Planning Architecture

If you know one of their cities, you know them all, for they're exactly alike, except where geography itself makes a difference. So I'll describe one of them, and no matter which.

Thomas More, Utopia

Unlike most North American cities, Calgary enjoys the hegemony of a uni-city, a city that absorbs neighbouring towns rather than coexisting with them. As a result, the city has thus far avoided spawning an edge city, a post-suburban ring of highway dependant developments by limiting development on the far side of the suburb's edge. Calgary also has a downtown that suffers from after hours abandonment. This chapter posits that both the missing edge city and the moribund downtown are a result of Calgary's planners and developers being primarily interested in building and maintaining the suburb. Through misplaced conviction in the suburban utopia, they
have both shaped the city to match this vision and altered this vision to match the city. The result is a compromise that undermines the value of both utopia and the city.

Practical Utopia

Utopia is generally an expression of a place where we would most like to live. Both desirable and impossible, it has long remained an imaginary place. However, the last century has seen North Americans adjust both utopia and reality into coexistence, allowing Baudrillard (1988, 76) to describe America as "utopia achieved." This situation requires that compromises be imposed upon both utopia and reality, a paradox made possible by Modernism. As an attitude defined by efficacy and practicality, Modernism held the city as a "complicated machine" that was the domain of the expert (Southworth & Ben-Joseph, 58; 72). By giving absolute control to experts, the public has allowed both their physical environment and their utopian ideals to be rationalized and abstracted. This essay proposes that our current challenge is to replace this ubiquitous and compromised Modern utopia with a more dynamic, plural vision for our cities. We must unhitch reality from utopia so that each can exist fully and independently.

Letchworth, England was an attempt at building Ebenezer Howard's utopian Garden City. It was laid out north of London by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker in 1904.

Reprinted from Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture (1995).

Ever since Sir Thomas More introduced the word "Utopia" in 1516 with his book by that name, it has maintained manifold interpretations and incarnations. Constantinos Doxiadis (1966, 25) in his analysis of utopia observes that some see it as a happy, ideal place, while others consider it as an impracticable place, its existence impossible. Often, it is given both meanings simultaneously, making for more confusion. Doxiadis notes Patrick Geddes' observation that "utopia" could have originated in either of two Greek words: u-topia, meaning no-place, or eutopia, meaning good place. Considering both meanings valid and necessary, Doxiadis proposes a diagram that overlays them on two axes. On one axis he plots degree of zeal which progresses from place (topia) to no-place (u-topia). This is a measure of the possibility of realization, or perhaps of place-ness. On the other axis he maps degree of quality, which progresses from dystopia (bad place) to eutopia (good place). While this diagram is subjective, which Doxiadis admits, it is useful for considering the utopias that guide us in the planning of our cities. Although Doxiadis used it to position various utopias, this essay is more interested in the terms he applied to the extents of utopia.

Taking this multidimensional understanding of utopia, we can consider the effect utopias have had on the shape of cities in the twentieth century. Of the many, including Sant'Elia's and Tony Garnier's significant works, there are only three that have commanded our imagination. These are Ebenezer Howard's Garden City, Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City, and Le Corbusier's Radiant City. All three utopias were conceived between 1890 and 1930, were a reaction to the unplanned, speculator developed, nineteenth century city, and were an attempt to withdraw from short term solutions in favour of a comprehensive solution (Fishman 1977, 4). Each participated in a movement away from the dystopia of contemporary cities towards the potential eutopia of future cities. By investigating these visions with respect to Doxiadis' understanding of the eutopian/dystopian and topian/u-topian dimensions of
utopia, we can more clearly investigate how utopia and reality have come to coexist, and the nature of the compromise that allows this to happen.

Howard proposed redirecting urban growth into new towns that would surround existing cities. These towns were called Garden Cities. Within this overall decentrality, each Garden City would have its own centrality, but be connected by transportation lines to the original city. In order to exclude the greedy and inconsiderate practices of the speculative developer, and the suburban sprawl they were producing even then, all land in these new towns would be communally owned, requiring collective decisions upon its use.

Wright proposed a more thoroughly decentralized city. In his parable of the Wanderer and the Cave-Dweller in The Disappearing City, Wright contrasted the murderous Cave-Dweller, or city liver, with the adventurous nomad. He proposed that "the city of the future would be without walls, a city of the Wanderer, where mobility had brought freedom." (Fishman 1977, 157) Wright's Broadacre City was semi-rural, with the homestead considered the conceptual centre. Urban facilities were separated by vast natural and agricultural environments, and were connected through the use of automobiles and personal helicopters.

