Cities in the U.S. and around the world are discovering the economic and social benefits of improved urban spaces. Diane and guests discuss how bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and attention to scale can transform city life.


  • Thomas Murphy Senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute and former mayor of Pittsburgh, 1994-2006.
  • Jan Gehl Founder, Gehl Architects-Urban Quality Consultants
  • Kristina Ford Chief of staff, Office of Facilities, Infrastructure and Community Development, city of New Orleans
  • Barbara McCann Executive director, National Complete Streets Coalition


  • 12:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. For the first time in history, more than half the world's population lives in cities and by 2050, three-quarters will. Urban planners say there's both an economic and environmental imperative to create and rebuild urban areas that encourage people to walk, bike and stay in city space.

  • 12:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about what it takes to create truly livable urban areas is Thomas Murphy. He's with the Urban Land Institute, he's former mayor of Pittsburgh. Kristina Ford is an urban planner involved with the redevelopment of New Orleans and joining us from an NPR studio in New York City, architect and urban planner, Jan Gehl. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing from you. I know many of you enjoy biking and walking and I think the three people we have with us are extraordinarily sympathetic to those kinds of city living. So join us on 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to You can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you. It's good to have you with us.

  • 12:08:47

    MR. THOMAS MURPHYGood morning.

  • 12:08:50

    MS. KRISTINA FORDGood morning.

  • 12:08:51

    MR. JAN GEHLGood morning.

  • 12:08:53

    REHMJan Gehl, if I could start with you. I know you've been analyzing cities for a long time and you have found they're not so friendly to people. Tell us why you believe that the way in which cities function is so important?

  • 12:09:19

    GEHLYes. First I would like to say that I come from Europe. I'm from Denmark and I work quite a bit in Europe and of course we have a number of other traditions for living in cities going way back many centuries, and with this perspective, I can look at the last 50 years as a rather sad period in city planning because in the old days, the people who used the city, the people who walked around and used the public spaces, they were attended to because of tradition and people. Those who built the buildings knew a lot about life and people, so people were looked after.

  • 12:10:02

    GEHLBut in the last 50 years, since about 1960, the planning -- the planning probably has been so big and the planners have raised so high over the projects that they can hardly see the ground anymore. The architects have started to address single buildings rather than community of buildings and the traffic planners have done anything to do -- make the cars happy and none of them have really addressed what could make people comfortable, what could make cities inviting for people. And now many cities around the world are starting a new way of -- a new policy saying that first and foremost, we'll do whatever we can to invite people to walk and bicycle as much as possible because that is very good for the city. It's very good for the livability of the city, it makes a safer city, it makes a more sustainable city and it invites people for a much healthier lifestyle.

  • 12:11:07

    REHMJan Gehl, he is the founder of Gehl Architects-Urban Quality Consultants and he is author of the new book, it's titled, "Cities for People." Turning to you, Thomas Murphy, how do you see what happened in Pittsburgh in relation to the kinds of qualities Jan Gehl was talking about?

  • 12:11:34

    MURPHYWell, just to pick up what Jan said, if you look at the great cities of the world, but particularly in the United States, you think of New York City, you think of Central Park. You think of Chicago, you think of Burnham Park along the lakefront. In Pittsburgh, it is Schenley Park. A recreation director 100 years ago went to the mayor and said, we ought to get this piece of property. You know, there was no suburbs and there was lots of open space and the mayor, being the brave mayor that he was 100 years ago, said let's have a referendum. And there was a referendum and the voters said, absolutely no, an absolute waste of money. And he went and convinced the owner of the property, two days before she was going to sign it over to a developer, to give it to the city, which created the great park of Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.

  • 12:12:19


  • 12:12:19

    MURPHYWhere the highest value of real estate exists and that's the point. If you think of New York City and you think of real estate, where are the highest values? It really does radiates out from Central Park. The Gold Coast in Chicago is all about being access to the lakefront and the parks. And -- but we've -- as Jan has mentioned, we've lost that since. If you look at the newer developments, the newer suburban developments around Washington or of any city, it's lucky that there's a baseball field or a soccer field set apart.

  • 12:12:48

    REHMExactly. Thomas Murphy, he's senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute and former mayor of Pittsburgh. Turning to you, Kristina Ford, can you talk about how specifically city planners can improve the quality of life for people living in those cities?

