Friday’s Design Our Tomorrow event was a screening of Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized, a Documentary exploring…urbanization. It followed the same pattern as his previous works Helvetica and Objectified: More or a train or thought, a discussion or exploration of diverse urbanization projects across the world, as opposed to having a specific thesis.
Gary was present to answer questions about the project. The one thing I liked to heat was that he had planned it, exactly as it was filmed. He started the project by six months of sitting down and talking to people, learning everything he could about development of places, urban design, etc. And as he met people, they would say “Have you talk to ____? Oh, you have to talk to ____!”, and so he did. Which explains the flow of the documentary, and it’s comforting to know it’s style was planned.
He also explained the logical progression of his films. First, Helvetica, a film about fonts, simply because he wanted to see a film about fonts. He had a good quote surrounding this: “If you see something creative & unique and it doesn’t exist, that’s probably a good queue to go do it yourself.” Next, was Objectified, a film about Objects, just because. Then as he was touring the 100 or so cities with Objectified, he was exposed to a great deal of urban developments, which sparked the interest in creating Urbanized.
Within the film, A few things caught my attention:
First was a lower income development. I forget where, but basically they had to build homes for $10,000. With the $4000 remaining after plumbing, electricity hook-up, etc., they could not build and furnish a home big enough for a family of 4. Instead of building a home too small, they build a home the right size, yet left the inside unfurnished. This meant the home was adequate size (putting in a wall is a lot less expensive than expanding a house), and the residents could upgrade as they could afford. Furthermore, the residents were directly involved in the creation of the space, increasing the sense of responsibility and ownership. A great engineering solution to a very conscious problem.
There was discussion of the Stuttgart 21 Project, a controversial project where the existing traditional, outdated train station and existing park was to be removed and replaced with an upgraded one. Politicians were in favor of the upgrade, preparing Stuttgart for the high speed train systems spreading across Europe, but the citizens were in favor of keeping the existing station and park. My favorite part of the story was about the trees in the park: during WWII when Stuttgart was bombed, the people needed firewood to keep themselves, warm, but no one cut down the trees in the park. Regardless, and apparently opposed to public desire, the trees were removed, and the project was continued with. The incumbent government was removed from power the next term after 56 years in office, and replaced by the Green Party. Oh, the power of the public. I believe it really emphasized the need to listen to the people when you make decisions in ANY context, in this case specifically considering the development of public space.
Another cool one was about Brasilia, where, essentially, the city was beautifully designed from the air, but was hell to navigate on the ground. Again, the importance of including the ‘real world’ in design: it looks good on paper, but does it make sense for the people?
One looked at how strategic urban development was used to raise the moral quality of life for citizens, through improvement of public transportation and precedence given to public transport and bicycles. The quote was something like “In democracy, everyone has equal priority. so a bus with 100 passengers has 100 times priority over a car carrying one. This is democracy in action.”
The aforementioned project and another looked at bike lanes, and how, by improving the safety measures and 'luxuries’ given to cyclists, we encourage cycling and help cut traffic.
I forget whether it was a quote from the movie, or from Gary himself, on cycling: “It seems that we think the solution to traffic is more road space. But the real solution is to restrict people’s ability to use cars. And the easiest way to do this is through restricting parking. Parking is not a human right, it’s a privilege”
The purpose of the quote is that expanding transportation networks is somewhat counter intuitive: we encourage the actions which cause the traffic in the first place. The real solution is restricting luxurious access and encouraging those which work for the benefit of the city: walking, biking, public transport.
Finally, one excerpt was on New Orleans. First, how although Brad Pitt’s project of funding architecturally stunning homes is cool and technically working towards re-population, there are many better ways to spend that money.
Second in New Orleans was a street artist who decided to stay in the area. She would walk around all of these places which were abandoned, and decided to put 'I wish this was’ stickers on them, which looked like your typical name tags. People would write what they wish the place was on the stickers, and you’d get a cool sense of what the community wanted from…the community. I liked this because you are directly involving used in the design of communities: where would we REALLY want our grocery store, etc? It’s also a moral boost to see that people have motivation and hope for change. I also believe that there is tons of room for application for this. For example, if our engineering society put up a wall of 'I wish EngSoc was’ stickers, what better way to get a sense of what the community would like to see us do for them? I’ll probably try to use this idea, and I’ll see how it goes.
All of the segments were eye-opening, particularly the ones about the improvement of slums in South Africa and Bangladesh: how you can use urban design to aggressively change characteristics of the space, and thus the people.
Along with Helvetica and Objectified, Urbanized was a great piece. I’d describe it as:
- Case-study oriented
- thought provoking.
This movie is a must-see.