Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Tell Me a Story, 'Urbanized'

What can you say about cities in an 85-minute documentary? In Urbanized, third in director Gary Hustwit’s design trilogy, a little of everything and not much. Theme after theme — sanitation, housing, bus rapid transit, bicycles, parks — each connected to a single city by a specific talking head, is raised and then dropped. We drift in space and in time, transitions often made by a felicitous reference that sends us from continent to continent. We don’t build from small-scale, ground-up interventions, like community gardens in Detroit, to large-scale professional efforts like city planning chair Amanda Burden’s rezoning of New York. We don’t move in spatio-economic terms from the slums of the second and third world (Mumbai, Cape Town, Bogota) to the towers of Beijing. Or vice versa, tracing bus rapid transit in New York back to BRT in Bogota (or, for that matter, in Curitiba, Brazil, a previous international favorite with trickle-up ideas). Only in one case, Elemental’s Chilean low-income housing project, do we see numbers. Nothing builds, except a simultaneous sense of wonder and frustration. After an hour, I was restless, as it was hard to sustain feature-length interest without a story arc.