City Observer- Volume 4 Issue 1- June 2018

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Volume 4 | Issue 1 | June 2018






Volume 4 | Issue 1 | June 2018 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 collaborative platform for architects, urban designers and planners to create livable cities through participatory planning.

EDITORIAL TEAM Devangi Ramakrishnan Shruti Shankar Sunjana Thirumala Sridhar Vidhya Mohankumar



LAYOUT DESIGN Shruti Shankar

Copyrights of images lie with the person/party mentioned in the image caption. The opinions expressed in this journal are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of UDC or its members. This magazine cannot be republished or reproduced without the permission of the publisher.





62 6 Editorial Vidhya Mohankumar

8 Feature Article SEDUCTION AT SITE: SELLING ARCHITECTURE Archita Bandyopadhyay

34 Learning from Cities 10 LESSONS FROM TIRANA Erisa Nesimi













Taher Abdel-Ghani

Saptarshi Mitra

Ankie Petersen



Rohit Lahoti

Udhaya Vauhini





Namariq Al-Rawi

Aishwarya Murari

134 Community Engagement THE URUR OLCOTT KUPPAM PROJECT Ksheeraja Padmanabhan & Abinaya Rajavelu

Eneida Berisha

166 Teaching Urban Design INTERPRETING THE CITY THROUGH A PLANNING LENS Vani Herlekar & Mansi Shah

190 Closing Scene Hari Vardhan


Malmรถ Leipzig Amsterdam Belfast Dublin Toronto London New York City St.Louis Juarez

Porto Barcelona

New Orleans


Rio de Janeiro


Current Issue

Past Issues

Helsinki Berlin Dessau Tirana

Bursa Cairo


Chandigarh Delhi Selรงuk Baghdad Gaza Mathura Ahmedabad Mumbai

Osaka Thimpu Hyderabad Chennai


Guangzhou Hong Kong


Hanoi Singapore

Bangalore Kochi Trivandrum




EDITORIAL Water, water everywhere,

weeks later, Shimla’s hoteliers went back to

And all the boards did shrink;

wooing tourists with discount offers coupled

Water, water everywhere,

with suggestions on how to minimise water

Nor any drop to drink.

use while vacationing. Cape Town may have

-Excerpt from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

pushed its Day Zero deadline thanks to a bout of winter rains and other allied measures taken by the city but the problem persists. Pakistan

A coastal city, Chennai, floods devastatingly in 2015 and follows it up next year with a drought situation. A month ago, Shimla, a city that thrives on a tourist economy, queued up for water and shooed tourists away with posts saying “Stop visiting Shimla”; it even had to shut down its schools. Cape Town has been preparing for Day Zero by allowing residents

still does not have an effective water policy or a clear action plan despite the imminent risk of the water crisis exacerbating already strained cross-border relations with India in the context of the Indus River Basin. Again, these are only a few citations from across the globe; nearly every city is grappling with its own version of a water crisis.

only 50 litres of water a day (global standards are approximately 135 litres per person per day) among other drastic measure that are hurting its financial stability. Pakistan too, recently made the news for a fast-approaching water crisis. All of this, only the tip of the iceberg. It is predicted that global water requirements will exceed supply by 40% by 2030. In addition, poor water management is a universally cited reason why cities are heading for a crash landing.

What would it take for cities to invest in a holistic response for water security? Or food security? For that matter, what would it take to be more holistic about making cities more resilient to climate change? Isn’t it obvious by now that we are living in an increasingly connected world and therefore our problems (and solutions too) are similarly intertwined? It’s true that the pace of urbanization is 500 steps ahead of the pace of planning but rejecting the validity of planning and design altogether cannot be the way forward. Having

While these headlines do make everyone

said that, it is also imperative to find new

sit up and pay attention to the water crisis,

and alternate channels outside of existing

that response is already two decades late.

governance structures that enable planning

Government agencies in Chennai maintain

and designing cities in a manner that keeps

that water supply is not an issue thanks to

up with the pace of urbanization. Case in point

desalination plants. Also, that completion

is the recent international call for proposals

of the storm water drain network and ‘baby

by the Dutch Water Ministry for addressing

canals’ dug up in the middle of the river beds

water-related issues in Chennai, Khulna and

will ensure floods do not recur. Barely three

Semarang. Titled ‘Water as Leverage’, the


extremely well-written call emphasized the need for multi-disciplinary teams to dwell on a vision and approach for the chosen city’s water crisis with conceptual designs and prefeasibility studies being the final deliverables for two teams who will be announced winners and granted 200,000 Euros each. Further to this, the Dutch Water Ministry is also in tieups with the local governments of the three cities on the call and funding agencies to ensure that the solutions are carried forward to implementation. Such an exercise is not just vital to arriving at worthwhile long-term solutions but also reiterates the value of the planning and design phase in problemsolving. Other platforms such as Open Ideo too, call attention to important issues facing the more vulnerable global south in particular through its competitions that are focused

on a human-centred approach. However, the onus of implementation is not emphasized or supported as is the case with many academic research grants too. In the pursuit of cities adaptable to climate change, holistic approaches that are creative, equitable and people-centred are the tortoises and infrastructure-centric capitalistic rushes of development are the hares. We all know who won the race. Moreover, crises need to be acknowledged, dealt with and leveraged for better futures and this is humankind’s real evolutionary challenge. To better futures. To cities and people. Vidhya Mohankumar On behalf of the Editorial Team

“Follow the leaders” is a sculpture by Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal. The sculpture is more popularly known as “Politicians discussing global warming”.







Compound Wall and Site Office of Swagat Bagan Ville, Ahmedabad. Image Credit: Author




An on-site advertisement banner on Kolchet road, by a leading developer in Mumbai, promises luxurious two, three and four-bedroom apartments, a clubhouse with a swimming pool, a private nature trail, spas and restaurants. The architectural renderings and images of the site are enchanting and promise a lustrous future. The message intentioned with the display of high-end interiors setting is obvious. Equally striking is the sales office of the upcoming development, with its opulent entrance and plush finishes and an elaborately manicured garden along an ornate compound wall. Adding to the bells and whistles are hi-tech gadgetry. The yet-to-be-born building is not important anymore, the construction site is. It is no more a temporary facility, overseeing the construction; rather it takes on the role of a seductress, a site of seduction. From billboards to advertisements, graphics to drawings, and brochures to blogs, architectural content exists in varied mediums in residential real estate development of Mumbai and Ahmedabad. It is essential to evaluate these mediums since real estate property development is as much about culture and infusing meaning as much as it is about policies, planning, economics and finance. These mediums give architecture its agency to reach out to the public at large. The content of these mediums are often determined by marketing and branding executives who are foreign to the architectural and urban design discourse. The paper explores the overarching construal and meaning-making involved in marketing architecture through these varied mediums which has an impact in the way cities are growing.


DEVELOPER DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT In the first few decades postindependence, the course adopted by architects was in concurrence with the utopian, nation building ambitions of the novice nation-state. This aspect can be adeptly indicated by the song Chodo Kal Ki Baatein by Mukesh in the movie Hum Hindustani (1961) in which the imageries in the backdrop show the future prospects for the country. However post-liberalization, priority was given to the aspirations of the emergent class comprising of developers, financiers and speculators instead of harnessing collective responsibility when it came to urban development . The film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983) shows this phenomenon when a

municipal commissioner allows a private developer to circumvent the FSI rules. The scene is set at a construction site, in one of the prime properties in Mumbai. This shows that there was a transition from the early decades of postindependence when the State’s command was the major agent of social, economic and cultural change, to that of the private capital as the authoritative agency for the direction of economic policies, social values and cultural production. Apart from the political implications of these imageries, it is telling that architecture and the built environment is used to communicate meanings.

Figure 1: Movie Stills from Hum Hindustani and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Image Source: Youtube com/watch?v=ZJ71CWqgvdY and

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“The design of the built environment has been increasingly engulfed in, and made subservient to the goals of the capitalist economy, more specifically the luring of consumers for the purpose of obtaining their money. Design is more than ever a means to an extrinsic end rather than an end in itself.�– William Saunders.

Figure 2: Forces dictating design of developer-driven residential buildings. Image Credit: Author

In residential real estate property development at Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the liberty for the architect to shape the image of the building is considerably limited because of the competition in the market and building regulations which have dominated urban housing. Many aspects of a new building; like the placement of the building within the plot, form and mass of the structure have already been quantified and calibrated before the architect even sets pen to paper. Building regulations become severe and identifiable in design when the intention is to build the maximum. With spatial CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

content strictly defined, the architect is approached to be the heroic form giver in the minuscule ‘mm’ of space left for façade articulation. Since the plan itself makes the form of the building, the creation of significant meaning through spatial organization gets curtailed and the major difference or uniqueness is achieved by product packaging. It is only through proficient manipulation of product differentiation which includes styling, marketing and branding that a building can find an identifiable position in the market.

ARCHITECTURE AS A COMMODITY: MARKETING Home-ownership in residential gated communities and integrated townships has been pervasive across major cities in India. On engaging with the sites to understand the processes of marketing mainstream residential architecture it emerged that, in order to sell residential real estate projects, developers use physical setting and visual tools as the two main strategies for image-making.

Figure 3: Sites studied. Image Credit: Author

Figure 4: The brochure primarily acts as a strong visual tool whereas, the hoardings along the compound walls, the sales lounge and sample flat act as physical as well as visual persuasion tools. Image Credit: Author

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STRATEGIES OF IMAGE-MAKING The hoardings along the compound wall generates the first impression of the project for a prospective client. It indicates the lifestyle, amenities, project motto, brand of the developer and 3D visualizations of the project. In some cases, there are planters interspersed with hoardings around the construction site to mark its identification as respectable by bringing a positive sense

of nature to the project. The hoardings also serve to re-affirm the presence of the upcoming development in the vicinity as the project progresses ahead. Sales lounges at construction sites are designed as interactive settings, consisting of elaborately lit models, mock-up flats, 3D walkthroughs and visualizations which are convincing simulacra for the upcoming

Figure 5: Hoardings along compound walls at (clockwise) Lodha Amara, Thane; Kalpataru Immensa, Thane; Bungalows by Ecity Ventures, Ahmedabad, Godrej Garden City, Ahmedabad. Images Credits: Author CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

development. In order to be competitive, residential developers design their sales venues as three dimensional experiences.

the house helps in engaging the potential customers and connecting with them in a personal, memorable way. Sales venues act as extensions of their assuredness as trustworthy developers. The fact that in the absence of a sales Every aspect of marketing, when the office, developers go to the extent of potential customer is in the sales loungeentertaining potential buyers in five-star from the reception to refreshments hotels, shows that, the physical setting connotes a particular sensory appeal of the sales venue is of significant and aesthetic quality. Thus, the staging priority. of the experience, in the act of buying

Figure 6: Sales office (clockwise) (1) Amara (Lodha), (2-3) Serein (TATA Housing) (4) Godrej Garden City. Images Credits: Author

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Figure 7: In some cases, the developers put up a set of comparative charts in their sales office in order to show their exclusivity to the potential customers. This chart consists of parameters like class of people and lifestyle, that are compared to the other residential developments in the vicinity. Image Source: Shree Balaji Windpark, Ahmedabad. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

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The study of sample flats, shows that, they act as tangible evidences for a potential buyer’s investment. The show flat is designed such that it is selling certain experiences. This is done by setting up the props for those experiences; not just furniture but also pillows, linens, picture frames, crockery, candles, and cookbooks. This demonstrates that selling the consumer’s fantasy of living better has become a very important aspect. Promotional brochures are an integral part of the developers’ image making strategies and are a means for developers to distinguish their work from that of others. The brochure establishes the inaugural of the project, builds the image of the upcoming development, the status of the life-style offered and the assuredness of the developer well before the actual construction. It is absolutely mandatory for any developer to produce a brochure at every stage (Pre-Launch, Soft Launch, Launch, and Re-Launch) of the project. The size, weight, texture of paper, quality of printing, type of lettering, graphic imagery, choice of colours, the bag which is designed to send out the brochure to the potential buyers, are all successfully deployed to project an image for a property. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

Figure 8: Sample Flat at Serein (TATA Housing) and WindPark (Shree Balaji) Image. Image Sources: http://www. and

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Figure 9: Promotional brochures tend to follow a standard format, they include seductive writing glorifying the project, site plan, location plan, unit plans, glorifying the city/region of the upcoming development, a range of lifestyle imagery, architectural visualizations and the assuredness of the developer. Image Source: Brochure Courtesy of Serein (TATA Housin), Godrej Garden City, WindPark (Shree Balaji Group) and Kalpataru Immensa.

