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UTOPIAN APPROACH TO PLANNING AND THEORY 4

UTOPIAN APPROACH TO PLANNING AND THEORY

Contents

1.0 Introduction 3

42.0 Literature review

63.0 Contemporary utopia in planning and theory

84.0 Role of utopia I urban planning and theory

95.0 Conclusion

126.0 Reference List

1.0 Introduction

Utopian and anti-utopian schools of thought have been caught up in generic fault lines with respect to urban design, theory, philosophy and planning. In fact, given the book by Jane Jacobs, urban literature concerning utopia has been subjected to increasingly negative criticisms. The available literature evidently brings out the state of concern regarding the field of utopia; which in general terms is only correspondent to totalitarianism. According to Cuthbert (2007), despite the field of urban design having been in place for more than 50 years, there is still an evident deficiency of supportive theories. Creative ideas are presented in a generalized anarchy perspective, with limited collective or internal coherence. Urban design and planning is insufficiently attended with respect to theoretical perspectives; given that most of the available literature is mostly concerned with design regulations and case studies. What then, can be squeezed from such case studies, design regulations, serial visions, figure-ground relationships, functionalism and contextualism? Cuthbert further argues that urban planning and design does not conform to any theoretical approach, even at humanities, geographical, psychological, social and economic perspectives.

Instead of the current state of criticizing utopia infinitely, there is need for alternative assumptions and theories. Talen (2002) presented urban design as highly prescriptive; needing clear guidelines for the benefit of both city dwellers and designers. It is therefore necessary to review the ideas and plans of utopian dreamers, in order to bring out the contributions of such ideas to planning theory and practice. This is because utopian dreamers believe in discoveries, time-tested truths, presence of the durable and universalism. It is important to consider that utopia has played a key part in urban planning and the growth of the prevailing free society. Utopian thinking is evident in cities; separating automobiles from pedestrians and generalizing prefabricated systems among other evidences. This paper sets out to unearth the ideas and plans of utopian dreamers by use of current literature.

2.0 Literature review

The term utopia devised Thomas More, in an attempt to depict an ideal society. Originally then, utopia was meant to reflect a good place for social and urban life, with little attention to the concept of time inherent in achievement of such utopia. Given the prevalent society during that time, utopia was a theoretical framework for a better world; a better society. Utopia is hence constituted essentially, by the discourses concerning family, education, sex, work and collectivism. According to More, the concepts such private property is null and void in utopia; while equality is the dominant theme in the approach. Given the state of collectivism, utopia provides that all citizens are entitled to all facilities in the respective society. More further advocated for the reduction of working time such that the society could achieve a more egalitarian approach to life; hoping that utopia could be resilient through several generations (More, 2002). To educate more utopians; offspring of the pioneers, it was imperative to propose a more rigorous education system. Given that More viewed the family as the basic unit of utopia, he proposed a variety of rules concerning sex and role of the married in his utopian society.

Apart from these common values of utopia, other more concrete aspects like health and a world of peace were developed. More importantly, More proposed the designs for streets and quality housing so as to achieve the required level of health in the society. More therefore developed a spatial model that transformed his theory from a dream to a concrete project. His utopia was directed towards remote and inaccessible areas surrounded by fortifications. In the effort to achieve the egalitarian model of the society, More advocated for standard buildings (More, 2002). Orthogonal geometry and flat ground; given their designable and flexible nature, were favored in the place of complex design models. Moreover, empty spaces were preferred for such endeavors. Essentially, More created a state of falling-out from the traditional approaches of the society and planning to the application of technology especially regarding the planning of cities.

During the 2th century, many scholars took up the works of More alongside attracting political and economic thinkers. It was during this time that Marx criticized utopia based on its assumption that the society could be simply transformed, from a metaphysical outer space, to achieve a state of ‘goodness’; not that Marxism was against the achievement of such as radically transfigured society. Similarly, utopia was passed on to artistic agents such as science fiction. Urban designers and architects of the era also had their input regarding utopian cities. The most famous of such projects; regarded as undoubtedly utopic, were those of Le Corbusier, Wright and Howard (Fishman, 1977). Although these utopias were not pejorative, they were imperative programs of action resultant from a critical reflection hence transcendent to prevailing circumstances; implementation of the program leading to breaking down of the societal status-quo.

At a time when people thought that the achievement of an ideal world was at hand, such hopes were turned into despair. The soviet regime transpired obstacles like censorship and despotism. The utopia that had gained roots was immediately challenged by the rise of USSR hence terror and oppression as opposed to the expectations of the people (Pinder, 2002). The society was then subjected to other aspects like acculturation instead of collectivism and the standardization of life.

