The City WithinBy Federico De Arteaga | Wed, 03/30/2022 - 11:00
Where is the city? Is it in the abstraction of planners, urbanists, architects and theorists?
To what extent are the cities that are named, the cities that they are? To what extent is Mexico City the city imagined by the tourists who visit it or the one experienced by those who live on its outskirts and invest two hours of their time to get to work? Is it the sum of clichés spread on social networks, tourist guides or mass media? Is the city the technological new paradigm or the generic one that Rem Koolhas speaks about? Is it classical, Muslim, medieval? Each city has a history, a vocation, its own culture and inhabitants that nurture it. Cities have been reviewed by thinkers, such as Jacobs, Mumford, Glaeser, Sudjic, Gehry, Sennett or Niemeyer, with different perspectives, from the Greek polis.
In the 21st century, economies are integrated and attract or repel each other based on geography, infrastructure, digital mindset, port and information networks, in permanent tension between the possible and the viable city. The city is in the people who live it, do, dream, build, give a human scale, digitize it, organize it, do business, educate themselves, form their social capital and their culture in an environment that increasingly determines its growth form. It is the convergence of the parties that work to generate strategies that transcend and add value to the quality of life of its inhabitants and are agents of change for the next generations. Not everything in the city is qualitative or quantitative; it can be measured, compared and have indicators to manage the city-system. There is an intangible volume of attributes, such as new forms of government, tacit agreements, or the individual experience of each person, that work dynamically, giving life to those that can be dimensioned through urban analysis, carrying capacity, demography, tourism and Gross Domestic Product (80 percent is already produced in the cities). As for the global guidelines for CO2 neutrality by 2050 (the race to “zero”), they govern the agendas of the countries aligned with this objective, which crosses endless industries and economic activities of those involved.
So, what will be the measure of the potential of each city? What do cities contribute to the country in terms of culture, institutional security or resilience? What makes them desirable? In the first half of this century, the game will be dominated by medium-sized cities, not large metropolises. We are in Latin America, a system of municipalities, of small and medium-sized cities. People navigate the tension between different visions and readings, between the technological and the non-technological, between governance and a citizenry eager to participate, with government transparency tools and guarantees that were perhaps never available before. That trajectory will determine the importance of seeing the city for what it is: a complex system in relation to other systems.
Where is the city? Maybe it is nowhere but in what women and men do, who live it, dream it, build it, give it human scale, digitalize it, order it, do business, educate themselves, build social capital and create culture in a natural environment that seeks a place.