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human scaleThe Human Scale takes a single hypothesis, that traffic in urban areas is detrimental to people’s social health, and with the counsels, and city planners of many of the world’s fastest growing cities, considers planned and practised solutions to the un-organic manner in which people interact in mega cities.

The stars of the documentary are Gehl Architects, a Scandinavian company headed by Jan Gehl, a man whose research into the human activity of inner-city spaces has inspired architects world wide for over 40 years. Where cities have been planned around vehicles (privately owned cars) for the last 100 years, Gehl is interested in measuring pedestrian traffic and activity, the “human scale”, and takes his research to Dhaka, New York, Melbourne, Chongqing, Christchurch and other metropolitan districts. Copenhagen is used as a model for the potential sociability of a public space. In Copenhagen, 35% of the urban population cycle, while only 24% drive – unfortunately no such percentile was offered for any of the other cities the film explores, which makes this particular statistic a difficult to consider, though presumably fewer people ride bikes in all other countries.

The final city that the film assesses is Christchurch in the wake of its destruction in 2011 from a devastating earthquake. Planners were able to, and perhaps for the first time, consult the community of Christchurch about how the city may be restructured to cater for its inhabitants in a more social setting and although thousands of suggestions were put into a model for the government to consider, only a few suggestions may be heard. This is an ongoing dispute with that particular city and in the years to come, and perhaps with the aid and awareness of this film project may be shaped to greater effect.

What could potentially have been a more political film is almost purely a civil venture for director Andreas Dalsgaard and Jan Gehl, and whether or not it will be effective in changing the way we design cities is hard to tell. While attempting to make a film for the urban population of mega cities, it will probably only resonate with other architects and city planners, which is quite likely its intention. The film merely invites us in on the conversation, to see how far it has come. Unfortunately, it does plainly look like a commissioned corporate video for Gehl, and again, perhaps it is only Gehl who can and will make a difference. Definitely for architects.