Monday, January 28, 2008

New Urbanist film fest a unique offering

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
— The New Haven Museum and Historical Society’s first New Urbanist Film Festival has attracted a number of community activists with thought-provoking documentaries about smart growth, suburbia, transportation and city planning.
The free series will continue from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Feb. 7, 21 and 28 on the second floor of the museum at 114 Whitney Ave.
This is the first film series in the museum’s history, said William Hosley, the executive director, and he doesn’t know of another one like it. The series has generated inquiries from across the state.
The first two films attracted 70 people apiece, young and old, some students, some historical society members, who watched the documentaries with rapt attention and some consternation, he said.
“New Urbanism is more than a buzzword — it’s a concept, it’s a movement. ... We are really committed to making New Haven the focal point for Connecticut. New Haven is Connecticut’s best example of an urban center on the rebound.”
Hosley said New Haven has an “edginess” lacking in many cities in that its residents become intensely involved and engaged in urban issues. “New Haven people aren’t home at night watching ‘Seinfeld’ reruns. They are out on bicycles, at local bars; they are talking.”
After Thursday’s documentary, “Taken for a Ride,” audience members got into a discussion moderated by Toni Gold, a Hartford woman considered one of the matriarchs of the state’s smart-growth movement and a senior associate with Project for Public Spaces.
“It’s an ongoing battle, but I think the good guys will win it,” she said.
The documentary delved into the history of public transportation and how it shaped cities, as well as the role of automakers in purchasing and dismantling trolley systems across the country while they lobbied for more highways, including some that destroyed inner-city neighborhoods in New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury.
Audience members jumped into the lively dialogue with ideas about public transit, bringing back tolls, introducing private highways and road narrowing to slow traffic.
“There is an awful lot of power at the local level. You have control over your roadways through your board of zoning. That’s where the power is,” said Leslie A. Creane, an audience member and assistant town planner in Hamden.
New Urbanism, which became popular in the 1980s, is a set of city planning principles that encourages density, mixed uses such as commercial and residential buildings on the same block, around-the-clock activity, walking and central public spaces that encourage people to meet their neighbors.
The New Urbanist design intends for city residents to have jobs, shopping and leisure in easy walking distance from their city homes.
Upcoming films in the series include “Subdivide: Isolation and Community in America,” Thursday, which will examine the reality of life in the suburbs; “Suburbia: The Good Life in Connecticut?” Feb. 7, will explore how suburban ideals and myths influence views on privacy, education, safety and the future of Connecticut’s urban centers; “Independent America,” Feb. 21, a journey across America to meet community activists fighting sprawl and chain stores.
The final film on Feb. 28, “Save Our Land/Save Our Towns,” will stimulate discussion about revitalizing cities and protecting the open space that remains.
Snow dates are the following Tuesdays. Preregistration guarantees a seat. Refreshments can be purchased. Call 562-4183.
Maria Garriga can be reached at or 789-5726.

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