Abstracts

 

Panel One: Histories of the future city (Chair: William Gould)

Plenary session: Nandini Gooptu (University of Oxford): Contrasting Urban Utopias and Politics in India

For over a century now, utopian urban imaginaries in India have usually been articulated as official and elite projects of clean and orderly recasting of space for better living. These have both reflected and configured the desires and dispositions of upper and middle classes, and their aspirations for ideal life in the city. Yet within this abiding trope of improved urban life for the privileged, inclusion and exclusion of various sections of city population have been conceived in different ways. To bring out the significance of these contrasting notions, this presentation will explore two visions of the future city in India: one representing modernising civic nationalism in the early-twentieth century and the other articulating globalised techno-modern imaginings in the early-twenty first century. The first, a grand ideal of city renewal by mobilising city dwellers, offered the possibility of redemptive inclusivity, embracing diverse groups in urban society. The second, a template for enclaved residential development and re-spatialisation of resource and infrastructure, promises reclusive exclusivity for the well-off and punitive or remedial intervention in the habitat of the poor. The paper will suggest that these differences in conception of the city relate to urban political struggles.   

Plenary session: Prashant Kidambi (University of Leicester): ‘Crisis’ and the City in Modern India: notes towards a conjunctural history

Imaginings of the future, utopian or otherwise, are often revealing about the present in which they are conceived. Attempts to envisage and fashion the future are also linked to crises, perceived or real, within the social order. This paper attempts to sketch a long history of Indian urbanism from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. In particular, it explores the ways in which narratives of ‘crisis’ have framed discourses and practices about the modern India city. Each episode in this schematic account highlights a specific conjuncture within which which colonial and postcolonial ruling elites articulated future visions of the ‘ideal’ city. Each episode also illustrates how the quest to create an imagined urban future did not necessarily entail an abstraction from the realities of the past and the present. In the process, this paper suggests that aspects of contemporary projections of ideal urban futures have a longer provenance than is sometimes recognized.

Faiza Moatasim (Hamilton College): Utopias from “Below”: Informality as a Paradigm of Utopian Planning

Squatting, slumming, and street hawking are routinely conceptualized as anarchic dystopian realities of contemporary cities (Davis, 2006) or at best, as organized acts of subaltern resistance, and insurgence against dominant political and spatial regulations (Holston, 2008). If we define utopia as “simply the imperative to imagine” “radical alternatives” then we may ask ourselves as to who has the authority to imagine these radical alternatives? Viewing slums, squatter settlements and hawking arrangements in contemporary cities as evidence of urban dystopia or acts of insurgence posits these spatial practices only in opposition to an ideal material or political space. Such a framing relegates the contributions of the unspecialized planners of space, such as slum dwellers, and street hawkers to a position of disruption of a utopia ideal imagined by planning and architectural specialists. What happens if we break these existing associations of aligning one group with setting the standards of spatial imagination, and the other group with resisting and disrupting these already imagined utopias?

This paper will attempt to break these existing associations between actors and utopian imagination in the case of informal commercial activities in the planned modernist city of Islamabad, developed as a new national capital of Pakistan in the 1960s by a Greek architect planner, C. A. Doxiadis. In particular, the paper will focus on the organization and functioning of informal street commerce in the officially planned commercial market of sector G-9, popularly called Karachi Company – a vibrant and affordable shopping area in Islamabad. Because of the prevalence of informal hawking and vending activity in Karachi Company, this planned market is often referred to as a chaotic disaster (dystopia) both in official account and popular discourse, and widely criticized for ruining the image of Islamabad as a planned modernist city (utopia). This paper will invert the utopia/dystopia distinction between formally and informally planned spaces by examining how the spatial activities and arrangements of people selling their products and services along the side-walks, service roads and green belts in a planned commercial market actually constitute elements of utopian planning on the basis of equitable access to urban space and employment opportunities. Instead of viewing the activities of these people simply as acts of appropriation of planned modern spaces or resistance against the established order, the paper will demonstrate the presence of a radical spatial imagining in the everyday functioning and installation of hawkers’ stands and vending stalls.

Debapriya Ganguly (University of Hyderabad): Making of a City: Exploring the Urban Growth of Visakhapatnam, India

Given the widespread evidence that allude towards ‘urbanisation of the world’ at large, it is not surprising to find a vast body of literature reflecting on the ways in which nation-states have urbanised themselves over centuries. Histories of urban spaces have been widely discussed and documented, both in India as well as the West. Whether it is Max Weber’s work on the city, or the Chicago School’s empirical engagements, essentially unravelling the nexus of social, cultural, political and economic dimensions; attentiveness to the ‘urban’, has received manifold expressions. Scholars like Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Manuel Castells, Sharon Zukin, Saskia Sassen and such others, have majorly contributed to our imagination and understanding of the city. Drawing upon the Indian experience, several urban commentators remark that, the multiple levels of diversity, along with the colonial experience, lend a distinct character to the urban form of the subcontinent. Pursuing this line of argument, the paper will try to focus on the ways in which Visakhapatnam, which is the largest city in the new state of Andhra Pradesh in India, evolved with time. From being a fishing hamlet in the late 1700s, to a port town under British rule, to a significant port and industrial city in the post-independence era and now a city being prepared to become ‘smart’; Visakhapatnam, has witnessed different stages of transformations. The agenda in this paper would be to draw attention to these phases of transitions, by emphasising on the ways in which the city had been envisioned and represented over time, and in the process led to the creation of particular structures of inclusion and exclusion. By referring to various sources of literature and my field work experience, I would attempt to explore these ideas.

