Recycling Utopias: from the Garden city to the Venus project.

Posted on October 1, 2011 by


While researching on contemporary Utopias, I naturally got to know the Venus project. Highly featured in the Zeitgeist movies, the Venus project, lead by the “futurist” Jacques Fresco from 1975 defines itself on its homepage as following: “The Venus Project advocates an alternative vision for a sustainable new world civilization unlike any social system that has gone before.”

Thus, an obvious question based our common basic knowledge on Utopias appeared: “unlike any social system that has gone before” … really? But those schemes remember me the Howardian Garden City, well known Utopia from 1898. Instead of pointing out the similarities and differences through a defined list of “What Howard couldn’t think about from the end of the 19th century”, I’d rather let you enjoy in their own writings, illustrations and definitions of the Ideal city for the Ideal society from two period of time, separated by 100 years.

And I’m asking… Why aren’t Utopias based on the existing to be realistic? What happens to existing cities in such Utopias?
Why do Utopians need to reinvent a whole system and sometimes to simply recycle it to create a supposed perfect world?



Extract from Sir Ebenezer Howard’s book “Garden Cities of To-morrow”, first published in 1898.


Six magnificent boulevards—each 120 feet wide—traverse the city from centre to circumference, dividing it into six equal parts or wards. In the centre is a circular space containing about five and a half acres, laid out as a beautiful and well-watered garden; and, surrounding this garden, each standing in its own ample grounds, are the larger public buildings—town hall, principal concert and lecture hall, theatre, library, museum, picture-gallery, and hospital. The rest of the large space encircled by the ‘Crystal Palace’ is a public park, containing 145 acres, which includes ample recreation grounds within very easy access of all the people.
Running all round the Central Park (except where it is intersected by the boulevards) is a wide glass arcade called the ‘Crystal Palace’, opening on to the park. This building is in wet weather one of the favourite resorts of the people, whilst the knowledge that its bright shelter is ever close at hand tempts people into Central Park, even in the most doubtful of weathers. Here manufactured goods are exposed for sale, and here most of that class of shopping which requires the joy of deliberation and selection is done. The space enclosed by the Crystal Palace is, however, a good deal larger than is required for these purposes, and a considerable part of it is used as a Winter Garden —the whole forming a permanent exhibition of a most attractive character, whilst its circular form brings it near to every dweller in the town—the furthest removed inhabitant being within 600 yards.

