Leo Hollis OS: 'The Future of Cities'
Leo Hollis OS, writer, historian and Urbanist, made a compelling case for the city - “the greatest human experiment we’ve ever been involved in” - in his talk to the Senior Essay Society on Thursday. Cities are creative, dynamic and diverse, - and the crucible of our future.
Hollis introduced his talk with three events which were critical in the development of the city: 1666 and the Great Fire of London, which lead to the construction of the first modern city; 1853 and the invention of the safety lift in New York – new technology which enabled the construction of skyscrapers; and 2011 and the Occupy London movement, which illustrates that the development of cities is ongoing – that they are places of debate and ideas where we have the right to say what we think.
Leo questioned the common assumption that isolation and solitude help us to find our best selves, asserting that the social interconnection of the city develops and challenges us to do this. Cities are people, not merely places, and it was interesting to consider Norman Foster’s new city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. A green desert Utopia it may be, but it is as yet un-peopled and sterile.
Slums and security are the obvious challenges to city life. Hollis said that trust is the ‘glue’ that binds cities together because they are built on the hope that we’re going to get on. Inequality breaks down the way a city works and he quoted the UN’s shocking forecast that, by 2050 there may be 3.5 billion slumdwellers out of a total urban population of about six billion, as megacities become mega-regions.
The talk was based on Hollis’ latest book, ‘Century of the City’. He has always been passionate about the history of cities, particularly London, and has written several books on the subject: ‘The Phoenix’ developed out of his fascination for London in the 17th century and the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. ‘The Stones of London’ tells the story of the city from its origins to the present day through the lives of 12 buildings.