David Madden on the Shanghai World Expo

Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. Source: Gizmodo

“[T]he 2010 World Expo in Shanghai ... suggested that the horizon of politics lies in the development of progressively smarter solutions by an alliance of business, science, and authoritarian state and city governments. The global-urban problematic, from this perspective, is above all a question of efficiency and proper management, where political contentiousness, like pollution, is one more problem to be solved.”

— David Madden in “City Becoming World: Nancy, Lefebvre, and the Global-Urban Imagination,” 2012

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

+ share

Democratic Commissioning for Urban Renewal

by Joe Penny

Brixton market traders, part of a program sponsored by Lambeth Council. Source: Young Lambeth

Most people wouldn’t call public-service commissioning exciting, if they even know it exists. Commissioning is the process of coordinating financial support based on assessment of local needs, aspirations and assets. It includes processes of contracting, procurement and outsourcing. It sounds dry and remote from our daily lives, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Commissioning is at the heart of how decisions are made about the services we rely on throughout our lives: when we are ill, when we need legal advice, when we want to do something fun in our area. As outsourcing becomes the norm, commissioning has turned into a booming industry. Each year, some $130 billion is spent on outsourced public services — all through a commissioning process of some sort. In other words, if you care about public services and how taxpayer money is spent, you care about commissioning.

Commissioning has great potential as a vehicle for local democratic engagement in urban renewal. Yet it is too often managed by public-sector employees who are too far removed from the people they serve. It doesn’t have to be this way.

At the New Economics Foundation, we’ve been working with a young people’s service-commissioning team in London’s Lambeth district to change the way they allocate funds. The aim is to co-produce the commissioning process. This means working in partnership with people who use and provide local services to decide what the council should be trying to achieve with the dwindling money it has to spend.

An early example of co-producing commissioning involved $32,000 earmarked for a service aimed at young offenders. In the past, a group of professionals would have decided what service they thought would be most effective. They would have then written up a tender that specified what the service would look like, how many people would benefit and how results would be evaluated.

The problem with this process is that it doesn’t incorporate much input from the target population. As a result, it misses out on an invaluable source of expertise. It also runs a high risk of failure because, as countless examples show, when the so-called beneficiaries of a service are not involved in its design and implementation they are far less likely to find it useful.

We did things differently in Lambeth. The first stage involved recruiting a small group of young offenders and paying them in Brixton Pounds for their time and effort. They were responsible for defining outcomes and helping to draw up a service tender. They also interviewed short-listed bidders and decided to fund a talent show organized by local youth. This was not the commissioning manager’s first choice.

What does this tell us about the future of commissioning? At a time when more and more public money is channelled to private companies, and democratic accountability is at risk, co-producing commissioning opens up the potential for inclusive decision-making at the local level.

Of course, this is far from easy. When trust is low, it’s hard at first to get people involved. When people do take part, it’s difficult to manage conflicts and ensure that the process isn’t dominated by the most vocal participants. Despite inevitable challenges, the potential benefits are too great to be ignored.

At its best, co-producing commissioning engages target populations in fair allocation of public funds. It brings people together around a common goal, fostering a sense of collective ownership over local services. In short, it can help kickstart a more democratic approach to urban renewal.

Joe Penny is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation, but the views expressed here are his own. His interests include the production of urban space, security urbanism and the right to the city.

+ share

Addressing Corruption in Urban Areas

by Dieter Zinnbauer

Creative, inclusive and just. Safe, healthy and green. Adaptive, resilient and sustainable. Urbanists frequently articulate these visions for cities, but an important element is missing: integrity.

By integrity I mean transparent governance with preventative measures for controlling corruption — a necessary condition for improving the quality of life in cities.

Source: Rodrigo Abd via the Associated Press
Corruption is not a "weapon of the weak" that greases the wheels of creaky government systems. It is also not a petty nuisance to be ignored. Corruption systemically undermines livelihoods, justice, health, resilience, safety and democracy.

Does this sound like an exaggeration? Let’s take a closer look.

Entrusted with the power to enforce laws, police who abuse their authority become a source of chronic injustice. Unfortunately, this is a common situation in cities around the world.