As with Broadacre City, Le Corbusier's Radiant City was founded on technological advances. But he rejected Howard's belief in cooperative control and Wright's admiration of individual creativity. Le Corbusier believed that only a dictatorial government was equipped to "inaugurate the age of harmony" and dedicated his 1935 book on his city, La ville radieuse, "To Authority" (Fishman 1977, 236). His city was one of high rises and freeways, arranged diagrammatically into zones, each separated by plazas and parks. The centre was a multi-level traffic interchange.

Doxiadis's Graph of Utopia

Doxiadis maps Plato's Republic and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World on his graph with the Republic as more eutopian and Brave New World more dystopian. Indeed, Doxiadis associates dystopia with real cities, and is compelled to place Brave New World off his graph somewhere worse than dystopia. Both of these worlds are placed towards u-topia because their escapism restricts them from existing in a real place.

Although each represents a different set of values, within their own logic each was eutopian. Wright's city espoused American notions of mobility and space, and the value of individuality. Le Corbusier and Howard pursued the opposing values of benevolent imperialism and community control from European and English perspectives respectively. All three were decentralized, fully planned cities that genuinely embraced the well being of their citizens. They shared an internal perfection borne from the single-minded attention of their authors. The goal of each utopia was to present a better place to live, and hence more eutopian place, than the cities of the day. But these utopias were unrealizable, as we might suspect from their ambition and know by the failed attempts to emulate them. Early implementations of Howard's Garden Cities in England, such as the cities of Letchworth and Welwyn, resulted in neighbourhoods that appeared similar to Howard's utopia, but politically or economically never attained his cooperative ideal. Le Corbusier's vision could not muster the political support, particularly in democratic countries, that his cities of monolithic towers required. Wright's city has been espoused by North Americans, but in a brutally condensed form: suburban houses crammed together without Wright's large territories of untouched nature in between. None of the utopias came to be fully realized in real places; they were and are u-topian without place. Howard's, Wright's and Le Corbusier's ideal cities shared the defining qualities of pure utopias--they were perfect yet unbuildable. And yet, the ideas that their cities epitomized became the foundation for urban planning in the twentieth century.

It sounds absurd to build cities based upon a utopia, a concept we appreciate both for its idealism and impossibility. But when Baudrillard (1988, 78) describes America as utopia achieved, he is not surprised. Not burdened by history as his fellow Europeans were, he concludes that America "allowed itself to imagine it could create an ideal world from nothing." The idea of realizing a utopia was not foreign to North Americans in the middle of the century. Ideals that others considered ultimate and secretly impossible, North Americans put into operation. With Modernism, what were formerly ideological utopias, whether social or humanitarian, were replaced by a utopian realism. Tafuri (1976, 50) calls this attitude "utopia as a project."

With little distinction made between a compelling idea and a compelling project, North Americans distilled the ideas of the three utopias into a practical utopia that continues to define our cities today. This practical utopia gleaned and repurposed many aspects of Howard's, Wright's, and Le Corbusier's visions. The Garden City was reinterpreted as the garden suburb, Broadacre City was abstracted into provisions for mobility and low density, and Radiant City loaned its high rise aesthetic and its demand for authority. This composite utopia is a simplification, and often a simulation, of the original ideal cities--one that reduced the original visions to standards and minimum requirements. By using this rationalized version of utopia and allowing real cities to be abstracted into zoning districts and transportation networks, both utopia and reality were compromised in order to coexist. The effect was a practical, predominantly suburban, utopia that became the blueprint for the modern rational and decentralized city.

This practical utopia is distinguished by placelessness and authority, two aspects within the three utopias that have emerged in the translation from utopia to reality. Placelessness was not intended by the original authors. The partially executed and proposed examples of their utopias were distinct and highly detailed, and represented a degree of specificity and quality in design over and above other contemporary places. As demonstrated by Howard's Letchworth, Wright's Taliesin and Le Corbusier's Unités, the manifestation of their visions were sophisticated and detailed wherever the mind and hand that conceived them was directly involved. It is the effect of putting these visions into large scale operation that shifted the visionaries' utopias into u-topias. Lewis Mumford (1963) distinguished utopias of reconstruction and escape, the former providing "a condition for our release in the future" and the latter merely an "immediate release from the difficulties or frustration of our lot." Doxiadis (1966, 28) continues this thread by associating u-topias with escape and topias with reconstruction. He suggests that "a u-topia cannot be a condition for the realization of a plan as there is no-place for it." Put another way, the desire not to be in one place presents insufficient insight for the design of another place. Regardless of this, the authors' visions of reconstruction were translated into common visions of escape. This shift in approach, the common decentrality of each utopia, and the abstraction applied to their realization, have together established the practical utopia as a model for environments that are void of place. Each of the utopias by Howard, Wright and Le Corbusier had the benefit of authorship. The practical utopia does not.