All the cases studied had a portion of their brochures dedicated to eulogizing the advantages of buying a property in Thane or Ahmedabad by indicating the technological, infrastructural, historical and cultural aspects of the city as seen in Figure 10. Particularly for Thane, since CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

it is an upcoming suburb, the developers dedicate a significant portion of their brochure to advertise the city as an asset. Hence these mediums contribute to the spread of architectural, urban, cultural and historical knowledge of the cities.

Figure 10: Emphasis on the various cultural and historical aspects of the city. Image Source: Brochure Courtesy of Serein (TATA Housing) Godrej Garden City, WindPark (Shree Balaji Group) and Kalpataru Immensa.

Figure 11: Brochure for Jai Shefali and Setu Row Housing. Image Source: (Sankalia 1995)

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Four decades ago, during the real estate boom in Ahmedabad brochures were the most essential part of the marketing strategy for developers. Buyers booked flats just on the strength of the brochure. Brochure for Jai Shefali (1977) was a simple two-page bulletin enumerating the specifications and unit plans and the brochure for Setu Row Houses (1992), consisted of an elaborately printed and rendered fold-out (Figure 11). The cover showed a sketch of a ‘Cluster of traditional row houses of Switzerland’ whereas the inside has a heavily rendered monochrome, modernist street elevation. Thus, in 1977 the brochure indicates that building could be sold in terms of their technical specifications and efficiency as seen in Jai Shefali. Post liberalization in 1992, the brochure tried to sell the building by conveying an aspirational and symbolic value as seen in Setu Row Housing. The architect was an active agent in marketing of the properties as against today wherein the contribution of the architect is primarily in the form of plans and visualizations.


Figure 12: Brochure for Shivalik Showing A Russian Miniature and Quote by Christopher Alexander. Image Source: (Sankalia 1995)

DECODING ‘MEANING MAKING’ The brochures, hoardings, sample flats, walkthroughs, renderings, lifestyle imageries and elaborately lit models are signs and representations of the non-existing object - the upcoming development. The image-making strategies indicate that today a great amount of emphasis is placed on the experience, services, media images,

and events than the actual product in order to draw large investments from potential buyers prior to the construction of the buildings. Utilizing physical sites for driving consumer perceptions, is indicative of a developer driven model. Analysis of architectural visualizations and advertisements is done to evaluate the meaning conveyed to consumers.


Figure 13: Analytical Framework for Visualizations and Advertisements. Image Credits: Author

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Camera Placement and Perspective

Figure 14: Camera placement and perspectives privilege the point from where the upcoming real estate development looks the most seductive by enhancing the scale of the project, even if it is far removed from the actual possibility of experiencing it from that angle. In this case the camera placement is from the adjacent plot. Image Source: Brochure Courtesy - Serein (TATA Housing)


Figure 15: The emphasis is on the props and the swimming pool, against the backdrop of a plush clubhouse and the upcoming development. These are luxury elements which are associated with international hotels. The secondary function that the visuals connote are that of wealth, refinement and high status by being in close proximity to such luxurious amenities. Image Sources: Brochures Courtesy of (clock-wise) Serein (TATA Housing) Godrej Garden City, WindPark (Shree Balaji Group), and Kalpataru Immensa

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Figure 16: The lush greenery of the surroundings is eminently exaggerated. The building seems to be situated amidst an expanse of green jungle and water bodies, while in reality is situated in a dense urban jungle. The camera is emphasizing is the props and the lush green landscape of the sky garden connoting the secondary function that is, the kind of lifestyle the potential user can expect amidst the soft luxuriant landscape. The exaggerated landscape details shown in the imagery is far removed from the possibility of actually making and maintaining it. Image Source: Brochure, Kalpataru Immensa


Figure 17: The rendering in the Image (left) is the visualization for ‘Eden’ complex at Godrej garden city, Ahmedabad. As one can see the rendition of the building is with lights, greenery and without a compound wall. However, in reality the building on site as seen in the Image (right) without the lights, greenery and with the compound wall does not look as striking. It emerges that, the realism that we see in renderings due to several factors is not always proportionate to the ability to produce it. Image Sources: Official Website for Godrej Garden City (Left) and (right)


Figure 18: The choice of the background sky and the illumination of the buildings from within are to make the visualizations look spectacular and the buildings tall. The visualization quotes that, the façade articulation of Serein is with ‘futuristic glass façade to make the development an iconic landmark’ which connotes that, the upcoming development will be a representative of modern technology. Image Source: Brochure Courtesy of Serein (TATA Housing)

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Analysis of Lifestyle Imagery (Advertisement Hoardings)

Figure 19: Family happiness is signified as a way of consumption. Family units connote love, stability and perpetuity. This notion of ‘completeness’ in the denotation of ideal nuclear families leads to connotations of enjoyment and happiness, the primary consumerist aim. Brochures also define the spatial context under which one should spend time with their family and loved ones by romanticizing dining pavilions and picnic niches as the epitome of a fun family life. Image Sources: Brochures Courtesy of and Lodha Amara, Wind-Park (Shree Balaj) and Godrej Garden City, Ahmedabad.


Figure 20: Brochures denote settings to ‘rekindle’ the flame for a couple by providing spaces such as shared terraces, cosy hammocks, gardens and secluded nooks to have the ‘perfect time’ with one’s partner . Also, the couples represented in the images are the idealized versions of a ‘good looking couple’ connoting that, romance is for the young and beautiful. Some visuals project images of celebrities to connote the glamour and status associated with the upcoming development. The representation of the ideal life endorsed by the celebrities suggests that success, wealth, opportunities and fame accompany the ideal. Image Sources: Brochures Courtesy of Lodha Amara and Serein (TATA Housing)

Figure 21: All the studied brochures denote images of children playing and enjoying. This is done in order to influence the buying patterns of families with children. It connotes that, children are one of consumers for whom the family buys goods and services. Image Sources: Brochures Courtesy of Lodha Amara and Serein (TATA Housing)

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Figure 22: Brochures indicate the ideal relaxed settings for socializing with friends and colleagues for the urban elite - connoting that one must have certain infrastructural facilities at one’s disposal to spend their leisure hours. Image Sources: Brochures Courtesy of Lodha Amara and Kalpataru Immensa.

The semiotic analysis of the images show that products today are imbued with greater significance than what their primary function might be. The advertisements ask the potential buyer to buy and consume not only the physical house, but also the amenities and lifestyle and thereby participate in ideological ways of seeing themselves and the world. Thus, by endowing products with social significance, these visuals act as indexes for the potential buyer’s good taste, sophistication, social position, and cultural competence.


MYTH ANALYSIS The brochures present a range of glossy renders that depict the idealized form of the building to the public. The proliferation of these digital renderings often paired with irrelevant writing in the brochures and advertisement hoardings, leads the potential buyers and the public, to expect a high degree of quality, perfection and unrealistic expectations from the developers and architects that is impossible to deliver in the real world. Glossy architectural visualizations tend to inhibit how the

building is discussed and understood often giving agency to the form or elevation of the building and is disjointed from the core act of architectural design. This has a significant impact on the meaning-making of residential projects. Due to the proliferation of these visuals, the myth which is perpetuated is that architecture is to be associated with luxury and exclusivity.

inhibits ordinary people from entering these developments. It perpetuates the underlying myth of privileging the wealthy.

The lighting, camera placement and perspectives are successfully employed to emphasize on the height of the buildings and is used as a symbol of power. The emphasis on tallness of the buildings is to indicate the sophistication The gated communities and integrated and modernity of the upcoming townships are characterized by development. It naturalizes the idea enclosures in the form of compound of a skyscraper to be synonymous walls or fences. They have picture perfect with development and thereby looking developments that allow inhabitants down upon other forms of living, that to access all the facilities and sources is, ordinary city dwelling in apartment linked to city life within the community blocks and houses, which is the majority itself, which is in binary opposition to the for the working class in the city of Thane crowded streets, broken infrastructure and Ahmedabad, thus increasing the and polluted air outside. This exclusivity socio-spatial segregation between the derived by the distinction of spaces affluent and poor. between the public-private domain is further marked by controlling access Most of the lifestyle imageries have an by variety of means including security “international feel” which is precisely guards, high end home security because they are borrowed from systems with motion sensors and sheer international online image banks extravagance. The exclusivity is also wherein the settings are not Indian. By ascertained by providing ‘secluded and indexing such non-Indian places in the private havens’, green spaces in form of context, the image is much removed parks, woody areas or nature trails. This from the actual upcoming development. 30 31


The naturalized depictions of family life by showing a man, woman and two children is misleading as it leaves out the other forms of families like singleparent families, same-sex families, couple-without-children households, that are increasingly common but are not seen as desirable and normal. In some visuals naturalized gender distinctions of “women cooking and men grilling” are also perpetuated. All these aspects contribute to the making of elite localities and identities. The study of these visuals indicate the dominant paradigms of urban aspirations like sophisticated and luxurious living in private utopian skyscrapers meant for the wealthy; with dominant notions of idealized family life and perfect body images. Thus, it can be argued that, in the process of merely producing buildings developers not only produce residential communities but also play a role in the production of culture. There is a political and ideological position that these projects are taking in order to sell urbanity. These communication systems are influencing the way cities are growing.


ANAESTHETIZATION The Myth analysis is in tandem with what Neil Leach in the Anaesthetics of Architecture says; that the sensory stimulation induced by these images have a narcotic effect, which diminishes social and political awareness and is remote from the actual concerns of everyday life. In the virulent world images, it is argued, that the aesthetics of architecture which is associated with awakening of senses and heightening of feelings and emotions, becomes the anaesthetics of architecture, consequently lowering critical awareness of our built environment. It results in a culture of mindless consumption wherein meaningful discourse gets curtailed and the only respite to it, is seduction. Hence, the design of the built environment is reduced to a “superficial play of empty, seductive forms” as seen in the visualizations. The various mediums discussed give architecture its agency to reach out to the public at large. Yet, the discursive knowledge is restricted within the profession because developer driven architecture fails to provoke any

imagination. Perhaps, if architects incorporate broader knowledge and skills into their practice with an interdisciplinary approach that includes sociology, advertising, psychology and market positioning, they could help developers create better sales venues and strategies as extensions to their brand images and promises as was the case in the early days of real estate boom in Ahmedabad. Besides holding the possibility of advancing general interest in design and planning, it could also greatly enhance the value that consumers place on spatial experiences in developer driven residential real estate. Marketing architecture could be used as a tool for effectively communicating and implementing the larger socio economic goals of architecture.

REFERENCES Saunders, William S., ed. CommodiďŹ cation and Spectacle in Architecture. Vol. A Harvard Design Magazine Reader. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Leach, Neil. The Anaesthetics of Architecture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1999. Klingmann, Anna. Brandscapes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2007. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Glaser. University of Michigan Press, 1981. Shah, Nisarg. First generation apartments : understanding emergence and early establishment case of Ahmedabad : 1965 to 1980. Ahmedabad: CEPT University, 2015. Sankalia, Tanu. Architecture of Property Development in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad: School of Architecture, CEPT, 1995. Gilmore, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Harvard Business Press, 1999. Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. Psychology Press, 1997. Baudrillard, Jean. The system of objects. Verso, 1996.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Archita Bandyopadhyay is an architect and an alumnus of Mumbai University. She has a master’s degree in History, Theory and Criticism from CEPT, Ahmedabad and is currently an Assistant Professor at R.V College of Architecture in Bangalore. Her research interests lie broadly within the critical and cultural studies of architecture with special focus on the historiography of women and the built environment and collaborative practices. Archita sees herself as an active participant in the on-going discourse of developing India and this informs her desire to practice, research and teach.

