Urban repositioning: quick lessons in cities sustainable development
Melbourne operated a successful urban repositioning. Photo by mugley.

Melbourne operated a successful urban repositioning. Photo by mugley.

Most people today live in cities and this concentration creates stress – on urban systems and on people themselves. Some cities have undergone urban repositioning – an effort to revamp their centers through urban research, design and planning – allowing them to once again become cities for people. A recent presentation at Transforming Transportation by Danish urban research and design consulting firm Gehl Architects tells us more about why we should care about urban repositioning, and where we can find some great examples of success.

Why should we care about urban repositioning?

Cities often fall short of people’s expectations. Gehl Architects presentation pointed to Moscow as exemplifying the shortfalls of modern cities. Cars have invaded the street space in the Russian capital, eating sidewalks, leaving little or no space for trees or pedestrians. Cars use 93% of the waterfront access in Moscow, leaving only 7% to people. London, by contrast, has 76% access to waterfront for people. In Moscow, cars also make it difficult to talk and listen in the streets because of the noise.

Fortunately, we can reinvent cities so that they become cities for people. Gehl Architects’ urban research work highlights how we can make cities attractive, healthy, lively, safe, and sustainable again. By reconceiving the urban space with people as the priority, for example, by focusing on pedestrian traffic, Gehl Architects showed us we can reposition a city as a space where family life, professional time, and leisure time unite around the same space. See some of Gehl Architect’s urban research work.

What is the real value of urban repositioning?

The value of urban repositioning is clear. Gehl Architects explained that cities that undergo urban repositioning reap benefits for retail. They see rising residential real estate values. They reduce office vacancies and increase employment. They create more lively spaces where businesses like bars and pubs can open.

What are successful recent examples of urban repositioning?

In Australia, Melbourne conducted an urban repositioning of its center. The results are impressive. The number of residents grew 830 percent from 1992 to 2002, with a 3,311 per cent increase in apartment dwellings between 1982 and 2002.. The city has improved streets for public life, opening new squares, promenades and parks (71 percent more public space from 1994 to 2004). There are also more places to go to, with 275 percent more cafes and restaurants (1993-2004). Businesses saw increased foot traffic (pedestrian traffic doubled in the Bourke Street Mall between 1993 and 2004 from 43,000 people to 81,000 per day). Melbourne’s center has also become a 24-hour city, with increased nighttime pedestrian traffic (+98 percent over 1993-2004).

What are some indicators to identify progress?

To sell others on the idea of urban repositioning, Gehl Architects used some non-technical, “real life” indicators of growth:

  • Urban population;
  • Number of students;
  • Number of urban dwellings;
  • Number of cafes and restaurants.

By placing red dots on a map, Gehl Architects also made the progress visual. I invite you to take a look at their presentation.


Urban repositioning invites us to reflect on our cultures and ourselves. Cities we create for people can unite us and establish common ground for people of different ages, cultures, genders and ultimately, become more equitable places.

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