1

For those interested in the subject, I recommend Benévolo’s book Orígenes del Urbanismo Moderno (1963), or at least the article Professor J. Fariña wrote about it in El Blog de José Fariña.

2

Spain was recently reported to the EU for the levels of pollution in Madrid and Barcelona. See El Mundo/Madrid (July 2019).

From Homer to the Marquess of Esquilache: Reflections on the Planning Required for the Intelligent City

 

The dilemma facing present-day urban planners striving to meet Sustainable Development Objectives.

In The Odyssey, Homer narrates how Ulysses wasn’t recognised by his family and friends when he arrived back in Ithaca but had no trouble identifying those past acquaintances himself. One of the morals of that story is that the things we experience can change us so much that not even our own mother will recognise us.

But I don’t think Homer got round to explaining that the same thing happens the other way round too: experience also transforms the perception of the world we had when we first set out on our journey. So companions we left behind when we started out may be unrecognisable to us on our return, even though they haven’t changed in the same way that we have.

Those of us fortunate enough to have been able to work abroad perceive a change of scale regarding global problems, and this leads some of us to take a somewhat condescending view of our own society, sometimes for its naivety and sometimes for the short-term nature of nearly all our visions of the future.

In Spain we love flags and trenches. In a globalised world, some debates over identity can become almost tragicomical, especially in view of the geopolitical and technological transformations that are taking place around us like earth tremors.

The bandying around of ideological labels like “sustainability”, which should be based on rigorous technical considerations, can only have negative consequences for everyone. The environmental challenges now facing us are unprecedented in both their scale and their intensity, and radical policies therefore need to be structured from new perspectives.

The same thing happened with the emergence of modern urban planning during the Industrial Revolution. The new discipline was not driven by lofty ideals about cities or public space: the development of specific urban legislation1 was driven by the quest to achieve basic levels of hygiene, to avoid overcrowding and to consolidate a minimal supply system.

Today, it’s simply not viable not to have an urban planning policy based on factors like air quality, optimal movements of goods, people and services, transparent governance, and the supply not only of energy, water and gas but also of information. In short, the intelligent city we aspire to requires intelligent planning. And this shouldn’t be a question of left- or right-wing politics, but of doing things well2.

The controversial Madrid Central programme ought probably to give way to a Madrid Global programme thought out and implemented more transversely. A couple of hundred years ago, the Marquess of Esquilache’s urban reforms failed not because they were unreasonable or unbeneficial, but because people saw them as a burden imposed by an out-of-touch elite. The urban planning debate of the last few months seems to have been more comparable to the Esquilache revolt than to a technical discussion by specialists.

The good news is that Homer’s story ends with a lesson that’s usually overshadowed by Ulysses’ terrible revenge: all the citizens of Ithaca solemnly undertake to keep the peace. I don’t know whether we need to invoke Pallas Athene to do it, but I think we should try to do the same.

Notas de página
1

For those interested in the subject, I recommend Benévolo’s book Orígenes del Urbanismo Moderno (1963), or at least the article Professor J. Fariña wrote about it in El Blog de José Fariña.

2

Spain was recently reported to the EU for the levels of pollution in Madrid and Barcelona. See El Mundo/Madrid (July 2019).

Autor:
Arquitecto desde el año 2000. Miembro de la Asociación de Arquitectos (aA), ha sido vocal de la Junta de Gobierno del COAM y asambleísta en el CSCAE.

Deja un comentario

Tu correo no se va a publicar.

*

Últimos posts