  • 12:13:14

    FORDOh, I'd love to 'cause I come from one of America's great cities, New Orleans, which as everyone knows suffered a great devastation five years ago and has been neglected for five years. It has a new mayor now who is dedicated to making the city better. And I will tell you that his reach is wide because I know that Tom would agree with me, we can pay attention to things like parks and where people can walk and where they can bicycle, but in every city, we have a lot of other people and issues to take into account also.

  • 12:13:47

    FORDAnd I think one of the things that I noticed in reading Jan's book was that he has wonderful ideas. And they are ideas that I think what city planning can do is to allow a developer to be creative in how he responds to a particular landscape, but without insisting that that's the most important thing in the city because frankly, it isn't. I think -- I love city planning because what it does is it makes do with what we've got and tries to make life better for the people who live there.

  • 12:14:17

    REHMKristina Ford, she's chief of staff at the Office of Facilities, Infrastructure and Community Development in the city of New Orleans, she's author of the book titled, "The Trouble with City Planning." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Jan Gehl, I heard you speak the other night. You talked about the way to create bicycle lanes, which, you know, I sort of went, Duh, why hadn't we thought about that before? So that instead of having bike lanes near traffic, you would place bike lanes on the other side of parked cars?

  • 12:15:13

    GEHLYeah, that's referred to now as Copenhagen-style bicycle lanes where we always had bicycle lanes next to sidewalks and had the parked cars on the outside. That makes for a much safer bike lane, of course, so the parked cars will protect the bicycles instead of the bicyclists should protect the parked cars. And I know of many cities who are now fast repainting their streets so that the line delineating where the bicycle should go comes on the inside of the parked cars, which is a much better invitation.

  • 12:15:54

    GEHLBut maybe I should tell you that I come from the city of Copenhagen where actually 48 years ago, they started to push back the vehicular traffic from the main street and they have ever since for 48 years improved gradually the city, making it much, much more inviting for people to walk and to have a good time and they have done miracles to introduce and improve the bicycle infrastructure. So in Copenhagen, now we have 37 percent of all people going to work, they arrive on a bicycle and there is a goal for increasing this to 50 percent of all commuting to happen in bicycles.

  • 12:16:38


  • 12:16:38

    GEHLAlso in Copenhagen, they have, they have combined bicycling and regional and suburban trains so you can bike to the station, take your bike along on the train and then you can continue biking when you arrive into the city.

  • 12:16:52

    MURPHYNow, Diane, imagine 495, if half the people in Washington were commuting by bike, right?

  • 12:16:58


  • 12:16:59

    MURPHYIt would be a different city. It would -- people would get to work so much happier (laugh).

  • 12:17:04

    REHMWell, but that's the question...

  • 12:17:05

    GEHLAnd probably faster.

  • 12:17:06 do you then remake what you've already got? So that -- I mean, I know -- give us the details on what's happened in New York City on Broadway, Kristina?

  • 12:17:20

    FORDWell, I think, I think Broadway's now been closed so it's become pedestrians only, which is a idea that seemed not to work back when cities, the downtowns, were moribund and they turned them into walking plazas with very little success. This is a different time. They waited until Broadway was lively and thriving and so it created, instead of kind of a dead zone around a place that was sort of sorry, they've created a lively place around a center of activity that is working.

  • 12:17:52


  • 12:17:52

    FORDSo, excuse me, I think the point is that a lot of the ideas that we have -- there's a new phrase in city planning. It's an ugly phrase because it's hard to say, place-based planning, which is sort of old wine, new bottles, a way of saying that you have to pay attention to the context and if you've got a neighborhood with this certain characteristics, then here's the solution. When you have people who are commuting long distances of to, as you say, on 495, then it's very difficult to say, we'll put in bike lanes and then y'all can get to work. We have to figure out how they're going to -- where they're going to go to work.

  • 12:18:28

    REHMKristina Ford, she works with the city of New Orleans as a planner and her new book is titled, "The Trouble with City Planning." Short break and right back.

  • 12:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. We are joined now as we talk about city development, thinking about the people who live in the cities. We're joined by Barbara McCann, she's executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. She joins us by phone from Chattanooga. Good morning, Barbara.

  • 12:20:30

    MS. BARBARA MCCANNGood morning, Diane.

  • 12:20:32

    REHMThanks for joining us. Tell us about the work of the Complete Streets Coalition.

