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The Urban Vision : Capture the BIG Picture
Name: Editor's Desk : The Urban Vision
Bio: The Urban Vision has been initiated with the core belief that cities offer a remarkable way to create a socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant society. The Urban Vision profiles best practices and the finest thinking in the key components of city building –Urban Design, Architecture, infrastructure planning, policy strategies et cetera.The Urban Vision will illustrate inspiring concepts that urban practitioners can take on so as to drive the world in the right path.
Posts by Editor's Desk : The Urban Vision:
- Creating new urban landscapes within compact city.
- Urban boundary definitions to address Urban Sprawl
- Integration of transport, land use and open space planning.
- Creation of Soft green infrastructure for walking and cycling.
- Supporting of urban-rural interfaces.
Vinayak Bharne is the Director of Design at Moule & Polyzoides in Los Angeles, one of the founding firms of the New Urbanism movement; and a joint faculty of urbanism and planning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California.
We conversed with him about his new book “The Emerging Asian City: Concomitant Urbanities & Urbanisms” (Routledge, 2012)
How would you describe your new book “The Emerging Asian City: Concomitant Urbanities & Urbanisms”?
The book is actually a collection of 24 essays by multidisciplinary scholars – planners, anthropologists, architects, academics, practitioners – that tries to capture a broad, all-encompassing phenomenological view of urban Asia today. It provokes a discussion on the sheer breadth and diversity of places, forces, processes, patterns, histories, legacies and destinies shaping Asian cities, and their complex and subtle inter-relationships. It rereads Asia not as a series of different regions or identities – which is one way of reading it – but as a series of confluences – social, political, cultural – that intertwine all these identities: Colonialism; the assimilation of democracy; informal urbanisms; sudden cities; the embrace of Modernism – these are phenomena scattered throughout Asia in space and time, even though their specific guises may be different. Further, regions across Asia themselves have intertwined historic relationships with each other– the Persian influence in India, the spread of Buddhism from India to China to Japan etc. So this book argues for stepping back from the reductive attitude to oversimplify Asia and chop it into pieces, and appreciate it as a series of far more nuanced and enmeshed urban conditions that need to be read on their own terms.
How does the book capture the urbanization phenomenon happening in Asian Cities?
The book sees urban Asia as an evolving mosaic of myriad landscapes – some ancient palimpsests, others brand new; some rapidly changing, others relatively stagnant; some vast, others concentrated; similar landscapes appearing at different times in different places, some even suggest a cyclic emergence. To embrace this complexity, the book purposefully avoids a place-based or chronological structure, and is conversely framed on three contingent broad lenses: Traditions, Tensions, and Transformations.
Traditions offers critical counter narratives to the modernity of Asian cities. The resilience of indigenous urbanisms, dilemmas of conservation around historic cores and monuments, grass-roots efforts and populist forces are all highlighted as contemporary pan-Asian phenomena that cannot be ignored.
Tensions reflects on the legacies of the original collisions and infusions of Western and Asian urbanisms. Colonialism and early Modernism are gauged as parallel phenomena grappling with an East-West dialectic whether by contention or will. Have these seemingly hegemonic places been assimilated, critiqued, or rejected by the generations that have followed?
Transformations gleans into Asia’s new post-industrial and globalizing identities, weighing their intentions and aspirations against their price and promise. Are they little more than colossal Towers of Babel destined for catastrophe and collapse, or conscientious visions and experiments towards social, economic and cultural progress?
This tripartite framing creates a broad framework to examine urban Asia, enabling the identification of common themes, concerns, overlaps as well as contrasts that exist in different places at different times.
How are the Asian cities different from each other? What’s driving this difference?
There are obvious historical and cultural differences. But the one that intrigues me the most is how different Asian cities have reacted differently to many of the same forces that have shaped them. For instance, after independence from colonial powers, several Asian cities, at almost the same time went on a rampage of nation building. And brand new cities were built as emblems of their latent desires. But six decades later, Chandigarh is different, as is Islamabad, and Tehran. Why? This is what the book tries to discuss. Likewise rapid urbanization has been a cyclic phenomenon in Asia – Japan in the 70s, Hong Kong in the 80s, Kuala Lumpur in the 90’s and now Shanghai and Shenzhen. But are there different paradigms in these evolutions? This is what the book tries to trace. And somewhere in all this is also the important recognition that different Asian cities continuing to grow and emerge through different processes of administration and governance – Mumbai is being sustained by a certain socio-political engine that is different from Beijing, which is different in turn from Tehran or Riyadh in the ways in which urban development is regulated as well as empowered. The point is that we cannot use generic, or for that matter, convenient Western lenses to understand the complexity of Asian cities. They each need to be taken seriously on their own terms.
