My brother Bill and I went to the screening of Gary Hustwit's new documentary, Urbanized, last night. This is the third in his series on design that includes Helvetica and Objectified. Like Objectified, I suspect that for designers in the discipline, in this case architects and urban designers, there was no new knowledge here, but we found it fascinating. I had known about a number of the people and events included in the documentary, but some parts were new to me.
Especially interesting was the ongoing history of urban development and the implications of development with and without the participation of the residents. The day Hustwit's team arrived in Stuttgart they got caught up in the violent police action against protestors of the Stuttgart 21 project.
In Hustwit's interviews, project developers maintained that the public was consulted, but the vehemence of the protest belies that. In fact, the long-dominant political party that backed the project was ousted soon afterward, replaced by the Green Party - a first. In the meantime, the work on the project continues.
This of course reminds us of New Yorkers' futile protests to stop the Cross-Bronx expressway in the late 40s. it took the destruction of Penn Station in 1963 to enlist enough protest to put a stop to Robert Moses' next project - an expressway across Greenwich Village. Jane Jacobs wrote her book, and a new age of architectural preservation and Urbanism was born.
One of my favorite segments was on artist & designer Candy Chang's "I Wish This Was" project. She put stickers on vacant storefronts in her home town, New Orleans, and invited people to write on them.
My brother commented that the theater had a very good projector, something we find important here in LA, and also complemented the cinematographer, Luke Geissbühler, and his exquisite and careful framing of the shots.
Both of us liked the segment on former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa. I was familiar with him from the PBS series E2, but enjoyed seeing him again as he toured the city on his bicycle, pointing out the sustainable and civic-minded improvements he made to the city. He developed a number of projects, including parks, libraries, and one of the most extensive bike path networks in the world. Peñalosa is an extremely engaging critic of our modern urban landscape, questioning the status quo and poking a finger in the eye of the establishment where he sees the need, as in his comparison of the estates overlooking Long Island Sound with corrupt pre-revolution French aristocracy. He is not afraid to go up against incumbent power, as he did with the TransMilenio, a rapid transit system that replaced a chaotic system of privately-run and competing busses.
He was almost impeached for eliminating parking in Bogotá, and he considers himself a "bad politician," because he keeps losing elections. Though he lost his bid for Mayor again in 2007, Hustwit says he's planning another run. We're wondering if we'd be allowed to vote.