The urban ultimatum: what should our future cities be like?

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The urban ultimatum: what should our future cities be like?
The urban ultimatum: what should our future cities be like?
The skyline of central Shanghai, which the Urban Age conference visited in 2005 / Photo: Reuters

The landscape has changed radically in the decade that LSE Cities’ Urban Age programme has travelled the world – but the questions it explores are more important than ever, writes Deyan Sudjic

Outside the echo chamber of religious fanaticism of all descriptions, this is not a moment in which the world is much given to declamatory statements about how things should be. Thinking about the future of the city, we are so traumatised by a century and a half of prescriptions for urbanism that have had only disastrous results that we have become cautious about making any kind of commitment to ideas or manifestos.

We are certainly more sceptical than the generation of modernist architects of the 1930s who retreated to a cruise liner sailing across the Mediterranean to lay the ground for the Charter of Athens, the document that codified a city made up of parallel slabs of housing rising out of parkland, and where work, home and leisure were divided by functional zoning.

And yet, 43 years after the dynamiting of the Pruitt Igoe social housing project in St Louis – an event that was widely seen as emblematic of the end of certainty about how the state could address the needs of the city – there is a hunger for a more positive approach to what cities could be.

The rapid growth of new megacities in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and the urgent need to revitalise European and American cities, has left no option but to find ways of addressing the wider questions facing urbanism. How can cities accommodate more people without destroying the very qualities that make them attractive to people in the first place? How can they offer more social justice and opportunity? […]

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