3.0 Contemporary utopia in planning and theory

Urban planning departments, at a contemporary perspective, rarely address utopia approaches in official programs. It is therefore evident that there is insufficiency as far as the enthusiasm to comprehend the relationship existent between urban planning and utopian thinking. Arguments have been presented that this lack of enthusiasm can be traced to the previous failures of utopia; given that most utopian experiments did not succeed. While utopia uses spatial figures in defining cities, contemporary cities have no relationship whatsoever with preindustrial cities (Pinder, 2002). Moreover, following ubiquity of culture and media alongside technological advances, buildings can be erected anywhere; while discoveries have become easy. While no further spaces are left undiscovered, technology is engulfing the previous duality of time and space existent in the utopian approach.

These attitudes can expounded from the contemporary world, where people are more oriented towards real elements. The society, being highly consuming, is inclined to knowns over unknown material as opposed to spiritual and so on. Similarly, neoliberal laissez-fare perspectives as well as need for market efficiency extend the orientation to real things. Furthermore, the capitalist theory has taken course globally while all economies seem to be satisfied with it. Also, from a political viewpoint, politicians are using less coercive policies in reelection campaigns in order to lessen the possibility of creating dissatisfaction among the electorate. For instance, with respect to the current global campaigns towards sustainable development, global warming and corporate social responsibility, voluntary as opposed to coercive measures are being employed.

Given these conditions, on may be prompted to conclude that the utopian approach, especially with regard to city planning is an outdated and forgotten concept. However, such a hypothesis is not entirely clear-cut; as Pinder (2001) found that the end of utopia is far-fetched. He argues that people have tried to kill utopia in the past, yet the approach is still resilient. Another scholar Paquot (2007) argued that utopia, at a contemporary perspective, is taking shape among feminists and ecologists. Additionally, Rouillard (2008) points out that utopia is evident in the urban designs of the new generation.

According to De Moncan (1998), the current city conditions can be traced to utopian approach. For instance, the separation of automobiles and pedestrians reflects a utopia achieved dream of a place where people can have their own space in the society; a better society and life quality. There are still disparties in the society that can be addressed from utopian perspectives. Urban planners can employ utopian approaches in their experiments to come up with solutions for such gaps. While the classical definition of utopia may be difficult to achieve in the contemporary society, Picon (2000) addressed the significance of using a conventional utopian perspective to city planning. He argues that utopia, at first sought for a better society with respect to already existing problems; so the utopian approach is meaningful in identifying social meanings with imaginary potentials.

4.0 Role of utopia I urban planning and theory

The findings of this paper propose two functions of utopia approach to urban planning. To begin with, given that the paper agrees that the initial definition of utopia is difficult to achieve, then utopia can be employed in general term, as research laboratories for planning the future of the city. Notably, scholars form engineering groups have confirmed that every field has an underlying research laboratory. Therefore, a utopian model is a meaningful approach to the planning of future projects concerning cities especially using the spatial model (Stauffer, 2002). The artistic nature of utopian approaches, though literary, is important given the possibility to imagining ideal cities and territories. It is the emergence of the utopian approach that the fate of humans was changed through the use of innovative projects to build the contemporary cities. As such, utopian approach is a meaningful tool, if used for urban planning, as a laboratory of research.

Second, when applied in educating citizens, the utopian approach is significant in presentation of catastrophic scenarios. For instance, given that environmental issues have become imperative in urban planning, the utopian approach can be used to show the extent to which catastrophic environmental conditions have led to urban deterioration (Beatley, 1989). Moreover, given that individualism has been on the rise in the 21st century, it is only meaningful, to teach citizens about the environment, from a challenging angle, that can be achieved satisfactorily through utopian means. Without any form of awareness, citizens may wonder why they should carry the burden of thinking about future generations that they do not even know. It is at this viewpoint that the planner is required to come up with a creative approach for raising awareness concerning sustainable development. Dystopian approaches are significantly applicable. For example, Superstudio devised various radical projects directed towards prompting people to critically think about the irrationality coherent to the functionalist movement; by the use of various techniques and patterns, including sophisticated visual and textual strategies. Such strategies are still largely applicable, as theoretical tools, in addressing ethical issues in urban design. In fact according to Fischler (2000), as opposed to being prescriptive, it should aid in understanding the discipline potentials. By allowing citizens to ask questions while debating on important issues, citizens are able to comprehend the potential of urban planning.

Ascher (2001) claimed that achieving new urbanism requires more than a single project; but instead, city planners and designers should adopt many projects. There is therefore the proposition that such planers employ utopian approaches which are more beneficial in comparison to conventional approaches in planning, given that utopian projects are increasingly provocative. The result is more sophistication in comparison to the use of conventional approaches alone.

