02-12-04 // MIDDLE CLASS URBANISM
“Call for Submissions”- Poster for MONU #2, December 2004
Middle Class Urbanism
By Bernd Upmeyer and Thomas Söhl
The vanishing of the middle class is a well-documented phenomenon. Across Europe and North America, as income distribution becomes increasingly lop-sided and greater extremes of poverty and wealth are created, the notion of what was once considered ‘normal’ will be emptied of meaning and this will have a significant impact on societies – one registering well beyond political, social and economic contexts. The ‘hollowing out’ of the middle class will ultimately change and challenge the way cities are created, it will alter the ideals and the powers behind urbanism that shape the aesthetics of our cities in profound ways.
For the last few decades the middle class has been the driving force behind urban innovation. More than any other, this urban group has both the financial resources and the sheer power of numbers to effectively transform desire into urban reality. Many of the most obvious components of our cities – Row houses, apartment buildings and sports facilities, to name but a few—are in large measure a response to the existence of the middle class. These components have been enabled by the solid, middle class sensibilities of order and uniformity that we often take for granted. This is particularly true of the Suburbs, the most important novelty on the urban landscape in the last century and a decidedly middle class invention.
The middle class symbolizes modest urban values, values that seem hopelessly anti-utopian and run counter to the megalomaniac concepts of cities proposed by great architects like LeCorbusier or Hilbersheimer. But in reality the middle class is comprised of some of the boldest urban utopists ever, individuals who have been realizing their utopias for decades. Much less dogmatic and more successful than any imagined utopia, with their power, influence and sheer numbers the middle class has shaped the urban landscapes we inhabit today.
What specific impact has the middle class had on urbanism? Is it aware of its power, or of its rapidly approaching demise? And will urbanism evolve or devolve once the terrain currently occupied by the middle class is less a reality than a mere statistical concept? As landscapes are redrawn and the middle class collapses in on itself, what species of urbanism will be created in its absence. And are we prepared for what’s to come?