As Buffalo begins to explore different ways to put “people first” when it comes to planning, there are cities such as Copenhagen that paved the way for progressive urban planning measures as far back as the 1960s. Today the city lays claim to a term called “Copenhagenizing”, primarily to pay honor to those who first made the bold and inventive decisions to reclaim urban streets from the automobile-centric mindset to that of revolutionary foot traffic. Recently we’ve seen NYC follow in similar footsteps, and today Buffalo planners and proponents are getting onboard with the oh so foreign concept.
Take a look at this article in The Copenhagen Post, which pays tribute to urban planners such as Jan Gehl who forged ahead with a vision that would ultimately turn Copenhagen into one of the most livable cities in the world. “There is nothing we like more than a city with a flourishing public life, where people use the squares, sit in cafes and stroll on the promenades,” he said.
Not that every city should just run around willy nilly and remove car traffic from its streets. In a city like Buffalo, we have seen what a poor planning decisions can do to a downtown (ala Metro Rail). Every city is different, and what works for some may not work for others. In order to accomplish lofty goals, it’s not as easy as pulling the plug on traffic and sitting back to watch what happens. In certain cases there needs to be a large population of people, both living and working in an urban core to justify any such decision. Planners need to identify the proper mix of existing restaurants and retails, and public amenities such as parks and water features, as well as residential density. Where are the people going? Where have they come from? That sort of thing.
In Buffalo we are seeing glimmers of hope for shopping districts such as Allentown, where someday people might be on an equal playing field as the cars (see here). Or on Linwood, where bikes have were victorious over speeding cars (see here). But we need to look at more traffic calming initiatives in this city, and at the same point we need to design more walkable neighborhoods with better street crossings (see why). These are the small battles that can be won, that will one day add up to a major victory for the city.
Thankfully we are finally seeing attitudes changing in Buffalo, and while they might not be the broad strokes painted by planners such as Jan Gehl, we can look at his revolutionary efforts as the pinnacle of achievement when it comes to creating people-friendly cities. Taking it “one step at a time” is better than seeing no steps at all, as long as the small steps are all heading in the right direction.