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Urban Utopias, past and future

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Mahsa Yazdan Bakhsh

on 4 October 2014

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Transcript of Urban Utopias, past and future


Cities, like
, are made of desires and fears.
Italo Calvino
Past and Future
17th , 18th , 19th

First Utopias
Post Modern Urbanism
Post modern urbanism emerged 'from the modest,
impulse, from a belief in incremental movement rather than cataclysmic change' (Goldberger, 1977, p. 257)

Modernist Urbanism
Despite the diversity of movements in Modernist utopias, they are frequently based on the projection of
ordered spatial forms
. These spatial forms provide the settings for
harmonious societies
, in which the ills of present day are banished to another space and time. Urbanism become the '
to changing society, to use to metaphor favored by Howard and Le Corbuzier among other. Their ideals becomes the construction of a '
city of salvation
Re-thinking the place of utopian urbanism
It is important to be critical about declarations about the 'end of utopia'.
Additionally it is necessary to
the literal meaning of utopia as 'no place'.
One of the key challenges, then, lies in how to
the concept of the utopia and in particular the functions of utopian urbanism in more open and

Renaissance concept of the ideal city to be utopian:
Fashioning the universe in a spherical shape.
An architect of Renaissance felt in necessary to argue about
exercise such as Palma Nova, Italy.
However the concept is no longer quite so
'natural' as it once had been, and though a Renaissance idea of 'nature' might still provide the mold for revolutionary form, it could no longer wholly absorb the sympathies of that new kind of 'natural' man which the impending revolution itself was to evoke.
Utopian Collapse and the crisis of Modernist urbanism
No longer being able to meet the
of the time.

Being held responsible by many critics for authoritarian attempts to remold urban space and behavior according to abstract and supposedly
universal rules
, and for enabling the conceptualization and production of an environment that denies differences and local identities.

Through its attempts to take an
spatial form
as a goal for a better urban future, and through its attempts to remake the environment in the image of that form, this kind of utopian urbanism has been denounced inherently oppressive.
Death of urban
Kelvin Robins argues: 'There has been kind of
imaginative collapse
: what was once driven by vision and energy is now drained of effect. The utopian has collapsed into the
. We don't plan the ideal city, but come to the terms with the "
good enough
" city. When we think about cities now, we are likely to talk in terms of
: in terms of something that is falling apart or losing its imaginary charge.'
Imaginary institution of the city defines the scope - the possibilities and their limits - within which, at any particular time, we can imagine, think and experience city life; it defines the aesthetic and the intellectual field within which cities will be designed, planned and engineered.'
Main critics:
Picture from Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s famous Learning from Las Vegas (1972-77),
considered a seminal analysis of the postmodern Dystopia
'There is
A politically progressive dimension to this approach has been explored by those investigating the potential for a 'postmodernism of resistance in the urban landscape' and the possibilities for more
democratic notions
of participation in planning process. They have advocated an urbanism based around recovering
local meanings
and reconnecting to particular places and histories, and for them a crisis of modernist urbanism brings with it
a sense of opportunity
In such areas, utopia is cast in terms of the
market and global capitalism
- and ideal space of free exchange and consumer satisfaction, running smoothly with flows of money and commercialized desire.
Main critics:
'neo- , post- , and retro- forms reproduce the dream-image, but
Such spaces of degeneration in contemporary cities are
disconnected from wider transformative project
, turn in on themselves, no longer intent on radiating outwards in that transformative move that was central to utopian conceptions of the modernist urban structure.

The multiple degenerate utopias that now surround us - the shopping malls and the 'bourgeois' commercialized utopias of the suburbs being paradigmatic - do as much to signal the end of history as the collapse of the Berlin Wall ever did.
They instantiate rather than critique the idea that 'there is no utopia'
, save those given by the conjoining of technological fantasies, commodity culture, and endless capital accumulation. (Harvey, 2000, p. 168)

Nothing that postmodern architecture was concerned initially with attempting to improve the social space of cities, the economic and political situation of the time undercut notions of urban reform and that as a consequence
the post modern become a means of justifying the lack of coherent urban policy
. (Susan Buck-Morss)
Susan Buck-Morss
What might be made of utopian urbanism
when 'utopian longing has given way to unemployment, discrimination, despair, and alienation'?
What potential is there for an oppositional utopianism that seeks to trace alternative
for what cities might become?

What is the role of utopian vision today?

Should the concept of utopia not be erased ? (when people are 'tired of grandiose ideal worlds which have left an unending trail of horrors', when it appears that the capacity to imagine and conceptualize social transformation and different urban futures - the very essence of utopian urbanism - is itself thrown to doubt)
Transgressive Utopianism

This approach allows a more
open conception
of utopianism that is
in intent, open to dialogue, change, contestation and that connects with other currents of critical contemporary utopianism.
Such 'transgressive' utopianism is resistance to closure and is always
in process
. Rather than the classic, closed, fixed form or blueprint to be realized, it becomes an approach
, a movement
set limits into the realm of
A stress on process allows utopianism to play a continuing role in radical thinking about cities.
Utopianism as a
Utopianism as a
A utopian perspective is not necessarily about projecting representations of a 'perfect' city, the institution of which is then sought as a means of trying to overcome the difficulties and complexities of the present.
Nor does it need to involve closing down the social and spatial field by proposing a fixed solution.
Rather, it may be rethought in terms of addressing what is
, and of seeking out the prospects within present conditions for different and more just processes for urbanization
What sort of city for what sort of society?
It is believed that this shift towards the postmodern
cannot be fully grasped if taken out of its
context. In this way, dystopias are related to larger trends in late-stage
, and can be seen as the urban manifestation of its disruptions, which actual governing tools such as the ‘urban project’ fail to regulate.

The postmodern dystopia made no tabula rasa with the built environment born out of the modernist utopia, nor did it dispense with modernizing discourse, actually suggesting elements of
both in the urban form and urbanism. The resulting tension is a crucial challenge for actual socio-cognitive instruments, such as the urban ‘project’ (Pinson 2009) that seem to have arisen as so many (insufficient) responses to the systematic development of dystopian places in late-stage capitalism.

Among the many multiplying landscapes of dystopia, the
shopping mall
stands out for its remarkable impact on the previously-existing system of production and consumption which gave birth to it in the late 1950s. Today the mall serves as a vehicle for regeneration projects aimed at producing
Is it the only future we can envisage?
At the end....
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