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The New Bazaar in Tirana. Image Source : tirana%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cnew-bazaar%E2%80%9D-opened-multifunctionalspace-where-tradition-meets-today%E2%80%99s-development

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“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours” -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities [1] Each city is unique, and offers a lot to learn for those who are able to read in-between its struggles and its spirit. Tirana, the capital of Albania, in recent times, has become an increasingly popular travel destination. This buzzing capital city with a long history of abrupt transformations and a somewhat erratic present is opening itself up to curious visitors from all over the world. However, as a city also experiencing rapid urban development, Tirana represents quite a fascinating set of urban challenges and accomplishments. Owing to these circumstances and its non-standard development process, Tirana, without doubt, requires a careful study to discover its intrinsic character; what makes the city what it is? More importantly, what lessons can this city teach us? As a city in perpetual flux, the possibilities of improvement are much greater. This article is my modest attempt at answering these questions, outlining both Tirana’s positive and negative aspects, how each contribute to what the city is today, and to present the idea of ‘learning by doing’, to tackle its urban design issues.




Discourses on walkability are generally associated with comfort, conforming to design standards of sidewalks, zebra crossings, and car-free spaces. What is often disregarded is proximity to a place—the ability to reach destinations easily. Tirana represents a great city model where any destination can be easily reached on foot, and for all those who enjoy walking, a car or even public transport is not at all a necessity. Well-known urbanist Jan Gehl through his studies [2] often states that an individual can effortlessly traverse a 2-kilometer distance on foot, although this depends on the city’s character and

what it offers to the pedestrian along the way. A walk through Tirana provides opportunity to engage in diverse social activities. Due to its scale and size, a walk from its suburbs to the city centre, Sheshi Skënderbej, takes approximately 40 minutes. Additionally, Tirana’s main boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit can be traversed in no more than 30 minutes. Could the city’s pedestrian infrastructure be improved? Well, Tirana’s sidewalks would certainly benefit from an improvement both in terms of size and quality. After all, it is still a learning process.

Tirana Map: Illustrating the walkable scale of Tirana’s main boulevard, Dëshmorët e Kombit. Its 2.1 km length can be covered in a 30-minute walk. Image Credit: Illustration by Author

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“Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.” — Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities [3]

A considerable degree of informality, and a do-it-yourself attitude coupled with a growing creative community, contributes to the inherent vitality of Tirana’s public spaces. Its streets are filled with people through the day and stay abuzz with activity; kids running in the streets, music playing from streetside shops and cafés, friends enjoying a cup of coffee outdoors, walking, or celebrating a wonderful sunny day.

Young people on a Saturday afternoon, enjoying the view to Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard. Image Credit : Author




It is understandable that whenever the term “metropolis” is used, the mind immediately conjures up a sprawling, dense, and overpopulated city. It is not so the case with Tirana, not yet at least. With a population of around 625,106 residents [4], Tirana is Albania’s largest city and where the country’s central institutions are located. Nevertheless, fortunately, the Albanian capital still manages to nourish its local character. Jane Jacobs, in her book “The Life and Death of Great American Cities”, broadly argues the importance of ‘places’, how local character is deeply important to our cities [3]. Developing a personal

relationship with the fruit vendor just around the corner from your apartment or the café owner in front of it is fundamentally valuable to preserving your sense of place within the city. The connections of people with place, such as the communities we build in our neighbourhoods, contribute significantly to our well-being. In the quest of becoming ‘modern’, instead of trying to overcome what is intrinsic, could we attempt to create our own definition of a ‘local-modern’ city? Tirana I hope will not lose this aspect of ‘keeping it local’ in its urban development process.

Tirana New Bazaar One of Tirana’s main hot spots; this area is constantly crowded and vibrant. Image Credit : Author

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Local food market in Tirana, a place for residents to shop and meet with one another. Image Credit : Author


Selling handmade products along a primary street in Tirana. Image Credit : Author



Tirana never bores. While wandering through the city, the sense of an eclectic, chaotic community is palpable; where everything changes rapidly and somehow, every morning, one wakes up to a brand new Tirana. The stimuli behind this character might be several: the lack or strict control of planning, or a long-standing culture of uncontrolled development. Regardless of the driving forces, the constantly changing city manages to surprise at every instant.

Of late, I have developed a habit of taking pictures while walking around Tirana, because a part of the city I photograph on one day might have changed the following day. The city, in this perpetual state of transformation, retains its ability to surprise, over and over becoming a different version of itself. This often means a lack of visual order, but what really defines order and chaos? What degree of order is actually needed in a city?

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Shop front advertising – order or chaos? Image Credit : Author


Shop fronts in Shallvare area Tirana, diverse and colourful. Image Credit : Author

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One of the greatest aspects about living in Tirana is its proximity to the countryside. Green parks and hills surround Tirana, each with outstanding panoramas towards the city, creating urban oases to easily escape to. The green areas of Farka, the artificial Lake Park, and Paskuqani Lake Park are located quite close to the city and represent some favourite Sunday destinations for locals. The Mountain


of Dajti to the city’s east is reachable in just 15 minutes by cable car or in 45 minutes by road. A weekend bike ride becomes wonderfully joyous as you shift from an urban environment to the countryside in less than half an hour. These diverse natural environments are Tirana’s most precious assets that it needs to preserve through its ongoing urban changes.


“In the process of wayfinding, the strategic link is the environmental image, the generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual. This image is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action” - Kevin Lynch, Good City Form [5] According to Kevin Lynch [5], legibility means the extent to which the cityscape can be ‘read’. While moving around a city, people need to be able to recognize CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

and organize urban elements into coherent patterns, to orient themselves and find their way through. In Tirana, orientation is not easy, especially if you are not a local. The lack of structure in street names and street signage, coupled with the continuous transformations the city goes through, means that people rarely know formal street names and have developed their own informal system of orientation around the city, based primarily on well-known local landmarks. Curiously enough, people have their own names

Proximity of city centre to countryside and natural areas. Image Credit : Illustration by author

People relaxing on a Sunday afternoon in Farka Lake just 30 minutes by bike from the city. Image Credit : Author

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for streets and landmarks. As a result, in Tirana you will find locals referring to places and destinations with “pedonalja” – meaning pedestrian street in Albanian, or “pallati me shigjeta” – referring to

a building which has direction arrows drawn on its façade. This way, the city itself has becomes a symbol of its complex society.

Distribution of informal landmarks in Tirana. Image Source: SBA, UNLAB & IND in collaboration with the Municipality of Tirana [3]




Pedestrians near the Student City area, use a ‘designed’ green zone as a walking path, instead of the sidewalk. Image Credit: Author

Pedestrians have created their own short-cuts over time through Rinia (Youth) Park, Tirana’s central public park. Image Credit: Author

These images above, showing people making their own ‘design’ decisions, are quite common in Tirana. One of the best ways a city can progress successfully is to learn from its past mistakes. We as urban planners, builders, and designers, often harbour a common misconception that users are instantly going to use the design interventions we provide exactly as per our intent—the reality however, differs. We are obviously not always right. Would it not be better to first

reflect on past design mistakes before making future decisions? If we build it, are people going to use it, and how? In the process of improving city design and infrastructure, there are still several challenges to overcome in Tirana, primarily, the need to observe and learn from how Tirana citizens use their city’s spaces, as the first step to peoplecentric design.

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‘The city is the locus of the collective memory’ - Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City [6]

Despite being a rather young capital (since 1920), Tirana’s layered urban fabric is the direct consequence of a

long, multifaceted socio-political history. The physical effects of ever-changing politics and power are manifest on Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard, and on Tirana’s main square, Sheshi Skënderbej. A constant arena for power expressing itself in urban form, this square bears witness to the city’s intricate history and its unstable political present.

Tirana’s main square, Sheshi Skënderbej: (from left to right) Theatre of Opera (Socialist Era), TID Tower (Hotel Plaza, completed 2016), Tirana Clock Tower and Mosque (Ottoman Era), and Municipality (Italian Fascist Era). Image Credit: Author




Every historical period in a city’s past, exerts a continuing influence on its present. Historical buildings are physical proof of a particular era and its influence on a city, and as an ensemble, tell the story of a country’s development. In the urgency to progress forward, there is often an attempt to erase those symbols that may be reminders of a city and its country’s painful, historical past. I believe however, that a city needs reminders of both its positive and its more trying memories. Just as we study city-life while designing for the city, it is likewise important to preserve historical elements of the city, to remember our past, and reflect on it as build for a better future. Unfortunately, Tirana is struggling in this regard. Historical buildings are often disregarded. The city is gradually developing a new face by erasing its memory. Nonetheless, it is still possible to take action in order to preserve what is yet not destroyed.

A prominent villa from the 1920’s, in Durrësi Street in Tirana—Rich in architectural composition and detail, for some years now, it has been abandoned and deteriorating day by day. Image credit: Author

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Tirana is a mono-centric city; services in the city are not evenly distributed and its peripheries face issues related to the lack of social infrastructure and services. Image Credit: Illustration by Author

The shape and form of Tirana today is the result of rapid, yet unplanned, and controlled development, in the long, transitional rehabilitation period since the end of the communism in Albania. While the city has expanded, access to services remains centralized; a vestige of its communist past, and its periphery continues to suffer lack of social and CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

physical infrastructure, as well as other amenities. Neighbourhoods are not yet strong enough to become selfsufficient clusters, independent of the city centre. Yet, urban reforms are being implemented, and though the future seems promising, there is a long way to go before Tirana becomes a truly polycentric city.


“The pseudoscience of planning seems almost neurotic in its determination to imitate empiric failure and ignore empiric success“ - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities [3] Design, is a reflective process, a discipline that allows for modifications. The concept that action can only be taken after all of the answers and the resources have been found, is incorrect and leaves little room for improvement. Thinking that planning can be done only

after every component is controlled is utterly arrogant. Consequently, it is indispensable that we continuously reflect on urban design decisions made in our cities in order to learn from previous experiences. With both its positive and somewhat negative aspects, Tirana is an intricate and delightful city that has something to offer to everyone. REFERENCES [1] Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972. [2] Gehl, Jan. A City for People. Washington: Island Press, 2010. [3] Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Modern Library, 2011. [4] Data based on the Tirana General Local Plan 2030 (TR030), SBA & UNLAB & IND, drafted and approved in December 2016. Link: http:// Bashkia-Tirane-Strategjia-Territoriale.pdf [5] Lynch, Kevin. Good City Form. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. [6] Rossi, Aldo. The Architecture of the City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Erisa Nesimi is a young architect based in Tirana, Albania, currently engaged as a junior consultant in developing a set of guidelines for the revitalization of traditional buildings in the Riviera region in Albania. She is an urban enthusiast with experience in research on urban planning, traditional building, tourism, and culture. She maintains a keen interest in the social, political, and economic aspects of a city alongside psychology, history, cultural heritage, and urban street photography. Erisa enjoys collecting urban impressions from the cities she visits and is always keen on discovering new destinations.

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Public Toilets for Men and Women Image credit: Tama66 via Pixabay

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Public spaces are often perceived as neutral spaces by both users and designers. But when you look more closely at their uses, this perception is simply not true. Everywhere in our public space, design choices are being made which have an impact on different segments of the population; when space for cars is favoured over space for pedestrians or cyclists, when ample street lighting is or is not applied in a residential area, or whether facilities such as drinking water fountains or public toilets are provided in a location popular with tourists. All these different features and focuses reflect the power relations that define public space. As a result, these features affect the experience and accessibility to public space, and not in the least for women. This is illustrated by the following case study, centred around the discussion for hygienic facilities in the public space of the city of Amsterdam.


A typical Amsterdam public urinal: ‘De Krul’. Image Credit : Alf van Beem Via Wikimedia Commons

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The absence of public toilets has been a heated point of discussion in the Netherlands in this past year. This topic specifically caught the public’s eye when a young woman was fined by a court judge for urinating in public in our capital city. The heated public discussion that followed led to a national social media campaign (Actie #Zeikwijf) which received press coverage all over the world, from the Guardian to the Japan Times [1]. Many felt the outrage about the public urination fine was justified due to both a sexist ruling of the judge in question, and a sexist design of Amsterdam’s public space. TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE? The situation was as follows. A young woman had been going out in Amsterdam when after-hours, she desperately needed to pee. All bars were closed, and the few public toilets in Amsterdam had closing times as well. With no other options, she had to either try and urinate in a men’s urinal, which for anatomical reasons is not the best choice, or to find a quiet place where no one could see her and pee there.


