Two Good Documentaries for Anyone Interested in Development

I spent the weekend before last bed-ridden because of migraines. When that happens, the only two things I can do while my migraines pass are listening to podcasts, reading on paper, or watching movies on my tablet computer.

As per my usual when I suffer from migraines, I did all those things, but I wanted to discuss two documentaries I watched that weekend. Both can be streamed from Netflix.

The first is The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, a documentary about the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. Here is the official trailer:

The fruit of high modernist urban planning aimed at eliminating the slums of St. Louis, Pruitt-Igoe opened its doors in 1954. Less than 20 years later, the various levels of government involved agreed to demolish all 33 of the 11-story apartment buildings that formed Pruitt-Igoe because of the poverty, crime, and segregation found therein. Here is a critical review in City Journal.

The second is Urbanized, a documentary about the development of cities worldwide. (Its director Gary Hustwit, also directed Helvetica, a documentary about the world’s most famous font.) Here is the official trailer for Urbanized:

Whereas The Pruitt-Igoe Myth highlights a major failure of urban planning, Urbanized looks at both failures and successes of urban planning, from Lucio Costa’s planning of Brasilia to the highly effective and efficient transportation infrastructure put in place by the mayor of Bogota. Additionally, the documentary discusses planning in Bogota, Cape Town, Mumbai, New York City, Paris, and Phoenix.

Here is the New York Times’ review. An IMDB reviewer comments: “Should be an absolute must see for anyone in local politics.”

Both documentaries should be of interest to development folks because of how they illustrate not only the limits of planning in economic development, but also the potential successes that can arise from careful planning. Both are great supplements to Scott’s Seeing Like a State, and both reference Jane Jacobs‘ work on urban planning.

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