Nutopia Symposium

2/3 April 2009.



The Nutopia Symposium was located in an empty shop. The programme combined papers and academic discussion alongside break out sessions for delegates including a bike ride led by cycle couriers, 'Vulpine', a walk by artist Simon Whitehead & Ben Stammers, Situationaist game by RoTar, a guided walk by Esther Pilkington & Daniel Ladner, Mapping a Zimbabwe city- an exercise Mark Chappel, Nutopian Drinking game, Sophie Hope.

Speakers included: Tom Hall (Cardiff University), Jill Fenton (QMW), Prof. Malcom Miles (University Plymouth), Chris Carlsson (San Francisco), Steve Garrett (Riverside Market), Zoe Skoulding (Bangor University), Nell Quest (Marseille), Karem Said (American University Cairo), Anne Marie Culhane, Mac Dunlop, Dr Rachel Armstrong, (Bartlett).

A publication co-edited with Malcolm Miles, 'Nutopia: Envisioning Future Cities' pub. University of Plymouth Press, 2011 was published following this symposium.


Summary Of Papers:

Sustainable/ Development

Can community development and grass roots projects be integrated into architectural design and regeneration? The session sought to expand an understanding of how that can be achieved. Papers were given by Steve Garrett/ Cardiff, who set up the award winning Riverside Market. His paper described growing co-operatives he had worked with in Cuba and the potential for cities to be more agriculturally sustainable. Chris Carlsson/ San Francisco – Author of 'Nowtopia: How pirate programmers, outlaw bicyclists, and vacant-lot gardeners are inventing the future today' reading excerpts from his book he discussed how outlaw bicycling, urban permaculture, biofuels, free software, even the Burning Man festival, are windows into a scarcely visible social transformation that challenges politics as we know it. Whilst developer, Mark Hallet from Igloo, described how he intends to approach the development of 'Roath Basin' the last area of Cardiff Bay to be re- developed.

Summary: The discussion focused on approaches to re- development, and highlighted the chasm between grassroots approaches in relation to what must inevitably be a ‘top down’ re-organisation of space when a lead in of 10 years is normal for a re-development programme. The discussion focused on the issue of planning and development as social engineering and how it is possible to develop strategies which create space for 'user' inovation.

Resistance, Patterns, Rhythms: Urban Economies and the Everyday
Papers mapped the tension between dominant economic frameworks present in the city and questions pertaining to redevelopment/ mass consumption and social dystopia’s in relation to ideas of resistance and human exchange, rhythms and intervention within these framework; the ways in which we lay claim to the city. Dr. Jill Fenton, Queen Mary University of London, Geography Department: ‘Surrealism’s Re-enchantment Project for City-zens of the 21st Century’. When a surfeit of processes – credit crunch, recession, regeneration, gentrification and globalisation – significantly alter the flows of our cityscapes, make visible their perspectives in the twenty-first century, it is challenging to imagine the global city and its citizens as open to alternative tides that are creative and playful; in fact to perceive the evolving of what could be described as a passionate urban geography. Professor Malcolm Miles: Professor of Cultural Theory, University of Plymouth and author of Urban Utopias (2008), Cities & Cultures (2007) and Urban Avant-Gardes (2004). Image is key to a city’s symbolic economy. Competing globally, cities such as New York and Barcelona have transformed external perceptions of decline to become cultural and economic hubs. But does a symbolic economy reflect the everyday life and cultural activities of a city? Or do redevelopment schemes looking to a global impact marginalise a city’s own people and the imaginative lives they lead? Dr. Bas Spierings: Department of Human Geography & Urban and Regional Planning at Utrecht University 'IMAGINATIONS OF CONSUMERISM AND THE MAKING OF CONSUMPTION SPACES'. Offers an analysis the influence of the dominant image of contemporary consumerism on the making of upgrading strategies in Dutch city centres. It scrutinizes how the image of ‘shopping flânerie’ supplies arguments and tools to deal with ‘past failures’ – i.e. the rise of chain stores and the physical impact of the post-war reconstruction period –, ‘present problems’. It discusses the following questions: How do local authorities, property developers and retailers imagine spatial practices and experiences of shoppers? What consequences does this have for the design and development of consumption spaces? And, in turn, what consequences could this have for the spatial practices and experiences of contemporary shoppers? DR. Tom Hall, School Of Social Sciences, Cardiff University took the idea of rhythm as its starting point and used this as a way in which to draw attention to the mundane and pedestrian work of upkeep and recycling in the city. I make no claims for utopian futures; instead, and with present-day Cardiff in mind, I point towards the ways in which thinking about urban rhythms might give us some purchase on the idea of the good city.
Tom Hall is a lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences.

Summary: This session offered reflective take on the more practical questions raised earlier in the day and enforced the polarity between the problem of “planning” a place its relationship to the user; the question being, what is the relationship between the planner and the planned for? In turn one must then ask what is the relationship, (either implicit or explicit) between the planner, the architect and the developer to the dominant systems, economies or ideologies which redevelopments will inevitably embody. To reiterate the question: Who are cities for? People/ consumers/ shoppers/ the mass/ the individual/ the locals/ the tourists…..

