What we do want from cities and what do we indeed get?

To define what is our potential eagerness from cities is the fundament to figure out whether the misalignment exists between what we want from cities and what we get. After continuous exploration in what is the realistic and livable urban atmosphere, from Garden City that well defined different functional circles, to Le Corbusier’s ideal modern cities that can only belonged to utopia, to industrial Manchester City that was immersed in polluted air, nowadays, cities tend to be diverse and people tend to be ambitious, but what do want from cities seem to be too complex to define. As the relationship between human and ecology is reversed from anti to cooperation, efforts are made to construct a sustainable urbanism, just as Peter Calthorpe pointed out in Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change “a ‘Green Urban ’alternative”[1], which is a city that is compact , mixed-used and walkable.


Yes, the hospitality, livability convenience and joy are all what we want from cities, but in reality, what do we really get? What Peter Calthorpe said above is still “Vision California”, however, the “Real California” is still in low-density suburban growth (in China, it should be high-density but also high vacancy suburban growth), composed of clearly defined and segregate functional zones, and in the process of vehicle dependent development.


Why we are so numb to the misalignment? Because the changes needed be taken in place toward sustainable urbanism will be a tough issue for a lot of people in important positions to accept, “since it challenges something that might be even more powerful than capitalism” [2], as Naomi Klein said in This Changes Everything. What is more, most people choose to look away the environmental and ecological issue, so that public concentration cannot be roused and no political implementation will be taken initiatively. Even 2009 U.N, Climate Summit in Copenhagen is just a kind of apt response to the popular topics of sustainability and has little effectiveness in supervision of how countries respond to sustainable development in reality.


Fortunately, most cities are in effort to return to a track of sustainability. Ecology awareness has been aroused in research and study. Sponge City which gives back the green land to which is supposed to belong the nature, Smart City which decreases carbon footprint and increases efficiency of operation of daily life and work, and zero carbon which is aimed at minimize the emission of CO2 and save the energy are all methods to seek a more sustainable urbanism. Though it is on a right track towards sustainability, only under the circumstance that more people are involved and aware of the emergency to build an ecological urbanism, can actions of political and economic effectiveness that can really make changes will be paid attention on. Indeed, there is a long journey to go.




  1. Calthorpe, Peter. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Chapter 1. 2011.
  2. Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. 2014. Simon & Schuster.

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