Mikael Colville-Andersen

Mikael Colville-Andersen makes the cases for designing cities with people in mind.

What if we designed cities for pedestrians and people on bicycles rather than engineering them for people in cars? What if a bike lane were as easy and intuitive to use as a chair, for instance, or a toothbrush, or a smartphone?

Those are the questions raised by Mikael Colville-Andersen, the Danish “urban mobility expert” and founder of the Copenhagenize blog.

Colville-Andersen has been one of the most visible and vocal members of what is sometimes called the “livable streets” movement, which has its roots in the last decades of the 20th century but has really gained ground in the 21st. In a recent TEDx talk in Zurich, he framed the problem we face on our city’s streets as a failure of engineering, which has dominated the planning process for generations. The result, he says, has been the rise of an autocentric model – “the greatest paradigm shift in the history of our cities” -- that kills millions of people around the globe every year and degrades the quality of life for everyone.

He argues that urban streets need to be refashioned with a humanistic, design-oriented sensibility, not traffic-engineering standards fueled by algorithms that fail to account for human preference and habit. By observing human behavior, following the “desire lines” that people trace in their cities, we can build places that truly serve human needs.

Urbanization is on the rise now more than ever before. We need new solutions and we need them in a hurry. Should we really be engineering something as human and organic as streets? It’s the people who define the city. Shouldn’t we be studying their behavior, their patterns, their desires and needs, in order to figure out how to further develop our cities? If you think about it, it worked for about 7,000 years.

Unlike an engineer, says Colville-Andersen, a designer’s first concern is “the end user of the project” – the human being who will be interacting with it. Good design, he says, is seductive. It also encourages good citizenship. In Copenhagen, people wait for the light to turn green because the network of lanes they ride on is thoughtfully designed for them and their specific needs.

There was a time in the 20th century, says Colville-Andersen, when resistance to automobile culture was considered to be old-fashioned. That attitude persists in much of the world. He is pushing back.

I’ll tell you what is old-fashioned and standing in the way of progress. That is engineering human streets instead of designing them.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: Police line up outside the White House in Washington, D.C. as protests against the killing of George Floyd continue.
    Perspective

    America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress

    Architects and planners have an obligation to protect health, safety and welfare through the spaces we design. As the George Floyd protests reveal, we’ve failed.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. Equity

    What Happened to Crime in Camden?

    Often ranked as one of the deadliest cities in America, Camden, New Jersey, ended 2017 with its lowest homicide rate since the 1980s.

  4. photo: Protesters gather at Dolores Park in San Francisco, California on June 3.
    Environment

    Amid Protest and Pandemic, Urban Parks Show Their Worth

    U.S. cities are now seeing the critical role that public space plays during a crisis. But severe budget cuts are looming. Can investing in parks be part of the urban recovery?

  5. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

×