Urban Futures?

The idea that cities have a future is almost quaint in this age of decline and fiscal bankruptcy, yet there are those who ‘keep the aspidistras flying’ – as that indefatigable commentator of the body social, George Orwell, in diaries, letters, essays, novels, stories, etc. so aptly coined that sense of keeping with a positive hope even in the midst of decay and ruin. For as my friend Arran James from attempts at living and synthetic zero  puts it:

…as survivors, we shouldn’t be looking for ways to prevent the catastrophe but to mitigate it; we shouldn’t be looking for means of preventing the destruction but of building already from the ruins about us. The positing of the catastrophe into any kind of futurity is already a disavowal of the catastrophic real. Indeed, this might well be part of the development of a distinctly postnihilist ethics: like the survivors we are, shifting the terms of our thought from survival to rebuilding. Yet this rebuilding is not a question of a return to the pre-catastrophic world, and this is precisely where the importance of the post-apocalyptic comes into play.

—————  The Catastrophic and the Post-apocalyptic

As a part of this process a group of architects, artists, science fiction writers, thinkers, etc. met at MU in Eindhoven to investigate this process of rebuilding cities out of the ruins of ruins. Under Tomorrow’s Sky is a fictional, future city. Speculative architect Liam Young of the London based Tomorrows Thoughts Today has assembled a think tank of scientists, technologists, futurists, illustrators, science fiction authors and special effects artists to collectively develop this imaginary place, the landscapes that surround it and the stories it contains.

I commend their efforts, yet wonder if the utopic possibilities overreach the mark? Are we still dreaming of some technological monstrosity that will pull us out of our present predicament in such efforts? Oh sure the art and concepts are all fine and wonderful, yet as I  pondered the videos and the marshalling of ideas I came away thinking that this was all a pipe dream, the sort of effort that dreamers love to dream but that engineers would stand back and just say “humph… what a crock of shit!” The truth is that it’s going to take one step at a time and a lot of innovative and persistent work from a broad spectrum of pragmatic workers to get this job done if it ever is. As a thinker I too get a little too dreamy eyed sometimes and have to put my thoughts back down into the soil and realize nothing is got from nothing, there is no easy path to rebuilding a world fit for life on planet earth. As in all things there want be some jubilee of happy campers to sing in the greatness of this future, not in our lifetime nor in an semblance of generations ahead. No. It’s going to take several lifetimes of collective social endeavor and a lot of dedicated persistence by a myriad of individuals to carve out of niche in this dark world of ruins. Yet, I still believe it will be done. What else is there to believe: the only alternative is oblivion, the end of the human species. Is this what we truly want?

It always seems that we force our hands into the darkness, to war, famine, disease, chaos before we suddenly realize that there must be another way, a different path to take; yet, have we ever learned from our past mistakes. No. We continuously repeat mistakes over and over and over again. Yet, in the past people could migrate to another locale, find a new home to rebuild their world and lives. Not this time my friends. There is no place to go, no elsewhere, or utopic world of the future to escape into, instead we’re all staring each other in the face with no where to migrate but in the ruins of each others dark cities and rural catastrophes. So look around and think to yourself: “Just exactly what should I do with the rest of my life?” Do I want to leave this to my children? Is this what I worked so hard for all my bloody life? Our leaders have sold us down the river with grand schemes that enslave us rather than giving us happier lives.

Sure, I rant. My prerogative… if you don’t like it go dream in your pie dreams somewhere else. Here is a dark truth: there is no place else, the utopic lie is and has always been just a cop out, a grand scheme to escape reality instead of realizing that we need to face it straight on, take off the blinders and begin the hard work of building and rebuilding a world worth living in. So quit bitching and begin building…

5 thoughts on “Urban Futures?

  1. heh, I was recently at a talk by an academic poet communist who was talking up riots as flashes of the eventual Utopian Spirit and needless to say didn’t welcome my suggestion that we are already seeing the post-capitalist/post-nation-state future in so called “failed” states, left-behind rural zones, and ghettos, back to the future of warlords, street-gangs, and other tribalisms…


    • Yep, watching some of these real tv motorcycle gangs of late I realize just what lengths people will go to ‘belong’ to be counted, to have a semblance of pride and justification for their imperious need for self-worth… certain forms of violence have the earmark of the idiot who wants nothing more than to be recognized, to be seen… an invisible creature of hate. Darkness of our times has bred a myriad of monsters.


  2. This need for self-worth shouldn’t be downplayed or degraded though. It appears in virtually all philosophies in some form or other- at least in the West- and even makes its appearance in the post-intentional philosophy of the BBT. That last point might seem unfair but it always seems to me like the eliminativists (and perhaps the Lacanians too) are always really just a manifestation of the structure of selfhood- the illusion, okay, but the necessary illusion- in its narcissistic psuedo-death throes.
    Like an addict feigning pain, denials of self tend to appear as the negative confirmation of self.


    • Yes, I agree, a sense of the self as Self is healthy! The Self may be an illusion, but then again all art is illusion… and subjectivity is the greatest art of all. I think clinically speaking we can agree that people with a sense of self-worth lead happier more productive lives and probably have fewer of those dark issues that certain philosophers seem to relish plunging toward. So what if the Self is an empty place holder for an amalgam of emotions and thoughts: is anyone really going to pretend to eliminate this form of subjective or intentional consciousness through a series of arguments. Of course not… and, even acknowledging BBT is just an academic exercise for the intelligentsia not a pragmatic statement about the fact of personhood that most of us live with each and every day. Long live the Self healthy and strong… As a nurse I’m sure you are confronted with broken souls who have lost that deep sense of self worth… and can understand how difficult it is to return these beings to a proper balance in which they can live not only the semblance of life, but a fulfilled and fulfilling life for themselves and others. In that sense you have an up front knowledge and experience of those deeper bodily truths and words just never seem to reach….


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