The Perfect City

Issue 00/14

A city is an infinite patchwork of people and places. The perfect city fertilises this garden so that businesses can grow and its citizens can flourish.

A good city needs just the right mix of planning, infrastructure, and leadership—all of which need to be articulated by a clear vision. However, this vision doesn’t begin and end at the mayor’s desk. Instead, the perfect city believes in its citizens, giving them the building blocks to create the metropolis that they want to live in—not the city that they’re told they should live in.


Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry—North Wall [detail], 1932–33. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, USA

It’s about trust. Trusting the people that live in the city to mould their own city. This means being more libertarian than authoritarian; providing greater incentives instead of just dishing out endless punishments.

The true motor of this bottom-up growth are the citizens themselves. Locals who aren’t just looking to get rich but who are motivated by a desire to improve their city. This can come in many shapes and forms: a new product, a smart service, or a simple yet potentially revolutionary idea. The entrepreneurs that espouse them are the real eyes and ears of the city and their unstoppable drive needs to be encouraged, not curtailed.

In the perfect city, local government doesn’t just pay lip service to these ‘entrepreneurs’ to promote their pre-election economic credentials, but actually backs them up with a supportive bureaucracy that drafts laws and regulations that make sense. The ideal legal and regulatory framework should be bound by the desire to help—not hinder. This requires a willing ear, not a wagging finger.

Cities can spend millions on rejuvenating public spaces and cleaning up streets, but what good is a clean street if all the shop fronts are boarded up?


Diego Rivera: The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City [detail], 1931. SFAI~San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, USA

Imagine a city that encouraged landlords to lower rents so that young creatives could breathe new life into a derelict street. Imagine long-abandoned arcades being converted into hive of inner-city retail and small-scale manufacturing. Imagine a city council which encouraged local businesses to decorate their shop fronts with colourful chairs and flowers—instead of sending in the cavalry to impound them. Imagine a city which nurtured local talent—and industry, by holding competitions to design street furniture, signs, and even the Christmas decorations.

The perfect city would not only dare its inhabitants to dream big, but reward them for daring to turn these dreams into reality.

A city whose vision for the future was indelibly bound to its own talent. Imagine that.