Vyjayanthi Rao

On Speculation and Smartness: Urban Practices and Forms of the 21st Century

For nearly a century, the city has served as a metonym for modern life. Both as geographical entity and as heuristic concept, the city gave birth to the modern social sciences as forms of knowledge in the quest for understanding newly emergent forms of social life. The idea of modernity gave the city and urbanism the power to stand in for emerging forms of social life, even as older forms were breaking down with the advent of mass society. At the beginning of the 21st century, urban studies is preoccupied with discussions about the endless city and the end of the city, the homologous association between capitalization and urbanization and the intimate relationship between climate change, planetary urbanization and the end of human life on earth as we now know it. In part, this talk will argue that these debates signal the breakdown of the association of the city as spatial form with modern civic life.

In this talk Rao explores the transformation of the modernist association of city form and civic life into a set of speculative practices and inchoate forms that are gathered together under the rubric of the ‘urban’. She argues that the rise of speculation as a distinct feature of urban practice – where speculation broadly signifies the production of value from states of uncertainty – has undermined the association between modernity and newness and a distinct sense of the future, instead replacing the modern sense of a progressive future with a multitude of speculative alter-realities.

The Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS) is an initiative of the Urban Planning program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.


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