‘The Human Scale’: Making cities work for people | 2½ stars

Updated: 2013-11-07T04:23:25Z


The New York Times

Not rated | Time: 1:17

“It seems like you’re at a tipping point between becoming L.A. or becoming Copenhagen,” the narrator of “The Human Scale” says to an urban planner for Christchurch, New Zealand, a city rebuilding from an earthquake in 2011.

In this film, Los Angeles — with its worship of the automobile — is the bad. Copenhagen, with public spaces that allow citizens to mix, is the good. That’s the gospel of Gehl Architects, the Danish firm that guides this film’s vision of cities that encourage human interaction.

Writer/director Andreas Dalsgaard’s documentary celebrates that quality in Siena, Italy; Melbourne, Australia; and New York. It points out the challenges faced by Dhaka, Bangladesh, and especially Chongqing, China, which is in a nation fast changing from agrarian to urban.

History is touched upon — Robert Moses, Le Corbusier — and there’s an insightful diversity of neighborhoods pictured within each of the cities mentioned. The information is a bit narrow, but the point of view sincere. (Among the things that make these planners sigh with pleasure: bike lanes and low-rise buildings.)

The talk is not of futuristic utopias, however, but of brick-and-mortar ways to create environments according to the creed of the film’s title. If the result sometimes feels like a sedate lecture, the global journey strongly enlivens the lesson; it’s fascinating how alike and how different cities can be, and more fascinating to imagine what they may become.

(At the Tivoli.)

| David DeWitt, The New York Times

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