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Aro
07-29-2003, 04:30 AM
I am current doing some research and analysis into the fundamental ideas of utopia and dystopia, with particular emphasis on Modern Urban Dystopias and with specific focus on how these ideas can relate to developments in Architecture and the Built Environment. It is an investigation into the connection and overlap between the fantasy view (in film and literature)and the real (dis)representation of the modern city.

This subject has been explored in film and science fiction for decades, with many grand and yet horrific visualisations of what the future city will or can become.

Films such as:
Metropolis
Die Strasse
Blade Runner
Fahrenheit 451
Taxi Driver
The Fifth Element
Batman
Dick Tracy
Dark City
Twelve Monkeys
The Crow
Demolition Man
Total Recall
Judge Dredd
The Matrix
Minority Report
Equilibrium

I realise there are many other films in similar genres (Waterworld, Mad Max, Terminator etc..) which look at possible future scenarios, but it is ones dealing specifically with the future of densely populated urban centres (and the creation of the 'underclass') that I am really seeking to discuss here.

Most of these films have been seen to anticipate the built forms of future architectural endeavours and at the same time project explicit dystopian imagery of the city as a future megalopolis. Many times these futuristic scenarios, as portrayed on film, will provide purposeful commentary on contemporary realities and trends in urban design.

Firstly, are there other films anyone can think of which have created a vision of a future city, complete with underclass, towering structures and exceptional scale of vision? Can you recommend films which explore this particular genre in interesting ways.

How did the futuristic views portrayed in these films hold with the current reality in the modern city? I hold the opinion that many of the predictions of dystopian film makers have been realised now, much sooner than expected. I also believe that current urban design trends are somewhat led by the fictional designs featured in these films. The predictions made are now becoming true.

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For those interested in further detail on the ideas I am exploring, the starting point for my writing is the works of Constantinos Doxiadis (specifically a lecture he gave in Trinity College in 1967) and the drawings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Also the work of Ron Herron, Peter Cook et al. with Archigram (visions of Walking Cities)

TeaRoses
07-29-2003, 05:21 AM
I'm not sure if you're looking for literature suggestions but Michael Bishop's UrNu (short for Urban Renewal) cycle of stories about a domed Atlanta seem to fulfill your criteria. (I admit to my shame I had to google for the authors name and city location as it's been years since I read them.) They were excellent stories portraying an enclosed city with a restrictive social order and occupants just trying to get by as best they can within it. I don't remember specifics about the underclass but I do remember there being a strong preference for how low or high you lived in the city, so there may have been a hierarchy.

Aro
07-29-2003, 10:04 AM
Thanks for the recommendation.

I realise I did put literature in the thread title, but I'm not really sure if I am looking for books, rather more other peoples visualisations of the possibility of the future city. Paintings and films may be prove to be a more invocative medium than literature, although imagination is a powerful tool in the latter.

Piranesi's sketches (http://www.beautyandthebeastfanclub.net/main/library/articles/Piranesi/image018.jpg) always interest me. (2) (http://www.beautyandthebeastfanclub.net/main/library/articles/Piranesi/image037.jpg).... (3) (http://www.beautyandthebeastfanclub.net/main/library/articles/Piranesi/image043.jpg).... (4) (http://www.beautyandthebeastfanclub.net/main/library/articles/Piranesi/image039.jpg)

Roy Herron's vision of the Walking City (http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~mdbader/arch346/archigram/descriptions/walkingcity.html) is one of the classic images to come from Archigram (http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/critic/feature/0,1169,662929,00.html)It is often said that Archigram predicted much of the way the contemporary world looks, but did not build it. Its surviving members continue to teach a generation of future architects for whom the technologically laced global city has become a reality, even if it does not walk. The reason I was posting this in Cafe Society was that I wished to discuss the influence of dystopian environments as presented by the film industry; from the early works of Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Raymond Chandler through to the continuing tradition of modern Hollywood seen in many of the films listed above.

What is the extent of the influence the directors, set designers and story board artists working these films have had on real urban design, and how close we are today to realising some of the exceptional dreams forwarded in those imaginative works?

Skip
07-29-2003, 10:31 AM
What about the 5th element? The city portrayed is ultradense with massive apartment blocks where everyone lives in tiny uniform cubicles. The rich have to vacation off world.

Also have a look at the Warhammer 40 000 RPG. They have one game dealing with gangs fighting in the lower levels of the massive mile high cities.

Exapno Mapcase
07-29-2003, 10:56 AM
You might be interested in a book like Futuropolis: Impossible Cities of Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Robert Sheckley (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0891041230/qid=1059494112/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_2/002-8191535-5212828?v=glance&s=books&n=507846). It's from 1978, but has a good history of future depictions of cities up to that time. It's a large-format picture book with many great illustrations.

The answer to the question of how much influence these have had is easy: zero. Le Corbusier and the other modernists were much more influential, to our cost and sorrow. Not that it would be been any different if we look at imagineers for the future. The people who made up cities in sf and film couldn't design their way out of a paper bag. Not an ounce of reality in the lot. Dreams is the proper word for them, and I speak as someone who put in a decade in city government.

Agrippina
07-29-2003, 11:09 AM
A Clockwork Orange, the book by Anthony Burgess and the film directed by Stanley Kubrick is about teenage boys in a future world where they form gangs. As far as looks go, you don't really get a good picture, in the movie, of how the city itself looks (it takes place in London, I believe). You do get glimpses of insides of businesses, like the music store and the Milk Bar.

Another example is 1984, the book by George Orwell and the movie starring John Hurt and Richard Burton. This also takes place in London. The look of both is of a very run-down place, like London in WWII. There defintely is a distinction of classes, the highest being the Party members themselves and the lowest being the Proles.

A simular book to 1984 (it inspired Orwell), but that has not been made into a movie (as far as I know), is Yevgeny Zamyatin's We. In this book people don't even have names, but are known by numbers. The central character is a man named D-503 and the book is in diary form. They live in houses made entirely out of glass so that the police can observe everything that goes on.

Aro
07-29-2003, 11:25 AM
Skip, The 5th element was mentioned in the OP, dude. ;)
Is the War Hammer games similar to comic book visions of Mega City One &Two in Judge Dredd?

Exapno, I disagree they have had no influence, as I have seen the designs of the films above feature in many a students post-graduate thesis in Architecture, and have myself seen the influences of these visionary films appear in some of my own work as an architect, albeit indirectly. I'll readily accept Modernism as a movement has certainly had a greater influence, but to completely dismiss the influence of Piranesi or Peter Cook is a little...well...premature.

Even my link (http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/critic/feature/0,1169,662929,00.html) above lists a building that was, admittedly, directly influenced by the Archigram group : namely the Pompidou Centre (http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Centre_Pompidou.html) in Paris.

My main interest here is that the big ideas of social organisation in this genre of film have begun to come true, rather than the specific design of the monolithic buildings they feature. Many modern cities have begun to develop areas and mannerisms which can be seen to directly relate to previous 'guesses' made in decade old films.

