If Leonardo Da Vinci were to witness today’s megacities, he’d not have an easy time of it. Overpopulation has reached such levels that natural resources are seriously threatened, and waste disposal problems pose major challenges to city governments. Leonardo’s genius couldn’t comprehend the enormous contradictions to which irrational urban development has led, and he couldn’t comprehend precisely because he had himself conceived a model city harmoniously and efficiently organized, centuries ago.

Leonardo’s ideal city project came about in the wake of a plague that hit the city of Milan. He was commissioned to study the causes leading to the tragedy and soon realized that the city conditions, still anchored in a medieval model, caused the onset of the disease and supported its rapid spread. The filth, the noise, the stench, the impassable streets; all led Leonardo to imagine an orderly city, based on harmonious proportions and a rational distribution of space. It was a city that promoted both greater efficiency and increased livability for residents.

As always, Leonardo was ahead of his time. His conception of the ideal city was revolutionary in both the field of urban renewal and in hygiene. For starters, Leonardo envisioned a city without a protective wall. In the medieval conception, this was an unprecedented change. A wall couldn’t allow for horizontal growth and represented a great expense for the government. What’s more, he envisioned a city of two levels: an upper, sunny and open one for people’s comfortable passage, and a lower, dark and closed level for the transit of goods and animals. Leonardo described it thus:

By the high streets no vehicles and similar objects should circulate, but they are exclusively for the use of gentlemen. The carts and burdens for the use and convenience of the inhabitants have to go by the low ones. One house must turn its back to the other, leaving the lower streets between them.

He planned an extensive network of canals to improve city transit and sanitation, free and open spaces for enjoyment, the regulation of ventilation and lighting in homes, and he limited city capacity to some 30,000 inhabitants. Given that our own megacities far exceed these figures, we can be sure that the multifaceted genius’ studies were not considered. The current moving the great cities of today would deeply disappoint a man of universal knowledge like Leonardo Da Vinci, able to see, even in fledgling medieval cities, the problems that the people of the future would face in their thirst for progress.

One of his fables is enough to confirm the validity of his urban model:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful stone, of great size, that had been exposed by the water. It lived in the company of little plants and multicolored flowers. Seeing the number of stones placed on that street, the stone wished to drop, saying to herself: “What am I doing here with these plants? I want to live in the company of my sisters.” Having spoken, she dropped into the street […] and very soon her sorrows began, suffering the wheels of carts and the steps of the hard-shoed horses and people walking. […] In vain, she looked again and again at the place from which she’d come, at the place of her lonely and tranquil peace. This is the case for all those who, from their solitary and contemplative lives, want to go to live in the cities, among people and their infinite evils.

Image: Public domain

If Leonardo Da Vinci were to witness today’s megacities, he’d not have an easy time of it. Overpopulation has reached such levels that natural resources are seriously threatened, and waste disposal problems pose major challenges to city governments. Leonardo’s genius couldn’t comprehend the enormous contradictions to which irrational urban development has led, and he couldn’t comprehend precisely because he had himself conceived a model city harmoniously and efficiently organized, centuries ago.

Leonardo’s ideal city project came about in the wake of a plague that hit the city of Milan. He was commissioned to study the causes leading to the tragedy and soon realized that the city conditions, still anchored in a medieval model, caused the onset of the disease and supported its rapid spread. The filth, the noise, the stench, the impassable streets; all led Leonardo to imagine an orderly city, based on harmonious proportions and a rational distribution of space. It was a city that promoted both greater efficiency and increased livability for residents.

As always, Leonardo was ahead of his time. His conception of the ideal city was revolutionary in both the field of urban renewal and in hygiene. For starters, Leonardo envisioned a city without a protective wall. In the medieval conception, this was an unprecedented change. A wall couldn’t allow for horizontal growth and represented a great expense for the government. What’s more, he envisioned a city of two levels: an upper, sunny and open one for people’s comfortable passage, and a lower, dark and closed level for the transit of goods and animals. Leonardo described it thus:

By the high streets no vehicles and similar objects should circulate, but they are exclusively for the use of gentlemen. The carts and burdens for the use and convenience of the inhabitants have to go by the low ones. One house must turn its back to the other, leaving the lower streets between them.

He planned an extensive network of canals to improve city transit and sanitation, free and open spaces for enjoyment, the regulation of ventilation and lighting in homes, and he limited city capacity to some 30,000 inhabitants. Given that our own megacities far exceed these figures, we can be sure that the multifaceted genius’ studies were not considered. The current moving the great cities of today would deeply disappoint a man of universal knowledge like Leonardo Da Vinci, able to see, even in fledgling medieval cities, the problems that the people of the future would face in their thirst for progress.

One of his fables is enough to confirm the validity of his urban model:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful stone, of great size, that had been exposed by the water. It lived in the company of little plants and multicolored flowers. Seeing the number of stones placed on that street, the stone wished to drop, saying to herself: “What am I doing here with these plants? I want to live in the company of my sisters.” Having spoken, she dropped into the street […] and very soon her sorrows began, suffering the wheels of carts and the steps of the hard-shoed horses and people walking. […] In vain, she looked again and again at the place from which she’d come, at the place of her lonely and tranquil peace. This is the case for all those who, from their solitary and contemplative lives, want to go to live in the cities, among people and their infinite evils.

Image: Public domain