betacity


urban imagination image
June 9, 2011, 7:41 pm
Filed under: betaCITY, Cities | Tags: ,

The tools are there but not the vision for building great cities, says Richard Sennett in his article The Open City.  Where have we heard this before, the tools but not the vision?  Everywhere it seems, in this structure phobic world we tenuously occupy.  We’re post structure, what’s the use of vision if we can have endless iterations of technique?

Sennett also says that not only will all-the-technology-in-the-world not fill the vision void that keeps us from building good cities, but this detail and technology driven model is making cities that tend to control urban life, when a truly good city is one that is evolving and open and – in that good vibrant way – uncontrollable.

Here is an excerpt from Sennett’s The Open City:

The cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, possess efficient public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation, and also do their best to heal society’s divisions of race, class and ethnicity.  These are not the cities we live in.  They fail on all these counts due to government policy, irreparable social ills and economic forces beyond local control.  The city is not its own master.  Still, something has gone wrong – radically wrong – in our perception of what a city should be.  We need to imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient, dynamic, stimulating, just city would look like concretely; we need those images to confront critically our masters with what they should be doing – and precisely this critical imagination of the city is weak.  This weakness is a particularly modern problem:  the art of designing cities declined drastically in the middle of the twentieth century.  In saying this, I am propounding a paradox, for today’s planner has an arsenal of technological tools – from lighting to bridging to tunnelling to materials for buildings – that urbanists even 100 years ago could not begin to imagine.  We have more resources to use than ever before, but we simply do not use them creatively.

This paradox can be traced to one big fault.  That fault is over-determination, both of the city’s visual forms and its social functions.  The technologies that make experiment possible have been subordinated to a regime of power that wants order and control.

/…/

In particular, what is missing in modern urbanism is a sense of time – not time looking back nostalgically but forward-looking time:  the city understood as process, its imagery changing through use, an urban imagination image formed by anticipation, welcoming surprise.

The Open CityRichard Sennett

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