Rabid Child, thatnks for the suggestions. I have seen all of Kubrick's films and have read most of Burgess's work. I haven't heard of 'We' before though, so will check it out.
You could add Huxley's 'Brave New World' to that list too. And anything by Philip K. Dick.

Kaspar Hauser
07-29-2003, 11:51 AM
How is Taxi Driver a dystopia? It wasn't set in the future.

Achernar
07-29-2003, 12:32 PM
I would also count Star Wars, Episodes I and II, even though just a few scenes take place on Coruscant.

You mentioned Metropolis. If you mean Fritz Lang's Metropolis, I would also highly suggest the anime Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis. Actually, there are probably a lot of good anime dystopiae; are you okay with animation?

Exapno Mapcase
07-29-2003, 01:11 PM
Perhaps you need to redefine your OP, apo. How does Peter Cook or the Archigram Group fall under visions of future cities as foretold in movies or science fiction? For that matter, how exactly have they had a major influence on cities and their design, rather than a building here or there? I'd put Clifford Alexander and his Pattern Language as a far more powerful influence, and few of his ideas have made it into practice either.

If you want an architect whose ideas truly influenced cities, try Victor Gruen, whose work on malls and belt expressways actually did define the coming decades from that same era. Like it or don't.

But if you are going to limit your question to movie and sf city designs, my answer stands. Zero influence or effect.

Since you say:
Many modern cities have begun to develop areas and mannerisms which can be seen to directly relate to previous 'guesses' made in decade old films.

I need you to give particulars. And how is dismissing Archigram "premature"? They've had four decades. If they haven't been influential by now, they never will be.

Make up your mind what the parameters are, and we can have a more useful discussion.

lokij
07-29-2003, 03:04 PM
The first thing that came to my mind is the Boston-Atlanta Metroplex Axis of William Gibson.

Exoskeleton
07-29-2003, 03:56 PM
Johnny Mnemonic
Akira

that's all I got.

Ura-Maru
07-29-2003, 04:44 PM
So when is Microsoft going to build their giant pyramidal headquarters? They’re really slacking off on their evil corporate responsibilities lately. They haven’t even STARTED their private military ‘security’ forces, and their evil cyborg assassin program is WAY behind schedule. :)

Ahh. Memories. Back at UMass, I actually got to take a course on U/Distopian SF. So I got to reread Neuromancer and get credit for it. I even talked some people in the class into playing Cyberpunk 2020. :)

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it seemed every anime that wasn’t set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland was set in an urban dystopic hell. I’ll trim it down a bit for ya, though.

If you’re mostly looking for imagery, Ghost in the Shell, (warning! Contains massive talky ‘info dumps’ and a lot of artsy image sequences) Akira, Armatage III, and Bubble Gum Crisis (the very ‘80s original, the ‘90s remake wasn’t very dystopian. Even the original was pretty superhero-ey) were all very pretty. There are a LOT of others, but that’ll start you off fine.

If you’re looking for something that looks a bit into peoples day to day lives, Venus Wars (No, it’s not porn, it’s set on Venus) and the original AD Police (Hard to find. The recent remake was absolutely ghastly) were both good. I LOVED the latter, though I haven’t seen it in years.

If you can stand comics, (hey, they’re a visual medium!) the manga versions of Appleseed (there is an anime, but it’s not good) and Ghost in the Shell are both almost must-reads if your interested in this kind of thing. I’ve heard good things about the Akira manga, but haven’t read it.

As for books, which you may or may not be interested in, Walter Jon Willams’ Hardwired is the best ‘cyberpunk’ book, ever, despite or maybe because of the fact it had almost no computers in it. His more recent Metropolitan, even though it’s actually a fantasy, is set in a planet-wide megacity.

--
‘No, the garbage can doesn’t stop the 12mm armor-piercing bullets.’

Tangent
07-29-2003, 04:52 PM
Gattaca

Lumpy
07-29-2003, 06:44 PM
Brazil depicted an extremely distopian urban environment. A toto-bureaucracy misran everything; the simplest repairs could take months or years, and unauthorized repairs were a crime. Living space was compromised to engineering needs, so everyone had pipes and ventilation ducts running through the middle of their rooms (the rich had designer ventilation ducts).

msmith537
07-29-2003, 07:42 PM
First of all other films/literature:
A.I. (if you can sit through it)
Alien (granted you mostly see ships and space colonies but it paints an interesting view of the future)
Brave New World (there's a movie too)
Brazil
Dune
Farscape
Freejack
Futurama
Judge Dredd (movie and comic)
Robocop
Soylant Green
Star Wars


There seems to be a number of constants in most dystopia/utopia fiction:

-Massive architecture that dwarfs even the largest modern skyscrapers
-All the problems of old are either gone but replaced with new, worse problems or are themselves 1000 times worse
-Technology is integrated into everything and often times everyone-cybernetics, robotics, AI, wireless, fly cars, computer networks, genetic engineering, etc

A lot of the stuff they portray in these films is unrealistic and impractical and obviously designed for the benefit of the plot - What architect intentionally designs a large public space to be dark and oppressive? Maybe I could get the wireless conection instead of having those jacks implanted in the back of my head? WTF, Those Wyland-Yutani AliensTM are cute when they are small but you can't really keep an adult in a tiny NY studio in the 5000 block.

Of course everything seems strange and bizarre if you aren't used to it.

betenoir
07-30-2003, 12:52 AM
I know you said mostly movies and I don't think it was ever made in to one, but it's so perfect I have to mention it:

"When the Sleeper Wakes"

a lesser known book by H.G. Wells.

Lots of archetecture, lots of towering structures, lots of attention paid to the way the city is built and and it's realtionship to the dystopia and the underclass. Lots of moving walkways :)

Writen in 1899.

Really Not All That Bright
07-30-2003, 01:02 AM
I can't believe nobody suggested Blade Runner yet...

Also, you may wish to read (the book) The Wanting Seed , although it examines overpopulation on a much larger scale than just in urban centers...

Tangent
07-30-2003, 01:34 AM
Originally posted by dutchboy208
I can't believe nobody suggested Blade Runner yet...

Psst. Check the OP. :)

Aro
07-30-2003, 03:05 AM
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase
Perhaps you need to redefine your OP, apo.It's Aro ;)
How does Peter Cook or the Archigram Group fall under visions of future cities as foretold in movies or science fiction?Not as foretold by Sci Fi, but as a separate category on their own. I was interested in how any best 'guess' of the shape and scale of the future city has guessed correctly or shown paths towards something which we are now experiencing in reality.
For that matter, how exactly have they had a major influence on cities and their design, rather than a building here or there?They influence the thinking of many young architects who then go on to work on major urban design projects. Many of the works I have mentioned have formed parts of syllabus training, lectures and dissertation writing an many UK universities. This generation of young architects are only now becoming of age to bring their ideas to fruition in the workplace.
If you want an architect whose ideas truly influenced cities, try Victor Gruen, whose work on malls and belt expressways actually did define the coming decades from that same era. Like it or don't.Thank you, I will. I know nothing of his work.
But if you are going to limit your question to movie and sf city designs, my answer stands. Zero influence or effect.Ok, we’ll drop the word ‘influence’ from the discussion. What ideas, from books or film, can be seen to be happening, or may happen? (regardless of the influence or not of the images of popular culture).

