Training the imagination has been a widely used and necessary practice for architects and urban developers throughout history. With time, the idea of imagining the city, rethinking new living models, has extended to many disciplines. Who doesn’t talk about the city today? Who isn’t interested in the city of the present? Who doesn’t fall for the delirium of imagining it?
There was a time in which technology applied to the city of the future was at the center of developing new materials that enabled new forms: the city of skyscrapers, where beauty was the reflection of the future. Imagining a functional city, with nearly perfect urban segments –such as that proposed by Le Corbusier with Plan Voisin (1925) for the city of Paris–, turning to high density, open spaces, green areas and incentivizing movement based on public transportation, was also part of the architectural imagination. And, of course, more radical imaginations came about in Europe, led by the English Archigram, and in the East by the Japanese Metabolists (1960) such as Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki and Kenzo Tange, who imagined cities of action. The city was conceived as a living organism: Marine City, Computer City or Nakagin Capsule Tower, among other examples that were never undertaken.
Toyo Ito, Pritzker Prize winner for Architecture, said over 20 years ago in his Writings that it would be moviemakers who would imagine the city of the future. Cinema produces an entire artificial world in which cinematic technology comes between the user and the digitized public space. However, while movies have helped over time to fill with fiction what today begins to be a reality (flying and extremely fast vehicles, like Kaneda’s motorcycle in Akira, stage designs such as in Blade Runner, where film imagined a city filled with neon and laser lights that came from multiscreen buildings, etc.), architects have drawn out possible cities.
What has all of this imaginary construction led to? How do we imagine the city of the future today, in 2020? How has the current health crisis affected this imaginative process on our cities? The form, function, beauty and activism of the Japanese Metabolists will continue to exist as necessary indicators on which to redesign the city of the future, but global values have interfered with them, the Eco and Smart formulas, citizen participation, climate change, the health crisis, overpopulation, the right to housing, etc. The city, as a complex entity, has become a matter of many, and we are –all– obligated to imagine the city in terms of humanity, no matter what.
We start by saying that the (re)imagined city will be the desired city, as long as a good and proper urban policy is carried out. If a city is for all, both those in government –through regulations that manage citizen rights and large capitals– and the inhabitants –exercising their responsibilities as citizens through participation and proper application of the rules for using the city–, they most work together on the city’s interests. That said, to do that, we need to start rethinking new models for management and financing, and even look at the idea of property in a new way. Working without prejudice in the fusion of private funds and public funds, with short- and long-term projects (patient capital), will result in self-sufficient cities, circular economies and solvent systems.
Undoubtedly, the aspects of energy and social sustainability are matters that must guide our imagination and, in any case, we must look to the Nordic countries for inspiration. Denmark, Sweden and Norway now have cities of the future with great futures. One of the most international Danish architects, the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is spreading the idea of sustainable hedonism; in short, in order for people to have sustainable behaviors, they must be having a good time. An example of that is CopenHill, a green ski run on a waste plant, a leisure facility combined with a sustainable behavior.
Future mobility must also be included in our imagination. Technology applied to industry is making great changes with new mobility devices and new management concepts, such as renting. Owning a vehicle is no longer a desire of the newer generations; sharing, greening, and enjoying will be issues that will pervade us culturally, and that will be the start of the change towards the imagined city.
I imagine cities based on the responsibility and awareness of their citizens, on an observation and learning related to the global needs of the world we live in. Easy cities in which the desired city will emerge through pleasure.
Inés García is professor of Architecture en el Máster en Arquitectura