Spaces of utopia and dystopia: Landscaping the contemporary city

Gordon MacLeod, Kevin Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some of the most recent literature within urban studies gives the distinct impression that the contemporary city now constitutes an intensely uneven patchwork of Utopian and dystopian spaces that are, to all intents and purposes, physically proximate but institutionally estranged. For instance, so-called edge cities (Garreau, 1991) have been heralded as a new Eden for the information age. Meanwhile tenderly manicured urban villages, gated estates and fashionably gentrified inner-city enclaves are all being furiously marketed as idyllic landscapes to ensure a variety of lifestyle fantasies. Such lifestyles are offered additional expression beyond the home, as renaissance sites in many downtowns afford city stakeholders the pleasurable freedoms one might ordinarily associate with urban civic life. None-the-less, strict assurances are given about how these privatized domiciliary and commercialized 'public' spaces are suitably excluded from the real and imagined threats of another fiercely hostile, dystopian environment 'out there'. This is captured in a number of (largely US) perspectives which warn of a 'fortified' or 'revanchist' urban landscape, characterized by mounting social and political unrest and pockmarked with marginal interstices: derelict industrial sites, concentrated hyperghettos, and peripheral shanty towns where the poor and the homeless are increasingly shunted. Our paper offers a review of some key debates in urban geography, planning and urban politics in order to examine this patchwork-quilt urbanism. In doing so, it seeks to uncover some of the key processes through which contemporary urban landscapes of Utopia and dystopia come to exist in the way they do.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-170
Number of pages17
JournalGeografiska Annaler. Series B: Human Geography
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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