How do you see Asian cities to be different from Western ones?
As some of the oldest cities in the world – far older than European and American ones – many Asian cities have become Janus-like constructs. Janus was the Roman God with two faces – one old and looking to the past; the other young and looking to the future. Where Asian cities become so intriguing is in this tension to hold on to seemingly anachronistic patterns on the on hand, but never stop aspiring to model themselves after the perceived image of a superior West, on the other. Further, as the book points out, Asian cities are grappling with forces that are intrinsically different from Western ones: The legacies of colonialism, the syndrome of megaprojects as a coming to terms with this turbulent past, the aftershocks of a rapid and sudden modernity – stark polarizations between rich and poor, legal and illegal etc. And then, Asian cities are phenomenologically urbanizing at a pace, and in patterns that the Western world has never conceived of – think of Hong Kong as a hyper Manhattan without a city grid. Or that Dubai grew in four decades from 58,000 to 1.5 million natives with an additional 5.1 million annual visitors. Or that the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Shanghai was allowed to break ground 8 months after it was commissioned (an environmental impact review alone would have taken more than twice as long in the United States.) Or that Tokyo’s cost of living is more than 50% higher than New York while the amount of private space per capita 66% lower; parks constitute merely 5% of its land surface in comparison to 30% in London.
But if you think about it, Asian cities are also going through the same problems of urbanization as Western ones: the debacles of single use zoning, FSI regulations, bureaucratic planning, autopian dominance, etc. So while we look at differences, we should also be looking at parallels. Why should Asian cities not aspire to a great public realm? Why should they not aspire to regulating responsible urban form? If Asia cities can emulate the worst examples of Western planning, they can also learn and apply the most progressive ones currently in place in West.
What is the role of informality in the Asian context?
Urban informality is a vast and diverse topic, and informal places of various kinds have been integral parts of all cities since their beginning of civilization. They have always sustained the formal city, because they help do things you and I don’t like to do. But in many Asian cities, the reason the informal sector has become such a big issue, is because of their overwhelming numbers, and therein, their direct contradiction to the Euro-American model of what a city ought to be. The more pressing question is not what their role is – because we know of their resilience, adaptability and uncanny entrepreneurship. The question is: what place we are going to give them in this current wave of Asian urbanization?
The book provides several reflections on this very difficult question. There is an essay on anonymous wayside shrines of India, that are on the one hand illegal encroachments on the public realm, and on the other, nodes of hope for millions of under-served who simply want a stake in the city. Where does one draw the line between the two? There is another essay on the traditional aquatic settlements and floating markets of Thailand, that are being resurrected from decline, but largely and only as co-opted tourist magnets. There is another chapter on how informal ethnic tribal settlements in Mongolia are being displaced by new development that however sensitive can never hope to substitute the indigene. And then there is a chapter that critiques the narrow attitudes to places such a Dharavi, where vernacular informal habitats, that have become thriving alternative economies in their own right, are being mercilessly reshaped by neo-liberal policies in the name of globalization.
The challenge here for us architects and planners is to facilitate bridging the divide between social responsibility and artistic experimentation. Truly global “Asian” cities will only stand on the foundations of equity, diversity and justice.
Where will the current trends in Asian and particularly Indian Cities lead us in terms of Environmental Sustainability & Inclusive Development?
I think the best way to be sustainable is to change four-wheel cities into two-leg cities. As long as cars dominate pedestrian life, we have a problem. India not-so-long-ago produced a paltry 20,000 cars annually; now, it sells that many in less than a week. But its rising living standards and increasing middle-class numbers cannot hide the groaning poverty of well over a third of the billion-plus people. So we have a long road ahead to negotiate between aspirations on the one hand, and inclusivity and sustainability on the other.
But I was reading the other day that India is collaborating with the Swedish government to use biogas for its fleet of public buses in New Delhi. It will make Delhi the first city in India to use two clean fuels, CNG and biogas for its public transport. I was reading that Chandigarh’s green cover has increased to 38.5 percent in 2009 from 35.7 percent in 2006; that from 1991 to 2007, while nearly 17,000 trees were cut down in this city, over 21 lakh trees were planted. This is fantastic. This is something every Indian city should try and emulate.
