Skip to main content
Okay, fine. With the transportation solved, Safdie can construct his ideal twenty-first century city region. It turns out to be a lot like today's megalopolis except much better. The suburbs remain after all, many people covet a detached home and big sky but Safdie's burbs are verdant and esthetic thanks to the invention of the eco-friendly space-saving U-car. When the suburbanites grow restless, they can zip over to one of the high-density concentrations ("interactive centres" Safdie dubs them in socio-architectural speak) that sprout at pre-meditated points through-out the region. Unlike the haphazard hubs dotting today's suburbs, Safdie's sub-cities are places of panache, engineered "to foster the spontaneous encounters so central to urban life."
Each sub-city contributes its special charisma to the mega-urban experience, yet each obeys the same plan: long and slender, built along a car-free main street stretching a mile or more under a retractable glass roof. You debark from a train or U-car at gates at either end. Inside, without fear of traffic, you stroll a grand corridor vibrant with shops and theatres and groovy apartments. Or you hitch a ride on a glass-encased conveyor that slides along the facades.
It's like a mega-Eaton Centre. As Safdie argues that the shopping mall should be more like a traditional city street, paved with stone, integrating schools and libraries, he also believes a city should be more like a mall. Still, what would the reality be? A steamy main street packed with wretched hordes under a malfunctioning, dripping roof?
Well, it's easy to be cynical, isn't it? Let Safdie's book be read. True, his preoccupation with the U.S. scene shifts his discourse somewhat off-centre for us. When Safdie laments the "white flight" to the suburbs to escape racial discord in "our ravaged inner cities", he's not describing us not yet, at least. But in the end Safdie delivers a stimulating read that reveals some issues thinking architects wrestle with as they build the man-made world.
Aspects of Safdie's vision may come true. Though the U-cars are half-baked, some day there may be something fully-baked rentable electric buggies, I expect, plying within tomorrow's mega-plexes and along the indoor main streets (alas, not vehicle-free after all) of tomorrow's gated, leaky-roofed sub-cities.