“Call for Submissions”- Poster for MONU #6, September 2006

Beautiful Urbanism
By Bernd Upmeyer and Thomas Söhl

The one movement in urban design that included the name beauty in its name, the City Beautiful movement in the 1890’s and 1900’s, had a vision of beauty that was limited to the reproduction of planning and design concepts that had long been outdated. In short, a feeble attempt to clad a banal and old conception of urban life in even older clothes.

Today the term beautiful is virtually banished from any discussion about urban life – the design professions sometimes secretly talk about the beauty of buildings but otherwise are completely ignorant about the beauty that emerges and really matters – the life in the city. Most of those who are concerned with the part of cities that are not made of concrete, steel and glass, eschew the term altogether – sustainability, fairness and justice, are words that we feel comfortable with – beauty not.

As a consequence, when architects and designers start thinking big they have tended to draw caricatures of urban life: The utopian planners of the 60’s and 70’s started with an ambition to reintroduce the scale of day to day life into thinking about the city but mostly got caught in scale-less structuralism. Another extreme is the 90’s chic to embrace the bigger is better, the uncritical entertaining of the endless growth fantasies of high capitalism and its real estate markets.

While the urban professions shied away from a progressive use of the term, it has been co-opted by those in the business of mindless real estate development or those who seize conservative images of the city like the infamous new urbanism gang.

This issue of Monu wants to tackle the issue of beauty in urban life and jumpstart a discussion about how to reclaim the term for progressive urban thinking. What is the beauty of urban life? What are the conditions that create beauty? Where do we find our own places of beautiful urban life? Is it (window-) shopping along fancy boulevards, the seductive gazes cast on a crowded sidewalk, traffic circles crowded at rush-hour or bike messengers zipping through streets? Is it dingy bars and obnoxious car-repair places or romantic parks and rooftop terraces? There are thousands of moments and images that can come to mind. How can planners, designers, builders, thinkers and activists relate to an agenda of beauty in urban life and recapture a vital concept.

Title: Beautiful Urbanism
Author: Bernd Upmeyer, Thomas Söhl
Date: September 2006
Type: Call For Submissions for MONU
Publications: MONU – Magazine on Urbanism
Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands