Old and New City – Europe and Else

New/Old facade - Lille, 2012 cc-Michael Anranter
New/Old facade – Lille, 2012

In Europe city dwellers are increasingly confronted with the question of either living in the old quarters or remove to the outskirts. A trend towards functionally designed urban districts can be observed in many european cities while square meter prices are rising in the city center. The ARTE documentary „X:enius“ argues, that urban planning is more than economy and lifestyle, but it’s also connected to social systems and divergences in living standards. According to that  a unique solution for sustainable urban planning won’t be found. What I’d like to do in this article is, to give you a brief overview on functionalist concepts of urban planning and it’s social connotations.

Do We Need a Vivid City Center and Could We Restructure European Cities Without Any? 

Many urban planners in Europe focus on the old quarters as a preexisting center for a city. The heart of the city should be a place where people follow their daily routine, pass by and live. In the 1920′ the swiss architect and urban planner Le Corbusier developed a concept named „Ville Contemporaine“, a contemporary city for more than 3 million inhabitants. The cities structure was dominated by clearly arranged streets with the intention to create a organism with the city center as the brain; nothing was left to chance. According to that Le Corbusiere once stated: „The most excellent things loose their value due to inappropriate planning.“ (Le Corbusier)

As we try to concretize the function of the central place as a brain for a bigger organism, we may not think to much on the different cognitive functions, but concentrate on it’s bridging effects between the past and the future. We could argue, that in this case the missing past in a entirely new city without an inner core, is not necessarily needed to be planned in the way Le Corbusiere did. Functional units, such as governmental or administrative spheres of activity might be situated also on the outskirts of such a city if the transportation routes a well developed.  

In India (Chandirargh/ Ahmedabad) Le Corbusier took the chance to apply his concepts of a purist urban side, while in Europe he mainly concetrated on the planning of domestic architecture. While single buildings follow contemporary styles and may be build and demolished within decennias, the restructuring of small plots of lands demands a substantially longer period of time. It might be for administrative and demographic, much more than cultural reasons, why Le Corbusier didn’t get the chance to apply it’s functional urban planning on the european continent. 

Excursion: Elementary Needs and Newly Formed Needs 

Several research in the arab world show, that the old cities congrue with most of the elementary needs of the urban dwellers. However many old cities in the arab world orphaned in the last few decades. F.e. in UNESCO-protected Shibam, Jemen, espescially the rich people abandoned the tight alleys and headed for the more western style areas. Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Habil. Michael R. N. Jansen, a historian specialized in building structures researched the connex between the flowing water body and the construction of cities in Oman. As water is necessary for several elementary needs, the alignment of cities in the arab world mostly followed the subsurfaced water stream. This assumption might be best approved by analyzing aerial photographs. The historian pointed out another perception as well: Today orphaned cities in Oman had not been construed out of short-living materials, but out of stones and inhabited palaces, mosques, markets and other cleric and secular buildings with high cultural relevance. However there must be other, more important reasons for the abandonment of the ancient towns and consequent migration into more modern cities.

A Single Building – Changing Connotations

Some brief interviews at the „Cite Radieuse“ in Marseille, France show that personal needs change. The residential building of Le Corbusiere has been realized in Marseille and four more European urban spaces between 1947 and 1965. The concrete constructions house appartments, as well as shops and offices, the corridors are named Rue: street. According to a maximum of functionalsim the social life of the bright cities inhabitants should turn inwardly. Today longtime residents comment, that the former public spirit disappeared and although diversity amplified, people from outside still diagnose a minor socio-economical penetrability. A homogene society had been established by the illusion of functionalism and lost it’s attraction.

Once more we can draw the conclusion that habits, rituals and culture changed and the examples teach us, that urban planning is a science related to culture and therefore concepts change dramatically. We cannot inherit ideas without adopting them and we cannot blank the peoples needs out. Espescially since we define those needs in a broader and more inclusive sense; it’s important to look for the local realities.

For all of those who are interested in the ARTE documentary in german languange, follow this link: http://videos.arte.tv/de/videos/x-enius–7401086.html


2 Kommentare zu „Old and New City – Europe and Else

  1. Dude.. I am not much into reading, but somehow I got to read lots of articles on your blog. Its amazing how interesting it is for me to visit you very often. –

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