- Words by Isabel Allen
Citizen was born of the belief that we suffer from a crisis of imagination and not resources.
Our aim is to capture the spirit – the energy and vision – of those who believe that citizens hold the power to change things that aren’t working. That our collective creativity and knowledge and determination and ambition can – and absolutely should – be harnessed to the greater good. To promote, challenge and develop ideas that allow people living in cities to have more fulfilled and more sustainable lives.
London refuses to grow older with any degree of grace. Like all great historic cities, it bears the imprint of experience. A hotchpotch of organic evolution, formal urban planning, ad hoc intervention and happy accident. Monuments and civic buildings reflect the values of a long-forgotten age. Housing is too scarce, too small, too pricey to meet the city’s needs. Transport systems jostle for supremacy with modern highways planning – both straining to impose their particular brand of logic on a city that refuses to be tamed. The result is a complex, creaking infrastructure; a city rich in character and historic resonance, but dogged by congestion and pollution, and increasingly ill-suited to the demands of modern life.
The city’s ailments are not just physical. The decline of civic society is manifest, not just in recent demonstrations of widespread discontent, but in the reported record levels of feelings of disaffection, isolation and loneliness.
Civic society as we know it is hanging in the balance. Unhappiness can breed disillusionment or apathy. But it can be a powerful call to arms. As citizens, we have a choice. Lethargy or energy. Cynicism or activism.
Traditional structures of decision-making and power have left great swathes of the population disaffected and overlooked. We miss out on their energy and insight and expertise. The challenges we face are complex and potentially catastrophic: religious tensions; political differences; social, cultural and economic inequalities; the pressing need to address the challenges posed by climate change. These will not be solved by professional silos working in isolation, or by politicians dictating solutions from above. We need to find a means of working that encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration, that draws on the intellectual and creative capital of our diverse population.
This, in turn, calls for a new approach to the way in which we renew and reinvigorate our urban fabric. New social, cultural and economic models call for building types that cater for a more tolerant, inclusive and participatory city life. Which challenge – or amalgamate or disrupt – traditional architectural typologies. We need infrastructure that facilitates local energy production, recycling and sustainable transport. We need a more creative, collaborative approach to planning, zoning, funding, procurement, investment and design.
The first publishing venture by the London School of Architecture, Citizen magazine seeks to galvanise, amplify and accelerate these efforts, to provide a fulcrum for ideas and debates. But critique is not enough. Climate emergency and civil discontent are critical issues that need to be addressed with action on the ground. 2020 has to mark
the start of a decade of delivery.
We seek radical, proactive proposals for change. We are optimistic, rather than idealistic. We are not interested in utopian visions of a Brave New World but in viable propositions. Small – or large – steps which respond to, and work with, existing conditions and context. Fresh ideas that reflect the responsibilities, demands and values of the modern citizen; which offer a real prospect of improving people’s lives.
Isabel Allen, Editor-in-Chief