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Urbanized Analysis

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Response Paper to « Urbanized », Hustwit

One of the biggest laughs of « Urbanized » could lie in the former mayor of Bogotá pointing to a car unable to remove from mud while he rides a bike on a perfectly paved bikeway.

« Urbanized » is one of those documentaries dealing with large-scale issues about how to design and conceive urbanism in a sustainable way while dealing with climate change or demographic growth.  At a time when half the global population lives in cities and 75% is projected by 2050 , it matters a lot. Hustwit believes that cities mainly embody the physical manifestation of social, environmental and technological forces ruling the world. Through the prism of precise examples of cities around the world, he mostly delivers an optimistic vision about what kind of projects communities should carry on.

“What we know from history is that you really need is a small group of innovators, a small group of people that can demonstrate how to do things differently, and once that gets mainstreamed change happens really quickly,” says Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town. It feels to be the general thesis of the documentary. For instance, improving safety through a centerized access to data has helped in Rio de Janeiro to real-time structure the whole lighting system. It has reduced crime rates in the favelas, as in Cape Town with the VPUU program - Violence Preventition through Urbanism Upgrading .  Improving mobility also remain at the top of the agenda, like in Copenhagen where a specific policy invites people to use bicycle and create a wide-range network, leading to an amazing rate of 37% of inhabitants commuting to work by use of bicycle.

On the other hand remains this appalling figure : 33% of the global population lives in slums. And none except Mumbai could fit the most, with the equivalent of London’s population living in slums, having access to only 1 toilet seat for 600 people whereas 1 toilet seat for 50 people remains the (unacceptable ?) main criteria to monitor the « access to basic sanitary infrastructure ». This makes Mumbai slums inhabitable. The documentary takes a clear stand on this issue : making cities liveable implies to put the human capital at the top of the pyramid. Nothing has been more wrong that cities designed in concentric circles through the porthole of an airplane.  When it comes to deserted American areas (could we still use the term of city ?), what to answer to this view from the Detroit People Mover railway letting us observing large empty spaces ?

Focusing on local-scale solutions brings some fresh wind but could let us with a feeling of naivety. Are we really willling to believe that only local initiatives will bring to a sustainable U-turn in these cities ? Through the prism of the failure of the S21 renovation works in Stuttgart, « Urbanized » makes one think about how to efficiently include citizens in the voting process to avoid a splited population fighting the government into tough protests… All the contrary that a smart city should symbolize, isn’t it ?



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