polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Enlightened (or Not) Urban Despotism

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Valencia, Spain, has been attracting the attention of journalists and urban planners in the last days. Once again, city authorities, with mainstream planners' support, have crashed their vision of the city against a traditional neighbourhod. Planners and their clients have decided that their aesthetic plan of the city has more value than the lives of hundreds of people living on the land where their plan is to be executed. That land is "el Cabanyal", an obstacle to their vision of an avenue reaching the sea front.

In order to realize their vision, city authorities started demolishing houses, knowing that the great majority of neighbours, represented by the nighbourhood's main association, are against the plan. Even Oriol Bohigas, the renown architect and planner of 1992 Barcelona Olypics, when criticizing city authorities' plan, is also biased towards aesthetic ideas, in spite of mentioning citizens living there as an issue to be considered.

The case of el Cabanyal, and the debate that it has raised, is a very good example of how pretentiously enlightened despotism typically crashes against real needs and aspirations of citizens affected by urban development plans. What Bohigas is making clear is that Valencia city authorities are despotic with no enlightened justification. In any case, professionals' enlightment or comprehensive vision should never be a justification for acting against the neighbours' will. The foremost issue here, though, is the fact that the neighbourhood's association, thanks to its strength and cohesion of its members, has managed to call the attention of a minister who, with National Court's support, has stopped the demolitions. The lesson here is that the most effective way to reduce despotism, enlightened or not, is a strong and well organized civil society.

Credits: Image of el Cabanyal between Blasco Ibañez avenue and the beach, from Carles Francesc (El País). Image of a street of el Cabanyal, from http://urblog.org. Image of the last demonstration against demolitions in el Cabanyal, from http://theplatform.nuevaradio.org.

Cities for Children?

by Melissa García Lamarca

Wandering around various cities in northern Spain, I have been struck by the widespread integration of playgrounds into attractive and central public spaces; for example, in Santander (above) or Bilbao (below, right beside the Guggenheim). These kinds of safe, accessible areas are usually marginal in comparison with spaces for cars, housing, and business – all obviously designed and planned by adults.

The City of Children project – housed within the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Council of Research in Rome, with partners in cities across Italy, Spain, and Argentina – seeks to challenge and change this dynamic by engaging children in policy decisions. The project supports autonomy, participation, safety, and mobility for children in public space – from courtyards to sidewalks, public squares to parks. Through children's proposals and ideas, as well as participation in decision-making and project realization, the project builds an understanding of children's culture in the minds of adults. For example, cities can establish a Children’s Council to participate in local policy decisions. A structure of open City of Children Laboratories can monitor local needs/resources and track the results of planning decisions over time.

While there is significant theoretical acknowledgment of the importance of these issues, there remains much to be done in bringing about a meaningful integration of children into urban planning decisions. I see this as part of building more sustainable, socially just cities, and the City of Children project is making an important contribution.

Credits: Photos by Melissa García Lamarca.

LISC Launches Community Development Institute

by Katia Savchuk

The gap between research and practical tools for community improvement got a little smaller last week. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which supports community development organizations across the United States, launched its Chicago-based Institute for Comprehensive Community Development (ICCD) on April 20. The Institute will serve as a base for applying research and lessons from the field to develop initiatives and public policies and for educating community development practitioners.

It hopes to be "the locus where practice and theory meet, and where experimentation and innovation – grounded in real-world experience – flourish."

The Institute is a big step in the right direction. Knowledge gained through efforts on the ground is typically lost in little-read reports or at most shared with a small group of conference participants. Although they operate under a national umbrella, even the thirty LISC offices don't do a lot of horizontal exchange. The Institute has the potential to institutionalize lessons learned in hundreds of communities across the country and serve as a focal point for practitioners and researchers.

One of the Institute's most interesting features is CommunityCollab, an online networking and discussion forum for community development practitioners. The Institute's website also offers webinars, case studies and other resources. The Institute will also publish a Journal of Comprehensive Community Development written for and by practitioners, researchers, funders and policymakers.

LISC is well poised to bring together disparate groups working across the country because it plays an intermediary role, strongly rooted in localities but connected to a national network. The organization is also well-established (it was founded in 1979) and has strong links with universities, policymakers and philanthropists. And they put "comprehensive" in the title for a reason - LISC takes a holistic approach that looks at long-term solutions to the interconnected challenges that communities face. LISC took the lead in comprehensive community development with its Sustainable Communities program, launched in Chicago in 2003 and now under way in 20 cities.

Most experts agree that comprehensive initiatives are the way to go, relative to narrow, project-based efforts. Yet they are full of challenges, difficult to evaluate and have yielded mixed results. ICCD has the potential to help bring the community development field together to learn from the past and move the field forward.

Credits: Photo from LISC.

A Photo Collection of Urban Surfaces

by Min Li Chan

Here's a hodge-podge collection of the commercial, the jocular, the informational, the enticing, the whimsical and the provocative as told by urban surfaces in Sydney, Tokyo and London. These surfaces appear in eclectic contexts: on the museum wall, commercial billboards, signage on public trash disposal, unclaimed wall space on street corners, and even the hand dryer in a public restroom. The vibrant, intriguing and sometimes jarring juxtapositions help us pause and ponder, or simply take the time to raise an eyebrow and laugh amidst frenetic city life.

