Ectopia 2121AD: Green Cities of Future Asia

Author: Dr. Alan Marshall, Mahidol University, Thailand.


The future of five Asian cities is outlined with the help of a single graphic image each. These futures are presented in utopian terms whereby each city is projected to exist within some sort of planned or evolved peaceful setting that exists in socio-ecological harmony. In the vein of previous utopian imaginings, some explanation about how each city can get to this utopian status (by the year 2121AD) is offered, along with a description about the social and economic background that may be present then and there.


It is said that this century, the 21st, is ‘Asia’s Century’ (Borthwick, 2013; Lowther, ed, 2013). The economies of Asia are now developing faster and becoming stronger than they have ever been before, and their power and influence is probably going to be at the top end of the international scale by the end of the century. So, will these nations use this new economic power and influence to make their cities ‘Greener’, more sustainable, more
livable, more ecofriendly, and more fair, and more free, and more happy–i.e.: ‘utopian’? Or will they create industrial wastelands and urban squalor; with their cities in a state of civic disharmony, social injustice, and environmental degradation–i.e.: ‘dystopian’?

To imagine a utopian future often means to be at once creative and optimistic but also critical and subversive. Thomas More was, perhaps, the first to carve out the template to this pattern–being both optimistic about an imagined Christian utopia in 16th Century England whilst being critical and subversive regarding his King Henry VIII’s reign over it (Marius, 1999, Halpin, 2011). Since then, when utopian thinkers have set out to design the
best possible world for tomorrow, they are sometimes highly critical of their present day society and desirous of change; often injecting their designs with large doses of hope and satire (Carrey, 2000; Spanos, 2008; Claeys , 2011; Segal, 2012). This is the same impulse that flows through the utopian designs presented here, as I seek to imagine Asian utopian cities for approximately one hundred years hence.

Before moving to specific settings, we should also acknowledge that it’s been noted many times before by scholars that utopia and dystopia are actually interrelated concepts; and the attribution of these labels may depend on one’s philosophical, political and cultural perspective (see, for example, Claeys, 2011; Segal, 2012). It should be added that dystopia is identified as a variety of utopia by most of these authors.

Since the onset of the environmental crisis, utopian ideas have also tried to add problems associated with ecological harmony to those of social and economic harmony and this kind of utopia has been coined ‘ecotopia’ (for example, see Callenbach, 1975; DeGeus, 1999). Since any posited utopia may only be sustainable if environmental well-being is of prime consideration, I here below posit varying ecotopian futures of five particular cities across Asia. Each one of the designs contains a description of what the city’s future consists of, and also some explanation of how they may get from where they are today to how they are presented here.

The future of the chosen cities is presented in a form of ‘scenario art’. Lederwasch (2012) recently announced ‘scenario art’ to be a new and developing methodology for Future Studies. For her, this is a formalized way to get stakeholders to explore alternative future plans at a small or large-scale. I take note of this way of imagining, debating, and communicating decisions, but acknowledge that art–in theory and in practice–has often reveled in intense speculation over and above any practical factors.

Phnompenh 2121

Graphic by author

Graphic by author


During French colonial days, Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, was known as the ‘Pearl of the East’, since French architecture on the Mekong riverside merged with the ancient feel of the traditional architecture (Brinkley, 2012). Nowadays, Phnom Penh is a city as far from utopia as one might imagine. As described by the likes of Khemro and Payne (2004), Dasgupta et al (2005), Simone (2008), and Wingqvist (2009), the city suffers from health-hazardous air pollution and incessant water pollution, as well as urban squalor, over-crowding, misgovernance, corruption, and a general lack of social and environmental well-being.

The motorcycle traffic, alone, considered by some to be iconic and full of character, is nevertheless dense, noisy and dangerous. There are no public buses on the city’s roads, no trains to serve the suburbs; no public transport at all. The only visible infrastructure projects are new parliamentary and Government buildings for the political elite, a few massive modern-style condos for the business elite, a huge casino resort for wealthy Chinese tourists, and a half-completed flood-barrier funded by the Japanese government.

