Feature | Future Cities: Imagining, planning, and bringing them to life

Rashiq Fataar and Andres de Wet preview the 5th edition of #CityTalk

by Rashiq Fataar and Andres de Wet

The concept or idea of a New or Future City can be unsettling, perhaps even unappealing. One begins to imagine Koolhaas’s description of the Generic City, “a city of 15 million inhabitants, in or near the tropics, with high-rise apartments, low rise slums and post modern architecture by unknown 100-strong practices.”

Because surely, a new City without history, without an established culture, or relevance in the brand space of the New Yorks, Londons and Berlins of this world, cannot be considered a real city. Contrary to this Koolhaas was once quoted as saying that “the presence of history [in a city], reduces its performance”, suggesting that what might make Berlin unique in terms of its history, also acts as a weight or burden, in becoming an efficient and high performing city.

The concept of building or imagining a new City, is more than just a concept, and has been delivered in recent times, for political, economic, social or other reasons. Abuja, Nigeria is one of the more recent, purpose built in the 80’s and now Nigeria’s Capital City since 1991.

For those of us who consider ourselves to be the bearers of urban truths, we know that urbanization will result in more and more people moving to, and living in cites, than ever before.

One solution to the challenges this change may introduce would be the sustainable development of the type of cities which can cope with the increased demand for services, infrastructure, parks, public spaces, and housing. All this while acknowledging the changing and growing needs of its citizens. No easy task.

Paris, the existing city, received a complete urban-overhaul in the mid 1800’s by the revered Georges-Eugène Haussmann with his famous wide-avenue and spoke and radial urban plan that inspired famous urban designs for places like Chicago and Moscow.

Few would argue against Paris, arguably considered the most beautiful urban environment in the world; the wide avenues, quaint streets, landscaped sidewalks, public gardens and grandiose buildings are world renowned. So much so, perhaps Haussmann can be called the most successful cupid of all time, creating a design that actually catalyses love.

It would not be unfathomable, that an alternative approach would be to explore the idea of an entirely new City. Designing new, purpose built cities is many an urban-planners’ dream come true. To creatively plot the outcome of an entire city from its inception, is a rare opportunity.

These opportunities have presented themselves before, usually in new-world nations wanting to impress with custom-built capitals or to settle scores between two competing extant cities. Walter Burley Griffin was bestowed with the honours of designing Canberra and Lúcio Costa with Brasilia, Australia and Brazil’s custom-built capitals.

People either love or hate Canberra, Australia’s answer to Washington DC. A city spawned by the need to settle a fight between Sydney and Melbourne of who would be the capital of the commonwealth.

All this begs the question, are custom-built future cities models of excellent urban planning in light of the demands urbanization are placing on cities and nations in general?

How do we go about imagining them, planning for them and bringing them to life?

Join Future Cape Town and This Big City, this Wednesday 9 May, 7PM BST/2PM EDT for the 5th edition of #CityTalk in collaboration with the New Cities Foundation. We discuss the role of Future Cities in the build-up to the New Cities Summit.