Thursday, December 09, 2004


It is worthy of note that oftentimes
Utopia has a negative sense to it.
At least it did where I grew up.

"You can't have Utopia", my mother would say.
If you are too optimistic or idealistic, you are Utopian.

Thomas More wrote Utopia almost 500 years ago.

More was a principled man. Soon after writing Utopia he rose to the rank of Lord Chancellor under King Henry VIII. When the king broke from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn, More refused to sign the Act of Succession and Supremacy, which made King Henry the "supreme head on earth" of the English church. Since Henry was now head of both church and government, More's refusal was seen as an act of treason, and he was beheaded.

The execution immediately entered English lore. Placing his head down on the block, More moved his long beard out of the way. The beard, he said, had done the king no offense. Four hundred years later the Catholic Church canonized him, replacing the "Sir" with "Saint".

More's book describes a slightly socialistic, master planned community that didn't need money to buy things from other communities. And they had real gardening skills:

They cultivate their gardens with great care, so that they have vines, fruits, herbs, and flowers in them; and all is so well ordered, and so finely kept, that I never saw gardens anywhere that were both so fruitful and so beautiful as theirs. And this humor of ordering their gardens so well is not only kept up by the pleasure they find in it, but also by an emulation between the inhabitants of the several streets, who vie with each other; and there is indeed nothing belonging to the whole town that is both more useful and more pleasant.

This sounds pretty pleasant.

There were a lot of Utopian ideas in the last century. Frank Lloyd Wright developed his best plan for the perfect town called Broadacre City. Wright revered the American experience and believed that democracy was the best form of government. Throughout his life he strived to create a new architecture that reflected the American democratic experience, an architecture based not on failing European and foreign models (such as Greek, Egyptian and Renaissance styles) but rather an architecture based solely on America's democratic values and human dignity. He often referred to the United States as Usonia. The city plan, Broadacre City, was the culmination of Wright's ideas on a new architecture for a new democracy.

We used to think pretty hard about how to make things

as good as they can be.

Politicians used to run for office based on making things

as good as they can be,

with bold new ideas and bold new plans.

How, working together, we can do great things.

Now, they just try to scare the beejeesus out of us.

And it works. At least it works for them.

Lao Tze spoke of Utopia centuries before Thomas More.

Let your community be small, with only a few people;

Keep tools in abundance, but do not depend upon them;

Appreciate your life and be content with your home;

Sail boats and ride horses, but don't go too far;

Keep weapons and armour, but do not employ them;

Let everyone read and write,

Eat well and make beautiful things.

Live peacefully and delight in your own society;

Dwell within cock-crow of your neighbours,

But maintain your independence from them.

Enough said.


Blogger j o e l said...

yes, i admire frank l. webber's vision too. its amazing how anyone can come up with plans and ideas for cities.

9:54 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

I think in general that cities should grow, but that said, I have a giant model of a future city in crates ready for some future viewing.

9:52 AM  

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