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A documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers.
The battle in how the urban form of New York City in particular was shaped in the mid-twentieth century is presented, the two leading figures on the opposing sides of the battle being Robert Moses, who held many senior positions related to development of urban infrastructure, and Manhattan resident and journalist Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". In this battle, Moses disregarded Jacobs as a "mere housewife" and a nuisance of one at that. As was the prevailing trend of the time, Moses was in the camp of demolishing what he saw as not working to build homogeneous neighborhoods in style and function - most buildings several stories high or taller in the need to accommodate a growing population - that were largely supported by urban freeways or expressways to move people from the burgeoning affluent suburbs to jobs in the urban center. Many of the urban housing developments were social housing for those who could not afford to live in the suburbs, and ...Written by
This is less a film more a hagiography. It makes accusations which may indeed have some merit but does nothing to try to challenge them.
For example racial removal is cited as a reason for slum clearance but there is no counter to express the fact many project are what kept black communities from being erased by gentrification.
Again Pruitt Igoe is cited that it was designed by a team that was made of of far more minority ethic architects than was usual at the time countering the remote whiteman image the documentary likes to play too. It ignores as is that racial segregation was forced upon the the plan and the rather important fact that black tenants where forced to move into the block when it was unfinished with some apartments lacking even plumbing.However the biggest flaw is looking at what happened to the neighborhood post demolition and what happened to the nearby neighborhoods that where not redeveloped and why the lives of the citizens have got so much worst since the development was demolished.
Its is on the whole a very middle class view of city life, the projects are dismissed as bad most one suspects because the are not the demise of the middle class but doesn't look to see if anyone has anything nice to say about the project that cannot be all bad is the culture they have spawned from Hip-Hop to wave after wave of fantastic black film directors who produce the kind of films Hollywood can only dream of. While obviously Hip-Hop and a few good films don't mean the project are therefore a utopian dream they do at least prove that nor are they the social void Jacobs would have you believe.
The biggest flaw however is what it fails to do is look for an example where knowingly or not, Jane Jacobs advice has in essences been how that city has developed. Their are of course plenty of examples that have been far closer to the Jane Jacobs model such as Paris which has a city centre that is a upper middle class ghetto or indeed London where some districts have lost all their life not through redevelopment by preservation and flows of capital and property investment for people who leave the places mostly vacant leaving immaculate ghost towns. One of the most tragic developments in our modern times has been the slow death of the city of Venice which has declined from one of the worlds great bustling hubs to an open air museum. Maybe if Robert Moses had been hired to build a highway down the gran canal and concrete tower blocks jutting out the lagoon the place would have a bit more life and a few less tourists today.
It also fails to look at the cities in China it moans about and one wonders if anyone involved has ever been. Are they really soulless? In my experience the city of Hong Kong mile after mile of high-rises and shopping malls is one of the most trilling places on earth and yet the very similar building typography in Singapore provoked in me only boredom. its true as stated it people that make cities not buildings yet, the most striking think about both this film and indeed the Death and Life of the Great American City is while they talk about how much buildings should be people focused, that's all they do. Its a mantra that isn't really explored in anymore depth than the humanism of Le Corbusier and his beautifully drawn stick men.
All in all this film is just one generation of urban thinkers giving itself a nice pat on the back at the expense of the previous.
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