jueves, 12 de abril de 2012

History of urbanism in the 20th century in 10 videos

The "video" tag in my Delicious keeps growing and has reached 275 references. I opened this tag to prepare an experiment of facilitating a discussion session in the course Repensar las políticas urbanas 30 años después. That exercise took place late in 2010 and one year later, I posted A selection of 75 videos about cities and urban policies highlighting some of the videos that were considered for the final short-list of videos we finally used in the session. I will try to find the time soon to update this list but, in the meantime, here you can find 10 pieces that draw a selective and incomplete (but still relevant I guess) picture of some of the main ideas that influenced how cities were thought, designed and built in the 20th  century. A mix of names, cities and rarities in some cases, and not an official chart of the most important ideas or topics of last century urbanism.

Lewis Mumford on the city

The City In History, a classic read by Lewis Mumford, as screenplay. In the beginning of the 1960´s and during that decade, the city was a subject for this important documentary project conducted by the National Film Board of Canada. This is only a chapter of the whole series but starring Lewis Mumford and his book shows how influential were his ideas and the growing concern about cities.

The City - 1939 Documentary - Clip 1: From Farms to Factories

I found this video in the post The Suburban Prelude: The City (1939), an article about the documentary called 'The City', created for the 1939 New York World Fair as part of the "City of Tomorrow" exhibition. This event is considered to be a remarkable stepping stone in the history of urbanism in the USA (and consequently, far beyond) as it promoted a vision of the future of cities in which escapism from conflictive, crowded and unhealthy city centers was an objective for a new suburban dream. This clip is a good tool to show and understand the cultural visions that promoted the anti-urban movement in those days and created the spread of the suburbanization of American way of life.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History

This is the trailer of a recent documentary that explores the case of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, sometimes pointed out as an example of failed urban project of the modernist movement. There are more documentaries on housing projects but this one deserves a mention as as it is a current filming project.

Anatomy of Los Angeles (1969)

Los Angeles has been one of the main examples of suburban expansion and of its social, economic and environmental consequences. In 1969, a French TV looked at LA as a reference to explore its role. We can even hear "It is a true urban laboratory", a perfect definition of the importance of this city in the collective imaginary of urban living. The video seems to be carried out with the purpose of having a reference of how other cities would look in the future: "If you would like to know what the outskirts of Paris, London or even Moscow will soon look like...", look at LA. We now know this experiment didn´t work perfectly.

The Living City (1970)

This is a great piece (not for its visual quality I am afraid) to understand with images and some perspective the traditional optimisms of urban masterplanning. It was the 70´s and London needed urgently of a huge urban renovation and public authorities prepared this documentary in order to explain the main interventions planned in the city, using daily scenes as the common picture describing the changes expected. As we can see, more than forty years ago, publicity was already being used as a tool to sell the benefits of urban interventions.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - The Street Corner from MAS on Vimeo.
This one is very well known. Filmed as a research of public spaces in cities, this documentary explores the everyday use of cities by common people in their daily activities and why some places work while others don´t.

How to live in a city

I bumped into this great video some days ago, via Open Source Cities and it is a very nice piece produced in 1964 with educative purpose about the impact of urban living and the quality of good public spaces. Join the previous piece with the following and this one and you will have three great examples of works exploring the role of placemaking and open spaces in cities.

Jane Jacobs: Neighborhoods in Action

Jane Jacobs must be on any -even in a not comprehensive selection like this one- list of ideas that influenced urban thinking in the 20th century. This interview with Jacobs shows the influence of built environment in social life and public health, the role of corners and intersections, how we move about in cities,...

Unfinished London - Episode 2

I wrote a post about this video some months ago. All the other ones are quite serious and thoughtful, while this one is very funny...but still thoughtful. I had a good time watching it for the first time, as it is an unexpected way to talk about urban planning history. It is not a historic piece; however, it deserves a mention, as it is a good film to explore London in the 1970´s. It shows how the Abercrombie Plan was still seeking to become completed with a series of ringways that would serve as a guarantee to solve urban congestion. Nevertheless, this is a general story of how these plans can become unsucessful due to financial constraints and community opposition. Watch the first episode too.

"New Moscow" (Новая Москва)

OK, this is weird. You probably you know about Stalin´s project to use Moscow as the symbol of the revolution (with the Palace of the soviets as the icon that would stand for Stalin´s ego and symbol of power for population and rival countries). This is why this video is very useful to understand how architecture has been used (throughout History, not just in the 20th century) as a materialisation of power and, watched with some irony, this video may be considered one of the first filmed examples of the usage of urbanism -in this case, the post-war reconstruction efforts- to inflate social wisdom with outstanding sentences about urban identity and pride. Just remember this when you come across a promotional video about huge urban redevelopments. It will be using, more or less, the same ideas.

Besides this list, don´t forget to take a look at A History of Urban Documentary Filmmaking, a very good post on the origins of cam-in hand urban exploration and the evolution of this kind of action-research in cities.
I am sure there are lots of video pieces we could add. I think of those rarities showing the urban ideas by Walt Disney, old recording of Le Corbusier or any other main names in urbanism of architecture in the last century, documentaries about urban projects of any kind, retrofuturist takes, etc. Feel free to add your favourite ones.

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