In a recent household survey across a representative sample of over 100 countries, 42 percent of urban residents who had interacted with the police indicated that they were coerced into paying a bribe. The figures are even more startling in rapidly urbanizing countries: 67 percent in India, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 80 percent in Bangladesh and Nigeria.

Urban justice is unattainable when law enforcement is for sale to the highest bidder.

Thoroughly documented corruption in the healthcare sector disproportionately affects low-income communities. Doctors on the public payroll don't show up for work so they can bring in extra income from private practice. Medicines are unaffordable or unavailable due to illegal sales. Hospital workers overcharge, embezzle funds and peddle off counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting patients.

Source: The Guardian

Access to safe drinking water becomes all but impossible when 20 to 40 percent of water budgets go missing due to corruption, or when water mafias work with corrupt officials to keep low-income settlements off the public water networks so that private vendors can step in. Illegal dumping of toxic waste has long been a lucrative business for organized criminal networks, exposing many communities to health hazards.

Efforts to improve public health depend largely on controlling corruption, especially in urban environments where health risks are already at crisis levels.

Urban aspirations, and the many ways that corruption impedes them, are inexhaustible. I have documented an extensive list with empirical evidence in a new Transparency International working paper on corruption in cities.

The data point to a need for cooperation between urbanists and anti-corruption practitioners. A current disconnect between these communities hinders cross-fertilization, mutual learning and collaborative advocacy.

A recent working paper on ambient accountability investigates ways for architects, planners and concerned citizens to collaborate strategically in fighting urban corruption. I plan to discuss specific strategies in a future post. Critical feedback and ideas are always welcome.

Dieter Zinnbauer is a specialist in policy and innovation for Transparency International. More of his work can be found on the Social Science Research Network and Ambient Accountability websites.

+ share

Mark Purcell on ‘Chains of Equivalence’

Source: New Republic

“Laclau and Mouffe (19852000) understand that if we are to pursue a model of agonistic struggle, existing power differences mean that marginalized and disadvantaged groups will need to assemble creative and deeply political strategies to undo the current hegemony. In that context, they advocate what they call ‘chains of equivalence’: movements made up of allied groups seeking broad transformation of existing power relations. The groups in the chain each have their own distinct relation to the existing hegemony, and each group’s experience and interests are irreducible to the others. Each retains their difference. However, they are able to act in concert around an agenda of equivalence. That is, they see themselves as equivalently disadvantaged by existing power relations. ‘Equivalent’ in this case does not mean identical. They are not disadvantaged in precisely the same way, and Laclau and Mouffe explicitly reject the old-style social movements that reduced participants to a single social position (usually class). Each link in the chain remains distinct, but they operate together, in concert.

“The most talked-about model for this kind of idea is the so-called ‘anti-globalization’ movement that carried out the string of protests in Seattle, Goteborg, Doha, Genoa, Geneva, Quebec, etc. The movement is better understood as an anti-neoliberalization movement, because it involved a range of groups (e.g. labor, environmentalists, anti-third-world debt, human rights in China, etc.) that shared an equivalent opposition to the globalization of neoliberalism. Their concerns were in many ways disparate (outsourcing of jobs, sea turtles, rediscovering jubilee obligations, the occupation of Tibet, etc.), but they strategically defined themselves as equivalent and acted together to oppose the WTO and other institutions committed to neoliberalization (Hardt and Negri, 2004). Each member of the coalition achieved much more than they could have alone, but they did not have to dissolve into a large and uniform collective to do it. While they did not achieve the end of neoliberal hegemony, they certainly succeeded in identifying it and calling it into question.”

— Mark Purcell in “Resisting Neoliberalization,” 2009

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

+ share

A False Rendering of the New Banlieue

by Alex Schafran

Virtually everywhere you go in the Parisian banlieue, you will find large signs drawing attention to "urban renovation" — major facelifts for large housing projects (cités), new public spaces in the centers of villages and towns, better integration with the myriad transit projects currently underway, entire blocks of housing.

Omnipresent construction, like most initiatives in France, is being done by a complex network of public, private and semi-public actors operating at every scale. Ideologues of either state or market would be incapable of understanding new development in France, for everything is a public-private partnership when you drill down deep enough. Regardless of who seems to be in charge of a project, there is liable to be a large billboard outside the construction zone with a celebratory rendering of what this space will look like — be it a revitalized public park, a downtown shopping zone or an eco-housing development built by a major developer. This, of course, is nothing unique — billboard-sized renderings have become part of the international language of city-building.