Aya Nassar (University of Warwick): Staging the State: 1970s Cairo, Nasr City and the Afterlives of Post-Independence Futures

“What did the generals leave us except ignorance…and Nasr City”

This paper looks into the ways the state of post-independence sought to deploy its political order through urban space. Building on literatures of colonial and postcolonial urban forms, memory, ruins and debris (Çelik, 1997; Edensor, 2007; Jacobs, 1996; Stoler, 2013) my presentation uses city topographies, architectures and mundane relics as monuments and texts allowing for some sort of readability of materialized memory (Weigel, 1996, p. 37,112). Thus, with reference to Cairo, Egypt, my presentation approaches city space as one of the monuments of the state (Stoler, 2000). It focuses on one monument in the city of Cairo to interrogate the ambitious -yet vulnerable- attempts of staging and controlling the urban spatial-symbolic order in the postcolonial state. The monument of the Unknown Soldier in Nasr City conceived and constructed in the mid-1970s sheds light on the post-colonial state’s capacity and control in shaping the urban spectacle of the capital city, as well as the fragility and chance that subscripts this appearance of control. I draw on archival material gathered through fieldwork; specifically the personal collection of the urban planner of the neighbourhood where the monument eventually came to be, as well as interviews with the designer of the monument, and his personal collection of photographs. I analyse this material to show how the monument and its landscape performed as a spectacle, an event, materiality and discourse of post-independence nationalism, and state commemoration (Wedeen, 1999, Anderson, 1991). The present trace of this monument opens up an investigation of the urban politics of space production in 1970s Egypt, its actors and its imaginaries. Cairo of the 1970s remains under-studied, but -it is argued- is central in critically engaging with contemporary Cairo as a metaphor of disillusionment with the expired emancipatory futures of post-independence.

Daryl Martin (University of York): Architectural Affinities and Urban Encounters: Cedric Price, Henri Lefebvre and the Utopian Method

“I doubt the relevance of the concepts of Town Centre, Town and Balanced Community” wrote Cedric Price in 1966, “Calculated suburban sprawl sounds good to me”. Price’s critique of traditional ways of understanding the city prefigured Henri Lefebvre’s famous analyses of urban society, The Urban Revolution and The Production of Space. In these books, Lefebvre argued that conventional understandings of the city, and the conceptual categories that stabilised them, were being undermined in the contemporary period by global processes of urbanisation. In this paper, I bring Price’s unrealised architectural projects of this period into dialogue with Lefebvre’s writings, in order to trace affinities not only in their diagnoses of the urban cultures of their time, but also in their arguments around the potential for progressive social and cultural practices enabled through architectural form and the built environment. I argue for their interrelationship because of a shared distrust of technocratic approaches to planning, their appeals for the ludic appropriation of space, and the significance of their work for illuminating contemporary debates which conceive of the urban as the site of encounter between various micro-publics, vital in the advance of agonistic political cultures. More generally, I argue that their work, separately and together, offer us vivid examples of imaginative work premised on utopian thinking as a method for social critique.

 

 

 

Panel Two:  Utopian Imaginations (Chair: Ayona Datta) 

Plenary session: Malcolm Miles (University of Plymouth): Paradoxical City: Imagined Utopias and Images of Ruins 

Canon Barnett’s The Ideal City (1894) was based on Bristol. It is a utopian vision in which urban conditions – such as proximity, the division of labour, mobility – produce a realm of egalitarianism, cooperation and mutual aid.  It is above all a social vision: ‘we have as our neighbours in a city, not the trees and the beasts, but fellow human beings.’ It is also an exception to the run of writings on cities in the aftermath of rapid industrialisation in the late nineteenth century which tend to depict real or imagined dystopias, notably Richard Jeffries’ After London (1885). In the twentieth century, in the aftermath of war, cities tend to be represented as ruin-scapes: T S Eliot’s The Wasteland (1922) and Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness (1950). For Macaulay, bombsites in London become a re-wilded site of liberation. But does this representation of urban conditions influence modern city planning as a utopian project? If so, how does this colour attitudes to the post-industrial now? The paper cites representations of the city in modern literature, and contemporary geographies of post-industrialisation, to argue that an undercurrent of anti-urbanism shapes idealisations of the city which render utopia unreal, and negative representations which make the production of dystopia more likely.

