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Bijlmer, City of the Future

A group of artists and architects attending the 1933 International Congress of Modern Architecture (CAIM) dreamed of designing the perfect modern city to serve the people living there. They imagined that a planned utopia would function much better than the chaotic way existing cities developed over time.

The subject of this particular congress was city-planning. The members of CIAM thought that cities were too congested, noisy, polluted and chaotic. And they believed some of these problems could be solved by separating out the functions of a city into distinct zones for housing, working, recreation, and traffic.

Zoning wasn’t a new idea, but the architects from CIAM wanted to take it farther. The living spaces would be in high-rise apartments so that the ground-level was open for recreation and collective spaces—live in the sky, play on the ground. Cars would even drive on elevated roads so that pedestrians could have the space below all to themselves. There would also be separate districts for industry and shopping. Where old European cities were winding, cluttered and polluted, this new one would be linear, open, and clean, with everything in its proper place.  

What could possibly go wrong? Due to the Great Depression, the plans were not made public until 1943. Among the entities that tried out the ideas after the war were Amsterdam's city planners, who began construction of a new city called Bijlmer in the 1960s. It wasn't long before unforeseen circumstances led to cascading disasters over several decades. Read about the experimental city of Bijlmer (including a horrible twist in the story) or listen to it in podcast form, at 99% Invisible: Part one and part two.


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Their first mistake was thinking that "artists and architects" had the answers. This should have been run through civil engineers, historians, philosophers, social workers, economists, ecologists, sociologists, focus groups, and maybe even a politician or two, all playing devil's advocate.
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"The Projects." Wow - that's exactly what I thought when I read this. All this time I thought those hulking monstronsities were unique to my childhood in Buffalo. They were only torn down a few years back. They were everywhere? Big time social failure.
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They tried really hard to make Bijlmer not sound like The Projects across America. It does. There is no reason to blame or shield any person or group. The concept was intellectually mistaken, mismanaged and poorly used by residents.

The only real blame goes to ideological purist who first thought that architecture could change mankind and eventually refused to work with a changing culture. (My condemnation of Projects everywhere.)
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