Credits: Photos by Min Li Chan.

Art at the Mart

by Vivien Park

This coming Friday will mark the opening of the biggest art fair in the Midwest. As part of Artropolis, Art Chicago and NEXT will take up the 12th and 7th floor respectively at the historic Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Known for its high end showrooms targeted towards interior designers and decorators, Merchandise Mart has a well-established identity as an epicenter for high design and luxury goods. This year, hundreds of galleries, art dealers, project spaces will attempt an impressive showcase of their best work. It is the place to be if you're interested in witnessing the tension between art and commerce.

While viewing art at an art fair may not be ideal in terms of a full cultural experience, it is nonetheless a concentrated effort in introducing (and re-introducing) the public to artists and galleries, especially the lesser known ones. A handful of non-profit spaces, such as amFAR (the foundation for AIDS research) and Project Onward, are also on view. Their presence no doubt will strike some balance in this unabashedly commercially driven environment.

Elsewhere, on the 15th floor, two projects independent from the fair are organized by artist support and advocacy group, Chicago Artists' Coalition (CAC). Since last month, CAC has taken over two empty showrooms inside the Merchandise Mart for its Work on Paper Residency Space and Student Curator Gallery projects. Work on Paper Residency has selected 6 artists: Inara Cedrins, Lisa Goesling, Jaime Lynn Henderson, Alexandra Lee (ATYL), Mark Molesk, and Zachary Mory, to participate in a 6-month long residency program. All 6 artists have set up studios inside a former showroom, providing access to a community of art-buyers outside of the gallery system.

Student Curator Gallery is a rotating exhibition inside a former poster shop. The first 6-week installment, Again and Again, will open at the same time as Art Chicago and NEXT. The show's curator and current SAIC graduate student, Fang-Tze Hsu, has chosen 4 artists (all current MFA candidates or alumni), Jiwon Yoon, Angela Bryant, HUR, and Robin Dluzen, to show work that explore the ideas of patterns and repetition. The unique layout of this empty store will provide challenges and inspirations for work that ranges from paintings to installation. The main theme of the show is perhaps an unintentional acknowledgement of a few essential qualities in art-making: a sustained practice, an ongoing balance between personal and commercial goals, and persistence, to a point where it becomes a personal ritual.

Credits: Image of Merchandise Mart from Art Chicago: Projection For Chicago, 2008/Merchandise Mart © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Text (pictured): "The Joy of Writing" from View with a Grain of Sand, copyright © 1993 by Wisława Szymborska Photo: John Faier.

Rethinking Urban Planning Education

by Alexa Mills

Urban planning has long excelled at integrating different fields of study because cities, by nature, demand multidisciplinary thinking. Yet addressing the world’s most critical problems, such as urban poverty and energy efficiency, require a dynamism that moves beyond combining academic disciplines, and into a space that recognizes the knowledge generated by local people who live these issues first hand. With this in mind, I've outlined three potential avenues through which communities and universities might engage in more meaningful collaboration.

1. The Urban Planning Masters Thesis:
Learning to produce a traditional research document is useful for those pursuing a life in the academy, but for students who plan to become practitioners, and for the cities and regions that serve as the subjects of urban planning theses, is this time-worn document a vestigial organ? The thesis model doesn't offer an accessible way for students to present valuable information and exciting new ideas. Those working in communities don't have time to read 100+ pages, especially those written in jargon-filled university language. Could this component of planning education be made more dynamic through a more engaging style of prose, in-person events in researched cities, accompanying technical assistance documents, and research done in groups of students examining related topics? There should be a plethora of ways to revitalize the form without sacrificing rigor.

2. Place-based Coursework:
Urban planning education usually includes for-credit coursework that involves visiting a specific place and developing ideas and interventions to improve that place. Too often, these courses end in a great learning experience for students, but no significant benefit for the communities under study. Perhaps this dynamic would be different if universities went into these projects with a new mindset: What if universities collaborated with local institutions and organizations as equal partners in learning, understanding that each partner has equally valuable knowledge to contribute to the project? Final products might become more relevant to the communities meant to use them, and students might achieve a more thorough understanding of local processes.

3. Interdisciplinary Collaboration:
Urban Planning education has long trained students in a breadth of subjects, including design, economics, finance, sociology, race and gender studies, and engineering, among others. One year ago Professor Mark Taylor of Columbia University wrote a break-through op-ed, End the University as We Know It, in which he advocated for greater interdepartmental collaboration at universities. He noted that addressing the world's most pressing problems, such as access to clean water, requires interdisciplinary teams of thinkers. I agree, and argue that we need to take that concept one step further by acknowledging that local residents and practitioners not affiliated with a university department, people who every day face the questions that universities attempt to address, have unique and valuable knowledge on the most urgent modern issues, and should be equal partners in generating new answers.

Communities at the margins, those who experience water shortages and transportation failures, develop solutions faster than the distant university is able. Their ideas are more agile and apt than what an outside body can produce by itself. To maintain relevance, the university, and graduate education in particular, needs to step out of its silo.