Each of these pictures (top and bottom) are of the same site in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, but only one depicts an actual place.

What is notable about these billboards is the people shown occupying the new space. It doesn't take a scholar of race to guess that the answer is not those who look anything like the population of the banlieue.

The actual center of Argenteuil (above) and the rendered version (below).

The shocking thing about the "whitewashing" of places like Argenteuil, Choisy-le-Roi, Villetaneuse, Drancy and Asnières is how thorough it is, and how little it matters if it is formally a public or private venture. For me, what started as a passing observation has evolved into a research project. Of the hundreds of people in what are now dozens of renderings I've encountered in housing projects across four districts (departments), there are only a few people of color. And not only are the white people everywhere, they are often particularly blond and bourgeois or seemingly part of the vast "bobo" class that has started to gentrify places like Montreuil and Pantin. At times it feels like a bad joke: in a major poster for the T8 tramline — which will connect Épinay-sur-Seine with Saint-Denis — the only black person, among over 50 people, was playing basketball.

The box in the upper-right corner is a blown-up version of the billboard to the left, near the Drancy-Bobigny border. The smoke in the background is from an informal settlement.

Although I can't prove quantitatively that this is a false rendering — France doesn't collect data on race, based on a tenet that since race exists only in theory, in theory it doesn't exist — not only do these cities have significant communities of color, I'd bet my bike and camera that many are now majority minority. I'd also be willing to wager that in many communities where these renderings have been tacked up in public space, they have been false for a generation now. Moreover, these renderings belie the fact that people in the public spaces of metropolitan Paris are strikingly diverse, both in the banlieue and in the city itself.

There are a few exceptions to the many disingenuous billboards on display, including the group picture (above) from Argenteuil. But even this one, clearly intended to promote the harmonious vision of a multicultural and inclusive society, erases one of the most visible aspects of life in metropolitan France: Muslim women with head scarves. Spend five minutes on a busy street, in a park, on transit or outside a school at dismissal, and you will realize that women with their heads covered are part of the firmament in contemporary Île de France.

A couple on a bench in Parc Lefévre, Livry-Gargan. (The woman's hair is not red.)

Head scarves are a lightning rod for controversy in theoretically secular France. The urbane nation where James Baldwin felt so at home will surely be aghast at this whitewashing; but even much of the progressive wing of the French establishment would likely sit on their hands at the failure to show women in head scarves occupying public space, even if they are an undeniable presence.

Credits: All pictures by Alex Schafran.

+ share

Inequality and Agitation in the Global City

by Deen Sharp

Trenton Oldfield in the River Thames. Source: The Independent

In 2012, Trenton Oldfield threw himself into the River Thames to protest elitism in Britain. Oldfield intentionally timed his leap to disrupt the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge, yet he may have underestimated the British establishment's love of sport. His act provoked a starkly revanchist reaction: he was sentenced to six months in prison and deemed unwelcome to continue living in the United Kingdom. He is now fighting deportation to Australia.

Oldfield and his partner, Deepa Naik, are the founding directors of This Is Not A Gateway (TINAG) and Myrdle Court Press, which serve as platforms for examining and transforming cities. They recently published the third volume of their book series Critical Cities: Ideas, Knowledge and Agitation from Emerging Urbanists, which features writing and images by an international group of contributors from a wide variety of fields.

The volume has four sections: Erase, Stretch, Relinquish; Archipelago; Agency; and Stratification. Archipelago and Stratification are the strongest and most enjoyable, in my view. Archipelago is about the "avant-garde spaces of modern capitalism." The authors feature surprising uses of financial districts in Hong Kong, Cyprus and London, with emphasis on the social, cultural, economic and political relations within them.

