“Every city is a one-off. Even those cities modeled off an earlier one (as Shanghai was built to resemble a European city, or as American sprawl is built off a very limited number of templates) end up entirely unique as people live in them, and use them, and change them. People exist who know everything about their cities, who know them deeply and intimately, who know them like they know a lover’s body and thoughts — who could tell you the history, who could reveal the hidden, who could explain what makes that city itself — but they are extremely rare, and their work is the work of a lifetime. People who know several cities this well are more rare than those who can both run a 100 meter dash in under ten seconds and do calculus in their heads.
So when we talk about the transformation of cities, we’re talking not about one process, but a thousand simultaneous and unique undertakings. Each city has its own possibilities, possibilities which can usually only be seen by those deeply enmeshed in the life of that city. Even where a tool is universally useful, its actual use will be always and everywhere particular to place. If redesigning the city is seen as pursuing some Modernist dream of ideal perfection, we’ve failed before we started.
There is no bright green City of the Future, shining in chrome abstraction. But if we don’t screw up too badly, there can be a bright green Shanghai in the future, and a bright green Lagos and Sao Paulo and Los Angeles. And in order for those future cities to thrive, they each will need to rethink themselves in ways no other city ever could have.
So the task is not to assemble a pre-built model, a City of the Future kit in a box. It is something much more difficult: the task is to assemble toolboxes which each city can use according to its own genius and inspiration, and to network the planet’s urban innovators together so that they can quickly, easily, and constantly compare work and share ideas.”