From Copenhagen to the Chathams?
The .id gang went to the movies recently to check out Andreas Dalsgaard’s documentary The Human Scale, which looked at the work of Jan Gehl and his team of architects across ten cities including Copenhagen, New York, Dhaka and Melbourne and Christchurch.
It was a fascinating view of Gehl’s observations on how city planning and urban environments impact on human behaviour and enhance or constrain life and happiness. Gehl’s opinions have evolved through systematically observing people in their urban environs as western cities have charged towards modernity over the last five decades. The Danish architect joins many others to make a case that high-rise estates, freeways and suburban sprawl create social distancing and that for all the physical closeness of people living in the cities, there is often little social connection. The documentary asserts it’s time for citizens to reclaim public space – whether by planning or happy accident.
For most planners reading this, there’s nothing particularly new in Dalsgaard and Gehl’s thoughts on the bleak isolation of city living. Yet life is all about contrasts, and I had to smile today after receiving an email from the smallest council in New Zealand, the Chatham Islands. The Chathams are a beautiful, but isolated, group of islands 680km southeast of New Zealand. The population of the Chathams in the 2006 census was 609 people.
It’s not a stretch to appreciate life on the Chathams is very different from that in Melbourne or Christchurch, New York or Dhaka and not just because there’s not a freeway in sight.
In terms of social connectivity there may be some lessons to be learned from the Chathams.
How is this for a close community? This month all Chatham Island women between the ages of 45 to 69 are travelling to New Zealand by charter plane for their bi-annual breast screening check. Essentially an entire section of the Chatham’s community – around 80 ladies – will spend a week away from home and by their return they’ll have had their checkups, shopped up a storm, and eaten takeaways to their hearts content.
In Greater Melbourne, a similar screening effort would have to muster up more than 550,000 women (or roughly 1,100,000 breasts!).
As my contact in the Islands says “Only in the Chathams!”