Utopias Envisioned and Built

If we use Doxiadis' graph to map the three utopias discussed here alongside the built work they inspired, the graph could look something like this. If we were to further plot the work done directly by these visionaries, such as Letchworth, Taliesin and the Unités, these could be crowded into the upper left hand corner.

Consequently, in the translation of these utopias into reality, an authority was appointed to manage the execution. This collective agreement was made possible by the mutual adoption of Modernism by architects and planners, developers and governments in the 1950s. Southworth & Ben-Joseph describe this direction as superseding the City Beautiful movement, reforming the environment through the use of "expert knowledge, state regulatory mechanisms, and public welfare provisions." The implementation of science and technology, not civic art and architecture, was seen as a cure for both the physical and social urban woes of the industrial city; hence, the authority of this practical utopia was derived from the efficacy movement, one that proposed that, "The affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts" (Taylor cited in Southworth
& Ben-Joseph 1997, 58). Without the authorship inherent to the paper utopias, the authority of the practical utopia was bestowed upon the planning expert.

Grafting Architecture

This essay posits that the practical utopia remains in effect in Calgary. Like most cities, Calgary has preserved the authority of the planning expert, most recently in a form that empowers both city planners and community leaders. Under the authority of these experts, there are many interests in the development of Calgary's inner city, including those of architects, developers, builders, and the public. Yet in the act of making buildings, these interests are channelled through two professional groups--architects and planners. Unlike in the middle of the century, when the utopian visions of all these groups managed to overlap in a consistent deluge of shopping malls and destructive urban renewal, today there is a growing division. Architects representing developers and builders, are often at odds with the authority of planners, themselves aligned with community representatives. By investigating this conflict we can examine the effect of the practical utopia on Calgary's architecture.

The Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis epitomizes abstract modern planning and architecture. Because of vandalism and serious crime, people refused to live here. The complex was dynamited in 1972, fifteen years after it was built (MacDonald 1996, 13).

Reprinted from Donald MacDonald, Democratic Architecture (1996).

Architects floundered at the end of the mid century utopian collusion. Modernism had been discredited by scholarly studies and subsequent events which revealed the irrationality of its diagnostic method and the void of meaning in the environments it created (Hubbard 1995, 7). Architects' zealous, but misguided mechanization of social and urban problems had contributed to the creation of many dismal places this century. Architects were clearly partially responsible for conceiving and executing the practical utopia, and this continues to be a burden on the profession. Architects' past miscalculations and current lack of consensus on good design has engendered the distrust of the public (Dixon 1996). This has perpetuated the association of architects as experts at a time when experts are increasingly suspect. However, architects in the last thirty years have re-evaluated their diagnostic approach and reintroduced themselves to context and experience. In 1962, Robert Venturi ([1962] 1992, 16) called for an architecture of complexity and contradiction and proposed richness of meaning as preferable to clarity of meaning. Architects have since accepted that the insights of their field are not a universal diagnosis of the human condition (Hubbard 1995, 12) and have abandoned ultimate solutions such as the practical utopia in favour of a responsive, contextual approach to design. Now, encouraged by a new public interest in urbanism and city living, Calgary inner city residential architecture is surfacing from a quarter century of neglect. Calgary architects and designers are again introducing innovative solutions to inner city housing. Many are proposing denser, mixed-use buildings and contemporary architecture as they explore new possibilities for urban form.

