City Observer- Volume 2 Issue 2- December 2016

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CITY OBSERVER Volume 02 | Issue 02 | December 2016 Free Publication City Observer is a biannual journal which aims to create a conversation on cities and to collaboratively interrogate our urban world. City Observer is published by the Urban Design Collective. Urban Design Collective (UDC) is a non-profit organization that works as a collaborative platform towards the creation of livable & sustainable cities through community engagement.

EDITORIAL TEAM Shruti Shankar Sunjana Thirumala Sridhar Vidhya Mohankumar COVER ILLUSTRATION Sareena Khemka LAYOUT DESIGN Sunjana Thirumala Sridhar Vidhya Mohankumar

Copyrights of images lie with the person/ party mentioned in the image caption. This magazine cannot be republished or reproduced without the permission of the publisher.

To Cities and People

Contents EDITORIAL Sunjana Thirumala Sridhar



Territorial Spatial Strategies


Mrudhula Koshy


Projects on the City: Urban design Education in Challenging Times Patty Heyda



On Global Urban Agendas and Decoding Urban Mobility in Chennai Vidhya Mohankumar


Participatory Approaches to Improve Parks: An Experiment from Inner City Johannesburg Jennifer van den Bussche, Angel Khumalo, Andries Mkhatshwa, Hayley Gewer and Alexandra Cunningham



Crowd-sourcing Urban Development

The Art of Exploring Cities Unhurriedly

Geeta Mehta and Shreya Malu

Poornima Dasharathi






Thimpu - Landscapes in Opposition Arushi Chitrao



10 Urban Design Lessons from Rotterdam Nikita Baliga and Ankit Bhargava



Praรงa de Lisboa, Porto Shreya Krishnan



Rio Olympic Fan-Box Archasm



The Perfect Studio and Other Fantasies Amita Gupta and Nischal R Buddhavarapu



10x10 Drawing the City London

Shruti Shankar

Vasundhara Sellamuthu





Malmรถ Amsterdam London


Rotterdam Porto New York City St.Louis



Berlin Dessau Istanbul Selรงuk

Chandigarh Delhi Mathura



Thimpu Hyderabad Chennai

Hanoi Guangzhou



Hampi Bangalore Kochi Trivandrum



Cities profiled thus far... Current Issue Past Issues


2016 has been an unusual year. An ostensibly apocalyptic one globally; an emotional roller coaster, to say the least. We’re at the end of it, and it seems as though everything that has gone to hell, has a glimmer of a chance at redeeming itself. If we look beyond tragedies like the Orlando shooting and the Turkey explosions, and the (far from) Nice massacre, almost everything going on is entirely absurd and ludicrous. Unfortunately 2016 has been a showcase of a bloodthirsty zeal for chaos, and we’re all watching the crap hit the fan. 2016 was also the Chinese year of the Red Monkey. No mere coincidence perhaps, that a Republican candidate called Donald Trump was named Person of the year by Time magazine, and elected to the highest post of the United States Government. But then again, things like this happen all the time, don’t they? In the U.S., hate crimes have increased towards Muslims and the LGBT community, while in the U.K., hate crimes and racist abuse has surged. Back home in India, honour killings prevail at large. The reasons, whatever they may be, are basically irrelevant. It is unacceptable that these things are still happening—and increasing in frequency and magnitude—in any country, and particularly in countries that are seen as “progressive” nations. Another major event, with repercussions that will take a couple of years to comprehend is Britain’s decision to leave the EU (European Union). With the Brexit, in very simplified terms, the starting positions are that the EU will only allow the UK to be part of the European single market (which allows tariff-free trade) IF it continues to allow EU nationals the unchecked right to live and work in the UK. What this implicitly means, is that the doors of the UK are no longer openly welcoming to immigrants, foreign nationals and the likes.

The events which have transpired this year, echo a sentiment of fading humanity. What does any of this have to do with Cities and People, you ask? Let’s rewind. Is it a mere coincidence that a majority of Trump voters were a segment of folks, found in locations with little or no access to education, infrastructure and white collar employment? Is it a fluke that we notice negative happenings more these days merely because of our high levels of connectivity? Are our public spaces smart enough to avert disasters before they occur? How smart are we hoping our Smart Cities will really be? Is it possible that because technology has shrunk our world, we no longer care about physical borders and who it keeps in or out? As long as we ‘digitally’ look and feel great, is all really right and dandy? At the end of this eventful year, we at City Observer bring to you a collection of ideas and thoughts - some of which are filled with hope, others with a determined will, and yet more which emphasize the impact of effort which great intentions can have. Our curated collection is a massive collective effort to find the beauty in our travels; to find renewed strength in community togetherness and to see the glimmers of perfection in an otherwise dastardly world. While some pieces raise provocative questions, all of them are clear in their demands for conscientious action by the people. Action for now with an unwavering stone-cold gaze toward the future. 2016. You’ve shocked us in many ways. 2017. Let’s take care of that, shall we? Signing off. Happy New Year. And may the force be with us all. Sunjana Thirumala Sridhar On behalf of the Editorial Team

Piling onto the list of 2016 happenings - terror attacks, Zika, police shootings, the war in Syria, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie— this year has been one unrelenting tragedy after the other.


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by Mrudhula Koshy


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THE TERRITORIAL SCALE The breadth of what constitutes urbanity has been extended in the recent decades. Partly due to expanding cities that fold into the countryside and vice versa, urbanity is now also recognized as a phenomenon that generates diffused and scattered urban morphologies. Most people these days do not live in the city or the countryside, they live in – between. They do not work, live or recreate in the same city.

Facing page- Visualisation showing a desired strategy ‘Green Delta: Unity in Diversity’ for Euroregion Gelderland, The Netherlands. Source: Adapted by Author from Regionale BVNL Rapporten, 2015

Depending on context, this model of urbanization has resulted in the formation of new types of urban forms due to better infrastructure, shifting familial and occupational norms, the increasing percentage of aging population, economic empowerment of the middle class, the rise of the entrepreneur and her reliance on shared resources and in recent times, a re-engineering of available resources to deal with scarcity, recession and the urgent need for transition towards a circular economy. The scope of our ‘reach’ in a single day has increased. It has enriched our lives by offering us the luxury of choice. The city is no longer your only playground; your playground is the territory. This brings us to the premise of this article; that of the territorial scale, a kind of meta scale that is not discussed with enough rigour in debates on urban strategies.

Info-graphic showing size comparisons between The Netherlands and Delhi, NCR. Adapted by Author from Delhi 2050 by Verhoeven CS, 2010

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FEATURE ARTICLE THE NETHERLANDS AND DELHI, NCR The significance of the territorial scale on the spatial, economic, social and political structures when constructing long term visions are examined through two case studies: The Netherlands and Delhi, National Capital Region (NCR). The first is a small, wealthy country in northwestern Europe that has developed as a polycentric agglomeration with the Randstad as its most prominent regional fulcrum. The main cities in the Randstad are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Along with other satellite cities, they collectively form a rim around an expansive green area called the ‘Green Heart’. The NCR is the fast growing capital region of an emerging economy, India. It comprises of Delhi and its satellite cities, the more important ones being Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad. At 33 million inhabitants, it has more than twice the population of The Netherlands which is itself considered a dense country. These regions are chosen because of their broad similarity in terms of morphological distribution and area coverage. However there is high diversity in the trajectory of urbanization due to differences in spatial policies, development agendas, global – local gradients, governance structures, economic status, population density and growth rate. Through a free-wheeling discussion on the constructed hypotheses for the Randstad and a desirable growth pattern for Delhi, along with Ton Venhoeven, (Founder and urban designer at Venhoeven CS, based in Amsterdam), I elaborate why the National Capital Region urgently requires long term, integrated spatial visions. To be less prudent, why exactly it needs to take a calculated stock of the mess and focus on the most important pivots to attain a sustainable urban development pattern!

THE IDEA OF THE TERRITORY VS THE IDEA OF THE CITY As a spatial device, the territory is flexible. It allows for deliberations on multiple scales. As an investigative tool, it enables transnational comparisons. It also becomes a way to promote inclusion as the


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boundaries are less tactile and facilitate intense inward and outward movements from all sections of the society. A singular focus on cities sometimes carries the subtle emphasis on those who have the ambitions of a social climber and can afford to be a city dweller; millennial, urbane, well – educated, well – earning. It focusses heavily on the city’s global aspirations, global economic competitiveness and intense urbanization. The ‘creation of an attractive urban imagery’ often dominates over the ‘substance of economic and social problems’. (Harvey, 1989) It leaves out the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. In the context of the NCR, this comprises struggling farmers turned daily wage labourers, migrants from disadvantaged rural areas and caste and class differences which do not figure in the main debates on Delhi as the powerful capital. It also neglects the premise that urban resources are not only about the built part; it is also about ecology, the farmlands, soil and streams and the general life quality and well-being of the people. The idea of a city also excludes debates on fragmentation. It speaks of rationalities that are homogeneous. It also means defined borders. When considering urgencies on cities that have climaxed thresholds and still growing, we need to think beyond obvious morphological dichotomies. Instead of the city and the suburb, the urban and the rural; we need to see potential in gradients and dispersed cities, in in-between territories (Wandl,2012) and borderscapes.

DELHI’S TERRITORIAL PALIMPSEST Delhi’s urban structure is a mosaic that formed without a systematic spatial sequence. It is a palimpsest that witnessed Mughal traditions, British imperialism and a post-independence boom with heavy global influence as a result of neo-liberal policies in the 1990s. The city also contains rural villages and informal settlements, some which have adapted to the rapid transformations and some which have lost their inherent spatial strengths in the process.


LEGEND NCR Boundary State Boundary MTRS Existing railways National Highways State Highways Other roads Main water courses Existing green Built areas Other functions Waste lands







National capital region: The NCR was formed to alleviate pressure from Delhi & satellite cities benefited from their proximity to Delhi


Morphological distribution of The Netherlands. Dispersed urbanisation of small and medium towns.


SH 25

LEGEND NCR Boundary State Boundary Upgradation to NH Upgradation to SH MTRS Metro railway line New rail links Proposed Rapid Rail Dedicated Freight corridor Green buffer along infrastructure National Highways State Highways Expressways Main water courses Natural reserves Built areas Urbanisable areas Green belt


Infrastructure of The Netherlands: Highways in yellow and the railways in orange.






NCR : Proposed Infrastructure connects only priority towns to each other and neglects the remaining area

Infographics showing the spatial disparities in the cores of Delhi and its peri - urban areas. Images credit: Author

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The idea of a city also excludes debates on fragmentation. It speaks of rationalities that are homogeneous. It also means defined borders.

The liberalization of the economy accelerated the recent urban development in Delhi. However, the investments were fed only into beautification of the city cores leaving out urban and rural villages in the process. Farmlands were superimposed by crude infrastructure and gated communities. Satellite cities that are pale emulations of generic cities formed at the peripheries of Delhi. The economic rationale for displacement of slums to the peripheries was the high price of land. This denied slum dwellers proximity to their workplaces and infrastructure to travel to their workplaces. An increasing dependence on highways also meant further privatization, suburbanization and

environmental pollution. One also senses that ‘the Delhi metro was used as a symbol of progress to stake claims as a world class city’ (Siemiatycki, 2006) and does not guarantee inclusive public transport choices as it connects mainly the core of Delhi to the satellite cities and not the peri – urban areas. The National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) was formed in 1985 to counter the rapid expansion. However, the policies have only aggravated the spatial fragmentation and not bridged it. In the ongoing process of an image construction towards a global city status, Delhi has become an example of global – local conflicts and social exclusion.

LEGEND NCR Boundary Core city Satellite cities Priority towns High density rural villages Proposed urbanisable area Peri - urban area Desakota Rural dispersion in agricultural land







Trends: Fusing of urban areas; Adapted based on Lefebvre (2003(1970)), McGee(2009), Dupont (2007); complex polycentric fabric Image credit: Author


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Infographic shows how the arbitrary green belt boundary around Delhi does not guarantee the presence of green spaces in the city Image credit: Author

DELHI 2050: A DESIRABLE FUTURE Ton says, ‘Delhi 2050 aimed to showcase a desirable future by using design as a tool for research, debate and decision making. What are the possible urban futures for Delhi and the NCR under circumstances of decentralized governance, multi – modality and a poly centric urban development?’ A joint effort of Indian and Dutch experts from various disciplines, it explored possible responses to the challenges that Delhi faces through a series of workshops with public stakeholders from 2010 for a period of 3 years. The results were exhibited in the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR). My interest to understand this cross border collaborative effort and seeking feasible

implementation possibilities of the Dutch urbanism approach in Indian cities led me to interview Ton for his insight and fuelled the context for this article. What best practices can Delhi and NCR imbibe from the Randstad and The Netherlands? The intense development of the Delhi-Mumbai corridor for global competitiveness primarily attracts car manufacturers to smaller towns. This can be a short term solution for job creation and to prevent people from moving into the cities but is not sustainable in the long term as the strategies are not well defined for a sustainable growth pattern. Similarly the hyper focus on smart cities are also not dwelling upon the creation of low skilled jobs nor on the progressive transition to a low carbon, circular economy.

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Superimposition of crude infrastructure on productive landscapes. Image credit: Fawaz Thengilan

Mingling of old and new. Image credit: Fawaz Thengilan

Congested urban villages. Image credit: Fawaz Thengilan

Gurgaon- A globally aspiring satellite city. Image credit: Fawaz Thengilan

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LEGEND State Boundary Main infrastructure Metro 800m radii - metro Resettlement colonies Demolished in 1995,97,98 Demolished in 1999,2000 Demolished in 2001 Demolished in 2003, 2004 Demolished in 2006 Main water courses Urban agglomeration as per 2001

0 Note: Size of circles denote ratio of numer of squatter households ranging from 1073 to 7500.





Slum resettlement: Slums from the city cores are displaced to peripheries away from accessibility and jobs.

LEGEND State Boundary Metropolitan city centre District centre District centre to be developed Non - hierarchical commercial centre Non - hierarchical commercial centre to be upgraded Organised Informal Sector Places Sub - city level markets Sub - city level markets to be upgraded Industrial activity Redevelopment of unplanned industrial areas Main water courses






Trade and commerce: This mapping made evident an investment in city cores and negligence of peripheries.


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LEGEND State Boundary Main infrastructure 35 to 60% 25 to 35% 20 to 25% 15 to 20% 10 to 15% 0 to 10% Main water courses Existing Centralities






Residential segregation based on social ostracism: Historical segregation of backward castes also seen in periphery; red is existing centralities

LEGEND State Boundary Main infrastructure New Delhi precinct 800m radii - metro 800m radii - rail Main water courses






Mobility - rail and metro: Metro connections only serving city cores and globally aspiring satellite cities.

However, the Randstad is not without its issues. Increased automation of industrial functions such as handling of containers in the port of Rotterdam has resulted in unemployment. This has also created divides between the northern and southern parts of the city with the latter experiencing economic, cultural and ethnic issues.

THE RANDSTAD AND THE NETHERLANDS: AN ISOTROPY So how can the NCR be developed differently? Can the Randstad and The Netherlands offer clues to a different trajectory of development? A dispersed urbanization pattern with a few prominent nodes defines The Netherlands. The oxymoronic term, horizontal metropolis (Vigano, 2006, 2011) can be used to describe this territory. The closest reference in India would be the province of Kerala on the west coast of India with its intensely networked small and medium sized towns. Since the Randstad is the most urbanized region in The Netherlands, I will focus on this region for cross comparisons. The Randstad figures prominently among the 20 largest urban regions in Europe which includes London, Paris, Munich and Milan. To give a better perspective of the movement within The Randstad, let me describe my typical work week. I commute 5 days a week to Amsterdam from Rijswijk, a ‘multi – functional suburb’ of The Hague. None of my friends live in Rijswijk. They live in Leiden, The Hague, Delft and Rotterdam and we catch up in the evenings or the weekend. My gym is in The Hague and I take salsa classes at Rotterdam. My start-up community is based in Amsterdam. Work and play occasionally take me to Utrecht and far flung cities from the Randstad such as Eindhoven, Groningen and Maastricht. The centrally located Schipol airport can be reached from anywhere in The Randstad in under an hour.

This movement is not singular; it is typical of most people living in The Netherlands and is made possible by intensely networked public transportation possibilities and last mile connectivity options through countrywide metro, tram, bus and bike networks. ‘However, the Randstad is not without its issues.’ Ton says, ‘Increased automation of industrial functions such as handling of containers in the port of Rotterdam has resulted in unemployment. This has also created divides between the northern and southern parts of the city with the latter experiencing economic, cultural and ethnic issues.’ He continues, ‘Randstad now adopts strategies to achieve a mixed economy focusing on finance, marketing, trade, commerce, logistics, service industry, medicine and marine technology. This allows an inclusive model of development through local selfsufficiency. The long-term goal is to transition to a circular economy through reduction of CO2, improving insulation of homes and transition to clean energy by constructing windmills in the sea for instance. These strategies collectively enable the creation of more than 200,000 service jobs such as high tech maintenance of windmills, 3D printing techniques and using waste as a resource through developing a bio – based economy. However, this also requires the development of a certain kind of education.’

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One must ‘sense opportunity in marginality’. Marginal lands at the peripheries are ideal catalysts since they are ‘often cheaper, of less interest from a development perspective and free from political contestation.

METAMORPHOSIS: DISPERSAL AS AN OPPORTUNITY So, what should the road map for the NCR look like? To use the idea of a territory as a device for long term vision of the NCR requires enormous conceptual shifts. The idea of a master plan as an overarching spatial device should give way to a flexible framework which allows for uncertainty and incremental possibilities. To activate the fringe areas, a multi - functional land use is necessary. Tough policy stances should promote decentralization. What is so far considered as margins thus become hubs of new urbanity and new opportunity. By valorizing fringes, forgotten spaces are given new purpose. This can lead to conceiving new types of urban regions; with a focus on conserving and redistributing our finite resources. Radical landscape transformations are made possible through new configurations. For instance, productive landscapes with specialized agriculture and other service industries intermingling with mixed urban forms. Urban rules can be formulated for new typologies which can combine commercial, residential and workplaces. Hybrid economic networks can arise as a result of this. Capital investments should be redistributed in peripheral areas. Progressive spatial strategies that are an outcome of nuanced socio – political responses should be the base for a long term regional vision for the NCR. There is a need to conceive new ‘potential places of urbanity’ (Vigano, 2011). ‘The porosity of existing open spaces, public transport needs, employment, basic amenities and governance should coerce to promote a situation of self-sustenance, spatial quality and empowerment of local population’. (Koshy, 2016)


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To quote Sylvester Baxter and Charles Eliot who formulated the Boston Metropolitan Parks Plan in 1893, one must ‘sense opportunity in marginality’. Marginal lands at the peripheries are ideal catalysts since they are ‘often cheaper, of less interest from a development perspective and free from political contestation. This makes them easier to reclaim, to unlock latent potential, formalize their benefits and even create value in otherwise overlooked or disregarded landscapes.’ (Baxter and Eliot, 1893) A shift to low density urban environments also means that public landscapes should offer more than a recreational respite; they should be conceived for fulfilling urban ecological functions; for food production, flood protection and water filtration. Ton says ‘What is also important is to realise that circular economy is an imperative. However with the world heavily dependent on globalization and international trade, cities tend to focus on divesting services and stocks at the lowest price. For e.g.: India exports cotton when it does not even have enough water. Indonesia exports wood endangering large swathes of biodiversity. A one – sided economy puts stress on the environment. We need to activate a ‘material passport’, to know where our daily goods come from. What we must strive for is a mixed economy focusing not just on high – skilled jobs as this does not solve the issue of unemployment.’ He continues, ‘For transition to a circular economy, a sufficient carrying capacity is required. NCR is an appropriate test bed for this. In a city with 18 million inhabitants like Delhi, individual productivity is compromised when people have to commute 2

Visual strategy for region of South Limburg, NL: ‘Boundless Limburg’. Image credit: Regionale BVNL Rapporten, 2015.

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Visual strategy for Groningen, NL : ‘Room for Renewal’. Image credit: Regionale BVNL Rapporten, 2015


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hours to their workplaces. Counter magnets should be established through decentralized governance. By harvesting rainwater, encouraging urban farming to feed people, devising schemes to integrate people from different class and caste backgrounds to work together on a shared vision, improving mobility to achieve multi – modal connectivity; a resourceful polycentric region can be achieved’. This is where the strategic role of planners and designers have to be stressed. Politicians are not ready supporters of long term planning because they operate with the belief that they alone are responsible for planning. Current planning schemes also use outdated methods which aggravates the situation. Democracy is a breeding ground for ideas but alone does not have all the solutions and will not magically built all the infrastructure that we need. An integrate of political and social parameters and engineering should be accompanied by a strong rethinking of how long term planning, regulations and pilot projects can contribute to sustainable territorial urban development. Territory is your new playground; your new test bed; a spatial capital innate with numerous possibilities.

