January 21, 2010

People-oriented Planning: Gehl Architects in Rio de Janeiro

Creating spaces where the young and elderly can interact freely, cities where people can walk and cycle without risking their lives—is what David Sims of Gehl Architects and the Colombian architect Lorenzo Castro proposed to planners in Rio de Janeiro during a three-day workshop, from November 4-6, 2009. Gehl Architects came to Rio de Janeiro as part of ITDP’s partnership with the city that includes work on BRT, cycling, and urban revitalization.

“Cariocas [residents of Rio] have a very friendly, flirty way of interacting in public space. There are already some very good examples of traffic calming and high quality public space in Rio, and by building on this and creating more streets and public spaces that are inviting and safe, the city can really bring out Cariocas’s natural tendency to enjoy spending time around each other,” said David Sims, who led the workshop.

During the same event, Lorenzo Castro, who from 1998-2001 redesigned many of the public spaces in the city of Bogotá, Colombia, that are today emblematic of the transformation of that city, shared his experience with planners in Rio, showing that it is possible to greatly improve slums and propose a different kind of urban development—one that is not centered on cars and expressways.

“By building first-class libraries in poor neighborhoods, and building “alamedas,” roads strictly for pedestrians and cyclists, we showed the poor people of Bogotá that they are valued, and that you can have excellent quality of life without cars,” said Castro.

Besides training Rio municipal planners in Gehl’s “Public Space Public Life” methodology and showing how Bogotá transformed itself in three short years, David Sim and Lorenzo Castro worked on specific projects in the city center, and in Madureira, a neighborhood in the Northern zone slated to receive a BRT.

“This was a very important workshop, and we need to inoculate all of our projects with the people-centered approach,” said Roberto Ainbinder, Coordinator of Urban projects for the Rio municipality’s Secretariat of Urbanism.

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