Source: "People of Corabstos," a photographic essay by Jhon Arias in Critical Cities, Volume 3

"Pink: The Art of Being Confident," a photographic essay by Oldfield and Nanna Nielsen, is a fun and prescient analysis of the City of London in 2006. Alongside pictures of people wearing pink shirts to work, the authors share their reflections: "We wondered if the 'the City' [sic], despite being awash with scientific graphs and business models, was still dependent on the emotion of confidence." Nielsen and Oldfield capture this confidence in thirteen portraits, finding in the pink shirts a "symbolic 'canary in the mine'" for cities today.

Source: "Pink: The Art of Being Confident," a photographic essay by Nanna Nielsen and Trenton Oldfield in Critical Cities, Volume 3

In Stratification, the reader is taken past the confidence of the global city: "Underneath the promises (and experience) of democracy, efficiency, creativity and endless 'possibilities' lie some worrying unintended consequences." This section highlights related inequalities in Beirut, Bogotá, Zagreb and London, behind the corporate gloss of a "globalising neoliberal machine."

Source: "People of Corabstos," a photographic essay by Jhon Arias in Critical Cities, Volume 3

Fadi Shayya, Fouad Asfour and Lana Salman give a detailed account of the ways in which violence, sectarianism and political economy intertwine to shape — or deform — public space in Beirut. They assert that "conflict is still there in all its different forms: political, sectarian and armed; new traumas seem to sustain the everyday, and the geopolitically divided spatiality of sectarian geography persists and increases." In keeping with the book's theme, the authors offer a critique and call to action in shaping their city's development from below.

Source: "People of Corabstos," a photographic essay by Jhon Arias in Critical Cities, Volume 3

Agitation against the abuse of power is one of Critical Cities' central themes, but the editors' political analysis is all too frequently agitating. The book is littered with hyperbole: "everyone alive today knows it is possible to overthrow regimes" and "the axis of evil — capitalists, the military and religious leaders," to name a few. Added to this are some blatantly inconsistent attacks; Oldfield and Naik call academics to task for "flying around the world networking with one another," only to later boast that a London TINAG festival attracted participants from "across the planet."

The passion that inspired Oldfield to leap into the Thames is present throughout the collection, and has both a positive and a negative impact. This is an impatient book, bursting with cutting insights and calls for action. The sweeping arguments and sense of urgency, however, create a maelstrom characteristic of the "neoliberal" city at the center of its critique. We are taken from one place to another in a rush of global capital flows. There will surely be a new volume displacing this one, then on to the next — the regime expands, the city is interrogated, and all that is solid melts into air.

Deen Sharp is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the City University of New York.

+ share

Placing Sidewalk Vendors on the Map in Ho Chi Minh City

by Noalee Harel, Ruth Sappelt and Jackie Sly

Some urban treasures are hidden in plain sight. The documentary film "On the Map" shows how MIT professor Annette Kim and her research group, the Sidewalk Lab (SLAB), trained themselves to see anew in Ho Chi Minh City. In the process, they helped open the eyes of planners to one of the city's greatest assets: street and sidewalk vendors. Through rigorous observation and cartography, SLAB worked to protect the rights of these entrepreneurs and highlight their positive impacts on the city.

While filming "On the Map," we found inspiration in SLAB's unique approach to research, analysis and visualization as a path toward understanding. We focused on the use of critical cartography for spatial analysis and public engagement. Kim elaborates on this process in her new book "Sidewalk City: Re-Mapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City."

GIS survey data laid onto a cadastral map, indicating the presence of sidewalk vendors in Ho Chi Minh City. Source: SLAB

SLAB is now hosting an exhibit at MIT's Wolk Gallery through November 15, which features their latest experimental maps based on 15 years of fieldwork. The exhibit will then travel to Ho Chi Minh City, where the team hopes it will encourage debate on the legitimacy of public vending in a non-participatory planning system. It will also show in Los Angeles, home to the world's largest Vietnamese diaspora. Details on upcoming events can be found on the SLAB website.

Fruit vendors restock along the street. Source: SLAB

Noalee Harel, Ruth Sappelt and Jackie Sly are students at MIT. Noalee is a Comparative Media Studies major, with a special interest in documentary production and science journalism. Ruth is a Master of City Planning candidate who focuses on social justice through public leadership and media. Jackie Sly is majoring in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering and minoring in Writing. They co-produced "On the Map" for a film class taught by Bill Lattanzi in the spring of 2013.

