The Unforeseen is a documentary film about urban sprawl in Austin, Texas, and it is one of the most haunting and beautiful films this columnist has seen in years.
Given that urban sprawl is part and parcel of the Yukon landscape, be it lakeside recreational lots or Pilot Mountain II or Whistle Bend, this documentary is important in that learning from other jurisdictions’ mistakes the Yukon can perhaps avoid repeating them.
The Unforeseen is directed by Laura Dunn with executive producers Terrence Malick and Robert Redford.
It also has Robert Redford in a small portion of the film talking about how urban sprawl destroys the uniqueness of one community after another.
The point he makes is that each community does not realize what is happening to it until after the damage is done.
The Unforeseen covers the conceptualization and development of two suburban sub-divisions called Circle C Ranch and Barton Springs.
The latter subdivision is upstream of the actual Barton Springs, an iconic recreation site of Austin.
While definitely pro-green and not an advocate of sprawl, especially of the two subdivisions that are the topic of this documentary and the impacts on the actual Barton Springs, this documentary presents multiple facets of the issue.
It covers everything from property rights, the Texas constitution, local and state politicians, those seeking affordable housing, environmental advocates and property developers.
There is even footage of that arch villain George W. Bush during his tenure as governor of Texas.
He played a role in reversing sub-division development rules to the detriment of local democracy and the environment.
Unusually, the filmmaker has chosen to focus on the developer at the heart of the first project and peripherally involved in the second.
The idea of focusing an anti-development documentary on a developer becomes heart wrenching as the viewer begins to understand what motivates him.
The results of his ambition and greed end, well, let us just say it is unforeseen.
Additional interviews are with individuals all affected by urban sprawl.
This includes the farmer who watches the land that feeds people get gobbled up by housing to a young couple who appreciate the cheap and plentiful housing that lets them realize the American dream.
One interview gets to the heart of the issue by pointing out that growth is not necessary a problem, it is the nature of the growth that can do harm.
It is also important to understand that all parties in the urban sprawl debate are human, often tragically so, and that is what makes this documentary so moving.
This documentary is important in a Yukon context because it is time all Yukon people started examining what is happening down south and not repeat those mistakes here.
The way sub-division land-use planning is done has to change.
Sprawling sub-divisions are what most communities have done all over western and northern North-America and the result has always been the same.
The existing ecosystems get destroyed and cookie-cutter housing similar to what is available in Calgary or Abbotsford or Austin sprouts up.
Associated roads, powerlines and utility corridors ensure that whatever natural beauty the landscape might have had literally gets bulldozed aside for this one type, and only one type, of standardized suburbia.
The Yukon does not have to look like this.
With enough awareness and understanding of all those other jurisdictions and the mistakes that they have made it must be possible to do a different form of growth.
The director of The Unforeseen, Dunn, has done previous environmentally oriented films, most notably Green for which she received a Student Academy Award.
Green is about environmental racism along the Mississippi River.
The Unforeseen as well as Green are available for purchase at www.twobirdsfilm.com.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.