Conversely, planners have remained entrenched in the abstract notion of a city planned by numbers. In superficially discarding Modernism, they only abandoned its aesthetic, retaining its diagnostic methods and expert control. Their support of the practical utopia continues. Recently, in what could be seen as an effort to legitimize this single-minded approach, planners have invited a form of public participation in the urban planning process. The involvement of the public was nominally introduced to create a more responsive process that took into account the real needs and desires of the public. It was believed that the "input provided by the community can provide the Development Officer with an understanding of the unique factors and neighbourhood concerns affecting the site" (Housing Guidelines 1993, section 5.3). Yet, community leaders who began to participate were themselves compelled to assume the roles of experts in order to understand and participate in the abstract planning process. The gradual delegation of authority to community leaders has allowed planners to abdicate the responsibility of taking a community perspective. Further, it has put community leaders in an unaccountable position of authority where they can further their own personal agendas. Other than the tacit goal of the practical utopia, there is no comprehensive Charter that Calgary's planning experts must respect--only differences in professional or personal opinion, and the political weight each carries. The result is that the public is even further alienated from the planning process. Instead of embracing architects' recent proposals for new inner city residential architecture--each driven by members of the public--the Calgary's Planning Department and most inner city Community Associations have reacted by reinforcing the Land Use Bylaw and planning process to effectively exclude many proposed housing types, styles, and densities. This near absolute control by community and bureaucrat experts, much of it highly subjective and political, has restrained the efforts of inner city designers and developers to build, and oftentimes even envision, new solutions and expressions for Calgary's current housing needs.

In the essay "Erected Against the City", M. Christine Boyer (1990, 36) compiles a set of differences between architecture and planning and concludes that regardless of the particularities, it is clear that there is a gap between the two. Using terms introduced by Foucault, she posits that architects produce utopian--what Doxiadis might call eutopian--spaces, perfected regions of the city, while planners produce heterotopian spaces: "places of deviation or abnormality, places of compensation or illusion, and places that juxtapose several incompatible sites, mixing functions and times." Being ideal, both utopias and heterotopias only exist virtually in real places, their representations only having occasional encounters with the city. Purely utopian places are only perfect within the bounds of imagination. The places that architects build can be perfect because they allow us to suspend our disbelief--to perceptually exclude all that is imperfect. Heterotopias, or "effectively enacted utopias," are similarly conditional, moving in and out of existence (Foucault 1986, 24). Theatres and stages are heterotopias during performances, and afterwards revert to the fabric of the city. Brothels, clubs and the first communal garden cities are all such heterotopias, coming into being and then, without the necessary conditions for existence, becoming houses, halls and garden suburbs.

Calgary inner-city architecture is no longer being neglected: Jeremy Sturgess's Connaught Gardens demonstrates that inner city housing can be more sophisticated than rows of detached houses or apartment blocks.

Reprinted from Alberta Architecture,

Boyer borrows from Georges Canguilhem to suggest that the discourse of architecture is one of normalizing that "unifies diversities and eradicates differences" to produce a healthy state of existence. While the work of architects is limited to disparate sites, these perfected places become healthful reference points for planners, whom Boyer describes as the pathologists of the city's diseases. As pathologists, planners attempt to restore the city to a healthy state through the use of statistics, controls and policies aimed at "correcting a city's abnormalities." Boyer finds that through this effort, the discourse of planning often is "disturbingly abstract, manipulating policies that ride high above the city's physical form, breaking the syntax that enables us to speak of bodies and buildings in space" (Boyer 1990, 36).

The continued abstraction of urban planning serves to separate the utopian dreams of architects from the corrective, and ultimately u-topian, goals of planners. Architects have adjusted their approach since the 1950s, allowing for the relevance of complexity and context and the phenomenological experience of people. Planners, however, have further abstracted the city as the subject of diagnostic analysis, retaining ownership of the practical utopia. Transforming the city into a map, zoning has become the primary tool for planners in their pathological approach to a perpetually dysfunctional city. When pressed to envision the city in terms beyond numbers, they often appropriate architectural examples and attempt to mend the city with them, much like they belonged to a kit of proven parts. The Victorian house (despised only a little while ago) is now an exemplar of good housing and its appearance is replicated throughout Calgary. While architectural examples may serve to illustrate the positive effects, or at least intents, of planning policy, actually borrowing the architectural building blocks from existing successful neighbourhoods does not realize an ideal city. In fact, the potential for desirable heterotopias, the true domain of planning, is often ignored with this cut-and-paste attitude, and heterotopias fail to have the conditions for their existence met. Adding Victorian-style houses does not create the heterotopia of the friendly neighbourhood; inserting a shopping mall does not inspire the public square; injecting a Planned Unit Development does not forge community.