As most women would, she chose the latter. As if the inconvenience was not enough, she was caught by the police, and fined €140. The young woman appealed against her fine in court but did not find much sympathy there. The judge found her guilty on the count of public urinating, which of course she was, and stated that she should have gone to the men’s urinal instead. It would have been uncomfortable, he claimed, but not impossible. Moreover, he stated that women don’t need more public toilets, as they “don’t urinate in public anyway”. The fact that the entire city of Amsterdam has only three after-hours public toilets suitable for women, as opposed to over 35 urinals for men, did not seem to affect his thoughts on the matter. The incident, and the ruling that followed, laid bare some uneasy shortcomings in the way our public spaces are designed. Firstly, it appeared that the court judge in question did not consider the anatomy, the safety or the

hygienic needs of women at all by saying they could easily urinate in a men’s urinal. Secondly, neither the judge nor the Municipality saw the importance or urgent necessity of ample public toilets for women in public spaces—a factor directly influencing the ability of women to use public spaces. The possibility to pee and be in public spaces should be available to everyone. But if the ratio between facilities in public space is this unfavourable to women, how equal is our public space at all? [2]

SPACE, DESIGN AND POWER RELATIONS The study of urban spaces in terms of power and social structures has gained much attention amongst different scholarly disciplines since the 1960s. The so-called spatial turn has put the design of space as a central feature to understand how social, political, economic and cultural processes and relations make specific public places and how these geographies reaffirm, contradict, or alter these relations. [3]

Amsterdam’s Leidseplein district at night, where the woman was fined for public urination. Image Credit : Poom on Flickr used with CC-BY 2.0

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To analyse the production of space in the context of history is to look at power struggles as they appear in the planning, design, construction, use, and demolition of typical designs. Features within this analysis are the shape and function of public spaces, and in a larger sense their political meaning. [4] When

employed in terms of the vernacular, spatial analysis shows the importance of ordinary people and actions on the shaping of urban areas and the significance of common parts of the landscape, like the presence or absence of publicly accessible toilets in urban spaces.

Screenshot of the protests against the shortage of public toilets for women. Image Credit : Author


While keeping space as a social construct in mind, it would come as no surprise that public space design does not treat men and women equally. Looking at the historical context of public space design and gender roles, we can observe how urban planning and architecture have for a long time been exclusively the business of men. At the end of the 19th century in Western Europe, many cities experienced rapid expansions due to industrialization. In these increasingly overcrowded cities, the quality of public space became more important. In the Netherlands the qualitative assurance of public space design became the task of local governments by means of different committees for public facilities and spatial development. These committees consisted of architects, urban planners and public administrators, and not surprising for the 19th century, these were almost exclusively male employees. Even though women entered the work fields of urban design and architecture especially during the second half of the 20th century, not much has changed in the urban design practice in terms of inclusiveness. Decisions on how

money is spent, and cities are planned are largely made by men, limiting women’s rights on the equal access of public space. Female needs are often overlooked by male-run urban governments and moreover, decisions were for a long time heavily influenced by gender roles in society. The designs of urban space still represent these gender roles and make clear how the needs of men and women in public space are treated differently. DESIGNING EQUAL SPACES In this regard, feminist critiques of architecture and public space design emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Within the frame of spatial feminism, more and more essays and books were written addressing the male-centred practices of design. In 1979, architect Dolores Hayden wrote her well-known essay ‘What would a non-sexist city be like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work’ on the relationship between the design of housing, public space and gender roles in western society [5]. In 1981 architect Leslie Kanes Weisman wrote ‘Women’s Environmental Rights: A Manifesto’, in which she explicitly ousted the male-

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dominated profession of spatial design and its consequences for women:

“The kinds of spaces we have, don’t have, or are denied access to can empower us or render us powerless. Spaces can enhance or restrict, nurture or impoverish. We must demand the right to architectural settings which will support the essential needs of all women.” [6] Even though these feminist critiques are over 30 years old already, their comments on the design of urban spaces still stand. Although increasingly more women are participating in the design-workforce and are involved in local and national politics, influencing the ways our cities are built and governed, we can still see traditional


gender-insensitive power-relations when we examine the design of public spaces—in this specific case, the absence of public toilets in Amsterdam. But there are many more examples to point out where the accessibility and safety of women in public space have not been properly addressed. If we want to guarantee the accessibility of public space to both men and women, the traditional, male-oriented design perspectives need to be addressed. The question of how to design equal public spaces does not have a clearcut answer. What this case however has shown, is that the experiences of women in public space are vital to be able to define the problems that need addressing. The lack of public facilities for women in cities is one of these problems. So, let us start by taking the experiences of women seriously, and not assume that spatial design is genderneutral. Designers and governments have the task of solving these questions of accessibility and safety, and design more inclusively by taking into account the different experiences of both men and women, or any other gender alike.

REFERENCES [1] [2] opendata?boundsfilter=52.389559,4.944432,52.359457,4.850359&types=2360 [3]Soja, Edward, “Taking Space Personally”, in: Arias, Santa & Barney Wharf (eds), The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, New York (Routledge) 2008. [4] Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Cambridge, MA (Mit Press) 1995. [5] Hayden, Dolores. “What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work.” Signs 5, no. 3 (1980): S170-187. [6] ‘Prologue: ‘Women’s Environmental Rights: A Manifesto’’, in Gender Space Architecture, ed. by Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner and Iain Borden (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 1-5.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Ankie Petersen (1991) is a researcher and publisher on cultural heritage, architecture history, and urban development. She obtained a double masters in 2017 and 2018 in Heritage Studies and Design Cultures at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Recently, she published a co-edited volume ‘Future Proof, Nieuw Vakmanschap in herbestemming’ (Dutch) on vacancy redevelopments in the Netherlands. She is also writing a chapter for the upcoming book The Afterlife of Fascism: The Reception of Modern Italian Architecture and Urbanism, to be published by Oklahoma University Press later this year. She is a correspondent for critical architecture platform ArchiNed, and a member of the Dutch Worldconnectors, a network of young entrepreneurs, researchers and policymakers focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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In its metamorphosis from a post-industrial city to a hub of commerce and entertainment, Mumbai’s physical form has undergone and continues to undergo tremendous and often very violent changes. New housing typologies such as gated communities are replacing older ones like the chawls of the textile mill-workers. The following photo series is of Haribaug Chawl in Lower Parel, Mumbai. Typically, these three to four storied housing tenements with central, open community courtyards are where mill-workers who came from far flung villages and small towns stayed as tenants, and eventually settled into permanently as families. The common corridors of the chawls serve as extended living rooms, and house doors rarely remain closed. In such an environment, people here not only know everyone’s names, but are also part of each others daily lives. The courtyard is the public space where residents play cricket, have community meetings, and celebrate all kinds of festivals through the year. Considering the ever-increasing housing needs of Mumbai today, chawls are seen as an impractical housing typology. Yet, the primary learning of engendering inclusive public spaces within housing communities is not something implausible.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER Rohit Lahoti is an architect-researcher and a documentary photographer. Currently, he is associated as a Research Consultant with the University of Chicago for a project based in India. Previously, he has worked with HCP in Ahmedabad, PK Das and Sameep Padora in Mumbai. He has a couple of international publications for his urban-design research papers, loves conducting heritage walks, and completed his Young India Fellowship in 2017.

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Map of Baghdad. Image Credit : Illustration by Author, 2017.


“I visited the Dead Zone on my vacation.” Sounds more intriguing than saying I visited the Louvre, does it not? In 2017, I made a journey to my home city that I had to flee in 2005 to escape terrorism and ethno-political persecution. My goal was to try to reconnect, and rediscover the feeling of belonging to a place. I had thought that being a returnee would mean simply picking up the trail from the time I had left. I did not expect to find myself faced with a new city, one that I had become a stranger to, and would need to experience afresh. BAGHDAD Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is situated on a low-lying, alluvial plain of the river Tigris. The city covering an area of about 774.96 sq. km [1] is divided by the Tigris into two halves: Al Rusafa on its east and Al Karkh on its west. If you ever consider visiting, carry ample sunscreen, as with its hotarid, desert climate it is one of the hottest cities in the world; summer maximum temperatures range between 34°C and 42°C [2]. Baghdad’s population has grown from 5.2 million in 2013 [1] to 8.4 million in recent years [3], making it Iraq’s most populated and dense city. This figure accounts for 22% of Iraq’s entire population, so you can sense how crowded the city must be. At one time, Baghdad embraced a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse population, a social fabric of Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, Kurds, Mandaeans, and Circassians, among several other ethnoreligious minorities [4], that could stroll freely within the city’s mixture of old dense courtyard-houses and modern, planned urban fabrics. 76 77


Yet, in the past few decades, Baghdad has been in the news for other reasons. An incessant onslaught of violent acts against the city; physical destruction by wars and conflicts, political interventions to establish state sovereignty, and spatial militarization, have each created spatial boundaries resulting in disruption of social urban life. The twelve years I lived in Iraq were before the catastrophic war of 2003. Those years were spent under economic sanction, when even basic foods such as bananas were available to only the few, fortunate elite. Still, accessibility

to the outdoors was not curtailed, and Baghdadis thronged to the city’s many public spaces such as the Parade Ground, Martyr Monument, and Baghdad Clock. Abu Nuwas Street, the riverside boulevard along the banks of the Tigris, was from where boat parties took off, and where Baghdadis savoured Masgouf, a dish of seasoned, grilled carp fish. Believe it or not, these urban practices continued through war. Markets such as Al-Shourjah in the heart of the old city would be crowded with people as if it was just another ‘normal’ day.

Historical image of Baghdad – floating bridges and reed boats formerly linked two halves of the city. Image Source : CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

Masgouf’ the Mesopotamian dish of seasoned and grilled carp. Image Credit : Mohammed Aladdin, 2017

Al-Shourjah Market remains a busy shopping destination. Image Credit : Mohammed Aladdin, 2016

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THE POWER OF WAR The war against Iraq began in March 2003, conducted by the Multi National Forces (MNF) lead by the United States. I remember shortly after the occupation, my mother driving me to school, 6 kilometres away from home, without actually knowing whether it would still be standing. We passed by Al-Yarmouk Hospital, usually one of Baghdad’s traffic bottlenecks, the streets quiet

BAGHDAD THROUGH THE LENS OF A RETURNEE In April 2017, twelve years after leaving, like Sinbad the sailor from my childhood stories, I too was going back home. On the plane to Baghdad, I was overwhelmed by paradoxical feelings, the excitement of return versus the fear of its consequences. As my uncle drove us from the airport to his home, my first thought was, “What happened to

and empty except for looters robbing public buildings and the presidential palaces. Tension in the air prevailed with the presence of the occupants and ‘co-insurgency’ operations targeting anything that moved. Soon there was an escalation of assassinations, child kidnapping, and random shootings. With the blocking of roads and restrictive curfews, public areas became spaces of fear and were soon deserted of people. The rate of violence had increased an estimated fifty-eight times higher than the period before the war [5]. My family

Baghdad?” So many watchtowers and thousands more blast walls. There were so many checkpoints that it felt like we were driving through a military base instead of a city. Every neighbourhood in Baghdad was now an isolated fortress, surrounded by four-meter high concrete blast walls, each accessible through only a single checkpoint. This situation slowly became familiar, though I could never get used to the photos of martyrs of the war against terrorism that hung from the blast walls.

fled Baghdad during this period, and I carrying its memory, struggled to define the meaning of home while growing up abroad.

