April 7, 2011
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by Aurora Kazi Bassett
I think we all carry around an embarrassing fascination or hobby that we finally convince ourselves to love and take pride in. Mine is sci-fi. I love it. I think it’s the most underrated of literary genres, yet filled with some of the best ideas. I love it from a purely personal level but increasingly I love it as a budding urbanist.
Scifi is about imagining the future, about seeing what our present will mean if it keeps going and growing. Urbanists think in the same way. We are imagining utopias and dystopias that, at their most compelling, are not pure fabrications but make us question some part of the present. The garden city designs of Ebenzer Howard were a re-imagining and reaction to the industrial world he saw around him. The inspiration for these designs is even attributed to Bellamy’s utopian novel “Looking Backward,” a book in which the protagonist goes to sleep only to wake up more than a hundred years later. Pretty scifi. What’s more exciting is that urban planners can make that future real. We can build those cities and learn from their successes and, yes, their failures.
Point is, I think when we imagine and plan for better cities we are all imagining a future and planning that, too. Cities are so integral to our present that they will shape our future. Scifi literature and urban planners are both future-makers. One works with words, the other with plans. Read up, because we can learn from each other.
(Image of ‘Lilypad’. A post-climate change design concept by Vincent Callebut)