  • 12:20:38

    MCCANNSure. Well, the Complete Streets Coalition is really about creating the political and community will to make some of the changes that we've been talking about so far on the show. The Coalition members, which are very broad membership, a lot of sort of the usual suspects in transportation, such as America Bikes and American Public Transportation Association, joined by groups like AARP and the National Association of Realtors. We are all working for the adoption of policies at the federal, state and local level to ensure that all future transportation projects take into account the needs of all users of the transportation system. So not just the cars, but also people on bikes, people on foot, people with disabilities, transit vehicles. And it's really about making sure that the planners and engineers have the political backing and the community support to do some of the innovations that we've seen in places like New York City.

  • 12:21:38

    REHMBut, of course, that's a wonderful thought theoretically. How much progress have you been able to make?

  • 12:21:48

    MCCANNWell, we're making great progress. The Coalition was just founded in 2005 and right now, we have 23 states that have adopted Complete Streets policies and another 137 local jurisdictions around the country. And we also have bills that we're working on in Congress. So we've really seen a tremendous groundswell of interest in changing the way that we spend our transportation dollars.

  • 12:22:12

    REHMWhat's the hardest part of convincing a city to make some of the changes you're talking about?

  • 12:22:21

    MCCANNWell, it varies by city. In some places, it's -- there's just a -- just a doubt that anyone will do anything other than drive in places where driving is the only way people generally get around. Many sunbelt cities that grew up only with the car. Other places there's a real debate about who gets the road space and the allocation of space beyond the automobile. And in other places, they have questions about costs. But in every community that's moving forward on this, they really embrace the vision of wanting to do things differently. They accept that it's going to take awhile and then they start to reap the benefits.

  • 12:23:03

    REHMWell, I wish you all success. Barbara McCann, she's executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. Thanks again.

  • 12:23:16

    MCCANNThank you.

  • 12:23:17

    REHMAnd turning to you now, Tom Murphy, as a former mayor, what can you tell us about the difficulties in trying to get to the planners to change their thinking?

  • 12:23:31

    MURPHYIt's like everything else in life, Diane. People are locked into the status quo. And, you know, Mauka Valley (sp?) said it really well 500 years ago, the hardest thing in the world to do is to get people to change. And...

  • 12:23:43


  • 12:23:43

    MURPHY...and so you can go all around America and see cities that have sidewalks that just sort of end. And you're put out onto streets because there wasn't enough room to put a sidewalk in the road by the standards of the planners and so they eliminated the sidewalks. And I think what Complete Streets is about and I think the conversation that we're having today is that's beginning to change.

  • 12:24:12

    MURPHYAnd a colleague of mine at ULI just recently published a book, Ed McMahon, called "Conservation Communities," which tries to make the real estate case that what we're talking about is seen primarily now as an afterthought. You know, there's no sidewalks there because people are gonna to drive. And so it's -- and/or keeping open space in a development is an afterthought. And it's the idea that if you put that at the front, that you don't try to maximize the usage of land, but to put the value of open space and parks and bike lanes at the very front, that it has the ability to create huge value.

  • 12:24:49

    MURPHYMillennium Park is probably one of -- the best example right now in the country or Highline Drive in New York, the developments we've done. The riverfront developments we did in Pittsburgh have created billions of dollars of new and value along the rivers where, you know, it was old steel mills.

  • 12:25:07

    REHMAnd Jan Gehl, you've talked about how the real estate around Broadway has gone up in value.

  • 12:25:17

    GEHLYeah, that was whispered to me the other evening. And first, I should say, I have had the pleasure to be a consultant to the City of New York and being advisor concerning some of these changes. And I'll just correct that Broadway's not closed to traffic, but two places in Broadway have been closed to traffic. That is Times Square and Hill Square.

  • 12:25:41

    REHMI see.

  • 12:25:42

    GEHLAll the rest is accessible for cars, so you can deliver what you have to do and go there with Texas and whatever, but -- and this was done to have a smoother traffic on all the avenues and the streets and to reduce the problems of pedestrian being hurt and it has been, of course, as you all know, a fantastic success. It has reverberated around the world, if they can make it there, we can make it here.

  • 12:26:11

    REHMExactly. Kristina.

  • 12:26:12


  • 12:26:13

    FORDWell, I think...

  • 12:26:14

    GEHL...and I heard that the...

  • 12:26:14

    REHMOh, I'm sorry.

  • 12:26:15

    GEHL...real estate values in those areas, which were now closed, has increased considerably in those six months to one year where this experiment, which is now permanent, has been going on.

