‘The Countryside’ – a polemically generic term Rem Koolhaas has recently used to reposition debates about our cities to those of rural areas. While posited as ‘new’, it is, in reality, a well established mode of thinking. Through notions such as the peri-urban for example, geographers, sociologists, architects, urban designers and regional economists have all debated the urban-rural relationship for several decades. Under this framework we are obliged to consider the city and its architecture on its own terms, but also address the ‘rural’ in its particular context and, importantly, explore the parallels and mutual influences at play.
According to this logic, the social, cultural, planning and design issues relevant in our cities find parallels outside the city fringe. The Right to the City echoes concerns about land rights. Gentrification resembles the pressures on arable lands through urban expansion. The sustainability of our buildings and neighbourhoods is connected to debates on the sustainability of rural areas.
Calgary, the host city of this conference, is a perfect example of all of this. It has heavy industry, a thriving business economy and a growing tourist sector. However, pockets of the city contend with poverty and gentrification. Others suffer disinvestment and require regeneration. Its architecture and public spaces are a combination of the ‘spectacular’ and the mundane.
As a city, Calgary also ‘pressures’ its surrounding lands. These include the Rockies, the Banff nature reserve, and the First Nations lands of the Blackfoot, the Stoney Nakoda and the Tsuutʼina. As such, it is both a site of opportunity and development in its own right, and the cause of environmental concerns and social pressures, beyond its conceptual and geographic borders.
While such debates are of concern today around the world, they were also highlighted 50 years ago when the host school of this conference was founded. Back then, Archigram and Buckminster Fuller argued that architecture, technology and the ‘earth’ were interconnected. Jane Jacobs connected the built environment with social concerns. Aldo van Eyke fought for communities and participatory practices and, in 1971, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) was founded in the United States.
As it celebrates its 50th Year anniversary in 2021-22, the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary argues that each of these issues remain as important today as they did half a century ago.
Image: iStock (Dan Pratt)