Directed by: Gary Hustwit
Format: Big screen
Viewed: Friday 1/13/2012 with my wife and our friend Gosia at the Tower Theatre in Fresno
It’s pretty rare that I walk away from a documentary film feeling genuinely uplifted. But the first Fresno Filmworks screening of 2012, the Gary Hustwit documentary “Urbanized,” was truly inspiring. I enjoyed watching the first movie in Hustwit’s design trilogy, “Helvetica,” a few weeks ago as a primer. But the beautiful cinematography and moving stories of “Urbanized” turned urban planning into real art for me, and I came away from the film quite moved at human ingenuity and people’s passion for the public spaces they love.
Three segments in the movie stuck with me the most. The first was the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who was credited with being a pioneer in building a public light rail system and public bike trails in the early 2000s. He said that there was no universal human right to parking, and he insisted that if you take away parking spaces in a city center that you will then take away cars and pollution. “Parking is not a government problem,” the former mayor said, inciting many giggles from the car-happy Fresno audience.
The second part I loved was the revitalization of The High Line in New York City, a massive transformation of a historic elevated rail line in the heart of the city from weed-pocked and abandoned eyesore into a glorious urban park. The dedication of the Friends of The High Line to preserve a piece of history by transforming it instead of demolishing it made me think of all the little places in Fresno that might benefit from a similar innovative commitment.
The third part I loved was the story of the bike paths in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the city boasts that nearly 40 percent of its daily commuter traffic is done by bicycle. The city spent years taking away lanes from cars and one-by-one converting them to safe bike lines. Most notably, they put the bike lanes to the right of the lane for parked cars, to add a buffer between cyclists and automobile traffic. Such a simple safety move drew great cheers and laughter from the Fresno crowd, which has watched for decades as our city’s bumbling planners and politicians fumble to add a bike lane here or there, but then nobody wants to ride in them for fear of constantly being run over by an SUV. Hustwit’s documentary should be required viewing for all Central Valley mayors, city council members, and planning commissioners.