Prospering in the Human Scale

Daina Fahey writes on powerful documentary ‘The Human Scale’, coming soon to ACMI.

From Director Andreas Dalsgaard comes the thought-provoking documentary, The Human Scale, which centres upon the research of renowned Danish architect and urban design consultant, Jan Gehl.  This compelling film explores the rapid urbanisation of cities over recent decades and the toll that modern city planning has had and continues to have on people’s health, prosperity and the simple act of being.

Through the thoughtful and passionate views of urban planners, academics and modern-day thinkers, the documentary takes viewers on a journey across the globe, examining how the modern city – where planning has been dictated by the role of the car rather than on how people would like to live – is affecting humans. Through five well-paced chapters the film examines the application of Gehl’s human-scale urban design principles, in cities such as Copenhagen, New York, Chongqing and Christchurch.

'The Human Scale'

‘The Human Scale’

While much is understood about the habits of animals in their natural settings, Jan Gehl comments that far less is known or documented about how humans like to move and live within urban settings. Since the 1960s we’ve seen a rapid period of urbanisation across the globe as people have moved inwards – a major departure from the past where living in tribes, clans or villages allowed for people to live together. But as people move to smaller spaces that promote isolation over integration, Gehl asks what effect this is having on their health and happiness?

This idea of creating a public realm that fosters human interaction and allows life to take place is at the centre of Gehl’s research. His findings consistently point to the human need for intimacy, spontaneity and interaction, which he says is so often restricted in modern cities. Through systematically observing how people interact with their spaces, Gehl and his team promote a more human-oriented approach to urban planning.

'The Human Scale'

‘The Human Scale’

Even the most simple of changes can be shown to have a dramatic influence on how people interact with the public spaces around them and builds upon the premise that if there are more friendly and usable public spaces, the city will in turn have more public activity.

The results can be seen in our very own city with the regeneration of Melbourne’s much loved lane-ways, which were opened up and re-purposed during the 1980s to become the spaces we know and love today and which has seen Melbourne’s café and bar culture come to life.

While across the globe, New York urban planners embarked on a pilot study in 2007 with the simple idea of giving people a chance to experience what their lives could be like. By designating key public spaces for resting, walking and cycling, the positive uptake was seen over-night with residents demanding more changes be made including more seating, bike lanes and car-free spaces.

'The Human Scale'

‘The Human Scale’

While more than 50% of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, this number is set to increase to more than 80% by 2050. How will the urban environment of the future foster human interaction and activity and what changes can be made now to ensure we leave a rich legacy for generations to come?

While steering clear of preaching, The Human Scale cleverly explores these very real and current issues for urban planners, politicians and citizens alike, leaving even the most sceptical of viewers to ponder what their cities could be like if modern-day urban planning prioritised spaces for public life.

Daina is a freelance writer and film reviewer.

The Human Scale screens at ACMI in a special season from Friday 14 June to Thursday 4 July 2013. 

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