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'Urbanscapes'

Taking its cue from photographer Camilo Vergara, who has spent over a quarter-century chronicling the life and (mainly) death of American cities, this documentary visits four iconic sites of urban dereliction in Newark, the South Bronx, Chicago, and Detroit. The panoramas of vacant lots and boarded-up buildings, cheesily scored to lugubrious music, get monotonous, until you realize that repetition is precisely the point. Urbanscapes analyzes urban blight as a recurring phenomenon, with economic, social, and moral dimensions. The doc is at its best when allowing former and current residents of these neighborhoods to offer insights and anecdotes. In the South Bronx a photographer talks of deserted streets overrun with packs of wild dogs, and in Detroit, a former autoworker and his social-worker wife recall the community mantra back when urban-planning initiatives were beginning to displace large segments of the population: "This is not urban renewal—this is Negro removal."

 
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