The Quest for the Perfect City

The director of the Design Museum in London reflects on the mostly unfortunate quest for perfection in city planning and architecture, as the museum's new exhibit, <em>Design Cities,</em> opens.
September 3, 2008, 2pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"It's not difficult to pick out the features of a city in trouble. Multiple deprivation for its poor, high rates of infant mortality, rampant knife crime, multinational companies shedding jobs as they head for the exit, broken-down public transport.

Defining strategies that failing cities can adopt is harder. Not least because most of us have a stubborn preference for messy vitality over organised uniformity. Tokyo is huge, overcrowded and overwhelmingly ugly. But it is also exhilaratingly full of life. Brasilia is safer, healthier and less run-down than Rio. But, given the choice between them, nobody would seriously opt for Brasilia. The perfect city simply doesn't exist: it would have an underground railway as organised as Tokyo's, with a bus service as inspiring as the vaporetti of Venice. It would have a setting as beautiful as Stockholm's. It would have New York's museums and its 24-hour culture, with Berlin's cheap, high-ceilinged apartments, and Hong Kong's energy. It would have London's tolerance of utterly different ways of life, coexisting side by side. It would have the street life of Naples, and the street cleaning of Zurich.

Yet the search for a local-government version of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People has defined urban politics for the past two decades."

Thanks to ArchNewsNow

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Published on Wednesday, September 3, 2008 in The Times Online
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