Even as I showed off my memory skills in front of my family, locating places I remembered on a map of Baghdad, I felt the terror from the city creep up as every


One of several checkpoints encountered in Baghdad. Image Credit : Author

location I identified turned out to have been a target of attack in the past years. Wandering the city as a fresh returnee felt burdensome. I became anxious whenever I saw an armed vehicle in the street, and my heart would pound when we stopped in a crowded area, fearing it might be the target of an attack. On the other hand, those around me went about their everyday lives as normally as if they were in Milan. It made me reevaluate my definition of ‘normal’. Could

there be a global definition for normal, or could it only be defined locally, by place and circumstance? As part of the trail to reconnect with home, I wanted to relive the habitual practices of my past. So together with my uncle’s grandchildren we went to the market I used to visit as a child. There a vendor confronted me, “You are not from here.” The children instantly replied, “Yes, ammo, we are.” He shot right back, “You’ll are, she is not.” This conversation

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An everyday ‘normal’ scene in Baghdad. Image Credit : Author

repeated itself at several more shops before I gathered the courage to ask why they thought of me as a stranger despite my native Baghdadi accent. Their response, “Your eyes do not hold the terror that we’ve lived through.” In 2003, the first step taken by the occupation was to spatially locate troops in the city in a way that would assure their safety. Zones of strategic importance were militarised. The main zone with the highest security was called the Green Zone, while the rest of the city was called the Death Zone [6]. Geographically, the Green Zone was located in the centre of Baghdad, occupied by various political groups, each inflicting their own version of sectarian conflict on the rest of the city via armed militias and political assassinations, generating a notion of CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

territorial invasion-succession [7]. The bombing of one of Iraq’s holiest Shia shrines amplified this violence, and in Baghdad, drastically acerbated the association of communities with their sect-based identities, turning them into living targets for violent actions to serve sectarian political agendas [8]. Being a flâneur then meant risking life and limb. To step out in public required obtaining two identity cards, each with a different name, the last name especially, an identity marker for a person’s religious ethnicity. When stopped at a checkpoint of one of the armed militias, you prayed that you had presented the right card, or be shot. It was gut wrenching for me to hear stories of people, in the attempt to continue with normal life in the midst of such

Location of the Green Zone in Baghdad. Image Credit : Illustration by author, 2016

Map of the Green Zone. Image Credit : Illustration by author (partly based on map provided by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 2007, and Google Earth satellite image, 2016)

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Emergence of a sectarian landscape and shift in the social fabric of Baghdad. Image Credit : Illustration by author (based on Dr. Michael Izady’s maps of sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, 2009)


‘Beautifying’ the ugly blast walls of Baghdad. Image Credit : Baker Mujahed, 2016

politically-driven pressure, making their way to school and work through streets covered with bodies. One man I spoke to commented that at the time, they left their houses everyday not knowing if they would return home at all. Needless to say, in a society that lived through such terror, knocking the door to surprise your family would not be advisable; everyone was paranoid of opening their door to the unknown. Suspicion built towards anybody that appeared at the borders of gated neighbourhoods. The words ‘Blood of

the owner wanted by the tribes’ was seen painted across many houses. Life in Baghdad turned, from secular to sectarian. However, all my discomfort from the drastic changes in the city were pushed away, when I spotted still standing ‘Chips Al-Karrada’, that finest and most distinguished Baghdadi institution of potato chips! My ‘touristy’ oohs and aahs must have been sure give-aways to the shopkeeper of how long it had been since I last tasted those delicious chips.

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“Blood of the owner wanted by the tribes” written across a wall. Image Credit : Author

‘Chips Al-Karrada’ sold mainly on the streets of Karrada, Baghdad. Image Credit : Author CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

‘Normal’ in Baghdad is eating a burger while standing next to a parked army patrol vehicle. Image Credit : Author

A bookstall on Al-Mutanabi Street. Image Credit : Baker Mujahed, 2017

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The Tigris at night. Image Credit : Mohammed Aladdin, 2016

The love of food continues to thrive among Baghdadis and is celebrated across the city, day and night. In Karrada, while I stuffed my face with Ali Al-Lamy’s burger, and watched people enjoying ice cream from Al-Faqma to escape the 40°C May night, I observed how the army patrol vehicle parked outside the restaurant, that appeared looming and intimidating to me, had become part of the normal and invisible for those around me. Al-Mutanabi Street in Rusafa despite a deadly attack in 2007 has also managed to retain its identity as a CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

Friday destination for Baghdadi society. This street of booksellers was once considered a hub of literature and of the intellectual community in the Arab world. The Friday urban ritual usually starts with visiting ‘Hajj Zbalah’ for freshly pressed raisin juice followed by wanderings through the world of books and other cultural activities on Al-Mutanabi. The day typically ends with a meal of ‘Kubbat Al-Sarray’, large bulgur dough stuffed with seasoned mincemeat kebabs served in soup. Baghdad never sleeps. Despite the blackouts, the occasional terrorist

A crowded day in Baghdad. Image Credit : Baker Mujahed, 2017

attacks, and political restrictions, except the Parade Ground confiscated by the Green Zone, most public spaces are accessible during the day. CafĂŠs and restaurants remain open around the clock, and the banks of the Tigris brim with people seeking a normal nightlife. Festivals, both international and local, religious ones are celebrated enthusiastically. SINBAD ON A LOST TRAIL I had come to Baghdad to reconnect with the city of my childhood, and the house that my family had lived in was

the final destination on this trail. I kept stalling until the very end, facing a reality that could split my world into halves. I had to ring the bell to be able to enter my old family home, and in that moment, I realised that I had lost the right to belong to this place. I had lost home. The house was now occupied by an Internally Displaced Family (IDP) who in recent years had fled their own village. The entire neighbourhood was unrecognisable. Instead of the spaciously planned row houses of my memories, the area now resembled an informal settlement. Some houses had been allotted to displaced families, 88 89


Scene from a religious festival in Baghdad. Image Credit : Baker Mujahed, 2016

while others had been simply taken over. A large vegetable market occupied what was once a spacious row of houses and sheep filled the street. It was time to leave. This time my uncle dropped me off at the first checkpoint, from where I had to take a specially authorised taxi to reach the airport. On the long ride, interrupted by multiple security checks of the taxi and my luggage, I felt wistful that I was leaving so soon, with so much Baghdad yet to be rediscovered.


The doorbell of what used to be home. Image Credit : Author

The day after my flight took off, a car bomb targeted Al-Faqma ice cream shop, injuring at least seventy five people, and leaving behind sixteen casualties, among them a twelve year old Australian-Iraqi girl on vacation [9], perhaps on her own journey to reconnect with home and family. REFERENCES [1] Atlas of Urban Expansion 2013 - http:// Baghdad [2] World Meteorological Organization - http:// [3] Alsumaria News. 2017. Ministry of Planning: Baghdad Population exceeding Eight Million: Minister Salman Al-Jumeily’s Statement to Baghdad Mayor Atwan Al-Atwani: Development of Baghdad. Baghdad: Alsumaria TV

[4] Soane, Ely Bannister. 2007. To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in disguise. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics. [5] Ismael, T. Y., and Jacqueline Ismael. 2005. Whither Iraq? Beyond Saddam, sanctions and occupation. Third World Quarterly 26. doi: 10.1080/0143659050128303. [6] Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. 2007. Imperial life in the emerald city: Inside Iraq’s green zone. New York: Vintage Books. [7] Gregory, Derek. 2010. “Seeing red: Baghdad and the event-ful city.” Political Geography 29, no. 5: 266-279. [8] Damluji, Mona. 2010. “Securing Democracy in Iraq”: Sectarian Politics and Segregation in Baghdad, 2003-2007. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 21. doi: 10.2307/41758725. [9] News, A. B.C. 2017. Australian girl on vacation killed in Baghdad car bomb blast. wireStory/australian-girl-vacation-killedbaghdad-car-bomb-blast-47736023.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Namariq Al-Rawi is an architect and urban researcher. She completed her B.Sc. Architecture from German-Jordanian University, during which time she was involved in several refugeeoriented projects, including documentation of their informal settlements in Amman. During her M.Sc. in Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design at Stuttgart University, parallel to her work as teaching assistant, she employed her linguistic and artistic skills to help refugees in various projects across Germany. Besides her current work as an architect, she is involved in researching the reconstruction of stricken cities in her homeland Iraq, and other similar cities.

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THE CITY WITHIN US For architects and urban planners, a City is a fascinating study, one of endless mystery and complexity. Ancient chains of symbolic elements are hidden within their essence. These symbols become elements which frame a unique spatial stance of our own built settings. The dynamic interaction of an individual with the City is myriad— where the individual is in a state of constant motion, observation, and interaction with everything he/she sees, hears, and feels. It is in this sort of interaction that meaning is generated, i.e. everyday spatial practice committed to the daily reproduction of identity and value. However, each individual has a unique perspective, thus their process of observing differs, and corresponds to each persons’ desires, needs, and aspirations. Space is a heterogenetic element encircling our modern-era emotional experiences and definitions.

Facing Page: Egyptian Actress Horreya Farghaly in a scene from the Egyptian film “El-Ashash” (2013) Image Source: plus18/2015/02/01/6369

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The case for radical modernity. Image Source:

The Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St Louis, shortly after its completion in 1956. Image Source:


Modernity, a spatial phenomenon that has cast its shadows above our perceptions clouds our inner humanistic core value, replacing it with visually captivating and subconsciously realistic images. It has generated and portrayed the city as a cultural stage upon which stand highly skilled actors and actresses. Their distinctive performances and personalities are reflected through the public. With the aid of symbolic gestures and the exclusion of other daily acts that are not part of the dramatic setting itself (while still being a part of the real world), the city is transformed into an beautiful vista [1]. Here emerges the role of the observer, the dreamer, the artist, or the filmmaker, who grasps the total sum of signs, the endless possibilities and magnifies the fragmented pieces of the delirious cultural universe onto the stage, or the screen, in a way that corresponds to his own inner conflicts and open-ended questions. The accelerated delivery of information and physical infrastructure has created a diversity of impressions on the citizens of the metropolis [2]. These impressions, as eloquently described by sociologist Georg Simmel, are characterized by

fragmentation and discontinuity. Yet they are retrospections directed toward the shift to the twentieth century, thus in turn, a contribution to the existence of “sensory foundations of psychic life, [and] sensory mental images” [3]. CINE-SPATIAL REPRESENTATION Experiencing the city offers a moveable experience, a contemporary collection of life images that define everyday scenes. Cinema encompasses the role of the observer, a medium that exposes a variety of realities to a wide range of the public, thus immersing them into a fragmented realm of space and time. Whole images, fragmented images, and even still images are mentally reconstructed to unfold the city’s hidden aspects; ones that cannot be fully comprehended due to their vague affiliation with our mental perceptions. Their position within space provides them with a spatial characteristic that transcends their shallow exterior image, making them a dominant symbolic spatial feature subjugating the existing scenery. The term ‘cine-spatial’ best describes this portrayal. It is the theoretical framework that bounds the exterior dimensions of narrative space,

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where its projection on screen conveys a new level of spatial representation. To best comprehend the term, the following 3-part section illustrates the inner ingredients depicting: 1) Narrative space, 2) Image representation, and 3) Representational spaces. Narrative space is usually concerned with character motion through space and the capture of spatial dimensions through the camera angle, yet its underlying significance lies in what is shown out of the frame, i.e. space that is spoken about and referred to. Image representation is composed of a chain of signs on the big screen which signify definite objects of reality intertwined with our perceptual understanding of the relationship between the two elements. This process of sign-object comprehension changes continuously depending on the level of mediation of the image presented. Accordingly, a certain message is channelled to our subconscious. Representational space is defined as the meaning and value embedded within space through the use of symbols and signs imposed by the inhabitants and the users who use space on a daily basis setting their own rules and regulations.


