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DVD Review: ‘Urbanized’

★★★★☆

We tend to identify our sense of a city with its architecture; Paris for its artful designs throwing back to the country’s rich history and Manhattan, a city created like Lego blocks. Like so many other cities in the world, both have had architects take scalpels to their streets in an effort to create the most beautiful and habitable buildings within their imaginations. Serving either art or social function can often be difficult, as Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized (2011) explores.

Hustwit’s wonderfully shot documentary leaps from the favelas of Brazil, the roads of Stuttgart and the High Line of New York as he tries to contrast the global differences in approach to urban design and it’s future, with the solid prediction of 75% of the worlds population living in cities by 2050. The statistic is quite a frightening one but the talking heads that make up Urbanized seem relatively unfazed, seemingly more concerned with transportation improvements than anything else. It’s incredibly impressive to see just how much of a difference a simple bus lane can make in Bogota or cycle lanes make in Western Europe and Hustwits film does a very good job of showing the constant need of a city to evolve alongside technological and social advances.

Hustwit certainly manages to pack an enormous amount into an hour and a half, taking the StumbleUpon approach of sporadically jumping between locations, with glances taken at each. Rather than this making the film too wide-ranging and unfocused, Hustwit’s approach makes Urbanized a punchy and conclusive introduction to urban architectural design and certainly provides the inspiration to explore far beyond his own topics.

Urbanized doesn’t just pay attention to the need for change, it also looks at the psychology of design within wealthy and poor countries and it’s effect. Take a park bench or a pathway for example. Why does it look a certain way and strategically placed as it is? Why is the Arc de Triomphe perfectly in line with the Louvre and La Defense? Bisecting Paris and creating symmetrically perfect roads and trees throughout the city. When Hustwit’s camera flies from ground level and into a birds eye view it’s amazing to see a city transform into a mesh of intricate shapes. As beautiful as it is from below as it is above.

Given that Hustwit deals with such a mass of topics over so many countries, you’d expect Urbanized to be jumbled and confused but instead the film is a fantastically slick and informative overview of a dense and difficult subject. Hustwit has done a wonderful job of creating a balance throughout the film that really questions the viewers relationship with their hometown and invites greater respect for developers and architects.

Oliver Sunley