Alexa Mills works at the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) at MIT. CoLab staff, students, and community partners work through these questions on their blog, CoLab Radio.

Credits: Photo of students participating in CoLab's Cartagena project, by Alexa Mills.

Happy Earth Day!

by Katia Savchuk

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in 1970. If you don’t know what to do about climate change or oil dependency, start with the simple, local stuff.

Credits: Photo from visibleearth.nasa.gov.

Deciphering Simone Part 3: Practice

by Hector Fernando Burga

In two previous posts we looked at Simone's original influences and method of writing. On the last part of this interview we turn to interrogations on development practice in his work. With this post, I conclude Simone's Interview for Polis.

How do you negotiate your role as a critic of international development while acting as a practitioner of this discipline?

Right now I am helping an organization in Jakarta that is trying to develop a mass membership organization for the poor. They have been working in this area for a long time, on very local projects, but they are now trying to move towards a larger political entity. So I have been with this organization for several years, in a very modest way, six weeks every year.

Theoretically I don’t agree with a lot of what they do –but I do believe the work and effort is crucial because it lends visibility to a wide range of conflictual assumptions that always require detailed, small, and temporary accommodations. It is important for me to be engaged because I don’t want to have engagements which are tailored made to my point of view. So it’s a kind of ongoing struggle to try to be useful. They think that I read certain dynamics in the city which might be useful to them, but this reading is only useful as it affects the imaginations and politics of deal that have to be consistently made. My interest is not in any kind of trajectory of development. In how you develop a particular locality over a period of time, cities are full of different kinds of temporalities and logics that are very contradictory. My interest is how you draw lines between things that on the surface don’t seem to fit together, or wouldn’t seem to have any type of interaction, but whose actions, if you are going to draw those lines, are a matter of deals.

It’s not about finding the right conceptual framework that allow you to see them, but to uncover the varied kinds of arduous, complicated, persistent ways, one makes deals and trade-offs. For me, development work is about that. It’s a kind of incessant pragmatism which tries to circumvent the constraints that exist to conceptually enforce the actions of certain kinds of relationships. I like to be involved in these kinds of urban pragmatic practices because it is there where you start to discover other potentialities.

What do you think about posing questions of practice in African cities to cities in the US?

I can answer by offering two different examples. Kinshasa is a city that in some sense is the biggest village in the world, probably with 9 to 10 million people living in conditions that are hardly discernable as urban. While it has areas that are very dense, you have the sense that it is not a city rather it is a huge dense rural area. People get up really early and often times walk a long way to find transportation.

This is a city without a functioning municipal government. It has a budget of 25 million dollars a year which is about 30% of the municipal budget of Antwerp. So you have a city with a budget of almost nothing. In a city where people really don’t have a clear idea of how they are going to put bread on the table everyday and where people feel they have no legitimate basis to intervene in each others life, how do you say that people should get together and organize to clean the streets? What does this mean? Is it a way to collecting money, a trick? It is very difficult to grasp any sense of organization, in the conventional sense of organization as we know it. But yet what is remarkable about Kinshasa is the ability of a people to come up with the right things to say, in the inevitable and frequent situations when things are about to get out of hand.

Since there are churches, it’s not as if institutions are absent. But to a certain extent there is a dearth of diverse institutional forms that provide people with a sense of mediation, anchorage and mapping things out. What is amazing to me about Kinshasa is the way in which complete strangers can come up to each other with the right thing to say during these moments of quotidian crises, on buses on streets, offices, neighborhoods. And somehow there is this kind of mobility, a circulation of ideas, gestures and sentiments that can be deployed and enable things to be held together.

I am not necessarily trying to celebrate this kind of capacity, or making it something more than it is. I am simply saying that there is reticence in cities of the North, a kind of fear in regards to different kinds of experimentations or ways of governing and managing both the built and social environment in different localities of the city. There is a fear that things will fall apart and I wonder to what extent a place like Kinshasa raises the question of whether we are blocking certain potentialities of the density of transactions in urban life, which in their circulation and impact draw people into collaborative possibilities that we simply don’t recognize. Therefore the continuous kinds of obsession regarding institution building, capacity development, transparency and accountability present in certain kinds of organization discourses become their own world. We remain not quite sure what we are trying to accomplish from them.

Given the complexity of associations you describe how can social change be conceived in cities of the global south? Is this another development myth?

I think there can be multiple tracks. It is interesting for me to see the way in which certain districts are changing in the context of Jakarta. Different kinds of actors and residents are becoming more mobile in their navigation of the city in order to maintain stability within a changing global economy. Because of the way that accumulation and productivity are concretely managed in major metropolitan areas like Jakarta, they can no longer count upon their positions within certain social and patron networks for accessibility and survival. They have to be much more particular, specific and specialized in regards to what they do economically.

This means that they have to be more flexible. This flexibility introduces larger measures of volatility within the districts. That volatility is then managed by extending their investments of time and energy to other parts of the city. Those efforts constitute a proposition for how their own district can be linked and articulated with other districts.

But at the same time this layering doesn’t obviate the work of more conventional political instruments. We find in the persistence of certain kinds of agglomeration economies; districts specializing in textile, furniture or automotive production really complicated production layers. Each layer passes on the cost and profitability on to the next layer. So as you get to the bottom of the layer there is no negotiating position. If you look at these sectors as a whole, they are caught up in limited ways of survival because they have no mechanisms, no tools to change or negotiate their articulation politically in the larger metropolis.

So how can one deploy different types of political instruments not simply from the vantage point of residents in a particular territorial location, status, or consolidation? How are these instruments linked to a larger set of issues which correspond to the metropolis to make themselves move viable, provide greater flexibility and benefit different tiers of residents within them? I think a great deal of effort remains in how one can concretely alter these kinds of relationships. It may not be under a kind of larger rubric, a greater fight for social justice, or by significantly changing the livelihood of the urban poor, but rather in concrete, focused efforts.

The role of taking seriously these kinds of political experimentations is important. I don’t disagree with larger discourses on progressive urban change, but if there could be more people involved in trying to work with these kinds of issues through the various tracks in which residents concretize their everyday lives; their collaboration, intersecting trajectories, organizations, the propositions they make by appropriating history, networks, one could be informed by their often times complicated practices to re-negotiate a sense of stability and opportunity. These practices will always take place. But given this factor what role is there for particular kinds of political instrumentalities to be at work? I think they are not to be exclusive.

Credits: Image of Abdoumaliq Simone from Goldsmith's college.

Tribal Connection

by Alex Schafran

“No can do this! No can do that! What the hell can you do my friend, in this place that you call your town?” – Gogol Bordello, “Tribal Connection”

Today is undoubtedly the only somewhat-global, partly-legal, semi-holiday to emerge from Northern California. As California moves closer to a historic vote on the legalization of marijuana in November, a day which was once solely the subject of stoner lore now marks an interesting opportunity to consider an issue at the heart of many of the debates on cities — what can be done, and where.

In our discussions on illegality and informality, we often focus on places, especially on the "illegal" occupation of land, and particularly for housing. This makes sense — land is the center of everything these days, and the right to lay your head should be at the heart of how we think about space. But citizenship must be based not just on where you live but where you work and where you play, for they have not yet invented a way of making a living or having conscious fun that is thoroughly “aspatial.” Moreover, the right to neither sleep nor work these days is particularly precious, and forces us to think of legality not solely in terms of occupation and ownership but in terms of activities.

Some activities — i.e., buying and selling of most goods — are themselves legal, but not legal on that place or in that time or by that (permitless or licenseless or "illegal") person. There are a few non-violent activities which are technically illegal in all places and at all times, but we all know full well that in practice such is not the case. I would argue that in all but a few cases, non-violent illegality can only truly be understood as a nexus of activity, people, place and time — what is done, by whom, where and when.

In California, we now have a massive debate in local cities and towns as to how often and where to allow pot clubs that are now semi-legal under Proposition 215 (they are still illegal at the federal level, creating a state of legal limbo that neither side seems eager to test). States and localities throughout the nation are looking to "sin taxes" — taxes on alcohol, gambling, marijuana, cigarettes — to fill the massive fiscal holes left by the Great Recession. Highly restrictive laws on cabaret licenses — which regulate live music and dancing (yes, just like in Footloose) — are also under review by many cities.

It is somewhat pitiful that we in America need the excuse of a massive economic crisis to reconsider the legalities of celebration, to finally revisit laws and regulations which are remnants of our mixture of Puritanism, Prohibition and the War on Drugs. But I hope that this fervor for legalization goes beyond a new source of taxes, and enables us to consider the insanity of how we regulate this interaction of people and places and activities in public spaces, and what constitutes public and semi-public spaces.

The fact that my ability to walk down a sidewalk with a beer in my hand is far more regulated and much more illegal than Wall Street's ability to sell me a $500,000 mortgage that I can't afford and which will cost me my home and cost so many of us our livelihood is ridiculous. The founding gurus of urban space were so obsessed with cleanliness and order and the "right" people that they left us with a million rules about who can do what where without dealing with the structural absurdities that leave some many spaces dead and truly alive spaces threatened with erasure (after all, they are illegal!).

We need a regulatory two-step: a loosening of the binds which regulate the ability of human beings to congregate, have fun, mingle, sell things of their own making (especially food), walk in the street, dance, protest, run into each other, use empty storefronts for art galleries, start a business without paying (too much) rent, and occasionally do something stupid or rude or embarrassing in public; and a tightening of the rules which allow men to play high-risk, high-profit games with urban capital in a way which destroys lives and cities.

Eugene Hutz for mayor.

Where there's a music should be comin' out of every car There is a silence all over downtown Where community celebrates shall be aroused I walk the sterile gardens where life is on pause ...

Credits: Photo of 420 days at UCSC from sfgate. Video of Gogol Bordello from YouTube. Remaining photos by Alex Schafran.

The Changing Texts of Architecture

by Andrew Wade

In case our group reading of The Infrastructural City has merely opened the floodgates of interest in more texts on architecture and the city, this post highlights some new and interesting work.

Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture seek to order and structure the practice of architecture and the role of the architect.  This may be seen as definition by exclusion - everything that lay outside of the purity of classical geometric order is outside the system of architectural consideration.

Where does architecture begin?

Perhaps we are at another point where there is a crisis of definition for architecture, however this time it has become a definition of inclusion.

Where does architecture end?

What comes after the ten books seems to reflect the increasingly inclusive definitions of architectural practice and its associations with other traditionally defined fields.  While not only recognising the linkages that become stronger with time between design, planning, development, and empowerment of the end-users, many sources now acknowledge that this loss of control and end of the 'Master Builder' is a positive evolution.  The resultant shift in the profession to that of strategist, enabler, and map-maker represents an attempt to understand the political and social processes that form our cities.

In particular, this shift is critical in opening up the profession of architecture to the reality of growing slum populations and inadequate basic services for the world's urban poor.  Architects must engage the micro-scale of the food seller in Dharavi as well as the macro-scale of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project - and then reconnect these elements in a coherent way to propose solutions.  Perhaps if Vitruvius were writing the ten books on architecture today, he would be the editor rather than the author, strategically choosing his ten chapters from planners, anthropologists, geographers, economists, etc. and concluding them with thoughts on design and the spatial manifestations of the included concepts.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do for the designer is to hand over the pen.

Credits: Image of Bhabha for Architects from the AA Bookshop.

V. S. Naipaul on Bombay Flats

“Bombay continued to define itself: Bombay flats on either side of the road now, concrete buildings mildewed at their upper levels by the Bombay weather, excessive sun, excessive rain, excessive heat; grimy at the lower levels, as if from the crowds at pavement level, and as if that human grime was working its way up, tide-mark by tide-mark, to meet the mildew.”

V. S. Naipaul, from India: A Million Mutinies Now, 1991

This is part of a collection of featured quotes on cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others.

Credits: Photo by Carol Mitchell.

Sustainable Housing and the Legacy of Clarence Stein

by Peter Sigrist

Architectural preservation is an important form of environmental sustainability, combining ecological and cultural benefits. It reduces wasteful consumption and strengthens our ties with great design from the past. So I'm very much looking forward to an upcoming seminar on "green" preservation and the work of Clarence Stein, a remarkable architect, planner, and advocate of garden cities. It takes place from May 21-22 at the Cooper-Hewitt, offering workshops and site visits with architects, engineers, planners, developers, researchers, preservationists, and residents of housing communities designed by Stein.

Clarence Stein and his wife, actress Aline MacMahon.*

Stein's biography spans a fascinating period in urban history, as planners of the early 20th century faced the opportunities and problems associated with modern industrialization. After studying architecture at Columbia University and the École des Beaux-Arts, he worked for Bertram Goodhue for eight years before starting a firm with Henry Wright in 1919. They later founded the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA), working closely with Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, Catherine Bauer Wurster, and Alexander Bing in support of affordable housing, wilderness preservation, and management of urban sprawl.

Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, just after completion in 1924, showing private gardens, shared central green space, playgrounds, tennis courts, and a railway to Manhattan in the distance (upper right).

A plan for blocks with shared interior courtyards at Sunnyside Gardens.

The RPAA sponsored a visit by Patrick Geddes in 1923, and Stein and Wright visited Ebenezer Howard and Raymond Unwin in England the following year. Their influential body of work includes Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, Hillside Homes in the Bronx, Walt Whitman Houses in Brooklyn, Chatham Village in Pittsburgh, Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles, Radburn in New Jersey, and Kitimat in Brittish Columbia. These communities feature gardens, shared courtyards, and parks closely integrated with housing. Stein and Wright used cul-de-sacs, superblocks, and greenbelts to separate neighborhoods as much as possible from highways and reduce traffic congestion. Such arrangements drew criticism in later years from Jane Jacobs and other advocates of vibrant street life. The Great Depression and World War II prevented Stein and the RPAA from securing the financial and political backing to realize their vision for true garden cities (with local employment, public transportation links, and limitations on sprawl). However, their attempts have inspired generations of planners and their built projects are now being preserved as historic landmarks.

Apartments around a courtyard in Radburn.*

Plan of Radburn's Burnham Place cul-de-sac.

Riding by a park in Radburn. Stein was an early supporter of bicycle paths separated from busy streets.

Pathway to a central green in Radburn (left). Pedestrian bridge over Fairlawn Avenue in Radburn (right).*

In Toward New Towns for America (1951), Stein explains his work through a series of reflective case studies. He recalls efforts to keep new towns affordable and encourage "good living" by way of healthy and attractive environments. He criticizes real estate development that favors profit over quality living conditions, citing related health problems, congested streets, environmental damage, and inefficient use of resources. He's especially critical of impersonal housing and dangerous roadways. Channeling Howard, he calls for comprehensively planned, small-scale, pedestrian-oriented communities ensconced in green space. Also like Howard, he encourages planners to live in the communities they've helped establish, or at least visit often, staying aware of changing needs and making adjustments with the help of local residents.

Model of Hillside Homes in the Bronx.

Houses and green space in Pittsburgh's Chatham Village neighborhood.

