Disaster movie or New Jerusalem?

Alternative urban scenarios for the 21st century

  • Malcolm Miles UEF


Through the 1990s, a strand in urban commentary
depicted contemporary cities as sites of dystopia.
Mike Davis, for instance, likens the future scenario of
Los Angeles to the scripts of disaster movies. When
the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York –
known as 9-11 – brought the projected disaster into
reality television with repeated scenes of the falling
towers, it seemed this script had served its purpose
(although since then it has been reincorporated
into projections of climate change). This dystopian
imagery contradicts earlier modernist ideas of the
city as a location of a new, utopian social order
from the 1920s to the 1960s. This idealism builds on
romanticised images of the city as a site of culture
in an uncultured landscape, or a place of safety, a
citadel, in face of wild nature. A difficulty uniting
dystopian and utopian images of these kinds is that
both tend to universalise the experience of urban
dwelling while privileging the plan and the design
over the material reality. At the level of everyday life,
as Lefebvre and de Certeau argued, urban space is
produced in another way by its inhabitants. Similarly,
taking the argument to today’s alternative society and
its ecological and socially equitable settlements, new
social practices emerge as moments of liberation
within the restrictions of present structures of
power. The paper outlines this argument, and gives
several examples of alternative urbanism. It makes
no claim that these practices constitute an ideal
society, but rather re-frames the utopian within
the everyday as a really possible future other than

syys 1, 2008
Miles, M. (2008). Disaster movie or New Jerusalem? Alternative urban scenarios for the 21st century. Alue Ja Ympäristö, 37(2), 5-15. Noudettu osoitteesta https://aluejaymparisto.journal.fi/article/view/64350