Following on his examinations of a typeface (HELVETICA) and Industrial Design (OBJECTIFIED), Director Hustwit turns his attention to urban planning.
The documentary brings together planners, architects, citizens and politicians as they discuss what it takes to make a city really work. The film travels the world looking for successful strategies, from reclaimed elevated railways in Manhattan to bike paths in Northern Europe. Throughout, the film makes a strong case for the need for intelligent urban design, making for healthy and more sustainable cities as the population of the planet becomes more and more urbane.
Unfortunately, the film does little to actually present its claims in any objective form. Contrary viewpoints are conveyed dismissively, and the film is clearly marked at preaching to the converted. The audience at the premiere was hooting at the prevalent mentions of bike lanes or transit upgrades, while glossing over some of the more silly or hyperbolic comments that some of the interviewers extolled.
The film also suffers from a repetitive structure – as we’re led from city-to-city, there’s no real through line tying each together. The notion that solutions for Holland would be very different than for Rio or Bejing is glossed over, making the explicit claims of many of the film’s participants even more suspect.
Stylish and colourful, the film does have its charms. For those wanting to see their own views reflected back at them, the film is certain to please. For those looking for an honest engagement with the issues of urbanization, one that treats its audience with more respect and providing fewer platitudes, then they should look toward another landscape.