Urbanized: A Documentary Film about the Built Environment

Urbanized is a feature-length documentary film about a topic that interests us greatly—the urban fabric of our cities. The film was created by Gary Hustwit, who authored the films Helvetica and Objectified, two other great films that cover typography and design respectively. His filmography makes them a joy to watch, but the content of Urbanized will hopefully really get people thinking and talking about our built environment.

The film features interviews with urban planners, architects, policy makers, builders, researchers and ordinary citizens. The film asks, "Who is allowed to shape our cities, and what are the criteria for their decisions? Is it for efficiency, logistics, health, livability - and for whom?" That's a very good question, and one our conferences strive to answer. Should one person or a small group of people create a master plan according to theoretical principles, without considering the users? Should ordinary citizens decide what they want (obviously a food cart on every corner!). Clearly neither of these approaches alone is ideal—and that's where Urbanized excels—interviews with mayors, planners and ordinary citizens all working together to make a city great.

"A bus with 100 passengers has the right to 100 times more road space than a car with one."
Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá

The mayor of Bogatá was by far the highlight of the film. The quote above summarizes his vision for how to remake Bogatá for people. Previous to Bogatá, the film had just taken us to Brasilia—the viewer can't help but compare the two, one designed entirely for cars with little regard to pedestrians, the other a dense urban city in transition to a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly street configuration. In addition to bikes and pedestrians, Bogatá has a bus rapid transit system called TransMilenio (inspired by the bus system in Curitiba) that cost the city hardly anything compared to an underground subway.

As with any popular film or book, Urbanized may come across as too superficial, but really what can you do in 85 minutes?—actually a great deal, given the number of cites visited, the detailed observations, and the quality and quantity of people interviewed! Perhaps the greatest achievement of this film is to open the dialogue about what we want from the built environment to the general public - to endorse their engagement in the discussion. We who are already involved will welcome their voices!

If you don't live in a big city where the film is playing, you can currently rent it on iTunes. To learn more about the film, visit Urbanizedfilm.com