One of the persistent challenges for cities on the Mekong River, including Phnom Penh, is flooding. These floods can be seasonal (which proves to be welcomed by agriculturists but still challenging for urban centers) or episodic (and often quite disastrous). With the help of foreign aid, the Cambodian government has attempted to implement flood mitigation structures but these are incomplete and far from reliable. When there are floods that sweep through the city and suburban streets, the Government usually tells the people it’s not their leadership to blame and they turn around to blame the citizens for settling in the wrong place and recklessly disposing plastic bags (Sokha, 2010).

Although it is now a city of two million, Phnom Penh was once purposely de-populated. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge the urban middle classes were forcibly ruralized to work on the land to provide agricultural products for the nation (Gottesman, 2004; Chandler, 2007; Brinkley, 2012). The ideology espoused by the Khmer Rouge insisted the primacy of agricultural production, both as a sector and as an ethic, and they believed many people in the city needed to be weaned off their reactionary or counter-revolutionary impulses by toiling with common folk in the fields. When the Khmer Rouge lost power in 1979, the city of Phnom Penh bounced back to become fully re-populated by its once-displaced residents as well as by new domestic migrants.

In this utopian design of Phnom Penh in 2121AD, the agriculture moves from a rural setting and comes to the citizens, rather than the other way around. The importance of urban agriculture for developing nations is multifarious (as recorded in Bang, 2005; Koc et al, eds, 2000; Bryld, 2002; and Cockrell-King, 2012; Tracey, 2011). By incorporating large-scale urban-based agriculture (foodscaping, as it may be known) into the Phnom Penh’s future, this design hopes the following benefits will be achieved:

  • foodscaping will decrease food miles and the ecological footprint of food consumption.
  • foodscaping can enhance food security and nutrition amongst the urban poor by decreasing the costs of supply.
  • foodscaping adds greenery to the city; providing for a nicer environment and reducing harmful water runoff and soil loss.
  • foodscaping contributes to local economic development.The activities or services rendered by these enterprises may owe their existence in part or wholly to urban agriculture. Other business services may also emerge for lower-income and middle-income families (e.g. animal health services, book-keeping,low-tech transportation).
  • foodscaping can contribute to social inclusion and health quality (whereby the neighborhood comes together in a commercial or collective way to produce healthy foodstuffs and an income for the community).
  • foodscaping provides for the productive reuse of urban wastes (both solid and liquid).
  • foodscaping in Phnom Penh will not completely replace the need for rural agriculture but it will complement it; and will allow for a general increase in the efficiency of the national food system.
  • foodscaping contributes to the betterment of urban and regional ecology (including habitat preservation).

The technical background to this ‘city of agriculture’ involves the use of condo-style residences placed on a set of 25 concrete stilts above the flood-prone areas of the Mekong River. The river is not engineered and controlled but allowed to flow in a natural way through and around the city. Between the sinuous channels and watery areas, the city residents have wet gardens to grow crops. During seasonal and episodic floods, Phnom Penh residents will stay dry and safe above the flood line. The main crop species of the city is likely to be flood-tolerant rice but also many other wet plant species and freshwater crustacea can be farmed as well (by individuals, by collectives, or by commercial farmers).

Another advantage of this flood tolerance is the positive impact it has on biodiversity. In the early 21st Century, Cambodian wetlands and mangrove communities are suffering at the hands of pollution and rapid development, and concrete channels, walled-barriers, and mega-engineered solutions often do nothing but make this worse (Aber et al, 2012; Carrapatso and Kurzinger, eds, 2013), especially for the aquatic fauna. Here in Phnom Penh 2121AD, however, the natural shape of the land and the use of organic wetlands-based agriculture encourages the aquatic fauna ecosystem to flourish so that sustainable harvesting of the fish is made possible as well.

