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Modernity, Utopia, and the City

The tradition of landscape does have a tremendous impact on modern

landscaping, there are increasing studies on modernity, as well as how utopian thinking
help shape our future cities. I am choosing this topic because I find it interesting while
reading Peter Hall The City of Dreadful night, I am shock about the horrific living
condition at the beginning, and fascinated about how these traditional landscape problems
help shaping the modern landscape and lead to modernity, this also lead to some utopian
thinking later on for a good city. The topic is new to me, and is challenging to understand,
and at the same time very interesting. Therefore, in this paper I will focus on answering
three specific questions, How does traditional landscape and social problems influent
modernity and utopian thinking?, how does utopia affect the urban landscaping and
social issues nowadays? And Is utopia a success or failure to modern city building?
After critically reading the 3 journals, I got some basic ideas on what modernity and
utopia really are, how they related to one another. According to John Friedmann, The
good city, as I imagine it, has its foundations in human flourishing and multipli/city. Four
pillars provide for its material foundations: housing, affordable health care, adequately
remunerated work and adequate social provisionI also delved into the question of what
a system of good governance might look like The protagonist of my visioning is an
autonomous, self-organizing civil society, active in making claims, resisting and
struggling on behalf of the good city within a framework of democratic institutions.
(Friedmann,2000, P.471) He has a set of believe on how a good city should be and many
of the ideas do help shape the city today, this tells the importance of utopia.

Critical Reading Notes

Peter Hall- The City of Dreadful Night
Mearns describe to the Victorian middle class about the terrific living condition in the
slum that we could not imagine, such as living with pigs and even their dead children.
Another shocking thing is that most of the houses are brothels filled with girls less than
the age of 12. As we can see the moral level is really low, and because they were
extremely poor many problems arise, they have no fresh water, not enough food, and do
not have the money to move out and seek for cheaper housing facility. In terms of
working condition, there were no handbook on how to guide workers to work safely, nor
any regulation to protect the labour wages and safety. People had very low paid, therefore
they are forced to live close to their workplace, even the rent is high, because they could
not afford the high transportation cost as well there were no public transit at that time.
Increasing workforce living close to their workplace result in shortage of housing, which
will result in even higher rent, but wages remain the same. In 1880s, London was
undergoing a mini-haussmannization, and in 1886 the working class rise in insurrection,
they broke windows and shops simply because they no longer endure such disgusting
living condition and in no hope and no way to improve it, gang also arise to attack people
to steal. Booth then try to quantify the problem and divided those working class into four
sub-group and this make up a 35% of the total population. And later, Jane Addams start
building Hull House of community services, such as to educate young people. We can get
some ideas on how to solve urban crisis to the society including scientific research, Booth measurement, journalism to expose the poor condition, and the intervention of
government public housing, and Jane Addams hull house. People had terrible living

condition that we could not imagine, such as living with pigs and even their dead
children. All kinds of problems and solutions help shape the city today and see the
progress of modernity.

John Friedmann - The Good City: In Defense of Utopian Thinking

John Friedmann introduced several key elements of how to define a utopian city under an
achievable manner. The definition of utopian thinking according to Friedmann is the
capacity to imagine a future that departs significantly from what we know to be a general
condition in the present (Friedmann, 2002, P.462). Utopian thinking can be something
very unrealistic, but it can also be very helpful to correct injustice, without any thought of
living in a better city, we will never think of ways to improve the city. There are two
moments in utopian thinking: Critique and Construction vision. Utopian thinking is not
new, there are over 200 years of writing on utopian thinking and more or less educate the
planners. Under the theoretical consideration, Friedmann sees the importance to search
for the common good, and we are told that the process is as equally important as
outcomes, a good city should also has a committed form of political practice, in which a
collective power or group is brought together by a leader, and they must have sufficient
power that is symbolic and moral in order to overcome any barriers. The first element of
Good City is to have human flourishing as a fundamental human right, Friedmann defines
it as Every human being has the right, by nature, to the full development of their innate
intellectual, physical and spiritual potentials in the context of wider communities.
(Friedmann, 2002, P.466) It also means that everyone is equal since they were born no
matters they are men or women, and the idea of basic equality such as public education,

public health etc. to make everyone chance of living more balance. Another element is
multipli/city as a primary good, in definition multipli/city mean an autonomous civil
life relatively free from direct supervision and control by the state. (Friedmann, 2000,
P.467) Michael Walzer calls a civic society a project of projects, which means people are
interrelated to each other and are responsible to one another (Walzer,1992, P.107). The
idea of diversity, mutual tolerance of difference must be protected by the state as
population growth mainly comes from migration. In turn, there implies citizen obligation
and respect of human rights. Furthermore, there are fours factors to support the material
base for the good city: 1) socially adequate housing, 2) affordable healthcare, 3)
Adequately paid job, 4) Adequately social provision, this is the mean of vibrant civil life.
A good city is a city that cares for its freedom (Friedmann, 2002, P.469) The last
element is good governance, Friedmann emphasis on political process is equally
important as outcome, and should involve with a variety of participants in the process.
The governing system should include 3 actors: politicians and bureaucrats, state and civil
society. In utopian thinking is to put citizens at the top of the governance pyramid, to
form a political community. Friedmann also introduces six criteria for assessing the
performance of a system of city-regional governance: 1) inspired political leadership
2)Public accountability 3)transparency and the right to information 4) inclusiveness
5)responsiveness 6)non-violent conflict management (Friedmann, 2002, P.470)
Edward Relph The Modern Urban Landscape
Landscape has largely changes in character and scale, give some insightful ideas on how
the traditional landscape different from the modern landscape. Relph stated that building

is not an isolated object, it is rather with a context, related with the surrounding area, it is
also the products of technological developments and social circumstances (Relph,
1987, p.3). Relph does not include every aspect of landscape but focus on the built
environment of cities. In modern landscape, standardization is promoted so that it fits to
build in anywhere, however differences do exists, some factors including different design
standard, the supply and the cost of building materials do play a role. In addition, Relph
introduce four elements to explain the distinctiveness in historical landscape and
similarity in modern cities, they are architecture which has different aesthetic principles;
technological innovations affect the way we build; planning to protect utopian vision of
good health, justice and equality; and social developments influence the consumer and
corporate landscape. It is also important to note that new technologies invented in
building as well as new form of communication reduce the chance for regional adaption,
which traditionally ideas are constrained by travel time that there was a variety of
landscape base in local customs and architecture. Ideas can flow freely, which sharing,
copying, and borrowing of ideas are very common, all these will lead to similarity in
modern landscape.


Friedmann, J. (2000). 'The Good City: In Defense of Utopian Thinking.' International

Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24(2): 460 - 472.
Hall, P. (2002). Chapter 2 City of Dreadful Night. In Cities of Tomorrow. (pp. 13 - 47).
Relph, E. (1987). The Modern Urban Landscape. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins
University Press.
Walzer, M. (1992) The civil society argument. In C. Mouffe (ed.), Dimensions of radical
democracy: pluralism, citizenship, community (pp. 107)