To see the city is to believe it is alive, alive in the form of its networks, linkages, nodes, paths, districts, landmarks, and edges. How about that for some Kevin Lynch resource? Without these urban situations, how is it possible to survive the ecosystem concept of urban life? This nudges a little reminder to look at the scale of urbanism from ground level, experiencing the life of every component that makes up the community instead of looking from above.

In this 2011 feature-length documentary directed and produced by Gary Hustwit entitled “Urbanized” tackles about living in the cities and all of its advantages and disadvantages. The feature film discussed several cities that administer different settings of urban life according to their density and capacity. These cities are Chile, Brasilia, Bogota, Copenhagen, New York City, Phoenix, Beijing, Brighton, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, New Orleans, and Stuttgart. The film also interviewed architects like Alejandro Aravena, Oscar Niemeyer, Michael Sorkins, and Sir Norman Foster.

How do you define a livable and habitable city? Is it by its employment capacity? By population? By water and energy consumption? Economic forces? Social and environmental forces? Its sustainability? This film touched some issues that the urban population is facing at the comfort of their cities as well as highlighting what makes a place an island of paradise in the middle of the concrete jungle. For instance, the image of Brasilia being a model for the modernistic cities for an airplane’s window seat but things are not connected when you hit the ground.

Leaping to Bogota, Colombia, and how they have achieved a system from Curitiba, Brazil to fix their flow of linkages, giving priority to its citizens. It is pretty impressive how the former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa, invested so much to give the people of Bogota their transportation needs while the 2016 Pritzker Prize awardee, Alejandro Aravena, took the responsibility of designing a housing fit for a growing family with a growing income through modular design.

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Copenhagen, Denmark was applauded with its bicycle lanes creating a safe and organized path for different types of commuters. Going to Phoenix, Arizona wherein the suburban sprawl is sporadic pushing everybody out over a larger area of land is a must pondering development meant for automobiles and post-war urban fabric. Beijing, China on the other hand faces a different kind of urban issue, wherein livability is being ignored making way to roads as wide as 80 meters instead of making a path for people.

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People are influenced by what other people are doing around them, they are more likely to change their behaviors towards what everybody else’s is doing. This is how the city of Brighton in England approached their community by turning the streets into a big graph, informing them of their energy consumption and its impact on the environment. In the youngest township of Cape Town, South Africa called Khayelitsha where they have transformed the place into some dormitory residential area, paving the way for crime hotspots and poor health conditions.  

The High Line in New York was featured as well and how the organization Friends of the High Line have taken the initiative to reimagine the old 22-block railway into something the public can enjoy.

Key takeaways from this film that designers, when they plan, can digest and consider are:

First on the list, from the words of Alejandro Aravena: “To think about a final stage and how families can facilitate family’s life to achieve that middle-income standard in the future, that’s how the quality is being measured and social housing being designed.” Think of the basic fundamental unit of society and bring them towards the structure of creating the space.

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A good city is like a good party, it must provide social activities and a source of entertainment that people can enjoy spending their time with. To look at how many people have stopped walking to stay and enjoy what is there rather than looking at how many people are walking in the city.

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Being ambitious as Robert Moses but incorporated to Jane Jacobs’s standard, means glorifying the place without neglecting the public who are, in the first place, the primary reason why the city is alive. Always consider the fundamental social structure, create linkages in pedestrian routes, and maximize urban design to avoid violence.

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Overall, the documentary features how urban design narrates the language of the cities packed with a lot of concise information to the people, country-movers, city-lovers, and even to the viewers across the world. It points out the notion that the starchitects, no matter how divinely they are acclaimed, does not mean they can make the place wonderful. Very thorough and informative of the complexity of urbanism with proper case studies presented throughout the film. And last but not the least, it emphasizes the importance of people in making the world that we live in a comfortable place and is grounded to human dignity.

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It started with a spark and the next thing she knows, she’s on fire – that’s how Vimaluz Amairah or Vam started her journey with architecture. She is in constant curiosity about the world and how to make it better to the core of her profession as a future architect – the human person.