In the Cambodia of today, the public’s socio-economic and political expectations are rising (Chheang, 2012). Along with other South East Asian citizens, the people of Phnom Penh aspire to better living conditions (especially housing–as examined in Bradenoord et al, eds, 2014). In many Asian nations, the condominium tower-block has become the preferred standard for living for many city-dwellers. In South East Asia, the word condominium usually refers to high-quality tower block rather than a specific ownership scheme. The convenience and comfort of condominiums is also reinforced by the provision of near-by shopping facilities and some common space for residents to relax and congregate within. Such high-density residential tower blocks are also declared by some–for example Peterson et al, (2013)–to be a lot more environmentally friendly than a typical detached or semi-detached house.

After one or two ‘eco-condos’ are constructed with respect to the technical features outlined above, and after they are shown to survive and prosper through various flood episodes, they will serve as inspiration to further construct such housing projects in Phnom Penh; until, one day in 2121AD, they become a ubiquitous form of residential living.

Sendai 2121

Graphic by author

Graphic by author

Japan’s ‘love/hate’ relationship with all things nuclear is likely to continue throughout the course of the 21st Century. The 2011 Fukushima meltdown may have turned large proportions of the Japanese urban populace against further use of nuclear power (Elliot, 2012) but business and government and military interests will see to it that the nuclear industry develops onwards to survive regardless of public unease (Bortz, 2012;  Marcovici, 2013).

By the late 21st Century, Japan and China will likely have lurched through several territorial, military,and diplomatic crises (including a few revolving around the desire to dominate small oceanic islands and to control what they consider their own resources at the bottom of the sea, as foretold in Bracken, 1999; Heazle and Knight, eds, 2007; Faure, 2010; Friedman, 2010; Moltz, 2012). During these times, large-scale military conflict may just about be avoided but frantic Arms Races are probably going to occur episodically (see Lennon, 2002; Tan, 2014) with nuclear weapons programs initiated on occasion in haste. The occurrence of the latter events will likely result in risky lapses of standard safety procedures in both nations until, around 2100, within a secret nuclear warhead production facility on the east coast of Japan; a nuclear meltdown and radiological explosion occurs (of course, as the Fukushima accident shows, a disaster at a ‘safe’ civil nuclear plant may just as well produce such catastrophic results). Whether civil or military in origin, a radioactive plume of long-lived cancer-inducing radiation would likely soon expand over an area equivalent to three prefectures—and, in this  scenario, Sendai will be included in this zone. This will force an evacuation of the entire population of the city, which in the late 21st Century maybe over three million people.

There may be a way for residents to return soon after and stay-on, however, and–in this design–it is achieved by the construction of domestic homes impervious to the radiation. This may be a temporary emergency shelter at first (like the modern emergency shelters described by Stein, 2008) but they will soon become permanent features (in the manner also described Stein, 2008). Within each home, there is a facility to produce fresh water, to grow adequate food crops, to recycle waste, and to be generally self-reliant. To go outside though, and remain safe and healthy, it’s necessary to wear a protective mask and suit. In effect, each home is like a little spaceship on the land, and indeed, spaceship technology (as written about by McEIlroy, 1985, and Eckert, 2010) is likely to be used in the engineering and architecture of such residences.

Notwithstanding the radiation, the Japanese environment of 2121 will not be the same as today (Houghton, et al, eds, 2001; IPCC, 2007; Matsuura and Kawamurak, 2007;Kamiyama et al, 2008). As this design shows, it will be warmer and probably wetter out there in 22nd Century Sendai; the weather more prone to extremes and the landscape more lush with new forms of greenery. The northern Japanese pines, so common now, may well
have been replaced with broadleaves. New land and marine animal species from warmer climes will also colonize the coastal areas of Sendai.

Because the vast majority of the Sendai city population will have moved away from the area by 2121, those that remain can create a quiet and independent post-apocalyptic paradise in environs of the new Sendai. It’s been noted by some nuclear Greenies (for example: Lovelock, 2004; Lynas, 2011) that a radiated landscape may in fact be the source of ecological recovery and rehabilitation since most humans don’t want to live there and an abandonment of the radiated zone will leave wilderness alone to flourish (albeit with numerous mutative impacts and cancers). If such a conservation zone is paradise for animals and plants, it may also be paradise for a few intrepid Japanese families that enjoy the environmental challenges, the changed landscape, the wildlife, and the quiet isolation.