REFERENCES 1. Koshy, M., 2016. ‘Shifting Centralities, Shared Lines: A redefined role for the peri - urban areas in Delhi, National Capital Region’. European Post Graduate Masters in Urbanism, Final Thesis, Delft Institute of Technology, The Netherlands 2. Regionale BVNL Rapporten, ZAUD and De Zwarte Hond, 2015 3. Vigano, P., 2012. The Contemporary European Urban Project: Archipelago City, Diffuse City and Reverse City, In: Crysler, C. G., Cairns, S., & Heynen, H. (Eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory. SAGE Publications. 4. Wandl, A., 2010. ‘Territories in between’ A comparative permeability study of two European regions between urban and rural - local and global. European Post Graduate Masters in Urbanism, Final Thesis, Delft Institute of Technology, The Netherlands. DATA SOURCES •

Delhi Master Plan 2021


State Map series, Edition 2012

IRS (Resoucesat (LISS IV) 2012; NCRPB

Google Maps

About the Author Mrudhula Koshy is from India, grew up in Qatar and is currently based in The Netherlands. After her bachelors’ in architecture in India, she completed her post masters in urbanism from The Netherlands (TU Delft) and Italy (IUAV). She uses this background to develop flexible and adaptive frameworks to address global urban issues. Her core interests’ lie in developing context based multi scalar strategies for complex spatial research and design themes. To address structural ambiguities and urgencies in the global south, in 2015, she founded MO.dE, a business development platform which facilitates cross border knowledge exchange to implement urbanism projects in expanding metropolises. She can be contacted at

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Today’s cities, city-regions and landscapes are complex environments reeling from ongoing effects of global climate change, pollution and water issues, uneven development and social inequities, increased privatization and great swings of population growth and decline, among other issues. Global urbanism is arguably in need of design action capable of moving across the territories of practice that produce, reproduce or redirect these effects. In this context, urban design emerges as an effective ‘meta-discipline’ for tackling the project of the contemporary city. Urban designers have the flexibility to ideate responses appropriate to the myriad scales and territories of contemporary politics, economics and space. This is because urban designers operate across the many allied arenas of spatial, political and social practice. (Krieger, 2009) The projects elaborated below reflect an approach to teaching this meta-discipline capable of spanning so many arenas, practices and challenging contexts. I teach urban design studios to graduate architecture and graduate urban design students at Washington University in St. Louis, MO (USA).Our urban design program is the second oldest program in the US and it provides an intensive, compacted post-professional course of study, in just one year plus a summer semester. The architecture program is longer –and many students elect to double major in architecture and urban design—but in either case, a student’s exposure to the elements and systems of urban design encompasses just a few semesters across the programs. The time students have to learn urban design is short. In order to teach the elements of the meta-discipline, amid the need to tackle today’s complex urban problems, my pedagogical goals for the studio are focused on understanding how sites are shaped. With this understanding, students can begin locating spaces for design engagement. These spaces emerge from within the context itself, and they refer to physical sites for intervention, as well as those important process-driven, political sites where laws and decisions are constructed by public and private sector actors. In all my urban design studios, no matter what part of a city students investigate or where tensions lie, the focus of learning is shifted away from established lessons and conventional solutions, towards actions of design thinking itself. This process launches from the productive, deep “site” analysis that sets a stage for courageous design thinking outside of established tool-kits. Students imagine scenarios and play out the possible effects of new processes of design engagement and thinking in increasingly unconventional landscapes. As the problems in and around cities intensify, the urban designer’s ability to think projectively, beyond established practices becomes more and more important. Our Washington University students learn to engage environments as needed, and according to a site’s own logic. In St. Louis the challenges include vast vacancy, low economic growth, charged (racialized) politics, social

As the problems in and around cities intensify, the urban designer’s ability to think projectively, beyond established practices becomes more and more important.

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FEATURE ARTICLE inequities, aging infrastructure and other issues. But while the city’s population stagnates, its region (largely including St. Louis County) grows. Urban designers grapple simultaneously with the vast tracts of vacant land in one area, and the pressures of sub/ urbanization in other areas. The training of the urban designer in contexts such as St. Louis (but found around the world) means students learn how to think as policy makers or landscape ecologists first, since physical form and new development are often byproducts of other more important foundations shaping lived space. The projects included here are all completed by graduate architecture or urban design students in their first urban-based studio. These projects all map, then project new futures for sites in and around St.Louis, MO. In each of the cases, the broad site systems—those forces and processes impacting space—are first articulated, then re-imagined as repaired or augmented before being projected as viable future sites, where development might later happen. In other words, students first stage conditions for environmental repair, policy reallocation or new transit (as initial mappings, towards initial design phases) that only later become economically viable for investment. Then students innovate new building and block typologies, and other features that the new context might host (later phases). The students work speculatively, around distinct scenarios that may or may not lead the groundwork for additional ‘architectural’ interventions. In the end, teaching urban design is not about teaching students to generate solutions. As activists in St. Louis have said,’ there are not always solutions; only struggle.’1 My urban design studios focus on giving students the skills to recognize what and where the struggles are—and for whom and why those struggles exist—in an increasingly complex urban landscape. Many of the students’ projects reinforce an idea that environmental and social health are long term projects that will take years of sustained effort, yet 1 Activists descended on St. Louis following the 2014 shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO, a St. Louis suburb. The action—and the protests and investigations that followed—had effects of revealing to the world the deep policy and political failures that had long existed in Ferguson and surrounding municipalities.


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are still worth positing as important foundations of an economically healthy region – and sometimes it is more valuable to provoke established conventions generating lived space in a city through clear articulation of its own logic and structures, than to “solve” it. Urban design is as much an illumination and critique of existing models as it is generative form making. A close reading of existing models opens possibilities of reconceptualizing existing structures and processes, not just spaces. My students spend at least half of the semester conducting site research and presenting findings with careful mappings that draw-out intersections and details of the physical and political vectors underpinning a site. They use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), news and print media, personal interviews, observations and historical documents as sources. They are asked to focus on scales of a site through particular lenses or phenomena they identify, such as the environment, land ownership or publicprivate interactions. This approach allows students to delve more in-depth in their initial research, but inevitably it still allows them to take in a broader set of issues as additional factors or features intersect with the initial phenomena. For example my student Samantha Saunders initially studied the poor water quality across the region and its impacts on neighbourhoods in North St. Louis. Her explorations, while narrow at first, intersected with industrial economies, environmental justice issues, topography and built form, incentives, histories and many other features of the site, since all are impacted by and articulated by the politics surrounding water. Samantha was then able to reconstruct new maps of the site that revealed these latent relationships, undercurrents or decision-making processes in addition to the spatial and social features. From there, the new maps of the site become proto-design projects, as the analysis effectively stages and expands new contexts in which water management and cleaning might become generative, rather than limiting. These mapping exercises draw from James Corner’s notions of framing, plotting and re-drawing sites as a political act and first step of design.(Corner, 1999) Some additional examples follow:

Site mapping stages design possibilities. Image Credit: Samantha Saunders / Studio: “Lateral Power” Advanced graduate Architecture option studio

Conceptual framework, site mapping as pre-design. Image Credit: Samantha Saunders / Studio: “Lateral Power” Advanced graduate Architecture option studio

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FEATURE ARTICLE REDIRECTING DEVELOPER-TAX INCENTIVES TO BENEFIT LOCAL RESIDENTS This project explored a de-urbanizing neighbourhood in north St. Louis city where public transit takes a long time, sidewalk infrastructure is fragmented (if present at all) and air and water quality issues persist due to aging combined sewers and coal burning power plants. A private developer Paul McKee had acquired many of the vacant properties with plans to build new warehouses and other businesses, to be called North Side Regeneration. At the time of the studio, the city of St. Louis and state of Missouri were deciding on whether to grant the developer a $450 million TIF (tax increment financing) incentive package to pay for “infrastructure costs” related to the project. Anu Samarajiva’s project illuminates local leaders’ political positions (and personal relationships) influencing development in the city and incentives. From this construction of the ‘context’ she then imagines redirecting the TIF funding towards alternate-energy infrastructures that collect in the area’s alleys, an intimate, social flex-space used by residents. Alternate

power via solar panels, water collection and other distribution networks (such as the daily mail) are consolidated in the alleys, essentially giving back to (em-“power”ing) the local residents, as it serves the ‘big development’ plans. Her project begins with a city-wide study of political power, neighbourhood customs and water and energy resources, then moves across scales to the detail of the shared block-mailbox system and water collection device.

INTENSE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES SET THE STAGE FOR NEW URBANISMS In the first year MUD program studio, St. Louis sites often range from localized contaminated channelized river corridors dividing low growth neighbourhoods (but served by transit), to large ex-urban river floodplains experiencing intensive development pressures. Students grapple with these difficult water systems issues before rethinking new building and block typologies for that area. Student Grant Hromas staged a long term plan for water remediation at the

Political and physical site topographies mapping. Image Credit: Anu Samarajiva / Studio: “Lateral Power” Advanced graduate Architecture option studio


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River DesPeres flood-conveyance (and waste water) drainage channel running through the Shrewsbury neighbourhoods in south St. Louis city and part of the county. His organized inventory of the existing issues on the site—functional, ecological and recreational—provided a clear mandate for wide ranging scales—and types—of design intervention. The project threads landscape typologies with building typologies, ecological systems with social; leveraging sewer-district funding for water clean-up and retention/filtration with an existing Metro train station as future anchor for a different type of transit oriented development. The promise of shoring up a neighbourhood with future development sets a mandate for an environmental reclamation project first and foremost. At the western fringes of the growing St. Louis region, farmland in the County along the Missouri River floodplain has come under intense development pressure. The floodplain has become a highly sought

area for new building among municipalities competing with each other for added revenue from development growth. Maryland Heights, another St. Louis suburb (itself a city, though) on the Missouri River, has recently extended one of the regions’ major roads, opening new market possibilities for land along the river in its jurisdiction. Our student Taokai Ma examined Maryland Heights’ plans for the site that included millions of square feet of mixed use development and a major new river levy wall to protect from flooding. This wall would have effects of exacerbating the flooding problems already experienced downstream. Taokai’s project meets the municipalities’ desire for growth, but on terms that protect the fragile riparian corridor. Taokai’s model of urbanism explores a built environment that co-exists with the dynamic river and frequent water events. His “Let it Flood” project is based on a sectional understanding of the large site area, delineating programmatic zones-and block typologies- that can accommodate varying degrees of water inundation.

Amplifying service capacity in the alley design proposal. Image Credit: Anu Samarajiva / Studio: “Lateral Power” Advanced graduate Architecture option studio

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Day and night in the alley design proposal collages. Image Credit: Anu Samarajiva / Studio: “Lateral Power” Advanced graduate Architecture option studio


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My urban design studios at Washington University all start with broad systemic mappings to visualize and take stock of the myriad urban social, economic and ecological systems articulating the region, city and neighbourhoods. These drawings include transit networks, water and ecological systems, population movements, economic policies, demographic profiles, typologies and other features and networks. Students are encouraged to overlay multiple systems, to see relationships between them. The goal of this work is to understand how these influences (visible and invisible) articulate any given site, towards a deeper re/construction of the “context.” Students conduct lucid appraisals of the site as the basis for design thinking, to ensure that solutions are drawn from the careful layered understanding of what exists (rather than from a preconceived notion of what should be there instead.) I credit this non-biased attitude of knowing a site to our former colleague at Washington University, the urbanist and scholar Jacqueline Tatom,

who researched the metropolitan condition until her premature death in 2006. For Jacqueline, today’s urban and suburban landscapes, what some might call merely “de-urbanizing” and “sprawling” or “degraded,” are a reality of everyday influences, both economic and aesthetic, as well as legal and processual (legislative) that should be cast as productive starting points for new—yet unimagined—futures, not as irreconcilable forces producing unwanted urbanisms (that need to be changed into something more familiar, for example). Instead of forcing these places to look and feel like other ‘model’ urban environments, Jacqueline encouraged us to appraise these sites—and the processes producing them—as they are, so that design innovation emerges out of the logics of that place itself. If students take the time to carefully map and understand how a context is shaped, they will already have the tools they need to re-imagine different futures from that context.

Negotiating development pressures on a fragile floodplain. Image Credit: Taokai Ma / Studio: Elements of Urban Design first semester MUD (Kees Lokman, co-instructor).

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Environmental remediation as design foundation. Image Credit: Grant Hromas / Studio: Elements of Urban Design first semester MUD (Justin Scherma, Bonnie Roy, coinstructors)


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Water and plant systems stage and frame future buildings design proposal. Image Credit: Grant Hromas (Justin Scherma, Bonnie Roy, co-instructors)

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FEATURE ARTICLE REFLECTING BACK/PROJECTING FORWARD My own urban design training involved participation in a graduate thesis project on the Ancient Roman Empire’s rules for city-making. Our project was part of Harvard University Graduate School of Design Professor of Practice Rem Koolhaas’ multi-year student thesis program called ‘The Harvard Project on the City,’ a program meant to enable in-depth critical appraisal of emergent urbanisms around the world. Sites and topics in this series included: The Pearl River Delta, China, “a maelstrom of modernization and set to become a megalopolis of 36 million inhabitants by 2020.” (OMA, 2016); and Shopping, as one of the few remaining public activities that has “infiltrated, colonized, and even replaced, almost every aspect of urban life.” (OMA, 2016). Other studies included Lagos, Nigeria, one of the worlds’ global cities run by informal economies, and as a result, one of the least recognizable ‘cities’ on ‘traditional’ terms. Ancient Rome was the “control site,” considered the model

city—and model economic expansion plan—against which we could measure contemporary urban phenomena around the world. Today, urbanisms around the globe proliferate, as they continue to defy expectations of what ‘the city’ is and could be. Urban conditions around the world ‘implode’ or ‘explode’ as economies shift and industry claims—or abandons—new and existing territories, presenting new challenges to the designer.(Brenner, 2014) The profile of the designer, too, has changed into a more diverse actor and advocate. Since the founding of our urban design program at Washington University in St. Louis in 1960, the city around the campus has also changed, barely recognizable as the nation’s fourth largest city as it was 100 years ago—Recently, St. Louis was ranked as the nation’s fourth ‘most dangerous’ city. (Moffitt, 2014)‘Where and how design happens’ in St. Louis is radically different from where and how urbanism shapes places like Rome, Italy for example (or Lagos, Nigeria). Yet where and how the

A sectional urbanism proposal in a floodplain. Image Credit: Taokai Ma / Studio: Elements of Urban Design first semester MUD (Kees Lokman, co-instructor)


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urban designer investigates, frames and engages a site and its layered qualities and histories remains a teachable constant –an open approach and humble attitude of looking and listening, more than a set of assumptions and solutions. Teaching urban design is about teaching students to navigate urban operating systems – the processes of urbanization—in order to rewrite the code shaping space—anywhere around the globe. REFERENCES 1. Brenner, Neil J. 2014 Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin, Germany: Jovis. 2. Corner, James. 1999. “The Agency of Mapping.” In Mappings, ed. Cosgrove, Dennis. London: Reaktion Books. 3. El Samahy, Rami, Heyda, Patricia, Lee, Jennifer and Tura, Hunter. 2000.Roman Operating System_MMCambridge, MA, USA: Harvard Graduate School of Design Thesis. See also: El Samahy, Rami, Heyda, Patricia, Lee, Jennifer and Tura, Hunter. 2000.“How to Build a City.” In Mutations, eds. Boeri, Stefano, Koolhaas, Rem, Kwinter, Sanford, Obrist, Hans Ulrich and Tazi, Nadia. Bordeaux,

France: Arc en Reve Centre d’Architecture; Barcelona, Spain: Actar. 4. Gamble, David and Heyda, Patty. 2015. Rebuilding the American City, New York, USA: Routledge. 5. Krieger, Alex. 2009. “Where and How Does Urban Design Happen?” In Urban Design, ed. Alex Krieger and William Saunders. Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press. 6. Moffitt, Kelly. 2014. “St. Louis falls to fourth ‘most dangerous’ city in U.S.” St. Louis Business Journal, St. Louis Biztalk. November 13. http://www.bizjournals. com/stlouis/blog/2014/11/st-louis-falls-to-fourthmost-dangerous-city-in-u.html (accessed December, 2016) 7. OMA. 2016. “Project on the City I: Great Leap Forward.” October, 2016) 8. OMA. 2016. “Project on the City II: The Harvard Guide to Shopping.” (accessed October, 2016) 9. Tatom, Jacqueline with Kahn, Andrea, ed. 2009. “Programs for a Metropolitan Urbanism.” In Making the Middle Landscape, eds. Jacqueline Tatom and Jennifer Stauber. New York, NY USA: Routledge.

About the Author Patty Heyda studies processes shaping contemporary urbanization through writing, drawing and designfocused research. Her erasure urbanism work highlights (political, economic, social) structures producing uneven development sites across the St. Louis, Missouri region. This work has been published in the U.S. and abroad, including in Urban Infill (CUDC 2012), Conditions (2010) and MONU (2011), with a forthcoming chapter featured in Architecture is All Over (Choi and Trotter, eds., Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2017).Her most recent book Rebuilding the American City (Routledge, 2015) co-authored with David Gamble, presents a detailed cross-section of processes and strategies American cities use to implement redevelopment amid ongoing challenges. Patty’s professional experiences include several years dedicated to the Zlaty Andel project in Prague with the Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm Architectures Jean Nouvel in Paris, and competition design work with Atelier 8000 in the Czech Republic. In the United States, her professional work has focused on multi-scalar urban frame-work plans in Washington, D.C., Nashville, TN, and St. Louis, MO. Patty Heyda has a Master of Architecture II (Distinction) from Harvard University and a Bachelor and Master of Architecture from Tulane University. She is currently Associate Professor of architecture and urban design at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Earlier this year, in July 2016, a group of (rebel) individuals met in Berlin for a co-design workshop, in the context of the then impending Habitat III conference. The task at hand was to figure out a way to prove that another global urban agenda was not the panacea for our development related issues. After two days of intense discussions and debates, the group disbanded and returned to their respective cities. A plan was in place. SDG 111 - the basis of Habitat III’s ‘New Urban Agenda’ would be tested on the ground; specifically the transport indicator(s) and in three cities- Chennai, Mexico City and Santo Domingo. Between July and October 2016, each city team devised a contextual methodology and executed it to create a narrative on the urban mobility sector with regard to the SDG indicators. The group reconvened in October to share, debate and come to terms with the findings. Presented here is the Chennai story... how it unfolded and where it is headed.

MOVING AROUND IN CHENNAI Facing page- Rush hour in Chennai’s public transport. Image Credit: Mahesh Radhakrishnan

With a population of 8 million and growing, the city of Chennai in southern India has immense potential to make a mark on the global scene with an array of opportunities and improved quality of life quotient for its citizens. Established in 1639 by the British, what started out as a fishing hamlet is today a booming metropolis in the Indian subcontinent. As is the case with most cities, Chennai’s growth too has led to increased transportation needs for its citizens. The horizontal growth of the city’s urban form and dispersal of job centres to the fringe areas of the city in the post-liberalization era has also led to increased trip lengths; a 2008 study2 calculated the average trip length for the city’s commuters as 11.25km. Traversing such a distance often requires a combination of different modes of transport to reach the final destination. Unfortunately though, the quality of transport infrastructure and services has only declined over the years. Another issue that has weighed down the mobility sector is that increased economic prosperity over the years has led to rising private vehicle count. This in turn has led to increased congestion across the city leaving the city’s commuters to deal with much ambiguity in journey times. On an average, during rush hour, traversing the city’s average trip length could take 45-60 minutes. Despite the fact that the city has multiple modes of transport available- Suburban rail, MRTS, Metro, Bus, Minibus and Share Auto- none of them provide a comprehensive coverage of the city’s extents. Worse still, all of them remain physically non-integrated thereby not enabling seamless transfers and rendering all modes as only secondary choices for preferred mode of travel. All these factors have largely been responsible for the stigma associated with public transport as the poor man’s mode of travel and further contributed to the increasing private vehicle ownership count in the city. Indeed the ladder of success in Chennai still continues to involve moving from public to private modes of transport for the city’s residents. 1 Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 2 Source: Comprehensive Transport Study for Chennai Metropolitan area; 2008; Prepared by Wilbur Smith Associates

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For Chennai to achieve its true potential, it will have to pay closer attention to the quality of its infrastructure and services for all its citizens, both rich and poor, as well as the means to deliver these to its citizens.

