On Thursday, I watched Gary Hustwit’s film, Urbanized. It is now available from iTunes, and I highly recommend it! There is much to comment on, but I’m limiting myself to three things.
- The power of imagining something differently. Hustwit’s film allows the audience to imagine cities differently, and Hustwit suggests that Candy Chung’s I Wish This Was project invited New Orleans residents to imagine their neighborhoods differently, something that urban residents are not often called to do. “The idea of imagining something differently is the kernel is what I think of as design,” Hustwit says in this Urban Omnibus interview.
- A balance between top-down planning and bottom-up, grassroots initiatives is possible with participatory design. In the online journal, Places, Hustwit describes the relationship in this way: ”It’s the top mining the bottom for ideas, and really using those ideas to drive development, as opposed to a top-down planning model, where planners get feedback from the people who are actually going to be living in the city, but only after the ideas are already formed.” He also says, “I don’t think DIY interventions are enough to change our cities. I think they are a great compass for governments and professionals to look at to see the types of interventions that people are coming up with on their own when government isn’t doing anything. You have citizens stepping in to try to change their cities on their own. The next step is for governments to use those projects as a model but then formalize them.”
- The promise of digital communication for addressing the future needs of cities is tremendous, but the exchange of ideas between mayors, designers, planners, and activists in different cities is just beginning. The film itself makes this point subtly in that we see ourselves in the vignettes from around the globe. Several quotes from interviews with Hustwit elaborate on the point.
“We need more city-to-city sharing of ideas and projects. I’m surprised by how little of that happens now. Going into the film I thought these mayors must know everything happening in Copenhagen or Stuttgart, but I think most of the time city governments and planners are just really focused on their immediate area and not looking to Santiago for cues about how to do things better in their city. I think there is a lot more potential to share ideas.” (From the Places interview.)
And on why such an exchange between cities would be a good idea – the universality of many of the issues, from the imprint interview:
Our approach with Urbanized was not to look at specific cities. It was to look at specific, universal issues and then look at specific projects around the world. Universal issues that face all cities: we all need a roof over our head, we need clean water and sanitation, we need mobility and ways to get around, we need some place to work and we need places to relax. Whatever you want to talk about in a city, it all pretty much boils down to one of those five issues.
Finally, the way the film was constructed is a model of the kind of communication that is so promising for the future of cities (also from the imprint interview).
What was interesting with this film was how social media, especially Twitter, has changed the way I make films. Of course you get the word out about screenings, but I used it as a way to find ideas and projects to include in the film, such as a train station redevelopment project in Stuttgart that turns ugly. That project (Stuttgart 21) I found through Twitter. Two weeks later we were in Stuttgart on the day that all hell broke loose. The other way I ended up using it was that a lot of times I just wanted a couple of shots of a particular city to add to the visual fabric of the movie. We did this five or six times. ‘Hey, is there anyone in Rome? I’d like a few shots of the Piazza Navona.’ They shot it and uploaded that night. I did that in Melbourne, Athens, Chicago, a couple of cities in Florida. Especially at the end of process when we were editing, and under a deadline, normally I’d just have to dream of getting a shot of the Piazza Navona. This totally changed the process when I could just tweet it and reach people around the world and get them to contribute to the project.