By Don Simpson | February 23, 2012
Director: Gary Hustwit
The first of Hustwit’s trilogy of design documentaries, Helvetica, took on typography. His second film, Objectified, took on the art of packaging products. Now with his conclusion, Urbanized, Hustwit contemplates city planning.
Hustwit attempts to approach city planning by way of the complex relationships between government regulators, urban planners, architects, and social activists. But with so much to take on in a mere 85-minute documentary, Hustwit’s film functions more as a fleeting overview than a meaningful analysis of anything of significance. Additionally, Hustwit lays out this documentary in a very traditional and dry city-by-city structure. Whereas Helvetica and Objectified are quirky, creative and thoughtful, Urbanized is as straightforward and over-simplified as documentaries can possibly get.
That said — Urbanized is still a very important film because people (especially city dwellers) need to become more aware of city planning. Statistics dictate that 75% of the human population will live in cities by the year 2050. With this massive migration towards urban centers, city officials have a lot of work on their hands and community input (though sometimes frustrating) is invaluable. How should cities deal with housing for the poor and unemployed? How should cities deal with new traffic patterns, increased congestion and parking? Can good city planning curtail violent crime? What about controlling the dreaded suburban sprawl?
There is an unlimited array of strategies and philosophies in addressing city planning, and Hustwit shows us a wide range of examples (including Mumbai, Santiago, Brighton, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, Detroit, Cape Town, New York City, Paris, Phoenix, Beijing, and New Orleans). Cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler’s impeccable lensing of each of the unique urban landscapes practically fetishizes their beauty. Those — like myself — who are fascinated with city planning will be wowed by the visuals, but possibly frustrated by the lack of depth in the content. If only Hustwit approached city planning as a trilogy of its own…
New Video recently released Urbanized on Blu-Ray and DVD.