In the next few weeks Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City will be made public. As a lead-up to this release we will issue a series of special reports with the aim to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow.

People come first in modern cities

An increasing number of vibrant metropolises have adopted people first policies as city planning strategy. Livability has become a criterion in which cities around the world compete. London, Paris, New York — and now Moscow — have realized that vivid public spaces define a city more than anything else.

When studying the world’s hottest and highest ranked cities, it is not difficult to realize that good public spaces play an important role on how the city is experienced and the kind of reputation and branding the city has. The attractive public spaces literally serve as trademarks and symbols for the vibrant cities of this world.

Champs Elysees in Paris, The Rambla in Barcelona, Broadway in New York, Strøget in Copenhagen, Regent Street in London, Swanston Street in Melbourne. These streets are all famous for the myriad of people promenading and creating a vivid urban atmosphere in the surrounding areas. Most attractive cities have memorable squares as well: Times Square in New York, Piazza Navona in Rome, Place de Vosges in Paris, Plaza Mayor in Madrid, The Red Square in Moscow.

‘These spaces, and the public life they invite, are the reference points for people around the world, when they are talking about the cities they have visited and enjoyed. Great people friendly public spaces are the places which, more than anything else, define the cities’, states Project Manager Solvejg Reigstad.

Solvejg Reigstad is one of the architects behind the latest report from Gehl Architects, Moscow – Towards a great city for people that will be shared with Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and his team this week and which will be discussed publically via the press and lectures. With the commission of the report, the local authorities in Moscow have invited Gehl Architects to come up with a set of recommendations for creating a more inviting urban environment.

For cities today, it is very important to be the ‘place to be’ — and never the opposite, elaborates
Jan Gehl founding partner of Gehl Architects

‘Metropolises all over the world contend for inviting tourists and attracting congresses. In that game it is of high value to have a good reputation. To be known for something good.’


Inviting cityscapes

According to Solvejg Reigstad that is one of the reasons why people first policies as city planning strategies are increasingly being adopted by a large number of cities throughout the world.

In Copenhagen, Lyon, London, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney and New York intense efforts are continuously being made to make the cityscape more people friendly and to invite the citizens to walk and cycle as much as possible.

‘If more people spend time in the public spaces, the city will become more vibrant and inviting. This is in itself a self-reinforcing process: People come where people are. In our present day society — with people being spread out more and more in small, increasingly privatized households — there is a growing need for meeting other people in the shared spaces of the city’, she states.

A new mind-set

According to Jan Gehl, the increasing awareness of the human dimension marks a fundamental paradigm shift in city planning.

“For many, many years — in the era of the modernists and motorists — finding space for cars was the predominant theme for city planners. But in recent years a number of new challenges have  become even more important and persistent”, he says.

‘The city planners have realized that lack of human scale leads to streets with no people and deserted streets are unsafe to walk in. They have also found out that a city full of cars leads to pollution and nevertheless physical inactivity is bad for peoples’ health. The human oriented urban planning can accommodate all those challenges. A people oriented city is safer, healthier, and more sustainable.’ 

In addition to this the rising environmental awareness has left its footprints in town halls all over the planet, says Solvejg Reigstad.

‘Most cities want to be ‘sustainable’ — a word that is very defining for our time. And in that context people friendly city planning has a great potential to actually make a change.’

Moscow’s vision

Moscow also has a vision to become a metropolis that encourages a  richer ‘life between the buildings’.

The Russian capital has a fascinating cityscape which includes both impressive boulevards, beautiful historical squares, and wide rivers. Gorky Park and the 2,2 kilometers of pedestrian streets in the city center attract many Moscovites. But like in many other metropolises the life between the buildings is challenged by expanding parking needs, and the huge number of vehicles driving through the city each day.

‘The current traffic levels are a serious impediment to the continued growth of the city and tend to lead to a lack of investment and a gradual deterioration of the public spaces in the city center’, the Moscow report concludes.


Gehl Architects’ work in Moscow is based on the Public Space Public Life studies conducted using the methods of Jan Gehl and Gehl Architects. The team has analysed selected streets, squares and parks in the city center and documented the way people are using these spaces. The purpose of the study is to identify, improve and create a hierarchy of public realm spaces in Moscow.

According to Jan Gehl all cities can change for the better.

‘Some might think that our ideas about people friendly spaces, cycling and livability are all just a bunch of European rubbish. But in the cities we have worked with our methods have been quite successful. I’m sure they will work for Russia as well.’

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