The city has always occupied a privileged place in the architectural dream. It is a place where all orders are possible. A place of dreams and nightmares, deepest darkness and ultimate light. Within five years, current estimates suggest that over half the worlds population will be living in urban centres. That is approximately 3.2 billion people living in cities not readily designed or completely suited for their needs. What is to become of these people, and how will the current gregarious rush to urbanise affect the manner in which we live in future? In 3rd world countries where the cities sprawl for many miles as people rush to join what they feel will be a marked improvement from where they currently are, the cities are growing at an enormous rate. What is to happen to those incomers if adequate housing and upgraded fundamental services are not in place? Sanitation levels could be thrown back to the middle ages. Disease will be rife. Employment non-existent. Will the existing middle-class in these cities wish to remain living in the same area as the poor and uneducated? Will they take to the high rise life, like in Fifth Element or Judge Dredd? (or the Jetsons? ;)). What will happen to man within these monstrous future cities, and ultimately what will become of the city itself?

Will the city streets become the new underground, the haunt of the underprivileged classes, populated only by low-lifes, murderers, prostitutes and police? (as we see in the likes of Bladerunner). Will the rich never choose to venture to the city floor, instead living their lives in th ehigh-rises?

It is the possibility of these visions becoming reality within our cities which I am trying to explore. But I have no fixed ideas at present, it's all fluid.
I need you to give particulars. Make up your mind what the parameters are, and we can have a more useful discussion.
I really had about five or six separate and distinct questions on this topic and rather than start multiple threads tried to condense them into one, so I can see how it is coming over as incoherent. I apologise for that.

I am interested to see if peoples visions of the future are really a symptom of the choices made in the name of progress. The desire for money and constant growth through the Capitalist state and the consumer society is creating a definite break in the conception of how the city ultimately develops. We are creating a many-tier political and social system which will ultimately leave a 'classless' elite, above and below. The underground city will grow more squalid as the population increases and the competition for limited resources increases. Does Capitalism have the intrinsic nature of causing the divide between those who have and those who do not, or can capitalism prove to be the light as well as the darkness?

In short, how will the visions of the past, and of today, be bourne out in the design of the cities of tomorrow?

(Now I'm going miles of the OP.)

Aro
07-30-2003, 03:12 AM
Originally posted by Kaspar Hauser
How is Taxi Driver a dystopia? It wasn't set in the future. I guess it is not, really. But it did show a life lived out in the gritty 'underclass' of society and the emotional problems this existance can have on the inhabitants of such a world. It could be seen as many peoples idea of a contemporary dystopia, already existing within most major cities.

Green Bean
07-30-2003, 07:31 AM
Logan's Run

A couple that may not be considered "urban," but are certainly future dystopias:
Tank Girl
Handmaid's Tale
A Boy and His Dog

Exapno Mapcase
07-30-2003, 01:21 PM
Here's the dirty little secret of city planning.

People hate cities.

Always have, always will. They move there for economic reasons (or because that's the port of debarkation and they can't go any further) but hate the noise, the crowding, the high prices, the crime, the lack of greenery, and most of all, the physical proximity of neighbors on all sides.

As soon as it is physically possible to move out and still retain contact with the city cheaply and quickly, they do so. The Roman elite already had their villas in the suburbs. Robert E. Lee commuted from his house in Arlington to Washington when he was stationed there before the Civil War.

The railroads really created suburbs - and sprawl - the way we know it today. London and New York and Philadelphia - that's what the Main Line is, a commuter railroad with a line of wealthy suburbs - all had them by the end of the 19th century. (And when Philadelphia grew from William Penn's two square miles to a behemoth around that time it absorbed Chestnut Hill, creating the suburb in a city enclave that can be seen all over the northeastern US from Buffalo to Baltimore. Best of both worlds, but only available to the upper middle classes.)

The city was still a viable entity when Le Corbusier was writing in the 1920s, but it died a hideous and lengthy death starting around 1950 in the US. (Everything I say about the US is true for Europe as well, although it took longer for it to happen. Downtown Glasgow looks exactly like the broken urban core of any old US industrial city.) The automobile, affluence, and the expressway combined to make it possible for people to move out of the city and into the suburbs. They did by the tens of millions.

And nobody noticed. That's the joke. That's why it was still possible for Doxiadis and Archigram and their equivalents in the US and the hideous despoilers of the urban renewal movement to flourish in the 1960s. It is history's greatest and most pernicious example of the futurologists not noticing the future happening all around them. (Approached only by their counterparts writing computer and business books in the early 1990s, which you can search from end to end and not find a hint of a mention of something like the Internet.)

The classical urban core dead was already dead by the 1960s. But the urban planners went blithely on planning for ever larger and more efficient urban cores. Nobody paid attention to them then, and the people voted with their feet to get out.

Nobody is paying any attention to them or their masturbatory fantasies today either. Oh, you get your Harbourfronts in Baltimore (which you have to approach through a mile of totally dead and decaying downtown) and New Urbanism little villages and renovation of loft apartments to attract young singles, and they tout their success at getting 1,000 people back to living in downtown and decide not to notice that another 10,000 of the middle class have slipped out of the city while this was going on and that the young singles will follow them as soon as they have children of school age.

Suburbs are now 2 to 8 times as large as their central cores. Central cores are dead. At best you see efforts like Cleveland, which is switching over to a mode of attracting out of town tourists to downtown rather than locals. Philadelphia never recovered from losing Gimbels and is trying with huge heaves to make the transition. Smaller non-tourist-attractive cities have nothing to offer. The big four of New York State - Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany - are near financial collapse. The same is true in Connecticut. Detroit is already proverbial for decay.

The automobile cities of the west - LA, Phoenix, Houston – are the models for the future, and nobody is planning them at all.

You want to know about urbanism? Read Joel Garreau's Edge City. It's all about not ever needing to go into the old urban cores.

Architects have always dreamed of cities. But with a few special cases - and I'm not sure I'd want Brasilia or Chandigarh on my resume - cities since the era of Baron Hausmann in Paris have been shaped by developers, and if you don't believe that read the collected works of NY Times architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable. Architects are dreamers without canvases.

And all the more so in suburbs and sprawl. I know that the Paris ring has three times the population of the city proper, just like in the US. London is awash in suburbs but the bulk of the "planning" goes toward reclaiming bits and pieces of unwanted land in unwanted sites in the center.

Asian cities are interesting and I have to admit I know less about them. But what I do read tells me they are replicating much of what has happened in the past. Skyscrapers go up to record heights, yes. Cities are more compact and apartment living is more prevalent than in the US where the single family home is the dominant mode. Governments have a heavier hand in controlling planning. But sprawl will eat them up as well. And nobody plans sprawl, by definition.

And you know what? Those earlier predictions of third world cities reaching 30 million populations have not come true. There appears to be a limit on how large a city can grow before people just stop going there. (Tokyo/Yokohama may be the exception, but even it has just barely touched 30 million.)