Plenary session: Sophie Hadfield-Hill (University of Birmingham): Voices, Encounters and Dreams: Living on the Land of Urban Utopia 

This research draws on a large scale ethnographic research project investigating the everyday lives of children, young people and their families living in a site of urban change in India, a site of ‘urban utopia’ – a space which has been imagined and planned in line with the rhetoric of ‘smart,’ ‘sustainable’ urbanism.  The purpose of this paper is twofold, first to explore how children and families inhabit ‘utopian’ spaces in practice through the lens of mobility, unpacking the everyday realities of life in the midst of urban change.  Second, the paper provides an insight into how their visions connect or conflict with the urban imaginations of planners and developers.  Whose dreams and visions are being represented in the city building process? Whose routines are being considered in the construction of roads, networks and places? Whose ideals, values and aspirations are being captured in mapping educational careers? Whose livelihoods and ways of living are being provided for?  It won’t be surprising to hear that those who are most mobile, those with access to a diversity of mobilities are shaping sites of urban transformation.  However, by listening to the voices and encounters of the comparatively (im)mobile and mapping their mobilities, materialities and emotions, we can offer a unique insight into how they are positioning their bodies and dreams as part of the complex urban ‘utopian’ vision. 

Cathy Turner (University of Exeter): ‘An Idea Can’t Remain in the Imagination, it Has to Come Out’ (Salim 2015): Performing Srinagar 

The ways in which artists (and others) perform the city may imply alternative methods of habitation and walking, navigating the present to produce new possibilities for the future – a mode I have termed, after Lefebvre, ‘transductive utopianism’ (Turner 2015:195; Lefebvre 1961:118). In the UK, such possibilities have often been discussed in terms of Situationist psychogeographic practices, frequently assuming relatively uncontested and unencumbered walking. I have begun to research the work of artists working in Indian cities, to ask what might be learned from their approaches. This paper will focus on recent work that responds to ideas of Srinagar, past, present and future:

Goa-based artist Nikhil Chopra has often performed in the role of ‘Yog Raj Chitrakar’, a character based on his own grandfather, who was a British-educated painter of Kashmiri landscapes. In 2007, Chopra gave a performance as Chitrakar in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, producing a police crackdown.

The unnamed ‘Srinagar Cabbage Walker’ is both an individual artist and a collective identity for anyone who chooses to ‘walk the cabbage’ in, or in relation to Srinagar, following the practice of Chinese artist Han Bing: a political provocation to challenge and mock the absurd elements of the status quo with counter-absurdity.

Artist Inder Salim is an exiled Kashmiri Pandit, living in New Delhi. Salim’s proposal for a ‘Srinagar Biennale’ in January 2017 is a provocation to reconsider both the identity of Srinagar and the politics of art events (Srinagar’s biennale will be difficult to access, rhizomatic and without strict temporal boundaries).

All these examples involve the imagination of a different Srinagar, through their insistence on the sufficiency and integrity of the art performance, their commentary on past or present, and their different inscription of the city through their modes of habitation. Each knowingly adopts an ‘extra-daily’ position of vulnerability in order to open up a new, imaginative, everyday space. 

Caroline Herbert (Leeds Beckett University): ‘Songs of Rubbish’: Imagining the Subaltern City in Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems 

This paper examines representations of everyday street life in Mumbai in Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems (2004), arguing for the contribution poetic representations of the subaltern city can make to the imagining of socially and spatially just urban futures. Mumbai has long been subject to utopian visions of India’s future—first, as a modern, inclusive, secular-cosmopolitan nation; later, as an ethnically pure, Hinduized global economic superpower. Recent beautification drives and programmes aimed at reimagining Mumbai as a ‘World-Class City’, meanwhile, function through what Leela Fernandes terms a utopian ‘politics of forgetting’ and ‘politics of purification’ that seeks to ‘cleanse’ space of marginalised urban denizens, such as squatters, street-vendors, slum- and pavement-dwellers, and produce an ‘exclusionary form of cultural citizenship’ (2006, p. 122). Such politics of purification and forgetting are reflected in public policy documents, and in real estate advertisements of high-rise apartments and gated estates promoting a sanitised vision of city-living uncontaminated by overcrowding, poverty, and informal street economies.

It is in the context of projects to ‘cleanse’ Mumbai that I read Arun Kolatkar’s poetry, to consider what alternative articulations of urban space, community, and citizenship his work offers. Kolatkar’s work, I suggest, refuses the speculative, vertical utopias of a ‘World-Class’ Mumbai, offering instead a radical, ethical engagement with an everyday subaltern life lived at ground level—often centring on those sitting on curbs, traffic islands, or sweeping the streets. Through their focus on the present, and on transient everyday moments, Kolatkar’s poems refuse what Appadurai terms the ‘future-oriented focus’ of urban development (2013, p. 179). Kolatkar’s interest in circulations of rubbish and urban detritus, meanwhile, directly challenges the figuring of the street-dwellers and street-sellers as urban waste in beautification discourse. With their emphasis on the informal street economies and communities, and his privileging in both form and content of the (ephemeral, transient, and non-monumental) moments of everyday life, his poems emphasise alternative visions of urban citizenship excluded from rationalist planning. His urban representations ask us to consider what is forgotten in utopian visions of ‘beautified’ world-class urban living; what alternative modes of urban community and citizenship might look like; and who has the right to the city street itself. 