One of the reasons for Japan to endure with nuclear energy beyond the Fukushima accident is nuclear’s supposed role as savior from climate change (see Aiken, 2004; Bodansky, 2008; Skrase and Mackerron, eds, 2009; Salsberg et al, 2011; Lynas, 2013). Just as the nuclear industry was about to be phased out by most governments around the world in the last decades of the 20th Century, a rescue in the form of ‘Global warming mitigation’
appeared. With public and political concern about climate change reaching unprecedented levels, the nuclear industry believes it can ride the waves of panic to force itself on the global stage as an ‘eco’ type of energy. The nuclear industry’s argument runs like this:

‘Nuclear power is a safe, mature technology that produces no carbon dioxide. As such an expanded nuclear power industry has the potential to positively
contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions worldwide’ (for publications expressing this idea, see, for instance: Sweet, 2006; Lynas, 2011; Tucker,
2012; IAEA, 2013).

The counters to this hypothetical nuclear renaissance are the following points (as expressed by researchers such as Makhijani, 2002; Diesendorf, 2007; and Shrader-Frechete, 2012):

  • nuclear energy only helps for electricity production; the other 70 percent of carbon dioxide comes from the transport, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, so unless we have nuclear-powered automobiles, uranium-charged factories and atomic agriculture, nuclear energy by itself is not very useful in the fight against the production of climate change gases,
  • even if we are only wanting to replace fossil-fueled electricity production (and not worry about transport, manufacturing and agriculture), there’s no way to build enough nuclear energy stations all over the planet to make any difference. The world would need about 2000 to 3000 new nuclear plants built very quickly within a decade or so. At present there’s only 400 nuclear plants worldwide built ever-so-slowly over the course of the last sixty years,
  • if 2000 to 3000 nuclear plants were built so fast, the chances of them being unsafe and leading to the irradiated zones as imagined here in Sendai, would be very high.
  • even if there was a way to build 2000-3000 new nuclear plants, there’s not enough uranium left in the world to power them,
  • to get the uranium ready to power these new nuclear plants requires a huge mining and purification process that itself emits vast quantities of carbondioxide,

All these problems however, are down-played by the nuclear industry and they are confident that the world’s governments will eschew any lingering doubts it has about nuclear energy in an increasingly desperate search for ‘clean’ energy that doesn’t promote future climate disaster. So nuclear energy may yet expand in scope and size in Japan, and if it’s done with haste, the likelihood of a future Fukushima or two increases, along with the realism of the graphic scenario presented above. Indeed, the only thing that saved Sendai from the above fate in 2011 was its distance from the Fukushima plant. Closer, nearby towns, were not so lucky and are still in a state of abandonment—and will be so for many years yet.

Graphic by E. Mendoza (reproduced with permission)

Graphic by E. Mendoza (reproduced with permission)


China’s central government has, since the 1970s, tried to control the population of its cities through a ‘one-child policy’. As recounted by Scharping (2002), Brown (2012) and Grennalgh and Winckler (2005), the city authorities over the last few decades have believed that urban over-population presents large-scale resource and environmental problems, such as the ones listed below:

  • land and water scarcity,
  • overcrowding,
  • air and water pollution,
  • waste management issues,
  • food supply problems,
  • health and education deficits,
  • transportation and energy supply problems.

If the population growth rate of an overcrowded city is set to zero, or encouraged to decline, via stringent family planning or other means, then this is often considered ‘sustainable’. Many scholars have pointed out the social problems associated with China’s one-child policy (for example, see: Hudson and Den Boer, 2003; Goh, 2011; Callahan, 2013; and Pohlman, 2013) which range from human rights abuses and socio-psychological issues, through ineffectiveness (in actually controlling population growth), and onward to the skewing of the sex ratio (so that–over the whole of China–men out-number women by some 20 million). Despite these  problems, some environmental scholars still point out the need to find a population control policy for some cities that is both fair and effective (see, for example: Hardoy, et al, 2001; Cafaro and Crist, eds, 2012; Brown, 2012).