Maybe, just maybe, architects can work their magic on these Asian cities. But the problems you cite, which are very real, are not the sort that attract dreamer architects. (Especially all the ones you read about in architectural circles - none of whom have ever worked in city government, a fact that drives me crazy. The real jobs involve slogging day by day to deal with problems, lack of money, irate citizenry, and powerful interests who don't want change. Architectural dreamers won't touch these jobs - too much messy reality.

I apologize for typoing your name, Aro.

Oh, and dutchboy208, Aro mentioned Blade Runner in the OP. It is the worst depiction of a future city on film. Think about it. A world in which the best and brightest have gone off to other planets, leaving an underclass behind, but there is a 700[!]-story building that is the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. Who works there? (We see exactly one Tyrell employee and he works off-site!) Why do they work there? How do they get there? What kind of society requires this? Only the set designer and the art director and the dreamers who know that cities requires tall soaring or monolithic buildings but understand absolutely nothing else about them.

The city is dead. Long live the city.

Exapno Mapcase
07-30-2003, 01:31 PM
P.S. I'm sorry to step on your dreams. I guess it's because I once had dreams, too, and don't any longer.

msmith537
07-30-2003, 04:03 PM
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase Here's the dirty little secret of city planning.

People hate cities.

Always have, always will. They move there for economic reasons (or because that's the port of debarkation and they can't go any further) but hate the noise, the crowding, the high prices, the crime, the lack of greenery, and most of all, the physical proximity of neighbors on all sides...

...The city is dead. Long live the city. [/B]


An interesting analysis. I think you are only partially correct though. To a certain extend the suburbs have now become a sprawling homogenious monument to conformity, medicocrity and blandness. I would hardly call the central cores of New York or Boston "dead". Connecticut cities, yes. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are exactly as you described. Dead husks where people drive in to work and then flee at 6pm sharp back to their McMansion in Fairfield.

Since we are talking media depictions of urban life, I find it interesting how the image of the city has changed from the 60s to the present. Older movies about New York seemed darker. It was an isolating, crime filled place full of either very rich or very poor. Nowadays, you can go to the theater without seeing a movie about some young hip people living on the Upper East Side.

There is something about city life that attracts people. People aspire to work in Chicago, New York, Boston. No one aspires to work in an office park in Milford, CT.

But, people do like their space. That's probably the biggest reason you will never see those giant hive cities in real life.

BMalion
07-30-2003, 04:32 PM
Larry Niven's Oath of Fealty

is a pretty good read about a future city, Todos Santos, next door to Los Angeles. This was a huge hive-city and the people who lived there had every imagianble comfort as long as they were loyal to the city. Interesting concept.

Exapno Mapcase, my, great post! Well thought out and expressed.

Aro
07-31-2003, 02:26 AM
Thanks all for the replies, especially Exapno Mapcase. Great post.

I would like to say that being the designer of cities is not featured in my dreams. (I have enough trouble with individual buildings!). I was just interested in them as a phenomenon.
I agree most people hate cities, but can come to rely on them. Some peole are even drawn to them. You've given me a lot to think about.

Glasgow is a city I know very well, having lived there for 5 years. I can say the centre has moved from being a industry led town to being a university and tourist centre. Tons of money has been spent to improve the facades of buildings and the public spaces. It is enjoying a brand new life at the hands of the local council. Its future is secured, albeit a very different one than it’s past may have suggested.

Exapno Mapcase
07-31-2003, 12:32 PM
As you can tell, I am passionate on this subject. It started back in 1979 when I began working for city government, a decade that saw the city desperately trying to do a plan that would revive the rapidly disappearing downtown but whose efforts were at best irrelevant and at worst counterproductive.

I did an immense amount of reading in urban studies and city planning and developed a ferocious contempt - possibly unwarrantedly - for the planners who kept insisting that the people should behave in certain ways.

The American public - and by that I mean as I did above the vast majority of the people the vast majority of the time, not quite as fun a statement as people hate cities, which I am well aware is hyperbole - not only prefers but lusts and salivates for single family houses on the largest possible lot.

No matter. Over and over and over I would read proposals that would put apartments into suburbia, or even more oddly, group all the homes into one corner of a block abutting one another like town houses, and free up the rest of the space for communal greenery, ignoring any issues over who would own it and control it and maintain it and settle any disputes about it.

Efficiency was all that counted. But developers, who were spending their own money, wanted people to actually buy their houses and so built them big and then went to town councils and bribed convinced them to amend the zoning codes to make the lots even bigger. If these developers thought of the efficient plans at all, they thought of them as useful landfill.

The dreamers' plans for cities were even stranger. They kept vacillating between turning them into visions of small towns and Jane Jacob's Greenwich Village of the 1950s and huge monolithic future cities with mile-high apartments entirely self-sufficient so that the inhabitants never had to go out into the city at all.

I quickly gained a huge admiration for those few who actually went out into the world and looked at the way people really functioned. My hero was the brilliant William H. Whyte, author of many classics, and the creator of the documentary film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces which is so important that every city planner should be tied down in a Clockwork Orange chair with their eyes propped open and be forced to watch it all until it sinks in. It's also a book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/097063241X/qid=1059671541/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/002-8191535-5212828?v=glance&s=books), but it must be watched to truly get it.)

Whyte's great understanding was that people like people. What makes for a living and viable downtown is foot traffic. (1000 people per hour at peak times minimum for viability.) Not only does this allow for a variety of stores small and large to flourish, but it attracts even more people. People like watching people and being around people. And people make for safety. Crowded streets have far less crime than deserted ones.

Ironically, the people who took this lesson to heart were mall developers. Only now are some cities beginning to get it. Manhattan always had this, and Boston and Chicago to a lesser extent, but look at all the cities who built downtown malls, and skyway systems that took people off the street, and parking garages that presented blank walls to passers-by who soon found other routes that seemed less dangerous and more interesting.

Since I was also a science fiction writer I became quite knowledgeable about cities in sf. In fact, I wound up giving a series of papers at academic conferences on the subject. I did one on Michael Bishop's UrNu series that TeaRoses mentions at a conference at which Bishop was the guest speaker. That night he and the other sf writers there gathered in my room and we had a wonderful time talking (and deferring to his greatness).

Like a surprising number of other sf people, though, I thought Blade Runner was an idiocy and said so in print, which got me much maligned among the academic idolaters of the movie. C'est la vie.

Two other fascinating sf books -both dystopias - are John Brunner's The Squares of the City and Robert Silverberg's The World Inside. Brunner's book was based on and written soon after Brasilia was founded and talks about the soullessness of a city created for monuments and not for the people who must live in it. In Silverberg's world all of humanity, except a few farmers, live in mile-high Urbmons (Urban Monads), with a literal class hierarchy - the upper classes live on the upper floors and vice versa.

I always was passionate about the beautiful visions of cities in sf art myself. But I came to realize that all they will ever be are visions. They are sculpture and not architecture.