AN EGYPTIAN FILM: KIT-KAT (EL KITKAT) (1991) Synopsis The story takes place in the informal neighbourhood Kit-Kat in the northern part of the Greater Cairo region. Sheikh Hosni, an old and funny blind man – formerly a music teacher – who seems to embody the area’s active pulse, lives with his mother and his son Youssef following the death of his wife. After failing his studies and his ambition for becoming a chanter, Sheikh Hosni spends every night in a small closed kiosk, which he inherited from his late father, playing his oud and chanting to his fellow neighbours and friends while smoking marijuana; an attempt to forget his miseries and unfortunate memories – ones that include selling his father’s house to El-Haram the drug dealer, who sold it to El-Moa’alem Sobhi the landlord, in return for a day’s salary of drugs. On a parallel level, his son Youssef fails to find a job after his graduation and longs desperately to leave the country and find a work contract in Europe. All the while planning to achieve such wish by convincing his father to sell the house; a shock to him when he finds out the hidden truth that was never intended to

be revealed. Youssef gets engaged with Fatma, a divorced woman who used to be married to an Arab, and to add to his own misery he finds himself incapable of satisfying her on both emotional and sensual magnitudes. Sheikh Hosni encounters several characters along the way, from the likes of Suleiman, a middle-aged jeweller, whose wife cheats on him and runs off with her lover; Sheikh Ebeid, another old blind man who befriends Sheikh Hosni and accompanies him to the cinema, and A’am Megahed the broad bean seller who expresses anger and frustration towards Sheikh Hosni’s decision of selling his father’s residence for drugs. Despite his blindness, Sheikh Hosni refuses to consider it a setback that constraints his life and ambitions, and he dreams of riding a motorcycle like any normal person would. Eventually, he succeeds in fulfilling that wish, probably the only thing he succeeded at in his long lifespan. Spatial Features The whole physical symbolic picture in the film can be summed up in three spatial elements: the small closed kiosk, the local café, and the sold house. The small kiosk is owned by Sheikh Hosni,

where he and his local friends spend every night singing and reciting old stories. The characters comprised within this space mostly live on from one day to another in the simplest manner, smoking marijuana and chanting all night as an escape from their everyday miseries. The kiosk can be referred to as a symbolic feature of the whole area of Kit-Kat, i.e. it is more of a sketch of the locals’ lives, behaviour, movement, and daily thoughts. Furthermore, the reverberations of the open-door policy have prompted an anti-formal spatial entity which maintains a sense of local cohesiveness and community solidarity. Thus, the kiosk is a typical representation of spatial resistance against economic oppressiveness through music and storytelling. The second spatial feature is the local café, also owned by Sheikh Hosni, which is under the threat of being demolished and replaced by a high-rise residential tower. The significance of the café is its potential to gather the community together, debate, and discuss mostly the surrounding political and economic conditions, as well as issues concerning the neighbourhood, problems from within and how they can be improved.

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In the majority of the scenes, the café brings Sheikh Hosni and El-Moa’alem Sobhi together when they debate the possibility of selling Hosni’s kiosk. A scene that combines the informal environment face-to-face with the private sector which has exchanged dealings with the public sector, i.e. the government, to be able to practice free trade, even at the expense of the individuals’ lives and well-being. The café contrasts the future project of the high-rise through the notion of social closeness and spatial relations among the neighbourhood inhabitants, while the high-rise tower would definitely obliterate such social interactions. Thus the café becomes a strong symbolic verification of the negligence of the state toward the benefits and basic needs of the society. The third spatial component, though not visually present, is Hosni’s father’s house that was sold to El-Haram in exchange for drugs, and later sold to El-Moa’alem Sobhi alongside the local café. This often spoken of, but never seen house formulates the concept of the narrative space, i.e. out-of-frame The local café formerly owned by Sheikh Hosni (Foreground). Image Source: Film. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

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space, and holds together the different narrative background elements of the characters. In the beginning of the film, following the scene where we get to know about Hosni’s decision of selling the house, we notice the new informal house where he, his son and his mother dwell. It is as though Hosni’s father’s

house has been figuratively under a crucial transformation from a formal framework to an informal one as a result of the social disparity generated from privatization. Thus, this transformation represents mostly the middle-low class individuals who have been victimized by forces of the free market.

Sheikh Hosni (background) plays the ‘Oud and chants with his local friends inside the small closed kiosk. Image Source: Film.


AN OVERVIEW In conclusion, film proposes symbolic spatial aspects whose images – composed of metaphorical signs and symbols – are observed and interpreted by the public, and, in response, compose new meaning and typologies. The elements of the film have a direct connection with the ‘flâneurie’ characters, stretching to off-screen

elements, e.g. background narration; ones that set the basic parameters for the notion of symbolic representation of reality. REFERENCES [1] Lewis Mumford, “The Culture of Cities”, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers (1937) [2] Barbara Mennel, “Cities and Cinema”, Routledge (2008) [3] Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and the Mental Life”, University of Chicago Press (1903)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Taher Abdel-Ghani is an architect and filmmaker with a background in academic research and urban planning. He recently completed his M.Sc. Degree in Advanced Urbanism in a dual degree program between Bauhaus University in Germany and Tongji University in China. His Master thesis focused on the spatial representation of informal urbanism in Egyptian films since the 1990s. Through this, his research interests have revolved around the notion of the city image, its relation to art and culture, and the level of impact such aspects can have on the physical and social fabric of the built environment, i.e. society-art-urbanism spatial relationship. During his masters studies, Taher was able to publish two articles that highlight the concept of cinematic urbanism and its relation to contemporary socio-spatial fabric. Since 2011, Taher has been making several videos for college, as well as work and has been awarded honorary certificates for his video contributions at the 2nd Architecture Exhibition at MSA University (2011) and Archinos Architecture and the European Union (2014). In addition, two of his videos were selected to be exhibited at the Bauhaus University Exhibition in July 2016 and at the Independent Moving Image Festival in France in May 2018.

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A view of a street in the city centre of Leipzig. Image Credit: Mohammad Alomar

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When we read the label ‘Made in Europe’ on our clothes, what runs through our mind? Is it perhaps, that it was made under the finest social standards and is of excellent quality? I have learnt that this is rarely the case. Only a part of it is made in Europe, and to be more specific, in ‘eastern’ European countries like Ukraine, Poland or Georgia. The garment industry in Ukraine pays its workers nineteen percent of a minimum living wage [1]. Poland pays approximately thirty four percent and Georgia, close to ten percent [2]. In order to provide ‘affordable’ clothing, cheap labour is the key driver. This is Capitalism, at its very core. “Ah, but how do I explain this to my teenage son/daughter who wants all the 52 micro-seasons in his/her wardrobe?” or, “I don’t have a choice. That is how the world works” or, “I don’t have the time for this” are some of the common comebacks. Our clothing is sourced from different parts of the world, processed and put together for us to consume. Most of the time, it is almost


impossible to trace their origins. Quoting Annie Leonard in the Story of Stuff, [3] “….what the text books said, is that our stuff simply moves along these stages: extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal. Altogether, it’s called the materials economy.” On the 25th of April 2017, I was at the Richard-Wagner Platz in Leipzig, signing up for a walk titled “Critical Perspectives on Consumption”, which was about the fashion industry. A team in Leipzig had set out to demystify parts of the materials economy which are obscure to us. As part of the ‘Fashion Revolution Week’ in Leipzig, Eine welt e.V. had curated this walk to showcase the linear nature of the materials economy and how each of us made a direct or indirect impact through the act of buying. By placing the dialogue beyond the confines of a room and taking it to the city centre, where all the ‘consumption’ happens, they made it very clear that we are here to talk about ourselves and not a random third world issue.

Kurt HinkefuĂ&#x; narrating the idea behind fast-fashion. Image Credit: Marcel PruĂ&#x;

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The walk began from Primark, a budget British brand, which was held responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy along with 29 other brands. On the 24th of April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,134 people and leaving many injured. After two years of campaigning for compensation, Primark paid 7.3 million dollars (highest amongst the 29 brands involved) [4]. Our shopping bill does not factor in fair wages, working hours, safe working conditions and environmental exploitation. Standing amongst the hundreds of shoppers walking past us, we think that we do not have another option. We buy the clothes we can afford, they wear out and we need to buy new ones – which also happens to be the perfect formula for fast fashion. From two seasons in a year, we have moved on to 52 ‘micro-seasons’ per year. There is new fashion coming out every week. Logically speaking, more production must mean more profit for the producing countries. They should have a good quality of life. Yet, where did things go wrong? Of course, it is the respective government’s duty to protect its people. What difference can I, or the brands I


buy from make? Even though these injustices seem too complex and farfetched for an individual in this capitalistic society, there are parts where we can exercise our power as consumers. We found ourselves in front of Oxfam [5]. To me, second hand shops and swap parties are not the solution, but are more like hitting the brakes. It works because someone else’s old clothes are still new to me. It does not cost much, we get to renew our wardrobe, we are able to partially shift our ecological footprint by reducing the demand. By passing around a ball of wool as Martin read the journey of a pair of jeans, we visualized the resources consumed to produce a pair of jeans and the distance it travels before reaching our shopping bags. From weaving, dyeing to sandblasting our jeans, there are people involved. Each of us are at different points of this ball of wool. Some of us are more powerful than the others. But if we pull, we trigger a disturbance. Hypothetically speaking, instead of demanding cheap clothes, can we demand quality in our clothes and transparency in production? Each of us know at least one product or brand that did not do well in the market just because we did not choose to buy it.

Martin showing us the journey of a pair of jeans. Image Credit: Marcel PruĂ&#x;

One item which sells in large numbers in Germany is roses. For someone who grew up watching their grandma grow her own roses in her terrace and then my mom do the same, I thought it was crazy to have fair trade roses. Who buys all those flowers? Some numbers helped us to put things in perspective. We found out that almost two third of the flowers sold in Germany are imported. In the

case of roses, almost 80 percent are imported. Germany is a major consumption market for cut flowers (19%) [6]. In countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya, cut flowers are a major source of income. Through sustainable and eco-friendly methods of cultivation, fair price, regulated working hours and workplace safety measures, the fair trade movement raises

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Discussion at the florist’s with some fact sheets and a demonstration of safety measures taken at the work place. Image Credit: Marcel Pruß


awareness on workers’ welfare. When your country is a huge importer of flowers, where they come from and how they are cultivated, does matter. “From one shop in the central station 20 years ago, today, you can find fair-trade flowers even in the supermarkets of Leipzig”, says Juliane. But, have we lost the capacity to grow our own flowers? Or have we pushed the limit, that it has become a need to import flowers? The final stop was the Weltladen (Worldshop), a store exclusively for fair trade products. The first Worldshop was established in 1969 in the Netherlands. Today, they are found in several cities and towns all over Europe. Some of them are non-profit organizations that also offer educational workshops for various age groups. The fair trade movement became popular in the mid20th century as an alternative to conventional trade practices. It has evolved over time to improve trading relationships between countries and protecting the rights of marginalized labour. The certification process may vary based on the product. Amongst textiles, there are several certifications like Global Organic Textile Standard

(GOTS), Fair Wear Foundation, Fairtrade Certified Cotton and so on. Each of them have their own criteria and are different from one another. Some focus on the raw material only, while some take into consideration every stage of production – from harvesting cotton to labelling the clothes. Personally, the walk raises critical questions about our lifestyle choices by revisiting a few examples from our everyday life. The information that this line of questioning leads to, empowers us as citizens. This enables each of us to make choices within our capacity. “The walk itself, was used as a methodology to reach out to the younger population on topics such as globalization and consumerism”, says Juliane. Having developed the idea over a period of 15 years, the organizers alter the route based on their theme, every time they do the walk. The Body shop (standing up for animal protection), Deutsche bank (criticism on financial investments in projects in third world countries), Reformhaus (selling regional and ecofriendly products), McDonald’s (criticism for promoting unhealthy food, cruelty to animals, labour exploitation and more)

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Martin explains the different certifications for textiles. Image Credit: Marcel Pruß

A flea market at the Karl-Liebknecht Straße. Image Credit: Author CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

are also sometimes a part of the walk. “There are reasons why children like McDonald’s. Our goal is not to stop them from eating there. We would rather inform them about what they are eating or paying for. The choice is theirs. We want to show how each of us are part of this system. These issues are not happening somewhere far away from us but rather are part of our everyday life”, says Martin. Very recently, they conducted a walk on alternative shopping in the KarlLiebknecht Straße targeting the students who had moved into Leipzig for the winter semester. It included shops where one could buy groceries to others where cycles could be repaired. 108 people turned up for the walk against the usually expected 15 people. The good news is that people are willing to inform themselves and take action. However, for the team, it is more critical to reach out to groups that are not completely open to this topic and have a dialogue. They also offer a workshop every year on how to conduct a city walk. Some participants volunteer to take over a topic or introduce new points of interest for the team. This way, the walk continues to evolve and takes different

forms. For the fashion revolution week in 2018 they are working on an exciting idea to connect the history of textile production in Leipzig with the current state of textile production in Asia. The walk begins by showing the missing elements in our system and ends on a positive note by showing how people are working at different levels to make things better. It is time to educate ourselves about our contribution to the state of our economy. Consumption is a necessity, but overconsumption is a choice. There are creative solutions all around us. People are asking, “Who made my clothes?” Several brands are saying yes to transparency. People are building tiny houses that determine how much you can consume. We do not have to become conscious consumers to help the poor in the third world countries. If we do it at all, we need to do it for ourselves and because we care for our planet. Once again, quoting Annie Leonard from the Story of Stuff,

