3On Scale and Edges

‘In narrow streets and small spaces, we can see buildings, details and the people around us at close range. There is so much to assimilate, buildings and activities abound and we experience them with great intensity.’

Jan Gehl, Cities for People, 20101

In the two preceding chapters we have considered firstly how we experience cities in time: over years, decades and generations, as they grow and shrink and grow again; how their history, far beyond our own lifespan, is nonetheless part of our immediate and everyday experience. Secondly, we have examined how we experience cities through movement from one place to another, where the dimensions of our perception include time, information and mode of travel, as well as distance and geometry. This chapter moves on to discuss our experience of spaces within cities: enclosures between buildings, distances we can see with our eyes, volumes we can feel with our bodies.

In Chapter 2, the second thesis of the book was posed (see page 50); that there are universal norms of scale in the making of cities, which all people hold broadly in common and against which all relativities can be judged. Even if it is impossible to define these precisely, they are rules of thumb and we should not feel shy or unqualified in saying ‘feels too big’ or ‘looks out of scale’ or ‘not big enough’. Remembering the child under the table, there is within us all both a child and a giant: two beings with finely attuned and largely unconscious ...

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