Utopian Thinking In Planning

Utopian thinking has influenced planning for centuries. But, utopian thinking in planning doesn’t lead necessarily to a completely utopian place. First, expand upon at least three characteristics of utopian thinking (7.5 points). Then, identify an example of utopian ideals in the contemporary urban landscape, and discuss the way it embodies the positive and negative aspects of utopian thinking (7.5 points). First, utopian thinking is a critique of the present. Not only that, but utopias try to bring the future into the present.

In other words, utopias want to start from a blank slate and build an ideal environment that solves a problem in the present. Second, utopias are the dream of an individual. They are not a democratic, collective project, but the work of a single, strong, autocratic authorship. Third and last, utopias are inflexible and cannot change, because they are “perfect” by definition.

Thus, they cannot grow and can only be repeated, because the dimensions of a utopia are planned exactly (Cenzatti).

An example of utopian ideals in the contemporary landscape is New Songdo City in Korea. This city has been termed the “world’s smartest city”, built with traffic sensors, full WiFi integration, and an automatic trash system, containing “the highest concentration of LEED-certified buildings in the world.” The goal is to create a high-tech, eco-friendly and international business utopia (Poon). The positive aspects of utopian thinking in the project are that it strives to address the environment problem — a critique of the present — and attempts to bring the future into the present by starting from scratch.

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The negative aspect of utopian thinking is that the city is the result of a top-down approach to planning (Cenzatti) and so did not correctly anticipate the market needs.

As of now, the city is only a third full, and people have described it as a “ghost town” (Poon).  Fordism is composed of mass production, mass consumption, and regulatory mechanisms. Explain the function of and need for regulatory mechanisms (7.5 points). Give one example of regulatory mechanisms in post-WWII housing (7.5 points). An extra credit point will be given if you can identify and explain who was left out of these housing schemes (1 point). Regulatory mechanisms address the imbalance between the dominant organizations of production and consumption in an economy (Cenzatti). They can take the form of social contracts (unions), government legislation, and business policies (Scott 172). These mechanisms are important because since the industrial revolution, mass production has made it possible to produce huge supplies of goods. However, for companies to reap a profit, this increase in supply requires a corresponding increase in demand. If an increase in production is not followed by an increase in market size, there can be disastrous consequences for the entire economy, such as in the 1930s Great Depression — largely a crisis of overproduction or underconsumption (Cenzatti). Therefore, we can see the importance of regulatory mechanisms in balancing supply and demand.

An example of regulatory mechanisms in post-WWII housing was a change in government policy that made obtaining housing loans and mortgages much easier. After the war, returning soldiers created an enormous demand for housing, but builders simply could not keep up with this new demand. Moreover, mortgages were extremely difficult to obtain as they were short-term and constantly fluctuated. To solve this problem, the government insured loans 95% the value of houses for builders and guaranteed mortgages for low-cost housing to buyers. This successfully resulted in millions of highly affordable houses being built, balancing production and consumption (Kelly). Despite this success, Blacks, Jews, and other minority groups were excluded from these new housing schemes (like Levittown), as the government made it substantially harder for them to obtain mortgages (Cenzatti). Name and briefly describe at least three causes of the Fordist Crisis (5 points for each correct cause listed). Several causes underpinned the Fordist Crisis in the 1970s.

First, according to Product Cycle Theory, Fordism may have simply reached a stage of maturity. In this theory, new firms start from the incubation stage — need for highly skilled labor and external economies of scale — and so they are located in the city. As firms grow, they reach the development stage — lower costs, simplified production processes, and less need for skilled workers — and can move out of the city, though remaining close. Eventually, firms hit the maturity stage, in which their production process is so streamlined that they can move out of the city entirely. When applied to Fordism, it means companies can move all their factories out of the US to countries with cheaper land and labor (Cenzatti). Second, social change may have caused fragmentalization in the mass market. In the 70s, immigrants coming to the US added a diversity of consumer needs, which companies struggled to meet because mass production requires long production runs and minimal variation in products. Thus, the inflexibility of the system meant that it could no longer meet the fluctuating demands of the market (Cenzatti).

