In “The Good City: in defense of utopian thinking”, John Friedmann (2000) critiqued Manuel Castells for what he interpreted as a departure from prior activist ideals and an embrace of empirically based social science as the most appropriate foundation for planning education and practice. As he articulated a set of uncompromising principles for guiding planning action, John called for the embrace of utopian thinking as a method for re-affirming the profession’s longstanding idealism and radically transformative aims. Utopian thinking, he argued, encourages much-needed criticism of “what is” while also justifying the search for alternatives, a process through which that which is to be constructed must be envisioned first on the basis of emancipatory ideals (Friedmann 2000, p.462). By situating his appreciation of utopian thinking in the history of the profession (with references to Fourier and others) and in the context of activism around social justice and the city (as theorized and advocated by scholars such as David Harvey [2000] and Susan Fainstein [2010]), John argued that the planning profession must continue to foster an appreciation of utopian thinking among future generations of planners. It is hard to disagree with John’s intentions or ambitions. Many of us have

joined the discipline of planning because we are committed to ethical outcomes that require a forceful critique of the status quo. But it is one thing to embrace the dream that a better world is possible, or to motivate future planners to fight the good fight in the service of equity, toleration, and other ideals, and quite another to construct planning practice around utopian thought. Friedmann does acknowledge this when he argues that “constructive visioning,” which he sees as central to utopian thinking, is always political and that its implementation is bound to be fraught with obstacles (2000, p.463). But the problem is not merely disagreement over grand visions or the ideals they articulate. There is also the issue of process. As Susan Fainstein and others have argued, grand visions are often seen as

elitist, top-down, moralistic, or created from a vantage point that removes one from the messy realities of actually making things different. For precisely this reason open, participatory, or negotiated processes rarely produce

utopian visions. The normative promise of utopian thinking may run up against some of the most significant and widely held tenets in the planning profession, which include participation, thus explaining why the embrace of small-scale, modest, and more pragmatic action has tended to characterize the profession. Yet this is not to suggest that one should discard utopian thinking altogether. Quite the opposite. The problems inherent in advancing utopian thought and constructive visioning need to be reckoned with. They require that we as planners become less cavalier and more sanguine about whether, how, and why to embrace such loftier ideals. Rather than relegating them to the normative high-ground of personal

belief and commitment, we must critically interrogate the array of problems and barriers associated with introducing utopian thought into planning practice. To do so, we need a more self-reflective understanding of the dilemmas that emerge when attempting to transform utopian thought into constructive action. Doing so will not only advance the larger aims of creating “good cities” (Friedmann 2000), it also allows us to call into question the imagined split between empirical social science and utopian thought that motivated Friedmann’s critique of Castells in the first place. In the service of breaking down this divide, I analyze the obstacles con-

fronted while designing an experimental project squarely informed by utopian ideals. Called Jerusalem 2050: Visions for a Place of Peace, this initiative was undertaken by faculty at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning in 2004, in conjunction with the Center for International Studies.1 Three years later, in 2007, it came to fruition with the launching of The Just Jerusalem Competition. The project relied on a visioning methodology to solicit nonconventional ideas for improving conditions in that quintessential world city. Taking the form of an international “ideas” competition that called on citizens rather than state actors to offer future visions, the aim was to solicit constructive ideas that might lead to a more just, peaceful, and sustainable Jerusalem by the year 2050.2 As such, this initiative embraced the kind of utopian ideals expressed in Friedmann’s essay, albeit focused specifically on Jerusalem. As we undertook this challenge a series of dilemmas and disagreements

plagued progress from the get-go. Many revolved around tensions over the utopian versus pragmatic aims of the competition. Others owed to conditions specific to Jerusalem: how best to frame a call for utopian visions without undermining the initiative’s material aims of soliciting ideas and projects capable of producing an alternative future that would make life better for all Jerusalemites, regardless of religious attachment. Overall, our efforts to advance this initiative were far from easy, and not only because of its selfevident utopian aims or the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is why it took us three years to move from the drawing board to the launch of the competition. Using the lenses of participant observation as well as a comparative-historical

understanding of the specificities of Jerusalem, I recount the dilemmas and

how they impacted the project’s final contours. My objective is to produce a much more nuanced understanding of the limitations as well as the possibilities associated with deployment of utopian aims informed by a real-world project that aspired to produce a Friedmann-inspired “good city.”