This year marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, which gave that term its current meaning and reconnected with a literary genre begun by Plato –the detailed description of a society that is seen by the author as ideal. This utopia of More’s, which was highly regarded, particularly in Europe from the 17th century onwards, became very influential and in subsequent centuries many authors have tried their hands at utopian proposals, applied in most cases to circumscribed territories. As Jean Haëntjens reminds us, this strain of utopian thought contributed greatly to fuelling the visions of towns and cities deemed desirable by the political actors and urbanists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
After a long period of “utopian silence”, which led to an absence of innovative thinking on urban matters in the second half of the 20th century, we have for some years now been seeing a host of urban innovations that are akin, in many respects, to utopian ventures. This is why Futuribles has decided to take stock, in this issue, of the complex relations between utopian thinking and urban policies.
Jean Haëntjens opens this dossier by reminding us, first, of the historic collusion between utopians and urbanists, the different periods of utopian thought, and the way urbanists and architects have seized on these utopias to modify the urban landscape. He also shows the developments that have been underway since the 1970s, particularly the emergence of new urban proposals of a utopian or similar nature emanating not from visionary theorists but, increasingly, from associations, communities, enterprises or citizens resolving to take the future of their town or city in hand. It is these initiatives, these new urban utopias that are presented in this issue, with the following question running through the whole enterprise: will they enable us to meet the formidable challenges posed by the accommodation of three billion new urban dwellers by the year 2050?