In concord with Boyer, this essay posits that architects have had some success in realizing the unrealizable, in giving form to utopian visions. On the small scale that architects have been able to build them, many utopias have been realized as eutopias--good places that exist in reality. Le Corbusier's Unité in the western suburbs of Berlin remains a tower in a forested park, a splendid fragment of his authoritarian utopia. Corbusier's utopia would have been a horror if executed in its entirety, but as a built fragment enriched by its context, it works well. As a matter of scale, the successful fragment does not indicate a successful whole. Successful architecture is a product of keen attention to a particular problem solved for a particular client and site. The unification of diversities and eradication of differences that Canguilhem observes can only achieve perfection within the constraints of a program and context. When these are removed, the architectural solution becomes overly broad and abstract. And when successful built utopian fragments, such as the Unité, are grafted onto the city inconsistently, the results are dire. The relentless apartment blocks of socialist Berlin, while architecturally similar to the Unité, become something else in conglomeration. Both without place-ness and redeemable quality, they represent the closest thing to a combined dystopia (bad-place) and u-topia (no-place).

Eutopian places inspired by utopian visions, uniquely successful by their contrast and fit with their particular surroundings, are therefore inherently poor bases for public policy in other places. Such original places are the work of contradiction and genius, and are vital by their relationship with their context. The practical utopia, compiled from successful architectural examples and abstracted inferences of appropriate urban proportions, is an exemplar of dystopia. If planners seeking the healthy city choose first to sterilize these places by abstraction, then render them anonymous by replication, they are merely replacing the dying cells of the diseased city body with clones from an ideal monoculture. For a while, the city continues to look and behave much as it did before while it slowly loses its character and personality. The eyes dim and the pathological effort of planning becomes a relentless autopsy.

Le Corbusier's Unité in suburban Berlin presents a successful alternative to standard subdivisions. Rather than building houses on most of the property, the exiting forest was left intact with the Unité set in the centre.

The Boundless Suburb

The practical utopia is suburban and abstract. Without accompaniment, it has been a poor model for the development of cities. The replication and abstraction of exemplary eutopias, has produced segregated, artificial cities. Being the underlying intent of the practical utopia, the contemporary suburb is the epitome of this city form. Its land uses singular and separate, and its building types infinitely repeatable, the suburb clearly is the product of the practical utopia. Kunstler contrasts the superficially idyllic scene of the suburban street with its plodding artificiality, its unreality, and its inauthenticity:

The subdivision is an abstraction: a metaphor. It is an assemblage of little cabins in the woods or little manors in the park or some hybrid of the two. It is essential to this metaphor that each of these houses be understood as existing in isolation. The fact that there are, say, 350 of them distributed around a tract of 175 acres only elevates the unreality of the metaphor. We want them to behave as an ensemble, as a living pattern, but the houses refuse. To do so would contradict their splendid isolation (Kunstler 1998, 84).

The ideal "little cabins in the woods" or "little manors in a park", the two basic building units of North American cities (Kunstler 1998, 30), have been isolated into a self-insulated commodity that can be replicated in close proximity over large tracts with little damage to their inherent illusion. The edge of every site can be imagined to conceal every other site, every yard private and infinite, and proximity irrelevant because of the car. As well, the suburb can be described in, and produced from, abstract terms. Lot width limits and setbacks describe the suburban landscape in all the detail it requires to be built, sold, or re-sold. The suburban site can be described in quantitative terms as effectively as a real estate agent can describe the suburban house in terms of the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and cars that fit in the garage. Builders and residents take a statistician's view, ignoring quality in favour of the numbers.

Compared to the urban city, with its paradox and propinquity, the congruity of suburbs is anti-city. Its land uses separated and rationalized, its components replicated and re-replicated, this anti-city forgets the original "isolated cabin" utopia through the abstraction of codes and bylaws. The practical utopia of the contemporary suburb it turns out has nothing to do with the model, and everything to do with the process of deployment. Today the original value is gone altogether, and the simulation no longer masks its absence. In Kunstler's words (1998,17), suburbia is "an idea of place rather than a place." The simulacrum of the "little cabin in the woods" exists for its own sake on its own terms. It has become but a representation, or a sign of itself. And this is why it has been so successful. There is no original suburb: it can only be judged on its own terms, and these terms are strictly abstract.