+ share

Tubist Trompe-l'Oeil

by Pierre Nadilon

My first encounter with Tubism was at a house party with a large poster of the London Underground hanging in the living room. Looking closer, I found that the Tube stations had names like Semantics, Leonardo Da Vinci and Fordism. The map was full of intriguing references that served as perfect conversation-starters for the many guests who gathered around it that night.

Harry Beck's design for the London Underground map from 1933. Source: Connections

The poster's designer, Sean O'Mara, encouraged me to try doing my own Tubist posters. It wasn't easy but I began to learn by experimenting with themes like scientific inventions, the Arab-Israeli conflict, LGBT celebrities, songs about Paris, social sciences, poetry and religious rites. Some people asked me to do Tubist portraits based on information from their friends and Facebook profiles.

A Tubist portrait by Pierre Nadilon.

Tubism makes it fun to wander through topics and spot connections. At the same time, it has been criticized for a lack of originality bordering on copyright infringement. I agree that designers who created the original subway maps deserve credit. Tubist imitation is based on respect for the enduring quality of their work. It is also useful for adding an element of surprise: subtly altering well-known images helps bring playful unexpectedness into everyday settings.

"LGBT Pride" version of the San Francisco Muni map, by Pierre Nadilon.

It isn't clear whether Tubism is art, design or something else. Artistically, it draws upon pastiche and trompe-l'oeil. Based on Marcel Duchamp's view of art as the interplay between intent, realization and perception, one might conclude that Tubism is artistic when intended and perceived that way. Simon Patterson's adaptation of the London Underground map, for example, is now part of the Tate collection.

Simon Patterson's famous altered Tube map, "The Great Bear" (1992). Source: Londonist

According to Nelson Goodman, art performs symbolic functions in different contexts, creating aesthetic experiences from specific perspectives. He finds the question "What is art?" less important than "When is art?" Tubists may create aesthetic experiences, but presenting information in unexpected ways is usually a higher priority. In this respect, Tubism is a form of communication design. It is even used for résumés and advertisements, but it is not always so pragmatic.

"Axeland" advertisement by BBH Asia Pacific. Source: Coloribus

"Metro Wine Map of France" by David Gissen. Source: The Atlantic

Despite Tubism's questionable originality and identity, it is a fresh newcomer in the world of street expression. Tubist posters can be attached quickly to walls any time without attracting much attention. In public space, they are akin to understated graffiti or psychogeographic urban interventions. As digital tools for design and printing become more accessible, Tubism could flourish in cities around the world.

"Le Plongeon" version of Line 6 on the Paris Metro, by Pierre Nadilon.

Pierre Nadilon is a digital, conceptual and urban artist based in Paris. He is currently working on a comic with psychological ingredients. Pierre is always willing to share what he knows with people he doesn't know.

Secret Gardens of Greater Paris

by Alex Schafran

I imagine that most people, when confronted with the end of a two-year sojourn in the City of Lights, would make plans to visit the unvisited museum (Louvre, check), finally scale the Eiffel Tower (soon, surely), eat the uneaten or discover the exhibition that will change history. The 19th century romantic in me feels pulled to Benjamin's passages and Baudelaire's promenades, even if they're overdone as subjects of literary flânerie. Harvey's Sacre Coeur is part of my daily run, part of life on the Hausmannian edges between the gentrified and the gentrifying.

Parc des Impressionnistes with La Defense in the distance.

Intramuros Paris is still fascinating, still full of impressive and controversial interventions into the urban fabric. The gigantic Rive Gauche project continues to unfold, as does the Batignolles, transforming vast space once dedicated to train infrastructure without sacrificing trains as a mode of transportation. But as Laurent Vermeersch and I have argued on Polis, the banlieues (residential districts beyond the city center) are the main course for any conversation about change in metropolitan Paris and the Île-de-France region.

The Clichy-la-Garenne commune, outside central Paris. Source: Les éditions illimitées

In the comments section of Vermeersch's post, an anonymous reader asks how the banlieues' reputation for monotony survives despite their incredible diversity. The answer is, in part, included in the comment: "True, many people living in the City of Paris don't often set a foot in suburbs, but how many people living in Manhattan, Central London, San Francisco set the foot in the suburbs or in the outer districts of those cities? This is quite normal ... people living in the central area of the city don't go often in the periphery." Normal, yes; conducive to actually knowing anything about your region, no.

