The concept of an “ideal city” is something that is often talked about today, as we look towards the future and think about what aspects of urban life we feel are most important for residents to thrive in a healthy community. However, ideal cities were conceived during the Italian Renaissance, as planners and architects prioritized rationale in their designs focusing on human values, urban capacities, and the recursive waves of cultural and artistic revolutions that influenced large-scale planning schemes.
The ideal Renaissance town was a symmetrical settlement that was centered around a plaza that contained civil buildings and was seen as the most important space from which the rest of the city would interact. The symbolism of the planning was viewed as a new way of seeing the world, dubbed “Imanesimo”, or a system that focused on humanity and collective civilization. Such a city was even built, known now as the town of Pienza. Pienza is one of the cornerstones of what we consider modern-day urban planning, as it was built in a way that best suits the needs of its residents. It considered transportation and social aspects too, even going so far as to incorporate public seating across the city.
Unfortunately, the fundamental idea of renaissance cities is heavily based on theory, and the cities often were planned to ignore any sort of geographical references or constraints such as rivers, mountains, and valleys. Therefore, they were often drawn but rarely built. They also were designed based on social norms that were important at that very moment, unaware of what shifts might occur in the future. One designer who became known for his drawings, but not his ability to build, was Antonio di Pietro Averlino, also known as Filarete. During the 15th century, he devised a scheme for a theoretical city called Sforzinda. Although never built, it became a famous example because of its octagonal star shape that derived itself from medical cities. Its center represented the power of the monarch, and its high walls represented the strength and stability of cities that were hard to overtake.
In the centuries that followed, other cities began to take their own twist on the ideologies of Pienza and Sforzinda, eventually becoming more symmetrical in overall form, fortifying themselves with walls to set clear perimeters, and delegating long central axes that would break up various programmatic elements and simplified streets and pedestrian paths. Even artists began to paint their imaginative representations of these cities, displaying large plazas and gubernatorial buildings that flank all sides.
While Pienza is one of the most symbolic and early examples of notable urban planning, its influence has also made its way into the ways that we design cities today. Most recently, urbanists have been discussing the implementation of the fifteen-minute city, which aims to successfully incorporate all necessities of urban life within a fifteen-minute distance. Pushing that further, some have proposed that in the future we may even experience a one-minute city. But at the core of these radical ideas lies the principals that the most frequented activities occur at the center of the city and amenities line the wide streets (that in the present day make way for cars, busses, bikes, and pedestrians), and incorporate designs that encourage socialization- all similar to the high-level thinking of Pienza.