In light of surface parallels between garden cities and suburban sprawl, it appears incongruous that Stein is now featured at a seminar on preservation and environmental sustainability. Much of his work could be criticized as planned from above, dependent on automobiles, and wasteful of resources. However, pictures reveal an integrity that is absent in housing built for fast profit. And his dedication to providing quality housing for low-income citizens is an inspiring counterpoint to prevailing trends in real estate development. The seminar is a rare opportunity to find out in detail how these communities have held up over time.

Credits: The first picture is of houses in Chatham Village, Pittsburgh. Starred (*) images were scanned from The Writings of Clarence S. Stein: Architect of the Planned Community by Kermit Parsons. All other images were scanned from Toward New Towns for America by Clarence Stein.

Gentrification? Not in Quito

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Quito is one of the most important historical cities in the American continent. In fact it holds the largest, best preserved historical center in South America. In the past two decades the historical center has been benefitting from large amounts of public resources for its conservation and beautification. It is widely understood that the local and central governments intended to stimulate a gentrification process, however, it has not happened. Quito's center has also conserved it's popular character, with most housing options and commerce targeting middle-low income citizens (some 60 percent of its population).

Visiting Quito's center is a cultural experience, understanding culture as the expression of societies' identity, creativity and livelihoods. Despite that this city area has the largest concentration of museums, cultural centers and other cultural spaces targeting wealthier, higher educated citizens, most people living and visiting the center during the weekends are truly representative of the country's social spectrum, mostly from the middle-low income groups.

The interesting thing is that wealthier, higher educated citizens generally find the city center dangerous and inconvenient for car parking. Somehow, the large real estate businesses and their clients have not seen enough interest in the city center, which has prevented an informal economic eviction of the lower-income residents, because of increased rents, house prices, and property taxes. In addition, businesses are still catering to middle-lower income consumers, preventing a further decrease in the accessibility to less wealthy natives.

Credits: Image of Quito's Espejo street from travelpod.com. Image of Quito's La Ronda from skyscrapercity.com.

Featured Quote: Erik Swyngedouw

"What is at stake, then, is the practice of genuine democracy, of a return to the polis, the public space for the encounter and negotiation of disagreement, where those who have no place and are not counted or named, can acquire or, better still, appropriate voice."

Erik Swyngedouw, from "The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production," in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2009

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others.

Credits: Image from the New Media Consortium (NMC).

Contested Urbanism: Reclaiming the Right to the City in Dharavi

by Melissa García Lamarca

After reading with interest Katia’s and George’s recent posts on Dharavi, I thought I'd share some reflections on contested urbanism and the right to the city in Dharavi from various papers I have been collaborating on with Dr. Camillo Boano, Lecturer and Director of the MSc Buidling and Urban Design in Development at University College London and fellow former student William Hunter, based on research we were part of in May 2009 on the intersection between space, policy and livelihoods in community-driven slum rehabilitation projects in Dharavi.

Popularly known as Asia’s largest slum, covering almost 239 hectares and with an estimated population somewhere between 700,000 and one million people, Dharavi is strategically located in the centre of Mumbai, an area once a marginal swamp that has been infilled over generations as squatter settlements have been pushed northwards by urban development processes. As present Dharavi is also at the centre of a highly controversial debate over the present and future of Mumbai: through the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) international developers, bureaucrats, state agencies, civil society and social movements are engaged in multiple confrontations over land, density, typology and the right to a decent life, while futuristic Dubai or Shanghai-style landscapes are imagined for development over what is now prime real estate.

This state facilitated public-private partnership is in essence a tabula-rasa mega-project redevelopment strategy for the entire territory of Dharavi, including an artificial and instrumental division of the area into five sectors to be allocated to five private developers; a maximum increase of Floor Space Index which contributes to higher urban densities and the adoption of a spatial transformation from horizontal, low-rise ‘slums’ to a high-rise podium style typology (G+12 and higher). Informal settlements are thus envisaged to be replaced with high-rise developments irrespective of the existing vibrant economy and the diverse needs within, informal and complex, that have evolved through stratifications, adaptations and historical modifications.

For over half a century, Dharavi’s residents have in essence claimed their right to the city in these 239 hectares of urban space, where generations of slum dwellers in what are now 85 nagars (neighborhoods) have organised themselves in a complex labyrinthic physical layout built around work-live dwelling forms. The BBC in 2006 estimated that its thriving informal economy generates an annual turnover of business to be more than £350 million (over $541m). As Echanove and Srivastava published in their article in the New York Times in July 2009, no master plan, urban design, zoning ordinance or construction law can claim any stake in Dharavi’s prosperity as it was built over many decades entirely by successive waves of immigrants fleeing rural poverty, political oppression and natural disasters.

Since the early 1990s the Alliance – a partnership of the NGO SPARC, its non-profit developer wing NIRMAN and two grassroots organisations named Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation – has sought to enable a bottom-up process by directly engaging Dharavi’s poor in the production of space in Dharavi, claiming their right to housing in the city. These activities demonstrate, through previously unrealised solutions in spaces they control, the urban poor’s potential to challenge and change formalised rules and regulations that tend to function in the interests of dominant powers. By producing housing, the Alliance sets a precedent as an NGO developer undertaking this work as Lefebvrian production of space concepts manifest in concrete examples of bottom-up, community-driven urban development processes.

