×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Human Scale’

Andreas M. Dalsgaard's excellent urban-planning documentary should enthuse pedestrians, bike riders and public-space proponents everywhere.

With:

Jan Gehl, Jiangyan Wang, Janet Sadik-Khan, Helle Soholt, Rob Adams, David Sim, Bob Parker.

Taking as its model the work of Danish architect Jan Gehl, “The Human Scale” makes an excellent case for designing cities around people instead of automobiles, traffic flow having dominated city planning since the 1960s. Andreas M. Dalsgaard’s documentary examines cities, from New York to Chongqing, which demonstrate various problems, solutions and possibilities for urban development, each example illustrated by distinctive, well-composed cityscapes and discussed by local talking-head officials, planners and architects. If Dalsgaard’s advocacy of Gehl’s utopian vision largely ignores the socioeconomic forces arrayed against it, the film should nevertheless enthuse pedestrians, bike riders and public-space proponents everywhere.

Dalsgaard’s (and Gehl’s) argument is simple: 50% of the world’s population now resides in cities, and an estimated 80% will be urbanized by 2050. Since big cities lack time and money to expand their infrastructures to meet increased demands, prioritization becomes imperative, and livability within urban structures of tantamount importance. All Gehl’s concepts involve decreasing space given over to cars and increasing space inhabited by pedestrians, thereby encouraging human interaction across class lines and reducing the debilitating effects of high-rise isolation.

Copenhagen already embodies many of Gehl’s concepts, with its no-traffic zones and predominance of bicycles over cars, and it’s treated here as some sort of fait accompli that Dalsgaard explores briefly before proceeding to works-in-progress. Melbourne, thrice voted the world’s most livable city, offers a perfect before-and-after scenario: Faced with a dying metropolis in the 1980s, planners were challenged with attracting suburbanites back to the center. The solution here appears as visually striking as it was successful; “laneways,” or the connected alleyways behind buildings, formerly grungy havens for garbage and dumpsters, were converted into lively pedestrian pathways lined with intimate cafes and shops.

Other examples register as more problematic. In the Chinese megalopolis of Chongqing, planners designed a pedestrian network that would crisscross the city, perpendicular to traffic patterns. But when the camera follows the small path implemented as a pilot program, we find that the redesigned, supposedly pedestrian-friendly crossing has been reconverted back to favor car traffic wherever the route intersects a major artery.

In Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, the world’s fastest-growing city, Gehl-influenced planners run up against the opposing interests of international capital. The World Bank grants the lion’s share of its transportation lending to highways, although only 5% of the entire population, which will have to reimburse the huge loan, uses cars. But in placing the problem of conflicting class interests within a purely Third World context, Dalsgaard sidelines the widening gap between haves and have-nots that impacts cities worldwide.

Dalsgaard manifests this occasional social blindness in his praise of New York City, with its transformations of Times Square and surrounding stretches of Broadway. These strategically situated pedestrian zones may encourage spontaneous neighborhood snowball fights (one is shown here), but they mainly service sightseeing tourists. Meanwhile, throughout the city, huge sections of small-scale, affordable residential areas are razed to erect high-rise enclaves for the rich.

But Dalsgaard’s upbeat approach also heralds genuinely positive results.  After Christchurch, New Zealand, is almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, ordinary citizens are given a dominant voice in its reconstruction and opt for the human-scale Gehl model. Even when the federal government commandeers the project, many people-supported provisos remain.

Tech credits are exemplary in their visual and editorial clarity.

Film Review: 'The Human Scale'

Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 16, 2013. Running time: 77 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary — Denmark) A Kimstim (in U.S.) release of a Final Cut for Real production. (International sales: Autlook Filmsales, Vienna.) Produced by Signe Byrge Sorensen.

Crew:

Directed, written by Andreas M. Dalsgaard. Camera (color, HD), Heikki Farm, Adam Philp, Manuel Claro, Rene Strandbygard, Casper Hoyberg; editors, Soren B. Ebbe, Nicholas Servide Staffolani; music, Krisian Selin Eidnes Andersen; sound, Lars Rasmussen, Per Dybdal Jensen; supervising sound editor, Andersen.

With:

Jan Gehl, Jiangyan Wang, Janet Sadik-Khan, Helle Soholt, Rob Adams, David Sim, Bob Parker.

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    China's Huanxi Media Picks Up 'Snowpiercer' TV Show From ITV Studios

    China’s Huanxi Media Group Limited has bought the exclusive broadcasting right in the mainland for the forthcoming sci-fi TV series “Snowpiercer” from ITV Studios Global Entertainment. The show is based on South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s film of the same name and is set to debut on TBS in the U.S. in the spring of [...]

  • James Marsden attends the 2019 MOCA

    New Abortion Ban Laws Take Center Stage at MOCA Gala

    Forty years ago in Los Angeles, the decision to invest millions in a museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art — not to mention its formerly desolate downtown location, where the vibe was more apocalyptic than artsy — was a risky proposition. But now that the city’s cultural heart has shifted south of Hollywood, it seems [...]

  • I Lost My Body

    'I Lost My Body' Director Jeremy Clapin On His Critics’ Week Breakout

    CANNES  — Jeremy Clapin’s feature debut “I Lost My Body” follows Naoufel, a young man who moves to France, falls in love and tries to create a new life.  Then in a parallel storyline, it follows Naoufel’s severed hand, which runs, jumps and rolls across Paris in an attempt to find the rest of its [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • 'Heroes Don't Die' Review: A Peculiar,

    Cannes Film Review: 'Heroes Don't Die'

    Just when you think modern cinema has exploited the found-footage conceit from every conceivable angle, along comes a tragicomic mockumentary tracing Bosnia’s recent war-ravaged history via the travails of a young French film crew getting to the root of a reincarnated identity crisis. Aude Léa Rapin’s first narrative feature “Heroes Don’t Die” is nothing if [...]

  • Mediapro, Complutense, NFTS Team On Screenwriting

    The Mediapro Group Launches Master’s Program at Madrid’s Complutense University

    Madrid-based production hub The Mediapro Studio has announced finalized details of an arrangement with Madrid’s Complutense University (UCM) and the National Film and Television School of London (NFTS) on a new Master’s program designed to develop new screenwriting talent. Mediapro general director Juan Ruiz de Gauna, UCM dean of information sciences Jorge Clemente and Irene [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content