  • 12:26:29

    FORDWell, I would -- if I may speak, Diane, I think that what Jan is saying is correct, that one has to choose certain areas where you can invest and try to get people interested in alternate forms of traffic and thinking about traffic differently. I was very interested in what Barbara said that what we really need is political support for new ideas and that's certainly true. And I just can't have city planners hammered to say that, we're the ones who are behind the curve. What we are, are people who are very well aware of good ideas.

  • 12:27:02

    FORDIt's why I read Jan's book with such delight. It's fantastic ideas, but we are also in the middle of a political climate where -- and Tom knows this better than I do since he was a mayor, in which, for instant, there is an argument going on in today's council meeting in New Orleans about -- you could say it's about walkability. It's about opposition in a public to a 40-unit building that had been a nursing home, that a coalition of non-profit organizations want to turn into a home for -- or a place where people who are homeless with disabilities can live.

  • 12:27:36

    REHMI see.

  • 12:27:36

    FORDAnd the public opposition, there's actually a quotation that is shocking. It says -- it's on Esplanade Avenue, which is a beautiful avenue in New Orleans -- they say that, the people who live here will have to walk down Esplanade Avenue to get to Odyssey House, which is where they go for their medication and counseling. And it said, you know, this is really a nice street in this town with some very -- some of the best people live here. And we don't want to see these people on the streets.

  • 12:28:03

    REHMOh, wow.

  • 12:28:04

    FORDNow, that's the reality of...

  • 12:28:06


  • 12:28:06

    FORD...wonderful ideas meeting the actual circumstances of the city. And so my point earlier was that I find the value in Jan's book is that he doesn't just have one idea, he has about 100.

  • 12:28:19


  • 12:28:20

    FORDAnd so one can pick and choose and see which one is going to work and rely on someone like Barbara to build the political support for it.

  • 12:28:27

    REHMAt the same time, Jan, aren't some cities going precisely in the opposite direction? A friend of mine just came back from Beijing where she says she was five years ago where you saw then nothing but bicycles on the street.

  • 12:28:49

    GEHLYeah, right.

  • 12:28:50

    REHMAnd now you're seeing nothing but cars on the street, so that I would assume a fair amount of thinking is going to have to go into re-reversing that situation, Tom.

  • 12:29:06

    MURPHYWell, it's really very interesting. I've had an opportunity to spend some time in Hong Kong and very much I think China and the Asian countries dealing with huge populations have sort of adopted the '50s and '60s attitude of urban renewal in America, which was driven by the automobile. But now, everywhere I go, they know they got it wrong and they're trying to figure out -- they talk about harmonious in China and the planners of how to make cities more harmonious. And there really -- it's about livability. It's how to make it -- to build with the scale of population that's unimaginable to us here in this country, how to make it more livable. And so there's a huge struggle going on in Hong Kong and Shanghai and their planning departments about the nature of cities. I think they recognize that they've gone like we did in the '60s and '70 -- I mean, you know, when I became mayor I thought I wanted to blow up every building we built from 1950 to 1970.

  • 12:30:11


  • 12:30:12

    MURPHYI always say, what were planners and architects smoking and drinking in the '50s and '60s 'cause it was all driven by cars. The whole scale of how cities were developed and I think what Jan's talking about, I think what we're talking about is trying to get cities back so that it's a place of vibrancy where people can love being there.

  • 12:30:29

    REHMJan Gehl, can you talk about the lessons that have been learned about how traffic should move through cities?

  • 12:30:45

    GEHLYeah, I listened with great interest to this discussion about the boulevard in New Orleans where people -- where not place to walk with other groups in society. And I think that there are some stories like that, but now also around the world by now, there are so many cities who are actually doing miracles, just like New York has done miracles lately. Melbourne has turned around in a fabulous way and they are Australians. They are born with a wheel for a car in their hands and now they're walking around in Melbourne and a city which was famous for being abandoned is now very much vitalized and is one of the nicest cities in the world.

  • 12:31:34

    GEHLSo there are -- it's so interesting and it's so inspiring that there are places, there are cities, there are mayors, there are city planners here, there and there who have been able to turn the thinking -- to change the mindset and change the city planning. And we now have proof that it really works both for the people and the vitality, but also for the economy of cities. And that is great news for all the cities, also the cities in United States.

  • 12:32:06

    REHMJan, what about the use of one-way streets? To what extent does that help the flow of traffic, as well as assist pedestrians, as to how they will move through cities?

