Design Prose

Unslumming: Jane Jacobs

Posted in Built Environment, City, Urban Planning, Urbanism by designprose on May 5, 2014

Below is an extract from book by Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It talks about how superficial or rather visual understanding of slums that leads to conventional planning to clear them out as a blight blot ignoring the tremendous energy they contribute in regenerating itself and in effect encapsulating more energy and ambition as a driving force. This is no romanticizing of slums, rather a deeper look at forces that causes them to exist and why they can be a source to less expensive, informal, vibrant with entrepreneur spirit caused due to drive and energy.

Our present urban renewal laws are an attempt to break this particular linkage in the vicious circles by forthrightly wiping away slums and their populations, and replacing them with projects intended to produce higher tax yields, or to lure back easier populations with less expensive public requirements. The method fails. At best, it merely shifts slums from here to there, adding its own tincture of extra hardship and disruption. At worst, it destroys neighborhoods where constructive and improving communities exist and where the situation calls for encouragement rather than destruction.

Like Fight Blight and Conservation campaigns in neighborhoods declining into slums, slum shifting fails because it tries to overcome causes of trouble by diddling with symptoms.

Conventional planning approaches to slums and slum dwellers are thoroughly paternalistic. The trouble with paternalists is that they want to make impossibly profound changes, and they choose impossibly superficial means for doing so. To overcome slums, we must regard slum dwellers as people capable of understanding and acting upon their self interests, which they certainly are. We need to discern, respect and build upon the forces for regeneration that exist in slums themselves and that demonstrably work in real cities. This is far from trying to patronize people into better life, and it is far from what is done today.


India: A Million Mutinies Now

Posted in Books, Urban Planning, Urbanism by designprose on November 30, 2012

Level or fully made footpaths are not a general Indian need, and the Indian city road is often like a wavering, bumpy, much mended asphalt path between drifts of dust and dirt and the things that get dumped on Indian city roads and then stay there. Things like sand gravel, wet rubbish, dry rubbish, nothing were looking finished, no curbstone, no wall, everything in a half-and half way, half way to being or ceasing to be.

This was in 1990, India through the eyes of Naipaul. Not much has changed 20 years later. Those words can be used as is, for current description of those same roads. Same wretchedness, same intermingling of roads to sidewalks and curbs, same undefined segregation of  people to rubbish, same unfinishedness to urban scapes.

Creating a Smarter Planet: City by City, Talk by Rashik Parmar

Some Wisdom Through Graduation Speech

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, Uncategorized, Urban Planning by designprose on June 3, 2011

A poem by Architect Moshe Safdie, taken from graduation speech given by Chris Anderson of TED talks.

He who seeks truth shall find beauty. He who seeks beauty shall find vanity.

He who seeks order, shall find gratification. He who seeks gratification, shall be disappointed. 

He who considers himself the servant of his fellow beings shall find the joy of self-expression.
He who seeks self-expression, shall fall into the pit of arrogance.
Arrogance is incompatible with nature. Through nature, the nature
of the universe and the nature of man, we shall seek truth.  
If we seek truth, we shall find beauty.
~Moshe Safdie

Chris speaks of patterns that he has observed and speaks as an outsider (quite certainly so and that is why it makes his disparate observation and opinion valuable) to the profession of Architecture and why he believes we are heading towards exciting time for thinking architecture or architects who are thinking and applying that knowledge to this transient, transforming world. Full transcript of speech can be found here on his blog.

Great City, Terrible Place

Posted in City Scapes, Sustainability, Urban Planning by designprose on April 9, 2010

This is an expression coined by Charles Correa on his impression of City of Bombay. Charles is a renowned architect, activist and a thinker of contemporary architecture and urban planning. In his essay, Great City…Terrible Place he outlines his views on cities and their evolution and how they work occasionally and sometimes fail miserably. A passage quoted below is from the above mentioned essay which captures the essence of underlying urban forces and fabricated sense of ecstasy which is often misrepresented in expressions like great spirit of Bombay or the City that never sleeps.

This is true of Bombay. While it is getting better and better a city, and disintegrating (very rapidly and quite unnecessarily) as environment…perhaps what we are experiencing in the last burst of energy…the spastic twitches before the end. Living in this city we wouldn’t notice it ourselves.

