Radiant City

Radiant City by Jim Brown& by Gary Burns, National Film Board of Canada

Shining a light on the inherently dysfunctional structures of North American suburbia, this National Film Board of Canada docudrama Radiant City is named after French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s utopian and unrealized Ville Radieuse concept, which envisioned a new, modern way of living and urban organization, featuring clear and almost “totalitarian” demarcations between living, working and leisure. Via ArchDaily:

Today, in the aftermath of Modernism, Le Corbusier’s built cities are hardly ever described as Utopias. Brasilia, for example, has been harshly criticized for ignoring residents’ habits or desires and for not providing public spaces for urban encounters. In addition to this, the Unité-inspired apartment blocks, which lie on the outskirts of nearly every major city today, have become incubators of poverty and crime; most have been thoroughly remodeled or demolished.

It’s certainly worth a watch, and if you’ve ever lived in suburbia, it is eerily familiar; as that is one of the characteristics of suburbia: that it attempts at the familiar yet ultimately feels incredibly alienating. Imagine growing up here; environmental author David Orr pegs our society’s current sense of massive “displacement” squarely on this kind of urban development, resulting in our detached relationship to our environment, allowing for its degradation.

James Howard Kunstler, an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl, says this in the film:

80% of everything that has been built in North America was built in the last fifty years and most of it is brutal, depressing, ugly, unhealthy and spiritually degrading.

The suburbs are a kind of modern purgatory; a result of chasing an empty, modern dream at the expense of true community and connection with nature and our fellow human beings. “Turning our backs on the world,” in a way. A pretty dire situation that we’ve built ourselves into; can we get out of our personal and collective suburb before it eats up everything? I certainly hope so.

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