Recently, Asia has also seen built-from-scratch urban models, dominated by narratives of sustainability, pedestrian dominance, and non-utopian planning. Putrajaya, Malaysia’s 11,300-acre built-from-scratch “environment-friendly” administrative capital was developed to both alleviate Kuala Lumpur’s congestion as well as become a new-nationalistic manifestation. The American anti-sprawl movement – New Urbanism – and its pedestrian-friendly street-block networks are evident in new towns such as Lavasa in India and Dos Rios in the Philippines. The 700-hectare new city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi’s has been designed to supposedly achieve Carbon Neutrality. The efficacy of such models will be revealed in time, but they do represent refreshing counterpoints to Asia’s nihilistic urban trends of the recent past. More importantly, however, all such progressive efforts need to become precedents that can be replicated easily – and by mainstream developers. This means that municipalities will have to create progressive planning conduits that will enable these ideas to happen easily, and by right. If projects like these remain one-off exceptions, they are not contributing to anything – no matter how great they are.
What are the big challenges ahead for Asian Cities especially the ones in India?
One of the most gripping ones is how to bridge the social injustice gap between the have and have-nots – the lack of adequate shelter, basic infrastructure, clean drinking water etc. It is clear that franchised planning has failed to make a difference here. It is alternative practices, by non-government organizations and activists that have met with uncanny and amazing success. These practices and tactics need to be highlighted, recognized, and brought in mainstream dialogues on city-making. There is no question about it.
But an equally gripping and parallel challenge is to counteract the rampant sprawl and rapacious capitalism that is destroying metropolitan landscapes across India: parking problems; fly-overs; mass clearance of traditional fabric; the erasure of rural and agrarian landscapes. These issues cannot be resolved by sparks of bottom-up tactics. We need waves of long-term visionary planning that can only happen from top-down. We need coordinated planning, where every investment – transit, development, infrastructure, regulation – are synergized with each other as interdependent economic development opportunities. Curitiba and Bogota are doing this. We need clear alternatives to FSI-based zoning to be introduced and more importantly followed up on. Several cities in the United States have already reversed conventional zoning in effective ways. How to accomplish this in India is a question that needs equally urgent attention. The time is now!
New Model Cities can drive Transformative Change
Even though megacities will play a significant role in India’s urban future, patterns of growth suggest that most of India’s urbanisation will take place in smaller cities and towns; those with a population of less than 500,000 as established in the UN World Urbanization Prospects. In other words, growth will come increasingly from building brand new urban centres. This facet of urban growth represents a great challenge and a great opportunity at the same time.
At present, as we can see that the governance mechanism for planning and implementation in India is weak. Cities and towns lack the resources, the skill-set and the technical expertise to cope with rapid urbanisation. On the other hand, since these smaller urban centres are in an early phase of growth, they present a grand opportunity to engage new, innovative and sustainable ideas and technologies to urbanise.
However, at this point, in spite of the urgency of their need, new towns being planned by the Indian government are facing delays due to the typical bureaucratic problems. Along with such holdbacks it is also becoming increasingly difficult for the private sector- be it developers, architects or planners, to deal with the already existing planning regulations often set by government administration while applying innovative solutions for sustainable growth.
Hence the emerging trend of private sector participation in city building may just provide an effective framework to efficiently drive inclusive and sustainable urbanization of India. Private participation in city making allows India to leverage the full potential of Urbanization and make it work as part of our growth strategy in a faster and more efficient pace. The creation of new cities by the private sector can absorb at least part of the 600 million people that are set to be added into India’s urban centers over the next 4 decades. The government should set macro guiding principles of sustainability & inclusivity in these towns which can then translate into a future with multiple networks of dynamic small cities that can boast of efficiency and higher quality of life.
Private sector participation in city building
Lavasa, the new city envisaged as Independent India’s first hill city, is a recent example of such a private participation in city building. Strategically located near Mumbai and Pune, Lavasa is taking its form on 25,000 acres of land. It is a phased development consisting of five towns and is said to be based on the principles of ‘New Urbanism’ and ‘Biomimicry”.
Lavasa is being developed by the Indian Infrastructure major HCC (Hindustan Construction Company), will create 5 new towns in the mountains about 45 minutes from Pune over the next decade. The master plan of Lavasa was conceived by internationally known design consultants HOK, USA who conceptualized the city’s master plan with a focus on the local site conditions and environmental influences.
Lavasa has also won the ‘Award of Excellence’ from the highly revered Congress of New Urbanism. The master plan of Lavasa ensures that the natural open spaces are protected, so that the ‘hill station appeal’ is not lost. Reforestation, green roofs, bioswales, rainwater harvesting, utilization of environmentally responsible material in buildings are a few practices in use at Lavasa. The master plan ensures the adaptability of land uses in view of changing market demands so as to ensure economic sustainability.
