Thoughts about the Complexity of Future Urban Developments


By way of the issue of production, and how towns and cities are made, we shall see how they are invariably different from one another. Based on the existence of differences, we shall demonstrate that future urban developments do exist, and we shall show what they are like and in what time-frames they are incorporated.
In our way of thinking and from the limited viewpoint informing us, we presuppose the urban as the product of conjunctions, comparisons and conjugations of heterogeneous forces each guided by purposes that are quite distinct, one from the next. Alliances are organized in a rational and pragmatic manner; conflicts of interest, hegemonies and subordinations operate within a system of exchanges, in a set of differing ebbs-and-flows to form that complex and most varied object, the city: territory of exchange and communication between things and in things. Forces that are social, associative, charitable and cooperative, involving contraband, religious, fundamentalist and moderate, military and industrial, pharmaceutical and financial, cultural and administrative, speculative and political, and university-related are all organized beneath an infinite number of relations, seeking support and number, forming alliances and pacts, subject to contracts and responsibility in the urban territory.

A/ Nothing but Differentiated Urban Productions

Two orders of differences can help to explain the impossibility of an identical reproduction of this varied host of relations, and gauge the degrees of urban difference that we chalk up from one city or town to the next. These two orders are distinct as a result of the fields they occupy. One measures individual possibilities of acting and thinking, and their power to exist, the other records the ever-variable movements and quantities of forces and their relations between themselves operating in each city or town.
If, in our liberal democracies, the generalized circulation of goods, people and capital tend, in exchange and communication, to enslave the individual, forcing him to fulfil a function in order to up the effectiveness of systems where performance is a must1, people remain at the hub of flows, despite any functional interchangeability. And for each one of us, there is the will to exist which runs through all market and democratic systems.2 This existential unalterability, at the heart of the individual, prevents any identical reproduction of relations between people. Actually, the modern city is subject, in its making, to these tiny variations3 even if it keeps a markedly inert organizational system which tends to be reproduced throughout the world. The other difference which avoids thinking about the city as a generality is explained in the multiplicity of  forms of power play and in the movements maintained by forces in their relations with other distinct forces. The various forms of alliances, pacts, breaks and betrayals make the variable quantity of these intrinsic  movements an effective factor of instability, rendering the myth of permanence and duplication abstruse. An ever-variable quantity of forces and relations is expressed in a dynamic set: urban organization. This latter is the formal expression of these multiplicities of relations and forces, always in variable quantities, permeated by an infinite number of human wishes which are developed and which make distinctions for each power play.4
So if the urban factor generated by a theoretical model and a contemporary purpose—performance as outcome—seems to be perpetuated even in extreme regions—East and South—the differences are expressed and will go on being expressed in each one of the urban territories concerned throughout the world in an infinite number of different ways. Instability turns out to be a natural consequence of the differences which permeate large urban models.5 These permanent and ever-renewed discrepancies in the urban rule in concrete reality are the object of our close attention. These variations tell us that cities are not fixed in a state of everlasting repose and plunged in a state of total inertia. On the contrary, they explain for us how urban organization, planned and subject to a model, is traversed by an ever larger quantity of heterogeneous forces which occupy all the functional and decisional layers of power and worship. Everywhere shifting forces upset the stakes of  the world game. If an absolute organizational system presupposes a state of total inertia, we observe that the verification of this statement is impossible, its real and absolute existence is contradicted by urban production6. The only real permanence is a repetition of differences. We have just seen that two orders of difference, one existential and qualitative, the other organizational and quantitative, prevent an identical reproduction. By facing historical reality, the differences are disguised within the discrepancies in relation to an always optimized model that is underpinned by doctrine or theory. The contemporary urban phenomenon is the conjunction of a duplicative organizational system, subject to mechanical laws, and an infinite set of forces of autonomous compositions governed by a mechanistic vitality which goes beyond any mechanical reality of  organizational systems7.