The future scenario painted here above takes into account this population pressure but proposes three other measures–a mixture of the social, the technological, and of city planning–to push Shanghai 2121 towards ecotopia:

1. the compact city design ideal,

2. the construction of a network of piezoelectric pedestrian tubeways,

3. the outlawing of heterosexuality.

Compact city design:
This urban design concept promotes high-density working and living arrangements within a layout that encourages both easy and efficient public transport and the promotion of pedestrianism and urban cycling (Dantzig and Saaty, 1973; Burton et al, eds, 1996). In a ‘compact city’, every resident lives close enough to public and private amenities: schools, shops, clinics, entertainment centers, government offices, etc., so they need never think of using a private vehicle (De Roo and Miller, 2000; Jenks and Burgess, 2000). This means, also, that the city of Shanghai in 2121 will be a low cost, low energy consumption, and low pollution, type of city (Chen et al, 2008). And it will mean, also, that there will be a very high degree of social interaction (resulting in more business opportunities for its citizens and also probably more security against crime as there is always people around to observe social settings and maintain safety). There will also be no further urban sprawl so that the surrounding countryside will remain intact and green spaces in the city will be preserved.

Piezoelectric tubeways:
The piezoelectric pedestrian tubeways depicted above will provide city-wide all-weather pedestrian transport. The grounded surface of each tubeway will harness the pressure of stepping energy, converting it into useful electricity (Erturk and Inman, 2011). Some of this electricity is to be used to service the tubeways’ energy needs (for lighting, water-pumping, waste disposal, etc.) but any surfeit channeled to the main grid of the city and its monetary value is credited to the persons doing the walking. Thus, you can pay for your own electricity bills just by walking around Shanghai; and the more you walk, the greater the credit you can earn. Indeed, a professional walker might earn a livable wage if they are allowed to swap their credits on a free market. A side-effect will also be to increase the health of the Shanghai populace; saving the government lots of money whilst increasing the happiness of individuals to utopian levels.

Outlawing heterosexuality:
Throughout communist times, China has had a troubled relationship with homosexuality–only decriminalizing it in the late 1990s and only de-listing it from a compendium of psychological diseases in the early 2000s. In ancient China, attitudes to homosexuality were much more accommodating, and perhaps quite tolerant, compared to the Communist era (Jeffreys, 2009; Mann, 2011) with many emperors held to practice it at one time or another. Such tolerance might well be worth resurrecting for the benefit of Shanghai 2121. In order to lower the birthrate in Shanghai to a point where environmental pollution and resource supply become manageable, homosexual marriage will be encouraged, and heterosexual marriages (and heterosexual physical relations) are to be prohibited. Given that men outnumber women; this might be a blessing for the ‘left-over’ men. And given the sometimes strained and unfair relations between Chinese men and women (Ching, 2010) this may also be a blessing for the women as well.

Many scholars sympathetic to the advancement of gay rights have tried to advance the idea of the ‘natural’ or ‘un-changeable’ nature of a person’s sexuality (see references contained in Rimmerman et al, 2000) in order for their sexual status–be it homo- or heterosexual or a some mix of the two–to be acknowledged, respected and accepted in modern society. But there are many scholars (see studies discussed in Hawkes, 1996) that provide evidence that sexuality is mutable and changeable and that, with the appropriate encouragement–social, erotic, and legal–Shanghai citizens can be encouraged to accept and embrace homosexuality as beautiful, right and proper, both for themselves and for the social and physical environment of their city.

