Becoming a Utopian

The utopian visions of architects, planners, philosophers and sociologists are important speculative projects.

“We are all utopians, as soon as we wish for something different and stop playing the part of the faithful performer or watchdog”.

Henri Lefebvre.

In this episode, we take a deep dive into the idea of utopia with Professor Danilo Palazzo, who calls on us to become utopians. Utopians claim that cities can be used as a laboratory for imagining better urban futures. Such thinking recognises that the built and natural environments are complex systems of competing relationships; spanning the social, economic, physical, political, and environmental.

These ideal cities “were convenient and attractive intellectual tools that enabled each planner to bring together his many innovations in design, and to show them as part of a coherent whole, a total redefinition of the idea of the city”.

Robert Fishman

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, utopian visions emerged to confront the challenges of the urban disorder and decay that followed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Urban pollution, water quality issues, natural disasters, and the overall decay of the urban physical environment inspired new urban visions that relied on building a strong relationship between humans and their environment. We ask Professor Danilo Palazzo about the role of utopia today. Can we study the utopias of the past in search of new ways to face the huge environmental, ecological, social, and urban problems of today? Is there space for Utopia in our university programs?


Professor Danilo Palazzo was born in 1962 in Milano, Italy where he grew up. From 1997 to 2012, he has taught at Politecnico di Milano as Assistant Professor and later as Associate Professor of urbanism, urban planning and urban design. In 2012 he moved to United States as Director of the School of Planning, College of DAAP, University of Cincinnati. His articles have appeared in Landscape and Urban Planning, Landscape Journal, Oikos, Urbanistica, Territorio, among others, and his books include Urban Ecological Design. A Process for Regenerative Places, Island Press, Washington D.C., 2011 (with Frederick Steiner); Urban Design. Un processo di progettazione urbana, Mondadori Università, Milano, 2008; Sulle spalle di Giganti. Le matrici della pianificazione ambientale negli Stati Uniti, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1997. He resides in Cincinnati.

Read More
Danilo Palazzo, Stephen Diko (2017). From the Past into the Future: The Utopian Roots of Ecological Planning in North America. In Roberta Ingaramo and Angioletta Voghera (Eds.), Topics and Methods for Landscape, Urban and Architectural Design London: Springer
Danilo Palazzo (2016). The Role of Utopia in Ecological Planning and Design. In George F. Thompson, Frederick R. Steiner, Armando Carbonell (Eds.), Nature and Cities, Cambridge: Lincoln Institute.

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