The Human Scale juxtaposes the urban experiences of cities in China, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, and the United States to raise questions about the costs of modernity and to argue in favor of city planning that reclaims the public realm for social life.
The film is a polemic for planning, but a different approach to planning than the kind of planning that built the United States in the 20th century and continues to build cities in urbanizing parts of the world. This new approach to planning is measured by walking distances, social interactions, and social inclusion, rather than vehicle speeds and parking spaces. This new kind of planning, like the case studies examined in this film, is very much a work in progress.
Various research and planning projects by Gehl Architects provide most of the case studies examined by the film. Interestingly, most of the case studies have achieved less than complete implementation. The pedestrianization of Times Square in New York City, for example, was originally planned for a much longer stretch of Broadway in Manhattan. The incomplete aspiration of those projects isn't presented as a failure, however, but as a continued goal to work toward.