If you live or work in a city, you’ve probably experienced what we’ve come to describe as “the grind.” This phrase encapsulates the idea of the urban environment as a place of harshness and struggle, where people do not get by easily.
An antidote to this urban grind might be what’s called a “soft city.” If you haven’t heard of that, it’s not surprising—it’s both the title and the thesis of a new book on urban design out this week by David Sim, a partner and creative director at the Copenhagen-based studio Gehl. In it, Sim argues that the cityscape can foster a sense of softness—of comfort, ease, and even kindness. It all depends on how we build it. What if small grocery shops and cafés were housed in the same buildings in which we lived, instead of a 10-minute drive away? Or if our apartment buildings were built around a shared courtyard, shielded from the elements? Or if our streetscapes provided enough room for us to walk and bike safely, and maybe also a bench to sit on and enjoy the sunshine for a while? Sim’s book is filled with ideas like this. They’re small tweaks, but easy ones to incorporate—and ones that, once present, add up to a city that welcomes you in, not pushes you out.
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