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PERFECT CITY


But of course planning prevails.

"the city is divided into seven large circuits…passage from one to the other is provided by four avenues and four gates facing the four points of the compass…" Campanella 1601.

Ah descriptions of ideal cities! How plausible, how seductive they are! What a relief their finishedness is, how consoling when we know that actually to live in a city is to live on a building site. But the beauty of le Corbusier's Ville Contemporaine! (or rather the beauty of his drawings; an important distinction): the great cruciform 50 storey blocks flanking broad sunlit expressways, (unencumbered by aesthetically compromising road signs, let alone billboards); richly mature parks, a little biplane dipping prettily between the skyscrapers. Oh brave new world!

Corbusier got the future wrong, the real future. His radical plans for Hongkong drawn up in the 30s have been, in terms of sheer modernity, quite eclipsed; he is outimagined by what has actually taken place there. He might have grumbled, as he did in New York, that the skyscapers were too small. Well he had to, didn't he? Actually Corb has been outmoderned by both cities. He got it wrong. Blithely he tells us how the traffic will be:

"Our fast car (rather sweet that "fast") takes the special elevated motor track between the majestic skyscrapers…..(and later…) our car has dropped its speed of sixty miles an hour to run gently through the residential quarters…There are gardens, games and sports grounds. And sky everywhere, as far as the eye can see. The square silhouettes of the terraced roofs stand clear against the sky, bordered with the verdure of the hanging gardens."

It sounds fabulous; I am almost persuaded; but when it comes to details, with the benefit of hindsight, we smell rats.

"Short passageways in the shape of bridges above the ordinary streets would enable foot traffic to get among those newly gained quarters consecrated to leisure amidst flowers and foliage"

   
 

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