What Makes the Perfect City?

futuristic city
Rendering of a futuristic San Francisco run by geothermal power by IwamotoScott Architecture

City planning is as old as cities themselves, although the last one hundred and fifty years have seen the city replace the countryside as the primary residence of people. The population explosion that has come about since the Industrial Revolution and is continuing throughout the developing world has put strains on our cities whether socially, environmentally, economically, etc.

City planners have long had a thankless job as few have ever been historically feted yet most are lamented in one way or another. Some cities work; others fail. Some cities become a world unto themselves such as New York or Paris. Others become wastelands such as Gary, Indiana or Middlesbrough, UK.

So what makes a perfect city? Dejan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum of London, tells us the attributes that a perfect city must have:

The perfect city simply doesn’t exist: it would have an underground railway as organised as Tokyo’s, with a bus service as inspiring as the vaporetti of Venice. It would have a setting as beautiful as Stockholm’s. It would have New York’s museums and its 24-hour culture, with Berlin’s cheap, high-ceilinged apartments, and Hong Kong’s energy. It would have London’s tolerance of utterly different ways of life, coexisting side by side. It would have the street life of Naples, and the street cleaning of Zurich.

The following is what would in my opinion make for a perfect city:

Geography

The perfect city would be set along a coastline, whether lakefront or oceanfront with sandy beaches allowing for development of a multi-use waterfront that’s accessible from the inner core. The city would have both flat land and hills and would have a mountain or two nearby at least 3,000 metres high, allowing for a long skiing/snowboarding season. Naturally location is all about luck, so we’ll have to work with what we’ve got.

People

The residents of the perfect city should be individuals who take pride in their city and want to be there. Of course there’ll be different classes of people, but the vanguard should be what social scientist Richard Florida refers to as the “creative class”. This class propels the city forward in several directions so that it doesn’t stagnate nor rest on its laurels.

The city should have some diversity to give it an international flavour. This isn’t only reflected in various ethnic restaurants, but in culture, design, attitudes, and social settings.

Transportation and City Layout

The grid pattern of cities in the New World is conducive to vehicular transportation but takes away from the character of a city. The patterns found in Europe are much better in allowing a city to have its own unique image and quirks: from tightly-nestled streets to a concentric pattern in the downtown core. A perfect city should have at least one focal point if not several or dozens of focal points where streets meet in a piazza that allows for a common social setting for city residents. These common areas would be off-limits to all vehicles save for mopeds and bicycles to encourage pedestrian traffic and social interaction. Piazzas should also have outdoor malls, ranging from fruit markets to clothing stores that allow for cheap space rental to encourage small local businesses.

Mass Transit must be a priority in a perfect city. Pedestrian lanes, bicycle lanes, subway lines, trams and trolleys all must serve those living in the city and those who visit or work in the city. Streets should be routed according to what type of traffic is vital and what is unnecessary. A perfect city would require an international airport and light rail access to it from the downtown core.

The city neighbourhoods should speak to one another but without all blending into one giant mass. Retaining their own unique qualities should be a goal, but without cutting them off from neighbourhoods next door.

Environment

A perfect city has to be environmentally conscious. It’s an oft-mentioned cliche but it is a worthy goal since health effects from pollution can strain a health system. Mass transit should be encouraged to lessen the dependency on automobiles, yet the source of power for mass transit should be a clean and efficient one.

Culture and Aesthetic

A perfect city would have to be a cultural centre. A city cannot thrive on business alone and be a perfect city. The burgh needs a balance of business and leisure activities. The city would be proactive in its approach to the arts, allowing for festivals to dominate certain parts of the city at certain times of the year. An opera house would be vital, as would concert venues both indoor and outside. A theatre district would allow for an artists’ colony to spring up and in which a theatre school can reside thanks to the partnership of local council and theatre owners. The downtown core musn’t become a dead zone in the evening and on weekends, which is why a cafe strip (or several) should be designated and an entertainment district created for clubs. All of these should be near locations for easy transit to neighbourhoods nearby or further away. Museums and art galleries are a must, and local artists should as often as possible play alongside featured artists from the rest of the world.

The perfect city must have a unique aesthetic look. The natural surroundings can only be changed slightly leaving buildings the objects of artistic expression. The perfect city shouldn’t shy away from taking risks in architectural design and shouldn’t fear controversy in its approach to its own look.

A city should be open to people spending time in its environment and not inside dwellings. Parks, recreation centres, roller-blading lanes should all have a part of a well-functioning city.

The city should be hooked up to the internet. Individuals should be able to tap into the internet from any location in the city thanks to wifi systems put in place by the city.

Conclusion

“Balance” is often a cliche, but a perfect city would require one. A balance between work and leisure, between automobile and mass transit, between familiarity and uniqueness. In the end, a perfect city should be where a person feels most at home and wants to be their home for their future lives.


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2 Responses to What Makes the Perfect City?

  1. JonnyGo says:

    Thanks, very interesting.

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