So, armed with "L'Indispensable" (my old-school, low-tech guidebook), a streeted-out road bike and a proper camera, I've begun a mad dash around the first three rings of the banlieue. I hope to experience the diversity of this most misunderstood of contemporary urban spaces as it rapidly transforms. The pace of change eludes the navigational powers of my Indispensable (as well as Google and Apple combined); this project seems destined to continue long after I lose my Parisian address.

Extramuros Paris is a bevy of surprising discoveries, a crazy patchwork of historical layerings with micro and macro interventions that make your head spin. All the things you'd expect to find are there — enormous cités (housing projects), freeways, old factories, new office complexes, residential neighborhoods of varying social compositions, malls and outlet stores, single-family homes and reminders that the banlieue is also suburbia. One of my favorite unexpected gems is the parks: not the fact that there are parks, but that there are awesome parks.

A field to rest in can be hard to find in Paris, but not at the Parc des Chanteraines.

Paris (75) and its surrounding departments: Seine et Marne (77), Yvelines (78), Essonne (91), Haut de Seine (92), Seine-Saint-Denis (93), Val de Marne (94) and Val d’Oise (95). Source: GPT

Two of these parks are in the northern transect, which crisscrosses the meandering border between the Hauts-de-Seine (92) and Seine-Saint-Denis (93) banlieue departments. Parc des Impressionnistes, in Hauts-de-Seine, is a bizarre update of Monet's perspective on urban life (the original is still accessible at Parc Monceau). It sounds hokey but it's totally brilliant, with quiet forested nooks, water lilies and big open fields. Wedged between train tracks, factories, neo-Haussmanian apartments, older modernist cités, a sewage treatment plant and various architectural remnants, it boasts a view of both the Sacre Coeur and La Defense, allowing one to contemplate the entire history of the Île-de-France in one sunny afternoon on the grass. Socially, it feels very much like a place between old and new industries and populations, a park that refuses the stereotypes associated with Hauts-de-Seine (bourgeois) and Seine-Saint-Denis (racialized poverty).

Parc des Impressionnistes. Source: Google Earth

Neo-Hausmannian buildings line the Parc des Impressionnistes.

A few miles to the northeast lies the incredible Parc des Chanteraines, a meandering 75 hectares of fields, lakes, bird sanctuaries, pony clubs and prairies. Work on this park began in 1978 and proceeded in stages. From inside, it's hard to believe that you're surrounded by industrial zones. The landscape even cascades across a major freeway, such that you hardly realize what you're doing as you walk to the other side.

Parc des Chanteraines. Source: Google Earth

You are standing on top of a seven-lane highway.

The expansive fields are also an escape from the demographic monotony of the Buttes Chaumont and other leisure spaces of Bobo Paris, where more and more I feel surrounded by people who look like me. Chanteraines boasts a hyper-diverse set of parkgoers seeking respite from the concrete and steel that surrounds it. With the opening of the Saint-Denis/Asnières extension of the T3 tram, this respite is even more accessible from the racialized heart of Saint-Denis. On a sunny afternoon, you get a sense of just how nice this can be.

People of many different backgrounds meet in the Parc des Chanteraines.

Whether or not the transit-led revolution in the Parisian banlieue will be successful is a complex question that will unfold for another half-century, at least. Paris is not simply connecting the periphery to the center, but also taking on the more progressive challenge of connecting the periphery to itself. It certainly helps to have nice places to connect to — places that offer something unavailable inside the walls of the Boulevard Périphérique.

Credits: Photos by Alex Schafran unless otherwise noted in the captions.

+ share

Community Aesthetics in Heliópolis

by Teresa García Alcaraz

Heliópolis is known as one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in São Paulo, with 120,000 people living in an area of less than one square mile. Legend has it that architect Ruy Ohtake once called it the ugliest part of the city, prompting members of the UNAS community organization to ask him to help make it beautiful.

Heliópolis. Source: Roberto Rocco

To their surprise, Ohtake agreed and began working with residents to transform the ubiquitous brick and concrete walls into a vibrant cityscape. Together they decided on a flexible color scheme to use in painting the neighborhood. Ohtake selected the trim for windows and doors to subtly unite the composition.