In recent years however, facing ‘Dubaification’ in the top-down, technocratic DRP process, Dharavi’s designation as a special planning area in 2004 – a status that enables secretive modification of development regulations – has thrust the reigns of development completely into the hands of the government and private sector. After subsequent years of bottom-up pressure tactics and struggles, including open letters to the government and media and peaceful protests from residents of Dharavi, leaders of prominent grassroots groups and NGOs and the Concerned Citizens of Dharavi (CCD), a space was made for institutional participation when the CCD was sanctioned as an Committee of Experts (CoE) in 2008. This eleven-member Panel of activists, professionals, academics and retired civil servants, including members of the Alliance, chaired by the retired Chief Secretary of Maharashtra continues its pressure for the urban poor’s representation and meaningful engagement within the DRP.

Alongside deeply conflicting visions between actors and questioning of true rights to the city for Dharavi’s residents and how claims to this demand are effectively represented, the top-down government vision is clearly and profoundly embedded in a neoliberal trickle-down approach. And while the bottom-up vision – as manifested by members of the Alliance and the CoE – is critical of the DRP, these actors maintain a close and highly strategic relationship with government bodies in order to function as facilitators between different institutional levels. While the CoE has successfully lobbied for the adoption of urban design guidelines in the DRP and a socio-economic baseline survey to be conducted in Dharavi, their vision and desire for an inclusive development process has been relegated to making the DRP more ‘humane’ and guiding developers towards a more sensitive development. Hence, the five-sector, five-developer DRP concept continues, with the CoE merely tweaking the edges, appearing as a body legitimising a ‘gentler’ neoliberal approach to Dharavi’s development rather than actively pursuing a radical Lefebvrian right to the city.

The CoE has not challenged the state’s power but rather aligned with the way the right to the city is manifested in practice by grassroots groups across the world, in essence modifying the political content and meaning of the contested term. In this light the CoE is offering, as Colin McFarlane notes, a development alternative rather than a form of alternative development, where the former provides strategies that seek to change and refine development positions while offering different perspectives within the DRP framework, and the latter seeks to redefine development altogether.

What strategies then, in this complex and highly contested case of urbanism, are most effective to claim bottom-up rights to the city? As Ananya Roy posits, will demanding rights through ‘rebellious citizenship’ ensure the right to the production of space for the urban poor, or will it leave them without access to the infrastructure of populist mediation and its regulated entitlements? It is clear that appropriate tactics are needed to begin resolving the spatial tensions between top-down urban strategies and bottom-up tactics of spatial adaptation and urban activism. One clear element that is fundamental in the move towards greater equity and justice for the urban poor in Dharavi is that of continuous struggle.

Credits: Map of Mumbai situating Dharavi from BUDD DPU report. Map of 5 sector division of Dharavi from Schwind, L. and Kärcher, J., 2008. Realising Dharavi architectural thesis. Image of spatial transformation imagined for Dharavi as published in the Mumbai Mirror, May 2009. Photo of Bharat Janata Housing Cooperative in Dharavi (a SPARC-NIRMAN project) from BUDD DPU report. Photo of Dharavi from the roof of Rajiv Indira Housing Cooperative by Melissa García Lamarca.

Legitimizing the Illegitimate

by George Carothers

The “slum” is often a place that people associate with lesser-value, filth, societal collapse, and criminals. A place to be avoided, shunned, and hopefully one day, destroyed and regenerated. The “slum” has become a typology of spatial arrangement; an example of failure in an urban design textbook. It holds an image of past-time London, crime-ridden Rio, and filthy Mumbai. Dirty, illegal, and inhumane.

Perhaps, in some cases, many of these characteristics hold some degree of truth. Some neighbourhoods are more dangerous, more edgy, more cluttered, and more inclined to have internal issues of their own. But in other instances, the “slum” is a social construct; a label that has been given to an outcast neighbourhood or informal place. The sociological tsunami that follows in the wake of this branding of space carries with it an international message of caution. These are places to be feared and avoided.

India is no stranger to slum terminology. It is also no stranger to people who are fascinated in studying these alienated places. A slum is a formally defined settlement category in India, and these settlements have long been discussed both in public and academic circles. Debates have emerged in the fields of economics, development planning, sociology, geography, and the image of the slum has become a staple within performing arts. Across each field, however, one consistent assumption flows seamlessly over the academic and public circles of discussion; the “slum”, for all intents and purposes, is still an alien place.

But why is this the case?

That the term “slum” has formally found its way into a legal framework for settlement categorization speaks to the structural violence that inherently prevents these communities from gaining the legitimacy that they require. A slum is a slum, and the associated stereotypes that accompany this title will continue to hinder it so long as it continues to be called such a thing.

