Cities as epitomes of happiness and external perfection?

Thursday, 13. September 2012


Madeleine Imbeck / Arpad Hetey

Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Farabi (um 870 bis 950 n.Chr.)

In his opening speech Klaus Huber, president of the Foundation Academia Engelberg took us back to the Middle Ages: In the 9th century, Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Farabi, Muslim philosopher and sage described cities as the epitomes of happiness and external perfection. He is one of the advocates of urban societies, but ever since cities exist they have been discussed controversially. They are planned to embody a society’s dream, but a utopia can never become reality. Real cities always have their shady sides. Cities are places of creativity, where people live their struggles. Success and failure lie very close together.
During the open ceremony of this year’s conference we heard some of Bertolt Brecht’s statements on urban life. In contrast to Al-Farabi, the songs of Brecht’s cycle Ein Lesebuch für Städtebewohner represent a more critical look on peoples’ life in cities and their daily struggles: their struggle for individuality in the crowds, their struggle for feelings that will always be associated with nature banned from cities, their struggle for survival that leads to moral conflicts, their struggle for justice, their struggle for not loosing hope and believing in the future.
The 21st century will most likely be a century of struggles, too. Struggles have meanwhile reached global dimensions. To address global problems such as the fast growing population in African and Asian cities, climate change, shortage in resources, and environmental pollution an interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue is urgently required. Since the majority of the world’s population will be living in urban areas this dialogue should focus on developing new concepts of sustainable cities. Providing new concepts for future cities this year’s conference hopefully brings enLIGHTenment, which brings us back to Bertolt Brecht:

There are some who are in darkness
And the others are in light
And you see the ones in brightness
Those in darkness drop from sight  

Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die andern sind im Licht
Und man siehet die im Lichte
Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht

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