Having previous explored how our life is affected by typefaces (Helvetica) and manufactured objects (Objectified), director Gary Hustwit provides the final chapter of a trilogy of sorts by exploring the language of urban city design. More thought is put into it than you realized, by more people than you would have guessed.
An early observation by one of the interviewees could serve as Urbanized's thesis: that cities are physical manifestations of economic, social and environmental forces; the film shows how via many examples from around the globe.
Among several stories, we learn:
how the slums of Mumbai are poised to become larger than New York City and London combined;
how Chile is trying to be proactive with the population overflow problem by creating a unique social housing project;
how the Brasilia modernist capital looks gorgeous from the air, and like a disaster from the ground;
why Copenhagen enjoys a commute-by-bicycle workforce of 37 percent;
how the cookie-cutter, American Dream suburbia of Phoenix came to be;
how the redesign of a pedestrian area in Africa made it safer; and
about one post-Katrina rebuilding project that involved name tag stickers.
On less historical and more educational notes, we learn about the magic of 100 meters in designing a space, what sprawl has in common with pornography, and how street art can decrease our energy usage.
All are pretty fascinating. Only toward the end, with coverage of Stuttgart 21 protesters in Germany, does Urbanized take a turn for the dour. Part NPR, part Architectural Digest, part Freakonomics, the documentary should be hailed for its cinematography, whose picture-perfect footage of cityscapes shine on Blu-ray and cry out as "suitable for framing." Rod Lott