Passing out of the Crystal Palace on our way to the outer ring of the town, we cross Fifth Avenue—lined, as are all the roads of the town, with trees—fronting which, and looking on to the Crystal Palace, we find a ring of very excellently built houses, each standing in its own ample grounds; and, as we continue our walk, we observe that the houses are for the most part built either in concentric rings, facing the various avenues (as the circular roads are termed), or fronting the boulevards and roads which all converge to the centre of the town. Asking the friend who accompanies us on our journey what the population of this little city may be, we are told about 30,000 in the city itself, and about 2,000 in the agricultural estate, and that there are in the town 5,500 building lots of an average size of 20 feet × 130 feet —the minimum space allotted for the purpose being 20 × 100. Noticing the very varied architecture and design which the houses and groups of houses display—some having common gardens and co-operative kitchens—we learn that general observance of street line or harmonious departure from it are the chief points as to house building, over which the municipal authorities exercise control, for, though proper sanitary arrangements are strictly enforced, the fullest measure of individual taste and preference is encouraged.
Walking still toward the outskirts of the town, we come upon ‘Grand Avenue’. This avenue is fully entitled to the name it bears, for it is 420 feet wide, 1 and, forming a belt of green upwards of three miles long, divides that part of the town which lies outside Central Park into two belts. It really constitutes an additional park of 115 acres—a park which is within 240 yards of the furthest removed inhabitant. In this splendid avenue six sites, each of four acres, are occupied by public schools and their surrounding playgrounds and gardens, while other sites are reserved for churches, of such denominations as the religious beliefs of the people may determine, to be erected and maintained out of the funds of the worshippers and their friends. We observe that the houses fronting on Grand Avenue have departed (at least in one of the wards—that of which Diagram 3 is a representation)—from the general plan of concentric rings, and, in order to ensure a longer line of frontage on Grand Avenue, are arranged in crescents—thus also to the eye yet further enlarging the already splendid width of Grand Avenue.
On the outer ring of the town are factories, warehouses, dairies, markets, coal yards, timber yards, etc., all fronting on the circle railway, which encompasses the whole town, and which has sidings connecting it with a main line of railway which passes through the estate. This arrangement enables goods to be loaded direct into trucks from the warehouses and workshops, and so sent by railway to distant markets, or to be taken direct from the trucks into the warehouses or factories; thus not only effecting a very great saving in regard to packing and cartage, and reducing to a minimum loss from breakage, but also, by reducing the traffic on the roads of the town, lessening to a very marked extent the cost of their maintenance. The smoke fiend is kept well within bounds in Garden City; for all machinery is driven by electric energy, with the result that the cost of electricity for lighting and other purposes is greatly reduced.
The refuse of the town is utilized on the agricultural portions of the estate, which are held by various individuals in large farms, small holdings, allotments, cow pastures, etc.; the natural competition of these various methods of agriculture, tested by the willingness of occupiers to offer the highest rent to the municipality, tending to bring about the best system of husbandry, or, what is more probable, the best systems adapted for various purposes. Thus it is easily conceivable that it may prove advantageous to grow wheat in very large fields, involving united action under a capitalist farmer, or by a body of co-operators; while the cultivation of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, which requires closer and more personal care, and more of the artistic and inventive faculty, may possibly be best dealt with by individuals, or by small groups of individuals having a common belief in the efficacy and value of certain dressings, methods of culture, or artificial and natural surroundings.
This plan, or, if the reader be pleased to so term it, this absence of plan, avoids the dangers of stagnation or dead level, and, though encouraging individual initiative, permits of the fullest co-operation, while the increased rents which follow from this form of competition are common or municipal property, and by far the larger part of them are expended in permanent improvements.
While the town proper, with its population engaged in various trades, callings, and professions, and with a store or depot in each ward, offers the most natural market to the people engaged on the agricultural estate, inasmuch as to the extent to which the townspeople demand their produce they escape altogether any railway rates and charges; yet the farmers and others are not by any means limited to the town as their only market, but have the fullest right to dispose of their produce to whomsoever they please. Here, as in every feature of the experiment, it will be seen that it is not the area of rights which is contracted, but the area of choice which is enlarged.
This principle of freedom holds good with regard to manufacturers and others who have established themselves in the town. These manage their affairs in their own way, subject, of course, to the general law of the land, and subject to the provision of sufficient space for workmen and reasonable sanitary conditions. Even in regard to such matters as water, lighting, and telephonic communication—which a municipality, if efficient and honest, is certainly the best and most natural body to supply—no rigid or absolute monopoly is sought; and if any private corporation or any body of individuals proved itself capable of supplying on more advantageous terms, either the whole town or a section of it, with these or any commodities the supply of which was taken up by the corporation, this would be allowed. No really sound system of action is in more need of artificial support than is any sound system of thought. The area of municipal and corporate action is probably destined to become greatly enlarged; but, if it is to be so, it will be because the people possess faith in such action, and that faith can be best shown by a wide extension of the area of freedom.
Dotted about the estate are seen various charitable and philanthropic institutions. These are not under the control of the municipality, but are supported and managed by various public-spirited people who have been invited by the municipality to establish these institutions in an open healthy district, and on land let to them at a pepper-corn rent, it occurring to the authorities that they can the better afford to be thus generous, as the spending power of these institutions greatly benefits the whole community. Besides, as those persons who migrate to the town are among its most energetic and resourceful members, it is but just and right that their more helpless brethren should be able to enjoy the benefits of an experiment which is designed for humanity at large.



Extract from the website

It would be far easier and would require less energy to build new, efficient cities than to attempt to update and solve the problems of the old ones. The Venus Project proposes a Research City that would use the most sophisticated available resources and construction techniques. Its geometrically elegant and efficient circular arrangement will be surrounded by, and incorporated into the city design, parks and lovely gardens. This city will be designed to operate with the minimum expenditure of energy using the cleanest technology available, which will be in harmony with nature to obtain the highest possible standard of living for everyone. This system facilitates efficient transportation for city residents, eliminating the need for automobiles. The Venus Project’s Circular City arrangement is comprised of the following:

  1. The central dome or theme center will house the core of the cybernated system, educational facilities, access center, computerized communications networking systems, health and child care facilities.
  2. The buildings surrounding the central dome provide the community with centers for cultural activities such as the arts, theater, exhibitions, concerts, access centers, and various forms of entertainment.
  3. Next is the design and development complex for this research and planning city. The design centers are beautifully landscaped in natural surroundings.
  4. Adjacent the research facilities are dining and other amenities.
  5. The eight residential districts have a variety of free form unique architecture to fulfil the various needs of the occupant. Each home is immersed in lovely gardens isolating one from another with lush landscaping.
  6. Areas are set aside for renewable clean sources of energy such as wind generators, solar, heat concentrating systems, geothermal, photovoltaic and others.
  7. Next are the indoor hydroponic facilities and outdoor agricultural belts which will be used to grow a wide variety of organic plants without the use of pesticides.
  8. A circular waterway for irrigation and filtration surrounds the agricultural belt.
  9. The outermost perimeter is utilized for recreational activities such as biking, golfing, hiking and riding, etc.

All the facilities are available to everyone without cost in a resource based economy. The sole purpose of this sophisticated technology is to free people from boring monotonous tasks, make available a much higher standard of living, and provide more leisure time.

With an opportunity for constant growth and achievement people could have the time and freedom to choose the lifestyle they find most fulfilling. The city is designed to serve the needs of every member of society.


Surprising, no?

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