In the case of non-motorized transport, despite Chennai being the only city to have adopted a non-motorized transport policy in the country, the performance of this policy when it comes to implementation has been rather questionable. Of the nearly 3000km of roads in the city3, only a small percentage would clear a pedestrian environment audit, leave alone the basic requirements of a clear, unobstructed and continuous walking route. With no attempt to provide safe and dedicated infrastructure for a cycle network, cyclists only have it worse. Essentially, to summarize the mobility scene of Chennai, it would suffice to say that a vicious cycle of transport decline has been set in motion. Interestingly though, it is not all dark and gloomy. What Chennai has in its favour is that the bits and pieces of the jigsaw are very much on the table. There are things that work well such as the manner in which the suburban rail corridor connects to the fringe areas on the western side and is abutted by transit-compatible land uses, the informal share auto networks that 3 Source: abstract.htm

surface where public transport fails to reach and the newly constructed metro rail corridor that is quickly becoming a favourite among the residents for the global image that it promises for Chennai’s mobility sector. The missing piece however is the lack of a single unified and empowered transport authority that can bring together all the modes of transport and provide a truly ‘smart’ mobility solution for the city. Constituting the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA) – a single nodal agency to direct planning, operations, and monitoring of various transport modes in the metropolitan area of Chennai- in November 2010 was indeed a step forward in this direction but lack of enthusiasm, political will and financing mechanisms have resulted only in piecemeal efforts to improve the conditions and hindered any systemic change in the way the mobility sector operates. For Chennai to achieve its true potential, it will have to pay closer attention to the quality of its infrastructure and services for all its citizens, both rich and poor, as well as the means to deliver these to its citizens.

WHAT IS THE NEW URBAN AGENDA? The New Urban Agenda is the outcome document agreed upon at the Habitat III conference in October 2016. In turn, it will guide the efforts around urbanization of a wide range of actors — nation states, city and regional leaders, international development funders, United Nations programmes and civil society — for the next 20 years. Inevitably, this agenda will also lay the groundwork for policies and approaches that will extend, and impact, far into the future.


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Public transport users have much to lose in Chennai. Image Credit: Mahesh Radhakrishnan

A METHODOLOGY FOR CHENNAI Following the co-design workshop, it seemed that given the scale and gravity of the issues related to mobility in Chennai, it would be unjustifiable if the fieldwork to be undertaken did not lead to any onground action. One way for this to happen is to set up a platform to bring together the commuters of the city and serve as a forum for exchange. With the underlying premise that in order to make the shift towards a sustainable future for Chennai, making the shift to public transport is imperative, ‘Friends of Public Transport (FOPT)’ was born- a communitydriven platform to make public transport desirable for the residents of Chennai.

A web page, Facebook page and Twitter account were subsequently set up for FOPT and under this platform the following core activities were undertaken as part of the study: a) Survey of Transit-User Experience b) Glossary of terms c) Crowd-sourced map for informal transport networks d) Local workshop These 4 core activities became the backbone of the methodology to arrive at an understanding of urban mobility in Chennai and the manner in which these were carried out is explained to further detail here:

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Call for participation poster for the Transit-User experience survey. Image Courtesy: FOPT

a) Survey of Transit-User Experience A survey questionnaire was finalized keeping in mind the discussions from the co-design workshop and also reflecting the socio-cultural aspects that influence people’s behaviour with regard to commuting in Chennai. In essence, the surveys were conducted to assess the daily transit experience of passengers across all modes of transport i.e. bus, train, metro, auto, share auto, cycle, two-wheeler, car etc. Anyone who commutes regularly or on a daily basis from home to any destination in Chennai for work, study, recreation, or any other purpose was eligible to participate in the survey. There were no other filters involved in collecting the pool of survey participants. An open call was put out that allowed interested people to sign up to be surveyed at a mutually agreed time and location. Outreach for the survey was done via various online platforms, random soliciting of people on the streets and also through personal networks to reach the goal of a 100 surveys. Additionally, a call was also put out to invite volunteers to help conduct the surveys through the FOPT platforms. Those interested were invited to attend a training session on how to conduct the surveys and were required to conduct a minimum of 6 surveys each. As a result eight people were engaged for a period of one month to survey 100 participants.


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All surveys were conducted face-to-face as conversations with a set of questions that were used as prompts to generate a narrative. All narratives were transcribed on a data sheet and also audio-recorded with permission. In parallel, a master sheet was also set up to collate and analyse the survey findings. The audio recordings and notes were used to generate a master data set and were later analysed to compare the varied user experience in Chennai. After recording 40 surveys, a set of recurring issues were identified and used as parameters to understand and categorize the broad spectrum of user experiences. The 60 surveys that followed this were compiled based on these parameters. b) Glossary of terms Working group discussions highlighted a significant discrepancy in the manner in which specific terms are understood in the context of urban mobility. In order to understand how the residents of Chennai perceived some of the key words used in the SDGs, a small social experiment was conducted through the FOPT platform. A word was released everyday in the form of a poster and anyone could respond with how they understood the word in either English or Tamil. The subtext for this experiment was also to understand whether

FOPT Team conducting the Transit-User experience survey. Image Courtesy: Mahesh Radhakrishnan

individual experiences shape one’s understanding or interpretation of these words/ phrases. c) Crowd-sourced map for informal transport networks While trying to create an inventory of all the modes of transport available and their reach across the city, it became evident that there was no proper source available for the informal transportation networks. A map showing an incomplete network of ‘share autos’ was floated on the FOPT platform and the online community was asked to vet and add to the routes marked on the map.

for the discussion on urban mobility by explaining the Habitat 3 process. This was quickly followed up with an update on India’s report/ response to Habitat 3 which in turn led to a discussion on the relevance of SDGs and Habitat 3 to the daily lives of Chennai’s residents. The discussion was guided by 3 key questions•

How can data that is meant to measure and monitor global goals and targets go beyond the creation of broad statistics to being a significant tool/resource for local communities?

What kind of data is needed to induce applied change and force accountability on different levels?

Can we identify different approaches to data collection, evaluation and directionality?

d) Local workshop On 24th September, a local workshop was organized with a participant pool comprised of architects, urban designers, planners, transportation planners, civil engineers, journalists, public rights activists, disability rights activists and academicians. The workshop commenced by setting the context

This set the tone for the presentation on the Chennai Transit User Experience Survey with details about the survey form, methodology and key findings.

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The semantics of mobility-related terms as understood in the local language Tamil . Image Credit: FOPT Team

The local workshop that was attended by architects, urban designers, planners, transportation planners, civil engineers, journalists, public rights activists, disability rights activists and academicians . Image Credit: Aathish. G


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The final session of the workshop intended •

To propose a complementary approach to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) follow-up and monitoring process to push for accountability and local action and

To propose a more realistic urban agenda ‘on the ground’ that can lead to local action

In order to do so, participants were introduced to the concept of “backcasting” as central to a strategic approach to planning for sustainable development and innovation. A successful outcome was imagined for the future and then the question “what do we need to do today to reach that vision of success?” was raised.

RESULTS AND KEY FINDINGS FROM CORE ACTIVITIES From August to October, over a period of two months, the four core activities of the research methodology yielded findings that were revelations or reiterations to the existing understanding on urban mobility in Chennai. Detailed here are the key findings under each core activity:

Nearly all narratives included concern for one’s safety both from the perspective of health and road safety as well as theft and sexual harassment especially among the women respondents. 65% respondents voted ‘Not safe’ when asked about this. But the key thing to note on the safety quotient is that 36% respondents perceived their current mode of transport as being unsafe without having actually been involved in an unpleasant situation. This may be due to word-ofmouth accounts of people victimized while using that mode of transport or from directly having witnessed such incidents or from the general stigma that plagues public transport. The other interesting finding was that the perception of safety towards a particular mode of transport was also due to external factors. For example, respondents felt at risk while waiting for a bus because of poor transit stop infrastructure provisions, of being involved in an accident because of other rash drivers on the roads, of being attacked by stray dogs while walking or having stray animals come in the way while driving. 9% respondents also felt threatened by verbal assaults from drivers and ticket conductors or co-passengers while using public and para-transit modes.

The first key finding from the transit user experience survey was the willingness of people to participate in a survey of this nature... to be willing to spare 30-45 minutes of their time to talk about their daily transit experience. Of the 100 respondents 60 were women and 40 were men and 50% of both men and women surveyed belonged to the 15-30 age group.

On comfort and convenience, overcrowding ranked the highest (46% respondents) among causes for discomfort while commuting and dirt & pollution of all kinds being assaults on the senses- visual, aural and olfactory- came second with 25% respondents. Overcrowding particularly on buses is an obvious indicator that there is much demand for affordable public transport options with higher frequency of services.

76% of the entire pool commuted for work while 21% commuted for education. The survey pool also included people from all economic strata from domestic workers to blue collar employees to managers. 72% of all respondents used multiple modes of transport to get from their home to destination and back. As high as 68% respondents had a walking component in their trips thus highlighting the need for providing high quality pedestrian infrastructure. This was further reiterated with 92% respondents citing inadequate infrastructure and systems and 73% citing discomfort while using various modes of transport as the primary cause for an unpleasant transit experience.

On affordability, interestingly, despite public transport costs in Chennai being one of the lowest among the metro cities in the country, 20% felt that it was not affordable. A closer look at the narratives revealed that while there were low-cost options available, the poor frequency of such services made it impossible for many to avail them in the interest to getting to work on time. This obviously led to a spike in the percentage of monthly income allocated for transport. However, nearly 20% also said that they use their current mode of transport only because they find it to be the most affordable option indicating that there was not much choice within each economic bracket.

From the Transit User Experience survey

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Modal split for the 100 survey participants. Image Credit: FOPT Team

Responses to the question ‘Why do you prefer the modes of transport you currently use?’. Image Credit: FOPT Team


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To conclude, the surveys highlighted a serious problem with regard to the provision of quality infrastructure and systems. Inadequate and outdated systems too caused routine delays such as having to wait to buy a ticket at a train station or at a toll booth while driving. Prolonged public infrastructure construction such as metro rail or flyovers also resulted in traffic rerouting and pollution from construction debris causing further inconvenience to commuters. Narratives from the physically challenged also highlighted this as a chronic issue. From being forced to have a private chauffeur-driven car to needing assistance to board a bus with a wheelchair, the lack of independence when it came to moving around the city was disheartening. It was also evident from most of the narratives that in a trip that included multiple mode transfers, the discomfort or difficulty while using one mode was sufficient to wear out the commuter and causes him/ her to perceive their entire trip as being a hurdle in the daily experience. It therefore appears that in most cases, fixing one small issue related to one mode of transport could potentially make the transit experience a lot more pleasant for commuters. It also appears that in most cases this one mode of transport that could be a game changer is simply fixing the walking infrastructure.

levels and availability of time among other things. The bus rider puts up with overcrowding for the sake of affordability or convenience; the car driver puts up with congestion for the sake of comfort and convenience; the share auto rider puts up with lack of safety and comfort for the lack of choice and so on. In other words, the citizens of Chennai are still waiting for a single mode of transport to offer a completely satisfactory transit experience.

The other missing element in the entire mobility equation is children below the age of 15- their mobility needs and challenges. This was also a key drawback of the survey sample. But despite that, this may also be because most children in Chennai are not allowed to commute to school on their own. The general practices include having a school van/ bus pick up the kids from a spot within a 100 metre radius of their homes or that parents tend to combine their own daily commute trips to include dropping off and picking up kids from school. It is usually children in public schools or minority-run schools who tend to commute by walk, cycle or bus but this is definitely not substantiated by this survey sample.

From the crowd-sourced map for informal transport networks

Overall, a key observation in all 100 survey narratives was the element of compromise in decisions related to mobility in Chennai. Compromises are made for affordability, safety, convenience and lack of choice depending on one’s own financial capability, tolerance

From the glossary of terms As anticipated while conducting this experiment to gather interpretations of specific terms used in the SDG targets and indicators, individual experiences were found to shape ones understanding of these words/ phrases. Many words were used interchangeably such as accessible and affordable; commute, transport and mobility and pain and stress. Most respondents also exhibited a need to be inclusive when defining the terms. For example, the words affordable, accessible, convenient, safe and public were all defined or interpreted and compulsorily suffixed with ‘for all’. The only exception being that many female respondents reflected on the word ‘safe’ with a gender bias.

The crowd-sourcing exercise to map the informal transport networks served as an indicator for: a) The willingness of commuters to participate in such an exercise to share their knowledge on such networks for the benefit of others. Thereby, reiterating the need for a platform such a FOPT. b) The extent and importance of these invisible networks that form the backbone of mobility for many neighbourhoods particularly in the fringe areas. c) The pace of development in Chennai and the inability of the transportation frameworks to service these new areas being added to the urban agglomeration. d) The potential for mobility to accommodate both private and public players and the need to establish clear legal frameworks to allow both to flourish in the interest of the citizens of a growing city.

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Transit-User experience survey results for ‘Why do you avoid public transport?’ . Image Credit: FOPT team

Transit-User experience survey results on safety while commuting . Image Credit: FOPT team


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Transit-User experience survey results on comfort and convenience involved in daily commutes . Image Credit: FOPT team

Transit-User experience survey results on the state of mobility infrastructure . Image Credit: FOPT team

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From the local workshop The first round of discussions during the local workshop revolved around how the urban mobility sector in Chennai measured up to the SDG targets and indicators. Participants listed out what they considered as contextual indicators for measuring mobility in Chennai1. Dependability- Mobility options need to be reliable in their services. 2. Level of comfort from weather conditionsProtection against harsh sun and rain. 3. Pain- Covering both economic pain as well as physical pain. Also, that lack of pain is not an indicator for a comfortable commute. 4. Equitable distribution of road space- Not prioritizing any one mode of transport in both design and budgeting. 5. Availability of transport mode options- Ability to choose between several modes of transport to go from A to B. Also public modes must be the default and private modes must only be treated as extra. 6. Level of innovation- Mobility solutions must be measured against their innovation. 7. Last mile connectivity- Mobility must be viewed and evaluated as a door to door solution. 8. Modal share- The percentage of people using private modes of transport needs to be lowest. 9. Trip rates and trip lengths- The number of per capita trips and trip lengths must be reduced. 10. Generalized cost of transportation- This needs to be reduced. 11. Accounting for the disabled and other vulnerable groups- Standards for safety, affordability, comfort and convenience must take into account the needs of all. 12. Impact assessment- Mobility projects must be assessed for their environmental and social impacts as most of the time there are costs incurred by people who are not necessarily the users of these projects such as pavement dwellers, street vendors, flora and fauna and other such marginalized groups. 13. Maintenance- Mobility solutions need to last for a


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significant amount of time with minimum wear and tear from use. 14. Long term sustainability- Mobility solutions need to be conceptualized, designed and built to last. It was also pointed out that while mobility-related standards are a relatively new concept in Chennai, in the case of global indicators, lowering the benchmarks for Chennai would not be acceptable. Also, that while it is easy to conceive of policy, its effectiveness as a tool needs to be questioned when it comes to implementation. But another important point that surfaced was the need for incremental indicators to match increasing ambition as time goes by. This approach needs to be supported by continuous monitoring, feedback loops, frequent audits and review processes by leveraging technology to do so say once every 2 years. The other significant point that was discussed was the urgent need for a shift in approach wherein mobility solutions are not viewed anymore as infrastructure products but as services that need to keep up with the pace of development. Again here, the need for innovation and the power of technology in thinking about mobility was stressed. The workshop concluded with a final session where participants prepared a mobility wish list for year 2030 and followed it up with a solution kit for how to get there.

WAY FORWARD In continuation of the efforts to understand and decode the nature of urban mobility in Chennai and also to realistically move towards the SDG targets, FOPT will remain active and make the current public transportation sector in Chennai more understandable for the city’s commuters and encourage those who are trying to make the shift. FOPT’s approach will draw on the principles of openness and participation, leverages open access technology and provides citizens with the information and tools they need to ensure a safe, comfortable, dignified and sustainable urban mobility experience.

How to get there?

2030 WISH LIST ‘I would like distance to be equal to the time travelled i.e. 10km in 10 minutes.’ ‘I want more community driven design.’ ‘I want more accountability through increased participation.’ ‘I want reduced commute distances.’ ‘I want more reliable modes of transport.’ ‘I want improved accessibility as a result of compliance with standards.’ ‘I want information systems to be able to handle disaster with a focus on the physically challenged.’ ‘I want access to information and more open data.’ ‘I want seamless transfer between modes.’ ‘I want parking near public transport.’ ‘I want better traffic management systems.’ ‘I want no traffic signals.’ ‘I want behavioral change from commuters and agencies alike.’ ‘I want my commute to be joyful.’ ‘I want an emphasis on road safety for all.’ ‘I want a shift from product based to service based approach’ ‘I want free last mile connectivity.’

• Traffic management systems for reducing commute distances • Increase supply of high quality public transport in tandem with marketing strategies to promote public transport • Private participation versus privatization- for example, contracting services for public transport • Improve pre-qualification for mobility projects with a focus on other dimensions • Monitoring of mobility patterns tied to tax benefits/rewards commensurate to number of kilometres travelled • Private vehicle ownership to subsidize public transport • Use technology to match commuter needs to enable ride shares • Free and reliable last mile connectivity • Create a City-level mobility agency that is more accountable, more transparent and more empowered and that will ensure systems integration for all modes of transport • City needs to have a vision plan for mobility that accounts for SDG 11 and more. • Strengthen community participation through various public forums and improve user feedback loops • Frequent and stringent compliance, monitoring and review processes.

2030 mobility wishlist for Chennai and how to get there as created during the local workshop . Image Credit: FOPT team

FOPT will improve the way commuters navigate the city’s formal and informal public transportation networks by providing them with tools that can help to transcend the gaps in physical infrastructure. To this effect, FOPT will focus its initial efforts to complete mapping all formal and informal transportation in Chennai digitally, and share all data openly because information is meaningful only if citizens can make use of it to improve the quality of their lives and of those around them. Some of the activities that will be undertaken over the coming months are: a) Integrated Transportation Map of Chennai There is a continuing lack of useful and updated maps showing how to get around in Chennai and FOPT aims to fix that with the ‘Integrated Transportation Map of Chennai’. This map that FOPT is currently in

the process of creating is an easy-to-read digital map of the existing formal and informal transportation networks in Chennai to increase access to information for the city’s commuters. The map shows•

All routes for all the available modes of formal and informal transportation.

All transit stops where passengers can change modes of transportation, from MRTS to share auto, for example.

Fare pricing for all modes. By making this information transparent, it is easy for more people to realize that with the right combination of public transportation modes, it is indeed possible to travel quickly and economically in Chennai. More people can hence be enticed to make the shift to public transport because time and affordability are key determinants for why people choose private modes over public modes of transport.

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Key landmarks/ destinations that can be conveniently accessed through different modes of transportation directly or through a combination of modes. Again, this will encourage more people to make the shift to public transport because lack of information is one of the main impediments, especially for new migrants, to opt for a sustainable choice of moving around.

Major tourist destinations for visitors to easily navigate the city more sustainably and also experience the city through its public transportation networks, many of which offer a very unique visual experience. Providing fare information along with route information could be a boon especially for the traveller on a shoestring budget.

While this map will be created in digital format, with funding it can also be translated to Tamil and printed and distributed freely for the benefit of millions who don’t have access to technology. b) Roping in the Community As useful as it may be, creating a map like this is a mammoth task given the chronic lack of information. FOPT’s solution to this is to rope in the community i.e. people who are already regular users of public transport in the city to help us create this map. Workin-progress maps have already been floated out on our blog and Facebook page for both formal and informal transport networks and people have already started vetting/ adding to it. FOPT also plans to induct people to be ‘Friends of Public Transport’ in the real world. Regular users of public transport who are confident of guiding others through the maze of the city will be given wearable badges that say ‘Friends of Public Transport’. This means that, if you saw anyone on the street with this badge, you could walk up to them and ask for help on how to get from A to B. This way we will cross the technological divide and reach more people on the ground too. c) Pedestrian Environment Audits Safe, comfortable and walkable streets are an integral part of making the transit experience more pleasant as


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was reiterated during the user-experience surveys too. The streets of Chennai have increasingly becoming the domain of motorized vehicles, with very little consideration given to the needs of pedestrians. Lack of clear, unobstructed footpaths and lack of maintenance are all factors that discourage people from walking regularly. To address this pivotal issue, FOPT will provide the citizens with a ‘Pedestrian Environment Audit kit’ to conduct focused, quantitative audits of the pedestrian environment. The results can provide clear a clear course of action on how to improve pedestrian infrastructure in the city. d) Embracing the digital platform A logical next step for us once we have the completed Integrated Transportation Map of Chennai is to host all of this data on a mobile application. The mobile platform will, apart from providing information, enable users to report any changes or errors in the map so that it always remains a current map. This is particularly useful because construction activity in the city tends to result in re-routing of modes and in the process confusing commuters. Keeping the map updated on a regular basis is a sure way to cross this barrier. Scalability and future potential In terms of future activities, FOPT has the potential to not just be replicated in other cities but also to expand as a platform for citizen-based efforts to monitor and report on government actions in the field of urban mobility. This can take many forms from tracking the performance of mobility services to monitoring budget expenditures in this sector. One way to look at this is that with the information out there in public domain, citizens can demand better public transportation systems. Another way would be that by using technology to increase the ease and quality of public participation, government agencies can, in turn, use this platform to better understand and respond to the needs of the citizens by improving service delivery exactly where it is needed most. As far as FOPT is concerned, either way is a win-win for sustainable mobility.