At the end of the century, we are both compelled and repelled by the suburb. Baudrillard (1988, 77) calls this the "crisis of an achieved utopia", where its duration and permanence become a problem. On one hand, we are still taken with the escapist's u-topia of the "little cabin in the woods", regardless of the vacant city it produces. As we have become accustomed to thinking of our cities and living spaces in abstract terms, be they spatial or financial, the suburbs' rational idealism still retains an appeal. Indeed, the corollary to North America being utopia achieved is that any change represents a move away from utopia; therefore, change is avoided and the suburb proceeds. Neither the suburban utopia nor the anti-city it creates can be confined. It remains compelling enough to erode both our rural and urban environments. Leon Krier (1990, 204) claims in his critique of zoning that the suburbs not only spread over the countryside destroying nature, but that they also gouge inwards, effectively disembowelling the city. The original city that begins as a distinct figure on the ground of the country devolves into the central business district, a grotesque memory of the city. The surrounding suburbs render the urb meaningless: "the anti-city is out to kill the city." Or, put another way, the practical utopia is out to kill urban complexity.

This tightly cropped house advertisement reveals how we prefer to see the suburban house as isolated from its context--the ideal cabin in the woods.

Reprinted from a newspaper advertisement for "The Ankrom II" from Sterling Homes.

On the other hand, as it becomes increasingly unaffordable and absurd, the hollow promise of this frontier cabin metaphor lies exposed. In many ways, North America is not possible anymore. As implausible as it seems, we have run out of space. Or perhaps, the surface tension that holds cities together has reached the limits of its tenacity, and what space
that remains is much harder to reach. The previously positive heterotopias of the back yard and drive-in have become marginal in their ubiquity. Within this crisis, the idea of the centralized city has become more attractive. The potential for remembering what it is to dwell within urban spaces has surfaced among those aware of the practical utopian failure, and the urbs are, after fifty years, again beginning to re-emerge. Developers and builders are attracted to the favourable return on inner city investment. And Ebenezer Howard's urban magnet of "high money wages, social opportunity, and gin palaces" is attracting a new array of urbanites. Architects are taking the opportunity to rethink predominantly suburban cities such as Calgary. Residents are demanding local cafés, neighbourhood organic food markets and innovative living situations, and they are attracted to the variety of services and facilities still available in the inner city.

But in Calgary, despite this crisis and the growing pressures of urbanism on the inner city, the suburbs continue to drive inwards. This is a direct result of anti-city planning. As a reaction to the rampant, and often thoughtless development of two earlier oil-driven economic booms, City planners were afforded even greater power to protect what they had previously spared of Calgary's early twentieth century neighbourhoods. To save the inner city neighbourhoods from being absorbed by the city, their suburban character was defined and set into code. The Planning and Building Department now uses a triad of codes, including the Land Use Bylaw, the Housing Guidelines for Established Communities and Area Redevelopment Plans, to define and enforce what amounts to an imposed suburbanization of the inner city. But defining the inner city's appearance is killing its inherent character. John Brown (1997) concludes that Calgary's planners mistakenly assumed that character was found in the architectural style of the inner city's houses, not in the nature of their development. The resulting new buildings with their historicist architectural details "re-produced as visual simulacra in vinyl and stucco" are a mockery of the architectural precedents, themselves dubious. The innovation of the inner city's origin, such as stick frame construction, and the animation, such as its market driven development, have been lost in the abstraction. Through codifying the inner city, its development ceases to be production--it becomes re-production. In an attempt save these neighbourhoods, the planners have embalmed them. The transition zone abolished, the suburban anti-city now begins at the foot of the central business district.

Howard's three magnets, although originally intended to promote suburban living, reads like an advertisement for the city directed at the contemporary urban professional.

Reprinted from Ebenezer Howard, To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Social Reform (1898).

Small Utopias

Jane Jacobs ([1961] 1992, 8) believes that city planners are taught the way cities ought to work, not the way they do work. Planners attempt to anticipate the growth of the city, but instead they determine it. This attitude is similar to that of the map makers in the Borges fable that Baudrillard (1994, 1) describes in The Precession of Simulacra, but instead of a map so detailed that it covers the entire empire, the planners have devised a zoning diagram that is so inflated it covers the entire city. In time we have forgotten what the city is like because all we can see is the map. Now, after decades of zoning, the original city has almost vanished. Like the shreds of the empire that remain on the map in Baudrillard's inverted interpretation, fragments of the real city linger in what is otherwise a physical incarnation of the zoning map. As Weaver and Babcock put it (1979, 268), zoning is "simply an imperfect reflection of the present that serves to inhibit, rather than direct, movement into the future." By planning cities with zoning, there is no difference between anticipating growth and predetermining it.

