"Zoned Out" - alternate view

FYI - a member of the ZNA exec committee posted a link to this “documentary” on the Zilker Yahoo group. In case anyone is interested, below is a commentary from local journalist Jack Craver on the some of the issues with the film. If you are interested in learning more, or subscribing to his daily newsletter, check here

Steve Mims unveils low-budget, low-effort documentary about Land Development Code
I could never be a film critic. No matter how bad a movie is, I don’t think I’d have the heart to rip somebody’s artistic expression to shreds. Luckily, “Zoned Out,” a 29-minute documentary about the “legacy of CodeNEXT,” is not art, just good old fashioned political propaganda.

The film, which you can watch online and was screened on Labor Day at the Austin Film Society, features a handful of people explaining and decrying proposed changes to the land development code. Among other things, they claim that upzonings will lead to Austin being “cleansed of low-income people,” that it will “turn neighborhood roads into parking lots,” and that it will dramatically increase property taxes.

OK, obviously, I’m not going to give high marks to the conclusions drawn by the film. But if I stepped away from my own beliefs about urban planning, how would the movie do?

Terribly. The film is a disgrace to documentary filmmaking and journalism. It astounds me that the filmmaker, Steve Mims, is described in a glowing review by Ken Martin of the Austin Bulldog as award-winning.

It’s fine to have a point of view or an agenda, but for a documentary to have any credibility, it has to at least acknowledge the existence of the other side. Zoned Out doesn’t interview anybody who doesn’t believe upzoning presents an existential threat to the city and its residents. It presents numerous residents predicting doomsday for the city but it never bothers exploring why many progressive city leaders, housing advocates and environmentalists oppose exclusionary zoning. In other words, the entire film rebuts an argument that the viewer isn’t even presented.

None of the half-dozen people profiled in Zoned Out could reasonably be described as experts. There are a handful of homeowners bemoaning changes to their neighborhoods, shots of bulldozers scrapping houses (all under the current code), and shots of articles describing Austin’s economic segregation and growth (all taking place under current code).

There are ways to do an effective documentary sympathetic to the anti-growth message. Mims could have interviewed people supportive of the policies and then found some other people, perhaps some experts, to cast doubt on the effectiveness of density as an affordability tool. I wouldn’t have bought it, but it probably would have worked on some people.

For instance, why didn’t Mims try to, say, get an interview with the mayor or other City Council members? If this new code is so abhorrent on its face, wouldn’t it have made good film to grill them about why they’re trying to replace current residents with highly-paid Google engineers? If they won’t sit down for an interview, then you could accost them, Michael Moore-style, outside of a City Council meeting and shove a mic in their face.

Bulletproof journalism?
Perhaps more disappointing than the documentary itself was the review by Martin in the Bulldog. I’ve long accepted that Martin is partial to the Fred Lewis/Bill Aleshire clique, which is where he sources many of his stories from. But I chalked that up to generational/personal bias, rather than an agenda. However, his fawning review of Zoned Out and its supporters doesn’t even come close to meeting the standards of reporting that I’m sure he was once familiar with.