The term generic urbanism rose to prominence with the book S M L XL by Rem Koolhaus, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. The book contained an essay by Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and urbanist, titled “The Generic City.” This essay declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past. Koolhaas writes: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now…”
Generic urbanism describes a non-specific, identity-lacking urban landscape. The generic city has no specific reference points, either to its history or its residents. Rather it responds to urban stereotypes. In doing so, it turns cities into yet another commodity, interchangeable from one another. We can see the result before us as city after city converge in a pastiche of undifferentiated cityscapes.
Generic urbanism appears to have started in the American suburbs when developers creating interchangeable developments. Over the past half century it has crept into our urban cores, where the truest expression of civic identity were once found. This is, in part, a result of the effort by city governments to attract suburbanites (and their tax dollars) downtown—not by offering then something unique or different—but rather safe and familiar.
The concept is an oxymoron. A generic city resists urbanism and its inherent qualities of diversity and culture. All the qualities normally associated with a great city: iconic architecture, vibrant but messy streetscapes, unique neighborhoods, etc. become subsumed by global trends. Public space becomes formulaic; there’s nothing to notice to except stoplights. According to Richard Pouly, in the generic city “the paradigmatic urbanite will no longer be a latte-sipping hipster but the weary sales rep who never completely unpacks his suitcase” forgetting if he is in New York or New Dehli.
Koolhaas declared the generic city to be “a city without qualities,” I would add “A city without quality”