Streets in Heliópolis before (above) and after (below). Source: Daniela Schneider

Painting didn't begin until each participant was happy with his or her choice. In the meantime, Ohtake found a local company to donate supplies. When everyone was ready they painted the buildings together.

Ohtake found that participants acquired a "civic sense not by any concept handed to them by an architect, but by action, from results they achieved while making their own environment more beautiful."

This project may seem like another celebrated attempt by an outside expert to address a situation that needs more than surface treatment. Still, it prompted residents to get to know each other and work together. At least as important as the results, collaborative planning and execution generated a sense of community around a shared purpose.

+ share

Reversing the Panopticon

by Dieter Zinnbauer

The infamous Panopticon, conceived by Jeremy Bentham and thoroughly analyzed by Michel Foucault, is emblematic of architecture's role in surveillance and discipline — a blueprint for the perfect prison. It allows a watchman to observe inmates without them being able to tell whether anyone is actually watching them, generating an eerie sense of being monitored all the time.

Panopticons by Jay Crum. Source: Celeste

Bentham's Panopticon blazed a trail for many technological interventions designed to help governments monitor and control public space. Check out Skywatch, for example, the mobile observation structure used to keep an eye on the Occupy Movement in New York City. This high-tech platform — equipped with sensors, cameras and tinted windows — is also used at crime hot-spots.

Greenpeace Twitter wall. Source: Transparency International

Anti-corruption NGOs, such as Transparency International (where I work), help people monitor and control what their governments do. In essence, this is about reversing the Panopticon. Tactics include establishing openness and accountability policies, mobilizing civic action and raising awareness. Returning to the spatial aspect of the Panopticon, important questions arise: Can we shape the built environment in a systematic way to empower citizens vis-à-vis their governments? Can we literally design for transparency and accountability?

Albert Sirleaf's public bulletin board in Monrovia. Source: Ambient Accountability

The term "ambient accountability" refers to creative adaptation of the built environment for the purpose of citizen empowerment, as explained with examples in "'Ambient Accountability': Fighting Corruption When and Where it Happens." To encourage dialogue on this subject, I've started collecting related information, ideas and images — including the public bulletin board above — in a blog about Ambient Accountability. I welcome everyone to add to the collection.

"Panopticon, Isla de Pinos" by Stan Douglass. Source: National Gallery of Canada

So how can we turn the Panopticon around? Contrast the classic Panopticon, a prison tower (above), with the bright red Infobox (below). The Infobox was a viewing platform set up in 1995 so that people could observe a massive public-private redevelopment venture in Berlin.

The Infobox public viewing platform at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Source: archINFORM

The Infobox made it easier for citizens to track the progress of significant changes in their city — a largely symbolic gesture for public relations, but at least a step toward publicly monitoring the work of public officials and private developers.

What other design interventions could help turn the Panopticon around? Can we adapt the built environment for democracy and accountability? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Dieter Zinnbauer is a specialist in policy and innovation for Transparency International. More of his work can be found on the Social Science Research Network and Ambient Accountability websites.

+ share

Moscow’s Protected Landscapes

by Svetlana Samsonova

My home town, Moscow, has earned its reputation for abandoned industrial zones, flashy business districts and traffic jams. Visitors are often surprised to discover that it is also a green city.

High-rise buildings near the Khimka River in Moscow.

As Peter Sigrist mentioned in his series on public green space in Moscow, there are 96 parks and 100 square kilometers of forest within the city's borders. He describes some of these territories and considers how political processes influenced them over time. Some are now protected based on their acknowledged ecological or cultural value. Having recently completed a research project on protected areas, I'd like to add a series of posts on their current state and future prospects. This is the first, offering a brief historical overview.

Moscow's protected areas: 1. Tushino Park, 2. Izmaylovo Park, 3. Tsaritsyno Park, 4. Pokrovskoe-Stresnevo Park, 5. Sparrow Hills Park, 6. Setun River Valley Wildlife Preserve, 7. Teply Stan Park, 8. Moskvoretsky Park, 9. Ostankino Park, 10. Petrovsko-Razumovsky Park, 11. Skhodnya River Valley in Kurkino, 12. Kuzminki-Lyublino Park, 13. Kosino Park, 14. Skhodnya River Valley in Molzhaninovo, 15. Troparevo Park, 16. Sokolniki Park, 17. Zelenogradsky Park, 18. Bitsa Park, 19. Losiny Ostrov Park, 20. Degunino Park.

