Saturday, April 2, 2011

NFB Documentary: Radiant City

Radiant City is a strange documentary, but I can't tell you why because it would ruin it. It picks up on one family in Calgary's outer suburbs and follows them as they attempt to adjust to their new life in the still under-construction "community" of Evergreen. I put community in quotation marks because the idea of this type of development being a community in anything other than the most basic way is challenged again and again in this film.

We hear from such thinkers as Mark Kingwell and Joseph Heath, both authors as well as professors at the University of Toronto; James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere; as well as many urban planners, designers, and architects on what exactly makes the suburbs tick and why.

The film is interesting, but the critique of the suburbs is one we have heard and is hammered home over and over again by the different interviewees. James Howard Kunstler is particularly poetic in his anti-suburban diatribe, calling the suburban wasteland tragic and cartoonish. We're told the suburbs are dehumanizing, isolating, fat-inducing, energy-hungry, and far too big. We're told we need our cities to have walkability, main streets, mixed-use, mixed-income and dense, neighbourhoods. But we don't really get anywhere deeper than that.

Still, anyone that grew up in the suburbs will likely have some flashbacks as we watch the family attempt to coordinate their lives around their two cars--necessary for their new life in the far-flung 'burbs.

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