Marburg weiter denken - Gespräch mit Jan Gehl in Englisch

Lord Mayor Spies welcomes international planner Gehl and more than 100 guests: "Putting people first in urban planning"

Marburg. New York, Shanghai, Melbourne, Moscow - "and now Marburg." With these words, Lord Mayor Dr. Thomas Spies greeted internationally renowned urban planner Jan Gehl as the man who has fundamentally redesigned major cities in front of more than 100 guests in the KFZ, which was filled according to 3G rules. "Putting people first in urban planning," was how the 85-year-old Gehl described his "Cities for People" concept in Marburg. For the future series "Marburg800 weiter denken" (thinking ahead) the team of the city anniversary had been able to win the architect and multiple honorary doctor for a three-day visit to Marburg in the frame of the anniversary focus "Marburg erfinden" (inventing Marburg). The evening and lecture of a speaker in good spirits in the KFZ were additionally followed by another 60 people via livestream.

In his welcome address, Spies immediately referred to the ideas of the renowned guest, who coined the term "human scale" in urban planning worldwide. According to Spies, this is what we need to focus on. It is about places where people feel welcome and comfortable, and at the same time about asking where they feel discomfort in order to change this. "Good cities for the 21st century are cities where people live happy lives," Gehl emphasized. What sounds self-evident at first describes a fundamental rethinking of urban planning, which the author of numerous books has stood for with his work in theory and practice for 60 years. Marburg's prominent guest from Denmark explained this with a historical digression. While historical cities had still been planned from the "I-perspective", for the human being as a walking and social being interested in others, this planning model had been thrown overboard with modernism since the 20s/30s and the "car invasion" of the 60s. "The city was now supposed to be an effective machine instead of a city of spaces for people," Gehl recalled. "The focus has shifted and was directed only to objects and the mobility used to sleep, go to work and back," the urban planner explained. The spaces between buildings, the gathering places, were no longer a basis for planning - although tried and true for centuries. "What happens to the children, what happens when you grow old, where do you go when you want to meet other people spontaneously?" all of that ceased to matter, he said. "Social life was forgotten," Gehl outlined. "But it's exactly about asking how we can take better care of people. Urban planning, he said, needs to show them they're welcome, invite them to stay and linger."

Gehl pleaded for sustainable, healthy, livable and people-friendly cities in which it is possible to grow old well. He added that urban planning must offer solutions for this. Gehl went on to emphasize that in the last 50 years of urban planning, everything has been done to "make the cars happy, not the people." "A ton of steel on four rubber tires for every person" - that's not a good idea in dense cities, the experienced planner said. Especially since 90 percent of the cars are stationary and not moving. "There's no room for that in cities, much more we need shared use," he explained. Gehl is professor emeritus of urban planning at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and author of numerous books on urban planning. With Gehl Architects, he has himself redesigned cities such as London, Melbourne, Sydney, Amman, New York and Moscow to be pedestrian- and bike-friendly according to the "Cities for People" concept, as well as creating spaces for people to stay, such as along the waterfront. After the start was made in Copenhagen, the phone never stopped ringing with international inquiries worldwide. Gehl is an honorary member of architectural institutes in Denmark, England, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S. and Canada, and holds honorary doctorates from the universities of Edinburgh, Varna, Halifax and Toronto. His motto: "Make sure you invite people to walk and cycle as much as possible". This, he said, is also the best remedy for the "sitting syndrome" from a health perspective and opens up entirely new possibilities for spaces in the city. For planners, "You get what you invite for" applies. This included, for example, short routes for cyclists or safe intersections, public transport and car-sharing. "My granddaughter was able to ride her bike safely everywhere in Copenhagen at the age of 12," Gehl told me. It is not about being against cars, but for people, this is the other side of the coin, he said. In the audience Q&A session moderated by Monika Bunk ("Inventing Marburg") afterwards, the 85-year-old urban planner humorously pointed it out in one answer: "We do a lot of research in every other field, deal with whales or with the love lives of elephants, but not with our own lives."

Audience contributions focused on Marburg's mountainous terrain, people in rural areas, and the question of potential conflicts, among other topics. In Sydney, he said, the city's leader has been re-elected four times after the transformation. "It's about people recognizing themselves in the planning," Gehl said. The guest from Denmark had previously gained a first impression of Marburg during a city tour and subsequent ride in the "Emil" e-bus accompanied by representatives of the city. The tour led through the market, the Lutheran churchyard, the parking garage Oberstadt, the Old Botanical Garden, the new university library, Waldtal, Spiegelslust, the university clinic, the university on the Lahn hills and Bauerbach to the Richtsberg. He said he was very impressed by the old town, which is oriented around squares. "You can be very happy that this was not destroyed as in other cities," the guest was enthusiastic. At the same time, he said, the visit to Marburg was like a time travel through the history of urban planning, for example with the Lahnberge and the Richtsberg, which stand for modernism, or with the "Panoramastraße" (Gehl: "without any panorama") and the city highway, which were oriented toward cars. "You wouldn't do it that way today," Gehl said. One is at a "breaking point," he said.

In the morning, he had already discussed his ideas scientifically with around 80 students and representatives of universities and universities of applied sciences. On the day after the discussion event in the KFZ, the Marburg800 city anniversary then invited local politicians, magistrates and people from urban planning initiatives in the urban community to a personal exchange with Gehl, Mayor Spies, urban planner Manuela Klug and GeWoBau managing director Jürgen Rausch. To the question "What he learned for Marburg from the many inspiring ideas from international cities?", Marburg's mayor replied: For him, it is a clear goal to implement the principles so vividly explained by Jan Gehl in Marburg's urban planning. As an example of this, he cited the "Move35" participation process with strategies for traffic development to make Marburg more pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly, but also to channel car traffic from the surrounding area into the city in a good way. Further, he said, he would consider how the concept of "urban planning on a human scale" can be incorporated into the city's structural development. This, he said, applies both to places where new things are being built (such as the planning at Hasenkopf with reduced car traffic) and to new ideas in existing development. "We do need different solutions in Marburg than in Copenhagen, just because of the topography, but vibrant, sustainable, healthy and good for the elderly is what we definitely want to have, the, 'human scale' fits perfectly with the spirit of the city." And Gehl added in parting, "Leave behind the mentality of 50 years ago. I wish you the best for this unusually beautiful city."

© Januar 2022 - marburg800