  • 12:32:28

    GEHLYeah, of course a one-way street is inventioned by the traffic engineers to move more cars faster through a street, that steps up the capacity of the street. And actually, we have identified 15 fantastic ideas of traffic engineers to step up capacity to have more cars through the streets. And all 15 of them actually makes the life as a pedestrian more (word?) or more stressful and makes the city less pleasant. Just to mention one, that is the flashing red hand which starts when you are three steps into a crossing, which means, run for it, mama.

  • 12:33:14

    GEHLBecause we need the cars to have that space...

  • 12:33:17


  • 12:33:18 soon as possible.

  • 12:33:18


  • 12:33:19

    GEHLAnd the cities are full of these. Of course, in crossings, there should be gentle countdown with numbers displayed as they have in Washington, where you can see how many times you have -- how many seconds you have to wait, how many seconds you can plan your crossing of the street for. So there can be so much done to make -- to show people that we love them and we want them to walk. It's very important that people walk for their own health. If you walk now daily, you'll live seven years longer. And that -- it only takes you about two years to walk that hour longer every day, so you have a gain of five years (unintelligible).

  • 12:34:02

    REHMJan Gehl, he's the author of a new book, it's titled "Cities for People." We’re going to open the phones now and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go first to York, S.C. Good morning, Brian. You're on the air.

  • 12:34:24

    BRIANHi. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 12:34:26


  • 12:34:27

    BRIANI have a question whether or not city planners ever consider linking the city to rural areas to reduce the traffic flow and the amount of just pure driving that people do. 'Cause I work and go to school in a city, but I live maybe six miles outside of it in a rural area, so there is no choice but to drive.

  • 12:34:51


  • 12:34:51

    BRIANAnd I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 12:34:54

    REHMSure. Kristina.

  • 12:34:55

    FORDWell, there in cities that have some foresight and can work in a regional way, they can get federal dollars to create -- well, light rails are most expensive, but even bus lines. I mean, we have that in New Orleans with our adjoining parishes, so there are things to do in that way. They cost a lot of money, but cities -- most cities are dedicated to trying to figure out a way to move people into -- between the city and the suburbs more easily. In New Orleans, we have maps that show the destinations where people are going to work from all the different places in the adjoining parishes and coming into New Orleans. And it's a way that the Regional Planning Commission, which is the authority responsible for getting federal money, that's the kind of information they use to argue for more money for bus routes or more money for light rail.

  • 12:35:42

    MURPHYThe other is, Diane, this country went through a huge disinvestment in railroads 15, 20 years ago and there's large mileages of abandoned railroad right-of-ways that exist in this country that make ideal bike lanes. And I don't know the terrain of Charleston, but the ability to use those abandoned railroad lines -- I mean, you can see one here in D.C. If you stand -- if you're at K Street in Georgetown in the morning, there are more bikes than cars coming off the trail that runs up to Bethesda, the capital -- is the Capital Crescent Trail, maybe. And you can see there's a large percentage of people here in Washington, D.C. now made easy to be able to commute from Bethesda all downhill. Going home is uphill.

  • 12:36:32

    MURPHYBut downhill to work...

  • 12:36:34


  • 12:36:34

    MURPHY...if you're working in the capitol.

  • 12:36:36


  • 12:36:37

    MURPHYSo cities -- some cities have figured that out. That takes a level of leadership in thought, but those connections can be made. They can't be -- it can't be just an afterthought, it needs to be an important value for that community.

  • 12:36:49

    REHMBut I certainly wish that city planners would adopt very quickly Jan Gehl's thought about putting those parked cars between...

  • 12:37:03


  • 12:37:04

    REHM...the bikers...

  • 12:37:04


  • 12:37:04

    REHM...and the flow of traffic.

  • 12:37:05


  • 12:37:06

    REHMIt would make a lot of sense right now, don't ya think, Kristina?

  • 12:37:10

    FORDWell, I'll tell you, Diane, I read the book yesterday on the plane coming up here and that was my favorite idea he had.

  • 12:37:14


  • 12:37:15

    FORDAnd when you look at it...

  • 12:37:16

    REHMMakes sense.

  • 12:37:16 seems like a no-brainer.

  • 12:37:18

    REHMExactly. Kristina Ford and her new book is titled "The Trouble With City Planning." Also on the line with us from New York is Jan Gehl, his book is titled "Cities for People." Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 12:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, we're talking about planning for the creation of more livable, enjoyable cities. Here's an e-mail from Joe who says, "I'm a social worker from Norman, Okla. It seems that focusing on the neighborhood as the central unity of community development could help to create livable cities as residents could live and work within a mile of their home. This would entail the decentralization of centralized social services and require a number of smaller neighborhood based outposts." Tom.

