The Human Scale

This weekend, I again watched The Human Scale, a film from 2013, and got more stoked to meet Jan Gehl at the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism (#CNU23) in Dallas in April. Jan will bring the Congress an update on his human scale work since the film was complete, but the ideas are timeless. The film is on Netflix in Canada. I’m not sure if it’s also available in the U.S., but it will be screened in Texas before CNU 23. Until then, here are memorable statements from the film, and the Twitter accounts of the speaker, when I could find them.

We have known this about the motorcar: if you make more roads, you will have more traffic. Now we know about cities: if you make more places for people, you will have more public life. In cities that have done away with their pubic spaces, life has become totally privatized. ~Jan Gehl @citiesforpeople

If you are a Robert Moses-type planner, you want to separate things, and extinguish the possibility for life to pop up. A concrete system in equilibrium (the Moses legacy of things moving quickly) is not what makes the city fantastic. Before the recent prioritization of pedestrians and cyclists, the image of New York City was of a throng of taxis in Times Square. The brand wasn’t the pedestrian experience. ~Jeff Risom @risomj

We have made the human living environment deadly. And people see that you can’t build your way out of traffic. ~Mark Gorton @MarkGortonNYC

New York City streets used to be 90% used by pedestrians and 10% by drivers, but the space allocation was just the opposite. We redid the math. ~Janette Sadik-Khan @JSadikKhan

New York City is changing North America’s perception of what the city street is all about. ~Paul Steely White @PSteely

Image credit: Wally Argus flickr profile: argusfoto

Image credit: Wally Argus; flickr profile: argusfoto. Click for larger view.

When you walk through a city a five kilometers per hour, it’s a very sensual and interesting experience. So we design cities for people at the scale of 5 km/h. Suburbs are made so that cars are happy going 60 km/h. That’s a completely different scale from walking. We are building for ourselves problems of obesity, social isolation and financial hardship with the patterns of our car suburbs. ~Jan Gehl @citiesforpeople

We’re going to have to almost double our global urban capacity in the next 40 years. Global urban population was 3.5 billion in 2012 and by 2050 is expected to be 6.5 billion. We don’t have the capacity to keep building like we’ve been building, so we must figure out how to do more with less. ~City of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle @LordMayorMelb

Dhaka is the fastest growing city on earth, with 1,000 new residents per day. The patterns of growth are destroying the flavor of the city. Ignoring lower income people and prioritizing for the rich becomes a callous of your own making as a city planner. ~Iqbal Habib, Architect, Urbanisation and Governance Committee

In Dhaka, 5% of people use private cars, and 37% use the ricksha. But conversations are underway to try to ban the ricksha, increasing auto congestion, and marginalizing lower income individuals. The budget for pedestrians is $10 million USD, while the budget for flyover overpasses is $1 billion. We want to be free of the negative forces of economic colonialism – car-centric development – in Bangladesh. ~Ruhan Shama Dhaka traffic
Image credit: flickr user: Pyb

The things that we want when we think as people – instead of as corporations – are actually very, very common. ~Bob Parker Mayor of Chistchurch, New Zealand @bobparkerchch

Cities are full of overlapping memories; overlapping stories. The city is not just bricks and mortar. It’s about love. Of the people for their place. It’s not possible for the master plan to answer all the questions, but we can create a robust framework that allows life to take place. Invitations to walk. To sit. To stay. A better way to cross the street. A better way to live your life. ~David Sim on Christchurch earthquake

City life comes when you give people a chance to not plan everything. To just come and dance. ~Coralie Winn @GapFillerChch

It is so cheap to be sweet to people in city planning. Man is a very clever animal who knows what he likes, and when he is uncomfortable. ~Jan Gehl @citiesforpeople

Cafe, Place Colette, Paris 2010
Image credit: flickr user: zoetnet

If you’re looking for tools to implement many of the ideas in The Human Scale film, definitely join us at CNU Dallas, and in particular check out these four sessions, with more details soon:

Form-Based Code Workshop
CNU 202 day-long workshop with Susan Henderson, Matthew Lambert, Jennifer Hurley, Marina Khoury, and Hazel Borys
Dallas, TX | Apr 29

From Ideas to Action: What’s the Story?
CNU 202 half-day workshop with Ben Brown and Scott Doyon
Dallas, TX | Apr 29

Designing at the Human Scale
CNU plenary with Jan Gehl
Dallas, TX | Apr 30

Happy City Applied
CNU 202 day-long workshop with Charles Montgomery and Hazel Borys
Dallas, TX | May 2

See you there!

Hazel Borys

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  1. I live at the junction of 34th Street, 6th Avenue and Broadway. Out my window is Macy’s and the open space in front of it. I am a few blocks from where Bob Simon was killed when the Lincoln Town Car he was in crashed unaccountably into a Mercedes. The hailing of NYC is a cop out because the solution to what planners and designers are creeping toward over time is a big step beyond NYC. It is car free cities. I mean mile square areas that are sans cars period. Until this little notion is duly lodged in the psyches of planners and designers we will not even be on a page whose continuation would more to the heading viable future. It is nice that we finally see the crucifixion of the public space. That is going on within blocks of me. The bank removed the tables in front of it on 32d Street. Glass started falling from the new high rise, completely disabling the public space that was manditorily placed there. Meanwhile the city is turning itself over to money-launderers from all over who can somehow operate with impunity while we do not think clearly about what Christopher Alexander, C. A. Doxiadis, Jane Jacobs approached without saying outright — get the cars out.

  2. Interesting points, Stephen, thanks for sharing. Politically challenging ideas you have, as usual, but also with merit. The parts of The Human Scale film I didn’t cover include Jan Gehl’s work in Copenhagen, China, and Melbourne, in which large numbers of streets did get the cars out. Definitely works in some circumstances, including parts of NYC. More on that here:

    • The more it can be shown WHY this is a good idea the better. The payoff is two ways. Climate change will be less a problem. And there is a huge new industry in creating modular dwellings for the cybercommunities that will replace what we have now.

  3. It almost feels like a dirty secret or treason to discuss openly the very obviousness of removing cars from cities. Thank you for stating the obvious, Mr. Rose. And thank you, Ms. Borys, for continuing to foster the necessary discussion.

    • It is obvious. It is self evident. And it will happen. THe only question is how. I hope planners and designers will do what I have failed to do for five decades. Create — maybe with 3d printing — models that indicate what a cybercommunity of 10K would actually look like — within a square mile. Four levels no stairs. Surfaces modular, thin, soundproof, legolike. These small cities are integral, self governing. Eco sufficient. At least half the entire space on all levels is public. This is not that dense when you consider that it is around one-seventh of NYC’s density. The desperate need now is for people to imagine this and produce models that will move things along.

  4. I’ve not yet seen this film, but I have put it on my Watchlist on Amazon Prime, for those of you who subscribe. Can’t wait!

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