‘Green compact city’ Model
The Lavasa City Planning standards embrace the ideas of the ‘green compact city’ which can also serve as a “model” for future small town developments in India. Below are some of the driving Principles of ‘green compact city’ framework of city planning:
Biomimicry: Ecological Performance Standards for City Building
Private sector driven City Building has also allowed application of forward looking practices like ‘Biomimicry’ principles in city planning for the first time in the world in Lavasa. Lavasa’s city’s second town, Mugaon will become the world’s first region to draw inspiration from the concepts of Biomimicry in design and architecture.
Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Principles inspired from nature can change the way we harness energy, repair the environment, feed the world and heal ourselves.
Janine Benyus – World-renowned biologist and co-founder of Biomimicry Guild conducted a 3-day charrette in Lavasa to conceive this ground breaking masterplan . The Biomimicry Guild has been helping companies and communities discover, examine, understand and emulate nature inspired strategies, with the aim of designing sustainable products and processes that create conditions conducive to all life.
“How do dragonflies outmaneuver our best helicopters? How do hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico on less than one tenth of an ounce of fuel? How do ants carry the equivalent of hundreds of pounds in dead heat through a jungle? How do termites maintain constant temperature of 86º F in their habitat through heat and cold? The answers to these questions will be the solution to so many of our problems. It is time we learnt about nature, not with an intention to control, but with an intention to fit in and last for good. “explains Janine Benyus
She was especially excited about implementing biomimicry principles in city planning , given that cities are at the heart of the Climate Change & Eco System loss crisis today. “Today, we need corporates and business leaders to choose the path less trodden. We need new ideas and we need to revolutionize the way we live, create and exist. Lavasa is a brilliant attempt towards creating a human dwelling to emulate nature’s ideas. We need many more Lavasas in the world in order to ensure we last longer on planet earth” She had earlier stated.
This revolutionary idea attempts to look at the City offering the same ecosystem services as the wild or natural areas surrounding it. The idea is to have cities perform like ecosystems, not just look like them. In tangible terms , this type of city will harvest resources like water , sun’s energy and wind. Buildings, hardscapes, landscapes and infrastructure of the community will come together to grant the same level of life-sustaining ecosystem services as a natural ecosystem. It’s the step toward having building and infrastructure projects that not only meet their own needs—they actually give back to the natural world. The ultimate ambitious goal for the Lavasa is to create a human settlement that actually enhances local ecology by functioning at least as well as a healthy, highly functioning moist deciduous forest. It is a bold goal which can bring on transformative change to our world and actually show the world a new model of sustainable human settlements.
The Lavasa development is going to look for inspiration for design from the brilliance of the moist deciduous forest ecosystem —animals, plants, microbes, and other ecosystems. These ideas will then drive innovative design of buildings, hardscapes, and landscapes in this new city. The Ecological Performance Standards being developed also intends to assist those native species most in need of help, by attempting, for instance, to provide vital corridors for their shelter and migration.
Mr. Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman, Lavasa Corporation Ltd affirms “Right from inception, our vision for Lavasa was very clear. We wanted to create a living space where man and nature co-exist in harmony while ensuring both, economic and environmental sustainability. Janine and her team along with HOK have brought this vision to life. Today, we are working briskly towards building the world’s first model town based on principles of Biomimicry at Mugaon in Lavasa. We hope this experiment will be a precedent to many future towns and cities across the world”
Towards Transformative change: New Models of City Building
Lavasa is part of the family of new model cities sprouting around the world that are breaking conventional barriers and setting new city building paradigms and ecological standards. Other global examples include Masdar in Abu Dhabi or Songodo IDB in South Korea. These projects have the potential to be a game changer for our future world and may just show humanity the way forward in terms achieving the values of true sustainability.
|Masdar city In Abu Dhabi recently completed its phase one development and the residents have started moving into the city. Masdar City is planned as clean-technology cluster designed by Foster+ Partners that aims to be one of the world’s most sustainable urban developments powered by renewable energy. It is located about 17km from downtown Abu Dhabi and will be home to companies, researchers, and academics from across the globe. Though the topography and geography of this city is vastly different from that of Lavasa, the intensions of sustainable development are shared by both these cities. Masdar is in the midst of a dessert and Lavasa in area with abundance of rain water for 4 months and pleasant temperatures all year round. These cities in contrasting environments can be viewed as references for India’s future cities.
Songdo IDB is developed on the 1500 acres of reclaimed land in South Korea is another example of efforts towards sustainable city development with private sector involvement. This is private sector venture with partnership between ‘Gale International’ and ‘POSCO E&C’. Songodo IDB aims to be leader in South Korea’s ‘low carbon green living efforts’. The master plan of Songodo is similar to Lavasa in regards to the similar aims of sustainable green city development. Like Lavasa and Masdar, Songodo IDB too is utilizing principals of water harvesting, grey water reuse and technologies to avoid or reduce commute distances.
