Films for Teaching Planning [Theory]: A resource list


Suggestions were collated by Andy Inch from discussions on the pnuk mailing list and twitter in January 2020. "" <a.inch@SHEFFIELD.AC.UK>


I have basically cut and pasted what was shared, including any relevant description or commentary but I have not attributed this or added any additional detail. If you want to ‘claim’ your contribution or add to the list in any way then please feel free to edit the document accordingly.

Added: April 2022: Tim Waterman (Bartlett UCL) has done his own collection of London films on his blog. He’s a prof of Landscape so that may be reflected in his selections




KH-4 (1960s) dir. John Schorstein,  feat. Bill Forsyth                

Experimental film on demolition in Glasgow


Glasgow 1980 (1971)                                                                                                

Not a great piece of filmmaking but an interesting bit of social history.


The Secret History of our Streets:  Duke Street Glasgow (BBC)                                                                          

Good on history of citizen campaigns against demolition and emergence of housing associations. The rest of this series is also worth watching.


The Planners and the follow up BBC series Permission Impossible: Britain’s Planners (2014)  is on Box of Broadcast 


The Way We Live, 1945

This film is an hour in length and, using both documentary and dramatized scenes, tells the story of the re-planning of Plymouth, a major and historic naval port in a dramatic and beautiful physical setting, which was one of the most badly bombed of British cities. Directed by Jill Craigie, the film features many of the local political and professional personalities involved in the plan, including the great British wartime planner of London, Patrick Abercrombie, brought into work with the local City Engineer, James Paton Watson. Also featured is a young local Labour politician, Michael Foot, a well-known left-wing journalist, writer and orator who briefly (and unsuccessfully) led the Labour Party during the Thatcher era in the 1980s (and also married the film’s director). The dramatized sections of the film portray the lives and loves of a local family with a British and American sailor providing romantic diversion for the daughter and her friend. The YouTube clip was obviously recorded from commercial TV and there is a short break in the middle.


Proud City, 1946

This film is called ‘Proud City’. It was released in 1946 and tells the story of the 1943 County of London Plan prepared by the renowned British planner Patrick Abercrombie and John H. Forshaw, Chief Architect of the County of London. Both feature in the film, Abercrombie with his monocle. Their plan echoed the original villages of the area over which the metropolitan city of London grew and conceptualised London as a series of neighbourhoods, averaging 10,000 people. The physical planning was designed to reflect and promote these neighbourhoods and this concept is explained in some detail by a young Arthur Ling, by then head of the town planning section of the Architect’s department (and a prominent Communist who played a key role in British planning and architecture links with the Soviet Union). Other aspects of the plan, including the creation of a modern road system, are briefly shown.




This is good on ‘Mahogany Table Planning’ as one author on post-war planning in Denmark calls pre-citizen participation planning (in Denmark before the planning legislation reforms in the 1970’s) is demonstrated as it is being practiced. In detail and of course with all the loyalty that belongs to a contemporary documentary on state-of-the-art within a professional practice. I usually edit out some sequences focusing on ‘knowledge in planning’, ‘citizens in planning’, ‘the architect in planning’ and other themes. It’s rather fascinating how much they describe and name during the film. They demonstrate how ‘community planning’ was born – and of course the focus on infrastructure, order and spatial hierarchy. And near the end (around 17:00), the extremely well-dressed architect does a deductive walk-through of the restructuring of a neighbourhood leaving no doubt behind that this is the right (and only?) way to do things – finishing with saying “So you see, this is not an inhuman plan at all…” – somehow anticipating the later critique. When I use the film here, I usually show smaller bits of it, pause and discuss with the students – focusing on the images perhaps, or doing a light discourse analysis with them in class, discussing gender perspectives, how planning’s ‘others’ are portrayed and so on. What of this we can see today, and what not and why…It’s usually a very good starting point for a rich discussion, and becomes a point of reference in the course and later on.


Charley in New Town, 1948 

This is a cartoon film made for showing in cinemas to promote the New Town programme launched in 1946. It was the first of a series featuring the ‘Charley’ character that were designed to promote the great social reforms of the post-war Labour Government. It was created by the studio of John Halas and Joy Batchelor, the nearest British equivalent of Walt Disney. Slow progress with the whole New Town programme resulted in complaints about Charley’s final request to audiences to ‘try it’, as very few initially could.