POST SCRIPT: KEY TAKEAWAYS In retrospect, the field research conducted in the three cities - Chennai, Mexico and Santo Domingo- in the mobility sector straightaway revealed the absence of safe, inclusive and accessible solutions provided through a top-down approach. Specifically, in the case of Chennai, despite ‘compromise’ being the overarching theme to describe the mobility sector, life still moved on. People found the solution that inconvenienced them the least and went about their daily lives. This ‘compromise’ is also facilitated through informal, makeshift and user-driven solutions which emerge to fill the gaps and are a reflection of user-driven data but executed through a trial and error method. It is only ironic how cities can be so user-generated despite user-generated data being overlooked for any real solutions to better the lives of urban dwellers. This is also a consequence of the fact that despite the frenzy over big data in this digital age that we live in, the applications of big data are still only an afterthought. This is probably because many resources are spent to collate big data without realizing that the challenge of data is not about the technology that is needed to collect it. It is about how the collected data can be used. In weighing quantity over quality, the focus on outcomes is lost. There are two takeaways here- first is the urgent necessity to acknowledge the value of user-generated cities and the merit of suitably absorbing these solutions into the formal service delivery chain of cities. Second is the need to develop a new language to use available data for providing better services across all sectors (not just mobility) in our cities.

A third takeaway that emerged from the workshops is the absence of any channels to allow the collective bottom-up intelligence to reach the decision making authorities- the plethora of ideas and observations that emerged through the workshops sadly remain within limited circles. For our cities to aspire for an idealized future, the bottom-up intelligence of its users/ citizens needs to be channelled in as well. A fourth and final takeaway is that the pace of urbanization is far ahead of the capacity of our topdown institutions to plan for it. It is therefore important to allow for experimentation and inclusion of various other stakeholders in the effort to provide an improved urban living experience. Perhaps it is time for the state to uphold the vision of the ‘new urban agenda’ and provide a roadmap that allows the citizens to realize it for themselves. Some imagination is definitely the need of the hour. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Friends of Public Transport Team: Vidhya Mohankumar, Mahesh Radhakrishnan, Abinaya Rajavelu, Ksheeraja Padmanabhan, Roshni Krishnan, Sridharan, Eunice Premanjali, Simran, Prashant. P Follow our work at This study was initiated by the Institute of Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS), Potsdam, Germany as part of the ‘Critical Dialogues Series’. IASS aims to identify and promote development pathways for a global transformation towards a sustainable society.

About the Author Vidhya Mohankumar is an architect & urban designer with 13 years of work experience in India, Ireland and the United States. Her work is focused on creating cities that are people-oriented and centred around transit as part of a sustainable development agenda that she is passionate about. She is the founder of Urban Design Collective (UDC) and Board Member at Center for the Living City, established in collaboration with Jane Jacobs with the purpose of enhancing the understanding of the complexity of contemporary urban life and through it, promote increased civic engagement. Additionally, Vidhya has been teaching urban design as a guest faculty at various universities in India for the past 8 years. She holds a master’s degree in urban design with distinction from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirapalli, India.

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by Jennifer van den Bussche, Angel Khumalo, Andries Mkhatshwa , Hayley Gewer and Alexandra Cunningham


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Bringing together diverse voices, each with a unique stake in an urban park is no straightforward task. A recent project in the inner city of Johannesburg took on the challenge, and after both successes and challenges, is eager to share lessons learned to continue to improve City-community engagement processes. Johannesburg is a city of differences: its residents are diverse in wealth, cultures, races, nationalities, political views, social norms, and, as in most places, divided by opinions and viewpoints. The remnants of apartheid-era planning leave many residents contained in places where they dwell amongst people similar to themselves. Often, City officials do not reside in the same spaces as their constituents, and when public spaces must be upgraded, do not always intuitively know what may be the most beneficial upgrades for a particular community. For this reason, participatory processes are mandated by the National government to help ensure that local communities’ voices are heard. These processes vary in approach, but often consist solely of public meetings attended by few. A park situated among the inner-city neighbourhoods of Hillbrow, Doornfontein and the CBD is the site of a pilot project initiated by Johannesburg City officials with the goal of improving participatory processes linked to the upgrade of the park site. Whilst much of Johannesburg still remains loosely and unofficially segregated, the inner city is an exception. Local residents are a mix of South African and other African nationals, as well as varied races and ethnicities. The population is largely black and low-income, but also includes middle-income residents, property owners, renters, business owners, street traders and homeless. Millions of people in transit - using buses, trains and taxis - pass through the inner city daily from all parts of Johannesburg and surrounding metro areas, including long-distance national and international travellers. Prominent businesses and government offices are scattered throughout. The diversity of the inner city brings with it both energy and tension, creating a space from which it is challenging to hear a unified “community� voice. Crime and drugs are an everyday reality in the inner city area where the park is located. It is a neighbourhood of high unemployment and xenophobia, lacking in efficient medical care, pedestrian safety, responsive police services, and urban management. Due to the diversity of people in this space, residents are often mistrustful of others, particularly of the local government, who appear to make promises to deliver at every election, but continue to default on these promises and fail in delivering basic services.

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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Like many other global cities, Johannesburg’s Municipality has struggled to maintain public spaces, particularly those areas that are the poorest, including the inner city. Inoperative lights, broken pavements and damaged infrastructure are interspersed amongst functioning streets and facilities. Some public and private areas are controlled by unlawful factions, who at times collude with the local police. For this particular park upgrade, a small team of City officials from various departments channelled their passion for public space to pilot a creative, bottomup, participatory stakeholder engagement process. The ultimate aim is to see if the approach trialled could become part of the norm for City Departments. Throughout the 15-month process, some local residents and officials have duplicated the idea, and residents and local government representatives are beginning to claim full ownership of the pilot project.

CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN SOUTH AFRICA Citizen participation in South Africa is a constitutional right — a National government system has been set up, allocating local budgets through participatory processes, and local ward councillors are established at the lowest rung of municipality, and tasked with being the link between people and the State. This organisational setup appears on the surface to be enabling and providing for participation, however in reality, these systems often fail to engage the people of Johannesburg, both in terms of numbers and in terms of variety and diversity of interests and representation. In addition, City Officials are bogged down with processes and requirements that do not allow them to work efficiently. Multiple departments exist within larger departments and many work in silos without knowledge or understanding of what the other is doing. This scenario makes it extremely difficult for officials who do want to creatively engage with people on the ground.

Once we start asking ‘What do you think this park should be?’ we are saying that the answers will be listened to by City Parks.


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A manifestation of these challenges is that residents feel excluded from processes, that their voices are not heard and that government does not deliver. As a result, trust in officials is almost non-existent. Given this status-quo, when organisations try to engage in these spaces, the first things that need to be built are relationships of mutual trust. To meet this challenge, Sticky Situations, an organisation that utilises participatory design methods to facilitate, co-ordinate and implement communitydriven projects, was appointed by City officials to lead a creative stakeholder engagement process. As the process has moved forward, Sticky has been particularly effective in terms of identifying the needs of local residents in relation to the park. Another success has been the identification and evolution of an active team of local residents to manage the park’s various spaces, with the collateral effect of slowly re-building trusting relationships between local people and local government.

The Sticky Situations methodology usually begins engagement processes with ‘intense hanging out.’ In this particular project, this meant spending time in the park at all hours of the day, week and month. Hanging out meant meeting people, introductions, explaining the reason for Sticky’s presence in the park, becoming familiar to and with residents, businesses, traders, homeless, and passers-by. The Sticky team also spent time going door-to-door, meeting people who were too busy, tired or unable to leave their house for anything but essential tasks, broadening and preparing a base for an active participation from all in the most open way possible. All residents in the immediate park area were informed of what was going to happen: that the park was being redeveloped and that the City really wanted stakeholders to be part of the process. Contact information was shared, providing residents and stakeholders a direct link to the Sticky Situations team. Transparency is both necessary and pivotal in projects such as these.

Slowly but surely more and more people start joining in with low-key simple activities.

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Activities for children initially brought parents outdoors.

What started with bringing a mat and children’s books became mini libraries for everyone to use.


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Cultural performances in the park.

People sleeping in the park started to join in the activities by painting one of the walls.

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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Before this project, the park was considered by residents and officials alike to be a problem area, with people sleeping in the park, drug-use, lack of cleanliness and maintenance, and lack of personal safety. Many believed that the crime in the area originated in the park, saying that the homeless and recyclers were drug users and were robbing people walking past. Next door to the park is a primary school, where teachers complained about the smell of urine as a result of men exposing and relieving themselves in front of school learners during playtime. The park was rarely used by anyone other than those who slept there, and was primarily used by men. Even then, only certain areas of the park were used. The next step was to try to actively bring this diverse range of local people together. In collaboration with residents, the Sticky team established a weekly space where neighbours could engage with each other and with City officials in a fun, relaxing manner. The

intention was that more people who were interested in the process could join over time. The Sticky team was present in the park every Saturday afternoon between 1-3pm, organising a range of activities to cater to all age groups: a jumping castle, boxing lessons by a local NGO, crafts for small children, football, netball and interactive and challenging games for all ages. These regular events rapidly challenged perceptions and uses of the long-neglected park, developing a new sense of ownership and stewardship from some residents. For instance, the existing short-term park cleaning team was headed by a long-term activist named Yvonne, one of the first residents to come on board, and an active participant in local governance programmes. Before long, the Saturday programme became an established institution, parents of kids were the first to become regulars and City officials too began to stop by for discussions. The homeless park

The local boxing gym held a city wide tournament in the park drawing crowds from all over the City.


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Traditional African games were loaned from ‘The Coloured Cube’.

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Eventually residents and local organisations became part of the team, helping gather information and feedback on designs.

GIZ held safety mapping exercises with residents.


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residents would move their goods away from the play space, drug users would retreat to a corner, volunteers would clean the park through Yvonne’s cooperative, youth would stop their gambling and drinking for two hours to join in the boxing and aerobics lesson and performers would stop by to put on a show. The park became a safe and friendly family space. At this point, residents began using the space to express the intense need for safety of space and roads to the City officials and local policing forums. Pedestrians and school learners were getting hit and killed regularly on the main street bordering the park;

youth were gambling, drinking and smoking pot and were showing signs of being a short distance away from hard drug use and living on the street; parents were in fear for their children’s safety; and there were limited places for children and youth to simply be children and youth. Unfortunately, the City officials and local structures that attended the park events and expressed commitment did not consistently produce any solid actions or responses in the eyes of residents. As a consequence, the trust that was slowly growing between the state and locals was suddenly tenuous

Partnerships were forged with the Emergency Services Department who were active in the area along with local NGOs who worked with homeless people to create these hand bags from recycled cement bags.

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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT again. A small handful of adults occasionally tried to lead the Saturday events, which eventually started to peter out. After a while, the adults started dropping off their children in the park, which had become a temporary safe space, redefining the role of the Sticky team into a sort of glorified baby-sitter rather than a vector for building and reinforcing ownership and public engagement. Although shifting the Park into a safe haven for children was certainly a needed function, and the trust of parents in handing their children to the Sticky team signified a great deal of trust towards the team, the much needed aspect of building a strong active relationship between local people and government was vanishing, deeply compromising the project and process sustainability.

SHIFTING GEARS Sticky Situations took a breather from the activities and focused on trying to bring together people who were already active in the area - people who trusted each other and understood the challenges and that were now calling the park ‘our Park’- naming the group the ‘Park Stakeholders Forum’. The initial local government championing team made a serious effort to support the forum: attending meetings, sharing information, discussing challenges and trying to get other officials to attend and support the resident activities. In one of these meetings, a local metro policeman attended, and was unable to provide any real answers to residents’ questions, triggering people’s frustration, which is understandable after years of unresponsive local government. A small group of residents showed that this partial withdraw of the Sticky engagement team brought its fruits as they organized and ran a wonderful day-long cultural event in the park, with very little help from Sticky or local government. This marked a real turning point and evidence of success of the engagement process. Likely the biggest outcome of this process was the triggering effect it had on other similar situations: another local official declared that they would be running similar programs and door-to-door engagement methods for a nearby park with far


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more difficult challenges in relation to drug use and homelessness. Women from another nearby park with similar challenges heard about the initiative and started attending events and forum meetings. The Sticky Situations team started to plan how to tackle this new park as well – first establishing partnership with the growing team of local activists. Most importantly, the championing of a governmentbased team of City officials is swinging other officials towards this method of engagement. Sticky Situations has long formally exhausted its role, but the project is not yet finished. The further it goes, the more opportunities arise, and the more people come forward wanting to find room within the public space, seeking to be part of the process and to be heard.

LEARNING FROM THE PROCESS In the specific case of this park, the next necessary step to consolidate the process outcomes would be to find a way to pilot a program where residents are formally appointed by the City to manage the park. This may prove difficult given that current government and procurement processes are designed to not give preferential treatment to anyone – even local residents. However, if successful, a pilot program in these terms – establishing preferential channels and experimental modalities to formally engage residents in urban management - could pave the way for an innovative, locally-based management system of public spaces. From the perspective of this pilot project, this approach is a much-needed experiment for a City that struggles with capacity limits on the institutional side, and lack of ownership and civic engagement from the citizens’ side. This project shows that beyond any kind of technical considerations on urban participation and civic engagement processes, what is really needed to trigger a genuine and lasting response – a sense of ownership and collective civic action, is a delicate balance between planned activities and flexibility as well as a sensitivity to the local context and capacity to listen and structured support. The right, contextually tailored engagement platform can procure this. Simply backing up the existing community with basic logistics or the provision of very simple supplements to their own programming has also proven to result in amazing community-driven events.

It was important to ensure that anyone who had an opinion was invited to every meeting or event and also to demonstrate how much can be accomplished with very small budgets.

Asking people their opinion at several points through the process, making sure that we reached out to as many people as possible by being on site with these boards. Monday to Sunday from sun-up to sun-down, catching people on the way home from work after a day or night shift or while shopping or just walking by. Children going to school or teachers leaving for the day were also not left out.

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Johannesburg is full of fences and restricted areas due to safety concerns. To counter this perception, community engagement meetings were always held in publicly accessible spaces and open to anyone who wanted to take part or ask a question or just listen.

It is worth considering the importance of responsive and engaging City officials. The voluntary efforts that characterized the few proactive officials that are part of this story were the exception to the norm and one of the great assets of the working team in this project. A more structured engagement similar to the one in this pilot should be the standard for establishing trust and building fruitful and meaningful collaborations between citizens and urban institutions. Another parallel consideration regards the role of urban activists, who have huge function and responsibility in locally engaging people. As reiterated by this park story, it is only when all parties work together that public spaces can become safe and accessible, as well as relevant and responsive to its community’s needs. Of course, there are (to this day) persisting challenges and concerns, especially in making sure all voices are heard equally. One remaining challenge is to ensure that migrants are not excluded from processes due to


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the result of xenophobia and violence present in the area. It is important that people’s personal prejudices do not override the rights of others. Another challenge is that laws of ‘vagrancy’ do not displace the homeless needlessly into other spaces that they will yet again be considered not welcome in. Another aim is for city officials to meaningfully engage and support the processes by acknowledging and responding to the serious concerns that residents have. A final goal is to ensure that the efforts to (re)build a base of trust between government and local communities are grow incrementally and have a lasting impact. These efforts must prevent public space from falling back into abandonment and the new sense of ownership from returning to disenfranchisement, so that the future of the park does not retreat to where it was before the process started. With continued involvement and commitment to the participatory process from City officials and local community alike, this future of ownership and engagement is possible.

South African Police Service talking to residents and slowly bridging the gap between people and government departments.

COLLABORATING TEAM Sticky Situations Team: Jennifer van den Bussche, Angel Khumalo, Andries Mkhatshwa, Hayley Gewer, Alexandra Cunningham Client: Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ), partnered with Johannesburg Development Agency, Department of Public Safety, GIZ (Deutche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit), and Ward 123 Councillor Tyobeka. This client team must be acknowledged for their inspirational leadership and going well above and beyond their job descriptions.

Park Stakeholders Forum: As the project progressed this already large team was joined by dozens of local residents, businesses, activists and NGO’s - all of whom donated their time, efforts and resources and without whom this project would not have been as successful. All images courtesy: Sticky Situations team

About the Authors Sticky Situations is a collaboration of professionals physically based in Johannesburg who work both locally and globally, with a keen interest in bottom up development methodologies. Jennifer van den Bussche is an International and Community Development professional working at a grass roots level who is interested in connecting local action to global programs. Sizakele Angel Khumalo is a photographer and runs Platinum Sketch, a Youth Development organisation, in Jeppestown. Hayley is an urbanist, researcher and teacher working both at a university and at grass-roots level. Andries Mkhatshwa is a town planner, community facilitator and researcher who also coaches youth basketball programs. Alexandra Cunningham is a community based Urban Development professional who founded Boundless City, an organisation that works to provide opportunities to residents and businesses.

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by Dr. Geeta Mehta and Shreya Malu


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Below - Social Capital as a resource for collective action. Image credit: Asia Initiatives

What is true urban development? Is it opulence, skyscrapers, fast roads, commercial activity, and globalization or is it an environment that empowers all its residents? True urban development is not about buildings and infrastructure. It is a holistic notion that should include social, cultural, economic, and physical development of the city and its citizens. Social Capital is the glue that holds cities together, and makes them exciting places to live in and thrive. However, prioritization to financial gains and growing rich-poor divide in most world cities is resulting in loss of this social capital. Functions such as cultural and ecological stewardship, social accountability, community building, care of the aged, protecting the public realm of cities, and other functions used to be ‘crowd-sourced’ in cities in the sense that these cities could leverage their rich social capital for these functions. Responsibilities that communities used to undertake efficiently and naturally in the past have increasingly been taken over by government. While successful and wealthy governments might be able to perform these functions at great costs, cash strapped and poorly run governments simply cannot perform these, resulting in breakdown of the social compact, law and order, rise of social inequity and the possible radicalization of youth on both side of the opportunity divide.

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SOCIAL CAPITAL AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT What is Social Capital? Per Alejandro Portres et al: “Whereas economic capital is in people’s bank accounts and human capital is inside their heads, social capital inheres in the structure of their relationships. To possess social capital, a person must be related to others, and it is these others, not himself, who are the actual source of his or her advantage.” 1 We live in a global community. One of our greatest wealth is the social capital we generate in varied ways by interacting with each other, within a larger community, at a national or even on a global platform. Social capital can also be understood as a resource to collective action. It is widely believed that in neighbourhoods where social capital is strong and social networks exist comprising the fabric of social capital--enjoy a desirable quality of life and greater economic potential. In communities where social capital is continuously accumulating, residents increasingly work with each other to identify problems, share ideas, and identify solutions to problems which benefit the entire community. These kinds of activities eventually result in economic development. Communities that are rich in social capital are better equipped to climb out of poverty, resolve disputes, and take advantage of new opportunities. Individuals in these communities can crowd-source support and advice that they need to build careers and businesses.

CURRENT TRENDS OF URBANIZATION THAT IMPACT SOCIAL CAPITAL From being the melting pots for people from diverse backgrounds and incomes, many cities around the world are plagued by extensive gentrification, inequitable distribution of resources and apathy of the privileged wealthy. Instead of being custodians of public interest and social equity, governments, especially in developing countries, have become mere monetizers of public land for speculative development.

