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Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Place For Pedestrians

Chongqing is one of China’s biggest and fastest growing cities with a population of around 11 million people. In recent years, pedestrianised streets have been turned into motorways in the Chinese metropolis Chongqing. Now the city council is returning the streets to pedestrians and cyclists, and has teamed up with a Danish urban planner.

Chongqing has developed in the same way as hundreds of other Chinese metropolises: skyscrapers shoot up everywhere, while old buildings are demolished. Cars have taken over with multi-lane motorways, while pedestrians and cyclists have been displaced.

But now the citizens of Chongqing are about to reclaim their streets. Chongqing city council has teamed up with the Danish urban research and design consulting firm Gehl Architects, which pecialises in pedestrianised streets and pedestrian-friendly urban spaces.

The objective is to create an interconnected pedestrian network through central Chongqing, which like Manhattan in New York, consists of a peninsula between two rivers. This can be achieved by making urban routes recognisable and easy to navigate, for example by using uniform paving, good lighting and signposting, and setting up benches and similar urban furniture.

Denmark has long had a liking for pedestrian-friendly city spaces. 50 years ago, one of the world’s first carfree pedestrianised streets, Strøget, was established in the capital city Copenhagen. At 1.1 kilometres in length, it remains one of Europe’s longest pedestrianised streets.

The same backlash against the domination of the car is being seen in China. Urban planners, mayors and citizens are all insisting on better conditions for pedestrians in cities. Kristian Villadsen comments that the same themes which have developed in the West are also emerging in China today, i.e. to create attractive, vibrant, safe, sustainable and healthy cities:

“In China, people are very good at using public transport, but if public transport is seen only as a means of transporting the greatest possible number of people from A to B and it is forgotten that people don’t live at the station but also have to get there, it won’t function. Public transport then becomes solely for those who don’t have a car”.

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