This is the Century for City-Lovers (An Evening Watching Urbanized with Gary Hustwit)

Going to a Gary Hustwit film without having seen Helvetica or Objectified makes you a minority, but when I heard Gary was in town doing a special (free!) screening of his new film Urbanized at the Design our Tomorrow conference, I just couldn’t miss the chance to watch the film with the directors commentary.  And the film did not disappoint. The film began with the voice of Ricky Burdett, the amazing director of the LSE Cities program, and continued with a discussion of Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, the Garden City and others familiar characters to the urban conversation. Because Ricky Burdett was in Toronto a couple of weeks ago for the Big City Big Ideas series, and Jane Jacobs is constantly discussed in planning classes, the initial content of the film was familiar, but the film as a whole gave me a lot of information I want to dig into deeper.  It’s rare for us to learn about cities outside of Toronto in planning school, but Urbanized’s tour of New York, Brasilia, Copenhagen, Bogota, (the globe really!) left me with a hunger to travel more and discover other places, and to learn more about fascinating practitioners like Edgar Pieterse and Jan Gehl. For those who couldn’t make the event, here are some selections from my notes.

On getting into films

I just wanted to see a film about fonts. I hadn’t made films before that. It’s a good cue, if something you want to see doesn’t exist, that’s a good cue to go out and do it yourself. I hadn’t made films before that. Then I made Objectified and now Urbanized. Our first question was how to see cities around the world in 85 minutes. And the answer is that we looked at issues that every city faced, and talked about projects that addressed those issues. The film has a loose structure, and less structure means that as a viewer, you have to think and figure things out. Don’t be afraid to do that, to let users (if you want to think about things from a design perspective) to think things over and figure things out.

On engagement

Need to involved people who systematically live realities of a place to figure out the most strategic way to respond. Putting stickers on window (referencing a project discussed in the film) and inviting people to participate is such a simple idea, but it can be easier sometimes to reach out to the whole world than our own neighbourhood. The stickers on the windows ask people who aren’t normally asked and might not show up to a community meeting,want they want in their neighbourhood.

What projects that didn’t make it into the film?

Parking Day  is one example. It started in San Francisco, and now happens in cities across the world, and it was a project where people put money in parking meters and then had that parking space for a period of time, and set up things in what was then their space.  I love DIY citizenship. Instead of  focusing on spectacle and trying to attract people, if cities just spent that time on liveability, they would get somewhere.

What was your process making the film?

I spent six months talking to people, reading a ton of books, attending conferences, and doing things like that before I started filming anything. It’s a step by step process. You meet one person who says you simply must meet “so and so” and it moves from there.

Advice to Students

I was talking to someone who mentioned that out of a class of 200 people, only two got jobs. And for me, that’s a wonderful opportunity. That’s 298 people who have an opportunity to start their own projects and create their own thing. That sounds like a really great opportunity especially with the ability the web has of showing your work to other people. Don’t wait for a big company to hire you, get together and do projects.

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