Urbanized, The Third Film From Gary Hustwit's
Industrial Design Documentary Trilogy

By Nima Maghame

Urbanized is the most epic of the three non-fiction films (Helvetica and Objectified). Spanning a top ten list of global destinations both thriving and dissolving; Hustwit successfully immerses an audience into the sometimes maddening while sometimes beautiful decisions people have made in creating the cities we live inside. From Shanghai to Detroit, city landscapes are layered with insightful interviews from experienced architects, corporate as well as non-profit developers, big city planners and everyday citizens from all over the world.


It's a beautifully shot and edited history lesson with a breathtaking macro and micro look at cities around the world and how buildings, streets and bridges have effected people's lives. Much like the other pieces in Hustwit's trilogy, this is not a director simply marveling and pointing the camera and tall buildings and detailed roadways simply asking us to agree on how pretty it all is. Urbanized delves into the litany of forces that drive the look, feel and utility of worldwide public places and makes us understand how we got to where we are today. For example, why did past New York City planners come to the decision to put freeways over Manhattan coast lines or why Brazilian cities are circular and faraway from each other?


Docs on topics too small can feel isolated and thin, while those who try cover an issue too large and encompassing can feel muddled and shallow. Urbanized somehow accomplishes the challenging feat of being both. Urban development in itself is a complex beast with a multitude of players, each as impactful as the next one. Hustwit tries to cut the muddling by breaking things down to the varying forces that create change. He focuses on the people or sub sections of people that involve themselves in the building and changing of communities like the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia filmed bicycling along a paved bike way (directly adjacent to an unpaved street), while highlighting how it is a physical manifestation of a “people-first” mentality.

A movie detailing the intricacies of big buildings and big ideas is going to have a staunch prerequisite of eye filling cinematic panoramic visuals and without a doubt the photography in Urbanized delivers. There is an awe inducing beauty in almost every scene, regardless of subject. Hustwit finds the charm and intrigue in everything, from intimidating Chinese skyscrapers to squalid Indian slums.

Compared to Hustwit's other documentaries in his trilogy, Urbanized encapsulates a topic that has been entrenched in humanity since the on start of civilization. What the movie shares with the other pieces in the trilogy is the subject matter is one of universality, while simultaneously being greatly unappreciated and taken for granted. Urban development is something which affects all people on a daily basis and is rudimentary, while being transformative. It's the reason we curse traffic jams and condescend suburbs. It's why we dream of living in lush lofts in San Francisco and Paris. It's why people protest over trees being cut down and petition for more bike lanes. It's about the places we live in and how making changes in our cities requires willing people to go outside and make a difference

Urbanized is available now on Netflix

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