The new urbanism: in the future, what will our cities look like?

Author:Mead, Elizabeth
Position:UPFRONT: THE BIG QUESTION
 
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FEATURING

SUJATA PATEL

TOM VANDERBILT

SASKIA SASSEN

RICHARD DOBBS

SHIRISH SANKHE

DICKSON DESPOMMIER

RICHARD MATTHEW

JOHN DAHLSEN

We shape our buildings and they shape us ...--Winston Churchill

Our future existence as a species is, inevitably, an urban one. By 2050, some projections have it that seven out of every 10 humans on earth will be living in a city. What, then, might this look like? Our panel of experts weighs in.

SUJATA PATEL ON DREAMS

Growing up as a middle class teenager in Bombay, the city represented a life of freedom, facilitating the creation of new worlds of work and leisure--all intrinsically emancipatory. It was a site for the growth, development and spread of new ideas, ideologies and the social images. It allowed new ways of dreaming and living and thus encouraged a confidence in recreating lives in a myriad of ways. When I was young I thought cosmopolitan narratives thrived in cities.

Over the years, I have come to realize that cities are more complex than the social worlds we imagined. That is because, like other systems of social organization, the city caters to individuals and groups in distinct and uneven ways. If some find the confidence to dream, others recognize it as a site of extreme violence and exclusion. If it creates space for new forms of autonomy and independence to be organized for many, it is also a site for institutionalizing constraints and systemic cultural control.

A large part of the world's population lives and works in the informal sector-in informal communities like slums or squatter settlements. Often work and home are one--saving energy, allowing integration of family and work. Our first challenge is to rethink development and sustainability to ensure that this kind of economic organization, based on low energy costs and appropriate technology, becomes a model for reframing the global economy.

Sujata Patel, a sociology professor at the University of Hyderabad, India, has co-edited six books on ethnic and religious identities in the city.

TOM VANDERBILT ON CARS

We spent much of the twentieth century engaged in a campaign to retrofit our cities for the car. However much this may have seemed to make sense at the time, it now looks more like a misdirected effort to save the city by destroying it. As plentiful as the benefits of individual vehicular mobility may be, the large metropolis can never comfortably accommodate any more than a fraction of its citizens in this manner, and we have learned...

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