> Utopians in the History of Urban Planning

When I studied Urbanism in Paris I had a course unit called 'Histoire Urbaine'. And what interested me more was the importance given to utopian writers in this academic context. That importance results from the possible connection between urban form and ideology, as it is written on my old notebook...

Tales with imaginary cities emerged in historical periods of growth and tension in the western cities. Plato's Atlantis (image below) appeared in the Antiquity's Mediterranean cities. Thomas Moore's Utopia, Campanella's City of the Sun, or Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, were conceived in context of Renaissance's powerful trade cities. And in 19th century the explosion of industrial cites encouraged a large number of authors, mostly French, to write utopias. With the rise of modernity in the last century, the utopias became frankly negative (dystopias?), and less political like Le Corbusier's projects. In next articles I will introduce each one of these authors for sure, however what matters here are their common reasons to demonstrate ideologies using new urban worlds.

Thus, Utopias are totally rooted in the period they are written. They often function as denunciations of socio-political issues in general and urban in particular, and they offer answers more or less realistic but very specific to these difficulties. The extreme fictional character of first utopias was a way to describe reality without fear of reprisal, censorship, etc.. For example, Plato's utopia is a criticism of the Athenian democratic system that he believes to be demagogic and corrupt. The fabulous dimension of narrative and the final sinking of the Atlantis island can be interpreted as a way to protect him from the system he criticizes. Thomas More's Utopia (image below) also works as a denunciation of the social crisis in England, like most utopias of the 19th century in France are a reaction to the misery that settled in the cities of the Industrial Revolution. Charles Fourier's Phalanstère, for example, insists in comfort, mainly by warm homes and heated closed streets.

There are other common characteristics in utopian cities: isolation; social harmony through the abolition of private property; and almost scientific precision in the description of their size, population and spatial organization. 
Isolation allows to implement a totally original social, spatial and economic model while maintaining the unrealistic dimension. Plato's Atlantis is an island, Moore's Utopia is a lost island, Étienne Cabet's Icaria was built in a valley surrounded by high mountains and sea, and Campanella's City of the Sun has seven fortification lines! 
The social organization varies according to the authors, but it is interesting to note the usual need of abolition of private property and the spread of education. Therefore some utopias are strongly connected to Utopian Socialism as Robert Owen's New Harmony (image below).

However, the importance of the utopian thinking on Urban Planning practices is directly related to its strict spatial organization. Details and development of architectural considerations show that for the utopians, urban form is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of their ideal society. Moore's Utopia describe features as streets' width, localization of the activities, and houses standard typology. Fourier's Phalanstère (image below) insists besides comfort, in the beauty of the complex. He was very passionated by an extremely gracefully organization and landscape, and innovated by using closed streets called 'galleries'. The social equality is the main characteristic of Cabet's Icara, so it is remarkable its extremely symmetric spatial organization.

These utopians inserted new concepts that shaped current urbanism practices. This is more evident when some of their utopias tried to become real. Nevertheless it's incredible how the major part of these attempts resulted in failures. Robert Owen, Étienne Cabet and Victor Considerant (Fourier's disciple) went to United States to build their ideal cities, but the abolition of private property was proven to be a big problem. The most successful case is probably the Familistère (image below), a version of Fourier's Phalanstère created by Jean-Baptiste Godin in 1859. The architectural complex built in Picardia (french region) worked until 1968 and is widely used to demonstrate the Utopian Socialism possibilities.

Last notes of my old notebook:
"We wanted to demonstrate in this course that utopians have designed the ideal city as a mode of government, society, economy, but also of urban form. Is there a city's "good shape" that would give us an urban society without tension or problems?"

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