International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

IFHP presents: Voices from the Hague Housing Conference

What are in fact Neo-liberal cities? Are they just financial models? Who is governing these cities if they are built by developers? Is this the future of our cities?

Welfare state cities

Chengdu, in China, is a green city, integrated with the countryside. It reminds us of the garden cities conceptualized by Ebenizer Howard, one century ago. The garden cities gave focused on the social aspect and not only on the physical one. The cities were considered as results of a collaborative effort for its inhabitants. This idea has become very popular after the Second World War when UK with the New Town Act built around 20 new towns to offer a healthy and pleasant place to live to the low middle class. They were the realization of the welfare utopia. These cities became very popular internationally because they implied a very simple idea to explain. They were exported in Western and Eastern Europe until Scandinavia and Mongolia. They were the model of the welfare state. This period lasted until the 80s, when the economic and political change in most of the western countries ratified the end of this experiment.  The economic growth has shifted to Asia.

 

Neo liberal cities

The Neo Liberal cities in Asia are all very similar to each other: they are all car dependent and full of architectural icons. They are not only in Asia but they have been exported in South America and Africa. These new cities are different from the green cities: in this case they are created as economic cities to attract invesments and to colonialize the area; they are “sustainable cities” or at least branded in this way because it is easier to experiment green innovations in new territories; there is an aboundance of high-tech (involvement of Cisco, IBM, Siemens that are orienting their business towards planning); they focus on identity and branding using a specific European style (italian villages, dutch towns styles). These cities are not popular in the European context but they are an important object of reflection. We have also to consider the fact they are an export of western-urban models in East-Asia by Western offices. There is a lack of conceptualization and theories beyind these models. It is just the result of the privatization of planning and this means that new players are now in the game: before the cities were built by local government with local money, the neo liberal cities are built by privates often using global money. The question here is for who the new town is planned.  The focus of planning shift from sheltering the poors to building houses for rich.

 

Some examples:

 

New Songdo in South Korea, with a citywide Wi-Fi where every square of the city is wired with synapses. It has been advertized by the developers as a city in a box, a standardized city that can be exported and repeated in China or elsewhere. The city masterplan has been developed by OMA and KPF. The city looks like a common high rise and dense city. These new concepts of financing and organizing the cities are not visible.
Strand East in London, developed by Inter IKEA group. It has a small scale, pedestrian environment and a European atmosphere. IKEA will be involved not only in the construction phase but also in the education and health care services provision. A sort of pater familiae.

 

Plan IT, Porto in portugal, where the IT system is the basis for the city. The capital invested came from businesses that will be part of the network.

 

Questions

Are these cities just financial models? For who are these technologies? Who is governing these cities if they are built by developers? Where is the social inclusivity in paces that are more and more segregated and built for specific groups?  Is this the future of our cities?

 

And finally what is the role of planners and architect in this process? In fact we notice the lack of engagement with architects, who have ‘disappeared’ from the masterplanning phase and are instead limited to ‘aesthetic consultancy.’ What is needed, argues the show, is for new towns to reject the ghetto of exclusiveness and instead ‘embrace the banality of good.’

 

>> More information on New Town Institute