”You cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely”. 110 111


“If we are so bent upon buying the t-shirt from a major brand, that was produced by destroying the river in our city and exploiting the people we co-exist with, I think there is a serious gap in our education system. It is hypocritical to think that buying a fair trade t-shirt is the only way to make things better. What it does, is that, it gives us an alternative and makes us feel better about our purchase. What we also need, is a change of thought.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.� - Albert Einstein We, human beings, are also creators as much as we are consumers. We can be designers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, homemakers, artists who care for life on earth and wish to make a difference through our work and not just with our credit cards. And I say this because there is a popular notion, that


you need to buy eco-friendly products to contribute to a sustainable society. Consuming is not the only way to validate our existence in this society. We need to start thinking holistically. We have people volunteering at local initiatives. With the digital revolution, we have access to transparency. We can question our elected representatives. Activists are demanding fair wages and safety at the workplace and are bringing about policy level changes. We can design products that last. We can segregate our waste or design a system to segregate waste in our cities. People have the chance to participate in several public projects. There are innumerable ways to validate our existence within our capacities. Sometimes it could be as simple as shifting our perspective and identifying our role as creators instead of consumers in this system that we have built together. About the walk organizers Eine welt e.V. is a non-profit that has been active over the last three decades in policy development work by engaging youth across the world in several exchange programs, volunteering, fair trade and educational

work. They have two fair trade stores in Leipzig (Weltladen). Their educational consultant Juliane Markov, Kai and Martin Finke have designed, developed and conducted this city walk for almost 15 years. The walk is also conducted upon request for school children and small groups. Usually, the walk is in German. REFERENCES 1. General Survey of the Reports on the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131), and the Minimum Wage Fixing Recommendation, 1970 (No. 135): Third Item on the Agenda: Information and Reports on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations: Report of the

Committee of Exsperts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (articles 19, 22 and 35 of the Constitution): International Labour Conference, 103rd Session, 2014. Geneva: International Labour Office, 2014. 2. Sluiter, Liesbeth. Clean Clothes: A Global Movement to End Sweatshops. London: Pluto Press, 2009. 3. The Story of Stuff: With Annie Leonard. Berkeley, CA: Free Range Studios, 2007. 4. “Rana Plaza Arrangement.” Clean Clothes Campaign. March 27, 2017. Accessed June 23, 2018. ranaplaza. 5. “Who We Are.” Famine and Hunger Crisis | Oxfam International. Accessed June 23, 2018. 6. “Who We Are.” Famine and Hunger Crisis | Oxfam International. Accessed June 23, 2018.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Udhaya is an architect by education. As a student of architecture, she developed an interest in mapping, design, research and exploring how cities work. In 2016, she joined as a Weltwaerts volunteer in Einewelt e. V. Leipzig. Here, she was introduced to the various aspects of alternative trade practices and engaged herself in campaign activities and educational work with children and the youth. Being a volunteer gave her the opportunity to participate in several workshops and seminars on social, economic and political issues. During 20162017, Udhaya participated in an Erasmus plus training program on ‘Child protection and development’ in Sicily and an Erasmus plus youth exchange, ‘the Right to be Right’, in Kyiv on migration, human rights and fair trade. She enjoys working with interdisciplinary teams to develop outcome-based projects (especially for children and youth). Based on her research on the morphological growth of Coimbatore, she is working on a mapping project in the city, where the aim is to narrate the stories of the city and its people through maps, walks, workshops and other interactive medium. Currently, her work revolves around history, cartography, design and ethical consumption. When not working, she travels, practices learning German and spends time arranging her miniature library of travel artefacts.

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THE MEASURE OF A CITY Exploring the Power of Public Spaces: The Case of Singapore



Orchard Road, Singapore. Image Credit: Michael Spencer on Flickr ( ) used with CC-BY 2.0

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When we think of Sydney or Paris, the first thing we think of is the Opera House and the Eiffel Tower. When we think of London or New York or Mumbai, we think of the city’s skyline, a horizon of skyscrapers set against the forefront of a water body. While the skyline of no two cities is the same, the essence of these images is similar – to showcase a rich and thriving metropolis. But in reality, cities are far from picturesque. They are complex, chaotic beehives of activity. So how can we convey the uniqueness of a city without projecting a fictional image? On my trip to Singapore, I was surprised to discover some answers to this question. From the get-go it was obvious that the city was prosperous, organized and also socially active. The island city felt open, spacious and very green. The lack of congestion was liberating, almost. What made the Singaporean experience special was the ubiquitous public spaces that formed the backbone of the city. Singapore is well-planned and each district or zone utilizes public space differently. In the residential districts, the blocks of apartments and houses are spread out across an expanse of lawns. Each block has a communal park common to the residents of the block. This is where yoga classes, Diwali celebrations and so on take place. Walkways leading to the homes weave through gyms, amphitheaters, skating rinks, parking lots, and other community spaces, and hence are constantly activated. The walkways are abutted by plenty of seating and water spouts. There are public libraries and


Bishan Park, Singapore. Image Credit: AtelierDreiseitl on Wikimedia Commons (https:// ) used with CC-BY 3.0

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Shopping Streets. Image Credit: Author CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

Smith Street, Chinatown, Singapore. Image Credit : Nicolas Lannuzel on Wikimedia Commons ( ) used with CC-BY 2.0

community centres spread across the city. A membership pass allows everyone access to state-of-the-art sports and learning facilities. The city encourages its people to live wellrounded lives.

arranged next to each other with outdoor seating, like food courts in a mall. Many Singaporeans choose not to cook. With cafĂŠs working round the clock, these are places where people socialize over food and drink.

Street food plays a crucial role in Singaporean culture. It is both a cultural and communal activity. Food squares and food carts create a bustle of activity around the blocks of residences. Restaurants and shops are compactly

The markets of Singapore are the best place to witness the city’s cultural diversity. Each market sells goods and products specific to an ethnicity. In Chinatown or Little India, the shops and streets resemble the ones in their

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What made the Singaporean experience special was the ubiquitous public spaces that formed the backbone of the city.

Gardens by the Bay. Image Credit : tee_eric on Flickr ( singslingfing/7477067538/ ) used with CC-BY 2.0


native countries (both in sight and

All the public spaces in Singapore feel

smell). These markets accommodate a

safe and are well-lit and accessible

variety of outlets from hawkers to high-

by foot and public transport. There is

end branded retailers. During festival

a special emphasis on access for the

seasons, these places are a chaos of

handicapped and elderly throughout

parades and pomp. These markets are

the city. The city incorporates art

the vibrant pockets that display and

installations and landscaping at

unite the diverse city.

strategic locations. These places are designed, well maintained and are a

Singapore prioritizes engaging its

sense of pride for the residents.

citizens and tourists with public spaces to generate income. The southern

A public space expresses the dynamic

waterfront of the city is developed as a

complexities of a city far better than a

tourist hub and a business district. Here,

static landmark can. It is a powerful tool

there are casinos, hotels and clubs for the elite as well as gardens and research facilities open for display. The Gardens by the Bay is a large plaza where tree like structures are built to accommodate more green into the city. During the

to create a sense of freedom and unity in the physical fabric. Public spaces can give voice to political agendas. A city can generate a variety of spaces in the public realm through its range of streets, parks, gardens and plazas.

evenings, a light show is projected against the tree structures and attracts

The impression that Singapore left on

locals and tourists alike. The gardens

me was a very powerful one. Even now

are placed between two iconic domes

I associate the city with an expanse

which house botanical museums. The

of open space dotted with buildings.

city also taps into the potential of zoos,

Imagine New York without Central park

museums, aquariums and gardens for

or Chennai without its beaches. Without

furthering research and education.

them, these cities would lose their spirit.

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Serangoon Road, Singapore. Image Credit : Zairon on Wikmedia Commons ( File:Singapore_Serangoon_Road_10.jpg ) used with CC-BY 2.0

While iconic buildings and skyscrapers create a sense of awe, public spaces characterize the city better. Streets, parks, pavements and plazas may seem visually mundane in comparison to more iconic representations of cities, but they are the backdrop against which the city functions. A good city is one that subtly offers a variety and quality of public spaces to all people. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Aishwarya Murari is an architect, designer and urban enthusiast. She was the editor of her college magazine which exposed her to writing and blogging. She is currently working at an architecture firm in Chennai and enjoys painting and reading graphic novels on the weekends. Her passion for travel and creative exploration gives her the opportunity to discover new cities and cultures. Looking ahead, she aspires to explore many more places and capture them through words and illustrations.

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Exploring Equity In Janmarg BRT Ahmedabad



Transport infrastructure projects in different forms have been used as tools to spearhead development processes in cities of the Global South. Substantial research has been done on the quantitative aspects of such projects through the lenses of economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. However, the social dimension of such projects remains relatively unexplored, and there is a need to “reinvent transport inquiry in the context of contemporary approaches to development� [1]. The article argues that these projects need to have a nuanced approach to ideas of inclusion, equity, and social justice to be able to begin transforming structural drivers and catalyse processes of urban development in cities. This necessitates a discursive shift in the way mobility is understood; from connectivity and accessibility, to a relational movement of people, things, and ideas that together creates the city.

Janmarg BRT Ahmedabad. Image credit: ITDP India.

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DEEP DISTRIBUTION If space and society is structured through transport networks, questions of who dictates mobility and what it means to be able to move in the city take on larger socio-political dimensions. The concept of deep distribution becomes useful to understand these dimensions of transport networks, and can be broadly understood as the “articulation of power relations in public and private space at the level of the household, community and society under which decisions about travel choice are negotiated and made” [2]. Three parameters are central to understanding deep distribution – • Social positions and multiple identities of transport users (inclusivity), • The social construction of space, public and private (equity), • And, the politics of transport (social justice). Together these create a set of distributional inequalities—whose effects manifest in the spatial, the temporal, and the socio-demographic spheres. Real travel choice is a result of these


inequalities as manifested in the city, and becomes a critical measure of the mobility of an individual, a group or a section of society. Mobility here is understood not just to be “merely a derived demand, a connector between desired activities”, but “a transformative power opposing the fixity and boundedness of space and place” [3]. “JANMARG”—BRT AHMEDABAD Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) Projects are being encouraged as dominant types of mobility infrastructure projects in India. Such projects embody a discourse of equity, are backed favourably by national level policies like National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) and Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), and used as prominent tools for development. Ahmedabad’s BRT project, known as Janmarg or ‘People’s Way’, began operations in 2009. The sanctioned length of the project is 88.8 km, divided in two phases. The first phase is 58.3 km and the second 30.5 km. Phase III plans to add another 40.2 kilometres to the network. An important aspect

Phases of Janmarg BRT Ahmedabad. Image Source: Suzuki, Cervero and Luchi 2013; Page 98.

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of the project is the creation of a closed loop system in which buses only operate on dedicated lanes. The routes are designed as a network and not a corridor, and to connect busy places while avoiding busy roads. Janmarg attempts to introduce modal shifts to public transport, increase mobility of the poor sections of society, and “carries 0.15-0.18 million passengers per day, with a daily revenue of INR 7.5-9 lakh� [4]. The project has received several accolades and is considered one of the most

successful mass transit systems in the country, having also received the 2010 Sustainable Transport Award. Various scholars have investigated its links to rights [5], policy [6], politics and development [7], land use [8], social inclusion [9], sustainability [4] and poverty [10]. Using these works and adding to them, the article analyses Janmarg from a social mobility perspective to make visible the extents of distributional inequalities and resultant inequity that the project entrenches in the city.

