Friday, April 18, 2008

Where the Great will play nice with the Small, and vice-versa

Utopia or Bust!

I recall writing some time ago on my first impressions of Bioshock that Rapture was the kind of place I would build if I had oodles of money, and the miraculous ability to operate construction machinery under several hundred atmospheres of pressure (perhaps not in so many words, but you get the point). Learning more about ecocities and arcology theory is therefore an empowering experience for me, because I cannot help but feel that this is the first step on the path to something I can at present only dream of. The very existence of Arcosanti – though it is still under construction – is proof that the ideal city does not have to wait forever on the drawing board. It CAN happen, and it seems that it is, in fact, happening!

I should make it clear at this point that my ideal city doesn't have to be built under kilometers of ocean, nor must it be built in the art deco style. Building a city to withstand crushing pressures and extreme cold, when far more hospitable areas are available is clearly a failure of basic logic. In addition, the ideal city is not elitist or isolationist, it should be as open, as permeable as possible. In fact, the ideal city would be an Anti-Rapture, an accessible city built to emphasize the values of trust and cooperation. This is not solely because of my leftist politics, or any fear that an objectivist society would be reduced to a pile of gibbering mutants (I know what fiction is), but because I think it is the natural order of a condensed metropolis. The object is to create a city in which the alleys are not to be feared, in which people live and function in close proximity, in which culture flourishes. That kind of society is not a possibility if we maintain our present mindset, and it is not possible if we embrace hardline individualism. Our differences cannot simply be tolerated, as we are taught now, they most certainly cannot be what make us so goddamn special! Above all, differences cannot be allowed to disappear into the malaise of a samey society. Difference must be preserved as catalysts for synergistic relationships, or in non-bullshittese, reasons for people to interact positively. This requires a fundamental reorganization of priorities, for example: when opposing viewpoints are debated, the object should not be victory in particular, what should be sought is a) the best answer, regardless of partisanship, and b) general enrichment of all parties through discussion. Is this hokey? Of COURSE it is! Unfortunately for the people gagging right now, It's a natural development once one realizes that partisanship is bad for progress.

Ecocities makes the case that values can be encoded in architecture, but I think this should be taken one step farther. I think the values should be encoded in the design process. “But how can the values be in the final product if they aren't there in the plans?” you ask, “your statement is redundant!”, you cry. I mean to say that rather than the city embodying any one vision of how the ideals of society are to be encoded, the very process should be as open and friendly to diverse opinion as the city is to be. I say this for two reasons: 1) I want to have input when building Utopia, 2) I don't want to hog all the input, because to do so would doom any project from the outset. I don't want anyone like me to avoid this project because they are made to believe that the design is set in stone. I know it would drive me off if it were! Since I am assuming democracy as the de facto system of government, what better way to ensconce it within the very walls and windows of a city than by allowing, nay mandating that everyone be allowed due influence (namely no more and no less than anyone else, within reason. Architects and Engineers do get extra say, for example, but ONLY in matters where their expertise applies)?

In the spirit of this hypothetical project, I now open the floor to anyone with a comment: what values would you want to see built into the Ideal City, and how?

I'll start off by saying that perhaps using rounded edges and spaces in lieu of corners and rectangles would likely promote a more collaborative attitude (I believe this has been demonstrated in round vs rectangular/adversarial legislatures. Also, the museum of Civilization in Hull has no corners and is a very serene looking building, n'est-ce pas?)


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