East Kilbride – Town of Tomorrow, 1954

Encouraged by government, virtually all the Development Corporations recorded their particular New Town’s development in film and at some point many produced documentary films specifically about their own work. East Kilbride was a New Town developed to cater for the overspill of population from Glasgow, the most overcrowded city in Britain. It was the first Scottish New Town, designated in 1947, and proved successful because it quickly attracted employment. This was a key consideration that often shaped the pace at which New Towns could grow. Within a short time there was, unusually, some net-commuting from Glasgow out to jobs in East Kilbride.

Cumbernauld: Town for Tomorrow, 1970

Cumbernauld was Scotland’s third New Town, designated in 1955 also to cater for population overspill from Glasgow. It was the only New Town in the UK to be designated in the 1950s at a time when the national Conservative Government did not wish to expand the programme. It was only the acute nature of Glasgow’s housing problems that allowed this exception. The plan itself was markedly different from earlier New Towns in that it acknowledged the fact of rising car ownership, responding by adopting on a very large scale the Radburn principle of vehicle/pedestrian segregation across the whole town. Instead of the neighbourhood unit principle with local shops etc. within each neighbourhood, Cumbernauld’s residential areas were created at high densities clustered around the town centre and it was expected that residents would walk to use services there. Car use would be confined to the ‘outer’ side of the residential areas, linking to an external ring road surrounding the town. The town centre was developed as Britain’s most complete example of a mega-structure and is now a historic monument though it did not prove popular or successful as a retailing space.

British New Towns – Runcorn, 1973

Runcorn was designated in 1964 as the second New Town (the first was Skelmersdale) to cater for Merseyside’s needs. The existing town of Runcorn already had almost 30,000 inhabitants so the proposal to increase it to around 100,000 was a major expansion rather than a completely ‘new’ New Town. The film, which appears to be clipped, in that it starts very abruptly, outlines the key principles of the plan. Its planner, Arthur Ling (formerly of the London County Council and Coventry) reappears as an older man after his cameo in the ‘Proud City’ film. The central planning concept of Runcorn involved the use of a ‘Figure of 8’ dedicated bus way system which carried no other traffic, linking all the residential areas (which were built at a relatively high density compared to the first generation of New Towns from the 1940s) to the central shopping city. Like Cumbernauld, Runcorn was a city that also acknowledged high motor vehicle use and a very efficient and high-capacity road network was provided.

A  1948 film about Welwyn Garden City is available at

A 1956 one about Harlow at


On post-war rebuilding there is an unintentionally entertaining short 1942 film about t'replanning of Sheffield you probably know already available at


A curious film which appears initially to be about illustrated magazine journalism and its increasing obsession with celebrity trivia turns out to be about Max Lock's 1946 Middlebrough plan ('Ironborough') - a story the journalist narrator looks back on nostalgically as being about something that really mattered. The film shows quite a bit about the plan's then novel methodology. It is available at


An inexpensive DVD compilation of archive films (some edited down) about Birmingham is available at

The site also has material about Coventry which I'm not familiar with.


Also the American 1939 film 'The City' shouldn't be neglected. It embodies the ideals of New Deal style democratic planning before McCarthyism started to think it was all too communistic. It is available at


The Country and the City- Raymond Williams viewable here:


A funny thing happened on the way to Utopia(Amber Films, about T Dan Smith, its semi-fictionalised, but the full interviews with TDS on the amber website are well worth watching:


The Great British Housing Disaster (Adam Curtis about the Large Panel System building scandal):


A Diary for Timothy (Humphrey Jennings for the context that the post 1945 planned economy emerged into - a really key film in British documentary history too):


I’d also recommend the material put together by the office of independent cinema on new towns.


New Town Utopia on Basildon (2018) its cuts and culture is great

The Cruise- a pretty esoteric documentary on a New York tour guide/beat poet. The full film is on you tube but some highlights of his critiques of urban professions, including a rather incredible critique of landscape architects, here:


Stuff the Badger – Hard to come by educational film made by staff at the University of Sheffield to teach about planning disputes, feat. Hugh Ellis and Heather Campbell amongst others.


Bus Rider’s Union (1999)

If you’re interested in examples from outside the UK, I show this documentary on the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles. I use it in my transportation class but i think it raises interesting issues related to advocacy/radical planning.


The Street (2019) by Zed Nelson on the transformation and gentrification of Hoxton street.


Utopia London (2010) by Tom Cordell about social architecture (mostly housing) in London in the post war period.


Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2017)

- about Jane Jacobs v Ed Moses


‘Cream Teas and Concrete’

Classic 1990s documentary about North Cornwall made by Christian Wolmar - it really focusses on ‘corruption’ in local planning but when you dig in it’s a bit more complex or nuanced than that. Good one to start a debate.


The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980)


Berlin Babylon (2001)

nicely describes the construction + planning processes of Berlin after the fall of the wall


16 Acres


Um Lugar Ao Sol

Brazilian documentary. Interviews with penthouse owners of most expensive buildings show the social conflicts and the impacts of verticalization in our context. Not directly planning theory but enough to discuss there.


the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) recent release 'New Towns, Our Town' film

Looking for Milton Keynes-


Absolutely anything with Ian Nairn in it



Long Live Southbank: The Bigger Picture 

LDN South Bank is probably one of the highest profile planning disputes of recent years. It would get the students thinking about what makes a place, and the politics of 'balancing' competing priorities and interpretations. Also, skateboarding is beauty.


The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Public housing and the way it is framed


‘How Buildings Learn’ by Stewart Brand esp. the episode about the metabolism@of cities...


‘New Town, Home Town’ (1979). Colin Ward - this is currently available on iPlayer


Andreas Schulze Bäing’s collection of historical planning films on Youtube


Ekümenopolis: Ucu Olmayan Şehir

a doc on istanbul if you think it works:


on occupation movement in Brazil


Some of Jonathan Meades' documentaries "On France - 3", "On the Brandwagon" and "Heaven"


Occupying Brazil

Brazilian occupation movement


Streets at Stake

informality in Johannesburg


“Bastion Point: The Untold Story”

planning and ongoing colonial dispossession at a site in Auckland.


My Brooklyn

Gentrification in Brooklyn

Flag Wars (2003)

“Shot over a four-year period, Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras' Flag Wars is a poignant and very personal look at a community in Columbus, Ohio, undergoing gentrification. What happens when gay white homebuyers move into a working-class black neighborhood? As the new residents restore the beautiful but run-down homes, black homeowners must fight to hold onto their community and heritage. The inevitable clashes expose prejudice and self-interest on both sides, as well as the common dream to have a home to call your own.”



Informal Housing and state neglect


You’ve been Trumped (2011) (and follow up A Dangerous Game, 2014)

On Trump in Aberdeenshire and golf course developments


The City: Heaven and Hell 

Lewis Mumford


Out of the Rubble

National archive film on post-war urban development and citizen action


When Strangers Become Neighbours

Leonie Sandercock and Giovanni  Atilli



Commodification of housing


lots of documentary clips at http://yorkshirefilmarchive.comincluding original Park Hill development


Cities on Speed

Antanas Mockus in Bogota


Building the Olympic Dream: The Last Stand at Stratford (2009, 60m documentary)

UCL Urban Lab film suggestions: 

Two films by Lorenzo Tripodi

On Alamar -  a new city in Cuba

On modernism in Moscow



London (1994) dir. Patrick Keiller


Robinson in Space;(1997) dir. Patrick Keiller


Robinson in Ruins (2010) dir. Patrick Keiller


Gregory’s Girl (1981) dir. Bill Forsyth

For the quintessential Scottish New Town experience. Incidentally it is also the greatest film ever made


That Sinking Feeling dir. Bill Forsyth


Comfort and Joy dir. Bill Forsyth


Local Hero dir. Bill Forsyth


The Castle (1997) 


Zootropolis (or Zootopia) (2016)

Deserves a place on this list, it certainly presents a different view on cities, one in which animals (albeit anthropomorphic) are the users, dealing with issues of scale, environment and ecosystems.


Robocop  (1987)

The Delta City vision is also a very interesting example, particularly connected with the issues of Smart Cities and AI.


The Fifth Element (1997) dwells on the issue of intelligent cities.


Black Panther (2018)

A good contender and much has been written about it and the future vision of the city.


Man on Wire (2008)

Raises a lot of issues about how we use cities and especially about the role of regulators when it comes to art and performance.


“Le mani sulla città” (the hands over the city)  (1963) by Francesco Rosi

on the corrupt relationship between landowners and local government officials.


The Long Good Friday (1980)

- set around the early days of London Docklands


Get Carter

See the controversy when the car park featured in the film was demolished.


Of Time and the City

Terence Davies about Liverpool


High Rise (2015)


Welcome to the spiv economy.  Andy Metcalf, GLC economy 1980s


Grow your Own (2007)


Sunshine State




Ikiru (1952) dir. Kurosawa


"Up" (Pixar, first Act only)


There Will Be Blood


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, first 15 min.