Tanu Priya Uteng (Institute of Transport Economics): Shared Mobility: The Utopian Form of Urban Transport? Imaginations and Possibilities 

Smart cities and shared economies are being posited as the driving force for future urban development. Shared Mobility, originating from both these development trends, is being promoted as the utopian idea for future urban transport. An ideal and modified form of current personal mobility which will solve the issues of environmental pollution, private ownership, neoliberal transport planning, affordability etc. But shared mobility remains at best a diffuse, vague concept. Additionally, the evolvement of shared mobility will be dependent on a host of factors – transformation of household mobility practices, behavioural changes that occur on a micro-level, policy orientation, evolvement of suitable business models, a shift in organisation of prevalent space and time organisations etc. (Kent and Dowling 2013, Shaheen, Mallery and Kingsley 2012,  Watson 2012, Walker and Shove 2007, Schwanen, Banister and Anable 2012).

This paper addresses and argues that today’s emerging trends in organising space-time, car sharing practises and broad transport planning goals should be discussed and investigated within the context of imaginations and possibilities for the urban future both in global north and south. Why is that the current models of shared mobility in developing countries like Tuk-Tuk etc. are not being recognised in mainstream transport planning?

Based on a theoretical approach inspired by practice theories (Reckwitz 2002, Cresswell 2011), new mobilities paradigm, micro-cities and social justice, the paper addresses how adoption of shared mobility needs new imaginations and possibilities to re-establish current urban mobility scenario. The findings of this study will also provide a foundation for future studies to link development of shared mobility trends to future population projections. Rough estimates can then be drawn on the potential number of trips generated which can be assigned to shared mobility in the future – a rooted and realistic step forward to design socially and spatially just urban mobility.

Ramya Khare (School of Planning & Architecture, Delhi): Literature & Architecture: The Invisible & the Concrete 

Given that both literature and architecture have a narrative as well as a compositional structure within which literature tends to focus on the former while architecture on the latter, how would our understanding of both increase if we were to reverse this focus and examine literature and architecture from each other’s standpoint? Using this interdisciplinary approach, how can a study of the narrative and compositional structure of Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities help us to uncover the latent potential of the narrative; in the City of Chandigarh, in particular and Architecture, in general, to propagate a layered understanding of the city?

Positing that the lens of literature helps us to better understand architecture given how it presents us with a multiplicity of perspectives and provides descriptions of space as lived, thereby giving a more wholesome understanding of architecture in its key function as background to life, this dissertation examines if and how architecture can co-opt to literature so as to better represent reality, narrativity and temporality.

This theory is furthered by examining the urban visions evoked by the novel, Invisible Cities and studying its compositional and narrative structure composed of the description of 55 cities (modeled on Venice) springing forth from the remembrances of a traveler. In an intuitive way, these are more effective at capturing the essence of cities than an architectural depiction. The dissertation then looks at Chandigarh, a city modeled on utopian visions, as a case and tries to identify and understand the various narratives of Chandigarh to form an understanding of the narrative structure of the City.

The dissertation concludes by transmuting the urban visions of Chandigarh as a novel modelled on Invisible cities so as to describe the city with a new meta-narrative. This final product synthesizes our learning from the dissertation and presents them in a fictional, yet insightful, manner. 

Tahl Kaminer (Edinburgh College of Art): The Utopia of the Plan: Planning, Avant-Garde, Populism

 When Marx established the derogatory currency of the term ‘utopia’ in his critique of Saint Simon, Owen and Fourier, he could not foresee the use of the term to attack the plans and practices of his followers in the twentieth century. As the actual threat of revolutionary change ebbed later in the twentieth century, the term ‘utopia’ was appropriated in diverse manners, first and foremost playfully, a cultural radicalism devoid of the social and political radicalism that marked utopian thought.

The proposed paper argues that the ascent of planning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was intertwined with utopian thought and with the Saint-Simonian conception of an avant-garde to a degree that the demise of both radical utopias and of the avant-garde in the 1960s inevitably explains the diminishing role of planning in contemporary post-Fordist society. Planning in countries such as Britain and the United States has become in recent decades no more than the management of a permit system instead of the creation of future-oriented blueprints. Instead, we have been immersed in the utopia of the ‘now’, a neoliberal utopia, in which the cult of ‘the new’ is no more than a (veiled) static conception of time. The Saint-Simonian idea of a high priesthood of ‘experts’ steering society towards a better future, embodied in the idea of planning, has been criticised as elitist, but instead of a populist ‘empowering of the people’, the task of planning today is merely to support and streamline capitalist development. To escape the aporia of the utopia of the ‘now’, the paper argues, the term ‘utopia’ has itself to be consigned to the dustbins of history, and planning must be resurrected as the citizens’ future-focused ‘spatial muscle’: a political, civic-society-based conception of steering spatial and societal development. 

