The new film documents the problems and prospects of global urbanization

Urbanized, the new documentary from director Gary Hustwit, is a globe-trotting, project-touring, expert-filled survey of city design and modern urbanity. From Mumbai to Copenhagen to Beijing to New York, the film documents the forces and people that shape the world’s cities in a global tour that nicely balances both the challenges and prospects of urbanization.

“Originally when I thought of the idea I quickly realized it’s impossible to even scratch the surface: the forces that shape the city, the challenges, the solutions, the people and their different roles. I knew I was going to fail from the get-go,” says Hustwit. “So the question became how to fail as little as possible.”

Despite that challenge, the film neatly encapsulates much of the conversation about today’s cities. Experts like architect Rem Koolhaas, urban designer Jan Gehl, politician Enrique Peñalosa and dozens more expound on the challenges and design issues facing cities, and the camera takes viewers onto the streets where those problems are playing out. Hustwit creates a portrait of The City as a kind of agglomerated mix of trends, problems, and solutions in the realm of urbanism, gleaned from examples all over the world. He and his team filmed in about 25 to 30 cities, eventually focusing on about a dozen that share similar issues.

Hustwit isn’t a trained urban designer or planner, but he has a long-held interest in design. It’s a topic he’s covered in two previous films, Helvetica and Objectified, about typography and industrial design, respectively. “I’ve always been critical about why things are the way they are,” he says.

The film was two and a half years in the making, and over that time Hustwit talked with dozens of experts, officials, designers, and citizens about their cities. Many of the projects highlighted in the film will be familiar, such as the High Line in New York City or the Transmilenio bus rapid transit system in Bogotá.

“Those solutions worked. Are they universal solutions? No,” he says. But there are so many shared characteristics between cities that they can always learn from one another, the film argues.

Two of the projects featured in Urbanized—a community-building effort in a Cape Town township and a mass protest against a rail project in Stuttgart—emphasize the social implications of citymaking and design.

“Ninety-nine percent of the shape of the city is a result of the top-down approach, at least in the formal design,” he says. “Those projects that seem to work best are the ones using people in the city as the compass for deciding what the solution should be.”

Urbanized screens in cities across the country this fall.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Brooklyn Is Booming. So Why Is It Shrinking?

    In 2017, New York City’s largest borough lost about 2,000 people, the first net loss since 2010.

  2. Life

    Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets

    Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

  3. A young refugee from Kosovo stands in front of a map of Hungary with her teacher.

    Who Maps the World?

    Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.

  4. Murals depicting David Bowie and Bernie Sanders in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles

    Do Art Scenes Really Lead to Gentrification?

    A new study finds that arts establishments are actually more concentrated in affluent and gentrified—rather than gentrifying—neighborhoods.

  5. Equity

    The Spending Bill's Biggest Winners: Housing and Transit

    The White House proposed dramatic budget cuts for housing, transit, and food aid. Instead, the omnibus delivers extra spending.