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Film maker Gary Hustwit recently released his third documentary featuring the world of design. It opened in New York on October 28th. Titled Urbanized, the film jumps around from New York, Rio De Janeiro, Mumbai, Beijing to New Orleans, Santiago, Brighton and Bogota. The film asks some of the world’s foremost planners, architects and policy makers what they are presently doing and what needs to be done to help cities survive in the 21st century.

Hustwit Ethos

Hustwit has a reputation from previous documentaries of using lush photography, inspired editing and a moving soundtrack to distillate the range of concepts into a clear focus for the viewer. Urbanized’s intention is to make city planning pivotal and monumental to our survival as a people. Our humanity is affect by the social dramas that play out in these planned environments.

Hustwit brings an honesty to his work that reflect his mantra that you learn best by doing, especially from your mistakes. He is living proof of his mantra, having been kicked out of college twice. Instead of doing his work, during the mid-’80s he was road tripping to see rock bands that represented the DIY punk ethos of that time. “It wasn’t about the music,” Hustwit asserts “It was about independence and learning the process yourself.


Hustwit’s independence led him to self-publishing books and albums before he found graphic design and finally making movies. He focused his first design-featured documentary on fonts in Helvitica. His second documentary, Objectified, featured consumer products. Urbanized take a bold leap forward, confronting an urgent issue for all our global society. How to retrofit urban centers to support a population explosion as sociopolitical pressures develop and global resources become more limited. It is a daunting subject for the globe-trotting film maker, but Hustwit uses an increasingly capable director’s grip to touch upon the gambit of issues we face in urban centers around the planet.

Reflective Urbanized Interview Quotes

Here are some quotes from a recent interview Hustwit conducted with Techonomy regarding his current documentary Urbanized.

There are new tools for people who are trying to redesign cities in smarter, more sustainable ways—geo-mapping, stress-testing buildings, and modeling growth, traffic flows, pedestrian patterns, and environmental conditions.

I’m drawn to cities; I love the energy in cities and every city has a different energy. But there’s no one city that I’m attracted to. We’re so mobile now that it’s not even necessary to choose one city. I live in New York, which I love and hate at the same time.

City governments have to make a real effort to involve citizens in every step of the process, especially the beginning stages. So much is driven by private developers that the public only gets involved if there’s opposition.

You also see DIY movements in cities like Detroit. People don’t want their neighborhoods to go down the tubes just because the government won’t take action. But at a certain point government has to step in. People can’t bring water to a city by themselves, but they can influence politicians to help them. So citizens are changing the conversation about concepts of livability.

Hustwit concludes by commenting on his Urbanized documentary, “I realized from the start that it would fail. There’s just no way to encapsulate everything that’s going on in urban design. All of the options of the different directions can drive you crazy. I knew that all we could do was try to fail as little as possible by narrowing down the focus enough to cover the issues that we wanted to talk about, with the knowledge that we were going to fail at being comprehensive.”