Prof. van Deurs introduced us to the work of Gehl and how she and her team strive to put 'the life of public spaces first'.
The many examples she talked us through were stimulating and illustrated the attitude that has many times put Copenhagen at the top of world rankings for the world's most liveable cities. I was particularly interested in the point she made about how children are an important indicator of any public space. Wherever adults feel safe to let go of a child's hand, where they are allowed to run free, to play - then this is indeed a space that is safe and comfortable. Her practice put people first, which may not be a new idea but it certainly makes a refreshing change from the usual obsession with traffic.
Of course, Denmark is very different from Vietnam. In Saigon especially, the roads are bursting at the seams. During rush hour, pavements become additional lanes for motor-scooters and pedestrians need to take extra special care at these times. Work is still underway on the first line of the local Mass Transit Railway but when this single line opens in around 1-2 years, I predict it will not make much impact on the number of vehicles on the roads.
The cultural life of the city is vibrant with almost every conceivable spare piece of land at some time during the day becoming a make-shift cafe or restaurant with the addition of a few tables and chairs hastily arranged. To me this is an asset, the city is enriched by these activities. In other cities in Asia, Hong Kong for example, the street food and hawking culture is under siege by the authorities who seem intent on destroying the very culture that brings life to the streets and also attracts many overseas visitors.
However, some things could be easily improved without too much expense or upheaval. Many pavements are so filled with parked motor-scooters that pedestrians need to walk in the road. Many pavements are also in a terrible state of repair and I feel that it would be very difficult for a wheel-chair user to get around the city.
As an artist, and currently a 'walking artist' I was particularly drawn to the way that the Gehl team gathered data from the city and converted it into visual and readable images that could communicate the team's ideas and plans. In essence I feel I have been doing something similar. I recently completed a colour digital print that I worked on by physically walking the streets to become acquainted with the layout, the colours etc. and my observations were fed directly into the image of the print.
The University of Architecture website can be found here.
More about Gehl here.
Information about the founders, Jan Gehl here, and Ingrid Gehl here.
University of Architecture, Ho Chi Minh City
(Photo: Patrick S. Ford)