A documentary about urban planning in an time of population explosion, The Human Scale uses plenty of globe-hopping examples to make up for what it sometimes lacks in depth.
With 80 per cent of the population expected to live in cities by 2050 (the figure is currently about 50 per cent), cities around the world are facing critical choices about their future social health. Director Andreas M. Dalsgaard concentrates on the ideas of Danish urban planner Jan Gehl – with his focus on people, not cars – along with his acolytes in various global burgs.
Although not mentioned here, Gehl was inspired by urban activist Jane Jacobs, who adopted Toronto as her home and was a critical influence on the city’s development in the seventies.
Gehl’s vision is anti-highrise buildings, but also anti-suburban sprawl, emphasizing townhouses, semi-detached houses and mid-height apartments (six storeys is cited as the optimum value) for the social health of cities. Copenhagen, already incorporates many of his principles of pedestrian and bike-friendly streets. Other cities that have felt his influence include Melbourne and New York, where Time Square was transformed to a pedestrian mall. A test case for these ideas is the city of Christchurch, N.Z., which was devastated by a 2011 earthquake, and is being rebuilt, using many of the small-is-better principles.
Although the message largely preaches to the converted, Dalsgaard‘s film gains topical urgency when it looks at booming mega-cities, such as Chongqing, China, and Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, where the corporate and political agenda of Western-style progress favours the few car-owning haves over the many pedestrian have-nots.