Under Construction: The Language of Regeneration.
Papers in this session reported on and contextualised urban regeneration projects looking at the ways in which regeneration is as much a conceptual process or linguistic framing as the physical changes that occur. Zoë Skoulding Bangor University Presented her recent collection of poems, Remains of a Future City (Seren, 2008), which drew partly on a text from 1958, ‘Formula for a New City’, a Situationist manifesto by Ivan Chtcheglov, which explores the quarters of an imagined city. Underlying my interest in such sources is a set of questions about collective dwelling, citizenship, paradoxical relationships between the local and the global, and connections between a shared European history and the instant global communication of the present. Nell Quest Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology, Rutgers University Fulbright Advanced Student, 2008-2009, France.
Until recently, Marseille was often presented as France’s “problem city,” a gritty hub of poverty, crime, and unassimilable immigration. More recently, however, large-scale attempts have taken place to transform the city’s landscape and image, with tremendous local, national, and transnational investment. These efforts seek to capitalize anew on Marseille’s diversity and Mediterranean position to promote increased tourism and industry. Little is known, however, about how these efforts are perceived, felt and experienced by Marseille’s various social actors…. Karem Said, The American University in Cairo A host of architectural projects are being built along Cairo’s desert periphery, typically conceived as self-referential, enclosed worlds, and artfully promoted as “villages,” “cities” or “lands.” Roads of high-speed traffic are often the only public spaces that lie between these areas, which compounds their isolation and heightens possibilities for culturally remote social formations. This is precisely what state-capital contingents desire, as they attempt to create distinct environments, in many cases to encourage innovation and creativity. Utopian desires and imaginings will be reconsidered in light of these architectural projects, focusing particularly on spaces designed for innovation and learning.
Summary: This session opened up a middle way between the polarized position of the ‘planners’ and ‘planned for’ or the ‘them and us’ situation which seemed to be the sticking point in the previous sessions. Instead the papers opened up a more physical or bodily experience of place and traced strands, narratives and threads through the chaos. This opened up a discussion that really centered on notions of perception, shared history, language and identity as the elements which make places.

Future Cities…Utopias, Dystopias and making it up as we go along.
We are already living in the future…. presentations explored possible techniques, visions or solutions that maybe utilised in the making and re- making future cites. Dr Rachel Armstrong is speculating on the future of humankind, non Darwinian techniques of evolution and the challenges of the extra-terrestrial environment. Rachel presented scientific research that is being done with living architecture.
"The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution: and we are part of it." from The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
Anne Marie Culhane: Sheffield Based artist who initiated The ORCHARD CITY Anne Marie’s presentation explores the patterns, form, interaction and diversity of the ORCHARD CITY: ORCHARD CITY flows across and links gardens, rooftops, balconies, verges, gap sites and parks. Drawing from the learning and design of forest permaculture, ORCHARD CITY re-animates the city soils, and once established requires minimal ongoing maintenance and gifts us unexpectedly high yields of fruits, berries and culinary, edible herbs, medicinal plants and vegetables through the year. Mac Dunlop: Artist and writer presented a 20-minute meditation on our addiction to energy exploring human behavior in the urban environment through a small fiction:. What if there were far too much of it, everywhere, all the time? Professor Gonçalo Furtado, Oporto University, Portugal “On Two Infinite Scales: The Contemporary Metropolitan Condition and the Construction of ……” I will focus the present situation of contemporary architecture, which has gradually been marked first by the phenomenon of digital information and, more recently, by a bio-technological vision. In my opinion, the contemporary condition suggests the need for a (Godelian) dialogue between the infinitely large and the infinitely small. Facing an unknown situation – a metacity and new urban hybrid experiences - , the role of the so call critical metropolitan project, and the experimental research that it privileged, becomes crucial and critical.

Summary: Here another dynamic emerged around the use of technology in the future to cut Carbon Dioxide emissions and create urban sink holes in ‘Living architecture’, the premise of this being that it allows us to continue with currently unsustainable levels of consumption. In contrast other presentations suggested that we actually have everything that we need and it is a matter of re-organisation, city greening projects, urban orchards using less and growing more. This discussion really questioned the nature of the changes we face asking do we find new technology that allows us to continue at the same rate of consumption but which may have, as yet, unknown side effects or do we look for less comfortable ways of living which share out resources in a different way?


Thanks to: Garry Bartlett (tech/ design), Paula Morrison (Intern) & Zoe King (project manager form Safle), All of the speakers and delegates who made the event so productive and in particular to the “Chair’s” Peter Draper, Pratap Rughani, Emma Posey and Wiard Sterk, who did such a great job of directing the sessions. Peter Clark of Morgan Arcade Estates for generous loan of the shop, Julie in security department.

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Project © Jennie Savage 2008