1 Alejandro Portes, Department of Sociology, Princeton University, 1998


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The true wealth of cities cannot be measured in monetary terms alone, and development efforts that ignore the social wealth of communities are counterproductive. Conceptualizing and measuring urban development focusing just on short-term profits for the real estate industry or other vested interests diminishes and eventually destroys the social capital of cities. Such a downward spiral impacts the Social Capital of cities as neighbourhoods are built, destroyed or gentrified based upon real estate calculations alone. Communities where people could rely on each other for help and well-being are torn apart. Once people cannot crowd-source safety and lively programming of public spaces and streets, the quality of life of residents suffers, as very well documented by Jane Jacobs, William Whyte, Christopher Alexander and others.

CHALLENGING THE CURRENT TRENDS To challenge the current urbanism trends increasingly driven by financial capital, there is a need to look at urban and rural development through the lens of social, ecological, and financial capital together as an inter-dependent system of values. Cities, neighbourhoods, streets, and buildings need to be designed to enhance and not destroy Social Capital, our most precious asset. At the same time, the value of social capital needs to be recognized and hence leveraged in fostering development in any context. There is currently some hesitance in accepting and using the value generated by using social capital, primarily because Social Capital has been difficult to measure. Consider a typical household with median income, average education and average social ties living in a typical medium sized city. If due to a peculiar and sudden set of circumstances, the household loses all their sources of income and their accumulated wealth, it is likely that in course of time that household will still be able to re-generate its capacity to earn income. This is based on its inherent qualities and how it can crowd-source its recovery through its social networks. This was evident in the difference in physical and emotional recovery among the communities hit by the super storm Sandy in New York as well as by the Tsunami in Fukushima. However, the

From being the melting pots for people from diverse backgrounds and incomes, many cities around the world are plagued by extensive gentrification, inequitable distribution of resources and apathy of the privileged wealthy.

mainstream economic discussion does not have ways to measure this resilience, or the value of either human or social capital. This needs to change so that such important factors begin to be included in financial calculations and impact statement generated for any type of intervention.

quality of the environment is an important strategy to bring about positive change in the urban environment. Traditional planning procedures that relied on just a simple confirmation of the designers’ or planners’ intentions are not good enough in this day of easy data gathering and social media transfer of information and opinions.


Importance given to community participation and interactive governance in cities, like New York, San Francisco, Bogotá, Amsterdam to name a few, indicate that an increasingly nuanced understanding of community, political power, and social capital is beginning to permeate the field. There is a gradual shift from top down design development to ground-up crowd-sourcing of involvement in decision-making process. There is need to build on this momentum and bring the discussion of social capital within the design practice and academic discourse.

Participation is now becoming recognized as one of the most vital elements of urban planning and development. Crowd-sourcing advice on urban improvements and even major project is not only desirable, but has been shown to be a critical element of success in many projects. Participatory planning is a process and not a product, in which the planner gets to know the people and their situation well enough to offer him/herself as a resource. It is an expression of and commitment of people’s right to be involved in matters where decisions are made that concern or affect them2 . One could simply say, it is a departure from planning ‘’for’’ the people to planning ‘with’ the people.3 Public participation in urban decision-making not only makes those decisions easier to implement, it also builds social capital in the process, which further facilitate urban development. It also makes it more probable that the citizens would seek solutions within the established systems and the process would work with them rather than being imposed on them. To provide all the citizens, especially those marginalized, with a voice in planning and decision making to improve plans, decisions, service delivery, and overall

2 The Role of Community Participation in Planning Processes of Emerging Urban Centres. A study of Paidha Town in Northern Uganda. Kayom Wilson, Sengendo Hannington, Mukiibi Stephen

STIMULATING URBAN ECONOMY THROUGH SOCIAL CAPITAL Studies by scholars such as Knack and Keefer conclude that civic cooperation and social equity boost economic growth. In his book ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’, C. K. Prahalad makes an economic case for including all segments of society into the free market. Robert Putnam in his book ‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community’ posits that governments are more successful in places rich in social capital. Despite this understanding there is lack of political will and measuring mechanisms that hinder action of this understanding. Meanwhile, the disconnects along economic and social fault lines in cities in cities from New York to Shanghai and Mumbai are depleting that social capital and have the potential to undermine economic growth, public safety, and peaceful coexistence of citizens.

3 UN-Habitat, 2010

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Visualization of improvements in Kisumu, Kenya through SoCCs undertaken by Asia Initiatives. These improvements would be completed by the community itself. Image credit: Asia Initiatives

While the concept of social capital has been discussed since L.J . Hanifan first used the term in 1916, but implementation strategies to leverage this asset have been slow to develop. Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), innovated by a Asia Initiatives, a New York based non-profit and think tank, provides one possible way to leverage Social Capital using the tools of the market economy. SoCCs is a community currency for social good which is acting in 12 projects in India, Ghana, and Kenya as a catalyst for development without sole reliance on money. SoCCs promote community-led neighbourhood improvements and empower people to collaborate with the government in building and improving their own housing, neighbourhoods, and cities in transformative ways. This methodology of crowd-sourcing true development makes rich as well as poor people active participants in the urban improvement process. The process of accruing and trading SoCCs can also result in the development of local leadership and capacity building, which can be an asset to any government in collaborating with communities to implement government programs. SoCCs can become a barter mechanism of social goods across communities taking charge of their own development, with professional planners acting as their consultants. Just as carbon credits encourage and reward environmental responsibility using market mechanisms. SoCCs encourage and reward social responsibility using market mechanisms and help price community values into the economy at a premium to values of individual greed, on which current economic systems are based. For instance, Micro-housing for a billion people in desperate need of housing in the developing world is a huge business


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opportunity. Tata Housing is beta testing its US$750 Flatpack house in India. However, most affordable housing entrepreneurs in India, and countries, as well as public organizations such as SEHAB (Sao Paulo Municipal Housing Secretariat), have trouble attracting market investments. SoCCs could possibly change that. Developers could improve housing and infrastructure in undeserved communities, and trade SoCCs thus earned for additional FAR (floor area ratio) or incentives at another site in the city they wish to develop, just as is done in the case of Transfer of Development Rights mechanisms in use today in many cities around the world.

SOCIAL CAPITAL CREDITS FOSTERING IMPROVEMENTS IN KUMASI, GHANA SoCCs has been acting as a community currency to help harness the social capital of market women in the Bantama Market in Kumasi, Ghana since January 2014. The SoCCs system there has been linked to the micro-credit movement, which leverage Social Capital to provide small loans. Women earn SoCCs for keeping the market clean, compost market waste and learning business skills. They can redeem them for getting micro credit loans and children’s school fees etc. Development is now crowd-sourced, and not just the responsibility of the government. Which in the past had proven incapable of servicing the poorer parts of the city. More than 1000 schoolgirls in Kumasi are also earning SoCCs for regular attendance in school and in sports, planting trees, learning about reproductive health, and for every month they do not get pregnant, since teen pregnancy is a major cause for school drop-outs. They redeem SoCCs for exam fees, school supplies and school uniforms.

SETTING UP THE SOCC SYSTEM IS A FIVE-STEP PROCESS: 1. SoCCratic dialogues with the community members to help them strategize improvements in their neighbourhoods and life. 2. Developing SoCC Earning and SoCC Redeeming menus, along with the number of iSoCCs and CommSoCCs to the earned and spend for various activities. 3. Selection and training of the SoCCs Manager 4. Setting up of the digital SoCC Market, or paper SoCCbook based reporting system 5. Periodic SoCCs community meetings are held, where SoCC Earning and Redeeming activity is posted for all to see, to ensure transparency and accountability in the system.

Key players involved to facilitate interaction between the SoCC market and local communities. Image credit: Asia initiatives

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SoCCs can become a barter mechanism of social goods across communities taking charge of their own development, with professional planners acting as their consultants. Just as carbon credits encourage and reward environmental responsibility using market mechanisms.

Communities and the individuals earn SoCCs for actions that benefit their neighbourhood, city or region in a manner that does not exclude or harm anyone else. Examples of how SoCCs are being earned in projects in other countries include creating, enhancing, or maintaining public spaces that are truly open to all; assuming stewardship of natural resources such as water harvesting, planting, and caring for trees; and running training centres for skill enhancement, schools, and health clinics that are accessible to all and accept SoCCs as payment. In addition to the above, projects are being developed in underserved communities and so-called slums to earn SoCCs, or SoCCs + cash, for community created essential services that the government has provided to most of the wealthier communities in their city, but has failed to provide to them. In this case, the sponsors of the SoCC Market will negotiate with the government to pay a portion of the fair market value of the project to the SoCC Market in cash for passing on to communities for these accomplishments. National and international NGOs or donor agencies that are helping support some of these projects with

Flow of SoCCs through earnings and trade Image credit: Author


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Asia Initiatives are getting a 200-300 percent return on their investment since community members are doing at least one additional good to “earn” the item on the Redeeming Menu that is supported by the funder.

Once individuals and communities have collected the requisite number of SoCCs, they will be able to redeem them via the SoCC Market for items from a menu of goods and services available. These trades and information will be accessible via computers or smart devices, but also in a simpler form via ordinary mobile phones, which are widely used in poor communities around the world today. In an updated version of traditional barter, communities will also be able to crowd-source goods and services from one another using SoCCs or a combination of SoCCs and cash. It is also expected that some governments may allow communities to pay water and electricity bills using SoCCs in the near future. Other items available for SoCCs may include school or college fees, public transport tickets, talk-time on telephones, lower rates for health insurance, lower-interest loans or higherinterest savings from commercial banks, skill-building scholarships for local youth, Internet services, fruit tree

saplings, and other things communities can propose and get approved by popular vote on the SoCC Market. Upon registering on the SoCC Market to undertake a project, a community designates one or more (depending upon the community’s size) of its members as “SoCC Managers,” who will receive training to trade on the SoCC Market on the community’s behalf and help communities complete projects and trades successfully. SoCC Managers receive commissions for each completed SoCC transaction. It is recommended that SoCC transactions be held in open meetings once a month or more often, to encourage peer review, just as is done in many micro-credit groups. Larger transactions are held in multi-community meetings for the same reason. Other SoCC services include SoCCon, which aggregates the demand of poor communities by getting them better prices for critical supplies, and the SoCC Starter, which enables young people to obtain capital for starting small social businesses. While communities currently have little reason to prioritize joint activities and no framework under which to do so,

the SoCC system can help them recognize the social strengths they already possess and focus jointly on the shared challenges they face, thus strengthening their social capital. In conclusion, it can be said that as cities around the world and especially in the developing world continue to grow beyond the management capacity of their governments, crowd-sourcing of responsibilities and services that were once provided by the communities themselves will need to be considered. Not only in services, the decision-making processes need to be crowd-sourced to ensure that the strategies for urban development are always ground-up. This realization has also been noted in the Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by members of the United Nations in 2015. These worthy goals need all three forms of capital for their actualization- Financial Capital, Ecological Capital and Social Capital. However, Social Capital is unique in this trio as it is a capital that grows in direct proportion to how much it is further crowd sourced and harnessed, so it is time to put in squarely into all urban development calculations.

About the Authors Geeta Mehta is an adjunct professor of architecture and urban design at Columbia University in New York. She is the founder and president of Asia Initiatives (, a non-profit organization, where she has developed the concept of Social Capital Credits (SoCCs). This breakthrough virtual currency for social good is currently in use in India, Ghana, Kenya and USA, incentivizing projects in waste management, tree planting, neighbourhood improvements, and river restoration. Geeta is also the co-founder of “URBZ: User Generated Cities” (, that works with undeserved communities to help them transform their neighbourhoods through advocacy and by improving public spaces and homes. Geeta has co-authored five books. She is a frequent juror for international design competitions and a speaker at international forums related to architecture and urban design. Geeta was recognized as one of the 21 Leaders of the 21st Century by Women’s eNews in 2015. Shreya Malu received her post graduate degree in urban design from Columbia University, and her professional architecture degree in India. She has worked in the field of urban design and planning for seven years in various capacities. Most recently, she worked with the UK based Halcrow Group, where she led design projects for institutional campuses, industrial master plans and development plans of metropolitan areas. Over the years, her professional and academic work has focused on the theme of urban sustainability and equitable planning processes with emphasis on inventive data analysis. She is one of the contributors on the book “Building Social Capital through Design” to be published by Columbia University in Spring/ Summer 2017. She is a member of editorial board for the Indian magazine “My Liveable City”. She is also an active volunteer with Asia Initiatives.

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Cities... they are complicated, diverse and multi-faceted. And without doubt, the histories of cities have been instrumental in shaping their futures whether it is Rome, or closer home, Hampi. In particular, the tales that form the narratives of evolution and growth of any city lend themselves to much fascination due, in part, to the different people, trades, cultures & cuisines that co-exist and create a colourful canvas.

Facing page- ‪The dancing queens of Belur Temple. Photo credit: Author Below- An Unhurried journey through Kempegowda’s Bengaluru Pete area. Image credit: Peevee

Bangalore, or Bengaluru as it is now called, has always been home for me. But beyond that identity, I had never discovered or explored it... until a few years ago. Take the political history of the city, for example. Every Bangalorean knows vaguely about Kempegowda being the founder of the city. But does one know there were many Kempegowdas? Also did he have any descendants, like the Wodeyars of Mysore do? Why is there a Tipu Sultan’s Palace next to a Hindu temple? If the British gave us the anglicised name Bangalore, who gave us the Indian name Bengaluru? There are many hidden cultural nuggets of modern Bengaluru too. For instance, not many people know that there is more than one Karaga1 celebrated in the city or that the third city festival identified by locals is the Harohara at Subramanya temple in Hanumanthanagar. Or that the Thigalas, an ancient community known for gardening, lived in the city much before Bengaluru’s fortified town core- the Pete- came up. Indeed, Bengaluru as a city is comprised of many cultures in its very creation itself. In fact, it was modelled after a much bigger cosmopolitan city of its time–Hampe (Hampi). And what better way to explore these hidden treasures than through an ‘Unhurried’ walk! 1 A festival celebrated by the Thigala clan. It derives its name from the karaga or floral cone that is balanced on the head and taken through the streets of the fort area in a procession through the night.

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CITY TRAILS WHY UNHURRIED? ‘Unhurried’ was founded with the purpose of unravelling Bengaluru – its many layers and identities; all of which traverse the organic growth of the city from medieval times until Independence. And this is done through many myriad stories – political, architectural, social, cultural, geographical, and natural – that are infused into Unhurried’s menu of city walks. The first set of walks were set in the oldest part of the city – the fort city of Kempegowda’s Bengaluru (strangely this, has no connection to the Bengaluru fort that presently stands today in the Kalasipalayam area!). This was followed by expeditions into the Bengaluru of the British Raj. And of course, the obligatory tour of the old city covering Tipu Sultan’s legacy including the fort, the palace and the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens to complete the study of Bengaluru’s early days as a city.

As the city grows, so does its suburbs. Malleswaram and Basavanagudi, established in 1898 are two of the oldest suburbs of Bengaluru. Both continue to be delightful and thriving neighbourhoods till date and warrant their own walks as well. In the British Cantonment area, apart from Cubbon Park, walks cover Fraser Town and Richards’ Town known for their very English street names and an Anglo-Indian lifestyle. Further on, there are market trails and trails that showcase grand brick structures, sitting amidst narrow lanes in different conditions of maintenance. Food is a very important aspect of a culture. Unhurried food trails cover different areas of Bengaluru to sample community-based dishes. Popular local eateries and iconic restaurants that are linked to the dominant culture of the area also feature in these walks.

A view of Lord Shiva’s abode from Hemakuta hill, Virupaksha Temple, Hampe. Photo Credit: Author


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A college group walking towards the Royal Elephants’ Stables, Hampe. Photo courtesy: Author

Every Bangalorean knows vaguely about Kempegowda being the founder of the city. But does one know there were many Kempegowdas? Also did he have any descendants, like the Wodeyars of Mysore do? Why is there a Tipu Sultan’s Palace next to a Hindu temple? If the British gave us the anglicised name Bangalore, who gave us the Indian name Bengaluru?

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CITY TRAILS Beyond Bengaluru too, a walk through the magical landscapes of Hampe invites walkers to re-imagine a glorious cosmopolitan city that was far ahead in its urban planning for its time. The walk captures the ancient pura townships; entertainment and lifestyle in a medieval city that was capital to most of South India and East India; and spectacular architecture ranging from Dravidian temples to Bahamani Mahals channelling the architecture of Orissa. Perhaps the most important achievement of the city’s engineers was the intricate water system that sourced its supply from the one major river, the Cauvery, to create a verdant city in a dry deciduous region.

Another city of interest is Mysore and its older cousin Srirangapatna. While the sleepy town of Srirangapatna is replete with war stories of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, Mysore is more culturally rich. Heritage tours to Srirangapatna re-imagine the political intrigue of the troubled times of Anglo-Mysore rivalry - the Palace intrigues, the wily Dannanayakas, the legacy of the famous Muslim Commanders and the British angle. However, much of the city is lost or burnt from war with the exception of the Summer Palace with its murals and photographs. There are however some hidden gems – the fort ramparts, British Cenotaphs, and occasional Gothic structures and of course, the temple of Sriranga. If only the walls of the temples could speak! What tales they would narrate!

Looking down at the material world, Sravanabelagola. Photo Credit: Author


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The erstwhile bungalow of a Sri Lankan Parish Priest, Bengaluru. Photo courtesy: Author

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We, at UDC, took this opportunity to connect with Poornima to glean some insider information about Bangalore. Here is a short interview1. Which is your favourite city and why? No surprises here... it’s Bangalore, rather Bangalore of the 80s and 90s. Not just because it is home but because of the cosmopolitan culture of the city. It’s as diverse & populated as Mumbai or Delhi and yet holds a small town air about it. I have another favourite too...Hampe. It is a history enthusiast’s dream city and is set among some of the oldest and most amazing rock formations in this country. 2. How long have you lived in Bangalore? I was born in and brought up here. There was a brief sojourn in Mysore when I was very young but it’s been Bangalore all the way. 3. Which are your most treasured parts of Bangalore and why? There are many... until the 90s, it was Victoria Hotel to chill out, Rex for movies, Church Street for books, Malleswaram’s CTR for dose, Commercial Street and Jayanagar Shopping Complex for shopping. With time, some of the older markers have eroded and new ones have emerged. The National Gallery of Modern Art on Millers road is a new favourite. But despite this, I still like to wander and discover interesting nooks and corners of the old city. 4. Can you tell us about your most memorable Unhurried walk experience till date? There are two actually. I had conducted a heritage walk in Malleswaram for a historian who was visiting from Washington D.C. It was a personalised walking tour and we connected on the history and culture of cities. At the end of the walk, he was pleased enough to offer me a free tour in D.C. if I visited. He also wrote us a great review on our Facebook page! The second one was when we had organised a customised walk for a private school on different communities that had settled in the city across different eras. I facilitated the tour and also organized a session with various Bangaloreans who spoke about their roots, culture and migration to the city. I was in awe of the generosity of these people to meet the school children and talk to them at short notice. It also opened my eyes to the diversity of cultures in Bangalore. 5. If I had 24 hours to spend in Bangalore, what would you put on the ‘must see-must do’ list for the city? 24 hours is too less but I’ll try! Start the day with a hot air balloon ride/ glider flight in Jakkur. Follow this up with South Indian breakfast at Malleswaram’s CTR. You could then do Unhurried’s Bazaar Walk through the Russell Market area. While you’re there, so some impromptu shopping in & around Commercial Street. Head off to Fraser town for lunch at Saits or Chichabas Taj. After that, visit aPaulogy – famed illustrator Paul Fernandes’ Gallery of Curious Memories capturing the life and times of Bangalore from the 70s. In the evening, go cycling in Cubbon Park and do the touristy thing of photographing the Vidhana Soudha. If possible, do buy tickets to a cricket match at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium or to a football match at the Bangalore Football Stadium. If no one is playing, then do the Bangalore thing and relax at the nearest pub or explore any of the new microbreweries in town before calling it a day.


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A Mahabharata quiz on the stone walls of Chennakeshava, Belur. Photo credit: Author

Mysore & its Palace is perhaps the second most visited monument, after the Taj in India. The photographs speak of a modern Mysore under the Wodeyar monarchy. The clothing, the culture and lifestyle of 1900s come to life through them. However, it is the art and culture of Mysore that attracts the traveller. The inlay work in wood, the traditional Mysore paintings, the revival of the Dasara festival to showcase the art, culture and military strength of the Kingdom and a Republic parade, much older than the Mughal or independent India’s versions are among the visual delights on offer.

