Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Cities / Healthy Cities

Healthy City Design 2019

Creating utopia and correcting dystopia: innovative transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence 25 Nov 2019 0

This talk describes how virtuous relations between knowledge produced by empirical research and professional skills and competences can be the foundation of creative projects that are environmentally responsible, economically fair, socially inclusive, and just.

Download the slides for this video presentation


Utopian thinking has been part of the history of cities over 10,000 years. Utopias include Arcadia, Paradise Lost, and visions such as Broadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Planning of new cities, including Brasilia and Canberra, were grounded in idealism and symbolism, and have yielded mixed results. Creating utopia and correcting dystopia are dependent on shared societal visions, and diverse human intentions about present and future habitats. Creating innovative visions and implementing corrective measures depend on expert knowledge, as well as social and political agendas.
Promoting and sustaining human wellbeing and planetary health require a new approach. Today, we know that land-use planning, infrastructure and building construction have failed to provide safe and secure habitats for many in the wake of climate change and extreme weather. Recent examples indicate that the multiple impacts of urbanisation on natural resources, extant ecosystems, planetary health and human wellbeing are still not fully understood.
Urban history, however, confirms that cities are not only localities of environmental and social problems but also sites with a high potential for innovative change. Creating utopia will be illustrated by the development of Singapore, from a colonial city and port with many slum areas, low-income households, polluted rivers and few natural resources, into a modern metropolis with a multi-cultural population, diverse economy, low unemployment, reliable transport and community services, and an affordable housing market and education system. Correcting dystopia will be illustrated by the Ringland Project in Antwerp, Belgium, which has challenged planning for road traffic in the city. Co-created by 50 scientists and professionals on a voluntary basis, the project has been endorsed by public authorities and created multiple co-benefits.
This paper illustrates how community associations, private enterprises, public administrations, and local authorities can form transdisciplinary consortiums. Creative community and local government initiatives have bypassed the institutional frameworks of national governments. Our research confirms that innovative programmes and projects can serve as beacons for change in other cities around the world.