Planning a City

As architects, we are trained to plan, to control movement, to dictate what one can see and experience.

We like to design everything, from skyscrapers to a doorknob.

So of course, if there is a city for us to plan, chances are we will jump right in. We have ideas and visions for great cities and we have quietly planned a city in our heads.

But hold on a second, isn’t this something many great architects had tried and failed (at least that is what the critics say).
The masters have drawn their utopias. The cities look good. The vision is heart-rending and you can almost smell the utopia, and yes, it smells dreamy.

So what’s wrong when they get implemented?

Profound critics and knowledgeable scholars will come along and point out: the cities are planned for cars, the zoning are impossible, the cities are too rigid, inhuman etc.

The architects’ side of story, it will be: the vision got short-changed by politicians, it was suppose to evolve through multiple phases, the implementation is all haywire…

The arguments will go on and on.
Maybe the real argument is can a city be planned?

If we look at the evolution of cities, they usually began as small towns with good resources. When the resources grow and generate more and more opportunities, people will pour in. New infrastructure will be made when the old ones could not support the additional people. Slowly and organically, the tiny town becomes a city.

A town or a city will grow or shrink in proportion to opportunities. Opportunity is like a river; it gives life, it is fluid and constantly changing. It can be diverted and be made good use. It can float you or flood you. It may also run dry.

Cities are forests that grow by the river. A forest becomes a forest when the soils are fertile. The richest soil will have the biggest woods and the tallest trees.

Can we plan a forest and channel a river? We can always try and nature may humour us or make us look humorous.

WH, Nov 2012