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Film review: Fresno Filmworks presents "Urbanized"
In the opening scenes of Gary Hustwit's "Urbanized," the camera pans over a section of Mumbai, India. It's a beautiful bit of color and awe inspiring in the way that grossly populated urban centers often are.
It's also a slum, a densely-packed shit-hole. Literally. It's estimated there is only one toilet to every 600 people there.
And this is the central theme of "Urbanized." Cities are wonderful, beautiful, often majestic and inspiring places. Unless they aren't. Then they're a Mumbai, or Detroit, New Orleans or Phoenix (or Fresno). The film doesn't concern itself much with why cities fail in these ways (overcrowding, blight, sprawl, etc.) other than establishing it's something to do with planning and design (or lack thereof). Instead the focus is on what several planners/developers/architects/public artists/public officials are doing to turn their cities around.
"This is the century for cities," they say.
And yes, Fresno could buy a clue.
In Bogotá, Colombia, the former mayor compares parking space to closet space (ie, not a basic human right and not the government's problem) and was instrumental in creating a public bus system and extensive bike and pedestrian lanes. On a bike tour through the city he smiles happily, noting how bikes and pedestrians get paved roads, while the cars drive through mud.
Life as it should be, some might say.
In Copenhagen, Denmark a full 37 percent of commuters ride bicycles to work and bike lanes are buffered by a row of packed cars. In New Orleans, a street artist places comment-card stickers on abandoned building as means of creating conversation. "I wish this were ..."
In Phoenix ... well, Phoenix loves sprawl.
In fact, it was impossible to not see "Urbanized" through the beige lens of Fresno. The scenes of Detroit (and Phoenix, more so) were so eerily familiar, and the clashes over a proposed high-speed rail system in Stuttgart, Germany seemed apropos to California's own struggles (though more violent). This could have been a depressing bit of filmmaking, but somehow Hustwit manages to keep things upbeat enough to be inspiring (watching it with a crowd full of Filmworks/Creative Fresno members probably helped some I'm sure) and in the end, you're left with a sentiment that's sure to be echoed in most reviews for this film: It should be required viewing for any mayor, city council, planning commissioner or developer.
You can watch "Urbanized" as a premium rental on iTunes.