Creating pedestrian-friendly spaces

ASHLEIGH MATTERN
Editor-in-Chief

Jan Gehl is a world-renowned architect involved in projects on every continent except Antarctica. Now he’s hoping to leave his mark in Saskatoon.

On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, Gehl is getting involved with Saskatoon residents, giving two lectures, meeting with city officials and sitting down with students.

Gehl’s work focuses on making urban life “lively, healthy, diverse, sustainable and safe.”

“A city should open up, invite and include people, having different activities and possibilities and thereby ensuring multiplicity and diversity,” reads the Gehl Architects website. “Our approach to design extends beyond the use of sustainable materials and advocating walking, cycling and alternative transport.”

The Gehl lectures are part of the Great Spaces lecture series from the University of Saskatchewan regional and urban planning (RUP) program and the local chapter of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

“He’s one of the top urban visionaries internationally, bringing together urban planning and architecture, and he’s an inspiring speaker,” said Ryan Walker, event organizer and chair of the RUP program. “It’s one thing to have good ideas; it’s another thing to be able to inspire people.”

JanGehl-phatfreemiguel For students in the RUP program, this is a chance for them to meet one of the champions of the field of architecture and urban design. Gehl’s books are required reading in RUP courses.

“On campus we’re the biggest users of Gehl’s ideas,” said Walker.

In addition to the lectures, Gehl will be doing a walking and biking tour of Saskatoon with a select group of people, mostly students and City of Saskatoon employees. Walker says the point of these tours is to give applied examples of how to put some of his ideas into action in Saskatoon.

Gehl will also have lunch with RUP students and meet with the We Are Many youth environmental group. Walker says it’s all about engaging the youth.

“There’s a lot of focus on connecting him with university-age youth,” said Walker. “It’s absolutely essential that people working in this field make early connections with his ideas. They’re going to shape their personal approach to their job from the more formative personalities they’ve come into contact with during their time as students.”

Gehl also has an interesting take on winter cities. Coming from Denmark, he understands that winter creates particular challenges in urban design.

“One of the issues with urban design innovations is that an idea sounds great for San Francisco, but is it going to work in a city that’s dark and cold for most of the year?” said Walker.

Some of Gehl’s ideas for winter cities include ice-skating rinks, kiosks selling hot soups and drinks, and special lighting and heating technologies. Walker says it’s about trying to make cities more vibrant from the perspective of pedestrians and cyclists all year round.

Tickets for the event are also purposely cheap. Walker said the prices are low so that the presentations get a wide cross-section of Saskatoon residents, especially students.

“Every citizen is an amateur urban planner because we’re all fundamentally concerned with our home,” said Walker.

And so far it looks like the interest is there. Tickets are going quick and Walker anticipates the lectures to sell out before the event day.