But what is it exactly that we are calling a "slum"? As I travel to and from the URBZ office everyday, I begin to ask myself the very same question. The most obvious concern within the context of Mumbai relates to the highly publicized Dharavi “slum”, which is also the neighbourhood that houses the URBZ office. Dharavi has been made famous through novels, documentaries and more recently, major western films, and in many ways the artists, writers and directors have dragged the “slum” title through the streets of New York, London and Los Angeles, glorifying the misfortune of the people that inhabit this incredible neighbourhood. But the fact that Dharavi has been labeled a “slum” has made residents angry and left with a sense of not only being used, but also completely misunderstood.

A case that was recently made by Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava at TEDx Mumbai touched heavily on this theme and drew surprising comparisons between the incremental developments experienced in Dharavi with those of post-war Tokyo. In the closing slide, photos from two neighbourhoods, one in Dharavi and one in Tokyo, were cut down the middle and fused together to form a single photo. When asked to identify which side of the photo is Tokyo, and which side is Dharavi, it became immediately apparent that these two places, one being the symbol of complete economic and consumerist success, and the other being the symbol of failure and filth, look exactly the same. But for some reason, one side of the photo continues to be called a slum, while the other is a fully embraced model of cozy live/work space.

Perhaps it comes down to the remark on structural violence within the categorization of neighbourhoods. As soon as a place is considered to be alien, it will remain as such, whether or not we really understand how that neighbourhood actually operates. As I spend more time working at URBZ and experiencing Dharavi, I begin to wonder how many artists, directors and researchers who have collectively made millions of dollars on research and artistic projects off of this "slum" have actually stayed in this neighbourhood and genuinely taken the time to understand it. Maybe it is not so outrageous to say that when confronted with the word "slum", the average person still tends to think of the images described in the opening paragraph of this article. Perhaps many researchers, directors and artists tend to do the same.

Credits: Images of Dharavi from George Carothers. Image of Dharavi and Tokyo from Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava.

Help: Architectural Emergency

by Katia Savchuk

A wealthy Mumbaikar makes the most of floor-area ratio. Actually, he’s almost certainly exceeding the permitted Floor Space Index (FSI), which is notoriously low in most parts of the city. He either got permission through special government incentives (e.g., he can build higher here because he built housing for the poor elsewhere under a government scheme) or — more likely — under-the-table bribes did the trick. Mumbai’s developers and builders are infamously corrupt.

Credits: Photo by Katia Savchuk.

Call for Artists: Art in Odd Places

by Vivien Park

The sixth annual Art in Odd Places (AIOP) is now accepting applications for artist projects. This year's festival will take place October 1 - 10, 2010. Deadline for application is May 14. From the festival's blog:

Taking place along 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River in New York City, we encourage proposals that explore this location's rich history, configuration, and heterogeneous communities. The forthcoming edition of AiOP is informed by various interpretations of the term CHANCE, including proposition, luck, randomness, risk, and opportunity. Within this context, artists are given the opportunity to apply their practice to an unconventional structure—playing off the idiosyncrasies inherent to the urban plane.

With emerging formats of communication, our culture has become a fertile ground for broad intersections between individuals, ideas and situations. This has resulted in unpredictable exchanges, relinquishment of control, surprise collaborations, and instances of spatial revelation. AiOP 2010: CHANCE intends to provide passersby with a new perspective of an otherwise familiar environment through site-specific installations, social and spatial interventions, video and audio projects, performance, new media, and other inventive practices. In addressing the distinct manifestations of chance, the festival aims to broaden the public’s outlook on art, city dwelling, and social conventions.
Credits: Photos of "Thank You for Your Visit, Have a Nice Day" by artist Agata Olek from AIOP.

The Oakland Crosses

by Natalia Echeverri

St. Columba is a Catholic church on San Pablo and 64th street in Oakland, California. Like most churches it is a place of ritual, gathering and community building. However, sitting near one of the most violent neighborhoods in Oakland, it has created an interesting mechanism of awareness. On the front lawn there are several white wooden crosses that represent the homicides in Oakland. Throughout the year these crosses accumulate, as mostly young men become victims of violence. At the end of the year the crosses are taken down and the lawn is made ready for another year.

I pass by St Columba almost every day on my way to work and can't help but stare and count the crosses. When I started my commute in February I counted four, then six, twelve and today I noticed twenty. It is shocking that it is only April, but last year there were 110 and the year before 124.

Father Jayson who is also Oakland's police chaplain began this practice six years ago. I met him last year while doing a research project on San Pablo Avenue. He told us in an interview how he and fellow pastor Rawn Harbor started: "Rawn had the thought that there should be some place in Oakland where victims from homicides are memorialized or at least recognized. There just wasn’t a place in Oakland where this happened. So we decided to go ahead and dedicate a yard to remember each of the homicide victims for the last few years. That’s increased awareness on our own parishioner side trying to find ways to ameliorate the homicides at least trying to make a difference. So far parishioners whose sons were of that demographics and of that age, though thank God not victims of violence, felt that they had to get involved so their kids won’t or at least find a way to stop other kids from being involved.

San Francisco Chronicle, The Oakland Tribune and a website called Not just a Number, use similar mechanism of awareness by using maps and photographs of the deceased.

Credits: Image of Oakland Crosses from Natalia Echeverri. Map of Murders in 2009 from the Oakland Tribune.