Urban-design obsessives who've been lobbying The Belcourt to show the new documentary Urbanized — they really have, we're not making this up — will definitely want to turn out this evening. Gary Gaston, design director of the Nashville Civic Design Center, will lead a discussion via Skype after the 7:30 p.m. screening tonight with Noah Chasin, an architecture historian and professor at Bard College and Columbia University who appears in the film. Here's an excerpt from Christine Kreyling's Scene review:
The first images in Urbanized are of cities from a distance: skylines and overheads of, among others, New York and Istanbul, Venice and Rio, St. Louis and St. Petersburg. The camera then moves in to Rome's Spanish steps, the best outdoor living room in Europe (sorry, Tuileries).
The scenes are worthy of an Impressionist painter — and they're the last you'll see devoted solely to the city beautiful. For this is a film about urban design, which is not about making pretty pictures. And it's a film that anyone who's psyched by the urban scene — from casual strollers to pro planners — shouldn't miss.
The producer and director is Gary Hustwit, whose previous entries in his "design trilogy" gave us the back-stories on the printed word (in Helvetica) and packaging (in Objectified). Here Hustwit delivers the present and future story of the city. Except for a brief restaging of the epic battle between New York's uber-planner, Robert Moses, and Jane Jacobs, she of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, this is not a history lesson.
Urban design organizes space for the public good. It's not primarily about what looks good — a simple principle frequently misunderstood — but what works well. Urbanized focuses on strategies designers are employing around the world to deal with the challenges cities will face in the 21st century, which are numerous — and various. They include rapidly increasing populations (or, in cases like the Rust Belt, starkly declining ones), transportation and other services, sustainable infrastructure and global warming.
The talking heads of Urbanized provide some startling statistics to drive home the point that the public is going to need all the good cities can provide in the not too distant future. Today 50 percent of the world's population lives in urbanized areas; in 40 years it will be 75 percent. One-third dwell in slums, defined as lacking water and sanitation. Thus urban designers are scrambling to bring water and sewers to Mumbai and frugal housing to Santiago. This sounds like dry stuff, but seeing miles of shanties and congestion beyond the worst nightmares of teeth-gritters stuck in a Nashville rush hour is anything but.