What does the future city look like? Is it a collection of skyscrapers with flying cars like some star wars movie? Or is it a high tech city where everything from trash cans to bridges is connected in order to increase efficiency? Are there more concrete roads, more people and fewer parks? Or is it a city where ‘the rural’ is allowed to reenter? Maybe it is none of these scenarios, maybe you imagine a combination? Either way, imagining one's utopian city allows us as citizens to acknowledge that a city is not just a product of technological change but a democratic concern for all of us. The city is a lot of people's backyard so why not dream about how you would want your backyard to be?
I want my city to be guided by the balance between freedom TO and freedom FROM. Freedom from, in the utopian city of my dreams, concerns itself with things like air pollution and consumption. WHO claims that 9/10 humans breathe air containing high levels of pollutants which causes an estimated death toll of 7 million people every year. That is a crazy number and one that is heavily connected to noise pollution as well, another thing which I wish my backyard was free from. These issues are not the main problem but symptoms of a poorly designed system. The modern city as an organism is hooked to a respirator. Think about it, what is left of the modern city if we pursue the freedom’s from? If we strip away oil, extensive and purposeless labour, pollution and consumption baiting to name a few? In addition, what happens when we free the rural populations of the world from overexploiting their back yard only to uphold the lifestyles of the urban population? What might be left of the modern city if we were to free ourselves from these structures and symptoms?
It’s not that the “freedoms’ from” render the concept of a city redundant. They rather raise important questions of the essentials of the city, starting with why cities are necessary at all. Currently the answer to that, one can argue, is to concentrate labour and consumers in order to stimulate the economy and allow it to grow as big as possible. The city, in that case, serves the economy rather than earth and us humans. But what something is, is not the same as what something can be and that is where the freedom TO enters. The city must become a regenerative force for the planet, fulfil its potential as a hub for ideas. Simply just reconnect with its inherent strengths. What does that mean though? For me, it means acknowledging the strength of the urban setting which at its core is found in human interaction and the opportunity of broad collaboration, a setting that opens up space for wondrous creativity. At its very core, that is what I believe makes the city unique and important in the regenerative society.
The creative potential doesn’t, however, warrant the continuation of a city as a consumer of goods. For anything to be regenerative or even sustainable, production of life necessities (such as food and energy) must be central. There is no path to sustainability through consumption, not even highly aware consumption choices. The city must, therefore, facilitate the space for collaboration and deep creativity through the production of its own necessities. So is that it? Is the city an (almost) self-sustaining hub for creativity? At the surface, yes! But the fundamental difference between the imaginary regenerative city and the current one is found in the answer to the question of why the city exists. The current city serves capital while the regenerative ones serve earth and humanity. That means that every job, every building, street or tree has a well thought through purpose. Are banks necessary in the regenerative world? If not then get rid of them. Is marketing, sales departments, large malls etc necessary? If not, get rid of them as well! Those who lose their jobs can either work on the many urban farms, repopulate the countryside or help in the building of energy-efficient infrastructure. The mentality that everything has to serve a greater good, will radically change what the city is.
The regenerative city is a city for humans that allows us to nurture the planet. It focuses on the essentials of the city and slightly tweaks aspects of it to lift the pressure on rural areas. The streets are freed from millions of cars and replaced by flowers, trees and vegetables. Central is the opportunity to provide, to meet and to be creative.
I have largely grown up in Stockholm and I feel tired of being a victim of circumstance, of allowing the few to decide what my front and backyard should look like. The city should emphasise collaboration and we as citizens need to come together and reclaim the dialogue of how we want the city to be. Apples or fumes? Constant labour or meaningful opportunity? The regenerative city portrayed here is little more than thoughts but they need to meet other thoughts and together we can reach a common vision and free ourselves from the role of passive observers. So what does your future city look like? And why should cities even exist? And who or what should they serve? And how shall they accomplish that? Let us know what you think!