And the Feel-Good Oscar Goes To...

Discussing some of the most pro-urban movies ever made.

March 1, 2014, 7:41 PM PST

By Michael Lewyn @mlewyn


The red carpet at the Oscars

Alan Light / Flickr

In honor of tomorrow's Oscars, Christopher and Lisa Leinberger recently posted on NextCity about the "top 12 movies about urbanism." Some of the movies are about urban dystopias, while others are about suburban sprawl.  

Rather than praising or criticizing their choices, I'd like to praise a few films that I liked for different reasons: not because of their intellectual complexity, but because they are feel-good, pro-urban movies (though I think a couple of the movies the Leinbergers mentioned fall into this category as well, most notably You've Got Mail, a valentine to New York's Upper West Side). 

One of the most city-focused and pro-city films I have seen is the 1949 Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra musical On The Town. In the movie's opening sequence, shot on location in Manhattan, Sinatra, Kelly and Jules Munchin sing

"New York, New York, a wonderful town!

The Bronx is up and the Battery's down!  

The people ride in a hole in the ground." 

Then Gene Kelly falls in love with Miss Turnstiles, causing them to travel through New York and have all manner of adventures. When I was younger, sprawl and urban decay, like the Soviet Empire in the 1970s, seemed unstoppable. This film inspired me in my youth, telling me that cities had once been magical places.

A more recent, more subtle pro-urban film is the 2012 Oscar nominee Silver Linings Playbook. Most of the story was filmed in Ridley Park, a commuter-train suburb of Philadelphia.  The main characters get to know each other while jogging through the streets and sidewalks of a suburb where walking actually seems to be a normal activity. But they don't decide that they actually love each other until a dance competition in downtown Philadelphia.  

What about small-town urbanism? The Music Man, set in a small city in Iowa, portrays many of the town's citizens as a gossipy and unsophisticated. But when a town looks this good, who cares? 

Honorable mention goes to a couple of musicals that aren't quite as city-focused as these, but still have a stand-up-and-cheer song: the 1936 Gable/MacDonald vehicle San Francisco (because of the song "San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates") and Hairspray (because of "Good Morning Baltimore"). 

Any other nominations out there? 


Michael Lewyn

Michael Lewyn is an associate professor at Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, in Long Island. His scholarship can be found at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn.

Gentrification

What We Really Mean When We Say Gentrification

The focus on gentrifying communities has, in many cases, eclipsed the similar problems facing more stagnant neighborhoods.

September 14, 2021 - Vox

Brooklyn Redevelopment

Study: Market-Rate Development Filters Into Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing

New research sheds new light on one of the most hotly debated questions in planning and development.

September 15, 2021 - Full Stack Economics

Rendering of aerial view of Telosa city

Why Tech-Utopian City Plans Fail

Like others before him, e-commerce billionaire Marc Lore wants to build the ideal city from scratch. Urban experts don't have much faith in his chances.

September 9, 2021 - Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.