New Gehl Institute Will Bring “People-First Design” to More Cities

The new nonprofit is backed by $1.6 million from the Knight Foundation.

Philadelphia (its recently renovated Dilworth Park at City Hall is pictured above) is one Knight community that could benefit from the work of the newly launched Gehl Institute. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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The Gehl Institute officially launched today, with $1.6 million in backing from the Knight Foundation. The Institute, an offshoot of San Francisco-based urban design firm Gehl Studio, will help create public spaces that draw in people and boost economic opportunity of the surrounding area in Knight communities (cities and towns where the foundation, which also provides funding support to Next City, focuses funding).

Next City has featured a number of Gehl projects through its new “In Public” column this year, covering work done by and inspired by Danish architect Jan Gehl, from a look at how Italian piazza design can inform a reconsidering of San Jose, California’s 10-year-old city hall plaza to the ways that recording pedestrian data can transform a city center. (The architect is a co-founder of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen; the Studio is its U.S. headquarters.)

“We want to discover how public spaces can be designed to invite people to engage their neighbors and their community. We want to know how this can lead to a culture of civic engagement and how it can advance economic opportunity,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives, in a press release.

With a focus on fostering equality, the Institute will bring its trademark “people-first design” to streets, parks, plazas and more. The nonprofit will be a testing ground for how to tailor the Gehl approach to different city settings and encourage broader community participation in planning.

“Growing urbanization and the surprising lack of tools for municipal leaders means the Institute is well placed and timed. We will be promoting a new discipline within the fields of urban design, architecture, and city governance that will address some of the most burning issues facing cities today,” said Jeff Risom, who will head up the Institute. “There is remarkably little knowledge about how the design of public space can invite city life that promotes economic integration and civic engagement. We relish the opportunity to help fill that gap.”

The Knight funds will be allocated to five areas: research, learning, experimentation, evaluation and implementation. These will give way to public space studies, community workshops, experimental projects and eventual implementation of new projects.

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Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: urban designpublic spaceplacemakinggehl architects

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