The book, inspired by automotive company smart, the expert in urban mobility, presents 111 projects from across Europe that have made a positive, sustainable change to life in our cities. The projects range from urban farming to pop-up restaurants to sustainable design.
The English-language book is available worldwide from 16 April 2012 in over 50 selected bookstores and concept stores as well as online. Price: €24
In the book, over 30 renowned writers and creative minds like Ben Hammersley, Maria Popova and Adam Greenfield have provided answers to this question. They have contributed ideas, projects and initiatives that are presented in five separate chapters: “Live”, “Eat & Drink”, “Buy”, “Play” and “Work”. In the “open your mind” rubric at the start of each chapter, one visionary shares his or her ideas for the future of the city. The smart Guide to Utopia thus takes readers on a unique urban voyage of discovery.
We will display the several articles and features from this book on our website. Stay tuned to see more from this impressive guid to Utopia.
LeCool asks: Why are we writing about cities?
Ben Hammersley answers: Why are we writing about cities, they ask. You’re all obsessed. You designers and technologists and economists and executives. Can’t you see that the planet is dying? That the forests are shrinking and the air is being poisoned? Cities are breaking the world, they say. Far better to abandon them and return to the land. We’re here to write about cities because they are where we must live: more than half of the seven billion of us now live in cities. But they are also where we should live: they are the true natural habitat of the human race. Cities are where we are best. Where individuals become communities. Where a peasant becomes a citizen. Where we live together with each other, not together against the world.
The countryside can’t do this. The best cities welcome you, embrace you, and make strangers feel like they’re home for the first time. The countryside will just as happily kill you. Cities are human, and want to be more so: the countryside doesn’t care at all. Even wildlife prefers the city. This year I watched a pair of fox cubs grow up by the side of the railway tracks behind my London flat. Urban foxes are a common sight in central London now. They’re in finer condition and more plentiful numbers than their rural cousins, and while I drink my morning coffee and watch them play on the railway embankment it becomes an obvious thought: this is the best place for them as well as for me, just as it is for the kestrels patrolling above Liverpool street, and the parakeets in Hyde park. The city holds us close. But we write here because this cannot be a one-way relationship. Cities, alive as they are, need nurturing. We must feed them, clean them and educate them, lest they whither and die. As all the initiatives and ideas in this book show, the city will respond to love and caring, and in turn will pay us back a thousandfold. How clever it was of cities to develop citizens, and how lucky for us to be such. This soppy talk of nurturing, of love, is not out of place. If you let it, it is overwhelming to think of the emotions built into our cities. Building something is an inherently hopeful act. We sometimes forget that absolutely everything that surrounds us, from the most glorious of buildings to the tackiest of souvenirs, was at some point taken home late one exhausted night and shown proudly to a spouse, a parent, a lover: Look what I did. I made this. This is real now. But as filled with love as our landscapes are, we each have a different one. Our minds create cities of their own.
My own home town seamlessly straddles continents: the 5th arrondissement of Paris is two stops and one line change on the train from my London flat, and I have deeper connections with New York and Florence than I do with Stoke Newington, the next borough along. That they’re hundreds of miles away geographically is irrelevant: in my head they’re all part of a piece. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. Knowing where we truly are is a skill we might perhaps relearn. Will Self, the English author, walked from London to New York in the open essay to his book on Psychogeography : he strolled from South London to Heathrow’s Terminal Four, flew to JFK, and walked from there into Manhattan, as an effort to situate himself more completely in the places where he found himself. Still, we all live in bubbles linked by filaments of transport. Given enough imagination we can start to believe we live in one large metropolis, the transatlantic NYLon for example, albeit with cross-town commutes it is best to sleep through. Our real interconnectedness is never so apparent as in a city. So why do we talk about cities so much? Because cities are what make us human. They’re the success story of our species. They’re the things that we can point to and say: Here is where we made our mark.
They are where civilisation happens. Where learning, art, science, music and all of the things that mark us as part of the joint project of humanity can come together. It’s the only place, indeed, where that can be so. Cities are the places that nurture us, far more than the wilderness or the wild places of the countryside. Cities are where we can truly live. So that is why we write about them here, and why we work to make them better. We owe the cities and we have a duty to improve them for each other. This isn’t a sad story or one of desperation. Our cities have problems, it is true, but we can overcome them. They’re ours for the taking. We built these cities, and we can repair them too. This book touches on how. After all, with a city comes hope. And with hope, anything is possible.