Development must be encouraged not predetermined. Architectural eutopias and escapist, suburban u-topias are not realistic models for the myriad and diverse requirements and expressions of any citizenry, nor is the pathological fixing of a city's problems. Modern city planning cannot continue to burden itself with what Jacobs ([1961] 1992, 357) describes as the "unsuitable aim of converting cities into disciplined works of art." Weaver and Babcock (1979, 265) introduce the analogy of city planning as putting together a jigsaw puzzle where planners neither have all the pieces, nor the leisure time to sort them out let alone set aside the difficult ones for later. This analogy could be furthered with the observation that there are pieces that planners prefer to work with--eutopian places that exist by design or chance. Through favouring these pieces and forcing them into monotonous configurations, the image that the puzzle comes to resemble is not a eutopia, but the abstract quilt of the practical utopia.

If the 1950s represented an era when both utopia and reality were compromised to overlap, the last three decades are a time when reality has bent entirely to accommodate (a necessarily abstracted) utopia; indeed, it has bent so far, that reality no longer seems available, nor producible. Our practical utopia has adopted the authoritarianism of Modernism, but discarded its demands for authenticity. Le Corbusier's aesthetic may have failed, but his attitudes toward city planning have thrived. City and community planning experts now decide upon much of the architecture of proposed projects. We have reacted to the failure of the practical utopia by putting more, not less, power into the hands of the experts. Planning codes are layered upon codes in a spiralling effort to create the ultimate code that produces good cities and buildings. The result in an example of Kunstler's (1998, 176) is "a destructive template left in place (zoning) with extra procedural bullshit layered on top of it (the commission) to make sure that nothing gets built under the bad template." Layered authorities become redundant and impenetrable. If we are leery of Le Corbusier's high-rise utopia, shouldn't we be more concerned about his authoritarian politics that are being further entrenched by growing codes?

Despite its contemporary materials and proportions, this North Hill, Calgary infill demonstrates current code biases with its tack-on front porch, picket fence and ornate Victorian tracery.

The problem with using utopian models in planning and architecture is a matter of scale. The city-wide application of a single, ubiquitous utopia such as the practical utopia described in this chapter is inherently alienating and produces mediocre environments and buildings. Small utopias and heterotopias are not possible within a ubiquitous utopia. Doxiadis (1966, 54) believes that with utopia being much easier to realize now than in the past (the suburb being a good example), what is necessary is "as many utopias as possible, especially utopias about quality in life." This alternative allows utopias to be small and multiple, rather than vast and ubiquitous. Such utopias could be nested, with smaller utopias fitting within larger utopias--one person's ideal house being compatible with a larger vision of the ideal neighbourhood. We could then each be able to imagine wonderful utopias and have diverse, plural cities.

After investigating the effect of the practical utopia on Calgary (a discussion furthered in the next chapter), it is clear that utopia cannot be the responsibility of only one group of experts, but must individually be the responsibility of every citizen in Calgary. Suburbia has been a both a very compelling built utopia and urban form, and may accommodate the needs of many people, but it should not be the required mode of living for those who choose to live otherwise or elsewhere. Without having to maintain the current singular, practical, suburban utopia, we could free the bureaucracy of planning experts required to perpetuate and authorize it. Planners could again devote their work to the encouragement of places for enacted utopias: the heterotopias of the city such as the public square or the shopping street or even the seedy nightclub. Establishing conditions for such heterotopias should be the
primary concern of Calgary's city planners. Doing so would reintroduce planners to the qualities of intensity and diversity that Jacobs calls key to a successful city. And architects could be trusted to design and build meaningful architecture inspired by the diverse utopias of the many residents of Calgary.


The conflict between the practical utopia maintained by city planners and the development of the inner city as a transition zone between the downtown and the suburbs has been described here as a failing in the conception of utopia. The practical utopia, conceived as ubiquitous, has empowered planners to apply a consistent set of rules across the entire city regardless of the varied ideals of its inhabitants. Yet, a ubiquitous, escapist utopia cannot accommodate the varied utopias of individuals and groups, or of planners and architects. An alternative approach to planning the inner city would have to exist as an exception to the rules established by the practical utopia. Or inversely, and preferably, the rules could be the exception to the alternative.

Big Utopia: residential slabs in the former East Berlin.

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