Some lesser known cities that also lend themselves to Unhurried tours are Melukote, the hill fort that is today known for Vaishnava traditions; Halebeedu & Belur, the bastions of culture much older than Hampe; and the British towns- Kolar Gold Fields & Kolar. Unhurried continues to explore and expand to other lesser known places that were important cities during their halcyon days in and around Bengaluru.

About the Author Poornima Dasharathi is a Bangalorean & an ex-software professional with a decade of experience in languages spoken by computers. She then abandoned those to understand languages & cultures of human beings, especially in southern India. She is a writer with many articles on Bengaluru and Karnataka and has also authored the book, ‘Get to know Bengaluru Better’. In 2012, she founded Unhurried, a heritage and cultural experience-driven travel company offering several ways to travel from a neighbourhood trail to day-long thematic city tours and weekend trips to custom designed tours.

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Bhutan is a tiny country tucked away in the Himalayan hills. Rugged mountains, cold weather and Buddhism are the most common images associated with this mystical landlocked country. With all the harshness that the terrain and climate offers, there is also a vivid energy present that is so ubiquitous to the mountains. This burst of zestful exuberance is personified in the human life developed here over the millennia. The constant fight with the elements combined with the many layered and complex Buddhist faith has culminated into a very colourful built landscape in the bustling city of Thimphu. Despite the many hardships of mountain life, their culture and way of life is a point of pride and joy to the Bhutanese. This is visible in everything, from the laws governing the design of building faรงades, the intricate detailing finessed through time to the bold paints in primary hues used to provide some respite in a place where moments of sunshine and greenery are fleeting. This photo essay has tried to capture this very spirit of the Bhutanese that is reflected in the architecture, their vision of development and road to modernity, the daily rituals of individuals to more elaborate communal ones that rise out of a sense of belonging and national pride.


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On board the ‘Gemini’

Reflections and Wisdom: ‘Chenrezig’, the embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas.

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Street markers with a backdrop of a retaining wall painted with symbols of prosperity.


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Warm entrance faรงades in a cold place.

A different take on old architecture- The Swiss bakery in Thimphu is where time stands still from 70s.


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Even the most enlightened beings need a break. Prayer room closed for a break in Thimphu.

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A government official heading home at the end of the day from the TashichhoDecember Dzong. Workplace with the best view! 2016 | CITY OBSERVER



A ubiquitous detail of wooden windows painted with bright colours in different patterns.


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Yet another window!

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Wall full of luck. Bhutanese masks and symbols of prosperity.


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Prayer wheels transmitting wishes of the faithful.

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One of the towers of the Tashichho Dzong -the traditional seat of the king and now the civil government in Thimphu.


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Bhutanese buildings are guided by very strict codes that dictate the design of faรงades in great minutiae. This is the reason even contemporary buildings have a lot of elements of traditional Bhutanese architecture.

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The Buddhist faith is present everywhere and seen here in the form of miniature prayer wheels outside a very contemporary looking bookstore.


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Closing ceremony at the end of the day at the Tashichho Dzong.

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Even the most mundane places are beautifully detailed. In this case, a storage shed.


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About the Photographer Arushi Chitrao is an architect dabbling into Urbanism, currently placed at the Charles Correa Foundation in Goa. She loves to travel and photograph her perceptions of what she sees. She writes about her travels, recipes she creates and hopefully a lot more on a wider range of urban topics at

December 2016 | CITY OBSERVER



10 URBAN DESIGN LESSONS FROM ROTTERDAM by Nikita Baliga and Ankit Bhargava

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ROTTERDAM: FUTURE FACTORY ‘On 14th May 1940 – only four days into the Second World War – the German Luftwaffe carried out the execution of the historical city in just ten minutes, from about 1.25 to 1.35 pm. Approximately 850 people were killed and 25,000 homes and 11,000 other buildings were destroyed. In many cases, those buildings that escaped a direct hit were devastated by the huge conflagration, which the Rotterdam fire brigade, plus the auxiliary brigades from other boroughs that had rushed to help, were unable to control. The fire stretched over an area of about 258 hectares. Shops, cafés, restaurants, hospitals, banks and most of the cinemas and monumental buildings went up in smoke. The fire was still smouldering when, on the day of the capitulation, the Germans ordered the rubble to be cleared. An enormous army of unemployed people cleared a total of five million cubic metres of rubble.’ Articles on the history of the city liken the unforeseen and catastrophic destruction to an inevitable cleansing of the old, in order to renew and modernize the city. As a result, the mood at the time, was one of a bittersweet openness for a new future. This led to the development of the bold ‘Basic Plan’ by Cornelis Van Traa in 1946 that laid the foundations of ‘break-through’ modern town planning. ‘The basic idea was to realize a new utopian society on the basis of socioeconomic planning, the beginning of the welfare state’ [1]. The plan introduced strict segregation of functions of work, recreation, housing and traffic. The city was planned to have plenty of room for traffic, where the car was to be the ‘vehicle of modern civilization‘. While Amsterdam is known for its heritage, Rotterdam has competed on the platform of a new modern city; a site of constant and consistent experimentation. The following are ten places in the city that are unmistakably part of the everyday ethos of Rotterdam for residents and travellers alike. Their stories reflect on what these spaces mean for the city and its citizens, how they came about and the lessons they offer.

Rotterdam city centre bombed in 1940. Image courtesy: www.; Image Source: rotterdam/rotterdam-33691/

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Lijnbaan was built in 1953 on the principles that marked the Basisplan (The Basic Plan). The plan separated car and pedestrian traffic. Lijnbaan is a unique concept where streets are wide with only 2 levels of stores. This has been made possible by building other complementary programs of offices, homes, supply roads and parking behind the shops. Thus, allowing the shopping to exist on its own, offering a rather domestic, relaxing, but vibrant environment. Liynbaan was the first pedestrian shopping street in Europe and has since been a test case for numerous car-free shopping streets around the world. [2]

Lijnbaan Rotterdam with office buildings and housing around. Image Source: http:// post/7896857200/van-derbroek-and-bakema-architectslijnbaan

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Lijnbaan - Pedestrian shopping street. Image courtesy:; Image Source: uploads/2013/11/Lijnbaan-Rotterdam.jpg



‘Rotterdam Centraal Station is one of the most important transport hubs in The Netherlands. With 110,000 passengers a day, the public transport terminal has as many travellers as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. In addition to the European network of the High Speed Train (HST), Rotterdam Centraal is also connected to the light rail system, RandstadRail. With the advent of both the HST and RandstadRail the number of daily travellers at Rotterdam Centraal is expected to increase to approximately 323,000 by 2025.’ [2] Unlike many older European cities where the town centre is often oriented around a church. In Rotterdam, ‘Rotterdam Centraal’, has become the focal point of the modern city, not just as a node for multi-modal transit, (national and international) but also a place and a landmark in its own right. The newly re-designed station currently flaunts an extensive square that merges with a sculpture studded boulevard - Westersingel, creating an even larger open space and a vibrant axis to the river Maas. Westersingel also connects to Lijnbaan, forming a lively trail for pedestrians and cyclists in particular.

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Rotterdam Centraal, multi modal transit hub. Image courtesy:; Image Source: http://www.

Westersingel axis. Image courtesy:; Image Source: images/5282/2c88/e8e4/4e95/f600/0125/large_jpg/TeamCS_RC_skeyes_0807_1551.jpg?1384262717

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Given that the city was built to make room for vehicular traffic, the urban fabric shows a clear hierarchy of major versus minor grid of flows. The major grid at most times is made of wide roads with trams, while in other cases the street section includes canals and green spaces. These axial lines play a critical role in orientation and way finding in the city. The larger axis lines were possibly planned to provide buffer between programs, but the over-sized spaces have also led to fragmentation in the city. Over the years, however, continuous efforts are being made to address this by addition of new programs along the splines. Westersingel, Coolsingel, Binnenrotte and Westblaak make 4 key axis lines that orient the Rotterdam Centrum area.

Major transit axis in Rotterdam city centre. Image courtesy: Author

Westersingel creates a continuous axis from Rotterdam Central to the river Maas. An image below shows the section of the street which includes 4 lanes of vehicular traffic, cycle lanes, tram, a canal and pedestrian area which morphs into a sculpture garden. Coolsingel connects the major round about at Hofplein to the Erasmus bridge and onwards to the south of Rotterdam (former port side). The street is lined with municipality buildings, bars, museums and even edges Lijnbaan before culminating into the Erasmus bridge.

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LEARNING FROM CITIES Binnenrotte forms a third important axial corridor that contains the biggest square in the city centre. Here, twice a week the city market is held which brings together close to 70,000 people. In its current form Binnenrotte plaza was created in 1993, when the railway viaduct was replaced by a tunnel, making possible a new long public space for recreation in the city centre. Series of efforts have been taken by the municipality since to activate the extensive space on continuous basis. The square now has restaurants that spill over the square, housing, a bibliotheek (public library) and even a new upscale iconic market - Markthal.

Street section of Westersingel. Image Source: Google street view



Erasmus Bridge, built in 1996, across the River Maas has become one of the most recognized symbols of Rotterdam. It was designed to connect the old port to the Business district of the city. The bridge’s success can be attributed to its inclusive accessibility to the southern part of Rotterdam by car, tram, bike, cycle and by foot. While, on the north side it has also been designed to land seamlessly into a large waterfront plaza which houses cafÊs, souvenir shops, bike rentals, etc. As a consequence of shifting the port activities closer to the mouth of the river, the neighbourhood of Kop van zuid was abandoned, isolated and cut off from the city centre. The linking of the city centre to the southern suburb of Kop van zuid through the Erasmus Bridge not only integrates the southern and northern parts of the city but has also become the economic driver for future development in the south.

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Erasmus Bridge. Image courtesy:; Image Source:



Imageability has driven Rotterdam’s experimental approach to Architecture and Urbanism. However, one of the fallouts of this has been the excessiveness of the built environment, which is experienced in the eerie quiet, oversized streets and the empty buildings. In 1993, the Rotterdam Municipal Council launched its first high rise building policy (Hoogbouwbeleid) in a structured attempt to steer the development of high buildings in the city. Kop van Zuid has been latest of the efforts to re-energise the economy and help to change the image of Rotterdam – from an industrial port to “little Manhattan on the Meuse‟. The Rotterdam tourism website even proclaims - ‘Architecture aficionados will be astounded by this peninsula. The world’s most famous stars of architecture have erected buildings here - Álvaro Siza, Renzo Piano, Francine Houben, Norman Foster – and Rotterdam’s own Rem Koolhaas.’ [3] De- Rotterdam by OMA built in 2014, marks the latest addition to the skyline. It is the largest building in Netherlands and one of the largest in Europe, built at a time of already record high vacancy in office buildings. Though conceived in 1997, Koolhaas has mentioned in a Guardian interview that ‘it only became possible to build it during the financial crisis – when the contractors were cheap enough to do it.’[4] Ironically, he has also further stated that “(the) most important thing about this project is your perception of its size and mass as you drive over the bridge,” says Koolhaas, hunched over the wheel, his frail voice barely audible above the roar of the engine, as we begin our ascent of the boomerang-shaped road of the Erasmus Bridge. “We calculated how the view would change as you approach along this curving path….. That’s all you need to see. The rest is just a cheap office building.” he says. [4]

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Kop van Zuid. Image courtesy:; Image Source: wilhelminapier/3746294626/



‘The motto of the past twenty years has been: high rise, high rise, high rise. Build for an imposing skyline while the city at street level is allowed to become ever more anonymous.’ [5] This anonymity on the street and the high unemployment rate [6] in Rotterdam has over the years resulted in many neighbourhoods becoming unsafe with increasing crime rates. In an effort to curb this, in-depth analysis to understand the spatial relation of this social lapse have taken place by the urban planning department, economic department, inner city team and Stipo. The studies clarified that the mono-functional nature of the living, working, culture and shopping was the cause for low pedestrian flows and hence a sterility in the public realm. To counteract this condition in the inner city, a series of local initiatives popped up in the inner city to reactivate the streets by programming the plinths. One such attempt to diversify the functions on the street bringing live, work and stay closer has been the ZOHOCITIZENS initiative, where residents, entrepreneurs and investors participate to improve the quality of the neighbourhood.

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Zohordam. Image courtesy:; Image Source:



At the time of the crisis of vacancy in Rotterdam, (aggravated by the global recession of 2008) while one part of the city continued to see speculative development of yet more new office buildings, the project by ZUS ‘Reanimation of the Schieblock building and construction of the Luchtsingel’ showcased a different approach to urban development. The project sought to introduce the idea of permanent temporality, ‘developing new instruments for design, financing and planning’ to rejuvenate empty buildings and initiate new programming. [7] While one component of the scheme has comprised of taking an office building from the brink of demolition and converting it into popular creative spot, where the building now hosts - photographers, graphic designers and architects, a shops with locally made wares, a café, debate space, beer garden and one of the largest green roofs in Rotterdam that provides a garden for urban farming – specialising in herbs and vegetables. Thus, ‘becoming a prototype for sustainable development’. [7] The second has been construction of a 390-meter bridge that takes off from a busy vehicular junction, punctures through the re-animated office building and gracefully lands at activity nodes in the area; tackling issues of abandoned open spaces in the area and high vacancy in buildings in one of the most prime location of Rotterdam.

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Luchtsingel. Image courtesy: Ossip van Duivenbode; Image Source:

Schieblock building. Image courtesy:; Image Source: uploads/2015/02/2T8C82111.jpg

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Against the top down nature of development taking place in Kop van zuid, this project was conceived under a public participation initiative by Rotterdam City Council to revitalize the city. ‘The democratic process of implementing this project gave citizens the opportunity to plan, fund, build and be featured on the bridge’. The process resulted in over 8000 people coming forward to financially support the project, laying a new direction for experimentation with alternative development strategies in the city. ‘The water square combines water storage with the improvement of the quality of urban public space. The water square can be understood as a twofold strategy. It makes money invested in water storage facilities visible and enjoyable. It also generates opportunities to create environmental quality and identity to central spaces in neighbourhoods. Most of the time the water square will be dry and in use as a recreational space.’ [8] The typology of the water square was invented by the Rotterdam based Architecture and Urbanism office - De Urbanisten in 2005. It became part of public policy - ‘Rotterdam Waterplan 2’ in 2007 and the first water square has been completed in 2013. Rotterdam Waterplan 2 was initiated as a response to the threat of climate change to Rotterdam from water from sea, rivers, air and ground. It looks at how water management can take place taking into account spatial developments and ‘how can the different ways of coping with all the extra water be used to make the city more attractive?’. [9]

Rotterdam Waterstad 2030. Image courtesy:; Image Source: schermafbeelding_2015-03-02_om_14.04.10.png

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LEARNING FROM CITIES Given that water and Rotterdam are inextricably linked, the square has opened up new approaches to how the issue can be tackled even in smaller independent capacities and has since also been applied in other cities since such as Tiel and Copenhagen.

Water square. Image courtesy:; Image Source:

Water square. Image courtesy:; Image Source:

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‘The central promenade of an avenue in the heart of Rotterdam had been the focus of special attention from the city’s Department of Urban Planning since 1998. Despite its central location and surface area of 6,700 m2, this broad longitudinal space in Westblaak Avenue had remained trapped between lanes of heavy traffic on either side, and this fact, which is analogous to what frequently happens in different urban geographies, turned it, in great measure, into a roadway rather than an urban pedestrian thoroughfare. Its relative isolation meant that it was minimally occupied by the population who mainly opted to move along the outer pavements rejecting the possibility of using the centre part of the avenue.’ [10] To put this to an end, in 2001 it was planned to make the ‘no man’s land’ into a park for skaters with close collaboration with skaters. The entirely asphalted zone has ‘distinct areas of facilities for skating, pirouettes and aerial acrobatics were planned, with specific and different equipment for each area.’ [10] The collaboration has been critical to make the project highly participative resulting in a unique recreation space that is said to be the ‘biggest and most coherent open-air skating space in all the Netherlands.’ [10]. However, aside from this it has also led to the recognition of diversity of usages and users of public spaces and the need for inclusive planning that can guarantee vitality and the sense of the joint responsibility amongst people. From an unused area, it now has ‘almost-continuous occupation enriching the urban landscape with a playful, almost incessant activity that attracts visitors from everywhere, turning passers-by into spectators’. [10]

Skatepark. Image courtesy:; Image Source: gross/420160414161444.jpg

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Skatepark at Westblaak. Image courtesy: Author



“Europe’s largest port—threatened by rising waters and a loss of its major industry—has reinvented itself as a playground for innovative thinkers who are trying to create a resilient city of the future.” [11] Rotterdam is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative and has proved to be true to this mission since the early twentieth century. The city has constantly attempted to take any adversity may it be economic, social or environmental in its stride, to reinvent itself. After the demolition of the inner city in World war ||, instead of rebuilding the past, the city government decided to reinvent itself making Rotterdam today a platform for many architectural, urban design and planning spectacles. Being one of the largest ports, facing the threat of the rising sea level, the abandoned harbour area is transforming into an innovation lab and a driver for the circular economy model. Water being one of its biggest enemies, Rotterdam is continually pushing its boundaries, exploring new technology for living on water. In 2017, it will even open a floating dairy farm and a greenhouse growing grains for 60 cows to feed on in the western harbour of the city. The city has always been entrepreneurial, with a culture open to change. And the government of Rotterdam is not only supporting these experiments to promote sustainability but also innovating in their own governance model. Experiencing this city leaves one thinking about how other cities can ‘Rotterdam-ize’ [11] too, where city making is not seen as a static process but a dynamic one, and where experimentation is key to determining development strategies and policy decisions.

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REFERENCES 1. Hamburg.pdf 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The Safe City: Safety and Urban Development in European Cities edited by Leo van den Berg 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

About the Authors Nikita Baliga has trained as an architect from RV School of architecture in Bangalore. She has worked in the field of architecture & urbanism for over two years. She obtained her masters in Urbanism from TU Delft, The Netherlands, with an honours in the field of infrastructure and the environment. She is currently working with Sensing Local in Bangalore as an urbanist & researcher. Nikita’s interest lies in the field of spatial planning & strategy with a focus on building safe & inclusive cities. Ankit Bhargava is an Architect & Urban Planner involved in projects related to spatial planning, urban governance and system thinking. He is a co-founder of Sensing Local, a think tank collaborative based in Bengaluru that focuses on projects related to environmental and public health. Prior to this, he has been project lead for a bottom up planning initiative in Bengaluru called Neighbourhood Improvement Partnership. He has worked as a spatial planner at Royal Haskoning DHV, and as a researcher for Bengaluru Restructuring Committee, (at) Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) where he was closely involved in the development of an Urban Management Plan for the historic Fort area, Mumbai. He has also worked as an Architect at Charles Correa Associates. He is an Inlaks Scholar (2011) and has a Masters Degree in Urbanism from TU Delft, Netherlands.

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by Shreya Krishnan

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Porto is a city in North Portugal and Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon, with a metropolitan population of 2.1 million. It is famous for the wine produced in its hinterlands in the Douro river valley: the sweet dessert wine aptly named port. Porto straddles the Douro estuary and for centuries, port wine has been transported via barges on the Douro to Porto, with port wine warehouses located along the riverfront, and beyond to the rest of the world. Porto’s rich tangible and intangible heritage makes it one of the hidden gems of southern Europe. Its integral role in the production and export of port wine, as well as its wellpreserved built environment consisting of examples from 14th century medieval Romanesque architecture all the way till 20th century Art Deco styles resulted in the historical core of Porto being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It was while I was on vacation in Porto earlier this year that, while walking around the historical core and stumbling across a shopping mall with a green roof sloping down to street level that was completely modern and yet seemed to dissolve into the fabric of historic Porto, I stopped short and decided to take a closer look. I looked at Google Maps (one of the many great things about Porto is the plentiful free wi-fi spots all over the city) and saw that I was in a place called the Praça de Lisboa, or, alternatively, the Passeio dos Clerigos. “Passeio” means “passage” in Portuguese, and I could understand why. From where I stood, it consisted of a corridor cutting through the mall at street level with a view looking directly upon the Torre dos Clerigos, an 18th century Baroque church tower, which, as I later realized, was an architectural and visual icon of Porto. This was no ordinary site, and no ordinary intervention, fraught as it was with questions of appropriateness, context and authenticity. The fact that it is remarkably successful at blending into its surroundings (in fact, it looked like it had always been there, co-existing with the heritage district around it), was to me, frankly, astonishing.

