“Urban Planners Get Creative” the documentary that shines a light on how urban planners redefine the traditional and age old methods of urban development. The planners look at designing more sustainable and livable cities for the future. It heavily relies on interviews with urban planners and design professionals to provide interesting insights and examples. Jan Gehl is a celebrated urban designer interviewed in the documentary, amongst other prominent professionals. Gehl, a Danish architect, and urban designer, has been a leading voice in the movement to create more human-centered and sustainable cities, and his practice has had a significant impact on urban design around the world. The documentary features several of Gehl’s projects, including his work on public spaces in Copenhagen and his role in shaping  New York City’s public spaces. Gehl’s approach to urban design emphasizes the importance of creating spaces that prioritize the needs and experiences of people, rather than just cars or other vehicles. 

Youtube for Architects: Youtube for Architects: Future cities: Urban planners get creative by DW Documentary - Sheet1
Cities for People_©Jan Gehl
Youtube for Architects: Youtube for Architects: Future cities: Urban planners get creative by DW Documentary - Sheet2
The High Line_©Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The documentary produced by DW centers its theme around how urban planning and design, are highly user dependent and user centric. Community members, society, and policy makers thus become key stakeholders in the process. Urban planning in its very nature is a participatory process. The documentary emphasizes the importance of community involvement in the planning and design process. Several projects highlighted in this film, such as the “High Line” park in New York City, were developed in close collaboration with locals, residents, and community organizations. The High Line is developed as a public park built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure that runs through the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. The park was designed by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro in close collaboration with the residents to form a feedback loop. It became a prime example of how public space can be repurposed and revitalized to create a unique and engaging urban experience. The High Line is now a major tourist attraction and a benchmark in city scale urban renewal efforts.

However, the documentary lacks the views and testimonies of other stakeholders. This limits the scope of the film and makes it feel one-dimensional, as it focuses almost exclusively on the perspectives of the design professionals.

It talks about urban planning as a tool to address social inequities. It highlights projects that aim to create more inclusive and equitable cities. The Housing First program in Helsinki, which provides homeless individuals with permanent housing and support services is discussed, yet the challenges faced by the designers are only superficially talked about. It does not delve deeper into systematic issues and obstacles which are very common in urban scale projects. 

The film will feel more holistic with the addition of more critical analysis and discussion of the challenges and limitations of the projects it presents.

One consistent issue with the documentary is that it keeps jumping from one project to another without providing complete context or explanation for each, leaving the viewer feeling somewhat disjointed and confused. It thus feels like the documentary lacks a clear focus or a narrative arc. Additionally, while the documentary touches on a variety of different projects and initiatives, it never goes into much depth on any of them. It could have benefitted from providing a little before and after context for all the featured projects to give the viewers an in depth understanding of the subject.

The documentary offers interesting insights into the ways in which urban planning is evolving to meet the needs of a changing world. Several urban planners are now using cutting-edge technologies to improve the design and functionality of urban spaces. The Songdo International Business District is taken for instance, in South Korea, which was designed as a “smart city” featuring advanced transportation systems, energy-efficient buildings, and integrated information technologies. The world is seeing a new age unfold with the era of communication, smart cities are getting popular, and urban planners and designers should embrace the new technologies available at hand to make the lives of stakeholders convenient and hassle-free. 

Some innovative and creative projects that are making a real difference in communities around the world, and serve as a reminder of the power of design to shape our built environment is brought into the limelight through this film. Like Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Milan, which houses two residential towers covered in trees and other vegetation. The project is designed to help mitigate air pollution and provide a habitat for local wildlife. The project significantly prioritizes sustainability and puts forth an example of integrating social responsibility with urban design.  

Bosco Verticale_©COIMA

Overall, Urban Planners Get Creative, provides inspiring and pathbreaking ideas on urban design and planning. It tends to fall short in a few areas, it is still worth watching for those interested in urban planning and design. The film provides a glimpse into what is possible when we approach urban planning with creativity and vision. The projects discussed challenge conventional notions of what is the built environment of the future. It also emphasizes the need for collaboration and community engagement in the process of designing sustainable future friendly environments. 

ArchDaily. (n.d.). James Corner Field Operations. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/tag/james-corner-field-operations [Accessed 29 Apr. 2023].

TEDx Talks. (2016). The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown [Video]. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8APoCZihBM [Accessed 29 Apr. 2023].

von Schultzendorff, S. (Director). (2018). Urban Planners Get Creative [Documentary]. DW Documentary. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swH_w6QkCZI [Accessed 29 Apr. 2023].