Authors Note: I’m taking a bit of a hiatus for January to get ahead on my researching and writing, as well as my classwork, but I didn’t want to leave nothing for a month. Here’s a little something about a book that I read last semester.
D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land describes a city that may not be of the future, per se, but was certainly a utopia to some. Waldie grew up and still lives in a tract home in Lakewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Built in the years after World War II, Lakewood was the second “new” suburb in the United States, following in the footsteps of Levittown, New York. The book itself is a lyrical examination of a life in a place, and a place through the lives in it.
Seestadt Aspern, literally the seaside city at Aspern, is home to Smart City Wien’s large-scale experiments. The planned community of 20,000 people in the northeast corner of Vienna will be completed in 2028. Much like Masdar City, Aspern aims to act as a “living laboratory” to prove various new technologies, from smart electric meters to entire smart energy grids. Aspern Smart City Research (ASCR), the company in charge of research in Aspern, sorts its projects into four “Smart” areas: Building, Grid, User, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
However, such a community still faces problems. The Smart City Wien (literally, Smart City Vienna) initiative, created in 2011, lays out the issues of the modern city and Vienna’s commitment to solving them.
Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities have inspired almost every aspect of modern urban planning. Most suburbs, and many cities, draw on bits and pieces of the design. There are a number who have actually aspired, at least in name, to be true garden cities. It is worth noting that very few have even attempted Howard’s drastic economic and social ideas, and those that did abandoned them not long after founding.
The full list and map of “official” garden cities according to the International Garden Cities Institute, can be found here, but here I’ll just be looking at a few I find interesting.
Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear will is Ebenezer Howard.
Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.
In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.
Masdar Cityhas a number of initiatives aimed at improving its environmental and economic sustainability. One of the largest, and perhaps most effective, are its building requirements: all are expected to reduce energy demand by 40 percent from average, water demand by 30 percent, and to achieve at least a 3 Pearl rating from the Estidama Pearl Rating System (roughly LEED Gold, an exceptional standard of efficiency). This, and the innovation culture inherent in Masdar, has resulted in a number of unique design choices. Read more
A 2010 brochure for Masdar City states, “One day, all cities will be built like this.” Unfortunately, this brochure doesn’t seem to be publicly available outside the Khalifa University Library, and apparently the slogan is disused. The sentiment is, however, is a constant in coverage of the Emirati eco-city, which broke ground in 2008 and is still partially under construction. Now generally described as either the first or the most sustainable city in the world, it was founded under the auspices of One Planet Living, an international framework for sustainable cities; and with backing from the World Wildlife Fund. Unfortunately, as it is now, Masdar City’s example may be a poor one to follow.
The original project that spawned this blog asked the question: Was EPCOT a smart city? The term “smart city” has sprung up in the early 21st century to describe any city using new technology and data-driven strategies to improve the lives of residents. Dr. Margarita Angelidou, in her paper titled “The Role of Smart City Characteristics in the Plans of Fifteen Cities,” lays out 10 characteristics of smart cities, and sees how well various modern smart city projects measure up. Here, I’d like to do the same for Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Read more
On October 27, 1966, just a few months before his death, Walt Disney recorded a 25-minute film in which he laid out a grand plan for the 27,000 acres his company had recently purchased in central Florida. Speculation had been rampant, but this “Florida Film” was the first time Disney showed his hand. It was here that he detailed plans for what would become the Magic Kingdom and, eventually, Walt Disney World Resort, but this was far from the film’s focus. Instead, Disney was proposing an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. EPCOT, as it would be called, would be a city of 20,000, drawing on the “new ideas and new technologies” of American industry.
The Epcot Center, which opened in 1981 and remains in operation, is not this city. Only now are governments, companies, and people around the world beginning to build communities as forward thinking as EPCOT was in 1966. As the foundations of today’s smart cities are laid, we should take a moment to ask what Walt Disney’s vision can tell us about our future.
While waiting for the full launch of Urban Utopias, I thought I would summarize what this blog will look like. Broadly speaking, my goal is to discuss “Cities of the Future.” People have been designing cities since before the ancient Greeks, but the idea of solving urban problems through design is more recent. I aim to flesh out this idea, one visionary city at a time, looking at where some went right, others went wrong, and most fell somewhere in the middle. Expect a broad range of topics, including physical design, socioeconomic ideas, and historic context.
New full posts come out on the first of each month, with occasional smaller pieces–usually related to that month’s city–on the fifteenth.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to let me know!