Saturday, June 02, 2012


Urbanized was the first of three films that PLACE and Forum for Alternative Belfast are supporting at Belfast Film Festival.

It's a documentary that looks at the design of cities.Taking examples from across the globe, Gary Hustwit looks at how individuals, architects and public authorities have intervened. Most of the areas examined have been stressed or neglected.

The film tackles strategies for increasing public safety with overlooked walkways in a township; building social housing with the tenants involved in decisions around compromises (having a bath tub beats having hot water if your shack up to now has had neither); introducing cycle lanes by deliberately neglecting roads for cars and leaving parked cars as a buffer between cyclists and motor traffic; creating a cost-effective Tube-like bus network with stations and dedicated lanes; converting disused elevated rail tracks into soft public spaces providing escape from the bustling city underneath; and the power of local activists to broaden a community's imagination and self belief not to mention introduce unregulated community gardens.
There's also an insight into an experiment along a Brighton street in which residents monitored their energy usage and the results were tracked on graphs spray painted onto the road outside their front doors.

The film is focussed on the statistic that 75% of the world's population will live in a city by 2050. If there isn't to be a massive increase in slum-dwelling, congestion from the number of cars on roads, and dysfunctional city layouts, then the voices in this film need to be listened to in order to avoid the worst aspects of urbanism.

Applying the film to Belfast, Derry and gather urban sprawls cities in Northern Ireland, there are lessons about bike safety, metro public transport and social housing.

A great film to start the short Belfast Film Festival season, marred only by the odd typo in the subtitles (every voice is subtitled even the English ones) and the unusual screening in the Belfast MAC (where the audience sat far away from a relatively small screen).

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