Home Editorial – Futuristic cities: Are we heading towards a post-utopian world?

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The monthly bulletin of LEAP (European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) - 15 Feb 2024

Editorial – Futuristic cities: Are we heading towards a post-utopian world?

The current surge in grandiose projects for cities conceived ex nihilo as pure utopias is a sign of the times…

… a characteristic signal of multiple and simultaneous ruptures: the geographical shift of power and wealth, the concentration of stratospheric financial resources resulting from the oil-consumption era into a few hands and the maturation of new technologies perceived as magic wands supposed to make the wildest dreams possible.

The featured article on the cities of the future in this month’s issue lists and analyses some of these utopian visions, shedding light on what they disclose about the future projections of various powerful and influential players. Evaluating which of these projects will ultimately materialize is beyond the scope of this paper. However, the available financial and technological resources lead us to entertain the notion that at least some of these ventures will come to fruition.

While these projects are utopian in the sense that they envision the framework of ideal societies emancipated from the constraints of reality, it seems to us that their realisation is likely to raise important existential questions.

Since the 16th century, utopias have served as guiding horizons for the development of our human societies. However, what would happen if we were to reach some of these horizons? Wouldn’t there be something like breaking the sound barrier or experiencing the big bang?… something that could propel humanity into a new dimension.

It is tempting to pursue this line of thought, which in a way, also echoes the profoundly human dream of achieving total control over nature, the rebellious and ever-changing environment with which humans have had to contend up until now.

This is not the first time we have highlighted in these pages a semblance of aversion to change within the obsession with issues like climate change. It appears that the widespread belief in humanity’s proximity to achieving omnipotence through new technologies is intensifying the desire to stabilize reality.

However, in the pursuit of such a dream, would the reality that surrenders be anything other than life itself? Could the ultimate fantasy of eradicating death, now seemingly perceived as an achievable horizon[1] by some, be contributing to substantial financial transfers to the pharmaceutical sector (instead of investing in hospital healthcare)? Is this pursuit akin to the religious concept of eternal life, ultimately a denial of life and an affirmation of death?

Indeed, the concept of ‘progress’ has always been about freeing humans from their servitude to nature, encompassing challenges such as disease, death, climatic uncertainties, the harshness of temperature, hunger, thirst, and sexual instincts. This rationale has accompanied each of our civilizations in diverse ways, contingent on the era, location, and the attained level of technology. But the changes in technological paradigms, triggered by the advent of the Internet, engendering a sense of omnipotence, have unleashed potent utopian energies manifested in these futuristic city projects. The most pragmatic of these initiatives, Neom, could potentially materialise around 2030. From this juncture, two scenarios emerge:

– Reality will once again reveal its grip on our ideas, trapping the project in its various failures and imperfections, and reopening new ideal horizons.

– A formally near-perfect societal framework will be established, immediately giving rise to a new model superior to the old ones and dividing the world into two realms: an elitist Olympus soaring above, and a world beneath gradually drained of its resources to spawn additional NEOMs — other ideal cities shielding their societies from the uncertainties of life.

If history is to gravitate around this second scenario, the urban utopias housed in the drawers of Western architects’ and planners’ offices are indeed bombs dropped on our traditional civilisation.

Like the pyramids of the Pharaohs, they will mark the apogee of a scientific edifice, but like the pyramids of the Pharaohs, they will crush living human society in favour of the frozen dream of the ultra-powerful. Like the pyramids of the Pharaohs, they will herald the demise of a civilisation that favours death over life and is therefore doomed to fade before the next expressions of the living.

This is a fruitful avenue for contemplation. We offer you these first steps, encouraging you to pursue in your innermost depths, drawing insights from the elements provided throughout this issue.
Wishing you an enlightening journey!

Marie-Hélène Caillol,
President, European Laboratory for Political Anticipation (LEAP2040)


To read the articles of this Issue, subscribe here.


[1]     Source: CNBC, 21/09/2021


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