Heart and Revolution: Ways of Visioning the City of Tomorrow (Day 2)

By Daniela Tomaz

City as Heart(s)

As a biologist, I see cities as living organisms. Pulsating bodies made up of new and dying cells and kept alive by the people flowing through their arteries. Cities grow, swell, change shape, absorb and eject. This is not about cities with a heart, but about cities as a heart; pumping oxygen and fresh blood into the greater metropolitan areas.
– Jacqueline Cramer, minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning

Hearing these words at the closing speech of Morgen/Tomorrow – the International Urban Planning Congress held in Amsterdam – one may travel into the memory of “The Heart of the City”, theme of the 8th International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM VIII, 1951, Hoddesdon, England). Today, as then, it was an important moment where urban planners and architects from all around the world gathered to discuss the City as a living liveable centre (core/cuore/coeur). Still today it has a fundamental role in the balance of the expanded new (Open) City.
As an Open City enthusiast, Kees Christiaanse speech alerted to the present status of worldwide metropolises, dealing with the multiple layers of their multicultural heritage: “The enemies of the open city are the open city itself”. Thus, the coexistence of ethnic communities which do not communicate with one another (the favelas of São Paulo and the city of Jakarta were examples given) and rather just inhabit in the same metropolitan structure it is a phenomenon that must be surpassed by city government. Exploring deeper the Netherlands point of view on the Open City, Zef Hemel’s (Substituting the canceled speech of Anastasia Volynskaya’s) presented his “Free State of Amsterdam” speech in a cheerful tone of positive aura upon Planning, as described by his nine “Amsterdam Principles”. The focus on the city of Amsterdam continued in the afternoon workshop “Urban Governance and Liveable cities”, where Maarten van Poelgeest (Alderman of Amsterdam for Town and Country Planning) and Hessel Boerboom (Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations) could reveal a bit of Amsterdam projects for the future.

City and Revolution
Nevertheless, the motivation for the congress was to pay a tribute to Floor Wibaut, Amsterdam’s alderman on the beginning of the 20th century and an important city enthusiast and city revolutionary. Inevitably, thinking on the city of tomorrow is also to respect and learn with the past and its examples. Is also to think how extraordinary events, like war and revolution, have such a great impact on the city. This link was made through the emotive love-liberty imagery of the streets of Amsterdam led by the Paris 1968 Uprising that were shown as an appetizer before the beginning of the speakers’ presentation. So the question was posed… Throughout the world of today, ”Who are the new Wibauts?”

As an attempt to answer this question at this second day of congress positive cases of city revolutions worldwide were presented, namely Chicago (USA), Pittsburg (USA), Mumbai (India) and Tirana (Albania) (There were presented more city study cases in the afternoon workshops (being held simultaneously): Helsinki (Finland), Malmö (Sweden), Hamburg (Germany) and Freiburg (Germany)).

On a Chicago community study case, La Donna Redmond presented a revolutionary project involving the Food System Movement. Following a personal motivation (On a very tender age, La Donna Redmond’s son was diagnosed with several food allergies), La Donna was involved and it is still fighting for the implementation of a Soul Food System, searching for a perfect agricultural policy (there is an easy access to all kinds of fast-food but the essential vegetables are not available, unlike what we’re used to in European grocery stores) that affects the values of her community: “Revitalizing Soil is revitalizing Community”.
Pittsburgh was presented as a former flourishing industrial city that faces an identity crisis that has its roots in the 70’s. To address the uncertainty and loss of value of his community, speaker Michael J. Madison pointed out the importance of finding icons for the future, in order to put citizens in love with their city again (‘Let’s go Steelers!’ is the slogan for the Pittsburgh American football team, in a clear relation with the city’s past heritage).
The Mumbai case-study was presented by P. K. Das, an architect-activist that struggles against the shrinkage of open space, brought a vision of the City from a democratic planning perspective: “Open space is a metaphor for democracy.” His demand for designing collectivity was also part of the main CIAM agenda more than 60 years ago, in order to enhance public spaces and act in comprehensive planning. The positivism of this case relies on reclaiming public spaces performed by P.K. Das, a victory over the the total apathy of city government.
Tirana, the last example, gives us a completely different vision upon the citizen’s public space appropriation. Public space was a tangible expression of the communist and previous regime, that late fell in 1990. Ten years later, when Edi Rama became city major, the people of Tirana still had a strong negative feeling towards public space. This was leading to an abusive private appropriation of the City. Starting with a low-budget project, in a period where words were meaningless, Edi Rama used color as an instrument of politics, involving the community into refurbishing the (previously damaged) city façades (for more info visit T.I.C.A). Other projects that emerged where all led by a single leitmotiv: “Beauty intimidates (Albanian) people. (…) So the only answer is to build and invest with quality.”

The purpose of this congress was to review new factors of worldwide global urbanization. These were mentioned at the conference: waste, water, food, mobility and ICT. In the case-studies shown above there is a general conception of “the Revolution(ary)” as key to make cities go through deep change, into development and growth, into the future.

A Lighthouse for Lampedusa!