Third, there may simply have been a limit to productivity increases via Taylorism — which is the practice of dividing tasks into increasingly smaller subtasks so that workers can specialize in them and increase their speed of production. However, at a certain point, it is no longer possible to divide up a task, which may explain the Fordist crisis (Cenzatti). Describe two major urban changes brought about by Hausmann’s reform in Paris. (5 points for each correct cause listed). What was its ultimate social and spatial impact in the city? (5 points) The first major urban change of Hausmann’s reform in Paris was of the streets. He replaced the dark, narrow, dirty streets with wide and well-lit streets and boulevards. These boulevards connected the key parts of the city together, allowing an efficient circulation of traffic and people, and enabled the streets to become places to live and shop (Saalman).

There was also a hidden motivation: to prevent riots — the boulevards were so wide that they gave police a good line of sight across the city and could not be barricaded effectively by protestors (Cenzatti). The second major urban change was of the buildings. Hausmann rebuilt many of the buildings lining the boulevards and imposed a height restriction of 66 feet. He also demolished the slums and moved the poor to the peripheries of the city. Furthermore, he placed the important buildings and monuments in the city center. All this combined to create a modern, uniform look of the city. Despite these positives, the main class that this benefited was the bourgeois, given that the city plan now catered to their needs and lifestyles (Cenzatti; Saalman). Ultimately, the reform’s spatial and social impact on the city was immense. Spatially, the entire city was restructured from a rather archaic place to a modern metropolis rich and vibrant in activity.

Socially, the city became catered to the rising upper middle class (the bourgeois). Finally, the urban changes brought about a huge wave of private real estate development, dramatically improving the economy, despite the use of deficit funding (Saalman). What are the characteristics (geographical, political, and social) that make the Pearl River Delta an exemplar of diffuse desakota urbanization? (20 points) Give at least one example of the ways in which the economy and urbanization of the region are not solely reliant on a center city as the prevailing Euro-American conception of concentric metropolitan urbanization would suggest (10 points). How does this process of regional urbanization complicate the linear narrative of urban development from rural to city, disrupt the town-country or rural-urban binary, and what are the political possibilities this opens up? (10 points) Several characteristics make the Pearl River Delta (PRD) an exemplar of diffuse desakota urbanization.

Geographically, the “villages and towns of the PRD did not become a single city” during its urbanization process. Rather, the PRD is characterized by an intense mix of rural and urban land, agricultural and nonagricultural activity. Cities surround villages, and villages surround cities. This has resulted in a center-less region, where people and goods are fluidly exchanged, producing a symbiotic relationship between village and city. Politically, early government policies since the Mao era have favored villages over big cities, establishing villages as starting points of industrialization and urbanization. In fact, villages have been central to the growth of the city — known as village-based urbanization. Socially, even as cities grow over villages and land-use rights are sold, the village owns the land. Therefore, the land is tied to a strong, inseparable social identity, lending the villagers a certain power.

An example of how the region is not solely reliant on a center city is that villages have been drivers of the economy and urbanization in their own right. Unlike other parts of China, the PRD’s Township and Village Enterprises have focused on foreign exports and received extensive overseas investment (mainly from overseas Chinese). This has resulted in explosive economic growth. To illustrate, between 1978-1984, while industrial output for Guangzhou grew by 10.3%, that for small to medium-sized towns grew by a remarkable 22.4% (Cenzatti reading). Nowadays, moreover, villages are the only places with cheap enough rent to absorb migrants and host new businesses, meaning villages still occupy unique roles that are hard to replace (lecture). All this complicates the linear narrative of urban development from rural to urban.

Clearly, in the PRD, the urbanization process is different from the purely western model. Although city-based and land-centered development is on the rise — with cities replacing villages as the dominant actors — the transition process to this more Western model is still unique as villages remain important actors. Indeed, this disrupts the rural-urban binary, because the PRD challenges the assumption that city and countryside need to be on two irreconcilable ends of the social-spatial spectrum. As shown, the two can “coexist” (Cenzatti lecture). Finally, this opens up political possibilities — calling for policy changes such as to address pollution concerns, invest in transportation infrastructure, collect data to monitor economic growth, and control labor release from agricultural industries

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Utopian Thinking In Planning. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/utopian-thinking-in-planning/

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