And just in case you thought the book was all about technology…

Notes toward a richer exploration of “next larger context.”

The great Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen taught us that we must always design things by considering them in their “next larger context.” Where urbanism is concerned, that context is this:

For the foreseeable future, post-urban complexes worldwide will continue to grow and to densify.

Driven off the land by depleted soil fertility, by ecosystems pushed past all natural limits and undergoing a process of slow-motion collapse, and never least by communal violence, desperate rural populations of the global south will continue to seek opportunity in the megacities, and find even that tenuous and insecure existence they find there — at subsistence level, or slightly below — preferable to the available alternatives.

In the wake of endemic state failure, cross-border flows will be at least as significant a phenomenon as internal migration, uprooted refugees by their millions staking everything on a chance at survival.

Even in the developed nations, residents of towns and lower-tier cities will find decayed infrastructure and lack of social and economic opportunity severe impediments to achieving life outcomes commensurate with the ones they desire and have been taught to expect.

The result, in all cases, will be severe and worsening competition for the pool of available resources, causing critical strain on infrastructures and bringing unprecedented pressures to bear on open societies and the urban forms to which we, as the citizens of those societies, have become accustomed.

Any twenty-first century urbanism worth the name will have to account for these circumstances, devising frameworks and architectures able to accommodate extremely high population densities, buffer the tensions that are sure to arise between all the contesting parties to such an environment, forge something resembling a functioning public sphere, and do so while affording all users of the city equal measures of autonomy and dignity.

3 responses to “And just in case you thought the book was all about technology…”

  1. Morgan Sutherland says :

    “Any twenty-first century urbanism worth the name will have to account for these circumstances, devising frameworks and architectures able to accommodate extremely high population densities, buffer the tensions that are sure to arise between all the contesting parties to such an environment, forge something resembling a functioning public sphere, and do so while affording all users of the city equal measures of autonomy and dignity.”

    That would only be the case, of course, if every urban area were to follow these trends. Would an urbanism that seeks to, for instance, revive the failing cities of the US not be worthy of its name?

  2. AG says :

    This isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a comprehensive statement. That’s what “notes toward” implies, chief. ; . )

    More seriously: yes, a twenty-first century urbanism with any integrity does need to account for things like this.

  3. Candy says :

    Cool, reminds me of this project http://www.192021.org/ . Also, I like the idea of focusing on cross-border flows. Who doesn’t have horror stories about airports and border controls. I felt like I was in a POW camp when crossing from SA to Mozambique (which took hours and included conversations like “don’t make any big gestures”), and I have some funny pictures of businessmen sprawled out sleeping all over the floors of the Dubai airport – if airports included more chairs and even recliners, would that be good design or admittance that things aren’t working properly and your plane just got delayed again ha… Lots of room for improvement, including mobile tools to help you when the country won’t… http://mobileactive.org/artivists-and-mobile-pho

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