Thimphu 2121


Graphic by E. Mendoza (reproduced with permission)

Graphic by E. Mendoza (reproduced with permission)


Timphu is the capital city of Bhutan, a small Himalayan kingdom wedged between India and Tibet. In the late 20th century, Bhutan has tried to give up on Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, as the total or primary measure of the nation’s wellbeing in order to replace it (or compliment it) with Gross National Happiness, or GNH (Gyamtsho, 2011). The four pillars of GNH are as follows:

1. sustainable development

2. preservation of cultural values and cultural heritage

3. good governance

4. preservation of the natural environment

These factors, it’s suggested by GNH advocates, are more directly related to human happiness than mere monetary worth (Brookes, 2011; Monaco, 2012). Each major new project or policy in Bhutan must be held up to the four pillars to judge its ability to make the people of Bhutan happier (Werheim, 2011). Many GNH supporters feel that by using GNH, Bhutan’s capital will one day–maybe soon or maybe by next century–reach full utopian status whereby everybody lives in a state of happiness and harmony with each other and with their environment. This utopian impulse is advertised and promoted by Bhutan’s official’s home and abroad. When doing so abroad, it’s common for comparisons to be drawn between Bhutanese cities and the fictional Shangri La (Dorji, 2001; Wangchuk, 2006; Ansari, 2012; Ricard, 2012).

But, there are many problems in the real version of this fantastic land. In the 1990s, a full sixth of Bhutan’s population was forcibly expelled from the country because they were ‘not Bhutanese enough’ (Chaterjee, 2005; Walcot, 2011; Mishra, 2013). Those expelled, the ‘Lhotshampas’, were descendants of Nepalese immigrants that arrived in the 19thand 20th Centuries to farm the lowlands of southern Bhutan. For many decades, these new
Bhutanese lived in peace with the old Bhutanese who themselves had migrated to Bhutan from Tibet about 1000 years before (Rizal, 2004). In the late 1980s, the Bhutanese government enacted a “one nation, one people” campaign, making it illegal for the Lhotshampas to speak their own language or wear clothes associated with their heritage (Evans, 2010). Those that stood up against these injustices, and many who did not as well, were either harassed into leaving or forcibly expelled by the Bhutan Army (Giri, 2004). The Bhutanese government went to great pains to explain to the international community that the Lhotshampas all left Bhutan by consent but many of the refugees deny this. For these refugees, the international fame of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness idea is a bitter pill to swallow.

Even for the citizens of Bhutan–the ones that are happy to dress in traditional Bhutanese costume every day of the year–there are many problems that detract from their happiness. Thimphu, for example, though better off than the rest of Bhutan, has poor educational standards, dilapidated housing areas, inadequate health facilities, and a woeful social welfare system–along with an overbearing ethnically-uniform, elitist, and authoritarian type of Government (Gyamtsho, 1996; Rinzen, 2006; Ansari, 2012; Mishra, 2013). To aspire to be happy under these circumstances, and to celebrate ‘happiness’ over all material concerns seems to be, to some, a ploy to: a) make Bhutanese people content with their very modest lot in life, and b) pacify political resentment (Rinzen, 2006; Thapa, 2011; Turne et al, 2011, Luechauer, 2013).

It’s possible to interpret this attempted focus on happiness as a resignation that Bhutan can never truly develop to be economically or financially strong. Like hippies in 196os North America, Bhutan seems to have given up competing and decided to become ‘drop outs’ from the international economic rat race.

In a place insulated from the seductions of consumer society, GNH could be perhaps be fully embraced by the citizens. The Government of Bhutan had banned TV and the internet there right up to 1999. Now though, that insulation is breaking as more and more people have access to international broadcasts and e-media and there seems to be a rapid change in the desires and expectations within Thimphu’s citizenry. According to Rinzin (2006), the reality now is that the vast majority of Bhutanese are only paying lip service to GNH as they vigorously pursue the goods, services, and lifestyle they see on TV and on the internet.

