Utopian Urban Futures

Utopian Urban Futures:

Histories, imaginations, possibilities

Organising Committee: Ayona Datta (PI), William Gould, Rebecca Madgin and Anu Sabhlok.

Venue: HEART, Bennett Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3HN

27-28 June 2016.

 “Utopia as a form is not the representation of radical alternatives; it is rather simply the imperative to imagine them.” (Jameson 2005, 416)

The history of urban planning is a history of urban utopias. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, Le Corbusier’s Radiant City and Richard Register’s Eco-City all provide fertile ground for examining both the imageries, visions and realities of modernist urban planning and the uncritical flow of urban theory and praxis from the global north to south. In the global south, Chandigarh and Brasilia are often cited as the result of these totalitarian visions that overlooked local contexts and produced failed utopias. Yet if anything the recent post utopian turn towards a global urban age recasts the historical, cultural, and political legacy of urban utopias in the rhetorics of crises around urbanization, migration and climate change. Utopian urban planning is still discursively, visually and materially sustained through tropes of heritage cities, eco cities, smart cities and other politically driven experiments with technology in the global north and south.

In this context, what is the scope for recasting utopian thinking as a paradigm of critical urbanism? What can the histories and experiences of those traditionally silenced in ‘blueprint utopias’ (Holston 1989) hold for creating alternative urban futures? How is utopian thinking embodied and engendered by subaltern citizens to sustain as well as challenge political regulation? How can subaltern histories challenge the geographies of utopian theory that have traditionally flowed from the global north to south? How can the ‘imperative to imagine’ (Jameson 2005, 416) radical alternatives to a global neoliberal urban age provincialize and destabilise the very foundations of western utopian thought?

This conference seeks to interweave postcolonial historiography and critical urban studies to examine the histories, imaginations and possibilities of alternative urban utopias to a neoliberal urban age. As the outcome of an AHRC-ICHR jointly funded network titled ‘Learning from the Utopian City: Alternative histories of India’s urban futures’, it aims to explore how subaltern histories of utopian urban planning can inform the trajectories of future cities and rapid urbanization in the global south and north. It is concerned with what Henri Lefebvre (2005) has called the imagination of the ‘impossible possible’ in the making of socially and spatially just urban futures. The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition of material from four city workshops in Chandigarh, Navi Mumbai, Varanasi and Nashik that were part of the network.

For Conference Programme click here

For abstracts click here

Image courtesy Ayona Datta
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