dir. Gary Hustwit
And now we have arrived at the third entry in Gary Hustwit’s design trilogy, a series of films designed to showcase the design behind all of the everyday things we take for granted: with Helvetica it was fonts (my apologies for not reviewing the excellent Helvetica) and Objectified, objects. With the previous entries Hustwit more than proved his chops as not only excellent documentarian but also stylist, a man with a keen eye for presenting the mundane in a novel way. It is with Urbanized, however, that Hustwit has really come into his own, has proven his ability to dissect important issues, to ask the important questions. And although many questions remain purposefully unanswered, Hustwit does offer several remedies many cities have already implemented in answering the problem posed by a booming population.
Urbanized, as you may have guessed, details the hidden design—sometimes good, sometimes bad—that goes into creating our public living spaces. As you’ll know from watching the previous two entries in Hustwit’s trilogy, damn near everything we encounter in our day-to-day life has been designed to within an inch of its life—and for good reason: this shit matters. So, though cities may seem naught but a cluster of people who all just happen to be living in the same place, without urban planning, without urban design everything would just be a huge clusterfuck consisting of smaller clusterfucks, which in turn are jerking off while watching other clusterfucks get clusterfucked. And just as with objects and fonts, just as much can be gleaned from what went wrong as from what went right, urban planning-wise.
Beginning on a dour note, Hustwit plunges us into Mumbai, India, a city with no plan—nor even a desire for a plan—for how to deal with its booming population of slum dwellers. Arriving in the city with hopes of work, these folks have been unable to purchase affordable housing in the booming city, so they’ve resorted to building a shanty town on the city’s edges. And it keeps expanding. But Instead of figuring out a way to handle this influx of people, the city planners have ignored it, hoping it would go away. Which has only made matters worse.
Hustwit contrasts this with Santiago, Chile, a city with a novel approach to clearing shanty-towns. Although the city does not have the budget to build finished, fully-furnished homes for all these people, it does have just enough money to build structures that include either a bathtub or a water heater, which the residents can choose between (previously the people had been living in shacks with no access to plumbing or electricity). Overtime, as the residents save money, they can purchase new amenities and complete their homes. Living conditions have dramatically improved because of this policy.
I could go into all of the details of all the cities—good and bad—presented, but you get the idea: examples of bad (or no) urban design are presented only to be contrasted with planning done right, and vice-versa. In examining the past and the present, Hustwit keeps the focus continually on the future. How do we house everyone, how do we make cities livable for people—not just places where cars sit in traffic—and how do we do it in the least environmentally impactful way possible? Depressing at times, Hustwit’s film can leave one feeling hopeless, but there are enough examples of design done right to spread just enough happy jam on this sadness sandwich.