Architect Taru Niskanen wants to make cities more walkable

Photo: Taru Niskanen

TARU NISKANEN is FCINY’s architect-in-residence in April and October 2019, studying and documenting the walkability of New York’s Harlem, as well as working on her research on urban sensory mapping. She observes the use of public space and the pedestrian experience in the neighborhood, and guides multisensory walking tours, as a part of the New York City’s Architecture and Design Month Archtober 2019.

Taru Niskanen works as a project architect at Harris-Kjisik Architects, while teaching 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 the streets and other pedestrian areas.

“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.”

“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 research material and the experimental knowledge of New York Niskanen gathers during the residency, will be used as a 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?”

Photo: Taru Niskanen

Dividing her two-month residency into two parts, Niskanen is able to observe the behavior of the pedestrians in two different seasons. What grabs her attention are details such as the quality of the pavement, the pace of the traffic, and the height of the buildings – in addition to the sensory perceptions the city is evoking. 

Whilst New York City’s Architecture and Design Month Archtober spreads around all the boroughs of the city in October, Niskanen will guide multisensory walking tours inviting participants to concentrate on their senses: sight, hear, taste, touch and smell. What can we see and experience when we focus fully on exploring the overlooked nuances of our urban habitat?