we have delivered informs others, but what we have learned.

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Livable Cities Rankings: Quality of Life Has Its Price

Vilnius ( Renard Teipelke

I am sure combined rankings exist. Rankings where cities are evaluated and scored for both their quality of living and their cost of living. But generally, the leading rankings of “livable cities” do not concern themselves much with cost factors. One indirect reason might be that it is probably the jetsetting expat who is most interested in such rankings and s/he is most often remunerated well enough to not care too much about the average price of a sandwich or a cab ride or a doctor’s visit. The first two might fall under business travel expenditures anyhow and the last item is covered by expats’ global health insurance.

But accounts of a city’s livability (which in itself is a highly contested matter, see here and here) is actually most relevant to a city’s residents, as they are the ones who are living there “full time”. Therefore, a livability ranking needs to be combined with a cost of living perspective, if a certain ranking’s methodology does not already include related factors. In short: A truly livable city does not only provide the natural, social, and economic features that make it worthwhile and enjoyable to live in; it does also offer the financial conditions for its (current/future) residents to afford these features. Continue reading

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The intangible value of Piraeus

pireusWhy COSCO wants all of Piraeus, not only the containers

By Costis Hadjimichalis[1]

What exactly did the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF)[2] and the Greek government sell to COSCO at the shockingly low amount of 280.5 million Euro at once and additional 90 millions in five years? We know that the sale was a commitment of previous governments, but ultimately how were these 370.5 millions calculated? “What you see in a harbour,” says Tony Teragkosa, president of the port of Valencia in Spain, “is only 10% of what makes it powerful and famous. The other 90% is its hidden, intangible value.” The reputation and most of the intangible characteristics that give value to Piraeus are known. But it is worth briefly recalling the most important ones in order to understand why the Chinese want all of Piraeus (since they already have the containers on which they specialize) and why they paid “a little more” in order to acquire its intangible value, too. Continue reading

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From the “Bridge of Spies” to the Smart City: a Berlin narrative


The Reichstag building. By Jürgen Matern (Own work (JMatern_071104_8454-8458_WC.jpg)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

by Ares Kalandides [1]

Reading the multiple stories that have been praising Berlin with its youth culture and creative scene as the rising star among European cities, it is easy to forget how recent this development actually is. The 2015 Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies” reminds us of what Berlin was mostly about until the fall of the Wall in 1989: World War II (and the Nazis) and the Cold War (and the spies). These two images are still deeply woven into the city’s fabric, although today they’ve become a kind of spectacle for thrill-seeking tourists. (There is a third one, but I’ll come to that later). In this short article I’m offering a personal account of how this passage from one narrative – the dark one – to the other – the playful one – took place. Of course memories cannot always be trusted. Although I was in Berlin on and off since the mid 1980s and permanently since the fall of the Wall, I’m sure my mind has put order and continuity into a much more chaotic and heterogeneous development[2]. Continue reading

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The Challenge of Hosting Different Visitors

Metro Manila Makati (Reger, 2014)By Renard Teipelke

I was walking through the streets of Ha Noi, when a shoe polisher insisted on cleaning my ‘apparently’ dirty shoes. I happened to be in the capital city of Viet Nam for ‘business matters’ – not as a tourist. However, since I did not manage to make the stereotypical appearance of a ‘business man’, I could not avoid the multiple attempts of various service providers to buy whatever they had to offer.

A very different experience in Metro Manila: I was showing friends the few touristic highlights of the capital city of the Philippines, but everything appeared to be focused in on business people, not tourists. My friends rather were under the impression of walking through a highly functional hub of a global economy network, instead of experiencing a city with various offers to tourists. Continue reading

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Quick Review: WEF’s Top Ten Urban Innovations

Top 10 Emerging Urban Innovations (WEF, Oct'15)

By Renard Teipelke

The Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities (World Economic Forum) published a short overview report on the “Top Ten Urban Innovations” last month (October 2015). Let’s see what these innovations are and let’s pose one question for each innovation:

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Doing Things Differently: Often Said, Rarely Done

Doing Things Differently (robindickinson, Nov'09)

By Renard Teipelke

How often have you experienced it? You are part of a team that sits around a table, in the background ideally a flipchart or whiteboard. Everyone is full of ideas about the new project. There is excitement in the room. And – for sure – there is this dedicated feeling and attitude that in this project we are going to do things differently. Something that we or others have never tried before. Something that will surprise the client and spark the interest of future users. Brainstorming fills up the meeting room and the flipcharts and whiteboards become the battle plans/dream works of the future.

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A Very Telling Footpath Story

2015_10_02_Apartment (Fort Bonifacio) (9) PP Best Of

By Renard Teipelke

This is a short story about a single view and multiple perspectives. The view is shown in the first photo of this blog article: There are three lawns. They are surrounded by a US-American style checkerboard street system of (vertical) avenues and (horizontal) streets. The area is characterized by office and residential high-rise buildings. There are a couple of stores in flatter buildings to the left. And above the lawns, there are big construction sites, where new high-rise buildings are emerging.

Recently, I walked together with a friend over the lawn, coming from the upper-left side, where the flat buildings are, to the high-rise from which the photos have been taken. My friend remarked: “Why is the footpath not going diagonally from the one edge of the lawn to the other edge?” So why is there no direct straight line from the stores in the upper-left corner to the street intersection at the lower-right corner of the left lawn?

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