  • 12:40:53

    MURPHYIt's funny, because what he gets to is back in the '50s and '60s again. The planners that we love created a zoning -- the rules of engagement in effect of how cities grew that divided uses. So you lived over here, you worked over there, you shopped over here. And if you see -- and we live, by and large, still with those rules. And cities increasingly now are changing the rules. Beginning to say, people want to live, work and play in the same place. They want to be able to walk and that get -- that's part of the issue that Ed McMahon makes in his book is that that is now in the most successful suburbs, Bethesda being a great example here, it's a place where you can live, work and play and you got good transit, if you want to work downtown. And why aren't we building Bethesdas all over America? And now you have -- you have Tysons Corners which is sort of the poster child of the worst suburban development now beginning to talk about wanting to look like when the subway gets out -- the metro gets out there to look like a...

  • 12:41:58

    REHMA small town.

  • 12:41:58

    MURPHY...a Bethesda -- of doing denser development.

  • 12:42:01


  • 12:42:01

    MURPHYSo that's the struggle. The rules don't work anymore that the planners created in the '50s and '60s. We got to change them. Right, Kristina?

  • 12:42:09


  • 12:42:11

    FORDI'm loving (unintelligible)...

  • 12:42:12

    MURPHYIs that your book?

  • 12:42:12

    FORDThat's my book. Those planners from the 1950's were -- they had big money from the federal government for the Section 701 Plans. You know that as well as I do.

  • 12:42:20

    MURPHYUrban renewal, yeah.

  • 12:42:21

    FORDAnd so -- and those aren't the planners we love. The trouble with city planning, I think, is that planners know a lot about cities. They are its student. They know all about the people who live there. They know that the very things that the man from Norman is talking about, that we don't want to do it the way we used to. The reason that planners in the 1950's and the '60s separated uses was that they didn't want to get down into the ugly part of arguments that are caused by conflicts between different land uses. The very example I gave earlier about the housing for homeless people with disabilities, that's the level on which planners and mayors, even ones we love, hate to get down to 'cause it's contentious and you see people at odds in a way that you can't believe that they're at odds.

  • 12:43:08


  • 12:43:09

    FORDBut we don't think that way anymore. Planners -- it's been a long time since we -- we planned that way. And I think -- it's one of the points in my book is how to make planners, first of all, not be the people with the -- with the bullets headed right toward them because they seem to be at the center of an argument. Try to make planners more useful to a city so that the good ideas that are all around us and that planners know can be put into effect.

  • 12:43:39

    MURPHYLet me give you an -- okay.

  • 12:43:41

    REHMWe'll take another caller.

  • 12:43:42


  • 12:43:43

    REHMHere let's go to Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Jay.

  • 12:43:48

    JAYGood morning. I'm really enjoying your show.

  • 12:43:50


  • 12:43:50

    JAYThank you.

  • 12:43:51


  • 12:43:53

    JAYMy question is the city of Detroit is going through a major change. It's tearing down nearly half of the city. What would the panelists do with that kind of opportunity to, you know, remake the city? And I'll take my -- I'll listen off air. Thank you.

  • 12:44:07

    REHMJan Gehl, what would you say?

  • 12:44:11

    GEHLYeah, that's a -- that's a tough one because I don't know too much about Detroit. I know, of course, all the things generally known, but I don't know exactly the situation now. But around the world, there are many amazing stories of cities redefining themself and sort of turning around and recreating a situation. I could mention Leon, in France, which had a very bad situation around 1990, when much unemployment, closing down of factories, whatever and they decided to do quite a bit with the cheapest thing they could do, that was to make a fantastic system of wonderful squares and parks. So they invested in public spaces so that people could be proud about something in the city. Lift their heads and realize that something was being done and this has lead to a number of investments in the city and now people from all over Europe are pilgrimaging to Leon because it's one of the finest city in Europe and the economy is growing again because of city quality. We had the same story from Brazil with the city of Curitiba who did wonderful planning which then attracted new investments so that they have the best economy in Brazil.

  • 12:45:37

    REHMIt's interesting because what's happening in Detroit is the reclaiming of abandoned homes, the destruction of those homes and new building to take place on those properties, Tom.

