Urbanized: A Look at the Newest Film by Gary Hustwit

Urbanized: A Look at the Newest Film by Gary Hustwit

November, 04, 2011, by Ladye Jane

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Image: Dharavi slum outside of Mumbai, India


First, he started small in Helvetica, showing how something so simple as a typeface can shape how we process the world. Then the circle widened in Objectified as we learned about the objects that surround our daily lives and the design process behind them. Now the third film in Gary Hustwit's design trilogy goes much larger by taking a look at the way design most effects our daily lives: the structure of our cities.

While many people assumed the third installment would be based solely on architecture, Hustwit states that Urbanized was first realized when he toured the country with Helvetica after the release. He hit over 100 cities around the globe, where he experienced first hand the impact that the design and structure of a city has on those who reside in it, and how important it is in the face of a planet inhabited (as of three days ago) 7 billion people. He noticed that no matter where he was, cities face the same challenges that in many instances are rooted in design. "It's the same all over the world." Cities, he says,  "are all faced with the five universal factors of housing, getting around, employment, public spaces, and clean water/sanitation." The film goes beyond architecture in that it "puts the buildings in context of the cities, the people, the landscape, the mobility, all of it. It's much more interesting and complex" he remarks.

Complex it is. While it seems like a huge topic to cover in a short 85 minute film, Urbanized doesn't try to tell the whole story of urban design. "It's about ideas and getting them out into public discussion," he states. Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas we discussed about the film, and how it seems to differ most from the previous two films in the series, was the use of "participatory design" and its importance when creating solutions to design problems. While Helvetica and Objectified focused primarily on the professionals behind the designs, Urbanized highlights the importance of including the people the design is for in the process. While the film definitely has its share of urban design professionals, he remarks it's more about "involving the people leads to unexpected solutions that design professionals couldn't develop on their own."

He walked me through an example of participatory design he uses in the film, the township of Khayelitsha right outside of Cape Town, South Africa. The settlement, developed during apartheid, is currently home to around 600,000 people. It's a bedroom community that suffered from an extremely high crime rate, and thought to use design to combat the violence. Through the establishment of the VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading), they spent two years talking to the residents of Khayelitsha about what they wanted for their community and what was important to them before even taking it to the design professionals. Even after that, they spent two additional years talking to over 60,000 of the residents to make sure the designs would fit their needs before anything was constructed. Since the implementation of this integrated planning, the city's murder rate has been cut in half.

Khayelitsha is just one of the many cities featured in the global glance at structure. From Bogotá and Santiago, to New York and Detroit, the film takes us around the world and "frames a global discussion on the future of cities." Perhaps it can help us with the future of our own.

Urbanized screens for one night only in Raleigh this Monday, November 7, at the Rialto @ 7:00, and Gary Hustwit will be in attendace for a Q&A after the screening. Enter by Friday at midnight to win 2 tickets from New Raleigh to see the film,  or purchase tickets here to secure your spot.


Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa


All Images Courtesy of Swiss Dots Ltd.

Read More

Architecture, Other posts by Ladye Jane.


City Planningurban designGary HustwitUrbanizedHelveticaObjectifiedScreenings


  • Guess
    11/07 09:04 AM

    Got a winner picked out for this yet? Pretty sure that’s the only way I’d be able to go see this.

  • MAS
    11/08 12:18 AM

    This guy lost me with his comment in the N&O about stadia, saying all we need downtown is residents not necessarily an arena, stadium, etc.

    He’s wrong.  This town cannot succeed into the future without destination entertainment—Raleigh needs an athletic venue and retail development downtown to drive economic development. Until that happens, we’re just pretending to be a big city.

  • CityBeautiful21
    11/08 12:35 PM

    The folks who think a downtown arena is somehow a panacea for anything that ails Raleigh are mistaken. There are few things worse for a city’s core than a football stadium which sits idle all but 8-12 days of the year. 

    There’s a great book called Cities Back From The Edge that compares the notion of “Project Planning,” luring some big employer/stadium/entertainment venue to a city—with “Urban Husbandry,” doing the necessary but not sexy blocking and tackling of having clean parks, efficient transit, good sidewalks, and good urban design guidelines (go visit downtown Greensboro for how to get this wrong) for developers.

    As to residents, even the suburb production builders say “retail follows rooftops.”  In the city it’s “Places to Shop Follow Party Walls.” More residents downtown will generate the retail. It’s just a matter of critical mass before the watershed business, the urban grocery, shows up.

  • Synaesthete
    11/08 04:42 PM

    The healthy growth of a city is a slow process of revisionary development. Ideally, the population grows in spurts.  At certain population tiers (both total population AND population density), there are certain facilities that become necessary.  Providing those facilities at those tiers will both enable and attract the next growth spurt.  It’s hard to predict exactly how a city will grow in the future, so it’s important to build the right facilities at the right times.  If a city jumps ahead and provides too much public transport or a big stadium too soon, the population growth might not necessarily grow along those lines, and also that’s a lot of tax dollars spent on something that’s not yet really needed.  So, you need population before development, then you need to develop to increase the population further.
    There’s a tendency to go to another city and see something that you really like, and think, “why don’t we have this here?  If we had this, our city would be awesome too”.  Well, often that thing, be it a stadium or retail, is actually an indicator of a healthy city rather than a contributor.  It’s important to consider the city holistically when assessing its health and growth.

  • John
    11/09 03:17 PM

    I saw the film on Monday night and was thoroughly impressed with it and the audience.  As for the film, it did a terrific job documenting the challenges that cities face around the world without being preachy. It allowed the audience to “think” about what these lessons might mean for us here in Raleigh and the Triangle.
    As for the audience, it was large and interested.  After the film, the filmmaker and Mitchell Silver hosted a Q&A session.  Almost ALL attendees stayed for the dialogue.  I was really impressed by the participation of the community. Gary Hustwit invited everyone to introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them stating that that person was likely to be interesting.  He and Mitchell challenged the community of designers, etc. to form their own groups to study ideas and issues and bring them to the city.  It was a really dynamic evening and I was really happy to have participated.

  • Tud
    04/19 06:19 AM

    Brent brought this to my tinetaton. I’m excited. It’s not every day that I get to touch on the Big Picture topic, leading more sustainable lives, which compelled a group of us at Transportation to start this blog. I’m hoping that this film has some general audience appeal.-Sirinya

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