I haven't followed the planning field as much since I left the city, so I don't know if anyone since Garreau has properly looked at the suburbs to talk about its issues and future. Oh, I know there are many books decrying sprawl - almost all of them written by people living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: feh - and there is the example of Portland, Oregon, who got the state to put limits on development, and a few other people preaching the gospel of metropolitan consolidation, but it feels to me that no one has yet done a Whyte-like analysis of suburbia to see what works and what can be replicated elsewhere given the sprawl we've made for ourselves. I know that 60s visions won't cut it in the 21st century, though.

Aro, I'd be interested to hear what things you think came from these visions, where they are, and why they are working.

eburacum45
07-31-2003, 07:14 PM
Interestingly enough, a thread on the decline and fall of the 'American Empire' has also mentioned Edge City and suburbia;
originally posted by BrainGlutton (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=201321)

does Edge City have a future? My answer is a plain NO. In Atlanta they are constructing a giant misbegotten organism that will almost certainly not be able to function far into the future. Suburbia, more than being a set of things, might be described more accurately as a set of behaviors. They were behaviors made possible only under the extremely abnormal conditions of late-twentieth-century life in the U.S.A.: unprecedented political and economic stability, extraordinary immunity to the consequences of bad decisions (really, the ability to mortgage the present against the future), and cheap oil, cheap oil, cheap oil. All these things are apt to change in the years directly ahead.
so what can be the future of the city?
As much as I love the depiction of Megacity One (in the comicbooks rather than the film) I can't see this dystopian urban nightmare developing in reality...
given reliable renewable energy resources it is likely that a modified form of suburban living will develop, with much more emphasis on public transport, and much more home working via information technology.
Why live and work on top of each other when you can interface electronically for 90% of your work and social interaction?

The emerging global commvillage will mean that remote wilderness areas might come under development pressure from telecommuters;
more ethical decisions to make...
__________________
SF worldbuilding at
http://www.orionsarm.com/main.html

Exapno Mapcase
07-31-2003, 11:22 PM
Please note that those are not Brain Glutton's words, but passages he was quoting from the works of James Howard Kunstler, one of those gurus of suburbia who live in Manhattan and dislike any society that is not visible from Central Park. I disagree with almost everything he has to say on the subject of cities and suburbs.

We have fifty years to come to grip with the end of the petroleum society, and while I never make predictions about the future, I don't find alternatives as incredible as he seems to.

There will be massive technological change and therefore disruption in the future, but no one alive has yet any idea exactly what they will consist of. Expect the unexpected.

Mockingbird
08-01-2003, 01:32 AM
Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash is set in a dystopian time, only slight years in the future, with a far advanced version of the Internet.

It makes some wry commentary on society and technology.

The main character is Hiro Protagonist.

:D

Prisoner 24601
08-01-2003, 02:05 AM
Do not forget Surf Nazis must Die, dumb film about a modern coastal city(set in very near future) after a massive quake, fuel shortages, badly dressed surfing gangs run everything, high minded low art from Troma.

Aro
08-01-2003, 02:59 AM
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase
Aro, I'd be interested to hear what things you think came from these visions, where they are, and why they are working. 'll be glad to answer this, but it will probably be Monday before I get the time, unfortunately. (lots of meetings to go to today).

Thanks again for your post.

msmith537
08-01-2003, 11:21 AM
Well lets consider for a moment how ridiculous the idea of the Megacities of Judge Dredd are. You have millions upon millions of people crammed into small fortified areas while the rest of the world is largely uninhabbited. Is there any reason why they couldn't expand outwards? "Hey here's an idea! How about a million of us go move into the ruins of Pennsylvania and set up another city where Philly used to be!"

----

And Washington DC in Minority Report. In a few short years they went from zoning no building higher then the monuments to freakin "Monolith City"? Please


Anyhow..


I wish I had a link to this article I read the other day. Basically, it discussed how the automobile has forced us to remodel our cities to automobile scale. It has ruined the sense of "community" since we are now forced to drive from place to place for even he simplest errend. With no public spaces to enjoy ourselves, we are forced to focus on modifying our own spaces - large isolated houses filled with gadgets, luxurious car interiors - or congregate in established areas like the town park or malls.

It seems to make sense. I can tolerate living in a studio in Manhattan because everthing I need is in walking distance. If I want to exercise, my Gym is round the block, I can go hang out in the park or at a coffee shop and read. The same room in the suburbs would feel like a prison cell.

Dystopia fiction seems to combine the worst of both worlds - tiny living conditions coupled with a lack of public spaces. Where are the Winter Gardens or Copley Plazas of Blade Runner?

Lumpy
08-03-2003, 05:34 PM
Originally posted by msmith537
Well lets consider for a moment how ridiculous the idea of the Megacities of Judge Dredd are. You have millions upon millions of people crammed into small fortified areas while the rest of the world is largely uninhabbited. Is there any reason why they couldn't expand outwards? "Hey here's an idea! How about a million of us go move into the ruins of Pennsylvania and set up another city where Philly used to be!"In the Judge Dredd comics, the entire world has been blanketed with radioactive fallout; on top of that the surviving technology produces radioactive and toxic waste. The Mega-Cities provide an environment that's kept decontaminated at enormous expense, and so space is limited. And fortification is necessary against hordes of mutated and bio-engineered monsters.
I'd hardly call the "Cursed Earth" scenerio in the Judge Dredd comics realistic, but it does have an internal logic.

Anal Scurvy
08-03-2003, 11:12 PM
There was that Christian Kirk Douglas movie from a few years ago. I think it was called Left Behind, and I would include it just because it represents a viewpoint that deviates radically from the Hollywood system, American Indie system, and foreign systems of movie making. Hell, these Christian movies are pretty great. One of them has Mr. T in it, kicking ass for the lord. Gotta respect that: that Jahweh's a tough dude.

benthames
08-04-2003, 12:23 AM
SOLARBABIES!!!!!

benthames
08-04-2003, 12:29 AM
Solarbabies!

but seriously, no one has mentioned Logan's Run.

BrainGlutton
08-04-2003, 12:54 AM
Here's an urban dystopia to end all urban dystopias: In David Wingrove's eight(?)-volumeChung Kuo series (http://www.chungkuo.org/wingrove.html), the Chinese have conquered the world (in the process exterminating all races but Asians and Caucasians) and built seven continent-sized cities or arcologies, each 1,000 storeys tall, each made out of a miraculous lightweight plastic known as "ice." The purpose behind the whole project was to make it possible for every man to have as many sons as he wishes, in each generation, forever -- the Chinese idea of utopia. Of course, this works as well as you might expect -- by the time the first volume opens, world population is in the hundreds-of-billions range. The Cities face a crowding crisis combined with a great many other social crises. One feature of life in the Cities is that the level you live on corresponds to your socioeconomic status -- the aristocrats live on the top floors, the poor on the bottom, and in the space underneath the City is the original dirt, the "Clay," inhabited only by undernourished savages. Crime is punished by demotion to a lower level. There is no right of privacy, security cameras are everywhere to make crime impossible to get away with. Nevertheless, crime gangs flourish in the lower levels. Outside the cities is some land which "peasants" farm. (That's one part I find entirely implausible -- that conventional farming, on a few leftover bits of land, could feed such a vast urban population!) Ruling over all are seven "T'angs," Chinese-style emperors -- one for City Europe, on for City Africa, etc.

