Spinning Wheels about Scale

Thursday, November 08, 2012

About a week ago, I ran into an amusing pair of quotes about Brasilia, the government-planned capital city of Brazil. The first repeats the conventional leftist "wisdom" that the city, being "planned", is therefore "rational" in design. The other makes a decent stab in the right direction regarding what is wrong with the way the place turned out:

"Brasília was the ultimate modernistic city, built on all the ideas of the modernistic manifests. It looks fantastic from the airplane. But if you are down at eye level, on your feet and going from one place to another, Brasília is a disaster. Every distance is too wide. Things are not connected. You have to trample for endless miles along completely straight paths. Nobody ever started to think about what it would be like to be out in Brasília in between all these monuments."

Jan [Gehl] explains: "As far as I am concerned, the people scale is THE important scale of all of them. We have the city plan scale, the site plan scale and the people scale. And definitely the people scale, where you touch the city, and where you touch the buildings - that's what counts for quality. […] I find it striking that the quality of the urban habitat of homo sapiens is so weakly researched compared to the habitat of mountain gorillas and bengal tigers and panda bears in China." [bold added]
It is no surprise that the "scale" is wrong, and I, too, would attribute this result to the application of principles derived in part from poor research -- if not cooked up entirely in a research-free vacuum. I would hazard to go further, though, inspired by Ayn Rand's questioning of why man needs government or, more fundamentally, an ethical system. Her views on such questions, although widely pilloried, are easy enough to discover for oneself: Suffice it to say, that along the lines of her inquiries, that I think that she would find the whole idea of the government planning a city risible. In any event, anyone who attempted to plan (or even found) a city in disregard of the requirements for man's survival (which include a political environment of freedom conducive to his prospering) would have, at best, failed in some way.

Brasilia is, according to Wikipedia, quite prosperous, at least as measured by per capita GDP -- no surprise, given the amount of looting the government does. That view, like the one from the airplane, is wrong, and should also raise questions, such as, "How much better off would Brazil be without the socialistic monument that is its captal?" The problems with Brasilia, like those of many other leftist schemes, go well beyond scale, and well beyond even the scheme itself.

-- CAV

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