If you drop a frog into a saucepan of very hot water, it will desperately try to hop out. But if you place a frog in tepid water and gradually, very very gradually, raise the temperature, the frog will swim around happily…adjusting to the increasingly dangerous conditions. In fact, just before the end…just before the frog cooks to death…when the water is exceedingly hot…the frog relaxes…and a state of euphoria sets in (as in hot-tub baths). May be that’s what is happening to us in Bombay. As everyday we find it is getting to be more and more of a great city…and a terrible place.

This holds true for the most talked about city of Bombay in a developing India and perhaps this has worked negatively and has brought Bombay on the brink of explosion. Bursting with people, diversities, cultures and its related social implications and grappling to find its identity and some sense of order in all the chaos and confusion. An attempt to create this Utopian  city which will accommodate every Indian and his or her dream and offer squalor and confusion garbed in hopes and misery and a drive to keep fighting in just one single city is a failed strategy. It has become a hub for almost every upward bound economic engine with an exception of Bangalore and Hyderabad which brings migrants in extremely large numbers. Not all migrants want to leave their place of origin if it provided access to basic needs and means to empower themselves and sustain locally.

We need multiple hubs spread strategically around the map of India which will give more even spread of population. So, need for evenly distributed development is not just a humanitarian call but a practical solution for city to sustain. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty will not be able to live too peacefully in close proximity and extreme forces from both ends will create imbalance as we have seen in the case of Bombay’s class divides. One will find people commuting from farthest northern suburbs to work in southern commercial hub. Attempt to redistribute the work force and organize work and housing locally in short distance have been made in places like New Bombay, Bandra-Kurla complex, Lower Parel and Andheri but it hasn’t changed things dramatically and commute still remains a nightmare for residents. Roads remain congested, traffic unruly, urban spaces heaped with garbage littered everywhere and more importantly the complacency and civic sense of people remains questionable.

Lack of planning and unorganized spurts of development remain chaotic and confusing. Dynamic forces like diversity, migration, cultural clashes,  disparities are not given enough consideration & research and it amounts to solutions that do not seem to be working. Thus Bombay remains a place for constant chase, unsatisfactory living conditions and unfulfilled, unrequited sense towards excellence.

Vertical Chutzpah: Social Tale of Tall Buildings

Posted in Built Environment, City Scapes, Urban Planning by designprose on February 9, 2010

World of Architecture is buzzed with a newest addition tearing into the azure: Burj Tower. It has been claimed that it is now the world’s tallest building and it is expected that it will attract tourists from world over. In its basic physiological needs, this architecture and engineering gem will provide, awe, wonder and a sense of supremacy that human race would like to keep it in their tow. Currently, Burj Tower stand tallest leaving behind earlier claims to shame, above Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, Toronto’s CN Tower, Chicago’s Sears Tower. Human scale in this is of  little significance when human greed to become taller, bigger and larger is amongst the front-runners. It would work rather well if only we weren’t clusters of social beings.

Denser developments of cities or vertical towns, are the need of the hour if we have manage our environmental resources sustainably, I am told. What about social, emotional and well-being resources sustainability? Are human beings quick enough to adapt to social viability of class creation through vertical developments? Are human beings adept at tailoring their emotional viability in escaping from fellow human beings where only select few may reach? What about calculation on inculcation of techniques to mitigate fears like vertigo? What about feeling of safety in cumbersome accessibility to towers? What about structural soundness which cannot deflect deleterious air-borne attacks?

Architectural achievement of this height, not only, does not signify distributive nature of wealth but it also violates the law of natural progression of the race. On the onset itself, we see interference with the equilibrium of nature. Migration from one’s habitat space is a highly organic and often a slow process. Hence the experience out of such a feat will mostly be temporary and not transcendental. Why then, do we like to build skyscrapers while extended slums crammed with migrants and congested unsanitary habitation strive to thrive at the bottom of it? Never mind the human rights violations of labor workers, for now, we will just turn our eyes. More such building race up in the sky, bigger the moral and physical squalor at the bottom is going to be.

If we as human race continue and keep living in defiance then nature has it’s own mean means to proclaim the equilibrium. Isn’t it critical that architectural community joins a collective force to intervene with intellectual intervention to understand and disseminate the same knowledge for better and safer built environments?