 

Panel Three: Utopian Possibilities (Chair: Anu Sabhlok) 

Plenary session: Nick Dunn (Lancaster University): Future Cities: Palimpsest of the Utopic Imagination 

The power of representations of future cities and their ability to endure in our imagination offers the possibility of multiple utopias. The extent of this transfer is evident along a spectrum of potentialities: from radical transformation of the present day to subtler and more nuanced versions of prevalent city conditions. Although many projects were never built and remained imaginary, this does not mean they are unworthy of attention. Their significance extends in other ways through their questioning of reality, reshaping our spatial conceptions or providing rich expressions of alternatives. Indeed, these future cities contribute to our social imaginary and resonate the values of the cultures in which they are produced. Reexamining lost futures enables us to frame critical utopianism and discuss the alternatives we may recuperate and rethink. This talk will therefore explore the philosophical values embedded in such representations as a mode of extrapolating forms of future cities as they accumulate within our collective imagination to embody the cities we want, need, desire, fear or dream of. 

Plenary session: Netra Shirke (Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation): Smart Cities in India: A Definite Challenge

 The concept of creating 100 smart cities in India, in the next five years is a very ambitious project. I believe all cities in India should become smart. But first let’s define ‘smartness’. Do we consider only the cities which have wi-fi, high rises, e-buses and ICT to be smart? Or are the cities which have a good quality of life based on the rich social & cultural heritage of the city and availability of basic civic amenities smart? How many of the Indian cities have been able to provide good roads, footpaths, underground sewer lines, adequate water supply, health facilities and education? That’s what every citizen wants from the city they live in. The current Smart City Mission seems to be focused on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions. The fact is ICT can only be used to manage good infrastructure & services, not to create it.

Also, the idea of an area based development by forming a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), which will be a limited company incorporated under the Companies Act doesn’t look feasible. We are a democratic country with a three tier democratic setup. The 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution gave a lot of powers to the democratically elected Urban Local Body (ULB) and encouraged it to be the planning agency of its city with autonomous powers for functioning. The formation of an SPV takes away the powers of the ULB as per the guidelines of the Smart City Mission proposal.

It is clearly seen that the cities selected in the Smart Cities Mission are brownfield areas. Is retrofitting or redevelopment possible in an organically developed city which is at least 100 years old?  And that too in a span of 5 years? To compete globally with other cities, we first need to make the basic amenities available and make the cities liveable. Making them smart then becomes simple. This talk will explore the challenges of creating smart cities in India taking into consideration the diverse social, cultural and political implications, and the other alternatives available to accomplish the mission.

Nat Marom (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya): Urban Utopias through Vision and Division: Imagining the Futures of Mumbai and Cape Town 

City visions and strategic plans are increasingly used to envision the futures of cities in the global South, following their widespread use in the global North in the last thirty years. They  conceptualize mid-to-long term urban development trajectories and scenarios (usually for a 20-40 years horizon) through a set of strategic interventions that would reshape the city’s spatial form, infrastructure and economic performance. In many cases, such plans acknowledge the city’s social realities and possibilities only to a lesser degree, if at all. In fact, such visions often re-present hegemonic, neoliberal ‘utopias’ conceived with a view of cities in the North (or a few ‘success stories’ in the South), despite the fact that Southern urban challenges – including socio-spatial divisions, inequality and informality – are vastly more profound and that urban transformations will have a more significant impact on the poor and marginalized, including residents of ‘slums’ and informal settlements. This paper raises the questions: what is the ‘conceptual work’ that city visions do in relation to socio-spatial divisions in the urban space taken as a whole? And, on this basis, what futures are envisioned for the city and its residents – and what other futures are hidden from view? It offers a close and critical reading of vision documents in two cities, Mumbai and Cape Town, emphasizing their ‘principles of vision and division’ – the social and spatial concepts and categories which they apply to complex urban realities.

Thus, in Mumbai’s ‘Concept Plan’, the dominant division between the city and its slums is conceptualized and imagined as a slum-to-‘integrated township’ transformation. This conceptualization puts the policy emphasis on a nearly utopian goal for the supply of millions of affordable housing units, but also entails resettlement from central to more peripheral metropolitan locations and encourages real estate speculation on existing slums. Whereas in Cape Town’s City Development Strategy, which aims to ‘transform the apartheid city’, the apartheid-era racial division is diffused within a ‘colour-blind’ division between formal and informal urbanization. This conceptualization puts an emphasis on incrementally closing the ‘service delivery gap’ and bridging the informality divide between city and informal settlements, yet makes little effort to bring marginalized people closer to the center.  At the same time, democratic ideals, public investments and planning priorities are skewed by neoliberal urban utopias of private development, especially in the case of WesCape. Finally, in both cities, economic principles of division (government/market, public/private) dominate the discourse and urban imagination, sidelining critical social divisions and civic visions. 

