Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang

Urban Utopia

Disruptive Visions of the Digital City between Toronto and Barcelona

Moritz Dittrich
re(s)public collective
3 min readNov 19, 2019


re(s)public in an interdisciplinary research collective. As a group we rethink the narratives of space and its related disciplines through critical design, fine arts and architecture. We aim at bridging disciplines and looking beyond the scission of academia, business and art. We believe that in the intersection of these worlds lays the inspiration and the creation of value. We believe in conversation, in learning through making, and we believe in the future. Our work offers space for reflection on art and creative practice through research.

Who owns the visions for the city?

If we consider the city as a concept, ownership does not necessarily has to be a question of property, rather represent the ideas of its citizens. Richard Sennett argues that “the forms of the built environment are the product of the maker’s will”. However, who are the makers of the digital city and what is their will? A method to uncover future imaginaries of the city is utopia. It allows deconstructing perspectives between divergent and convergent thinking as well as criticising the consequences that the future projection has in the present.

Utopia as method (redraw from Dunne & Raby, 2013)

Because it seems that the digital city has a financial motivation, this thesis criticises urban utopias by big tech companies, that take over digital city-making. I argue that it indicates a fundamental disruption in the envisioning of the future urban. Urban utopia becomes the convenient means of staging needs in neoliberal Silicon Valley and thus a central force of late-capitalism to sell digital products. These visions sit squarely within the definition of so-called solutionism, and the staging of technological desire feeds into the neoliberal Californian Ideology.

This research begins by deconstructing the approaches and structures of the makers behind future urban visions in two case studies: Barcelona Digital City Plan by the City Council of Barcelona and the Project Vision by Sidewalk Labs for Quayside at Toronto’ Waterfront. I further argue that the digitalisation is a product of liberalising technology and the centralisation of economic dynamics in cities. A content analysis of two primary documents: The Project Vision and the Digital Plan lies in the centre of this research. Both documents have been compared with this method to understand different approaches to future imaginaries.

Entity Structure Toronto
Entity Structure Barcelona

The findings of this research propose that produced utopias are shaped primarily from the values the producers have. In Barcelona, this means progressive values and the focus on the urban. On the other side in Toronto, this means financial values and the focus on the city. The findings further suggest that only a balance between urban and city in the produced utopias lead to smart city policy.

To find out more about the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural work that we do at re(s)public collective visit our website under See our projects or get to know our members. We also send out a newsletter on a regural base. You can sign up for it here.

Sennett, Richard (2019) Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City. Penguin Books. London