Utopian Urbanism: The Impossibility of Perfection

Throughout history, there have been many attempts to create the ideal environment for the ideal society; in other wordsutopia. Utopian urbanism is based on a concept  defined in Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (1518). In this book, Utopia is the name of a fictional island in the Atlantic that is home to an ideal community with a perfect social, political and legal system.

Many architects preoccupy themselves with designing the perfect city. They believe that a rationally planned environment will lead to a more ordered and efficient society. In the 20th century proposals as Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City (1902), Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (Radiant City1927 and Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City” (1952) were all inspired by the concept of utopian urbanism.

Utopian urbanism views separating structures by function as the most rational way of ordering space. As a result, residential areas were completely separated from business are service areas. Road network connected the various functional areas.

From a contemporary urbanist perspective utopian urbanism has significant shortcomings. No single plan can anticipate the needs of millions of people. Real cities have grown organically and reflect the variety, diversity and interactions of society over time. Moreover, utopian urbanism is dehumanizing as the put form and structure over the needs of residents.

For these reasons (and others), few utopian communities were ever built. Those that were attempted failed to live up the their creators expectations This is a somewhat fitting outcome as Utopia has a dual meaning. Not only was it a perfect place (eutopia) as envisioned by the planners mentioned above, it was also ‘no place’ (outopia)—a place that does not exist and ultimately never can.

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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