  • 12:45:56

    MURPHYAnd Pittsburgh is a good model for Detroit. We went through essentially the same thing. We went from being a city known as hell with a lid off to one now that is ranked by the economy in Forbes Magazine as the most livable city in America. How does that happen? It happens, as Kristina mentioned, about leadership. It happens because people make a choice to change the rules. Part of -- and this is -- I want to give example is that we bought a steel mill site, 250 acres. I'm thinking that we will develop it much like a suburban subdivision to compete with the suburbs. I have a really good city planner who -- my planning director who comes to me and say, why would you do that? Why wouldn't we develop this like the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh? And the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh was built in the -- probably in the '20s, the '10s and its million-dollar houses, it's apartments, it's townhouses. It's a mix of houses. We build that much denser than sort of two houses per acre, much denser, 15 units per acre. It's the most successful development in the Pittsburgh region.

  • 12:47:02


  • 12:47:04

    MURPHYPeople who had not been -- considered living in Pittsburgh chose that as the place to live over suburban subdivisions. And so cities can compete and I think that's the challenge for Detroit. Is one, figure out who they're going to be. Figure out what are their assets. You know, one of the things we did in this development is we daylighted a stream that had been culverted for the better part of a hundred years. Opened a stream up, created trails along the stream. It creates huge value for people. Think about where you want to take your kids to learn how to ride a bike; in a Wal-Mart parking lot or along a trail?

  • 12:47:41


  • 12:47:42

    FORDWell, you know, I, unfortunately, do know Detroit very well. I went to the University of Michigan back when Detroit was a thriving city. And one of -- there's -- there are many similarities between Detroit in its current situation, which has been devastated by an economic decline, and New Orleans, which was devastated by Katrina. And one of the things you notice in Detroit, just driving along as a regular citizen, is that the city used to be grand. I mean the -- it was the focus of the automobile industry. Huge buildings and wide streets. Streets that are eight lanes of traffic and not an interstate.

  • 12:48:16


  • 12:48:17

    FORDIt is a -- it's a street. Well, as the economy declined and the mayor has got to keep those streets up, he can't, for instance, when there's a snow storm decide, well, really, we're only using three lanes of this street and so we will only clear three lanes of the street. We're not going -- we're not able to say, we'll only fix potholes in a few lanes of the street. One of the things that can happen, and it goes directly to the notion of traffic and complete streets and so forth, is to take the opportunity when things are cleared, to re-examine the infrastructure. And one of the most difficult in a city is to shrink what it has to pay for, but Detroit can do it. New Orleans has decided to concentrate development in places where people already live and where they can work and therefore, the transportation ideas that we're hearing about will get them to work. One has to see what seemed like bleak situations, you have to see in them, as planners do, the best planners, they see possibility.

  • 12:49:22


  • 12:49:23

    REHMAnd, of course, Tom, you talked about the fight that goes on...

  • 12:49:28

    MURPHYRight, right.

  • 12:49:29

    REHM...for dollars.

  • 12:49:30


  • 12:49:30

    REHMTo make these kinds of improvements.

  • 12:49:31

    MURPHYAnd we're living it right now. The Obama administration and Congress are grappling with infrastructure legislation. The explosion of bike trails and bike lanes in American really is in large part driven by efforts to create an – some -- from the transportation funding, a couple percent of that is directed what is called enhancement, which include bike lanes and other things. And the transportation lobby wants to take all that money back to build more roads. And so there's a huge battle that goes on that really begins the drive -- the conversation all over the country because if there's money available, it is much easier to talk about building the bike lanes locally and -- Kristina?

  • 12:50:19

    FORDWell, I was going to say that, you know, this is when someone like Barbara, the Complete Street Coalition, that's the real crucial importance of what she's doing...

  • 12:50:26


  • 12:50:27 the political support...

  • 12:50:28

    REHMOf course.

  • 12:50:28

    FORD...for what they're trying to do.

  • 12:50:29

    REHMOf course. To Daniel, he's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you, sir.

  • 12:50:36

    DANIELThank you, Diane and guests. I live in northeast D.C. and almost everything you're advocating is being done in reverse in this area.

  • 12:50:49

    DANIELWe have one-fifth the park space of the preferred section of D.C. and all remaining available open space is being developed as fast as possible, as much as possible. The theory of density around the metros is being abused to take over all the space around the metros, all -- clear all the trees. You know, my neighborhood in Brookland, we have a beautiful grove of mature trees, almost half an acre at the metro site. The metro is a separate little campus perfect to walk through, a pleasure, which now the city is planning to bring the streets right through, busses, taxis, cut down all the trees, destroy the historic context of a landmark mansion on the metro site. When the community is given a patronizing opportunity to have input, people say, we want our trees. We care about storm water runoff. What about pollution? What about the pollution of construction? And we are getting something called smart growth as an excuse for excessive growth.

