Prof Alan Jacobs wants to know whether magic and technology can learn to get along with each other. He laments the dominant tone of fantasy literature that sees natural magic opposed to cultural machinery.
“A fictional world where magic rules but is not the only game in town”.
This sounds very much like Tolkien‘s home town of Oxford. When he lived there his charmed life as a university don was under a certain amount of pressure from the city’s belated industrialisation. The Morris Motor works had been built in Cowley, on the edge of town, lending a new, Fordist edge to the politics of town and gown. It’s hard to look at the map of Middle Earth without seeing a psychological map of Oxford just behind it. So writers who want magic and the machine to coexist could do worse than to fictionalise the way they see this working already in a specific place. China Mieville has done this with New Crobuzon – and more explicitly with UnLunDun and Kraken.
The either/or/both/neither terms in which this discussion is framed will be familiar to the readers of Fourcultures.
Thomas Hartmann writes in the journal Planning Theory on wicked problems and clumsy solutions in planning.
Thomas Hartmann, 2012. Wicked problems and clumsy solutions: Planning as expectation management. Planning Theory August 2012 vol. 11 no. 3 242-256
In 1973, Horst W Rittel and Malvin A Webber introduced the term ‘wicked problem’ in planning theory. They describe spatial planning as dealing with inherent uncertainty, complexity and inevitable normativity. This contribution picks up the concept of wicked problems, reflects on it from a planning-theoretical perspective, and proposes the use of Cultural Theory’s concept of clumsy solutions as a response to wicked planning problems. In discussing public participation processes in spatial planning, it is then shown what clumsy solutions mean for spatial planning. The four rationalities of Cultural Theory are then used to explain why public participation in planning can become wicked, and how these rationalities provide a response that copes with this wickedness.
Chatting with my young son this evening it occured to us that superheroes require certain types of cities, certain kinds of urban form, in order to thrive. Spiderman needs tall buildings closely packed in order to leap between them. The Hulk needs impressive edifices to knock down. Only certain types of urban form are fit for superheroes.
There’s a new documentary about the rise and fall and return of Detroit. The director of Requiem for Detroit? , Julien Temple, was fascinated by the idea that Detroit was at the leading edge of American urban for many years, leading the rest of America into the future. Now Detroit is doing it again, showing us what the first post-American city looks like.
The Child in the City, Anarchy in Action and Welcome Thinner City are three of the most influential books for the shape of my adult life. I’m mourning the death of writer and activist, ‘giant of social commentary’, Colin Ward.
Ward’s claim in Anarchy in Action (1973) that the international postal system was a perfect example of anarchist organisation helped me to see the meaning of Wright’s ‘sociological imagination’. Rather than looking for a political party with a headquarters and a manifesto, I began to see self-organising social systems everywhere, spontaneous egalitarianism, an immanent. if distinctly patchy, utopia.
Welcome Thinner City (1989) was for a time my Bible for understanding urban politics and policy at the end of the Thatcher period. Looking back it almost single-handedly made sense of what I did then and caused me to do what I do now.
The Child in the City (1978) helped me to see how urban policy can be shaped for the benefit of the people who actually have to live with it. ‘making the city more accessible, more negotiable and more useful to the child’ remains one of the most important things we can attempt.
“I believe that the social ideas of anarchism: autonomous groups, spontaneous order, workers’ control, the federative principle, add up to a coherent theory of social organisation which is a valid and realistic alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical and institutional social philosophy which we see in application all around us. Man will be compelled, Kropotkin declared, “to find new forms of organisation for the social functions which the State fulfils through the bureaucracy” and he insisted that ”as long as this is not done nothing will be done.” I think we have discovered what these new forms of organisation should be. We have now to make the opportunities for putting them into practice.” Anarchism as a Theory of Organisation (1966).
In this series about planning in Palestine we’ve looked at three alternative ‘plans’. The first, thankfully, will never be built (although, chillingly, it’s really just a vision of present segregated reality). The second may well be built (though it would take a dramatic turnaround in political will). The third offers a glimpse of a progress-free future where nothing gets built (which is wholly unrealistic, given large population increases in the next 20 years).
In the morning at the railway station the woman sitting next to me gave a big sigh and said,
‘Doesn’t this beat looking at all those city buildings!’
Given the view from the platform, you might see why I felt I had to agree. But are city buildings really all that bad? For instance, Ely Cathedral or the Chrysler Building can surely be inspiring, not least because they seem to enhance their wider context. The former dominates the Cambridgeshire Fens; the latter sets the pattern for Manhattan.
What’s more, Jonah Lehrer’s blog is so interesting, in a ‘popular science’ kind of way, that I’m adding it to the Fourcultures bookmarks on Delicious. Follow the ‘Related Bookmarks‘ link at the right of this page.