I came across this article by Jan Gehl – an urban design rock star – in which he discusses the importance of the design of the first-floor of urban buildings in attracting pedestrians and creating active streets. Downtown Oklahoma City has made tremendous gains since MAPS, but we still have very few streets with the restaurants, shopping, and (above all) people most often found in a pedestrian-friendly urban environment. In the article Close Encounters with Building (note: downloads as a .pdf), Gehl explains the importance of the first ten feet of a building and how it can either help to create a street or public space that pedestrians want to visit or conversely, create a place that pedestrians will avoid.
Gehl has done a ton of research, often using teams of researchers to observe 100m sections of street and record measurements such as the number of pedestrians, pedestrian speed, number of stops, number of times they entered/exited a building, etc. Through this he has been able to identify a handful of design attributes that can either attract or deter pedestrians by creating what he calls the ‘urban scene at eye level’. Here is what Gehl has to say about the design attributes he has identified and how they can lead to creating a good or bad ‘urban scene at eye level’.
THE URBAN SCENE AT EYE LEVEL
Scale and Rhythm
Pedestrians experience the urban scene at maximum three mph, with plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings. Small units provide a wide range of experiences, and a large number of doors provide many points of exchange between outside and inside. A scale of three mph is compact and rich in sensory experience. A scale of 35 mph also features qualities worthy of sharing, but rarely are they meaningful to pedestrians.
The opportunity to be on the inside looking out – and on the outside looking in – significantly broadens the range of experiences in the buildings themselves and in urban space. If we walk through the city close to the facades, the various display windows and opportunities to share what is happening in the buildings enrich our experience considerably. And people inside the buildings can follow what is happening in the surrounding urban space. Life inside and outside the buildings can thus interact for the benefit of both.
Appeals to Many Senses
We can draw on all our senses when we are close to buildings, and we have sufficient time to look, listen, smell and touch the good things on offer. A wealth of sensory impressions and shopping opportunities awaits. In contrast, a string of orange posters is a poor substitute.
Good materials and fine details are an attraction for people strolling through the city. There is ample opportunity to reach out and touch the buildings and examine the smallest detail. Attractive ground-level facades offer texture, good materials and carefully crafted details.
Mix of Functions
The functions inside buildings have a major impact on the activity and attractiveness of the spaces outside. The desire for narrow units and many doors in the facade can be echoed in a desire for wide functional variation inside. The outcome is many units, many points of exchange between outside and inside, and a wealth of many different events and experiences. The department store with its ten large display windows is far less interesting than the ten different functions in the street scene opposite.
Vertical Facade Rhythm
Walking along a ground floor fac?ade with primarily vertical rhythms makes the walk much more interesting and eye-catching. We move from ‘column to column’, which makes the walk seem shorter. Facades with primarily horizontal articulation intensify the feeling of distance – a long tiring prospect at eye height.
With these attributes in hand, he creates a map of a city showing the “problem facades” that interrupt pedestrian paths and lower the overall quality of the pedestrian experience. For instance, this diagram compares the street facades of (a) Stockholm to those of (b) Copenhagen. The difference between the two maps speaks to a dramatic difference for pedestrians.
Look at the open plazas and squares in (b) Copenhagen, almost all of which are surrounded by pedestrian friendly (light facades). Whereas (a) Stockholm has block after block of poor facades with few pedestrian-friendly plazas or squares (the exception being the one shown on the lower left side. After creating these maps, Gehl has been able to work with cities in creating urban design guidelines that address the problems and has successfully attracted increased numbers of pedestrians in cities around the world.
FACADES IN OKC?
So here is the question, where do we have examples of each of these facade types in Oklahoma City? It would be great if we could create our own facade map of Downtown Oklahoma City & Bricktown and determine which areas are pro-pedestrian and anti-pedestrian according to the attribute listed above.
Here is what I think might work. Everyone could take some time to assess a street (or seven) – based on memory, by actually visiting, or using streetview- and add their assessment to our very own Google map — creating a Pedestrian Friendliness Map of Oklahoma City!
Give it a shot. Just use the descriptions mentioned above to assess each of the attributes. Here is the form info I used that you can paste into the pushpin description window:
Good for Pedestrians? (Yes, No or Maybe)
Scale and Rhythm: Yes
Appeals to many Senses: Maybe
Mix of Functions: No
Vertical Facade Rhythm: Yes
Trust your gut as to whether it deserves a or a . It is easy to do so give it a shot!
Here is what you do:
- click on the link below
- click the ‘Save to My Maps’ link on the upper-left side
- then click the button on the left side of the screen