- Charles Baudelaire
The MA students of the “British and American Cultures: Texts and Media” program at the University of Hamburg welcome all interested to the Graduate Student Congress “The City of the Future”. The conference will take place on January 29 and 30, 2016 in Hamburg.
Contemporary discourses place the city at the centre of the most important and urgent challenges of our time: ecologic, economic and social stability are ideals negotiated in close relation to urbanization in the twenty-first century. Visions of the city of the future range from the efficient, sustainable “green city” to the transnational, potentially unmappable “megacity” and reveal the utopian as much as the dystopian character of portrayals and interpretations of the metropolitan experience in the future. While the city of the future has been an inspiring vision for centuries in literature and other media, current creative as well as pragmatic approaches to future challenges of urban life can be found in a vast range of academic disciplines. It is the purpose of our symposium to discuss visions of urbanity in an interdisciplinary environment in order to form an understanding of the chances, risks and hopes that are attached to the city of the future.
Four thematic panels problematize the key aspects of the urban environment in the future. The “Green City” section places urban life in the light of contemporary challenges such as the need for sustainability in a time of climate change. This topic can largely be found in discourses about urban development, for example in the “European Green City Index” or in city planning schemes, such as the zero carbon footprint project “Masdar City” in Abu Dhabi. Likewise, it addresses the possible future challenges to urban environment that have been discussed in literature and film. Novels, such as Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010) or Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather (1933) as well as films as varied as Erin Brokovich (2000) and The Day after Tomorrow (2004) reference possible ecological problems that will be the centre of our discussions.
The second panel “Megacities and Migration” is devoted to the challenges of increasing urbanization and the problems faced by the megacities. By 2030 there will be 41 megacities around the world with a population greater than 10 million people each, according to reports of the UN. At the same time, the megacity is often envisioned as an in-between space – a site characterized both by order and chaos, fluctuation and stability as well as fragmentation and plurality. The challenges arising in this context – poverty, overpopulation, multilingualism and racial tensions – will be discussed from cultural, sociologist and linguistic perspectives.
The third panel looks at the role of the city in dystopian and (post-) apocalyptic texts across several media. Films like Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott) and Brazil (1985, dir. Terry Gilliam), transform contemporary anxieties into dystopian visions and invite critical questions about the trajectory of technological progress and economic growth and especially the question of identity. Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” describes an urbanized, ostensibly utopian society of the future that has elected to engineer elements of human nature and identity to fit its needs. Likewise, in the popular video games series Fallout (Bethesda Softworks), players traverse the ruins of Washington D.C. and other cities, estranged from an unabashedly optimistic and consumerist alternate-reality America of the tranquil fifties that lead to Global Nuclear Armageddon. In these and other ways, dystopian and postapocalyptic texts approach the challenges outlined in the other panels from a wholly different narrative perspective and freedom.
The last section “The (Post-)Postmodern City” discusses the extent to which contemporary cultural representations of the metropolitan experience may be contextualized within a post-postmodern condition. While the postmodern city of authors like Paul Auster (City of Glass, 1985) and William Gibson (Neuromancer, 1984) depicted the fragmentized urban self, contemporary, potentially post-postmodern or neo-realist writers such as Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, 2001), Ian McEwan (Saturday, 2005) and Richard Powers (Generosity, 2009) ascribe a consolidating, identity establishing potential to the city. It is the purpose of this section, to look at the city of the future not only as a projection space where human anxieties and dreams collide, but also as a site where human post-postmodern condition is reflected.Read More