There is a fantastic book by Italo Calvino called Invisible Cities, in which the author describes cities both imaginary and real, hypothetical and actual, existing in the imagination and in the realm of the historically true. Cities of the future, cities of the past, cities filled with trash, cities clogged with pollution spewing cars, cities traversing the length of one’s thought, that run as far as one’s mind can run, Calvino’s imagination creates them all.
The plot is relatively simple, as the entire book is a conversation between a traveler and a conqueror: Marco Polo has a long talk with Kubla Khan in his divan, in the middle of his crumbling empire.
Marco Polo tells Kubla of the cities he has visited on his way to the center of his domain, and Kubla relives his conquests through Marco’s stories, through the images and the mosaics of words flowing to him in their conversation. Hearing Polo, Kubla recognizes that his empire is crumbling, and the cracks can be seen in details of the Venetian trader’s journeys.
Kubla listens anyway, curiously, languidly, because in his listening and in the words that flow from interlocutor to listener, the cities of his eroding empire live once more, takes shape once more in the shadows of his auditory imagination. It is a fascinating account not only of physical travel, but also of the journey of imagination, memory, of the loss of our grand designs, the eventual disintegration of our most beautiful constructions.
What would a future Saigon – eternally shifting, ever hustling Saigon – look like? Will there be public and green spaces set aside for its various inhabitants? Will there be communities and places where collaborations can happen, where cultural or artistic events are made available to be enjoyed by its citizens? Will the future of Saigon lead to its eventual vanishing into the homogenous forms of so many modern cities, or will it evolve to an entity on its own, unique in the memories of visitors and locals?
These are questions that I hope I can explore further in my stay here. Looking at any major thoroughfare, and the tall cranes that line it, throws one to actively imagine its futuristic silhouettes. I cant help but create skylines in my mind of future Saigons, and the pictures formed, hazy and unfocused as they are, nevertheless captivate me.
One can’t help but superimpose cities one has visited with the most compelling skylines upon the current view. Shanghai gets mashed in there, as does Brooklyn, and sometimes Boston or Hong Kong.
… to be cont’d.