Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 Film Review - The Human Scale

Cities, who are they built for is the question that is explored in the Human Scale. Starting from the post world war two area and exploring 4 continents the film explores the decades long move toward the automobile and gives compelling arguments as to why city planners should move away from the catering for the car.

The main voice behind the shift is Danish architect Jan Gehl. He saw the state of the downtown centre of Copenhagen and decided to take a position on a downtown street and watch people. What he found was that Copenhagen had become a space for cars, the people had nowhere to gather or to sit or to comfortably move at a walking pace.  His solution remove cars from the downtown core, along with the parking spaces along the canal replacing them with bike lanes, benches, pedestrian walkways and green spaces to give the space back to the people.

Next the focus is on New York State in the 50's and city planner Robert Moses expansion of the New York State highway system. The result more roads, more cars, more congestion and traffic still did not move. New York has evolved in a 90-10 ratio towards cars while Gehl's philosophy favours people 90-10. The Gehl Architects were hired by the New York Transportation Authority and invited to observe the Times Square area.  The group reached similar conclusions that they had in Copenhagen. Give the space back to the people. Their recommendations led to today's Time Squares featuring outdoor seating, bike paths space, places for the citizens to stop sit and enjoy the area. A cell phone video of an impromptu Christmas time Times Square snowball fight after the changes an ultimate sign of citizens taking back city space.

The original city for the people first philosophy is Sienna, Italy they have many places for people to gather, places to sit and an abundance of pedestrian walkways in the centre of the city. People were meant to gather is groups and not be isolated in suburban single-family dwellings.

The main theme of the Documentary is that the population continues to grow and will reach 6.5 billion by 2050. People continue to move on mass from the country into the cities and the infrastructure cannot support the influx of people unless there is a significant shift. A move is needed from Cities that are based on a 60 km per hour car pace to a 5 km per hour walking pace.

Down in the southern hemisphere the director interviews the city planners in Melbourne. They realized in the 1980's that the city centre was slowly dying. They needed a way to revitalize but did not have the space. The solution:  Use the labyrinth of the back alley spaces that formally housed dumpsters, doorways and loading docks for cafe's which lead to stores and a whole shopping areas in between buildings and the main streets. They were able to shift back the ration in the downtown core to 5% car traffic and raised the pedestrian traffic by 37%.

In Asia the group looks a Dhaka in Bangladesh and the move backed by the IMF to build more roads for vehicles. Local group have appeared to reject this Western idea the city has a population of 10 million and continues to grow.  It's a very fragile location that is always on the verge of a severe earthquake that could reduce many of the city buildings to rubble. The majority of the population will never own cars and the loans from the IMP at exorbitant interest rates will take several lifetimes to repay for roads that will be used by the few.

What would you do if you had the chance to start over? That is the question being asked in Christchurch. The cities downtown core was destroyed by a 2011 earthquake. The public had a say and contrary to the wishes of the banks and big multinationals won height restrictions of six stories with plenty of public places for sitting and gathering along with bicycle paths.

Beautifully shot and well paced The Human Scale brings an important message that will become critical as we march toward the year 2050.  We have to move to cities that are livable healthy and geared again toward Humans that work at eye level and not built to impress travellers in airplanes on final approach. It's a film that I can recommend.

The Human Scale | Andreas Dalsgaard| Denmark| 2013 | 83 Minutes.

2013 Hot Docs Film Festival.

Tags: City Planning, Architecture, World Cities, Cars vs. People, Population Growth, City Centres, Urban vs. Rural.

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