Saturday, June 30, 2012

On DVD: URBANIZED--Gary Hustwit's third design documentary may be his very best

This newest film in Gary Hustwit's trilogy of documentaries about design and how it affects our lives may be his best yet. Having appreciated all three films -- Helvetica (2007), Objectified (2009) and now URBANIZED (2011), TrustMovies thinks this one is his best because it hits us squarely where we live (most of us, anyway): in the big city. Hustwit lets us in on what's going on in major cities around the world, as everyone -- from politicians to architects, city planners to sociologists -- shows and tells us the good stuff and the bad.

Unlike fans of The National Enquirer, Mr Hustwit (shown at right) has a genuinely inquiring mind -- one interested in a lot more than mere gossip -- as do the talking heads with whom he peoples his films. If you at all care about how we live now and how we might live better and more productively for the environment and the world, you will learn one hell of a lot from his movies. These are often witty, visually and verbally, and none more so that Urbanized, during which we take a bike ride with Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia (below), as he explains how mass transit and bicycles are helping to change the city; later, he tells us that he doesn't see anywhere in his (or most countries') Constitution the right to a parking place for a car. Yet so many citizens seem to think of this as one of their "inalienables."

While typefaces (Helvetica) are generally designed by a single person, cities are the product of many minds and hearts, desires and various kinds of greed. So how they come into being and whether they stand the test of time is up for grabs. In Urbanized we go from rise to sprawl to fall, seeing some cities that work, some that work only for the wealthy (the movie was made prior to the Occupy movement, but it is easy to find similarities in both), and others that are trying to change to meet the increasing needs of the 21st century.

How they can do this is the subject at hand and by the time you come awey from Hustwit's 85-minute movie, you should be energized by the possibilities. While the filmmaker possesses no Pollyanna attitude, simply hearing the thoughtful ideas -- many of which have been shown to work -- from all the smart people he has assembled is a very positive experience.

Some of the folk you hear from include Udo Andriof (of Stuttgart 21), Alejandro Aravena (Elemental), Amanda Burden (NYC Department of Planning), James Corner (Field Operations) Mark Covington (Georgia Street Community Garden), Joshua David and Robert Hammond (Friends of the High Line), Ellen Dunham-Jones (Georgia Tech), Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners), Jan Gehl (Gehl Architects), Alastair Graham (City of Cape Town), Bruce Katz (Brookings Institution), Rem Koolhaas (OMA), Eduardo Paes (Mayor, Rio de Janeiro), Sheela Patel (above, from SPARC,) Edgar Pieterse (African Centre for Cities), Ric Scofidio (Diller, Scofidio + Renfro) and Michael Sorkin (Sorkin Architects).

Architect Gehl is one of the most interesting of these, another is Ms Dunham-Jones. And Brookings' Bruce Katz is an unalloyed delight. When I finished the film, still craving more, I turned to the "extras" on the DVD and was not disappointed. I first watched the section on the "cities we love/hate" then moved to the rest of the outtakes, in which the speakers wax, in some cases, even more eloquent and inspiring than they did in their portion of the actual film. This is one of the few DVDs I've seen that I would recommend watching every last "extra." (There is very nearly an hour more of excellent material here).

Urbanized is available now for sale or rental, via the usual suspects -- and you can also rent/stream or own/download the film from Distrify. To stream or download, click here.

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