It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
But more cars are not altogether a good thing, as Gary Hustwit argues in his new documentary "Urbanized," playing at the Siskel Center. This is his third film, after "Helvetica" (2007) and "Objectified" (2009) to consider the role of design in our daily lives. The first two dealt with details, with the design of the most ubiquitous typeface of the century and with the packaging of consumer objects. "Urbanized" is a fast zoom out to the big picture: The colonies or hives in which we arrange, display and support our lives.
Cities are a mixture of deliberate design, accident, history, geography, and countless small collective decisions by the citizens that impose themselves. For example, it is well known that in parks and public green spaces, people will walk where there should logically be a path, whether one is provided or not. On campus quadrangles, planners give up and pave the way.
The doc argues that the most disastrous city planning decisions have been marred by the grandiosity of the planners. From the air, Brasilia, the capitol of Brazil, built from scratch in the jungle, looks like a magnificent grouping of sculptures. But for whose eyes? Aliens? On the ground, it is apparently not a very pleasant place to live. Robert Moses, the megalomaniac planning czar of New York City, saw organic neighborhoods as an impediment to his vast rebuilding schemes. Venice, by contrast, grew up island by island, structure by structure, in a shallow lagoon, with no coherent planning at all, and today is arguably the most agreeable city on earth, despite its undeniable inconveniences.
In an undertaking on an impressive scale, Hustwit and his team travel the earth interviewing architects, city planners, officials, community leaders and (perhaps not enough) ordinary people. He dramatizes how a stretch of abandoned rail tracks in New York was transformed into a green walkway, "the High Line," and how a majority of Copenhagen's residents travel by bicycle. He is silenced by the slums of Mumbai, where there is one toilet seat for very 600 people, but there is this undeniable fact: For all of the misery and health problems of such areas, which are almost beyond fixing, they grew and operate by human decisions, and for the people who live there they have more life and soul than "projects" stacking them into cells.
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