Is Your City Life-Sized?

Because my old city isn’t, and yours probably isn’t as well.

Photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash

You know related videos function on YouTube? Recently I got lost in a rabbit hole of videos by Canadian-Danish city-developer Mikael Colville-Andersen, where he talks about life-sized cities and redesigning cities to be for people rather than cars.

I share his passion for sustainability and liveable cities, so when I saw the videos he has of redesigning intersections and small sections of road, I got inspired to try it myself.

Screenshot from Google Maps

Look at this photo from Kolding in Denmark, one of the greatest cycling nations in the world.

This is one of the arteries of the city, where the larger road ‘Skamlingsvejen’ connects the west and east side of the city, where two car lanes in each direction, wide cycling tracks and sidewalk support this traffic. The street ‘buen’ connects to it with a t-cross, which divides the Design School in the top left corner, the university in the top right corner, and several buildings with student housing in the bottom of the image, where I lived myself. I know, not bad right? But it could easily be better!

Screenshot from Google Maps

Exactly here at the connection to ‘buen’ you can find the arrogance of space, where the rounded corners and lots of space abide by cars, who are then promptly limited to 30 kmh anyways. It’s not very intelligent design and an ocean of red.

Screenshot from Google Maps

But there is no reason to just complain about it, so I took 5 minutes to redesign the t-cross to become a more democratic space and increase the life-sizeness.

First thing I did was to erase the arrogant rounded corners, creating more democratic space and slowed cars turning into ‘Buen’, who are more likely to then respect the following speed limit, decreasing pollution and risk of accidents. These sharper corners are then accented by white lines, underlining the already quite good cycling infrastructure. The street ‘Buen’ is made smaller as well, creating more space for greenery, muffling the sound of ‘Skamlingsvej’, compensating for the pollution and increasing life-sizeness. A better intersection for the people living there.

I have also adhered to ‘desire lines’, where so many pedestrians “jaywalk” over the road from the Design School to a trafficked staircase between two student housings, and created another crosswalk.

Lessening the arrogance of space, pollution and generally bad, undemocratic public spaces makes it easier and safer for the students, pedestrians and cyclists who actually live there, and courts less to polluting cars, who still are able to go the same places as before. Simply, I’ve increased the life-sizeness of the space.

What do I mean with ‘life-sized’? What is a ‘life-sized’ city?

A ‘life-sized’ city is one which is actually meant for the people living in it, not for cars or old big statues of white officers from the 1800s. Car-centric city planning has probably been the highest contributor to this depressive state, where large infrastructure, wide roads, and square kilometres of parking isn’t sized for humans — it is not a size meant for life. Life-sized cities have demographic spaces meant for the people who are standing, walking, biking and talking to each other.

Transport of London found that promoting cycling and walking is followed by a number of economic benefits:

  • Walking and cycling increased retail spending by 30%
  • Cycle lanes help carry 5% more people
  • Physically active people take 27% fewer sick days
  • Cycle infrastructure prevent billions of health and environmental damage
  • Walking and cycling attract and retain quality staff
  • All the benefits are more democratic

The list can go on and on, but, hopefully, it doesn’t take more sense to convince you. Actively helping to increase life-sizeness in your city can improve your and everyone else’s life, and there are many ways to do it, like workshops, learning about it, communicating with your government, writing an article like this or just do it yourself directly — you can find the one right for you.

Picture of Mikael Colville-Andersen from Wikicommons

I urge you to check out Mikael’s provocative and passionate YouTube channel, and if you love it, then his documentary series ‘The Life-sized City’ from 2017, where different cities’ life-sizeness is shown.

Essentially promoting his ideas is a pleasure, and I now challenge you to the ‘ Arrogance of Space’ challenge! Take a screenshot of a place in your city with Apple or Google Maps, and draw out the arrogance of space, then followed by a separate drawing of how you would fix it. Mikael Colville-Andersen will teach you how in 5 minutes.

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Designculture graduate enthusiastic about the link between Design and Culture and the effect it has on you.

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Morten Thorn

Morten Thorn

Designculture graduate enthusiastic about the link between Design and Culture and the effect it has on you.

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