So, where to for Bhutan, now? In this depiction of the Bhutanese capital, ecotopian ideals are achieved by fulfilling six commitments by 2121AD:

1.  A commitment to wholesale practice of GNH, not just to giving it ‘lip service’. The current GNH framework, though, is problematic from many angles and it needs adjusting. Firstly, it must be made measurable in some way through the drawing up of democratically-agreed upon standards and criteria. Second, the ‘cultural values’ and ‘cultural heritage’ pillar of GNH has the tendency to encourage and support an ethnocentric mythology. This theme is best abandoned so that individuals of Bhutan, from different ethnic groups, can decide for themselves what they value, rather than having it ascribed by an ethnically-homogenous elitist government. Thirdly, to make GNH stronger and more worthwhile, an ongoing democratic debate about the meaning and policies of GNH must be enshrined in the constitution of Bhutan.

2.   A commitment to reserve a proportional number of parliamentary seats for each ethnic grouping, for young people, and for women.

3.  A commitment to an annulment of The King of Bhutan as Head of State since this position is far too much a symbol and a base for the ethnocentric
policies forced upon all the diverse people of the nation.

4.  A commitment to expanding the Shangri La idyll as it serves as an eco-friendly and utopian way to raise needed revenue (from tourists) which can then be used to fund GNH projects.

5.   A commitment to total forest cover. At present, 60% of Bhutan’s land is forested, down from some 74% in 1980. For this ecotopian design though, the forests are encouraged to re-colonize just about all of Bhutan, and they are also introduced to Thimphu to become part of the capital’s cityscape, too.

6.  A commitment to inviting back to Bhutan the expelled Lhotshampas; then to compensate them, and then to include them in democratic activities and the reforestation effort.

The primary change in the Thimphu social fabric, then, is the abandonment of the promotion of any ‘authentic Bhutanese culture’ concept. In its stead, there’s an elevation of an open and evolving Bhutanese ‘forest nature’ concept. From this, the citizens of Thimphu are allowed to construct their own identities within multi-cultural and malleable Shangri La fantasies and to connect this identity in a myriad of ways to the forests that surround them.

Goa 2121

Graphic by author

Graphic by author


The state of Goa is a former Portuguese colony on the Arabian Sea coast of India. From 1510 to the mid-20th Century, Goa was independent. In 1961 it was annexed by India. In this design of Goa 2121, Goans have felt the need to put some distance between their state and the rest of India, once again, due to some of India’s more objectionable environmental decisions. (For a critique of 20th and early 21st century Indian environmental decisions, see: Chhatre and Saberwal, 2006; Ramana, 2012; Asthana and Shukla, 2014).

If we project some of the ongoing development impulses into the future, it is likely that Goans will object to India’s policies due to the following:

  • the lack of commitment shown by the Indian government to slow down the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions,
  • the prospective siting of an experimental thorium nuclear plant in Goa,
  • the selling of Goa forests for timber exports,
  • the encouragement of laborers from all around India to work in Goa,
  • the development of an aluminium smelter near the Goa Western Ghats nature reserve, and
  • the levelling of a special Goa tax to pay for Goa’s climate change problems,

The major problem is that Goa is suffering dire global warming challenges but the Indian government does not want to change the country’s greenhouse gas policies. Indeed, because Goa is the wealthiest state in the country, the Indian government will probably prefer to levy an extra tax upon Goans in order to fund adaptation measures. Added to this is the fact that many Goans will not want non-Goans from other parts of India to come and settle there, since they will feel an increased population will only make problems worse.

Because of all this, Goans will probably campaign ever more dramatically to be independent again. By 2121AD, they may well have achieved this in some form or another as the Indian central government is forced to make concessions with regards to greater autonomy for India’s many states in order to halt political backlashes and social unrest.

Whether or not it achieves full independence, Goa and its coastal towns will be afflicted by rising sea levels caused by climate change. In this design, the developing coastal city of Goa has had to adapt physically to the rise of sea levels and the erosion of land. Here, families of Goa are occupying prefab houses are perched on metal and concrete stilts just out to sea. The land that once supported their homes has been eroded. By 2121, the schools and health clinics of Goa are also built in this same way and the predominant form of transport between then has become the traditional Arabaian Sea dhow.

