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.


Some Ruminations on Constant Muted Wars in Urban Spaces

Posted in Built Environment, Urbanism by designprose on February 27, 2010

Urban planning is a logical initial stride towards an organized development of a city or a commercial hub. In doing so, larger governing body looks after the development process and more often than not, follow a yardstick of regulations, forms and codes. This would work well in an environment where dynamic forces are negligible. But dynamic forces cannot not exist, like migration issues, pandemics, employment and economics predispositions, cultural mutinies and sociological confrontations. All these are primers which work towards the way we organize or interrupt ourselves in some patterns in an urban setting.

Such patterns are present all the time and it only presents the fact that planned approach has its limitations in our organic approach towards life and living. Allow me to give you an example. An urban place, striving really hard to combat basic diseases, basic sanitation in the vicinity which is inaccessible due to lack of good infrastructure and heavy migrant influx, has built a fancy state of the art commercial retail establishment. Would such a mall work? Another example is to build a fancy futuristic commercial premise with only escalators as means of going up and down. This would work well if the generation living is adaptable and youthful. I have noticed older and aging generation in India is not comfortable using escalators since it was not a regular feature in the buildings in their times of adaptability. They excuse themselves from the family and take the elevator and meet them at a final floor of the destination and split while returning too.

Governing bodies can use strategies and authorities to seek some order and organize people in certain desirable pattern. Such attempts, if they neglect the status in quo and conditions on how vibrantly people on their own adapt themselves or adapt the space to suit their needs and requirements is in my opinion a very critical factor. And this adapting happens all the time and this is more and more visible in places of retail establishments. The generation which is not able to afford high price tags go to fancy places only to browse and go to street markets to find similar looking things to meet the pricing and haggling instincts.

Organizational attempts to give urban space some sense of homogeneity is an ambitious premise since the population that inhabits it, is rarely homogeneous.  They are varied with background, cultures, beliefs, history, personal traits and quirks, desires, future dreams and own sketchy framework to achieve them. Migrants to USA from India and China can rarely adapt to food habits available and offered. Asian markets, Indian spices and vegetables become a sought after category after initial hangover of salads, sandwiches, fries and so on. This illustrates that there is a force working towards making strikingly different food joints and supporting peripherals to to co-exist. Speaking in Indian context, aspiration of a migrant father from a rural environment, now working in a service oriented industry in a city will be different from a young girl moved from a small town to a big city to peruse and pursue a dream in the city. They both will be working towards forces of means of commuting, public transport, cultural baggage, work environment, food habits, socializing habits, aspirations and adapted methods to go about all of them.

In a nutshell, by assuming  readily that statistics and data are perfect and planners and designers should use these calculations that will allow them to come up with some meaningful viable solutions is a weak and temporary. In short, these professionals view vision imparted from university and college education together with plans and designs as the only solutions and means that can provide a suitable place for humans to live can have limitations. Strategy which relies mainly on power relationships based on top-down approach can overlook critical variables of diversity, uncertainty, resisting forces and individual capability to adapt in their own understood way. More and more social and urban theorists, interventionists and design critics see the failure of what the “plan” and “design” can guarantee and what form it eventually takes and settles for.