Temporary tent city setup for 2 million Muslims on pilgrim (haj). Mecca, Saudi Arabia / Al Jazeera / flickr.com

Future Settlement

An interview with Vladimir Nikitin on how the human settlements will change by Anna Kamyshan

Read intro

An interview with Vladimir Nikitin

An interview by Anna Kamyshan

When thinking of constructing models of the future, I ask myself: how can we treat the present with the required portion of alienation and reflect on it to create a qualitatively new model of the future? One possible approach to designing models for the future is a system-thought-activity approach developed by G. Shchedrovitsky and his students at the Moscow Methodological Club. This unique approach allows us to analyse a wide range of socio-cultural and intellectual phenomena and develop almost any system of mental activity. One of the followers of MMC and a supporter of this approach is Vladimir Nikitin, a member of the methodological movement since 1978. He is also one of the founders of the international open project Foundation For Future, the Togliatti Academy of Management and the Kiev Business Lyceum, an international consultant on organisational changes, Doctor of Cultural Studies and a Ph.D. in Architecture.

Nikitin is also an author of the book "Founding the Other," in which he discusses the future of cities and new types of settlement. In his other book, "The principle of the city: an organisational concept", he considers the genesis of settlements and how to work with a city. I was interested to hear his ideas about new types of settlement, new citizens and their forms of consciousness, on the management and organisation of the cities of the future.
Hide intro

How do you see the settlement system in the future? What will define it, and are there already noticeable trends towards this at the moment?

In the future there will be more forms of urban life itself: cities are not similar to modern by their way of life and relationships between people.

First of all it is variety. There will be no mass movement towards some special kind of cities of the future. There will be more forms of urban life itself: cities dissimilar to the contemporary city in their way of life and the relationships between people in them. There will be technologically advanced centres for the fast life and slower paced cities for more relaxed people, “human-​anthill cities” for the production of human material, and the “instant” city. For example, there are more and more of these human anthill cities in Asia. China is trying to create tens of megalopolises. The prototype of an instant city is a festival-​town or a world exhibition. The city develops for a short time and then disappears without a trace. City in the network is a separate topic. In general, there is no unified future for everybody. There are many different ones. We have moved into an era of rapid time, but it does not mean that other ways of living and thinking would disappear.

Very interesting… And who are these cities for?

City is a special form of thinking, vertical and multi-​level, as opposed to complex shapes “grass roots” in the village. Today to create a city means to create new forms of thinking.

There will be more cities but less city people. A city is a special form of thinking, vertical and multi-​level, as opposed to the complex “grass roots” forms in the village. The city-​shell will be filled with the carriers of rural and nomadic consciousness. Just as it was before, but the rate will be different. Therefore it is unclear how to massively produce new citizens. The Chinese, for instance, offer mass training in hieroglyphics and ancient literature to complicate and change the form of rural consciousness. To create a city today means creating new forms of thinking.

A Consciousness-​Based Education” by David Lynch Foundation in a Peru school /​Jdontfight /​flickr​.com

In your book, suggesting a future settlement system, you mention the end of the institution of self-​government, while many other people talk about participatory methods in the city government of the future. Who will manage and organise all the processes?

Cities will remain, and state, probably will not

This the way in which cities will be distinguished from each other. In some places self-​government will be retained, in others the founders of a city will govern its life, elsewhere it might be managed by lot… If the infrastructure is to be managed through self-​organisation, other aspects can be managed in quite a different way. Administration is not the only form of organisation of life in the city and not the best. Since 1929, our city became state-​run and lost its budget and rights. From then on, the role of state for city life became exaggerated. However, even if it doesn’t last forever, our city lives in the administrative reality of today. Cities will remain, however, while the state probably will not.

How can we resolve conflicts in the cities by management/​organisation?

Usually communal conflicts and conflicts of interests shape the content of urban policy. However, they are not resolved at this level but are only extinguished for a time. It is important to be able to transform a conflict of interest into a discussion on content and meaning. Unfortunately it rarely happens. In fact we often do not understand such simple things as, for example, the fact that tourism provides income and jobs, but destroys the emotional life of the city, its soul. We work with fragments rather than the whole. And who will speak on behalf of the city? The more successful management there is in a city, the less sense is preserved.

Formation of ways to work with the city. Materials from the book

Formation of ways to work with the city. Materials from the book “The principle of the city: an organisational concept” /​Courtesy of V.Nikitin

Cruise boat Ruby Princess arrives in Venice / Dan Davison / flickr.com

Cruise boat Ruby Princess arrives in Venice /​Dan Davison /​flickr​.com

Nowadays the professionals involved in the development of cities often occupy a position of global experts. They use similar solutions to different contexts in their practice. Who do you think will be engaged with the city in future, who is going to design it?

The more successful management in a city, the less sense city keeps

The period of professionals has, for better or worse, ended, although there is still some time in which they are really needed. The city begins with a discussion of its meaning: why do people come there and stay to live? How will the resources get there, or how will they be produced? Only after understanding all this can the professionals of infrastructure be brought in… City is primarily a symbolic structure rather than functional one. Poetry in those terms is more powerful way to think of the city than the design. Even technology is only a tool for symbolic imagination of the city and it is not worth to rely on the fact that the future of cities depends on technology.

Formation of ways to work with the city. Materials from the book

Formation of ways to work with the city. Materials from the book “The principle of the city: an organisational concept” /​Courtesy of V.Nikitin

You are one of the founders of the international open source project Foundation For Future, the purpose of which is “to create a stratum of people whose thinking is directed to the future…” How can you create this stratum of people?

Thinking people disappear. To think, it is necessary to feel and imagine. Most people live in the world of opinions and myths but only quite a small part of us have a position based on reasons and principles. We are trying to create people, bearers of ideas, operating with visions and organisation of life, practices and forms of urban consciousness.

What are the functions of these thinking people, the new elite of the future? Will they have any kind of special rights in the city? Power?

An “elite” has duties rather than rights. Usually, elite people have public authority rather than power. This is because those who are given power care primarily about its preservation, and not about society.

Thinking about the city as a space of national and global policies, what can be demonstrated by the present events in Kiev?

It can testify to the fact that in Ukraine, cities still remain. After all, the main resource and product of urban life is freedom.

If we turn to the theory of genesis of urban settlement that you have developed, what stage is now Kiev now at? What about Moscow?

Not Kiev and Moscow, but Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is undergoing the phase of destroying its industrial and settlement system and no movement to anything else is yet discernible. Only Kiev and a couple of cities are found on the global level. Russia has already discussed the new formats of settlement, primarily for the North and Siberia, but still there is little progress.

And the last question: you say that after the global city we come to the personal city. What does this mean and when can we expect this? What other unpublished predictions do you have?

Predictions are meaningless in our fast-​moving spontaneous world. The future is that what negates the present. The personal city is a city for me, real and virtual, a town shared between my relatives and myself. Anyway, I won’t talk yet about its creation, I just have a premonition of it. The notion of a home, leisure and working time, and resettlement is in the changing process, and the city is derived by these changes. We require a global view on resettlement, on the world of mankind in general.