  • 12:51:55

    REHMHmm, mm, mm.

  • 12:51:58

    FORDI think that I can speak to your problem directly. I think that -- in the book that I've written that Diane has noted a couple of times really is about trying to make citizens more effective in the planning process to make it more democratic. Because at the moment, the kind of questions that people can ask at a public hearing, their ability to influence political decisions, is very weak. And my book actually was written for people who are frustrated with what they see as decisions about the way land is used, which is precisely what you're talking about.

  • 12:52:30

    REHMAnd the book is titled, "The Trouble with City Planning." I must say I have great empathy for Daniel in his efforts to keep the city and his neighborhood beautiful, but when it comes down to it, citizens don't always have the last word, Tom.

  • 12:52:53

    MURPHYAnd, you know, I've been in both sides of that (laugh).

  • 12:52:55

    REHMI know you have. I know you have.

  • 12:52:58

    MURPHYAnd I think in Daniel's case, I mean, I think the efforts of how do -- what creates the vibrancy in a neighborhood? And I think that is the question that you need to ask and the -- and the elected officials need to be sensitive to that. That's the challenge.

  • 12:53:14

    REHMTom Murphy, he's senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006 and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Bruce who's in Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 12:53:37

    BRUCEHi. I love Jan Gehl's work and I just want to remind him that we're Americans and we're likely to think that if some is (unintelligible).

  • 12:53:51

    REHMOh, dear. I'm sorry, I'm not getting you, Bruce. You're breaking up. Oh, we've lost him. So sorry. Let's take another caller in Cleveland, Kyle.

  • 12:54:03

    GEHLBut thanks, Bruce.

  • 12:54:05

    REHMKyle, you're on the air.

  • 12:54:07

    KYLEGood morning, Diane.

  • 12:54:08


  • 12:54:09

    KYLEI just wanted to follow up on the repurposing a city that's at a low point. Cleveland isn't that dissimilar to Detroit with all the foreclosures and one use we've adopted or are adopting is city gardening. Right next to me, we've just put in a six-acre city garden that's now the biggest in the country. I was wondering if your guests could talk about how you could develop a more sensible food system for a city so you can produce the food in the city where you live.

  • 12:54:40

    REHMJan Gehl.

  • 12:54:43

    GEHLYeah, I think that I will maybe address a slightly different thing, that is we are in the situation now where a lot of things in our cities are about to change. The 50 years of cheap petroleum is over and we'll have to find other modes of moving. We've also -- we are in a situation where the families get smaller and smaller and we are spreading ourselves more and more out. We have to concentrate and we have to move more to keep healthy and we have to do a lot of things to make more sustainable cities. And, of course, the idea of having, say, allotment gardens in the city and produce vegetables and have urban farming mixed with the city is all part of this new paradigm where we have to actually look at city planning in new ways because we have a full set of new challenges. And many of these changes are already afoot in one city or the other and I'm very happy to hear this from Cleveland.

  • 12:55:47


  • 12:55:48

    GEHLAnd I think it's a -- it's a great idea and it answers to some of the many new questions we do have in city planning.

  • 12:55:56

    REHMKristina Ford, last word.

  • 12:55:57

    FORDThank you. I was going to say that in New Orleans, we have got several programs that are for community gardens or just for gardens for people who have a lot next door that's been vacant, demolished by the storm and we give it to them along with a $10,000 loan so that they can -- or not loan, it's a grant so that they can build a garden there so people -- we're using our land wisely in that way. And I invite you to come and see us and see the kind of -- the work we're doing because you're right, we have many similarities with Cleveland.

  • 12:56:27

    REHMKristina Ford, her new book is titled, "The Trouble with City Planning." Jan Gehl, he's founder of Gehl Architects-Urban Quality Consultants and author of the new book, "Cities for People." Thomas Murphy is the former mayor of Pittsburgh, he's at the Urban Land Institute. Thank you all so much.

  • 12:56:54

    MURPHYThank you.

  • 12:56:55

    FORDThank you.

  • 12:56:55

    GEHLThanks, Diane.

  • 12:56:56

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 12:57:00

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, Podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.