Challenging the paradigm

The Art of City-Making wants to be a butterfly whose small movements contribute with many others to grander effects on a global scale. It feels to me that the Zeitgeist is ready to shift, and I want this book to be part of encouraging a new spirit of the times. This involves more than just altering the climate of opinion or intellectual atmosphere. A Zeitgeist is felt more deeply. It is less malleable and it is sensed viscerally, so providing energy and focus. It makes every person who feels it want to be an active agent, pulling them along with a comforting and comfortable instinct bordering on faith.

In each period of history we can discern overarching qualities; these are never formulaic and often contradictory. Intellectual, political, economic and social trends are etched with the characteristic spirit of their era. We can say 'modern times' are characterized by an unwavering belief in a particular, progressive view of science on its inexorable journey to the truth, and a faith in technology. Yet the 'rationality' of technology is being called into question and critiques of this approach are escalating in number. (As an example, what is rational about creating global warming and its consequences?) Post-modernism rejects the grand unifying narratives associated with the modern period that try to explain everything. The relative, multiple, culturally determined truths it upholds destabilize the position of the many who want a single answer, so unsurprisingly the truths of the Gods are back. They provide certainty and anchoring. But both the modern and the post-modern exacerbate the fragmentation of knowledge, the one through specialized research and scientific data and the other through the diversity of perspectives. The Enlightenment ideals of progress and reason have taken a battering; their confidence has been shaken.

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