Leon Morenas (School of Planning & Architecture, Delhi): Envisioning the Smart City in India: A Science and Technology Studies (STS) Critique

Just as Ebenezer Howard envisaged technology as the “master key” in his Garden City, or Le Corbusier saw the Radiant City as “a machine for living in,” or Patrick Geddes viewed regional conurbation as an outcome of “neotechnic technology,” the Smart City may be seen as the most recent attempt to leverage technology for the creation of utopian urban futures. Indeed, Smart Cities are cast by urban planners like Townsend as “big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia.”

India’s Smart Cities Mission, officially launched in June 2015, states that the “application of Smart Solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services.” Various states in India have competed for funding to host the first 20 Smart Cities to be developed. In India, the discourse of Smart Cities Mission is mainly authored by Information Technology companies like Microsoft, IBM, CISCO, WIPRO, and INFOSYS. Their primary preoccupation is with the characteristics of Smartness (technology built into elevators, parking lots, housing, etc.). How does one understand the implications of such authorship and visions?

From the discipline of Science and Technology Studies (STS), Langdon Winner’s theory of political artifacts argues that a technological system can be “designed and built in such a way that it produces a set of consequences logically and temporally prior to any of its professed uses.” This paper draws from this and other seminal STS work to interrogate the propositions offered by the proponents of Smart Cities in India. Key orienting questions include: who lays claim to the Smart City? Who will benefit from its Smart Solutions? Who is left out? It concludes that the increasing focus on the means of the Smart City has resulted in “carelessly examined ends.”

C. Ramachandraiah (Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad): Amaravati – A New Urban Utopia in the Making

Amaravati, the proposed new capital city for Andhra Pradesh (AP) state in India is envisaged by the Singapore planners as the “pioneer Smart City of India” with “world-class standards set forth by countries such as Singapore” (Surbana 2015: 76). Singapore’s involvement and relentless propagation of computer-graphic “seductive media images” (Sheppard et al 2013) of a futuristic city have tried to legitimise the utopia of Amaravati, which has been promote as a “people’s capital.” This hype was also used in what the local people call the “mind game” in acquiring thousands of acres of some of the best fertile lands from farmers in the backdrop of a huge real estate speculation. Tens of thousands of farm labourers lost work as agricultural operations have been forcibly stopped.

In creating this new utopia, the Singapore consultants not only made highly unrealistic and speculative projections of population growth and job creation, they have also pandered to the religious sentiments of the majority Hindu population in accommodating vastu into the master plan – to channel the positive energy from the Kanakadurga temple across the Krishna river; and also Vedic principle of having a Brahmastan (Silent Centre)—a central open space in two decentralised modular towns.

There are apprehensions that Amaravati may become a private city – planned, built (and even administered?) by private/foreign companies/governments. With the master plan proposing to distribute the expected, but highly exaggerated, 4.5 million people in Amaravati by 2050 into 18 self-sustainable townships, the new city may become a highly regulated and expensive city with very little scope for the informal sector and the poor/low-income people, and may accentuate the existing socio-economic and regional divides. 

Thomas Oommen (Sushant School of Art and Architecture): Utopia as Local Engagement: Towards a Third Paradigm of Utopian Thinking in Indian Urban Design

Arguments about the relevance of Utopian thinking in contemporary urban theory is mostly caught alternating between two famous conceptual paradigms (traces of which exist even in the call for papers of this conference). The first paradigm is symbolized by David Harvey in his rejection of spatial utopias as authoritative and restrictive while the other represented by Frederic Jameson argues that utopian thought rendered vividly as form, space and experience exposes, at the very least, the disquiet we feel in imagining alternatives to the status quo.

This paper is structured in three parts. First it argues that in academic discourse in Indian urbanism, Harvey’s position has trickled down through certain genres of subaltern urban theory – specifically Ananya Roy’s critiques of “aesthetic imperialism”, “aestheticization”, “aesthetics rather than politics” –  into the doxa that formal and spatial imagination (or aesthetics) especially in architecture and urbanism denies any possibility of radical politics. Second, drawing on Jacque Ranciere’s and T.J. Clark’s formulations about aesthetics and politics, the paper will make the case that not only are all aesthetics inherently ideological and critical in making political propositions  but using Frederick Jameson’s theses argue that “aesthetic and narrative forms” have the “function of inventing imaginary or formal ‘solutions’ to unresolvable social contradictions”. Using this theoretical framework the paper will identify through an analysis of images, the existence of two clear but unconscious utopian formulations in Indian urbanism – ‘the village as the Other’ of the 1970’s/80’s and the ‘object of the Global gaze’ of the 2000’s.