B/ Nothing but Future Urban Developments

Urban differences find their causes in the differences upheld actually inside power plays themselves.  Forces undergoing tension, subject to a contract or pact, confronted by other clusters of identical powers, be they heterogeneous or hybrid, are forever shifting on the basis of interests, utility, fear, complacency, affinity and hatred. These movements of forces are the immanent cause of future urban developments; they take on a whole host of different forms, which meet, avoid one other, join forces, evade one another and clash with each other. Each power play is an opportunity for numerous and intense shifts, at varying speeds. At this moment of reflection, we can specify the nature of future developments: these may be understood as the perseverance of cities and towns to go on existing on the basis of ceaseless movements of differing forces of composition and organization, which permeate the urban phenomenon in the present reality.
In a future urban development, the city or town changes either partly or totally: “… it is not divided, nor does it lose or gain any dimension without changing its nature”8.  Urban dimensions are arranged in blocks of developments and each instance of power play contributes an additional dimension to the city. When a certain critical limit, a certain intensity, appears, another urban dimension, putting up with a new dynamic deal, and new situations in the flow of goods and capital in the economic, social, and cultural spheres, is added to or erased from the set of dimensions forming the urban phenomenon. The future development is the shift from one multiplicity to another, which only occurs by changing the nature of all the forces in turn caught in new distributions. By increasing the relations of movements between current forces, the future development is intensified and the degree of power of a city to exist is stepped up. Urban vitality is measured by the thrusts from different spheres of human activity (economic, political, social, cultural…) which, related to quantitative criteria and degrees of intensity, measure and differentiate cities, one from the next.
What is now involved is making out in what time-frames these movements of forces and these shifts from one multiplicity to the next (the future developments) are incorporated, supported and imagined.
The present: caught in interplays of alliances, pacts and contracts, each force involved shifts with a certain intensity and a certain speed in relation to the other forces which are maintained in the relation considered. These shifts and movements are part and parcel of the present and are updated in relation to the dynamic system in which they operate. We are talking about present reality, and we can further specify, thus: the urban phenomenon, a conjunction of dynamic processes of forces, becomes—develops-- in the actuality of each transfer of force (capable of adding or subtracting an urban dimension to or from a city). In each future development, the forces for continuing to exist in these never-ending movements must update their power plays with their other forces concerned by changing for the better the rules of the agreement drawn up between them. These power plays caught in a block of development call for a local pooling of present forces. New rules of play are defined on a specific basis, and in a partial way, invariably under the lead of a perpetual dynamic process in which are engaged the diverse urban forces, and from which the new agreement, consensual or otherwise, must emerge. And always in the actuality of the movement of the whole, new rules legitimized by a paralogia9 are imposed by optimizing the effectiveness of the power plays. This paralogia is legitimized, it becomes the guarantee thereof and expresses the postmodern condition of the liberal democratic system which tends to generalize the way it functions. This pragmatic factor is part and parcel of the actuality of  the movement and of the immanence of the present reality in which the city and its development are muddled. Under these conditions, anticipation is still the best way of persevering to exist, and calls for a keen knowledge of the present forces,  i.e. a precise appraisal of their power.
The past:  if future development is part and parcel of actuality, during the exposition of the forces engaged in the block of development to determine new deals, the accumulation of forces and means deduced in their turn from affairs already carried out remains an unavoidable capital in present relations. The length of time recorded in the past and the transformation of forces, if existence is not stopped, will play a significant role in current relations. The duration overlaps with existence. Forces last as long as they exist and are defined by their duration: “…the current state cannot be separated from a previous state with which it  segues in a continuous time-frame”10. This agglomerate capitalized by the past has an effect on the actuality of the future development present in some other direction. More than a memory, trace or even model, the past encourages forces to transform themselves in the actuality of present reality. The past state of urban forces, be they accumulated or destroyed, capitalized or absent, is part of a relation of causality with the present state of these same forces. This development of forces by the past is an efficient cause of the actuality of present forces which produce the contemporary urban phenomenon. This causal link records variations and developments in the duration of things. We remain on this condition in a concrete time-frame where future developments, passages and extinctions are part and parcel of a temporal continuum. Past and present are not the object of a comparison wherein the past, wrenched from a concrete time-frame, stands in for the order of things, in order to replace it by an ideal order11. We can nevertheless say that the past retains the traces of the current advances of forces, but we extract it from the causal relation in which its keeps all its concreteness.

