The Human Scale

No documentary I’ve seen about city planning has come at the topic from such a resolutely humanistic perspective, or given me more hope for the future. Focusing on the ideas of Danish architect Jan Gehl, this 2012 feature by Andreas Dalsgaard offers a guided tour of several cities—from Copenhagen to New York to Chongqing to Melbourne to Dhaka, India, to Christchurch, New Zealand—drawing from them both positive and negative lessons. Central to Gehl’s thinking is the notion that greater public space and pedestrianization enhance everyone’s quality of life; the transformation of Times Square from a cab-choked nightmare into a more open civic realm is held up as a model, while the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch point out the foolhardiness of warehousing people in giant high-rises. Implicit in all this is a welcome sense that the alienation of city life results less from human coldness than from urban design that encourages the privatization of space.