Visions of utopia

How diversity is key to tomorrow’s utopian city.

This year’s Semi Permanent design and creativity festival unpacked what it might mean to live in a utopian city.

14 June, 2022


“Nature thrives on diversity, that’s how it operates,” agrees writer and director, Damon Gameau

What constitutes utopia? Its literal definition is a ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’ but surely every individual has a different idea of exactly what constitutes hat perfection. This was the major topic of discussion at the recent Semi-Permanent design and creativity festival with a discussion panel hosted by Audi seeking to find some common ground in the search for the utopian cities of tomorrow.

“It’s very hard to change cities, it’s a slow-moving beast, but there are absolutely ways that they should be changing,” says Barrie Barton, Founder of Right-Angle Studio, a company on a mission to understand and improve life in our cities. “There’s a multitude of ways in which diversity can be embodied as a guiding principle that we should all aspire to. Diversity whether it’s social, environment, architectural, cultural – is the holy grail. And we take that lesson from nature where we see in places that have the greatest diversity are the most verdant and supported of life.”

“Nature thrives on diversity, that’s how it operates,” agrees writer and director, Damon Gameau. 

“And we have created in our systems, intense monocultures.” Consider a diverse forest full of species and wildlife, that is cleared to produce one crop such as soy or sugarcane. It will always have an impact on the ecology of the land and those that reside in it. 

Gameau projects that we will have a 25 percent increase in population over the next three decades, which translates to a doubling of the building stock we currently have on the planet. It’s like building a New York City every 30 days for the next 30 years. “There are many organisations and people starting to consider what those cities will look like for our future, and this is our time to think about that,” says Gameau. 

Our First Nation’s voices are fundamental to the conversation too and need to be consulted more on future planning says Yvonne Weldon, Deputy Chairwoman of Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. “When I think about diversity I think about my people,” she says. “We are diverse people. We are resilient. There are hundreds of tribes and clans across this country, we have practised our traditions for 65,000 years and yet we continue to ignore the First Nations of this country. What I want to see more so in the city is that we shouldn’t be making progress at the expense of others, we should be taking people with us. Each one of us has something to offer.”

Of course technology lies at the heart of future cities and how we can use it to best improve everyone’s standard of living. Consider for a moment how our cities would make us feel if we were to electrify everything. “From a sensory perspective it would be a quieter city and it would smell different because we wouldn’t be burning or placing so many pollutants into the air,” says Gameau. 

Of course technology lies at the heart of future cities and how we can use it to best improve everyone’s standard of living

In essence it’s not utopia we should be seeking, but rather ways in which our cities can diversify their use for the greater good

“You might be able to sit in a park and enjoy food forest, there would be less advertising on buildings, we might even have eco dashboards informing our resource use of the city to raise that awareness. There is more art, murals, sculptures and painting and performance – so that it’s just a beautiful place to walk around and connect. And I don’t think that’s that unachievable, I think we could get that kind of city in the next 20 or 30 years.”

In essence it’s not utopia we should be seeking, but rather ways in which our cities can diversify their use for the greater good. Either way, we need to start thinking beyond our own lifespans, and our own communities. We need to look more broadly and further into the future to consider how we can live more sustainably, and we need that to translate to material action. “We should all envision that and talk to our local leaders and let them know the sort of cities we want to live in, in the future,” says Gameau.

Certainly, what we do today, will have an impact on our city of the future. “We all talk about history in such a removed way, but we continue to live it. What we do today will be history in time, so if we can leave something behind, it can either be respectful or destructive,” says Weldon.