WOLTZ SYMPOSIUM: Missy Velez - Thoughts on Utopias

A response to the concept of utopia and Niek Hazendonk's discussion of his neighborhood EVA Lanxmeer - a socio-ecological district in Culemborg, Netherlands. 

"The age of the utopia is over. Utopias inherently imply perfection; and perfection implies that there is no work left to do. Even in attempting to create a utopia, as Niek Hazendonk demonstrated, the goal must be, inherently, one of perfection. More importantly, utopias imply a certain degree of interior/exterior dichotomy, leading to a inward-turned gaze that is necessarily focused upon maintaining the equilibrium of the utopia. Crucially, this dichotomy implies exclusivity: commonly, only certain populations or identities are included in a utopia’s vision, a deeply problematic concept in the context of an increasingly intersectional global population.

Faced with a compounding phalanx of global economic, political, social and environmental crises, what role does the utopia have in today’s society? Turning inwards and focusing efforts on creating some variation of a perfect homeostasis, is, in effect, removing our responsibility to the larger local, regional, or even global community to which our actions are inextricably linked. The utopia has proved itself incapable of being, and cannot be conceived of today, as an archetypal panacea. In chasing this dream, we close our minds to the problematic yet promising realities of our wider communities. Effectively, we  waste our efforts in seeking an exclusive, single-minded and narrow version of existence.

Utopias are complete solutions that aim to successfully address each facet of deeply complex and tangled systems. Utopias, therefore, are fallacies. If we, as designers, actually understand the systems we approach, we are no longer beholden to the  singular, unobtainable goal of complete solutions. This is not to say that we should not pursue greatness; in fact, quite the contrary: we are enabled to pursue a multitude of flexible responses that can grapple with the constantly shifting dynamics of our past, present and future.

The utopia is over, which really means only one thing: let’s get to work!!"