Stephen’s 2 Line Review – The Human Scale – Fascinating And Beautifully Shot Doco Exploring Jan Gehl’s Quest To Make Our Cities More Liveable. Odd Exclusion Of Public Transport, And The Public, Mars Otherwise Excellent Film.

New York City gives Times Square back to the people.
New York City gives Times Square back to the people.

Danish director Andreas Dalsgaard explores the inspirational work of influential, pedestrian-centric architect and urban planner Jan Gehl in his beautifully-shot documentary, The Human Scale.

Hinging on the somewhat alarming statistic that by 2050, the population living in urban centres will soar from 50% currently to almost 80%, as the old agrarian ways are abandoned and more and more people seek happiness and prosperity in the bright lights of the biggest cities.

Gehl began to survey pedestrian patterns in Italy during the 60s, noting that the rise of the automobile had dominated urban planning, to the detriment of citizens who were increasingly pushed to high-rise living on the outskirts of cities, in suburban areas often devoid of public space.

The work of Gehl and his colleagues has influenced city planners worldwide, from the rejuvenation of Melbourne’s CBD in the 80s – both Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and Rob Adams, Director of City Design are interviewed – to the wildly successful pedestrianisation of Copenhagen’s civic centre.

The Human Scale offers fascinating glimpses into the battle to make our cities more liveable, and les car-centric (here’s a hint, the car lovers fight back), talking to planning experts as far afield as Dhaka, New York and Christchurch in the aftermath of the 2011 devastating earthquake, which opened up the very real possibility of starting from scratch.

It makes for engaging viewing, and Dalsgaard certainly has a great idea for capturing these metropolis at both their most beautiful and, at times, terrible, but there are a couple of noticeable oversights that mar an otherwise fantastic doco.

In the rush to vilify cars, the only alternatives offered by Gehl and his folks are feet or bicycles. Whether through their fault or Dalsgaard’s editing, no mention is made of public transport at all, which is jarring, to say the least. Furthermore, all the talking heads are experts, with practically no input from the everyday people living in these developing cities, which is a shame.

It’s still well worth catching though, and offers a lot of optimism for the future of our civic spaces as our cities grow exponentially.

Stephen A Russell

The Human Scale is showing at ACMI Friday June 14 to Thursday July 4,