As the sea level rises, and Goans watch parts of their town disappearing, the city government as well as the Catholic Church set about imploring people to adopt an adaptive eco-friendly lifestyle. This is likely to have unexpected consequences since some individuals will decide to embrace a simple life; giving up cars, energy-intensive devices, unnecessary luxuries, and also, their clothes.

With respect to this last aspect, in Goa 2121, the social and environmental benefit of not wearing clothes is generally accepted and naturism is commonly practiced. According to naturists of today (for example, see: Woycke, 2005; Egger and Egger, 2009) the benefits of naturism include:

  • encouraging a lighter ecological footprint on the world by eschewing the resources needed to make clothes,
  • encouraging social egalitarianism by rejecting clothes-based status-seeking,
  • encouraging sports and fitness and hygienic bathing,
  • encouraging healthy diets and a healthy social life,
  • encouraging tourism and international solidarity between a globally-dispersed community.

The new architecture of Goa envisioned here does something in itself, to promote an initial burst of family naturism, since the residences are far enough apart that the resident families can go without clothes without annoying neighbors or passers-by. More and more, though, social nudism becomes a trend, and Goans begin to attend beachfronts, then entertainment centers, and then shopping venues, all in the nude.

Over the years between now and 2121AD, there are likely to be many supporters and many critics of the practice of naturism and social nudism including some emerging from sections of the Indian government and the Goan Catholic Church. However, as Goa becomes famous for naturism around the world, its economic value to Goa becomes apparent as naturist tourists flock into the State, bringing money and an ever-more liberal acceptance of the practice. The Goa State government is soon vexed as to whether to discourage, ignore or encourage the practice. Many arguments ensue, and successive governments will undoubtedly have different attitudes about it. Some will suggest it should remain a private practice confined to private residences but this does not stop tens of thousands of naturists from happily wandering around Goa conducting their daily affairs without wearing clothes.

Apart from the beach life and hippy culture of Goa (which is readily apparent even today in the early 21stCentury) one of the reasons that naturism finds acceptance here is its historical precedence. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great encountered, in India, wandering groups of naked holy men whom he dubbed the naked philosophers (Carr-Gomm, 2013). Christianity, as well, has at times been more accommodating to nudity (Cunningham, 2006) and so even the Goan Catholic Church might be able to tolerate it, especially when they realize many naturists are not only strongly spiritual but also committed Christians (Gorham and Leal, 2000). Naturism also advances the value of vegetarianism, tee-totalism and yoga, which are already well-respected in many parts of India.

By 2121AD, naturism in Goa has also become fairly well unified with the rising environmental aspirations of Goa State. As well as this, it is also becomes a growing part of a cultural identity that makes Goa different from the rest of India; reinforcing the political aspirations of those Goans that campaign for independence.


So are these five varying expressions of ecotopia meant to be earnest and serious or are they mere satire and speculation? Are they asking for us to identify a specific future for a specific city or are they just lampooning the policies and practices of today to warn us of where we are heading?

Do the designs presented above confuse utopia with dystopia (and ecotopia with technotopia) or do they realize that dystopia and technotopia are valid varieties of utopia? Are they suggesting some special important relationship between technology and the future (or are they ambivalent and ambiguous about the supposed liberating effect of technology, and suggestive of the idea that social and political factors are  far more important in determining the future of cities)?

And what do these designs suggest with regards to the basic role of the concept of utopia? That utopia is but a playful mode of art for imagining a better ‘here and now’ rather than a real tool for city planning? That utopia is political fantasy with no use beyond inspiration?

Are these designs also alluding to the fact that utopian masterplans may pretend to be open and inclusive but usually they involve the exclusion of some section of society (in the cases above, those excluded from the professed utopian cities range from domestic migrants in the case of Goa, to heterosexuals in the case of Shanghai, to residents who are sensitive to radiation in the case of Sendai).

Despite being vulnerable to self-contradiction, the answer to all these questions is probably: ‘yes’.


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Designed by Chris Orchard