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Thoughts on urban planning, city design, architecture, the built environment, social issues, Seoul, Korea, and soon... London

5.9.04

Toward utopia or not toward utopia? 

Two issues continue to trouble me: How can the outcomes of social analysis and critique of the city become translated into design? Should the urban planner/architect design for society's existing and expected needs, or for some sort of utopia (and if so whose -- the designer's)?

These two questions are linked, perhaps especially in the given historical situation of the present. Social analysis points out a problem (or, usually, problems) and occasionally alternatives or ideals. Let's look at the increasing privatization or growing control of public space in Europe (and elsewhere) in the 90s and the responses by social movements (many outlined in INURA's Possible Urban Realms). Out of the lessening role of the municipal authorities in managing public services, and a rise in the corporatization of the city, many spaces that were formally public were sold off to companies to run, making them semi-public spaces. In addition, the increase employment of surveillance and tightening of limitations on the times both public and semi-public spaces, made these spaces more and more alienating and simply difficult to be in.

So how does the architect/planner account or counter this in design? Especially when most are employed by the municipal authorities and/or big business developers?


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Here's a first REAL comment on your article. I think a planners role is to try and stay as relatively independent as possible when designing an urban environment. Although I agree that they will very often be influenced by outside pressures (notably in the example you gave of privatization), I think the role of an urban planner is to try and design environments for the well being of ALL users of said setting. I think even when completely public, the political influence placed on a planner can be excessive. I noticed you have "the Death and Life of American Cities" by your bedside. As is seen in that book, often the most well-intended political decisions (MORE PARKS!!! for example) can be disastrous.

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