A Planet Called Utopia

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As utopian imagination deserted speculative literature, it found an unlikely redoubt in architecture and urban planning.

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They are surface utopias. You encounter them in the glossy renderings of architectural competitions, smart and radiant cities on paper, sustainable business districts built on reclaimed polders, floating neighborhoods, orbiting space habitats, settlements on Mars or the Moon. They aim to provide the comforts and amenities of modern life but under extreme conditions.

They are tabula rasa cities built on sand—the sand dredged and hauled from the bottom of the sea, or the sand of the burning deserts.

In intent, these are non-cities, nowhere-cities—the original meaning of utopia—without any of the roots, any of the challenges, or any of the rewards of actual cities. They are climate-controlled and Instagram-ready. They are safe and they are clean.

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They could be located on another planet, on Mars even, because in a way they are, ringed and covered by invisible and yet very tangible protective domes. They erase all the frictions, the institutions and the worldly powers that will them into existence. These are the cities of the future that powerful monarchs and billionaire entrepreneurs dream of. They are erected on new, virginal ground. And yet. For the first time in the history of our species, a majority of humanity lives in urban areas. Demographic projections suggest that by , more than two-thirds of us will live in cities.

Conurbations and megalopolises are the future of our civilization. It quickly became a focal point for the local art scene, attracting freaks and hippies eager to experiment with new ways of urban life. This was not so much adaptive reuse as creative reuse.

Christiania banned cars and built its own school, bakery, and cafes. It has had a lasting and broad influence.

What made Christiania uniquely utopian was not so much the built environment as the distribution of political power in its midst. It stood as a counter-model to top-down real-estate development.

Table of Contents

The inhabitants themselves decided collectively—and oftentimes after long and contentious debates—on how their sliver of city would live and grow. In Freetown Christiania, at least for a few decades, utopia was not a place or a glossy plan but an everyday, egalitarian praxis. It was free from the yoke of traditional land and building ownership: The old barracks were abandoned public infrastructure, a disused, liminal space, a terrain vague as we call it in French.

The terrain vague delineates urban spaces that have been emptied not so much of people but of their original, intended function and semantic weight. It is made up of what has been rendered obsolete.

Planet Utopia

Abandoned, it can thus can be reinvented and reinvested with new meaning. The terrain vague is up for grabs, up for recycling. Urban growth and social dislocations constantly generate new terrains vagues , almost like skin peeling off. The experiment of Christiania demonstrated that it is where the future is invented, much more surely than in the autocratic, climate-controlled towers of surface utopias. Any prologue to a re-enchantment of the future requires that we re-occupy and re-adapt disused spaces—both the concrete spaces and the imaginary, intellectual ones.

It is time to lay claim to the ruins of science fiction, to give birth to a better future. He is currently writing a Utopia. A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live. On November 8 and 9, costumed black people with replica guns will march across Louisiana reenacting one of the largest slave rebellions in U. An old map gave me a clue about where to look. We need a new utopianism that embraces the city.

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