Lavasa, Masdar and Songodo are path breaking projects which offer the much needed developmental precedent and action leadership towards sustainable city building. As an urbanism enthusiast, one cannot ignore the impact these cities will make on our future urban development and also on professionals involved in the city design & planning. These cities are attempting to put many academic concepts into action. As in any development, there are set to be many challenges in making these visions into reality. But these challenges are sure to seem tiny when compared to the influence and impact these projects will have on the future of cities.
This Article was Co-authored by Prathima Manohar & Aditi Nargundkar Pathak
Full Disclosure : Lavasa Corporation has sponsored some of The Urban Vision’s events
Experts urged Indian cities to adopt measures to deal with the imminent devastating effects of Climate Change in a symposium titled “ Battling the Sea Level rise : Lesson for developing World Cities “ held in University of California, Berkeley as part of The Urban Vision’s “Climate Month” celebration between September 15 – October 15 2009 leading up to the historic Copenhagen Summit scheduled for December 2009. The “Climate Month” featured a series of Forums and Symposiums with major thought leaders of our times to evaluate solutions to moving our planet into a sustainable path.
The symposium was co-hosted by Urbanism think-tank “The Urban Vision” ; Global Architecture firm Gensler; and Berkeley Energy Resource Collaborative. Speakers included Will Travis, Executive Director of Bay Conservation and Development Commission ( BCDC) ; Matthew Heberger , Pacific Institute & Co-author of the report on sea level rise in California; Michel St Pierre, Director of Planning , Gensler ; Prathima Manohar , Founder , The Urban Vision ; and Maria. Paz Gutierrez, Assistant Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley
The ongoing California Climate Adaptation Strategy Draft is among the first example of a tactical plan for action by a government agency to adapt to extreme climate events and sea-level rise. The panellists highlighted the California Strategy plan and looked at ways its model can be employed in developing world cities. The symposium specifically addressed ideas and solutions that cities have to embrace to become resilient to the daunting impacts of Climate change.
Will Travis from BCDC which was one of the key agencies that created the California Climate Action Plan outlined the urgent need for adapting our communities to climate change impacts and a future of extreme climate events “Even if the world turned off all its power plants, stopped using all its cars; even if we managed to halt all our carbon emissions- it’s still going to get warmer for at least 50 more years due to the current level of carbon in our atmosphere which will contribute to changes in our environment including sea level rise. We have to start building climate resilient communities” said Mr. Travis.
Matthew Heberger from the Pacific Institute spoke about the impacts of climate change and said “There is a need to avoid the unimaginable, and manage the unavoidable. We can expect a range of impacts to the natural and human environment including storm surges; increases in coastal flooding; increased coastal erosion; Loss of property, economic and social disruptions; Potential loss of wetland habitat.”
Mr. Travis also said that coastal cities will have to think about building a lot of levies to protect their low-lying zones. Mr. Travis also called on city and national governments to halt development in areas that were vulnerable to sea surges or were below sea level.
Some 360 million urban residents living in coastal zones risk exposure to sea surges as ocean levels rise by approximately 1 meter through the 21st century. Developing world cities which are often characterized by poor informal settlement will be highly vulnerable. Ten of the developing world’s 15 largest cities are in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels or coastal surges. “Given its vast shoreline, the impact will be especially severe in India. Coastal Cities like Mumbai and Chennai will be at the heart of the crisis. However, given the early stage of India’s Urbanization with only 30% of the country being Urban; there is also an unique opportunity for India to plan for the future and steer clear of developing in vulnerable and hi-risk areas” said Prathima Manohar , Founder , The Urban Vision.
Michel St Pierre, Director of Planning, Gensler spoke about the need to come out with innovative urban models so that the world can look at urbanization as the way to solve this crisis “ We are reliant on our cities to sustain us and we need to enhance their sustainable growth so that they can mitigate and adapt to climate change” he said. Prof. Maria-Paz Gutierrez, UC Berkeley shared a innovative interdisciplinary research initiative intersecting architecture and bio-engineering called BIOMS that she founded which was looking at creating new types of human settlements that were inherently resilient. “The research is based on bio-mimicry principles. Nature has always adapted to the volatility of its own self. For instance – Look at how Mangroves combat storm surges. We are studying the principles of nature that can be used in the design of the built environment as a way to deal with the devastation of climate change.” She said.