On February 4, 2015, the Environment, Science, Technology, and Health (ESTH) unit of the U.S. Embassy organized a screening of Gary Hustwit’s documentary film “Urbanized” at the American Cultural and Information Center. Two local groups, “Smart Growth Mongolia” and “Think Urban” agreed to co-sponsor the event. The film discussed the issues and strategies behind urban design, and featured some of the world’s leading architects, planners, policy makers, and thinkers. It also highlighted the U.S. cities of New York, Detroit, and Phoenix and how citizens are working to create positive change in their urban environment. Before the film, the audience was asked to think about how the themes of the film relate to Mongolia and how initiatives going on in other cities around the world can be used to inform the urban transformation occurring in Ulaanbaatar.
The event was attended by over one hundred and twenty people mostly students, young people, and officials from government agencies, including the UB City’s General Planning Agency. Following the film there was a discussion on issues related to urbanization and urban planning led by four panelists: Bat-Erdene, founder of Smart Growth, Ariunaa Norovsambuu, initiator and member of Think Urban, Enkhjin from Zorig Foundation, and Hanna Bateman, urban planner from Australia who currently works at Asia Foundation.
During the discussion phase, the audience discussed the problems and possible solutions to Ulaanbaatar’s current urban challenges. One young participant asked how many of the audience were coming specifically to hear about urban planning issues as opposed to coming just to see a foreign language film. About 80% said it was to hear about urban planning. Judging by other questions and comments, audience members seemed most concerned about the lack of citizen participation in the decision making process as Ulaanbaatar city is remade.
The overall response to the film was tremendous. According to the event co-sponsors, “This discussion reaffirmed for us that the U.S. Embassy, in dubbing this film, has created a very important resource for promoting the discussion of urban issues within the wider Ulaanbaatar community. We would like to find a way to enable others to organize screenings of the dubbed film at universities and workplaces that have an interest in urbanization.” They also expressed an interest in screening the film, and initiating discussions, for universities, NGOs and government agencies.