Cities often host street markets and music festivals to put life at the heart of their public spaces, but to Copenhagen's urban planners, the edges are just as important.
On Friday, the Royal Institute of British Architects hosted its annual research symposium at its headquarters on Portland Place in London's West End. The event, whose theme was "urban thresholds," focused on how cities can respond to economic, environmental, and social changes. The title comes from the idea that cities are on the threshold of responding in new ways to global challenges like climate change.
Tina Saaby, city architect for Copenhagen and visiting professor at the UK's University of Sheffield, looked at the idea of thresholds literally. She explained why Copenhagen's planning system focuses on the importance of the areas where public and private spaces meet -- and how this can help the city to become a "metropolis for people."
In short, bringing life to these "edge zones" can help raise people's quality of life.
Tina Saaby said improving the places where buildings meet streets can improve quality of life.
(Source: Nouhailler via Flickr)
In 2009, the Copenhagen City Council adopted a strategy to improve public space and make Copenhagen the world's most "liveable" city. The council wants 80% of residents to be more satisfied with their opportunities for taking part in public life in 2015 than they were in 2009. It wants to increase pedestrian traffic by 20% over the same period, and it wants people to spend 20% more time in urban spaces. It aims to do this by improving the city at the street level.
She explained how good urban planning could improve the edge zones where private places such as buildings meet with public places, including pavement. One way of doing this is adding more entry points to buildings. "We can put more points of entry between the outside and the inside, between the public and the private life." This could involve putting little seating areas by doorways to encourage people to spend time there talking to one another.
Another way is by focusing on the areas next to the building. Saaby said the council allows owners to put tables, chairs, and planters on the first 60 cm of the pavement near the building in order to make these parts of the city more inviting.
Copenhagen is also using the planning system to encourage eye contact. "You can use that as a way of creating community in the city." For example, there's a stipulation that external walls be 75% glass at the ground floor level, so people can see in and out.
Encouraging activity in these edge zones isn't always straightforward. "What is difficult in practice is that there is often one architect designing the building and one architect designing the public space, with two different clients." But all parties know they will be asked about an edge-zone strategy when they design new commercial structures, so they think about it early in the design process. "The regulation is a good tool for discussing with architects what we are going to have at ground level."
Saaby's message is that planners in Copenhagen focus more on what the buildings do than what they look like, and this can improve people's quality of life.
What are your city's edge zones like? How would improving them make your city better? Or should cities have other priorities? Let us know.
— Rich Heap, Community Editor, UBM's Future Cities