The interesting thing about the Washington, D.C., of Minority Report is that it apparently is not intended as a dystopia. This ridiculous urban environment, with computer-animation ads screaming from every wall, and motor vehicles zooming up and down the sides of skyscrapers, apparently functions, with no more of poverty, crime or severe social problems than the Washington of today. The only notable exception is the illegal trade in human eyeballs, meant to fool the identity-scanners. And the people apparently live with all this cheerfully.

Posted by Exapno Mapcase:

Please note that those are not Brain Glutton's words, but passages he was quoting from the works of James Howard Kunstler, one of those gurus of suburbia who live in Manhattan and dislike any society that is not visible from Central Park. I disagree with almost everything he has to say on the subject of cities and suburbs.



Kunstler has done a lot more intelligent thinking and writing on this subject than Joel Garreau ever did, Exapno! I've read Garreau's book, all right. And I've lived, shopped or worked in many different Edge Cities. I've never seen nor hear of one that worked well or had any vestige of dignity or beauty. Most importantly, I've never seen nor heard of an Edge City that was friendly to pedestrians, or even to bicyclists, or that was built in such a way that internal mass transit would even be practicable. It is absolutely impossible to get around without an automobile in Edge City. Garreau holds out hope for its future, but there is no way Edge City can become livable without fundamentally changing its structure, to a degree that would require a substantial amount of its existing buildings and highways to come under the bulldozers.

Another undeniable fact about Edge City: People live there. People shop there. People work there. Nobody goes to Edge City as a tourist, not unless they're actually on a consumerist pilgrimage to the Mall of America or some similar abomination. Edge City is just not something anybody would want to look at. Have you ever seen a painter set up an easel on the shoulder of a suburban connector highway and set to work painting the streetscape? At least the urban dystopias discussed in this thread are sometimes interesting! Edge City is not. Never will be.

But you all can decide for yourselves -- check out Kunstler's website at http://www.kunstler.com. His "Eyesore of the Month," a photogallery of architectural blunders, has a very direct impact.

Also see the Congress for the New Urbanism, http://www.cnu.org/. These are the people who are trying to actually do something about Edge City.

Joel Garreau has no website of his own but he has a subpage, "The Third Culture," of a site called "Edge" at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/garreau.html.

Oh, and by the way, James Howard Kunstler does not live in Manhattan. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, and writes an on-line magazine, Civitas (available on his website), about the town's public affairs, with special attention to planning and zoning decisions and building permits.

BrainGlutton
08-04-2003, 01:01 AM
Posted by Anal Scurvy:

There was that Christian Kirk Douglas movie from a few years ago. I think it was called Left Behind, and I would include it just because it represents a viewpoint that deviates radically from the Hollywood system, American Indie system, and foreign systems of movie making. Hell, these Christian movies are pretty great. One of them has Mr. T in it, kicking ass for the lord. Gotta respect that: that Jahweh's a tough dude.



But what's that got to do with urban dystopia?

Aro
08-04-2003, 02:43 AM
Okay, here goes.

Disclaimer: Most of the study of this area of Architectural design or city planning is new to me. I have touched on parts of it before, (Urban Design or Urban renewal classes back at in University days) but never spend much time devoted to really reading up and studying the ideas and analyses previously published. So I will gratefully defer to Exapno’s (much) greater knowledge. But I am appreciative for the opportunity to have someone reply coherently to my meandering thoughts on this topic.

To begin, I hate the idea of suburbia, or urban sprawl. I like the city to have defined boundaries, to be surrounded by a protected green belt which will buffer the surrounding countryside from over-development. I would much prefer that city centre brown-field sites were enhanced and re-developed rather than the easy option of new units on a city limits green-field site. I particularly hate the random nature of developers throwing up industrial or retail parks on the edges of cities which must be driven to, rather than walked to, with their huge car-parking lots and generic cladding becoming an eyesore. This is another factor in the destruction of city centres and the promotion of the car from privilege to necessity. The boundaries between what is urban or countryside, what is public or private are definitely blurring. I would much rather the city focused (again) on the verticality than on the horizontally which seems so prevalent today.
Maybe I secretly want the 'visions' of the dystopian films to prevail. :)

From some things you said I get the impression that the suburban life is much sought after in the US, where it is here in the UK (whilst admittedly very popular), much maligned and disparaged as the 2.4 kids, white-picket fence, complete conformity option. I don't think it is a style of living many aspire to, it just happens to where many ultimately end up. (People buy whatever houses are available, developers build more of what is selling: that old viscous cycle) The city centre loft / apartment living is still a more attractive option, at least for the young. The vibrancy and energy of the city streets attracts people like moths to a flame. And, of course, any tourists too.

Over and over and over I would read proposals that would put apartments into suburbia, or even more oddly, group all the homes into one corner of a block abutting one another like town houses, and free up the rest of the space for communal greenery, ignoring any issues over who would own it and control it and maintain it and settle any disputes about it.
You appear to have basically summarised the housing stock of most Scottish cities, specifically the tenements of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The 3/4/5 storey blocks built to define the boundary of the street in city blocks, leaving a communal courtyard behind which may once have served a grand purpose but is no longer applicable to modern living. Especially the idea of communal maintenance. Personally, I find these tenements remarkable - far superior spatially than anything developers are producing in city centres today and at once serve to define the street, the public, from the private. But they are not for suburbia today, but suited well the mindset of their times.

Whyte's great understanding was that people like people. What makes for a living and viable downtown is foot traffic. (1000 people per hour at peak times minimum for viability.) Not only does this allow for a variety of stores small and large to flourish, but it attracts even more people. People like watching people and being around people. And people make for safety. Crowded streets have far less crime than deserted ones.
I agree with this - I think the street is the most important part of the city. The street is the focus of the urban experience, of interaction and energy. It is at heart a functional place, but also at once romantic and mysterious. It is our method of transport from space to space, but is also a place to go in it's own right; a necessary destination. No one street alone can sum up or capture the essence of a particular city, but they can all work together to create how the spaces between are experienced and perceived. The street is a canvas for living and interacting.

Children today (can) grow up in a very dangerous, complex and dark society. They can grow up wandering these urban streets, streetwise and independent, with drugs, music and alcohol, they join gangs, run truant, get abortions, drive drunk and victimise the weak. They perceive their surroundings according to class, religion, colour, status and cultural or social backgrounds. They interact with others of their age. To them, the street can become more of a home, a comforter, than their house.

George Orwell, in 1984, can now been seen to have predicted the now widespread installation of CCTV cameras around city centre streets. Many school buildings, albeit with the permission of the pupils, have cameras installed in classes and even toilets to protect kids from bullying. Helicopters and satellite technology can be used to track our movements and locate our positions. As you said, the watched streets have less crime than the unwatched.

