Honestly, who hasn’t thought at one time or another about living in the perfect society — a sensible and ideal Shangri-La? Life, one might lament, would be so much better if only everyone could see things as clearly as I do! Whatever. The concept itself goes back at least as far as c. 525 BC when Pythagoras created Homakoeion, a commune which embraced vegetarianism, equality of men and women, intellectualism and even mysticism. About 150 years later Plato penned Republic, his most famous work, which explores the very kind of political philosophy instrumental in shaping many of the Utopian communities which were to follow. Clearly, people have sought to refine and perfect society through such philosophy for a very long time.
Like Homakoeion, most planned Utopias have traditionally combined several aspirations which may include (but are certainly not limited to) any one or more of the following: 1) religious and/or spiritual enlightenment, 2) ecological harmony/self-sufficiency, 3) political, social and/or economic equality, 4) artistic/literary/intellectual expression and 5) the harnessing of scientific and/or technological knowledge. Naturally, with so many combinations of aspirations possible, not everyone is going to agree as to what Utopia looks like.
The term “Utopian community” often conjures up thoughts of failed nineteenth century religious sects which formed and briefly flourished before fading away. Many, if not all, utopias do indeed seem to have a dark side undermining the outer veneer of perfection. But truly, little in life can be said to be flawless. While it is true that many Utopias have very short life spans, many others have managed to survive and even prosper. The tradition is very much alive today (more popular than ever?) though now we are more apt to call such efforts Intentional Communities which sounds a lot more reasoned and a lot less flaky or cultish than Utopia. So many have yearned to live amongst like-minded people that the wide variety of community goals and philosophies embraced — both past and present — can be mind boggling. Throughout the ages countless people have put their time, money and energy into their visions… often bringing them to fruition. Here we’ll look at several of the innumerable physical structures which have in part sheltered, continue to shelter, or will potentially shelter some of the “perfect” communities people have envisioned. More information can be found about each community by following links the provided.
Utopian communities may have been fading in popularity in the second quarter of the twentieth century, but they never went away. The third quarter saw a revival of interest in them, and they began to flourish in the 1960’s.
Advances in technology in recent decades, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, pave the way for entirely different approaches to Utopia than those created in the past. It is inevitable that AI will increasingly impact our lives, and the field of urban design is not immune. It’s already being put to work developing “15 minute cities” world-wide in which residents theoretically are never more than a 15 minute walk or bike ride from anything they could possibly need…