As part of Design Indaba, a collection of documentaries was screened at The Labia. Urban renewal was expounded on in Urbanized directed by Gary Hustwit. It is a revealing account of the way urban planners, architects and legislature are solving urban crises.

The documentary delves into all aspects of urban development, such as the frustration felt by architects at pitching against so many other firms, to the urban initiatives that have started making a difference in Khayelitsha. The designers working on project VPUU (Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading) have been instrumental in reducing the level of murder and rape in Khayelitsha by lighting dangerous pedestrian pathways, creating community safe zones with education and sporting facilities and safe houses, which are manned 24 hours.

Many of the initiatives highlighted in the documentary put citizens at the core. As former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa, said in his interview: “We invested in people.’ And his philosophy paid off, turning what was once one of the most dangerous, congested and corrupt cities in the world into a peaceful place populated by caring citizens, all within 10 years.

Penalosa was instrumental in many bold changes, some of them controversial such as raising sidewalks and installing bollards to prevent cars from parking and so encouraging people to use public transport.

In conjunction with this, Penasola had dedicated bus lanes constructed with barriers separating them from private vehicles, as well as protected bicycle lanes throughout the city. “A protected bicycle way is a symbol of democracy,’ he said, “A person with a $30 bicycle becomes equal to a person in a $30 000 car.’

Overall it is a documentary that demonstrates how good planning can enhance our lives. The contrast is highlighted with sweeping shots of the beautifully laid out capital of Brasilia. Designed by renowned urban planner, Lucio Costa, and architect Oscar Niemeyer, it is a truly beautiful city with grand boulevards and enormous open spaces of lush green grass between buildings established far from one another giving a sense of space and harmony. But it is this aesthetic that lets it down because it follows form rather than function. The distance between the buildings makes it very far for pedestrians or cyclists to commute, resulting in vehicle congestion.

There are lessons in Urbanized for legislature and citizens alike, particularly in South Africa where e-tolling in Jo’burg only goes halfway to solving the traffic problem due to scant provision of public transport. Yet in Cape Town the new My City buses are often empty.

By Anton Crone

Screen Africa magazine- May 2012


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