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Urban Design And Development: An Incredibly Broad Topic, But An Undeniably Fascinating Documentary
on February 9, 2012
The final entry in Gary Hustwit's impressive design film trilogy is aptly entitled "Urbanized." This documentary is a uniquely fascinating look at how urban design across the globe is shaping the future of our cities. In his previous documentary features within this series, he has looked at typography (Helvetica) and every day objects (Objectified) in new and interesting ways. While neither of those films seemed to have a particularly sexy topic (especially typeface!), Hustwit managed to pack both films with surprisingly entertaining stories and unusual facts. "Urbanized" take perhaps the largest theme and gives us a peek at many cities around the world to show how vital planning and design execution has been in dealing with their everyday problems. And while I was never less than captivated by this appealing presentation, the topic was so incredibly broad. As such, the all-encompassing nature of the film causes it to lack focus (or seem to) as we jaunt from country to country tackling incredibly diverse issues.
From tales of overcrowding, to city sprawl, to surface beauty, to functional layouts, to transportation, to public safety, to environmental impact--this is just scratching the surface of the many themes brought up in the film. Each topic is presented in a different city with local personalities (be they architects, planners, politicians, artists, or activists) contributing to whatever the discussion may be. I was genuinely involved in just about every story in the 85 minute film, but even if something might not strike your fancy--just wait a few minutes, and you'll be off to a new destination. I'm not entirely sure that everything was effectively tied into urban design as a cohesive central topic, but the movie was engaging and intelligent and kept my interest. It just lacked a little unity.
That said, I certainly recommend the film for anyone with an interest in local politics. For me, the individual contributions from a practical standpoint offered more resonance than those from a design perspective. Where public concerns and functional needs had to be addressed by local government or citizenry provided much of the meat and drama within the film. As our cities continue to grow, it makes sense to look at how this population influx will affect these urban centers. How we adapt will be crucial to the future success of these cities. "Urbanized" introduces a lot of interesting topics, gives them a cursory look, and leaves you with a lot to think about. KGHarris, 2/12.