Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City was made public on July 16. This ‘special report #2? is the second of 3 posts which aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow and other cities. Look for ‘special report #3?, coming soon, which will highlight findings and recommendations from the report.
Streets can invite for healthier lifestyles
A city with generous sidewalks, interconnected bike paths and green parks can incentivise people to exercise more. Moscow is currently working towards becoming a more walkable city.
We ride cars instead of bikes. We take the elevator over the stairs. And at work, we sit still, except for the occasional run to the coffee machine.?This is the reality of life for many people around the world. Lifestyle diseases caused by physical inactivity are currently one of the major threats to our health – in fact, in 2009 it was identified as the fourth leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases, an overall term including cancers, diabetes, heart disease, etc. These figures from World Health Organization (WHO) have been reported by the medical journal ‘The Lancet’. (View the full report)
To the sidewalks
According to CEO and Founding Partner of Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt, expenditures related to health services could dramatically decrease, through strategic city planning that inspires people to move around and use their own muscle power.
‘As humans we respond to the surrounding environment – for better or for worse. Cities and especially public places are an under-utilized health resource,’ she says.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity each week. This is equivalent to a 15 minute walk, two times a day. Hence a ‘walkable’ city can actually become a sound investment for the general public health, Helle Søholt says.
Unfortunately many cities don’t invite people to walk. Since the1960’s there has been a vast increase in the number of vehicles worldwide. This growth has required large parking areas over parks and squares. Meanwhile pedestrians are often referred to narrow sidewalks filled with honking and growling cars around them.
This is also the case in Moscow. For a city with almost 12 million people there are remarkably few people strolling on the main street, Tverskaya. The street is surrounded by eight lanes, occupying 91% of the urban space, says Project Manager at Gehl Architects, Solvejg Reigstad. She is one of the main architects behind the Public Space Public Life study, that Gehl Architects have just conducted in the city.
‘In Moscow the streets are basically multiple lanes with cars, with very few crossings for pedestrians. In fact if you wish to cross the street you have to walk below ground. So instead of walking out in the open, you’ll find yourself walking in these long, underground passages’, she says.
‘The poor pedestrian conditions result in people taking the subway. Even when traveling short distances. Moscow is not a city for walking’ says Solvej Reigstad.
Towards a city for people
Hopefully that is going to change inthe foreseeable future as Moscow moves towards becoming a city for people. Paid parking and higher cost speeding tickets in parts of the city center have already been implemented. Gradually more parts of the city will be included in the new regulation zone.
Within the garden ring, Moscow City is upgrading 4,000,000 m2 of sidewalks along major roads and new pedestrian streets are being planned and built in order to improve the pedestrian conditions in the city center.
Things are moving in a very positive direction according to Solvejg Reigstad – and more is to come, such as a parking strategy for the whole city center.
‘By reducing parking on streets and squares, new public spaces will invite public life to unfold. A parking strategy for the whole city center will ensure that the reduction of parked cars in the cityscape happens according to a coherent mobility strategy for all transport modes including pedestrians.’
A better balance between the different transport modes is necessary if Moscow is to become a sustainable and livable city, she elaborates. To support pedestrian movement in the city, a street level public transport system needs to be developed.
‘Today the system of buses and taxis are under-developed and there is a huge potential in developing a system that can cover transport for shorter to medium distances. Moscow already has some light rail trains in the periphery of the city center and that system can be developed so that it also connects the city center.’
A challenge in many cities
Moscow is not a rare example of a city with too many cars. One of the major challenges of modern cities is how to balance the number of cars with the number of pedestrians.
In some cities in the United States, moving around by foot is simply not an option, says Helle Søholt.
‘I’ve felt very ‘trapped’ in several of the cities that I’ve visited over there, because I had no other choice than to drive around in a ‘metal box’. I felt it limited my sense of freedom not being able to go where you want to, when you want to.’
City planners who weigh cars over people miss an important detail, she adds.
‘Walking is also about freedom and equality. In fact, I would argue that we are all pedestrians. You might take your car, you might take the bus, you might even cycle. But the minute you park your mode of transport, you become a pedestrian. And this should be reflected in good urban planning.’