The future:  In not subscribing to the pitfall of nostalgia, the future is not understood as the projection of a state to be rediscovered, of a past condition which would be cruelly and fatally missing from the present. This game of oblivion, and lack, implicitly dictated by the need to be better off, is extricated from any concrete time-frame. For us, the future no longer once and for all refers to an ideal and progressive purpose of the urban object and the human condition (like a lost paradigm), nor to any other teleological form driving the reality of towns and cities towards the perfect modeling of a Greek polis. Because these operations of the mind declaring a golden age of humankind finally arrived at its reason would no longer have any cause to change, or upset an order promised as perfect and ideal. Inertia strikes any project of this kind, once it has reached maturity. We are afloat in full imagination, borrowed from a suspect or surprise paternalism in a flight before a present that can no longer be assumed.12
Nor does the future come into any causal sequencing, the way past and present may do. The future is the place of forward-looking prospects provided that it remains in a concrete time-frame, i.e. if we are ready to hang on to the complexity of the forces in the making and all the possibilities of existing or becoming extinguished before very long. This perfect knowledge of present forces, i.e. being able to distinguish the causes of each power play (their movements, their speed, and their encounters) cannot fail to formulate scenarios of optimal possibilities of existence, but without hoping for a perfect compatibility with their real future development, which is infinitely more complex. In the temporal continuum, in which flows of heterogeneous forces are included, no sketch of the future can lay claim to its exact realization. Because things in the immanence of reality derive from themselves without hope or extrinsic purpose to their existence. Nothing is traced in advance and this is what makes the city complex and minds perplexed in relation to this combination of heterogeneous forces, organized and regulated, compromised and uncontrolled, all becoming muddled within an infinite number of relations which augment or diminish the intense future development of each and every town and city.


3 October 2000


1 - Jean-françois Lyotard: La condition post-moderne, Minuit, coll Critiques, 1979, p 72 - 77.

2 - Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Mille plateaux, Jean-françois Lyotard: L'économie libidinale , Minuit, coll Critiques, 1979 and 1980.

3 - Spinoza: L'Ethique , livre III, 51, prop et dém, Seuil, Essais, 1988: each mode, animal, human, even if the possibility of having the same power to be affected exists, is affected by an infinite number of external and different thing, and under relations of movements as numerous as they are diverse.

3 - Only  organizational systems are renewed by an application of hegemonic theoretical and ideological models.

4 - Mike Davis indicates with care and precision the many different dimensions that are caught in blocks of development of the Southern Californian nebula. L.A, city of quartz. La Découverte, 1997.

5 - Nowadays a new power play is being posited between these models, expression of a civilization, with the flowering of its extension in the world, with its urban model which, itself, is not vaguely updated in each region occupied. It would seem that the urban models corresponding with the period known as the “trente glorieuses” in France—the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s--, leftovers of charters and CIAMs, which no longer tally with those being currently imposed, in the West, are governing the urban policies of the Far East.

6 - In certain extreme cases,  production differs very little from the model the way cities built in the Soviet era express their obedience and their subordination to the rule and inertia of a system controlled and regulated to the nth degree

7 - Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Mille plateaux, Minuit, coll Critiques, 1980: the machine in this discussion is freed from performance and energy output in order to be a system of cutting and re-synthesis of heterogeneous flows of existing modes, operating by contamination and propagation.

8 - Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Mille plateaux  Minuit, coll Critiques, 1980.

9 - Jean-François Lyotard: La condition post-moderne, Minuit, coll Critiques, 1979,  p 99-107: this is a new form of invention occurring in the pragmatics of an agreement and not yet legitimized by the field concerned as the scientific field.

10 - Gilles Deleuze: Spinoza et le problème de l'expression, Minuit, Coll Arguments, 1968, p 200.

11 - Françoise Choay: L'urbanisme , utopies et réalités, une anthologie, Seuil, Essais, 1965, p 22: the culturalist model and its relation to the past.

12 - Françoise Choay: L'urbanisme , utopies et réalités, une anthologie, Seuil, Essais, 1965, p 41 and p 46 .