Our streets are laid with railways, roads, sewers, gas and water pipes, telecommunications and power cabling. As architects and planners create our cities and attempt to render them known, familiar and transparent, the streets are repeatedly dug-up and scarred by the doctoring of the cities hidden infrastructure, its intestinal world. Skyscrapers, the car and technology as used metaphorically in film, are often the desired epitomes of the success of the city; yet underneath these supposed triumphs there is a fearful underground life. The building of our cities is as destructive as it is creative, but its dangers are openly buried so they are no longer discernible. What we do not know about the city creates new risks: the car or train wreck, telecommunication breakdowns, electrical blackouts and underground station fires.

The more we come to rely on technology the greater the power it has to damage us.

Aro, I'd be interested to hear what things you think came from these visions, where they are, and why they are working.
I fear the rush to the suburb will have the affect of leaving the city to the mercy of those who would abuse it. Many areas within cities have become so run-down they attract only those who wish to remain anonymous, unseen. Entire areas of city centres have become wastelands, unvisited by anyone but the most under-privileged. The rich elite wall off their enclaves and provide security to disassociate their lives from others and to protect their personal gains. The streets in certain areas can become a stand-off point, a war-zone. The city suburb relocation 'schemes' or 'housing estate projects' in the UK have been shown to be woefully inadequate at providing sociability and security for residents - the areas become run-down areas of crime and squalor, whether through poor design or mismanagement.

It is the actual relocation of the wealthy to the more affluent suburbs which, to me, leaves this vacuum in the centre which becomes (or came become) filled with ‘undesirables’. This is the very real possibility I see portrayed in the dystopic imagery in these films - a city where the streets are abandoned by the general populace to be inhabited only by the 'underclass'. Many people are afraid today to walk the streets, or even leave the safety of their own home. Modern living (with telecommunications and cable) can mean people don't have to leave, if they choose not to. This intrinsic fear is becoming part of the general psyche, and people are beginning to abandon the streets to their lonely fate. Only through the continuous regeneration of central city areas to provide quality, safe and market-appropriate housing can this trend be reversed. When the young, rich white-collar workers wish to live in an particular area the local bars, restaurant and shops can all flourish, which feeds again off a new influx of people. It can produce a positive circle of influence, rather than a negative. I want to see the streets remain alive, I fear they will not.

It may be different in post-industrial cities in first world countries (specifically in the US) as you testify, but much of what I have read recently suggests the flocking of people to cities from the countryside continues to far outstrip the movement of the existing middle classes to the suburbs. This is especially rampant in the far east, the likes of China and Indonesia. I hear Chongqing in China is the fastest growing city in the world and will surpass all others (population-wise) within a few years. I wonder at what is being done to prepare for the inevitable fall-out from this population explosion? After 1949 when the Republic of China was formed, the mass immigration of people into Kowloon was vast. The Kowloon walled city, famous for drugs, gambling, prostitution and vigilante gangs was born, and was almost entirely constructed by the criminal elements that inhabit it. It represented everything about the dystopian future our cities may face. This was reversed with the return of the area to Chinese control in 1987, when the area was finally cleared and a public park put in its place. But the end result could easily have been something much different.

Ironically, the people who took this lesson to heart were mall developers. Only now are some cities beginning to get it.
You mentioned malls and how their inclusion helps to gather people together to create spaces people are contented to walk in. This is usually fine during the day, but come 6.00pm when the mall closes, this can destroy the social access around the city streets. I am thinking here of St. Enoch’s Centre in Glasgow – when open provides fantastic spaces, vibrant internal streets and shortcuts through many city blocks; but on closing restricts access through the centre, creating very undesirable effects and forcing the pedestrian to find less attractive alternative routes. This is a common problem in many city centre malls, the dichotomy of use between open and closed hours, day and night. They can shut of the streets as easily as opening them up, if not considered fully. I prefer the city at night, but only if the streets are buzzing, not silent and foreboding.

You would think I was Scottish or something, with all these references to Glasgow. ;)

The city is dead. Long live the city.
And although you believe the city to be dead, I say its only sleeping, and it is time for it to wake.

I would like to recommend to all a recent book (well, a collection of essays on various related topics to the discussion at hand) called "The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space"

One further question for Exapno or others: How do you rate the ideas and work of Paolo Soleri and his attempts to create a new vision of what the future of cities may be, in his Urban Laboratory at Arcosanti?

BraheSilver
08-04-2003, 04:19 AM
Dang, somebody beat me to Snow Crash. In the same vein (if slightly lighter) I suggest Head Crash by Bruce Bethke. Lots of online avatar interaction, and the hero has to go to work in a humorous "Office-Space-to-the-nth-degree" company.

Another dystopia exists in Sterling's Distraction, a largely political book about a congressional aide struggling to keep a research lab open during a crippling budget crisis. The US has lost its technological egde because Chinese-funded hackers stole major products from US information businesses and released them for free on the Internet. The rich live richly, and the poor live poorly - and societies like a technology-driven gypsy/hippy/biker gang form and move freely through the nation because nothing can be done to stop them.

Agrippina
08-04-2003, 07:39 AM
How about a few dystopias centered on games and sports? A popular idea in the future is that sports will develop to such a fever pitch that the spectators expect people to die, and most often the players do.

In Rollerball, James Caan's character is planned on being killed because he's getting TOO good. The actual sport itself is pretty dangerous, and the future world is run by corporations.

The Running Man takes place in the 2020s I believe. A man needs money for his sick daughter so he gets on this gameshow where he's hunted down to be killed. He must run from them.

The Long Walk is hinted that it takes place in some society where a Nazi regime rules. In it teenage boys walk in a race where, if they win, they get anything they want for the rest of their lives. The catch is they must never stop walking. If they do they get three warnings and then they are shot.

picunurse
08-04-2003, 10:30 AM
"This Perfect Day" I believe this, like most of Ira Levin's novels, was made into a film. I read it many years ago, but as I recall, It was set in a future where all imperfections were "repaired" The protagonist was "blighted by having one blue and one brown eye. In the end, the whole society was a testing ground to find the indivualists left. Don't remember much more, but to my teenage mind it was horrifying

Exapno Mapcase
08-04-2003, 12:47 PM
I have two deadlines on Wednesday. So I shouldn't even be reading this, much less responding. But it seems I'm not going to be able to stop myself.

benthames, Green Bean posted Logan's Run many posts before you did.

BrainGlutton, did you notice that your description of Chung Kuo corresponded almost point for point with my description of Robert Silverberg's – much earlier – The World Inside?

I'm not and never will be a defender of suburban sprawl. But it is the reality in which we must function. There is no conceivable future in which it will be bulldozed.

What we need to remember is that sprawl is merely the consequence of the two overwhelming facts that I mentioned earlier.

First is that Americans – of all classes, races, income levels, ethnicities, religions, and occupations – prefer in the mass to live in single family homes surrounded by their own space. Another factor is that they also prefer to live in new, custom-built homes rather than older homes that seem superficially more rational – cheaper, in built-up environments with more convenient schools, stores etc. Part of this is because they don't trust the cheaply-built homes of the past fifty years anymore than they trust someone else's used car. But primarily it is because the standard wants/needs of families have changed in our more affluent society. People want/need three-car garages that will hold SUVs. They want/need bigger kitchens that will hold bigger appliances. They want/need more bedrooms because they don't double up their children any more. They want houses that are already energy efficient so they don't have to retrofit. These are also rational demands. Selfish, perhaps, but humans have always been selfish, even in cities.