The Big Short


Over the Edge (1979) (dir: Jonathan Kaplan)


Bread and Roses (2000) (dir: Ken Loach)


La Haine

good depiction of central Paris against its suburbs


Do the Right Thing

still relevant if a little dated.


Passport to Pimlico

- particularly in Brexitland.


High Hopes

Mike Leigh in Kings Cross before the re-development.


Back to the Future

for some truly horrible 1950s small town nostalgia


Alphaville,  Godard

for one take on 1960s modernism


Playtime, Tati's

a slightly different take  on 1960s modernism


Vivre Sa Vie, Godard's

for being plain brilliant on 'modern' Paris full stop.


The Truman Show

Filmed in Seaside, Fl.


Hot Fuzz

For depiction of ‘community’ and English village idyll, especially the fight scene in the model village.

Motherless Brooklyn - Edward Norton's director debut centered around planing and corruption in 1950s New York. Featuring characters based on Ed Moses and Jane Jacobs

Gangs of New York - shows the development of the city, society, class structure and the formation of political institutions during the mid 1800s in New York City.  Based around true events and features historical characters.



the plot turns on a water/infrastructure scandal.


Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House

for flight from the city to suburbs/rurality


It's a Wonderful Life

for Capra's republican attack on the city.


Promised Land (2012)

Edward Scissorhands, by Tim Burton,

Perfect for certain ideas about community and suburbanisation


La Zona, Rodrigo Pla

Gated communities and Southern urbanism in Mexico


Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay

Interest focus on tenement living, slum clearance and urban renewal


“Eye in the Sky” (2015)

Useful in sparking a debate on utilitarianism and the distance it is commonly claimed planning must assume to effectively deliver the ‘public interest’.




“Suburra” (Netflix)  about mafia, church, state fighting each other over development and landownership rights.


Our Friends in the North (1996) (TV Series, BBC Television)


Show me a Hero

HBO miniseries is an excellent synthesis of the housing desegregation politics in Yonkers. It shows how planning mingles with politics at different scales There is also an article by Feld (1989) in JAPA discussing the case.


The Secret World of Michael Fry

Not of great educational value


The Wire


Writing and other resources on Planning and Film


Abbott, C.  (2016) Imagining Urban Futures, Wesleyan University Press


Cliff Hague regularly blogs about links between planning and film. See for example:


"Community" in Bykerand then Akenfieldwith its rural setting:


Mark Cousin's "Stockholm my love" and you can connect it to modernism.


Prefab Story, the Czech film about the building of the Southern City in Prague: provides a wry commentary from a feminist perspective while also touching on ethnicity and inclusion.  Hilariously the regime banned its showing in Prague - so people just went outside the city to catch screenings.


Mr Treeis about China's rural to urban transformation, including the environmental and cultural impacts.


Last Train Home, another Chinese rural / urban tension


Terence Davies’ depictions of Liverpool and their links to Fellini’s Rome: issues of solidarity and class run through Terence Davies' filmsset in Liverpool, along with Catholicism and sexuality.The blog briefly links it with Fellini's 1972 filmRoma which again deals with modernisation of the urban fabric and society.


Tewdwr-Jones M. (2011) Urban reflections: Narratives of Place, Planning and Change, Bristol, Policy Press


Tewdwr-Jones, M  Modern Planning on Film: Re-shaping Space, Image and Representation


Arvind Adidas’s book *Last Man in Tower* on housing.


@UrbanFuture_Lab has a syllabus with theory-relevant films at


CityLab article on evil developers in film:


In the Pit 2006 Mexican doc about the workers building the Periferico highway

White Elephant 2012 Argentinian film about social workers in an unfinished hospital building in a villa miseria

Neighbouring Sounds 2012 Brazilian film set in a middle class area of Recife where urban change meets colonial legacies

Film-makers working on planning and urban issues (& offering training)


Spectacle Films

“Here is a link to a selection of some of our films that relate to planning- particularly from the point of view of residents and community that you might find interesting. We also have a huge video archive on 1980-present on planning, regeneration, housing, resident activism, urbanism that we are in the process of making available. We are always interested in collaborations and projects based around our video archive and / or participatory filmmaking.”


Left Hand Rotation - see   O Que Vai Acontecer Aquí on housing struggles in Lisbon:



There's a relatively recent Magnetic North album dedicated to Skelmersdale and well, Lancashire modernity kitsch:

 Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (album)