How the dream of total urbanism is certain to come crashing down
There is a pattern to all totalitarianism, whether of the Left or the Right, and you can recognise it immediately. It starts when the same goal is endorsed by everyone. To be topical, let's say it's something called 'total urbanism'. 'What about total overcrowding?' you object. 'Nonsense, ' you are told, 'for that we'll double all densities and forthwith!' Short shrift at the hands of these zealots, then, and the planners are even quicker off the mark , opening the floodgates on every infill site in town.
Suddenly, opera houses, art galleries, hotels and museums become fabulously important.
The words 'culture', 'vibrant', 'regeneration', and 'sustainability' will ricochet around the academies like bullets in a shootout, and pretty soon every project will be deemed worthy of a prize.
Stage two in the development of totalitarianism occurs when the 'proof' kicks in. That's when it turns out that 'urban researchers' have discovered that free people in a democratic society always gravitate towards urban life.
From Ur of the Chaldees to Milton Keynes, rural man has always yearned for a life below decks packed like a sardine into a terrifying municipality as notorious as the Titanic.
Up to this point, opposition to the pro-city bandwagon has been encouraged - for target practice, naturally - but also to help the urban crusaders get yet more money for yet another bureaucratic layer, yet more consultants and advisers to ensure that everything is, of course, 'of good quality' or, at worst, 'of world class'.
For now, a lack of money is becoming a burden.
Despite the apparently unstoppable tide of world urbanisation found by earlier researchers, time is beginning to take its toll. ('What? Five years already and nothing done? !') The gang of urban promoters gets together again and decides the city needs encouragement of a different kind. From now on it's no more Mr Nice Guy.
If mankind's great urban dream doesn't net them another £3 billion, well then? well? there won't be any urban revolution after all, only unspeakable suburbanisation everywhere.
This, of course, is correct, because what is trying to happen in the city today is a counter-revolution, not a revolution. If it were otherwise we should not see flats and houses priced far above what salaried workers can afford, nor find standing room only on unreliable commuter trains that take more than an hour to get to their destinations.
Such indicators do have an effect, it is true, but it is not to increase the appeal of the sidewalk cafés, remorselessly increasing traffic and copious pedestrian areas. Instead, these and other pressures join the great push for decentralisation that began with Victorian public health measures, enlisted the aid of the railway boom, gained irresistible strength from the fear of bombing in two world wars, and attained its greatest success in the decades of planning for dispersed development that followed them.
No matter how much money is thrown away in pursuit of the mythological metropolis of the future, it can never overcome the centrifugal force of the evolution of technology, nor the will of individuals to live where they wish and at a reasonable distance from one another.
Examples from many fields prove this. The animal sciences show us that, in our version of intra-species aggression, territorial dispersal is the only way to avoid conflict. In the same way, the informationtechnology revolution of the 20th century legitimises the resultant dispersal by rendering most face-to-face encounters unnecessary.
These truly are powerful forces whose resultant changes will not be easily reversed.