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Reimagining The City

Reimagining the city, writer and journalist Chris Roper dreams up a futuristic urban landscape of contrasts where change is the only constant.

Pawel Nolbert/Unsplash, Supplied

Reimagining The City | House and Leisure

When a stranger enters the imaginary South African city, the first thing she notices is the differently coloured, pulsating lights that mark the Identity Loops.

In this hyper-stratified, constantly evolving society, neighbourhoods are described according to the prevailing identity choice of their inhabitants, and you can flit from one identity to another as the mood takes you. At night, it’s a beautiful sight, and the massive buildings that house the millions of city dwellers throb with colours like a child’s crude toy keyboard. 

There is no map for the imaginary city, and no guidebook. Our stranger has to navigate in the moment. The imaginary city doesn’t even have a fixed name. Instead, it has a menu of names from which you choose, depending on who you are and who you’re talking to. Restaurants, music venues, museums and public sculptures all change and mutate over time and space, depending on whim and weft.

Like Italo Calvino’s invisible city, ‘it is a city made only of exceptions, exclusions, incongruities, contradictions.’ 

The imaginary South African city is real: it exists in both the past and the future. Perhaps, sadly, the only place it can never exist is in the present, where we now live.

But like our stranger, we’re more interested in the city’s pathways than its philosophies. And you can have a lot of fun in this city. Because so many people live here, the buildings are inescapably vast, but always built with large roof parks. The public transport system stretches across the sky, between stations atop buildings. The ground is reserved for peregrinations and pop-ups, and the roads are awash with meandering jelly pods full of people being gently transported.

Almost all citizens work at home, but in apartments that physically oscillate between places of business and houses at fixed times.

The imaginary South African city doesn’t have a mayor. Instead, artificial intelligence functions as city hall, and people vote on decrees that they feel strongly about.

You can find a thousand flavours of ice cream in the shimmering metal parlours, enjoy a million variations on desire in the intricately fashioned cultural centres, and effortlessly speak the multitude of languages on the streets. 

Our stranger has lived in the imaginary city her whole life. The people who inhabit it have a mantra they utter approvingly whenever they encounter the constant changes: ‘You’re always a stranger to someone’. 

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Reimagining The City In Literature

Reimagining The City | House and Leisure

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City is a ghetto in a gritty, dystopian Johannesburg, where the animalled live – people guilty of murder who have an animal familiar attached to them for life.

Reimagining The City | House and Leisure

The Sculptors of Mapungubwe by Zakes Mda

An imaginary telling of the (real) African kingdom of Mapungubwe, where the famous gold-plated rhino originated. Two brothers vie to create the greatest sculptures: the one of realistic animals; the other of fantastical, unearthly creatures.

Reimagining The City | House and Leisure

Embassytown by China Miéville

Existing at the edge of the known universe on a distant planet named Arieka, Embassytown is a futuristic city whose native inhabitants cannot speak an untruth, and when they wish to communicate in allusion, they have to act out literal similes.

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