Maybe this is the best title they could muster---it's a stinker, depressing or, depending on your mood, vaguely danceable. Fortunately, the documentary itself is grand. Under discussion are our expanding cities, each identified in various on-the-ground shots with population numbers like a Cold War thriller. But the vibe here is much closer to optimism; the goal of the many urban planners interviewed seems to be livability and collaboration with the populace. Episodes include a brief history of NYC's wonderfully weedy High Line (an example of success) and a discussion of Phoenix's banal suburban sprawl, defended by one well-fed land-use attorney who looks like an extra from WALL-E (failure).
Director Gary Hustwit is, with this film, completing a trilogy of sorts about design. First came 2007's Helvetica (about the cultural impact of the squarish typeface), then 2009's Objectified, about our love of manufactured gadgets. Urbanized feels like the warmest of the bunch, with Hustwit's technical chops much improved and his focus resolutely on the human angle of industry. One particular insight is worth the price of admission alone: the difference between designing from above (the cold, god's-eye perspective of Robert Moses, also taken to extremes in China and Brazil) and mixing in with the locals. More people have a concerned interest than you'd think; hopefully, the audience will be filled with dreamers.
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