Utopia vs Dystopia

form-mega-coverAn impassioned call to recreate the mega cities of Asia before they become uninhabitable and vanish beneath a rising ocean. It’s two books, back to back: one documents the dystopias that are accelerating climate change; the other offers a vision of utopia—of fully sustainable green cities that fuse architecture and nature. Garden City, Mega City: Rethinking Cities for the Age of Global Warming is based on the resesearch and achievements of WOHA, an innovative architectural firm that was founded in Singapore, 22 years ago. On this island of wealth, efficiently run by a semi-authoritarian government, it is possible to dream of a better world, and create the first elements of a garden city in the sky. Even here, developers continue to build western-style skyscrapers that have no relevance to the tropical climate and demand extravagant amounts of energy to maintain. And the few scattered models by WOHA are largely inaccessible to those in greatest need.

How much harder is it in other Asian countries, where cities are sinking beneath a tide of rural immigrants squatting in squalor and overwhelming inadequate public services. Places where corrupt authorities cede power and scarce land to developers catering solely to the upper middle class. What hope of rebuilding Manilla, Mumbai or Karachi in a humane and rational way when a growing segment of their population is barely surviving in tin shacks? If the climate change deniers have their way, all these cities will go the way of Atlantis, and a billion desperate refugees will throw up temporary shelters on higher ground. This book is a call to action that every planner and politician should read. But will they act? —Michael Webb

Garden City, Mega City: Rethinking Cities for the Age of Global Warming, Patrick Bingham-Hall, WOHA/Pesaro Publishing; $40

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