HotDocs13: The Human Scale (2012)

This tightly structured, immaculately shot documentary by Danish filmmaker Andreas M. Dalsgaard is an examination of Jan Gehl, Danish thinker and revolutionary city planner, who has the idea that megacities are designed for cars, not people. Wide boulevards, tall, impersonal high-rise apartments, suburbs, multi-level highways—the bane of every urban planner is how to reduce traffic congestion and they think the solution is more roads. Of course, every attempt to relieve congestion by road construction doesn’t solve any problems, and as almost every modern city looks to double its population in the next 30 years, the question of crowded cities is only becoming more pressing.

These megacities are isolating, saddening monstrosities. People are relegated to lonely existences in towering concrete blocks. The Human Scale seeks to encourage people to live their lives in the public space and to embrace and take control of the way their cities are designed.

Split into five chapters, The Human Scale divides its focus between various initiatives by architects and city planners to redesign cities to make them more people friendly. Its scope spans from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Chongqing, China. There are success stories like the renovation of Times Square to add pedestrian sitting areas, and the revitalization of Melbourne, Australia’s city centre. But there are also cities balancing on the brink, like Christchurch, New Zealand, which has the potential to be remade in a radically new way, but could also fall to the pressure of government-backed business interests.

The Human Scale sometimes struggles to find the through-story of its five chapters, but it thrives in its architectural musings. Cinematographer Heikki Farm revels in depicting the cityscapes and constructed shapes that define people’s lives. The Human Scale should be required viewing for every city planner and mayor who professes to care about the interests of people.

The Human Scale (2012, Denmark)

Directed by Andreas M. Dalsgaard.

8 out of 10