2019 APR & OCT

Architect Taru Niskanen wants to make cities more walkable

Architect Taru Niskanen will spend the months of April and October 2019 in residency in New York studying and documenting the walkability of New York’s Harlem. Her aim is to do research on the use of public space and the pedestrian experience in the neighborhood, and find out if New York could serve as an example for other cities – especially developing cities – in improving the pedestrian experience.

Taru Niskanen works as a project architect at Harris-Kjisik Architects, and teaches at the Department of Architecture at Aalto University. Her expertise lies in the challenges of rapid urbanization in developing countries, and public life in developing cities. One of Niskanen’s key findings is that in many developing cities only very little attention is paid to public spaces – especially to the streets and other pedestrian areas.

Renewal of a Sub-Saharan Neighbourhood. Slum upgrading plan to an informal settlement in Mlolongo, Kenya. Plan: Taru Niskanen

Renewal of a Sub-Saharan Neighbourhood. Slum upgrading plan to an informal settlement in Mlolongo, Kenya. Plan: Taru Niskanen

“Most of the people in developing cities are walking to get to their destinations. Yet these cities are often completely designed and built for cars, which makes walking not only unpleasant but dangerous.”

For Niskanen, New York serves as a model example of a city where public spaces – previously invaded by cars – are given back to the people.

“In New York, many improvements have been made over the past ten years to enhance the quality of pedestrian space – like the banning of cars from Central Park and Times Square. The biggest change, however, took place in the mindsets of the policy makers.”

The architect plans to use New York’s case, and the experimental knowledge that she will gather during the residency as reference material for her future studies in developing cities.

"If  these kind of changes are possible in a city the size of New York, why not in the rest of the world?”

Niskanen will divide her two-month residency into two parts. This allows her to observe the behavior of the pedestrians in two different seasons. In her research she will pay attention to objective things such as the quality of the pavement, the pace of the traffic, and the height of the buildings, but also observe the sensory perceptions that the city evokes.

Areas build in Amman in 2009. Drawing from a a satellite photograph. Drawing by Taru Niskanen.

Areas build in Amman in 2009. Drawing from a a satellite photograph. Drawing by Taru Niskanen.

“New York is quite overwhelming to all of our senses, and the sensual perceptions have a significant impact on what the experience of walking in the city is like.”

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