Rooftop plaza within the urban fabric. Image Credit: Aleksandr Zykov. Image Source: https:// infanticida/11815794404/

The Praça de Lisboa is a shopping mall that takes up the entire block, an area of about 2000 sq m. The topography of the site is such that the roof can be accessed from the street on one side but comes up to a height of one and a half storeys from street level on the other. The roof consists of a park dotted with gnarled olive trees that function as quiet rest spaces that ramp up imperceptibly from the street on one side of the site. There are 3 layers of program: parking at the basement level (which in fact, I didn’t realize existed when actually experiencing the site and only found out about later); the Passeio dos Clerigos, a commercial complex and passageway at street level consisting of 10 commercial spaces connecting at one end to the famous Livrario Lello bookstore (fun fact: its winding staircase is supposed to have been the inspiration for the Hogwarts staircase, since J.K. Rowling lived in Porto prior to writing Harry Potter) and Torre dos Clerigos at the other; and finally, the Jardum des Oliveiras at roof level, consisting of a green roof and park with 50 locally derived olive trees meant to recreate the Porta do Olival gate (once the entry to the city).

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Site Plan. Image Credit: Balonas & Menano Architects; Image Source:

The Passeio, when experienced at street level, is an excellent example of a placemaking device that fulfils a variety of functions. It is a view corridor connecting two different icons of historical Porto (The Livrario Lello and Torre dos Clerigos) that cuts through the complex promoting pedestrian connectivity for tourists and locals alike. It is also a multi-purpose public space in nature – passers-by can browse the shop façades,

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drop in for a cup of coffee at the café at the end, or simply loiter and socialize while using the plentiful outdoor seating provided throughout the Passeio: the facade of the building consists of white structural members which double up as sun-shading devices for the commercial space and outdoor seating ledges for passers-by. Open space that can be used for performances during the many events, street parties

Site Sections. Image Credit: Balonas and Menano Architects; Image Source: praca-de-lisboa-by-balonas-menano.html

and music festivals that occur round the year have also been integrated into the design of the Passeio. The flooring too, consists of stone tiles of a distinctive (modern) pattern from the surrounding pavement, thus denoting a modern-day portal connecting two different sections of the city. The Passeio is therefore an architectural seam conceptualized and detailed from end to end as a transitional, dynamic public space.

The Jardum des Oliveiras on the roof level is more suited for rest and contemplation. It is an island of quiet from which one can observe the activity at the street level and on the Passeio below. I sat down under an olive tree for a while simply contemplating the surreal scene, looking at the swathe of lawn, olive trees and Baroque architecture beyond. It was a perfectly sunny day when I stumbled upon the complex, and

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View of the church from street level. Image Credit: adapted from rilo2006 on flickr; Image Source: com/photos/rilo2007/15435799828/

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Facade detail. Image Credit: Marco Rinaldoi on A As Architecture; Image Source: http://aida-architecture.blogspot. in/2015/07/praca-de-lisboa-by-balonas-menano.html

the Jardum was full of students reading books, people with their dogs, couples kissing and canoodling and teenagers lying on the grass with their bicycles parked near an olive tree. After contemplating the scene for a while, I wended my way to the other side, where I could see a restaurant and bar with a more lively ambience. The entire building (for lack of a better word) looked like it had been there forever, a piece of the city that had peeled up off the ground to tuck a 21st century shopping plaza underneath and house a garden overhead that was a perfect backdrop for the heritage buildings around it.

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My research on the complex yielded that the complex was inaugurated in November 2013, and the architects were a local Porto-based firm called Balonas & Menano. The clients were a collective called Urbanclerigos and the cost of the project was 6 million Euros. The architects state that the project is meant to achieve the following objectives: first, revitalize the problematic and deteriorating square; second, take the topography of the site into account; and third, extend the urban landscape by using three layers of program: park, shopping mall, and parking. Their stated focus was to draw pedestrians towards the square and lose interiority.

Interior of walkway with roof. Image Credit: Marco Rinaldi on A As Architecture; Image Source: http://aida-architecture.

According to the architects, the choice of site as a shopping mall was meaningful because the square that the Praça now stands on used to be the site of the Mercado de Anjo, an outdoor shopping market from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In the 1990s, the area had become an open square with peripheral galleries and commercial galleries known as the Clerigos Shopping Center, which, unfortunately, was not successful and was closed in 2006. The city announced an architectural competition in 2007 to rejuvenate the square. The site had long been considered a transition space, situated as it was between Porto’s picturesque medieval city (the

“Classified Area” as per the UNESCO designation) and the grand public Beaux Arts projects of the 18th and 19th century bourgeois city (Torre dos Clerigos being a prime example of this type of architecture). The maintenance of the space relies on a publicprivate partnership model wherein the commercial enterprise is responsible for paying for maintenance, including the pruning of olive trees and other necessary items, while the city provides water (irrigation of the park) and public space lighting. Since the program of the space is not primarily a civic function, but rather, a shopping mall, this is an

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View of Praรงa De Lisboa at dusk. Image Credit: domjisch; Image Source: Facing page- Aerial view of Praรงa de Lisboa. Image Credit: Alessandro Bonvini; Image Source:

arrangement that works well for this particular mix of program. Other maintenance models could be considered with more civic-oriented program such as libraries and museums. This project is significant for the following reasons: it provides an excellent example of the potential of landscape urbanism as a placemaking device to rejuvenate problematic urban spaces, tie together heritage and 21st century built environments, and find common ground between tourism promotion

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and community-focused public projects in order to resolve seams in the urban fabric. It also showcases the effectiveness of this particular typology (layering of program, creation of multi-purpose public spaces, landscape urbanism as binding element) as a way to begin designing a block-level intervention in a heritage district. This typology could be applicable to a variety of civic programs, including transportation hubs, and even public institutions such as libraries and museums.

About the Author Shreya Krishnan is a Bangalore-based architect, urban practitioner and writer with work experience across a variety of domains (architecture, interior architecture, urban design, urban planning, user experience design, product design), and scales (large 100 acre developments to less than 1000sq ft spaces). She has a dual degree (Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Architecture) from the University of Texas at Austin, and has spent most of her professional life since thinking about and working on formulating solutions to a plethora of problems plaguing Indian cities across the board, ranging from affordable housing policy, sustainable water management practices, placemaking, infrastructure design, green buildings, and heritage conservation. She is an Indian Green Building Council accredited professional and recently has started her own practice as an architectural designer and urban practitioner. In her spare time, she enjoys trekking, CrossFit, reading non-fiction and blogging about her experiences as an architect and urban practitioner.

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An International Open Ideas Competition hosted by Archasm

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On 1st June 2016, Archasm announced the brief for an open ideas competition, which sought to recreate the atmosphere of a stadium in a free-standing ‘Sustainable Fan-Box’ that would serve as a symbol of the Rio games. The FAN-BOX would be a new typological structure, a mascot for the games that should re-invent and re-imagine large fan parks into prototypical compact fan-zones of the future. The core of the competition was to create a crazy experience for the users who could connect with the Olympic games virtually, with in-house live screening areas, tourist information centres, food courts, beer halls , small concert stages and other public utilities provided under a single roof. The FAN-BOX was required to communicate an iconic architectural statement being able to attract and converge visitors around it for intense 24X7 experience of the Rio games. Reflecting upon the true connection of sustainability and architecture, the FANBOX should seek to become a tool for critical thinking on the topic of sustainability as a holistic approach rather than just a substitute for architectural expression and cosmetic application. Attempting to translate the morals of sustainability into a structure in the simplest of ways- – ranging from daily chores to utopian ideals, apart from the complex engineering solutions. The project must engage with and challenge the public, to raise social consciousness on alternative approaches to environmental challenges, local as well as global, giving the fans, spectators and general public outside the realm of the Olympics a fresh perspective on the opportunities and interpretations of true sustainability. The competition demanded a stimulating and exciting approach, with its site on the Copacabana Beach. The competition received an overwhelming 173 registrations from all around the world and was a great hit among students and architects alike. The top 3 winning entries are presented here in the following pages.

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SPECIAL FEATURE FIRST PRIZE Gerônimo Dornelles (Brazil)

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The project stands out mainly by the interpretation of the theme, and the clarity and dexterity to present its proposal Take advantage of local characteristics and brings agile solutions in a sustainable way. An ephemeral solution that explores the theme of sustainability from the point of view of a natural and local material resources. It reaches a level of sensitivity as the interpretation of the proposal that stands out from the rest. Arthur Casas December 2016 | CITY OBSERVER129


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This is an elegant solution, combining landscape and architecture in a clever way. There is a delicious contrast between the organic sandy mounds and the regular floating plane. The simple planes and columns complete the architectural ensemble. The presentation is excellent. Adrian Welch


This is so clean and neat that fits perfectly in Copacabana lifestyle and modernist landscape. So much so, it wouldn’t even need to be temporary. It could just stay anywhere. Flavia Quintanilha December 2016 | CITY OBSERVER131



The curvaceous building rises up from the beach like a Oscar Niemeyer or Frei Otto building. The design feels at one with the sandy landscape, echoing dunes and waves. It doesn’t impose a foreign solution on the waterfront. Adrian Welch

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A good interpretation of the theme with a audacious solution structure, a good presentation and exposition of the proposal, but I felt a little lack of innovation and harmony with the surrounding architecture, but nothing that decrease the quality of the work presented. Arthur Casas

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What a wonderful Mar Largo 3d reinterpretation! Also, very precise in all the uses and spaces. Flavia Quintanilha December 2016 | CITY OBSERVER135

SPECIAL FEATURE THIRD PRIZE Adam Fernandez, Lizhen Xu (France)


This feels like Burning Man has come to Rio! An elegant structure inviting people to relax and have fun. Flavia Quintanilha

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An organic enclosure, possibly too ephemeral to form sufficient enclosure – the dynamic design seems more about creating focus than protection from the elements. The light touch suggests the beach could quickly return to normal after the event. Adrian Welch


Like the other works presented, the cloudy dune stands out for its understanding and interpretation of the theme aligned with an impeccable presentation. I felt a certain distance in the relation between the local culture and the environment, but the propose is very exciting and inventive. Arthur Casas

About Archasm Archasm is an online international architectural competition organiser, blog and a comprehensive database. Archasm aims to urge the architecture and design fraternity with a portal where they could express their creative talent, passion and vision through open-idea competitions in the fields of architecture and design. Archasm welcomes professionals and students from around the world and all spheres and ranks of education (architecture, design, art, engineering etc.) to compete among the brightest and the most creative minds on Earth. Archasm is founded by three alumni of Chandigarh College of ArchitectureAnirudh Nanda, Nikhil Pratap Singh and Harmeet Singh Bhalla.

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10X10 DRAWING THE CITY LONDON Article 25’s flagship fundraising event

by Vasundhara Sellamuthu

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INTRODUCTION It’s not often that architects are commissioned to make artwork or artists requested to respond to a site. As a change from the details of everyday practice, architectural aid charity Article 25 annually offers 100 top architects, designers and artists the chance to respond to an area of London through an artwork. The brainchild of architect Tim Makower, ‘10x10 Drawing the City London’ is a special project that results in the making and donation of 100 unique art objects in response to an area of London, offering 100 perspectives of the city. These pieces are displayed and auctioned at Article 25’s 10x10 event, raising vital funds to support the charity’s work in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Facing page - 10x10 Brixton Logo. Image Credit: Article 25 Below - Brixton Grid Map. Image Credit: Article 25

Drawn to the fundamental premise of Article 25 - the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to adequate dignified shelter, and the opportunity to be involved in a project that emphasises a crossover between the fields of architecture and art, I took on the role of events officer for this year’s edition of ‘10x10 Drawing the City London’. Along with a small team, I had the privilege of helping shape the event hands on, right from selecting and commissioning participants, to curating the display of over hundred artworks at the flagship event.

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Article 25 exhibit of artwork. Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

Article 25 exhibit of artwork. Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

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Article 25 exhibit of artwork. Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

Article 25 auction event. Image Credit: Benedict Johnson

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Brixton - Peoplewatching. Image Credit: Luke Adam Hawker

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THEME This year’s ‘10x10’ theme zoomed in on the rapidly changing South London district of Brixton, famous for its rich cultural history and its unique identity shaped by multiple waves of migration that resulted in a diverse community. Participating artists were encouraged to shift their attention from the built environment – an aspect familiar to architects as reference and subject – to people and human interaction. Projecting a grid of 100 ‘squares’ onto a map of Brixton’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, each artist was allocated a square of 100x100m, 50x50m or 25x25m to respond to through their artwork, creating ‘100 translated spaces’.

THE AUCTION On Tuesday 29th November 2016, the annual 10x10 Drawing the City London auction took place at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. 10x10 2016 was attended by over 300 invited guests drawn from the culture, architecture, design and real estate communities of London. Celebrating the wider architectural community coming together for Article 25, the event exhibited and auctioned artworks by Sir Antony Gormley, Zaha Hadid Architects, Charles Holland, Richard Meier, Rafael Viñoly, Wolfgang Buttress, Peter Murray, Sam Jacob, Jock McFadyen, Tom Hunter, Antoni Malinowksi, Will Alsop and Eva Jiricna to name a few. Robert Elms of BBC London hosted the evening, encouraging the guests to dig deep for a wonderful cause. Sunand Prasad, Chair of the Trustees of Article 25 gave the guests an insight into the impact that 10x10 makes on the lives of communities in the developing world. Auctioneer Adrian Biddell, from Waterhouse & Dodd, played a star turn, ensuring that the live auction of artworks was filled with excitement. For the third year in a row, Antony Gormley’s work fetched the highest bid of £7,000. Jock McFadyen took the second highest bid at £6,400, with James Hart Dyke in third place raising £2,500. In total the live auction generated £37,300 with the additional £39,918 coming from the silent auction. Including sponsorship and donations, the bidders and supporters of this year’s event raised over £125,000 for Article 25, making it one of the most successful auctions in the history of the annual event.

Projecting a grid of 100 ‘squares’ onto a map of Brixton’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, each artist was allocated a square of 100x100m, 50x50m or 25x25m to respond to through their artwork, creating ‘100 translated spaces’.

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The Guns of Brixton. Image Credit: Karl Singaporewala

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THE ARTWORK Ranging from delicate observational drawings to layered conceptual works, five pieces that particularly caught my attention include artist Luke Adam Hawker’s Brixton – Peoplewatching, art collective Troika’s Small Bang, architect Karl Singporewala’s Guns of Brixton, graffiti artist Thierry Noir’s View of the Brixton Market from the Moon, painter Jock McFadyen’s oil painting, and branding guru Steve Edge’s Building a Dashiki. Luke Adam Hawker’s print is the result of a twelve-hour pen and ink study of Brixton’s rich and varied demographic, drawn entirely on location from 1pm to 1am. Troika is a collaborative contemporary art practice formed by Eva Rucki, Conny Freyer and Sebastian Noel. Troika’s drawing for 10x10 is made by repeatedly applying water to a spot of black ink on paper until the black is replaced by the various colours that constitute its intrinsic makeup. The work points towards both the ontological relativity and a notion of multitude that mirrors the fundamental multifaceted nature of identity, community, and knowledge. Similarly, as a diverse area, Brixton holds within it a plurality of cultures and backgrounds. In response, ‘Small Bang’, manifests like a map simultaneously a singular formation and made up of its multitude parts. Karl Singporewala’s sculpture posits the question ‘what is happening now, is it gentrification or regeneration...could it be both?’ Seeing through the thin veil of Brixton’s past and gun crime issues, Singporewala reflects on the real ‘bullets’ that make Brixton the best/worst place to live, thrive and survive. The beauty that the Windrush generation* has brought to the city is represented by the stunning Dwarf Jamaica Heliconia Stricta firing out of the barrel, with the buildings of Brixton flowering in between. Recognised today as a key forerunner of the modern street art movement, Thierry Noir is credited as being the first artist to paint the Berlin wall in 1984 at a time when it was absolutely forbidden. Noir’s iconic, bright and seemingly innocent works painted on this border symbolised a sole act of defiance and a lone voice of freedom. For 10x10 Brixton, Noir’s canvas depicted a view of Brixton market, capturing familiar forms of the fruit, vegetable, and fish stalls. Contemporary British painter Jock McFadyen RA started his career at a time when performance, land art and installation took front stage. Initially painting about the condition of painting, McFadyen started painting pictures of things he has seen following a stint as Artist in Residence at the National Gallery. When he designed a 60 x 36 feet set for ballet at the Royal Opera House in 1992, most of the efforts in his painting were about the backgrounds, leaving people or the figures out. At this time, the main preoccupation in his work became and continues to be the contemporary landscape and how to paint it. Having always been a keen observer of the city, especially the East End of London where he lives and works, McFadyen’s piece for 10x10 Brixton depicts the area surrounding Brixton railway station. Steve Edge was born in Brixton so it’s a place that has always been close to his heart. Drawing on Brixton’s diverse culture, Edge chose to represent a dashiki – a traditional African garment – upon which he embroidered the architecture and landmarks the area is known for. The tube runs the length of the dashiki; a street follows the curve of the neckline while Brixton Academy has become the sleeves. It is a vibrant piece of artwork, rich in colour, just like the place it evokes.

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Building a Dashiki. Image Credit: Steve Edge

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CONCLUSION It has been a special privilege to communicate directly with over 100 artists, architects and designers through an intense period of three months. The power of a brief and the limitless generosity of individuals dedicating time, creative thought and resources to the idea of 10x10 has been truly inspiring for me. Following on from the success of the 10x10 event held at RIBA London this year, I look forward to future possibilities and connections offered by the 10x10 concept. I’d be keen on engaging both the art and architecture communities in India’s metro cities to respond to its fast disappearing neighbourhoods through the making of artwork that not only documents but also reflects upon our urban environments.

ABOUT ARTICLE 25 In 2016 Article 25 celebrated the 10th year since it was set up in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The staff and volunteers of Article 25 have carried out over 80 projects in more than 30 countries touching the lives of over 1 million people in some of the most vulnerable communities around the world. Its position as the world’s largest architectural aid charity was recently reinforced when it joined forces with Archive Global. The NGO’s approach is simple: by working closely with local people, they develop an acute understanding of actual conditions, capacity and resources available; by applying the best principles of architecture and engineering, they design buildings and infrastructure that is much more resilient to the next earthquake or tsunami; by training they exchange knowledge with local communities and build the capacity to construct functional, beautiful and safe places for education, health and living. In 2017 Article 25 will be working on a variety of projects in several countries including Yangon General Hospital in Myanmar; rebuilding a school in Haiti following the earthquake; developing an inclusive school in Tanzania; and building medical facilities for the Leprosy Mission in Nepal and India.

About the Author Vasundhara Sellamuthu engages with art, architecture and cities through the making of exhibitions, text and art objects. She was recently Events Officer for 10x10 - Article 25’s flagship fundraising auction of contemporary art and is currently Studio Assistant at Drawing at Work. In her previous role as Assistant Director at GALLERYSKE Bangalore, Vasundhara worked with India’s leading contemporary artists including Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher and Sheela Gowda - curating shows, writing, and representing the gallery stable at prestigious fairs including Art Basel in Basel and Miami Beach, and Art Dubai. Vasundhara was educated in History of Art at Goldsmiths’ (2011-2013), Architecture at the Architectural Association (20082011), Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Art & Design (2007-2008) in London and Humanities at The Valley School KFI, Bangalore (2007). Originally from Chennai, Vasundhara currently lives and works in London.

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THE PERFECT STUDIO & OTHER FANTASIES An urban design studio project by 9th Semester undergraduate students of architecture at School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai by Amita Gupta and Nischal R Buddhavarapu

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‘A Map of the World that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at….’ -Lewis Mumford

‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ by Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

AN INTRODUCTION TO PERFECTION A painting by the Baroque painter Guercino depicts a pair of beleaguered shepherds contemplating a skull, a rat and a blowfly. The skull is carefully placed upon a cippus (a kind of low pillar), with the animal on one side and the insect sitting on top. The words “Et in Arcadia Ego” are inscribed on its side, towards the viewer. With exquisite irony, the inscription translates to “I too was in Paradise”. It is a disturbing image, not least because of its title (the same as the inscription); which evokes a better world, while being firmly fixed in the grim reality represented by that perforated cranium. More than a mere representation of a personal demise; it is a memento mori (a reminder of death) for Perfection, the pastoral paradise of Arcadia. The powerful ambivalence of celebrating an unrealised paradise while considering its non-existence; somehow highlights our almost universal curiosity towards the ‘ideal’ and the deep contradictions that surround it... an ambivalence that sometimes expresses itself in both beauty and horror. The idea of a perfect world is among the most persistent elements of human imagination; even in the most hopeless circumstances. Both in the past and the

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TEACHING URBAN DESIGN present, many have dreamed it, many have written about it and quite a few have actually tried to create it. Throughout the history of humankind; the hunt has manifested itself in migration, as settlements along the river valleys, as villages, as civilisations - in every environment we have created, incessantly hoping for abundance and beauty. The restless search for the Ideal has begun and ended wars, empires, religions, sciences and every other form of human endeavour. Through it all, we find that Utopia has just evaded us. The act of searching somehow pushes it’s object further away. Just as in a Shakespearean tragedy, the protagonist, (or the central theme in this case), finds himself responsible for his own misery and sense of doom. Yet strangely, as we try to achieve Perfection from one perspective, we fail miserably from another. In that dichotomy lies a strange incompleteness to the idea of the Ideal. This is one of the greatest burdens of being human that we bear - this inevitability of the non-ideal. Yet we continue the quest, both individually and otherwise; in hope that we may find an unsullied Utopia just around the next metaphysical corner. Because it is so elusive, it also is very desirable. It beckons us from the darkness, seducing us with its promises and its possibilities. The basic human desire to achieve the Perfect Place and the fact that this needs to be manifested physically (despite the constraints of society and environment) makes it interesting and challenging. Yet we are also confronted with the overwhelming possibility that the Place may not exist. Ever. The inevitability of the “imperfect” seems to be as resilient as the search itself. Somehow, in this struggle against that inevitability also lies the ingenuity of our creation and the maddening balance that it tries to achieve. Nowhere is this more prominently manifested than in that most complex of human artefacts - The City.

