Cities as Projected by Technocracy

John Berge


See also Worldwatch Paper No. 105, October, 1991, that was written by Marcia D. Lowe, titled Shaping Cities: The Environmental and Human Dimensions.

Much has been learned about cities in the last several decades, and a lot of that learning has come from unpleasant experience that derives from an inappropriate method of social operation. The picture of future cities as seen by Technocracy comes from an understanding of a social system designed to be compatible both with physical reality and human nature.

So great is the effect of habit on the human animal that it becomes almost impossible for one to detach himself sufficiently to take an objective view of the subject of housing. Our houses, and our buildings and structures, generally, resemble our clothing in that they attain a certain convention and thereafter we tend to accept them without further question. It never occurs to us to ask whether the prevailing convention is better or worse than other possible styles. The training of our architects is such as to tend to perpetuate this state of affairs. The problem of designing buildings in accordance with the functions they are to perform seems rarely to have occurred to architects.

The successful architect of today is either one who has developed an architectural firm that receives commissions for designing large and expensive buildings, such as skyscrapers, hospitals, courthouses and the like, or else an individual practitioner who knows sufficiently well the pecuniary canons of good taste to receive commissions for the design of residences in the expensive residential sections of our cities and their suburbs.

If an architect wishes to be really "modern," he then proceeds to do something "different." The two basic questions that seem never to occur in connection with these endeavors are: "What is the building for?" and "Would it be practicable to house the inhabitants of an entire continent in such structures?"

This brings us to the technological foundation of the whole subject of housing, namely, what are the buildings for? What do we have to build them with? What does it cost physically to maintain them? And how long will they last?

The physical cost in this field is arrived at in the same manner as is the physical cost in any other field. If housing is to be adequate and at the same time the physical cost of housing is to be kept at a minimum, there is necessitated a complete revision of design, construction, and maintenance in the whole field of housing. It requires that the construction of houses be kept at a minimum cost, that the life of each house be a maximum, and that the cost of maintaining each house, including heating and lighting, be a minimum. It requires, furthermore, that the materials used be those of which there is an ample supply for the construction and maintenance. This immediately rules out the whole array of "modern" designs of metal houses, where the metal involved is chromium and other similar rare metals that are indispensable as alloys of steel and other metals for industrial uses.

Technocracy's job is to make North Americans aware of what the future holds, the dangers and the opportunity. Once the public sees what the possibilities are with this new form of governance, surprising changes can unfold.

At present, cities grow with no direction; efforts to control them are only after the fact — when a problem has already gotten out of control. A city should be built only after research has determined where industries can best process natural resources and where the population needs or wants a city.

What are some aspects of such a city? Experience has shown that humans do best if they are not crowded. If more than 14 or 15 thousand live close to one another, something is lost. But, on the other hand, a community should be big enough so there can be a full range of facilities, schools, recreations and hospitals. Thus a city should be more vertical than sprawling, with trees, grass and open spaces. Interesting studies have been made of how people utilize space and arrange their environment. They need their privacy and at the same time they need to feel near other people.

It seems clear that the ground level of a city should be for people; services and vehicles should be sub-surface. Today, street after street is lined with shops hawking merchandise and with the alleys and lanes clogged with vehicles and refuse. Transportation to places of work or interest can be by underground rapid transit, and many forms of rapid transit are waiting in the wings for the selection of designers who will have the job of harmonizing human desire with physical reality.

No doubt, the transition time to the new society will see much movement before people settle into new ways. For instance, it will be a new thing for many people to discover leisure. They will have the opportunity to discover their personal potential without the restriction of lack of time and money. The privilege of acquiring one's needs and wants as a right of citizenship will likely have its reflection in the kind of patriotism elicited.