“A city,” according to influential architect and urban planner, Léon Krier, “is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims.”
Unfortunately, in democratic cities, those visions and aims – as coherent as they may be – are often amended, scraped or substituted following elections, changes in party policy, budget cuts, public revolt or legal opposition.
Beyond governance issues, city planners also need to adapt their aims to exploit new technologies and (often related) changes in prevailing best practice. As a result, many progressive urban visions are watered down, important projects can stagnate for decades and some cities do appear more of an accident than Mr Krier would have liked.
The fundamental problem is that city planners can never please everybody. And similarly, politicians and the democratic majority often do not understand – or are not best-placed to evaluate – urban development plans. Yet city planners must nevertheless navigate politics, economics, public opinion, expert opinion and technological change for the long-term benefit of the city.
We have covered many examples of these tensions on this forum. Just in recent weeks, around the topic of density, we have seen some argue that the aim should not be compactness but a distinct concept called ‘closeness’. While we also saw how some thinkers argue against ‘de-sprawling’ our cities and instead want to move towards large-scale suburban solar power generation and universal electric cars.
So what do the best cities do to fight against myopia and realise long-term visions? How do city planners arbitrate between so many forces and influencers? And do non-democratic cities – like those in China for example – have an urban planning advantage? We continue to investigate questions like these in BetterCitiesNow but weigh in with your view in the comments below and we will, if feasible, feature your opinion in a future post.