[Editorial] Future City

by james

Physical/Virtual Space. The City of Tomorrow.

by Paolo Vincenzo Genovese

What is a city? The definition is varied and extremely well elaborated by the past generations of scholars. Some texts become milestone in the understanding of the city’s dynamics, and their complex behaviour. We love to quote at least three masterpieces: Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects; Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Leonardo Benevolo, The History of the City. In addition, a book that we personally love very much: Michael Sorkin, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan.

One common characteristic of these great works was the untouchable intelligence in their critical approach and the immense culture of these great masters. Thank of that, the discussion on the nature of the city and the analysis of its complexity reach a level that even today is unsurpassed. Our admiration is complete and sincere.

But these books are not valid anymore. This is not because their contents are obsolete. On the contrary, their observation is classic and still valid in the analysis of the city. What is obsolete is the idea of city. The city of today is radically different from the city of yesterday. All the methods, the solid discussions, analytical processes, and even the categories which were able to illustrate the ancient and Modernist city are no more sufficient in the understanding of the contemporary world. And these weaknesses will become even more evident for the City of Tomorrow.

What is anomalous in the contemporary situation is that the City of Tomorrow has already begun. It is necessary now to propose a different vision of the city. This city is already clear in the specialized literature, but not very diffuse in the common knowledge. We want to point out only three main issues of discussion: A) the opposition between the “city of stone” and the “virtual city”, B) the megalopolis and the mega-cluster, C) Artificial Intelligence and urban planning.

It is clear that the complexity of this discussion is beyond the intention of this brief editorial, but it will be necessary to illustrate the key ideas in these three unusual visions that we already discussed in other books under publishing.

The point A) touches a very interesting issue which concern a sort of bivalence in the contemporary reality. In the traditional architecture only the “city of stone” exists. The city was made by physical space, where the components of symbolic reference and even metaphysical contents were present. In the contemporary age, a new reality has to be put beside this: the “virtual city”. The virtual city is not only mental. It is virtual in the contemporary meaning: based on internet, on parameters, on Internet of Things (IoT). This is the city which the citizen experienced every day on mobile phone, computer and similar devices. The city of today, and even more the City of Tomorrow, is not made only by building, by space, by physical void as streets and squares, but it is also made by spaces which are digital. If in the past, only the physical space was considered “real”, now we have to extend the concept of real also the level of “virtual”. The space which is physically experienced by people in their daily activity and the digital space, the space over internet, both become real because real are the solicitation in our brain. The virtual space is mostly mental. During our surfing over internet, or in our socialization, in the gaming, in the perception of forms on the screen, we are in a sort of space which is real as well as the physical one. We can assert that it is even more real than the space where our body is located. The level of addiction inside this virtual world is quite impressive. Often the users are completely absorbed inside the virtuality and the physical world become less important. Because of the progressive development of the new technologies, such as the reactive gloves, virtual glasses and similar, the distinction between physical and virtual become less and less clear. What is incredible in this situation is that the people show a lower interest in the city of stone. It is evident that the quality of the cities generated by the Modernism is poor. We are not talking about the fake city created for tourism, the endless number of city center where are concentrated commercial and financial activities. We are talking of the extreme poor quality of the suburbs which constitute the majority of our cities. But who care? People do not demand a good quality of the cities, because the virtual city is the one which matter.

The second point in our discussion is focused on the concept of «mega». Mega-city or even worst mega-cluster concern all the cases of urbanization which reach a massive number of population, or size. The big cities are not new in the history, if we consider that the size of Beijing reach a million of people even in the ancient time. The point under discussion here are the cases of urbanization that reach spatially the size of regional level or population of over 15 million of people. There is no record in the history of such kind of cases. These conditions are unprecedented. And unprecedented have to be the solutions. The complexity of the management of these entities — which frankly talking we cannot call anymore cities — is a radical problem (not an issue, but a true problem) which has no solution in the current debate. Someone think that the solution will be the Green City, but this concept — as well as the idea of Sustainable city — is unreal. There is no scientific evidence, no data, no plan and no technologies to demonstrate that a city can be Green or Sustainable. A Sustainable city means a city which is able to ensure to the future generation natural resources for a good quality of life. A city with 10, 20, or even 30 million of people cannot be Sustainable or Green. It could be eventually Smart. And it is exactly here the link with the next point C).

Because of A) and because of B) then the solution is C). The progressive adaptation of the citizens to the virtual world — very attractive and comfortable indeed — generate a progressive disjointness between the population and the physical environment. This means the door is open to an alternative form of life which is the «virtual reality». This word become common nowadays and it basically means that the «virtuality» become «real». Because the cities become a complicated entity, mega-city or mega-cluster, then the reality is no more manageable. Then the solution is Artificial Intelligence.

We will continue the discussion about Artificial Intelligence in matter of Architecture and Urban Planning in future papers (our contribution in YouTube, YouKu and Bilibili on this matter exists). In this specific editorial what we want point out is the necessity of a new form of critical analysis of the city which finally abandon (or at least enrich) the great lesson of Mumford, Jacobs, Benevolo and Sorkin, and create a new school of thought concerning the critic of contemporary city. We need new perspective, new method, new technique to analyze the reality. AI is the future. But we cannot be sure it is a good future.

Reference pictures:

Source: abc News. Fu Beimeng. Police in China are wearing facial-recognition glasses. In:


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