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Interview: Jeff Risom on his favorite city

November 26, 2012 /

New York, USA

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From an urbanists perspective, no place beats New York. For anyone who loves cities and urban culture, New York is still the best 'people zoo' in the world, says Jeff Risom from Gehl Architects. arcspace.com asked him about his favorite city.

About Jeff Risom
Jeff Risom is MSc City Design & Social Science, architectural engineer, and works as an associate and head of Gehl Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has worked with both public and private clients as well as non-governmental organizations in Europe, the USA, Latin America, India and China. Jeff aspires to promote quality of life through improvements in the built environment. Jeff is an active teacher and lecturer, speaking at conferences around the world, lately at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona.

arcspace.com: What is your favorite spot as an urban planner?
Broadway. Since 2007, Broadway has been iteratively resurrected from a shabby and outdated manifestation of its mythical bright lights reputation, to a truly World Class Street for the 21st century. It is worth a stroll all the way from Columbus circle to Union Square, but if you have less time begin at the Ace Hotel at 27th Street for a co-working cocktail in the lobby or a coffee from the store front of Stumpton Coffee Roasters. After enjoying the trendy but subdued scene, continue down Broadway to Worth and Madison Square to enjoy the fine new plaza that provides great views to not only Burnham's Flatiron building to the South, but also of the Empire State Building to the North. A healthy mix of chain and local shops are spread out between 23rd and 14th streets and if you are in town on Saturday or Wednesday you can end your stroll at the immense Union Square Farmer's Market.

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Photos: Jeff Risom / Gehl Architects

arcspace.com: Which urban area has made a remarkable change?
Bryant Park. 20 years ago Bryant Park was one of the most dangerous and undesirable parts of the city. Today it is the epitome of a great urban park, where all New Yorker's can feel welcome and included. With free Wi-Fi, movable chairs, ping pong tables and an outdoor reading room supplied by nearby New York Public Library, Bryant Park sets the standard for generosity and openness in public space. From Fashion Week to outdoor films and Christmas markets there is always something new to experience. Understanding that a person's greatest joy is other people, park staff considerately observe the mix of park guests, noting especially the amount of women as a proxy for perceived safety, enjoyment and comfort of the public space as a whole. 

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Bryant-Park-jeff-Risom-4.JPGPhotos: Jeff Risom / Gehl Architects

arcspace.com: What is your recommendation for a take off the typical tourist trail?
Queens and Bronx. Many people born and raised in Manhattan have never even been to the City's other 4 boroughs. While Brooklyn is becoming a hipster and young family heaven, it is still Queens and the Bronx that represent the most diverse and interesting urban environments in the City. New York City's Department of Transportation began an ambitious Plaza Program that has successfully reclaimed and improved public space for people, giving local communities a direct hand in creating the type of city they want to live in. Since 2008, 20 news plazas now serve as outdoor living rooms for a vibrant and emerging outdoor urban culture typically seen in European cities that can be best experienced at Corona Square in Queens and along Fordham Rd. in the Bronx.  

Visit this NYC website for more information

arcspace.com: What is your favorite street?
Montague Street, Brooklyn, is probably one of the best streets in the world.  Lined with beautiful Plane trees and elegant mixed-use brownstones, the scale, vitality and attractiveness of the of the 4 block stretch between Court Street and its dead end provides for urban scenography that is both sublimely worldly and yet subtly down-to-earth. Visit at sunset for breath taking views of Manhattan, Governor's island, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty from the street's terminous at the park perched above Robert Moses' Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

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Photo: Jeff Risom
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Photo: Jeff Risom.
Montegue Street in Brooklyn, NYC
Photo: Aude

arcspace.com: Could you describe your favorite walk capturing the uniqueness of New York?
Lower Manhattan / Battery Park City. The epicenter of the two biggest events of the 21st century, 9-11 and the global financial crisis, it's literally the understatement of the Millennium to say that this part of the city has changed dramatically since 2000.  While it is easy to focus on Freedom Tower's dramatic ascent to the top of the NYC skyline and the somberness of the 9-11 memorial grounds, it is the demographic change of what was once a mono-functional business district that directly influences the environment at eye-level. Nearly 25,000 people have moved into this neighborhood in the past decade, which means you'll see as many joggers, kids and dogs as you will Wall Street Bankers.  

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Freedom Tower. Photo: Sidsel HartlevFrom Battery Park walk up Broadway to Trinity Church and then across the west side highway and through the World Financial Center to the water front promenade that provides a tranquil escape from hectic Manhattan.  Meander along Nelson A. Rockefeller Park and through high-rise apartments as this is one of the densest neighborhoods in the US; Battery Park City which began as infill from the World Trade Center excavation, is finally nearly complete after nearly 30 years of construction. Circle back along Chambers street and down to Kaffe 1668 before heading into City Hall Park and then to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge for a walk across the East River. 

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Trinity Church. Photo: Jeff Risom
More information
Gehl Architects provided key analysis and strategic advice to The City of New York for programs that reclaim space for people on numerous streets and spaces - including Broadway and Times Square.

Read more about Jeff Risom and Gehl Architects on Gehl Architects' website

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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