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Better cities, better life – Tongji Shanghai – Cumulus – September 2010

Tongji University has brought together in Shanghai the most eminent international experts in design and architecture in order to reflect upon the theme of « better cities, better life. » This theme is at the heart of designers’ concerns, and is central to most of our curriculum and research activities. How and where will we live tomorrow?
In the 20th century, the city affirmed itself as a model for land occupation. This development brought along with it new social, economic and ecological issues such as mobility, security, pollution, waste management, energy and food autonomy, access to water, information and culture…These issues and more will be discussed during the Cumulus conference, in an effort to guarantee tomorrow’s society peace, social well-being and success.

Have certain cities become megalopolises with sufficient economic power to become significant enough to compete with regions or even States? How will these cities be managed in the future to guarantee the balance between territories and powers? Where is the median between the metropolises, which will continue to grow and concentrate, and the middle-sized cities whose issues are much different? Is the concentration of cities inevitable, as part of the economic and social reality, or is it a cycle of population flux, which will experience a reflux in a few years towards deserted territories?

New information technologies, new materials, and new vegetal materials will remodel cities considerably in the near future. The “intelligent materials” will allow a new building architecture, just as re-forestation, agriculture and urban farming will be at the heart of urban issues. City dwellers will seek to reorganize spaces and recreate the countryside in the city, thus creating a form of energy and food self-sufficiency.

Cities will change their organization, aspect, colors, soul and sense. Global competition also applies to cities, which will have to continue to work on their identity in order to gain worldwide recognition and renown in order to attract new inhabitants and tourists. The quality of design schools and universities – whose way of teaching is different from one country and one school to another considering the gap of culture – will be a key factor in attracting the best students and the best researchers.

Finally, what are the new demands from urban citizens confronted with problems such as the access to work, education, culture, leisure and/or the difficulties of transportation and safety…will they be sedentary townsmen attached to their house and their quarter, or will they be nomads inclined to move from one dwelling to another? What will the new demands be when it becomes possible to work from home? If people are no longer linked to their workplaces, or the schools of their children, will it still be necessary to organize their lives around a fixed territory, or will the inhabitants – and thus the cities they live in – become mobile? If the city becomes a network, what would the pertinence of its territory be?

“It is compulsory to build the cities in the countryside, the air is there more pure” said the poet..

2 thoughts on “Better cities, better life – Tongji Shanghai – Cumulus – September 2010

  1. You raise well-timed points that necessitate a focused look at what cities have been in the past and what they could be in the future. If conceptual new parameters for cities apply the accelerating technologies of today and tomorrow, the term “city” may have to be revisited and maybe, perhaps, redefined.

    Since city is a densely populated area that is fixed, we might need to unfix it. Rather than structuring cities based on governmental control, family structures, industrialism or consumerism — cities could be structured as *mutable* learning-based and practice-based centers. For example, what happens if nanotechnology’s molecular engineering were to construct and deconstruct cities in days, minutes or hours? What if cities were no longer static formations of cement and steel and organized in virtual landscapes?

    While today cities have districts, a new structure for cities might be defined by the social, political and economic constituencies so that one city could be a community education and communication center, another cities a political hub, and yet another city a financial nexus.
    Buckminster Fuller’s notion of the utilizing an ecological sensibility to the world could be applied to developing cities based on what geographical location best provides the necessary resources for its profitability, including intellectual and emotional success.

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