Urbanized film

Urbanized is inspiration for better urban planning

Waiting in line to pick up tickets for the world premier of Urbanized, a new film directed by Gary Hustwit exploring urban planning from a global perspective, felt like a lesson in poor transportation planning. Taking into account the unnecessary number of line-ups required, it took an entire hour for us to enter the theatre.

Urbanized explores the best of urban design and planning in cities around the globe, from New York to Stuttgart. One dominant theme is the power of community in shaping cities. Sometimes communities are credited with the creation of interesting projects, and in other cases, with protesting large unwanted ones.

For example, Hustwit showcases the creation of New York City's High Line, the now-famous elevated park built on a former railway line. It all started with two passionate urban dwellers, keen on transforming the vacant railway site into something interesting for everyone. In 1999, Joshua David and Robert Hammond formed Friends of the High Line, and ten years later, the first section of the park opened to the public. The juxtaposition of the gritty industrial character with the bucolic charm of the High Line is an excellent addition to New York's urban fabric. This is community-led city building at its best.

The situation was shown to be more complicated in the film's discussion of Stuttgart 21. The residents of Stuttgart were concerned that the builders of a large high-speed rail project in Stuttgart, Germany were not involving the community in its construction. Furthermore, they felt the project would be environmentally disastrous. Their protests were unsuccessful, and sit-ins resulted in violent intervention by police. Stuttgart 21 is going ahead as planned.

This showcases one problem of long-term public projects. As Edwin Li, a student studying urban planning at the University of Toronto noted, although the project's leaders did in fact consult with citizens 15 years ago, the generation that participated in the public consultation was not the same as the people who are witnessing the completion of the project. Attitudes are bound to change, and in this case, they clearly have.

Overall, the film is quite successful in exploring interesting projects around the world. Hopefully it will energize Torontonians who want to play an active role in our city building projects. If this were to happen, we might be able to achieve success in improving our waterfront and our transportation infrastructure.

If the cheering audience is any indication of the future success of Urbanized, this film is going to be extremely influential in building passion for city building. Toronto is lucky to have been the first city to screen this.

Photo by Jonathan Flaum

A big thanks to Warrior, an Alliance film in theatres September 9th, for sponsoring our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

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