A PERFECT CITY The Perfect City is undeniably a thing of fiction. It cannot exist, and perhaps it should not exist either. But its omnipresence in human culture makes it something more intriguing than a mere exercise in unbridled enthusiasm. Like all good fiction or imagination, it serves as more than just the fancies and opinions of a single, omniscient creator; it becomes a reservoir for

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the dreams of others, who either agree with it or hate it. It gives form to their frustrations and aspirations. For some, the Ideal City is a metaphor for hope; for others it is absolute and eternal, while others accept its inherent shortcomings with existential angst. And there are a few who rebel against the Ideal and will fight it with everything they have, fearing that something that is Perfect would be far more dangerous than mere broken imperfection. Then there is always memory and its many imperfections; which recalls a moment in time that was perfect; which sometimes probably never existed. Thus an imaginary, unrealised Ideal City gains layer upon layer of meaning as time passes; until it becomes more than just Ideal – it becomes Legendary. It takes a certain level of hubris to design a city and an excess of it to design a Perfect City. Yet the history of the built environment is littered with Ideal Cities. They come from every culture and every political persuasion; from the necropolises of Pharaonic Egypt to the spiritual centrifuge that is Auroville. They have been optimistic like Tony Garnier’s Une Cite Industrielle or fanatical, like Antonio Sant Elia’s La Citta Nuova. Oppressive utopias like Albert Speer’s ideas for Berlin coexist intellectually with the ascetic liberalisms of Arcosanti. The apparent frivolity of Archigram is reflected in the studied solemnity of the Metabolists. The sweeping open fields of the Arcadian Broadacre City are in sharp contrast to the dense, agoraphobic tunnels of Asimov’s Caves of Steel. And Corbusier’s Radiant City stands with its glowing Towers in the Park as a contrast to Howard’s Garden City spread out in its strange mix of country and city. The fact that all of them are deeply flawed in one way or another only adds to their mystique. These deep contradictions reveal the enduring resilience of the concept of the Perfect City, however imperfect it may be... Some of these Perfections live in our books, images and in our minds; physically and sometimes metaphysically. Some of these originate in the ashes of wars, some from societal fashion, and some from compassion, some from creativity and others from bigotry. But they all emerge from a certain megalomania that affects the great progenitors of creative untruths such as authors, artists, politicians, planners and architects. So they stand, in our thoughts and dreams; our great leaps into Faith and Madness.

A PERFECT PROBLEM And so it was another year, another batch. We were back at School of Architecture & Planning at Anna University for another year of the Urban Design Theory course for the 9th semester undergraduate architecture students. The course focuses on connecting various dots in the very wide landscape of Urban Design Theory. During these 14 weeks, we would explore the idea of “City” using a kaleidoscope of different perspectives, where we discuss art, literature, war, water, economics, history, technology, media and various other phenomena. The focus would be on how each of these shape urban form. As with our previous year, we chose to do a ‘Semi Studio’ that was different and presented unique opportunities and constraints. In the tradition of Archigram or the Futurists, the Semi Studio would take a speculative topic and begin to explore it with reference to a context almost entirely invented by the participants. The aim of the exercise was to release the students from more terrestrial concerns covered in their main architectural studios and into an abstract problem solving environment. This focus on a speculative design was meant to allow the students to explore design as a problem solving tool for abstract issues, unbound by the temporal, fleeting problems of the present. In the search for the ‘perfect problem’, we decided to compel the students to look at the world with a more upbeat attitude. Our initial ideas suggested a “Happy City” or “A City of Joy” which would make the students explore the philosophy of happiness and its physical manifestations. This topic would have created a deeply subjective design process that we felt better reflected the diversity of opinions that Urban Design Theory represents. However, our conversations soon drew us to a more pervasive phenomenon that repeatedly came up in our seminars over the years – Utopia. The idea intrigued us because mere comparative states of happiness or joy would not be sufficient, but a more compelling absolute would be – Perfection. The students would have to create a city that would be infinitely and unquestionably ideal; at least to themselves, within their invented context; without a philosophical escape hatch that could claim that “no utopia exists...”

The design brief was short and barely a few lines long in order to try to limit our influence over the students’ ideas of the Ideal. This open ended nature of the brief was intended to encourage the students to consider an Architecture of Possibility, an Urban Form of a Utopian future instead of one bounded by constraints. They would soon realise that the opportunity itself will give birth to the constraints in a way they didn’t know existed. “The Perfect Studio aims to blend the skills of prediction, imagination and design in the student(s). Each group will build an Ideal Society for a period in the future not less than 500 years from the current time. There is no upper limit on time period. The group will begin by describing the society in as much detail as possible and thus give itself a design brief that directly arises from the culture described. The group will proceed to design a City which would emerge from such a society. Or a society that would emerge from such a city. The Futures described and designed must be Utopian. The setting could be 100,000 years from now or in the near future. The City can be set anywhere but must be somewhere. The City can be real, virtual or anything in-between. The design needs to be practical, but only within the parameters of the society & design brief invented by the group.” Students were organised into groups of 4 to 5 and asked to present their work in three stages. The groups were an important aspect of the studio structure, since discussion, discourse and persuasion were critical to the philosophy of creating a Utopia by consent. The discussions would also sensitise the student to those who disagree with him or her; and help create a more compelling answer to this ancient question. If this was going to be a leap of faith or madness (as most Ideal cities tend to be...) , it would need to be a collective enterprise. The first stage required them to explore the various ideas of the “Ideal” that have existed in literature, urban design theory and other media. The second and third stage would require them to build a context and a corresponding urban form. The presentation media was limited to only two A0 sheets per group in order to avoid fragmentation and further concentrate the diverse opinions into a more cohesive whole. And so it began....

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TEACHING URBAN DESIGN A FEW PERFECTIONS 01_City of Love by Santhosh Shyamsundar, Sabatini Jerald, Santosh Prabhu, Aishwarya Ganesh Love was our utopian concept: what is more romantic than love? This project sparked philosophical questions and introspection about what love meant to each of us in the group. The funny thing is that none of our concepts were the same. We finally picked a poem, ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran and abstracted it to suit the project. The one thing that we all loved was coffee and finally that was the tool to convey that ‘intensity of expression is the central idea of love’. Our city will draw people who came to express what they wished, however they wished to and only if they wished to. The city is meant to be a centre of intense art and craft.

City of Love. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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02_Lumion City by Sowmiyaa Selvaraj, Soumya Devi, Kaaviya Kaavi, Janani Manoharan In the future, “Happiness” becomes a lost trait. In Lumion City, happiness is the golden ticket that leads them to the mysterious central core Gaiety which is a stairway to paradise. Lumions themselves are people who glow when they attain happiness. In a future where nature does not exist in its current form, knowledge and traces of past existence of nature are limited to museums. Humans now understand that they face this abysmal condition due to their past actions. The city is based on steep terrains of the reformed earth’s crust with distinct ecological bands of mountains and hills, plateau, agricultural fields, forests, water bodies, city and a central core. Structures are inspired from the weaver bird’s nest placed on visually connected stilts on an uneven ground. Dwellings are found in groups of 4-5 units with common spaces within a cluster. Every unit gets a clear view of Gaiety where all the major events of life are celebrated. Detailing out this city helped us realize that a utopia is incomplete without harmonious co-existence and happiness.

Lumion City. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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Lumion City. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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03_City of Vinyasa by S K Mrudulaa, Indhumathi Anbalagan, Guru Prasath, Sri Krishnan What if a major aspect of the city is completely taken away? What if there are no roads which take up so much of the world’s urban area? In the City of Vinyasa we explore a world without roads set in a future where technological advancements will people and the built environment to fly using magnetic levitation and thus, leaving the land free for the forest and agriculture. The City is connected with the ground through vertical networks. With the elimination of roads, the idea of “territory” which is the cause of greed, corruption, terrorism and most evils that we hear of is also erased. We believe our concept is a solution to end the wars fought over land. The compactness of the city made possible through the vertical networks will result in a more connected society.

City of Vinyasa. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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City of Vinyasa. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

04_Levatio Nidus – The Remedial Nest by Anusheya Rajavelu, Silviya Xavier, Sri Ranga, Vignesh Raja, Varshini Subramanian Efforts for sustenance have increased our chances of survival despite the climate change crisis. The irreversible damage to plant life is imminent because of change in composition of atmospheric gases. Eventually the Homo Sapiens mutate to fill the production void of the plants. The mutation gives rise to two set of species under the human like genus. Apart from differences in physical characteristics, one being intellectual and the other being agile and shrewd, they are distinguished by their sleep cycle, which they imbibe from their root species. Soon, they fail to live in symbiosis and a war is predicted in a hundred years. A radical set of citizens leave these cities of shallow desires and create their own remedial nest to fend for themselves and other creatures and eventually restore the balance by reforming spoilt ecosystems.

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Levatio Nidus, Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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TEACHING URBAN DESIGN 05_Paralouvox by Mridula Swaminathan, Malavika Ramachandran, Amritha Vivek, Savithaa Rajendran Paralouvox, a parallel universe has been discovered and an opportunity to start life afresh presents itself. Paralouvox is centred on knowledge and learning, where a knowledgeable person is not necessarily only well-read but also a person who seeks a variety of experiences. Learning is a continuous and holistic process and people are thirsty for experiences by which to live life to the fullest. Various sectors in the city are therefore interconnected to provide a contiguous experience between work, life and leisure. The importance people give to learning is marked by a decline in consumer culture. Money is just a medium with which to satisfy basic needs rather than a status symbol. Dignity of labour is an important part and across sectors people are paid wages based on the time spent on a job irrespective of the type of job.

Paralouvux. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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06_Mizujia by Anisha, Gayathri Gopala Krishnan, Meena Revika Arasu Mizujia is an underwater Utopia for climate refugees who will adapt to underwater life and its challenges as they struggle to find a place to live after being uprooted from their homes. This city allows the exploration of the wonders of harmonious underwater living in a stratified but equitable society.

Mizujia. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

07_City of Quiescents by Abhiraami Thangavel, Mythli Vinayagam, Aarthi, Krishna Priya P Humans driven by hunger for power and subsequent technological advancements deplete natural resources ridiculously. In the distant future, they evolve into gigantic and immobile beings - the ‘quiescents’. They build an envelope to protect themselves from the harsh environment; a shell that is self-sustaining. The city functions in two levels, The Paradise and The Habitat. The quiescent conducts his life with the guidance from the ones who live in paradise, The Enlightened Ones. The quiescents have a decreased life span than that of a human. They live to an age of 30 and attain enlightenment at 25. The transportation network forms the core of the city aiding movement between workplaces, dwellings and The Paradise. The city itself is formed around The Paradise which is the source of food and peace and is a place where all quiescents want to live in. The places of communion are given more importance and form the centre of each cluster. The quiescent cherishes his/her physique, the society he/she lives in and on the whole believes happiness to be the ultimate goal of his/her life.

Pages 162,163- City of Quiescents. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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TEACHING URBAN DESIGN 08_Amphibian City by Varshini Jaichandran, Lekshmi Shunnma, Akshaya Sivasankar, Samyuktha Kumar Climate change has led to melting of glaciers and the world is almost completely under water. The Amphibian City uses the best of both realms available- land and water. So an amphibian life is chosen as the utopian way and people use technology to convert themselves to amphibians a 1000 years into the future. These people design a city under water and leave the land to nature. So energy needs are natural (air, water, plants) while they live in water thus resulting in a symbiotic relationship between the people and nature. Amphibian City. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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Amphibian City. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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TEACHING URBAN DESIGN 09_Sociopolis by Padma Priya Govindraj, Akshaya Ramesh, Juan Dcoutho, Priyanka Ravi With advancements in technology, the world is becoming increasingly dependent on it. Extrapolating this into the future, a scenario is predicted where man would become an isolated entity- living in pods, becoming apathetic, emotionless and breaking ties with other humans and nature. Our utopian city, Sociopolis is the reaction to such a dystopian context, where mankind lives in such complete isolation without the desire to even know that other humans exist. Sociopolis is based on the adage- ‘People make People happy’ and is a utopia crafted solely on human interactions. Sociopolis is designed in such a way that people are incentivized to come out of their pods and share resources. This is achieved through shared spaces, physical manifestation of virtual apps and equal parts of work and leisure, amongst other things. Sociopolis is a city for the social animal in man.

Sociopolis. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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Sociopolis. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

10_World Within a World by Geethanjali Gopinath, Yashwitha Reddy, Abilasha Moorthy, Sandhya Deepthi In a post-apocalyptic state, humans are obsessed with preserving the Earth and everything within it. The motto of the new world is that life doesn’t end; only bodies. The knowledge of every human brain is recorded and stored and that knowledge gives strength to the human race. Population is maintained within a philanthropist sphere of humans. This sphere is suspended between the Earth and Sky, drawing energy from the carbon dioxide in the air and the core of the Earth. This ideal city will run with the help of robotic servants. There are carbon towers that artificially photosynthesize to create oxygen, teleportation allows fast transport and humans idealize the City by creating a vacuum cover to protect it. The Earth is left to heal.

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11_City of Gods by Rajha Surya, Faheem Ahamed, Ganesh Babu, Mohanabrabu BM We as a species have grown leaps and bounds with our tools and the ability to create mental constructs like, religion, law and money. Our context is that humans as a species have crossed the great threshold and their basic needs have evolved to be self-transcendent. Humans are now part of a star system in a different galaxy, a species among other super beings and whom other species in the lower stages of evolution refer to as Gods. With the ability to harness the power of the galaxy, this group of advanced species maintain law and order in the entire universe. The incentives that form the core of the community stem from its mental construct revolving around knowledge and the act of pursuing the Absolute truth. The Tower of Intelligence is the centre of celebration of a new invention. Plug-in cities based on various intelligences -Mathematics, Sciences, Environmental and the likes- float around this Tower only anchoring to discuss or celebrate a new invention.

City of Gods. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University Facing page- World within a World. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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City of Gods. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

12_Earth Reborn by Nivedha Rajendran, Rithu Bala, Noora Ismath, Gobika Sethu ‘Let the Earth heal itself as we minimize our imprint on the Earth’- This was the central idea behind this Utopia where the earth was left to recover from the damage our species has done to it. The City takes the form of a helical tower with a ramp surrounding it for establishing visual and physical connections with the earth. Houses are built by individual families and can be attached to the tower of choice and citizens can pursue any profession of their choice.

Facing page- Earth Reborn. Source Credits: Semi Studio, Urban Design Theory, SAP, Anna University

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… Philosophically and ideologically this seems perfect for the studio, but I feel like I have not gotten the hang of the actual workings of the urban designer as a professional; perhaps a small module of real surveys and studies would have helped. The larger philosophical debate could have been sparked by real scenarios and literature studies. I personally felt that many projects including mine struggled a lot for lack of a grounded and complete context. Perhaps then, we could have spent more time in the design phase rather than trying to build up this context properly.

- Santhosh Shyamsundar, 9th Semester B.Arch

To create an entire context from scratch led us to a lot of questions that we didn’t know how to answer and it took us around in circles; the only thing that stopped us was the deadline. Even then, designing for a partially thought out context felt like a little bit of an injustice. It did lead to tons of interesting conversations over the course of the studio and the big takeaway for me was that nothing is really Utopian.

- Malavika Ramachandran, 9th Semester B.Arch

...I personally feel that any education should reassure one’s beliefs, reinforce the strengths and ideologies, comfort the doubts, insecurities and nourish the questions with a sense of wonder and clear out mental disturbances that may exist. It also needs to make us question what we’ve been taught all our life as being “obvious” or in the worst case, have just assumed it to be. In short, it should “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted.” Now, I’m more lost than ever and more re-assured than I could possibly be. Channelling ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ by Robert Venturi , the journey was finitely infinite, purely hybrid, compromisingly clean, interestingly boring, distortingly straightforward, conventionally designed, accommodatingly excluding, redundantly simple, innovatively inconsistent, messily vital and directly clear. All of it, complexly contradicting.

- Aishwarya Ganesh, 9th Semester B.Arch

…The assessment given was an interesting one. It was fun to create a dystopic situation within which there is a utopian world. I liked the part where we had to find probable flaws in every scenario we propose and add that to the dystopic situation. We thought everyone would love to be a part of our version of utopia but instead the number of hands that went up was just our five hands... that’s when we realised that the ‘perfect single man decides for all sort of architecture’ exists no more.

– Varshini Subramanian, 9th Semester B.Arch

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A PERFECT REVIEW While the students had trouble establishing a somewhat valid context for this project, they also had a number of interesting conversations along the way. They questioned the obvious, debated the not so obvious, spent sleepless nights thinking and used up long days filling loopholes. The project gave them a reason to dream and to dream a perfect dream. But at the same time, they sought to give the dream a grounding; an earth to stand upon. Fortunately, while they struggled to stand they learnt a few things. They started to question their beliefs and realized that what they believed to be the absolute truth may have been just someone else’s opinion on reality. Their quest let them to enquire into the functioning of their society; not just about how it works, but also why it works in a certain way - its norms and its nuances. They probed political systems, the need to have them or not have them and tried out all versions in their respective Utopias. They found faults with every system and learnt to accept them and move forward with their interpretation of it. The development of context led them to look at economic issues closely. Almost everyone thought money was evil, but probably a necessary one. They devised their own non-money based incentives for the citizens of their perfect world. While they were aware about social and economic divides, they had not questioned the origin of it or the end of it until now. They discussed this divide and also what could/should or what couldn’t/shouldn’t be done about it. The search also led them to debate

the problems of our delicate ecosystem and the threat that we pose to it. Until this point, climate change and other environmental issues didn’t seem immediate and personal. As students, they suddenly had to sensitize themselves towards these issues through discussions and deliberations. They discovered that the dire predictions of apocalypse never appeared as real either. Until now. And as they researched into this, we could see that they wondered why. We saw them attempt to answer larger questions that dealt with broad, complex phenomena. It did not seem to come easily to them. Yet, in the process of trying to find an answer, they gained an education. The knowledge and ideas were not forced... they weren’t even taught... yet they came. As they may have come to Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright or Antonio Sant Elia. The answers were not simple; nor were they meant to be. It was as if the burden of the whole world was placed on those young shoulders. They responded bravely, attempting to strike a delicate and imperfect balance somewhere; much like our world does. And it was then that their ‘perfections’ became manifestations of these deep realizations; manifestations that were physical, spiritual and powerful. Their Utopias are essentially dreams trying to rise up but also trying to stay grounded. And like all Utopias before them, they may fail, fade or fizzle out; but they are spectacular dreams nonetheless. Someone once said “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”; we say likewise, that it does not do to live and forget to dwell on dreams...

About the Authors Amita Gupta is currently pursuing her passion in teaching as a visiting faculty in School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai. Before this she was a professor at Amity School of Architecture and Planning, Noida. Prior to teaching, Amita worked with Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services as an urban development professional managing several projects across different sectors. Her research interests include, among others, public private partnerships, development economics, history and also Indian folk and tribal arts and crafts. Amita is a Graduate in Architecture and a Post Graduate in Urban and Regional Planning. Nischal Buddhavarapu is an architect, urban designer, essayist, thinker, reader, feminist, adventurer and lots of other things that may not be true… He also writes at and as The Myshkin Urbanist– a blog about architecture, cities & being generally pissed off.

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Image credit: Shruti Shankar

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