Attainable Sustainable Design

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    Film Review: "Urbanized" by Gary Hustwit

    Amy Leedham
    Mar 15, '12 7:30 PM EST

    Last week I went to see Urbanized by Gary Hustwit which was being screened as part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival. Things got off to a pleasing note when the short animated film Second Hand by Isaac King was played as an opener for the evening. I loved the message and was especially entertained by the consumer with the extremely heavy footsteps.

    "Urbanized"poses that as the worlds' population continues to grow and move into cities, cities themselves must find innovative ways of handling the influx of people and the decline of natural resources. Hustwit explores the issues associated with the ever-changing flows of people and energy in cities from both the top down and the bottom up. From headstrong mayors who brag about big brother-esque control centers in Bogota to stickers on storefronts in New Orleans, Hustwit captures the vitality and despair of city living with beautiful and moving cinematography. A unifying theme to Urbanized (and Hutwits other films Helvetica and Objectified is the undeniable impact of design on daily life. One extreme example of the impact of design intervention in the film was The Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) project in South Africa. Designers and community leaders wanted to improve safety in Khayelitsha. Instead of tearing down the community, they opted for selective improvements to pedestrian corridors, lighting and community amenities which drastically improved violent crime rates and feelings of safety for the residents. The range of projects and movements covered by Urbanized was really impressive and each one was extremely interesting in its own way. I have listed and described some of my favorites from the film and end with this little tidbit of information from the first example discussed in the film: The slums in Mumbai, India. In India, the code requires at least 1 toilet for every 50 people in the slums. Currently, the national average is 1 toilet for every 500 people. The government does not want to change the code to require more toilets because they do not want to encourage people to move to the slums.

    Elemental Chile. A firm in Chile that has developed a social housing model based on providing the most expensive parts of the house and letting the families complete the rest as they can and want to. The most interesting lesson here was that upon speaking to the residents of the slums about what they wanted for their new homes they found in 100% of the cases that the people would prefer a shower to a water heater.

    Tidy Street Brighton England. This was an example of a really small scale project aimed at reducing energy use by making people accountable. The residents reported their weekly meter readings and the directors of the project tracked the progress on a 500 foot long graph painted on the street.

    "I Wish This Was.." New Orleans. This was my favorite. An artist living in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina posted vinyl stickers that say "I wish this was" and leave a blank space for passers by the fill in their desires. 


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A discussion on everything to do with sustainable design. From renewable energy to implementing integrated design in professional practice. Case studies, article reviews and green building certification methods and additional resources will all be included.

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