The last period disputed in this notebook consists of the contemporary age between 1979–2007 and continues in the present day. The two previous ‘-polises’ led to radical changes triggered by either industrial revolution or world wars aftermath. As though this period is another sequel of modernity, it will in fact be indirectly provoked by another war, The Yom Kippur War between Israel vs. Arab States in 1973. A global economic crisis occurred after Arab States lost and “avenged” through huge increment of petrol prices, which had been very cheap and supporting industrial countries. Coping with such crisis, the Western countries could no longer maintain properly the welfare state, thus were bound to slowly reduce its distribution to the people. Many public services and facilities passed to private sectors disturbing social balance and mildly re-initiating social economic classes. Another significant point is the new technological revolution, of computers and telecommunication networks, which led towards globalization.
Embracing relativism that comes from incredible and open-minded events of the previous ages, metapolis will sharpen even further ideas of social justice, equality, diversity, civil rights, sexuality, gender, race and education by which society is free of judgments and social construct because the truth is, relative!
Diverse yet homogeneous, today’s society highly influences the spread of common places, with no strings attached to particular locations, cultures or history, or as Banham first referred as “Non-Places”.
Consequently, globalization stirs up the competition between developed countries on which city is more global than the other. Take London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles or lately Dubai. They way they are competing is undoubtedly through city planning, architecture and innovation. An interesting case is Dubai which is leading the world in huge architectural projects. On the other hand, global companies that generate immense incomes such as Apple, Sears, Microsoft, require dense developed cities with global impact in order to settle, like the case of LA versus NYC.
This competition that has economical and commercial basis, as a matter of fact is helping against the shrinking of city centers and influencing gentrification of many central neighborhoods with very expensive housing prices. Sadly speaking, it is making middle class move out and attracting new classes of bourgeois to settle in expensive centers of global cities. Other phenomena happening in metapolis is a second re-development of suburbia, originally in USA, where new “commercial” or business dictricts are formed outside the city. The term used is “edge city” and implies as Joel Garreau says in his book “Edge City: Life on the New Frontier” in 1991:
“the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown.”
The extent of Edge Cities is something that mirrored also in Europe. The Randstad in Netherlands for instance, demonstrate resemblance to Edge City development in several respects. However, perhaps because of some cultural differences, the European Edge Cities are not mere copies of their American counterparts, but rather a ‘typically European’ variation of the original Edge City model.
On that note, when talking about Randstad, we see a very advanced conurbation system adapted specifically to its main roles and activities represented in each or nine urban regions composing the Randstad. They co-live in dense, compact and developed cities, embracing a perfect harmony within their metapolitan agglomerate, often called “Ring City”.
The four largest cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht along with other cities are bond with one another in a multidimensional system, self-sufficing its basic needs of a strong economy, government, education, innovative technology, social and cultural development. Randstad is viewed as an example of the expansion of urban interaction to a polycentric city network, in Europe and worldwide. The idea of cities cooperating and not competing is a new way of not only sustainable urban growth, but also in terms of economic creative development.
Quite recently, many new metapolises are forming, following the example of Randstad, like in Italy there is Milan together with cities encompassing river Po to Venice and Bologna; in the UK, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds; in Germany, the case of Ruhr that already is considered a metapolis; in China, the Pearl River Delta Metapolis; and an international metapolis between Copenhagen, Malmo, Helsingborg and Helsingør.
Others imply the “generic city” model to be followed, notably Europeans, which due to deindustrialization, struggles with degrowth of big cities due to vast abandoned areas of, for instance, military barracks and industrial zones. Abandoned areas are a real issue in today’s contemporary cities and not just in European compact ones. Regenerating and colonizing such areas with new development projects is what Bernardo Secchi foresees of postmodernity’s urban growth, or as he calls it “inner growth”. In one of his urban journal essays, he speaks about two levels of reality and what lies in between them as a contemporary vision. Also describing two positions on which European city survived until today, he refers to ‘renovatio urbis’ as one possible vision from which:
“any plan or project for the city, any urbanism that would build a tie between the two levels of reality through a policy of renovatio urbis, of limited and precise projects, of architecture that could colonize its context giving it new meaning.”
On the other hand, American planners are thinking of another model called “new urbanism” as opposed to the sprawl of suburbia. It mainly aims to achieve environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types. Although, it is an innovative and sustainable approach, its architectural appeal is controversy and certainly not modern for such a modern urban model, something possible for the US, but not for European mindset (one might call it “kitsch”).
This chapter will briefly go through the third and last part of the debate on sustainability, starting with the very establishment of “Sustainable Development” concept in 1987, which states sustainability as a
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, and in urban context as an: “Agreement between city and natural environment, so that the pressure of the former over the latter doesn’t exceed some limits”.
Soon this concept will be widely used in a lot of fields despite architecture and urbanism, which philosophy relies on growing to a limit in compact and diverse cities, with renewable environmentally friendly resources and finally belonging to the original term of “ecocity”.
Serge Latouche, a French economist, preserves the term of “de-growth” hence “degrowth movement”, as a way of political (leftist) commitment against globalization and capitalism, notably in terms of economics, politics, and then architecture.
Latouche thinks that our growth-orientated civilization suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. Thus, degrowth opposes to mainstream ideas that aim to increase capitalist growth and consumption where higher economy and lower well-being dominate. There is need to reduce global consumption and production; to protect a sustainable society, replacing economic GDP as the indicator of prosperity. Degrowth, is however suggested for rich capitalist countries and not the developing ones which in contrast, still need to grow.
Accordingly, contemporary cities are losing people and architectural matter. Detroit from 1950 to 1994, undergone a huge transformation of shrinking after deindustrialization, losing its physical matter with abandoned areas. Another urban degrowth, is expected to happen in Milan, as also Secchi writes about, decreasing in 20 years, 8% of population and urban matter, and spreading numerous circumstantial physical “voids” throughout the city.
The regeneration of such spaces, as Secchi in his essays refers as “renovatio urbis” and “inner growth”, is a valid answer to degrowth of cities, with urban agriculture or public spaces for social integration and creative clusters.
A rather hypothetic approach of recent decades is the alternative self- sustainability, which does not firmly believe in ecotechnology and mainstream sustainability. It disregards the hierarchical human way of thinking to an equal ecosystem harmony: ego versus eco.
The brilliant French botanist, Gilles Clément, strongly defends the interaction with nature by highly respecting it and not dominating upon it. His projects consist of small provocations in ecosystems, that occasionally enact newly formed ecosystems with richer biodiversity. The ecosophy of his simply implies:
“To do as much as possible with, as little as possible against”.
Soft transformations is the last point inducted briefly in this notebook. Many contemporary architects adapt to the idea of small interventions in landscape, that would trigger new biodiverse ecosystems.
Reluctantly or not, nature always works itself, constantly changing and evolving into its course without the need of us to mess with its cycle.
Hence, as my old childhood friend once said:
“doing nothing often leads to the very best of something” -Winnie the pooh.