‘Urbanized’ – To Be Human in the 21st Century

by | October 4, 2011 0 Urban Design + Planning

How would one go about describing the range of issues surrounding our world’s cities? Where would one even begin to portray the urbanization of our globe and the people influencing this aspect of civilization? Filmmaker Gary Hustwit’s most recent documentary, ‘Urbanized,’ rises as the new standard in these efforts.

A few of us from SERA made it over to the special Portland screening of this film last Thursday night, which the filmmaker presented in-person. In the Q&A session following the film, Hustwit candidly acknowledged that to comprehensively describe the massive, dynamic organism of the “city” in a single film was an impossible task. And yet, the range of interviews and cities highlighted go a long way in giving the viewer an engaging overview of our world’s built environment.

Beyond the documentary’s stunning visuals, it was Hustwit’s ability to amplify the human element at the core of our cities that most resonated with me. While this may seem like an obvious observation, the discussion around urban design can tend to get lost in the weeds of statistics, technologies, and environmental challenges. Hustwit draws a common thread through each of the stories and interviews reminding us that humanity is the ultimate measurement of a great city. From Enrique Peñalosa’s human-oriented transit innovations in Bogotá, Colombia, to the Yung Ho Chang’s assessment of what has gone awry in the China’s urban boom, we are given digestible insights that can inform our collective course for the future.

Jan Gehl - Gehl Architects

Jan Gehl – Gehl Architects

Sitting prominently among the film’s voices is Danish architect, Jan Gehl, who so plainly describes the vision of designing cities for our senses. His insights point to urban habitats designed with our biological and social realities in mind. And it is this human-scale, community-based thinking that holds the most promise for a sustainable existence as we prepare for dramatically disruptive growth around the world, particularly in the African and Asian cities of the future.

In the end, ‘Urbanized’ offers of window of hope for our coming challenges as designers. The takeaway is an inspiring collection of community-driven innovations across scales, from a single activist posting “I wish this was…” stickers on vacant storefronts in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to community efforts to reduce crime through better urban design in Cape Town.

The public domain is the best medium for these expressions, so tell your friends and colleagues and check out the film if the screening tour is heading your way.

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