What exactly is human scale?

Darwin masterplanDarwin City Centre Masterplan, Space Syntax

For too long, architects and urban planners have pursued the myth that human scale means “local” scale. In doing so, they have downscaled space, thinking that by fragmenting and disconnecting towns and cities into small enclaves they would be creating “community”. They were wrong.

Isolated and disconnected, people on inner -city housing estates, new towns and sprawling housing developments have found it hard to form social networks. To engage with the outside world. To be human.

And this form of urban planning prevails, being exported to developing cities worldwide.

In contrast, human scale is a combination of the local and the global, acting simultaneously on the individual. We are, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated than we were given credit for.

What do I mean? Well, consider having a doorstep conversation with a neighbour while watching the world go by on your street, or a coffee with a friend on the High Street. These are simultaneous local:global experiences.

Space Syntax analysis identifies the places where shops are most likely to locate in historic towns and cities. Using network models to study patterns of street connectivity, we find that shops are usually in locations that are simultaneously embedded in both local and global movement networks. Where everyday movement criss-crosses, be that local, short-distance movement or larger distance, global movement.

We call this “multi-scale” analysis and the places it identifies are multi-scale places.

Human behaviour is no mystery when the right kind of science is directed towards its understanding.

And the key finding for the creation of future urban settlement is that we need to think more globally. To connect more. To embrace the outside world more. To create more multi-scale places.

To make places work more effectively at the local scale we need to connect them more effectively at the global.

We need to see the human scale as a multi-scale phenomenon.

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