Do you live in a ‘soft city’? Here’s why you probably want to

By Eillie Anzilotti – Imagine yourself sitting in your home. What’s right outside your front door, and what’s within a 10-minute walk of it? Can you make it to a grocery store or a café on foot, or do you have to drive? Is there a shared space nearby, a park or a patio, where you can mingle with the people who live around you? Do you often see people out and about, or do your neighbors mostly stay inside? What about the street: Is it filled with only cars, or do you see people biking and taking transit? Do you feel safe walking on the sidewalk that lines your front door (if there even is a sidewalk)? Are there places to sit along it?

It’s just a sample of the kinds of questions that preoccupy David Sim, creative director and partner at Gehl. Based in Copenhagen, Gehl has long pioneered the idea of human-centered urban design. Rather than thinking about cities as a collection of buildings and impressive developments, designers like Sim thinks about them as a series of relationships: between people and place, people and planet, and people and other people. “The starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible,” he says.

Good cities, from Sim’s perspective, are ones that make these connections possible. They can look different and exist in different contexts, but they share an overarching and essential quality, which Sim calls “softness”—a stark contrast to the rhetoric of “grind” and “harshness” that’s often applied to urban life. more>

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