It’s easy to dismiss SuperCity as fantasy or, as friends of ours did last night, a mere PR exercise for architect Will Alsop, but for me this exhibition is like a concept car; a space packed full of sometimes whacky ideas most of which won’t get very far. However, some will and the successes won’t always be obvious. And elements of SuperCity, like New Islington, Manchester (above) and the transformation of Barnsley into an unlikely Tuscan style village, complete with halo have already been given the nod or are under construction.
Peter Cook once explained that countryside is ‘only there to keep the towns apart’. SuperCity’s primary vision is of a north of England in which traditional town and city rivalries are overcome and a merger of sorts occurs with those towns and cities operating as a single entity. A concept that echoes the government’s Northern Way vision (so no surprise to see John Prescott joining us at Urbis). Recognising that green belt is a rather dated concept, countryside would be absorbed by the city, the boundaries of which would be roughly defined as a relatively narrow strip around ten miles either side of the M62, which links west coast Liverpool with east coast Hull (a journey with a similar timeframe to crossing from one side of London to the other). That’s not to say this countryside would be tarmacked, far from it, it would be used for leisure and food production and the rural and urban communities would be one and the same.
Anyway. This is an exhibition of ideas and what could be in the not so distant future. Some of it seems to repeat mistakes of the past, with buildings too keen to make statements of their own to be sympathetic to their surroundings. Dependence on locally produced food, while trendy, seems an unlikely prospect: few people really want to give up being able to eat what they like all year round. But SuperCity is an exhibition, like Dtroit and the Peter Saville retrospective, that’s helping to prove those who would convert our museums into offices that Urbis, the museum of the modern city, has a vital role to play.