In the concluding part, the emergence of a third model, Utopia as Local Engagement, is identified through an investigation of the specific examples of participatory planning conducted through the local area planning studio of the Department of Urban Design at School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and Aap Ki Sadak, a sustainable streets project based in South Delhi over the last few years. Drawing from Gianni Vattimo and Dipesh Chakraborty’s arguments the paper will conclude that the Utopia of the Local involves the positing of alternate ways of ‘being’ in the city, of visualizing the ‘good life’ in real locations manifested as specific re-imaginations of distinctive local situations. 

Shehu Tijjani Yusuf (Bayero University): Imagining a Utopian City: A Study of the Kwankwasiya, Amana and Bandirawo Mega Cities in Kano 

Situated in the Northern part of Nigeria, Kano is an ancient city, attracting population, partly because of to its strategic location, economic and political importance. Over the course of the colonial regime, Kano has increasingly expanded as a major urban centre, which made the colonial state to plan the city. Following the attainment of political independence in 1960, and the accompanied economic opportunities, Kano grow and continued to grow- both in population and physical landscape, with its associated consequences of population growth, traffic jam, pollution and crimes among others. According to the 2006 national Population Census, Kano is the most populous state in Nigeria, with nearly ten million populations. Since the turn of the 21st century, most especially, the advent of the Millennium Development Goals, successive Kano State Government have planned and even worked out a new Utopian city-that would not only drain the metropolis, but also free from problems which afflicted it. In 2013, the Kano State Government, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso planned three new Utopian cities, called Kwankwansiya, Amana and Bandirawo mega cities-outside the metropolis. The Government invested huge amount of money on the project-despite much oppositions from the Kano public. Barely two years after their completion, these Utopian cities are yet to be occupied, to perform the magic they were meant to do. This paper will look at how the Kwankwansiya, Amana and Bandirawo Utopian Cities has been conceived, implemented and received by the Kano public. As the paper will show, the project was very popular on conception; it however failed because of the political aggrandizement. 

 

 

Panel Four: Comparative Utopias (Chair: Rebecca Madgin) 

Plenary session: Hyun Shin (London School of Economics): The Myth of Asian Smart Urbanism: The Making of Songdo City, South Korea 

So much has been said about Songdo City in recent years in both academic and practitioner circles. International media has also taken part to inflate the reputation of Songdo City, hailed initially as an eco-city, then as a ubiquitous city (or U-city) and now a smart city. The New York Times went even further to dub it “Korea’s High-Tech Utopia”. Sometimes its own promotional material puts all these together and simply refers to Songdo as an eco-friendly ubiquitous smart city. While Songdo City is often regarded as an emblem of a new global rhetoric of technological fix of urban problems, its promotion is deeply rooted in the history of territorial planning by the South Korean developmental state that has been behind the rise of spatial fix, speculative urbanisation and vertical accumulation. Furthermore, this chapter ascertains that despite all the rhetoric surrounding Songdo City, it represents the territorial manifestation of the legacy of the Korean developmental state that has been internalising the neoliberal logics of capital accumulation and by doing so, sustaining its presence in city-making. The construction of Songdo City has benefited from the country’s liberalising financial system for project financing and also from the public-private partnership between the local state, domestic and transnational firms. While the presence of transnational investors is often highlighted by the media, endogenous institutional landscape and spatial practices turn out to be more sticky and resilient vis- a-vis pressures of neoliberal urbanisation. The history of Songdo City promotion also demonstrates that the growth promoters that comprise local and central states as well as domestic businesses partake in scalar politics, creating a tabula rasa for the realisation of their ambition to maximise gains from city marketing and accumulation of real estate capital.

Rosemary Wakeman (Fordham University): Tomorrowland: New Town Utopias of the 1960s 

The second half of the 20th century was a “golden age” of New Town development. Throughout Europe and the United States, in the Middle East, India, Australia, Japan, New Towns were seen as a solution to reconstruction, to population resettlement, to a better quality of life and the need for housing and infrastructure, jobs and services. New Towns were designed and created by private corporations, by governments in different national contexts, by different societies with different political ideologies. This unremitting effort to build New Towns was a campaign to construct- literally- a completely new world. All of the New Town projects shared a utopian rhetoric and conception, an imagery of the marvelous. In a word, the New Town was a glimpse of tomorrow’s reality. In all its versions, the adjective “new” meant a model or prototype of the future. New Towns were utopian archetypes: futuristic visions of modern life.