Second is that someone has to put up the money for new homes and businesses. In the U.S. that means developers, people who want maximum return for their money so that they will cater to whatever the latest demands are of their customers. And these demands rarely coincide with smaller, cheaper, more crowded, more city-like. (In the economic downtown there has been some talk about building smaller, more affordable houses, but I'm skeptical.)

Suburbia is the irrational conglomeration of a multitude of individual rational decisions. It is the free market at work. Government is the normal institution in the U.S. for combating the collective irrational in the name of collective rational. It can happen, but since the constituents of government are the same rational individuals who can see that their rational selfish interests will be affected by change, they rarely allow any.

Now for Kuntsler, whom I am quite sure used to live in Manhattan. Sure he can find an "Eyesore of the Month" in suburbia. But I'll make this challenge. Put me down in a city, any city that you name, with a camera and I'll give you an "Eyesore of the Week." I will also venture to say that I could go around suburbs anywhere in the U.S. and find pictures that will make your mouth water. That kind of argument is sheer piffle.

Kuntsler's problem is that he hates the people who have made the rational decision to live in a fashion different than he does. He doesn't even understand that the individual decisions were rational. People voted with their feet to leave cities. Presenting them with "better" alternatives that more closely resemble the elements they consciously rejected when they left the city will not work in large numbers.

We need solutions to sprawl that do not involve bulldozing. The New Urbanism – which I mentioned earlier so you can be sure I'm aware of it – is nice for small pockets of individuals (suburbia is so large and so varied that it can handle variety) but has for the past 50 years been outnumbered by the people I mentioned above. It is the equivalent of covering a crack in a wall by hanging a picture over it.

Economics alone will doom it. While pendulums always swing back, it will be a long time before the big box retailers and discounters disappear. Who is going to set up the little stores that are a necessary feature of New Urbanism only to be pushed out of business because the very people who live in these enclaves will shop in the stores where they can save money, just like everybody else in the world? (Every wonderfully livable little town in America has already been affected by this? What makes anybody think that New Urban areas will be any different in the long run?)

What Kuntsler and his ilk forget is that both cities and suburbia have advantages and disadvantages. You cannot get people back into cities until the problems (whether perceived or real) of crime and danger are taken care of. There are gangs in suburbia, but gang warfare, drive-by shooting, and the taking over of large neighborhoods are basically city phenomena. And that won't change as long as the economics of cities dictate that only the very rich and the very poor can afford to live there. And people who have become used to freedom of movement in their cars and free parking will not give those freedoms up for mass transit and parking garages.

That is a huge, major, enormous point about Edge Cities and suburbia. They actually correspond to the Jane Jacobsian ideal of having work, shopping, schools, and homes together – although together is defined in automobile terms. Cities no longer have that.

You talk about tourists not going to Edge Cities (except for shopping, which is now a huge tourist industry in the U.S. – ever been to the Tysons Corners mall just around the corner from the planned community of Reston, VA?). Tourists do go to cities, which as I mentioned are increasingly basing their economies around them. This is a saving grace in one sense – it provides much needed jobs and attracts income – but is disastrous in another sense. An economy based on tourism and service jobs in general is an economy of low-paying, low-education, easily-interchangeable jobs. It will actually increase the population of the working poor who will become trapped in the worst sections of their cities. Jobs – even industries – have moved out of cities. People will go to jobs. That's why California was – until the past couple of years – attracting people to commutes of two hours and why upstate New York goes begging with housing prices literally one-tenth as high and five-minute commutes.

Where will the high-paying middle-class and professional jobs come from in cities? Answer that question and you have a shot at making cities viable again.

Aro, yes, cities were suited for the mindset of their times. Exactly. And except for the young – and that's a big exception, although I continue to insist that children will change everything – cities are not built for today's mindset, which is based around cars. There are more cars (including trucks) than people in the U.S. We love our cars. No, we love our cars, even more than we love our guns. They will not go away until after some apocalypse.

The city suburb relocation 'schemes' or 'housing estate projects' in the UK have been shown to be woefully inadequate at providing sociability and security for residents - the areas become run-down areas of crime and squalor, whether through poor design or mismanagement.

Exactly, again. American suburbs have largely – not entirely, if one looks around, say, Chicago – have avoided this. Crime is a paramount concern of families. The very rich can handle it; the very poor must. But the middle classes – and in the U.S. that's 80% of the population – won't stand for it. How does Kuntsler and his ilk propose to change this?

Malls do not belong in cities. Unfortunately, planners thought of them as panaceas. They can work if they are adjunct to a lively street scene. And how many even larger cities still have that? Worse, too many small cities, even small villages, put in malls. Batavia, NY, is a city of 30,000 that tore down half its downtown for a mall that now seems to have one tenant. East Rochester, NY, is a town of 2,000 whose mall lost all its stores and has been turned into a Techniplex for light industry and businesses. Malls are for suburbia.

Arcologies are another of the 60s masturbatory fantasies I talked about. Who wants to live in them? As far as I can tell, no actual human beings.

The challenge is to find solutions that will work because it is a rational decision by an individual family to embrace them. You cannot plan for the mass. The mass doesn't do anything (except perhaps in China when they are told though – although even there the mass increasingly does what is best for the individual). You must make your environment enticing enough so that I will think it is superior to the life that I am living now. And the life that most Americans - and most affluent people all around the world – is pretty damn good right now. They may complain about sprawl and commuting times and the price of gas, but when they get home they are in relative paradise. How do you come up with a way of life that is better than relative paradise?

I don't have the faintest idea.

Neither does Kuntsler or Solari or the New Urbanists or Joel Garreau or Steven Spielberg or Robert Silverberg.

We haven't stumbled across it yet. It may be that nobody will until the collective irrationality exceeds the individual rationality to the extent that the whole system reaches it tipping point.

And I'm not sure I want to be around when that happens.

benthames
08-05-2003, 02:42 AM
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase


benthames, Green Bean posted Logan's Run many posts before you did.

You are correct. I will go away now and flog myself. Thank you.

However. In Minneapolis, the Target corporation has donated a large sum of money to install video cameras on street corners and in skyways. This seems Orwellian to me, much like the preponderance of video cameras in Great Britain.

Also, I recently read a nearly pornographic book called "The Children's War" which was about a world in which the Nazis had won WWII. It was set in 1999, and the story revolves around a forced laborer in a suburb of Berlin. Urban Planning and Sprawl are really not my hobbies, but it is an interesting (though, as i said, pornographinc) account of a modern world under Nazism, and the London she portrays is not at all utopian.

BrainGlutton
08-05-2003, 04:57 PM
A couple of posters have mentioned Logan's Run. Actually, the only obviously dystopian feature of the domed city in Logan's Run is that everyone's life must end at thirty. Apart from that -- it is more like the society of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a beautiful, well-functioning society devoted to hedonism and consumerism, utopian in surface appearance but dystopian if you're the kind of person who wants something out of life other than bread, circuses and sex.

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