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Understanding the cities. Living and ecological urbanism

Understanding the cities. Living and ecological urbanism


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The reality is that vehicles, incoherent architectural elements and many other aspects outweigh that user who will live in the city throughout his life, incoherence or not is a reality that must be changed to start recovering the city for the pedestrians.

How can we learn from cities?

If, as a starting point, we decline for the objective of living in cities with quality and that they are "kinder", we must learn to see how we react, behave and move in them. We will have to study the behavior of humans in the city, Homo Sapien in the urban habitat.

As a starting point we propose to review the key points of the book How to Study Public Life (Written by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre - Gehl Architects) where they show us some of the methods they use to study human beings in urban environments. In the book, several guidelines can be identified for studying urban space facing the passerby:

Map out: Know what the city is like.

Draw: Identify the movement of people. Provide information on patterns in a specific area.

Look for traces: The activity of pedestrians Where do they stop? ... Why do they stop? ... Leisure areas, rest areas, why do most of them turn right or left in a corner ... etc.

Photographs: It is a way of humanizing the data. The emphasis is placed on interactions and situations that occur on the street.

Annotation of data via diary: Continuity in a study should be an obligation and as such it is necessary to write down notes and be very scrupulous.

Pilot rides: The objective is for the observer to be able to notice problems and details that can be improved.

With the data collected we will be able to understand the needs of pedestrians, as examples according to Jan Gehl:

  • A park with a high presence of women usually indicates that it is a safe place. "If you find a repeated decline in your presence, it means that the sense of security is decreasing." Gehl builds on research such as the one he conducted in Bryant Park, New York, where he found that the optimal balance was 52% women versus 48% men between 1 and 6 p.m.
  • The speed at which an individual walks when passing through a certain place and the time spent in its corners can provide information on the quality of that space.
  • People walk faster in the morning and afternoon. They take it more calmly at noon. As expected they move faster on weekdays than on weekends
  • Determine the distance that a citizen is willing to walk to use public transportation.
  • Identify that depending on the outside temperature, passersby walk faster or slower or at what hours there are more or fewer people.


The photograph belongs to a study carried out by Gehl Architects on the city of Seattle. We add the link HERE so that you can appreciate the quality of the work they present.

Criteria for creating a good public space for pedestrians:

1) Protection against traffic and accidents

2) Protection against crime and violence (Street life, social structure, identity, lighting at night)

3) Protection against unpleasant stimuli (noise, smoke, bad smells, dirt)

4) The option to walk (adequate spaces to do so, well-designed level changes)

5) The possibility of standing (rest areas, physical supports to do so)

6) Infrastructure to sit (benches to rest)

7) The ability to observe (unobstructed sight lines, good lighting at night)

8) The ability to listen and speak (moderate noise, distance between benches)

9) Scenarios to play and relax (play, dance, music, theater, improvised speeches, different ages and types of people)

10) Small-scale services (signs, maps, bins, mailboxes)

11) Design to enjoy climatic elements (sun, heat, cold, ventilation, aesthetics)

12) Design to generate positive experiences (aesthetic qualities, plants, flowers, animals)

As a reminder and complementary material to the post… "More than 30 manuals for coherent urban design". You can also expand more information about the work of the new book by Jan Gehl from HERE.

Two points of interest:

Cohousing model. Another way of understanding Urbanizations: Didactic manual of the basic principles of bioclimatic design

Urban sustainability indicators:

Another aspect that we should review is “sustainability in the city”. Identifying or recognizing in which areas we should act more forcefully or what aspects we should change. At this point we can put into practice the template of urban sustainability indicators: (It belongs to this document HERE - Which is part of the book "Ecological Urbanism" by Salvador Rueda Palenzuela and others)


The study that the image represents refers to an eco-neighborhood project in the city of Figueres (Catalonia) where the description of the minimum and desirable objectives is indicated. Likewise, the degree of linkage (strong or weak) of each of the indicators with the components of the guiding function and the different areas of urban habitability also appears.

We must remember that cities are for citizens and as such it is a necessity to urbanize, build, plan coherently to adapt them to the use and daily life of citizens with an effective environmental responsibility and at the same time friendly to the passer-by.

Rethinking green infrastructure:

Not many ago the Report “Living Cities: rethinking green infrastructure” (Access to the report HERE - From the Arup consultancy in collaboration with Landscape Architecture and Foresight + Innovation) was published where global problems such as growth are analyzed and reflected upon of the population in cities, the scarcity of resources, the risk of urban floods or climate change and their future effects on today's cities and their citizens.

As stated by Tom Armor (Landscape Architect in Arup)… “Green areas are not usually a priority in urban planning, be it because of costs, lack of space or lack of vision about the benefits they can offer. However, its impact on the health and well-being of citizens and its contribution to reducing pollution should be taken more into account. We should promote the design of cities that consider biodiversity, with quality environments to live, work and enjoy and where people can lead healthier and happier lives. As space in cities is increasingly in demand, planning for green needs should not be an optional trend, but a fundamental requirement. We need to conceive of our environment through multi-layer design, making the most of and adapting existing spaces more effectively. "

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Video: Designed to Thrive Social and Ecological Urbanism with Purpose (July 2022).


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