This presentation will focus on New Town utopias in the 1960s. It will concentrate on the impact of the Space Age, cybernetic science and systems analysis on the way new towns, and utopia, were imagined and visualized. The 1960s was an age of optimism and excitement about the future combined with the threat of atomic destruction. The result was a wild assortment of utopian visions of the city that symbolized both fantasies and fears. These space age reveries were a conflicted landscape of modern ideals and the tensions between architecture, environment and technology. The presentation will examine how the logic of cybernetics and systems analysis pervaded ideas about an alternative urban future and both challenged and embodied official discourse. It will also consider the ways in which systems thinking still informs trajectories of future cities and rapid urbanization.

Taylor Sawyer (University of Edinburgh): Imagining Nationhood in Sub-State Governance Buildings: A Comparison of the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament Building

This research brings the architectural designs of the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament Building into conversation with contemporary nationalism, national identity production, and the imagining of urban utopias. It begins with a review of literature on the subject of architecture and nationalism and then turns to a comparison of the a.) original design criteria, b.) location selected, c.) materials used, and d.) symbolism in the architecture. What matters in this research is what and how the public are invited and instructed to see and think about the imagery of the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament Building. The significance and narrative given to abstractly shaped panels, curiously shaped roof pitches, etc. is where nationalism shows its face. This research asks how nationalism can impact architecture and what architecture can reveal about nationalism, with attention given specifically to Wales and Scotland.

With regards to the conference theme, this paper speaks to the comparative context of Wales and Scotland – both substate nations with recently devolved governments. Further, the imagination of possible utopias is tightly connected to the imagination of nationhood – which had a strong influence on the design of the Welsh Senedd and Scottish Parliament Building. While the two nations compared in this research are not located in the global south, they have the complicated status of having been both colonized and colonizers, and their new governance buildings applicably act as symbols of possible urban utopias. 

Tom Bellfield (University of Cambridge): Utopia & Education: Methods of Concrete Utopian-Imagining

Uttered in the context of the ‘urban realm’, the term ‘utopia’ often conjures images of blueprint visions, pre-thought and predetermined by their authors from the grandest scales to the smallest details. For example, Plan Voisin, Le Corbusier, 1925; Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1932; and Plug-In City, Archigram, 1964. The earliest example of a ‘utopian vision’ is Thomas More’s 1516 depiction of “Utopia” – a distant island on which an ideal form of society exists (Logan and Adams, 2002). However, rather than an idealised blueprint, More’s vision was intended as a fictitious yet tangible alternative, positing the possible if thinking were allowed to break free from society’s norms (Halpin, 2003). Thus, through enabling “us to simultaneously relativise the present and progressively to anticipate a better future” (p. 44), More uses ‘utopian-imagining’ as a method to connect with society’s dormant utopianism, itself comprising “residual hopes for the future that [remain] unfulfilled in their lives and in society at large” (p. 51). The transformative potential of utopian-imagining is also noted by Ernst Bloch who writes, “utopia is the expression of hope, but that hope is to be understood ‘not…only as emotion…but more essentially as a directing act of a cognitive kind’ ” (1986 (1), p. 12). Importantly, Bloch also distinguishes between abstract utopias which are “fantastic and compensatory” yet “lack the will to change anything” and concrete utopias which are anticipatory, they “[reach] forward [and seek to effect] a real possible future” (pp. 14-15). Drawing on literature from the fields of architecture, education and utopia, in this paper I will develop the concept methods of concrete utopian-imagining and – through examples – explore how used within the context of education they can facilitate the building and development of shared understandings of place that themselves reach forward, stimulating and facilitating transformative change in the present. 

Kiera Chapman (independent scholar) & Malcolm Tait (University of Sheffield): ‘Savages venerating magical fetishes’: the postcolonial assumptions of Jane Jacobs’ attack on modernist planning 

Recent writings on the theme of Western modernity have drawn attention to the problematic spatial politics of its historical periodization.  Peter Osborne’s work has highlighted the conflicting ways in which Western temporalisations of modernity are politicised in incommensurable philosophical traditions, while authors such as Chakrabarty and Bhambra have drawn attention to the spatial ramifications of these differences.  Their arguments suggest that the notion of a ‘rupture’ that grounds Western modernity in a self-determining rationality is often logically dependent on a historical teleology which delaminates chronology and history, thus conceiving chronologically contemporaneous non-Western spaces as historically more ‘primitive’ than the ‘modern’ West.

This paper will explore the way that historical periodization is foregrounded in planning theory of the mid to late twentieth century, focusing particularly on Jane Jacobs’ influential Death and Life of American Cities.  Jacobs rewrites the well-worn opposition between modernity and the primitive to associate both modernist architecture and planning with savagery, barbarism and superstition, thus clearing a space for her alternative view of a liberal, capitalist and dynamic urban modernity that requires a less totalising approach to the city.  I will argue (provocatively, in the face of recent hagiography) that in spite of this inversion, her influential argument remains imbued with deep, colonial assumptions about the ‘backwardness’ of non-Western cultures, which continue to haunt accounts of modernist planning in more recent contributions to European and American planning theory.

IMAGE COURTESY SARAH GANDEE
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