Questioning utopias, this panel seeks to explore the different utopias behind the recent calls for public spaces - both as physical places of social encounter as well as in their conceptual dimension as politicized spaces of thought and action.
The most controversial element today that connects different utopian visions is the fact that they are visions of public space, that is, conceptualizations of communal, political and social life. Whilst the dominant neo-liberal view rejects utopian visions for this precise reason, because utopias are regarded as totalizing projects, there has been a recurrent call for public spaces in urban planning and in academic research. Indeed, does not today's emphasis on a preservation of heritage, the protection of the environment and democratic ideals express a disavowed, nostalgic belief in utopia through organization of public space going back to models such as the ideal Greek city? Green parks, pedestrianized historical centers and regenerated river walks in big cities are praised to be the space where locals meet spontaneously, bridging their differences, allegedly fostering social cohesion. At a time when the loss of a sense of place as much as the loss of social cohesion is becoming worrying for many, public spaces are often seen to provide an ideal solution. Can a democratic utopia become real through the planning of urban public spaces? If architects can provide the space of utopia to be materialized, does it mean necessarily that they can foster democracy, sustainable heritage or ecological cities? Finally, can utopia be realized by altering material spaces or should there be a stronger focus on the social production of utopia?