5.0 Conclusion

Consideration of utopia offers the chance of reflecting upon such aspects as social issues, economics and politics of a city. Thus, by proposing a utopian model, this paper advocates for a static and fixed project. However, according to Harvey, the utopian scheme’s failure comes from its contradicting logic; Utopia aims at controlling and stabilizing social processes. To do so, such processes must be increasingly dynamic (Harvey, 2000). It is therefore important to question the level to which it is possible to redefine urban utopia such that it fits with the contemporary world. From a utopian perspective, problems are only handled at a general basis making specific methods of proposal implementation and detail specification difficult. Moreover, since there has been increased specialization in many areas, it becomes rather difficult to consider all factors.

Utopia, as brought out in this paper, is a term applied in the desire for humans to achieve a perfect society; a better place. Given that utopias are not real places but theoretical aspects, the term can be translated a ‘nowhere’. Attempts have been made, even at global perspectives, to achieve such an ideal society through planning. Thomas More, is the founder of the approach, and has been used extensively in literature to bring out the ideal ideas of a society like ultimate happiness, exclusion of current world entities, introduction of socialism and creation of new worlds. Such concepts highlight the importance of using utopia in urban planning.

Utopia is necessitated by the vices existent in the rea world like poverty, greed and crime. This necessitates the common feature of utopia – creating a new world. The possibility of creating such a world is criticized by scholars like Carrey (1999), siting that for it to be created, the current world would have to be destroyed first. This is like building a society in a non-existent or imaginary land. More’s utopia is therefore founded on a fictional island so as to escape the vices existing in the real world. This paper points out the impossibility of such a perspective, given that it is not logical to have a new land for the society; however welcoming the concept may be. This is the main reason why critiques declare utopia as purely imaginative.

Arguably, utopia is a very divergent, unfocused and broad concept. Therefore, because people think differently and utopia is just an idea, there are many defining points applicable therein. As aforementioned herein, utopian theories include features like human happiness, exclusion of existing entities and creating a new world. In planning, these features are increasingly significant. This is not to say that complete social reforms are always the best solutions for the society. Nevertheless, introducing the concepts like socialism which entail the citizens helping each other for the wellbeing of the society could be effective. This can be compared to corporate social responsibility in a contemporary perspective. Moreover, as much as creating a new world is considered imaginary and absurd, the foundations of such imaginations are crucial in planning and theory. In essence, planning appropriately is the ultimate solution to eliminate the desire for an entirely new world; when the existing one is improved. Finally, it is though that through improving the surroundings of a person such that the person becomes happy makes such a person better. This is the basic concept of utopianism in planning and theory; and planning is meant for people.

6.0 Reference List

Ascher, F. (2001). Les nouveaux principes de l’urbanisme : [la fin des villes n’est pas à l’ordre du jour]. La Tour d’Aigues France: Éditions de l’Aube.

Beatley, T. (1989). Environmental Ethics and Planning Theory. Journal of Planning Literature, 4(1), 1-32. Carey, J (1999), The Faber Book of Utopias, London, Faber.

Cuthbert, A. R. (2007). Urban Design: Requiem for an Era – Review and Critique of the Last 50 Years. Urban Design International, 12(4), 177-223.

Fischler, R. (2000). Linking Planning Theory and History: The Case of Development Control. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 19(3), 233-241.

Fishman, R. (1977). Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. New York: Basic Books. Harvey, D. (2000). Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Moncan, P. D., & Chiambaretta, P. (1998). Villes rêvées. Paris: Éditions du Mécène: Patrice de Moncan.

More, T., Logan, G. M., & Adams, R. M. (2002). Utopia (Rev. ed.). Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Paquot, T. (2007). Utopies et utopistes. Paris: La Découverte

Picon, A. (2000). Les utopies urbaines, entre crise et renouveau. Deux mondes, Avril, 110-117.

Pinder, D. (2001). Utopian Transfiguration: The Other Spaces of New Babylon. Architectural Design, 71(3), 15-19.

Pinder, D. (2002). In Defence of Utopian Urbanism: Imagining Cities After the ‘End of Utopia’. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 84(3-4), 229-241.

Rouillard, D. (2008). Architecture. In M. Riot-Sarcey, T. Bouchet & A. Picon (Eds.), Dictionnaire des Utopies (pp. xiv, 296). Paris: Larousse

Stauffer, M. (2002). Utopian Reflections, Reflected Utopias: Urban Designs by Archizoom and Superstudio. AA Files, 47 (Summer), 23-36.

Talen, E., & Ellis, C. (2002). Beyond Relativism: Reclaiming the Search for Good City Form. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 22(1), 36-49.