Precursors of today's protected areas have existed since the 16th century, when some territories were placed under special protection by the royal family and nobility as hunting grounds and private estates. These landscapes usually included not only houses and outbuildings, but gardens, farmland, meadows and woods.

A Russian estate in the painting "Grandmother's Garden" (1878) by Vasily Dmitriyevich Polenov. Source: Tretyakov Gallery

Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) and Izmaylovo Park were strictly guarded hunting grounds for Grand Princes and Tsars. Other protected areas have estates or country houses within their borders.

Historic estates in protected areas: 1. Brattsevo (16th century), 2. Tsaritsyno (16th century), 3. Pokrovskoe-Stresnevo (17th century), 4. Vorobyovo (15th century), 5. Vasilevskoye, also known as Mamonova Dacha (18th century), 6. Troyekurovo, (17th century), 7. Troitse-Golenischevo (17th century), 8. Spasskoye-na-Setuni (17th century), 9. Kuntsevo (17th century), 10. Ostankino (16th century), 11. Petrovsko-Razumovsky (18th century), 12. Vlakhernskoye-Kuzminki (18th century), 13. Lyublino (18th century), 14. Kosino (17th century), 15. Uzkoye (18th century), 16. Znamenskoye-Sadki (18th century), 17. Yasenevo (18th century).

Due to limits on development, these territories have remained relatively unchanged since the 16th century. They are thus increasingly rare and valuable in today's rapidly growing metropolis.

A picturesque ravine in Tsaritsyno Park. Source: Sergey Vershinin

The first Russian Forest Act was adopted in 1804, when Emperor Alexander I issued a statute "On the Improved Protection of Forests and the Establishment of Forest Management in Moscow." Losiny Ostrov became the first official protected area in Russia.

Urban moose in Losiny Ostrov Park. Source: Lintas Tour

The modern history of Moscow's protected areas is based largely on the 1935 General Plan, which established a greenbelt 10-15 kilometers wide around the city limits. It included forests, meadows, fields, farms, gardens and towns, with a total population less than 270,000. The plan also included a ring of parks around the city center: Sparrow Hills, Fili, Serebryany Bor, Izmaylovo, Timiryazevo, Pokrovskoe-Stresnevo, Ostankino and Sokolniki. Today these parks are all protected. Wedges of greenery were to connect them to the greenbelt, creating comfortable microclimates and improving public health. Between 1940 and 1980, construction of factories, residential areas and roads significantly reduced the amount of green space in and around Moscow.

In the late 1980s, there were mass protests to protect green areas against increasing construction and neglect. The main problem areas were Losiny Ostrov Park, Bitsa Park, Teply Stan Park, Brateevskaya floodplain, Kosino Park, Tushino Park and several river valleys. Such environmental protest movements had never happened before in Moscow, and successfully captured the attention of public officials. In 1989, the Ninth Congress of People's Deputies focused on urban environmental problems. They released a report on environmental degradation, calling for action to preserve urban green space. Goals for the use of Moscow parks changed dramatically: urban development and environmental protection were given equal status.

Growth of protected areas in Moscow between 1973 and 2020.

The Moscow Soviet of People's Deputies (Mossovet) decided to set up a system of protected areas, and the second (Bitsa Park) appeared in 1992. Since then, the network has increased substantially. In 2004, the municipal government approved a plan for the "Development and Management of Protected Areas in Moscow" with a list of existing and planned sites up to the year 2025.

There are now 20 protected areas in Moscow, which comprised 14.4 percent of the city's 154-square-kilometer area before the 2012 expansion. Can these territories survive in a densely populated megacity? In upcoming posts, I'll focus on the mysteries of these territories, with detailed information on specific sites.

Sveta Samsonova is a junior research fellow in the geography department at Moscow State University and former president of the European Geography Association for Students and Young Geographers.

+ share