Table 1- Income profile and Sex Ratio of BRTS users, Ahmedabad. Source: Mahadevia, Joshi and Datey 2013; Page 60.


SOCIAL POSITIONS AND MULTIPLE IDENTITIES Janmarg’s discursive focus has been to attract the economically weaker sections of society, and promoe inclusive public-transport alternatives. However, the distribution of users by income and gender (Table 1) shows that low-income groups account for a small percentage of actual users (26.5%). In addition, there is a sizeable gender divide (sex ratio of 379), which keeps increasing as one climbs up the income segment. Very few working women from lower income groups thus use the service. Finally, one sees that only 12.5% of users

belonging to the highest income group (>Rs. 40,000 per month) travel on the BRTS. The same group own the majority of motorised four-wheelers; hence, the modal shift from four wheelers to BRTS has not been widespread. The distribution of users by employment (Table 2) shows that 63.8% of users are seen to be in a regular salaried private sector job. Employment that represents the poor of the city, namely self-employed low wage labour, casual labour, and unemployed account for only 14.4% of the entire sample.

Table 2- Employment profile of BRTS users by Sex, Ahmedabad . Source: Mahadevia, Joshi and Datey 2013; Page 60.

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A look at the percentage of income spent relative to income class (Table 3) makes it clear that all groups spend a very low percentage of their income on BRTS apart from the poorest (below Rs. 5000), which spend 12.7%. This makes Janmarg an expensive option to depend on for daily commutes.

a regressive movement, with a high proportion of travel savings accruing to higher income groups” [5]. Mobility in this case remains dependant on social positions and economically weaker sections remain excluded.

The social position of users is a superimposition of multiple factors like

Janmarg has created a series of reconfigurations in the public and private spaces of the city. Despite the largescale road widening and upgradation of infrastructure, the project has failed to “design and implement facilities for walking and cycling as continuous features along the corridors” [4], and

class, gender, employment profile and decisions about travel—‘travel choice’ is determined through a complex overlay of various trade-offs arising out of these factors. Janmarg, in spite of its discursive goals “actually demonstrates


Table 3- Average trip length (km) and Percentage of income. Source: Mahadevia, Joshi and Datey 2013; Page 62.


co-ordination with the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) feeder bus services is poor. This takes away the very goal of interconnected modes of transport that underpins a BRT system and has discouraged cycling as a mode of commuting to the BRT stations. This has increased travel trip costs and users have been forced into walking longer than usual distances. Lack of crossing facilities makes it unsafe to cross heavy traffic roads to reach BRT stops, discouraging aged/very young people. The other major reconfiguration has been encroachment of on-street parking on newly increased road width, walkways, or bicycle paths—resulting in a slow privatisation of apparently public space. Private spaces have been reconfigured through the “eviction of 2600 families situated in the (poorer) eastern section of Ahmedabad” [5], leading to further social inequity. There have also been effects on the land-use policies of Ahmedabad, like increased land prices and sale of additional FAR near BRT corridors. In these cases, the private sector developers who represent the economic and social elite of the city

have received a major share of profits. The freeing up of old textile mill land by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) created a possibility for inclusive redevelopment, but the lack of strategic and integrated development has limited resettlement of the poor. Finally, if the medium is the message [11], then the message sent by the self-contained Janmarg project – with its private lanes, sanitised stations, and lack of links to other transport modes—is that of an exclusive, inequitable private space in the streets of Ahmedabad. THE POLITICS OF TRANSPORT Transport infrastructure is seen as critical to making cities competitive globally and working towards an image of the world-class city. Janmarg has similarly invested heavily in trying to carefully shape a powerful brand identity and image. Through heavy advertising and branding it has tried to cultivate an image as that of a clean, tidy, timely and efficient service – one that by virtue of its glamour has resulted in local, national and international recognition, motivated and supported by the ruling state government.

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Descriptions of the project process also cite a supportive institutional framework and collaboration between agencies resulting in collaborative planning and decision-making. However, owing to the fact that this collaboration was mainly between various local and state government agencies and educational institutions taking on the role of subjectexperts, actual citizen engagement was limited to “comment(s) and feedback on the Janmarg system at the initial stage of operation” [8]. Hence, a large section of the city had no real participation, and the process remained exclusive. REFRAMING MOBILITY It is clear that Janmarg, in spite of being a successfully implemented physical planning project in Ahmedabad, suffers from a set of distributional inequalities. As long as transport infrastructure projects keep being simplistically linked to growth and development, these inequalities are bound to persist. Mobilisations of collective rights, collective interests, and collective actions have become necessary pre-conditions for a recalibration of India’s development process in a more equitable direction. Mobility in


its expanded sense can create such pathways to operationalise equity in development—where disadvantaged groups in the city (based on gender, disabilities, socio-economic status) are also included in the development of the city. In its re-conceptualised understanding, mobility becomes a social practice of citizenship, which is “constructed through making sense of the environment and patterns of acting in it” [12].

Mobility becomes the ability of people across various intersectional segments of society to access the city, appropriate the city, and participate in the city meaningfully – and is strengthened by the various development projects that are designed and implemented in the city.

REFERENCES 1. Leinbach, T.R. 2000. “Mobility in development context: changing perspectives, new interpretations, and the real issues.” Journal of Transport Geography (Pergamon) 8: 1-9. 2. Levy, Caren. 2013. “Travel choice reframed: “deep distribution” and gender in urban transport.” Environment & Urbanization 25 (1): 47–63. doi:10.1177/0956247813477810. 3. Ernste, Huib, Karel Martens, and Joris Schapendonk. 2012. “The Design, Experience and Justice of Mobility.” Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie (Blackwell Publishing Ltd.) 103 (5): 509-515. doi:10.1111/j.14679663.2012.00751.x. 4. Mahadevia, Darshini, Rutul Joshi, and Abhijit Datey. 2013. “Ahmedabad’s BRT System: A Sustainable Urban Transport Panacea?” Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII: 56-64. 5. Murthy, Kavya. 2011. “Urban Transport and the Right to the City: Accessibility and Mobility.” In Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India, edited by Marie-Helene Zerah, Veronique Dupont and Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal, 122-132. New Delhi: UNESCO and Centre de Sciences Humaines 6. Pai, Madhav, and Dario Hidalgo. 2009. “Indian Bus Rapid Transit Systems Funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.” Transportation Research Record 2114: 10-18.

7. Desai, Renu B. 2008. The Globalizing City in the Time of Hindutva: The Politics of Urban Development and Citizenship in Ahmedabad, India. PhD. Berkeley: University of California Berkeley. 8. Suzuki, Hiroaki, Robert Cervero, and Kanako Luchi. 2013. “Integrating Transit and Urban Development in Cities in the Developing World.” In Transforming Cities with Transit: Transit and Land-Use Integration for Sustainable Urban Development, 95-146. Washington, DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. 9. Khanna, Swati. 2009. Where are the actual gainers of BRTS, Ahmedabad. Netherlands: International Institute of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation. 10. Joshi, Rutul. 2014. Mobility practices of the urban poor in Ahmedabad (India). PhD. Bristol: University of West England. 11. Mercier, Jean. 2009. “Equity, Social Justice, and Sustainable Urban Transportation in the Twenty-First Century.” Administrative Theory & Praxis 31 (2): 145-163. 12. Oommen, Thomas, and Ryan Christopher Sequeira. 2016. “The Politics of Infrastructural Aesthetics: a case of Delhi’s BRT and Metro.” Association of American Geographers Annual Conference. San Francisco: Infrastructural engagements and urban re-imaginations in the Global South. 1-19.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR With a background in Architecture (CEPT Ahmedabad) and Urban Planning (UCL London), Saptarshi Mitra has lived and worked in India, Spain, United Kingdom and Myanmar. He is presently engaged in working with community development projects in Yangon, Myanmar that value a participatory, co-produced approach to Urban Design. A strong believer in the necessity and capacity of people to lead the change they want to see, he is engaged in unpacking dimensions of equity, inclusivity and social justice through his work and research. He can be reached at

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Urur Olcott Kuppam* is a historic fishing village in the south of Chennai. The residents of Urur, like other fishing villages that dot the coasts, were likely some of the first residents of the region. We know now from oral history accounts that even as recently as 55 years ago, there were almost no buildings in the area near the Kuppam. Despite its adjacency to a very upmarket neighbourhood, even basic infrastructure in the kuppam is inadequate or non-existent. This situation has resulted in a very poor standard of living for the community and limited options for improvement. Many households located in the eastern end of the Kuppam lack basic sanitation facilities and residents fear evictions or land grabbing under the guise of the area being a health hazard. There is also a huge disparity in the level of service delivery provided to the adjacent residential neighbourhoods compared to Urur. All these issues have incrementally resulted in Urur kuppam being considered as a slum and the residents of Urur wanting to change this image that has been imposed on them.

* Kuppam is a term used to refer to coastal villages in ancient Tamil literature

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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Inadequate supply of clean water plagues the residents of Urur Olcott Kuppam. Image credit: Mahesh Radhakrishnan/ MOAD

The sea shore and open spaces are littered with garbage. Image credit: Mahesh Radhakrishnan/ MOAD

Urur Olcott Kuppam lacks a sewer system. Image credit: Mahesh Radhakrishnan/ MOAD


Among the many unique features of Urur Olcott Kuppam, one is that its residents come with a sense of pride and a strong sense of community. An example of this facet is the annual Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, an initiative to socially equalize communities through the arts. It is this spirit of the community taking initiative to bring about change that led the Secretary of the village panchayat Saravanan to approach The Madras Office for Architects & Designers (MOAD) and Urban Design Collective (UDC) through Coastal Resource Centre in the pursuit of a clean and livable Urur Olcott Kuppam. The Urur project began in what was a small discussion between the collaborating organisations in the Coastal Resource Centre office in December 2015, following which there were several visits to the kuppam to determine the course of action.

As is usually the case with marginalized settlements, it was difficult to find a proper map of the Kuppam to begin work. Consequently, the first step of the project was to physically map out the entire village and its sanitation infrastructure or rather the lack of it. With the help of 15 volunteers who physically measured the houses and streets, a map of the entire kuppam was created. But this exercise was not an easy one to begin with by any measure. It turned out that multiple houses had the same house number and some houses had no house numbers at all. The residents of the kuppam knew their neighbours well enough that a house number for unique identification did not seem necessary – numbers were sometimes picked based on religious significance. In order to help make the process of identifying houses easier for the mapping exercise, the entire kuppam was divided into blocks and

“Our settlement has been in existence even before Chennai was formed, but we have been denied our basic sanitation and garbage infrastructure that we are entitled to.� -Saravanan, Secretary of Urur Olcott Kuppam Panchayat

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ெபா� கழிப்பைற

மல்லிைக கைட

த�ேயாேசாப�க்கால் ெசாைசட்�

அட� கைட

ெபா� கழிப்ப�டம் கட்டப்ேபா�ம் இடம்

எல்ைல அம்மன் ேகாவ�ல்

The kuppam was divided into 19 zones for ease of documentation, surveying and verification of the data. The alphabets represent the different zones of the kuppam. These were assigned strictly for internal reference purposes. This map also shows the landmarks in the kuppam like temples and grocery stores for a better sense of orientation. Street lights and the Sintex water tanks are marked along the beach for the same purpose. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

each house in the block was given a number. This greatly helped to streamline the mapping and minimize errors that were arising from the duplicate house numbers on site. Following the physical mapping of the kuppam, another group of 10 began interacting with the residents and collecting data on household water consumption and waste discharge through structured questionnaires. Some of the important questions covered in the questionnaire were 1) What is the source of your water? 2) Does your house have a toilet? 3) Where do you defecate? 4) Where does waste water from your house gets discharged? During the surveys the residents’ initial reaction on seeing people with clipboards and forms was the fear of being displaced. This feeling was usually always replaced with relief at the mention of the Village Panchayat secretary, Saravanan’s name. The data that was gathered was key to understanding the demand and supply gap for sanitation infrastructure. There were interesting oddities to be observed as well; there were cases where the

house had a toilet that was only used by the women. The reason for this is that because there was no sewage connection to these houses, waste from the toilets was collected in a soak pit under the ground which would need to be emptied out every few months or years depending on the size of the pit. It was not financially affordable for these households to let the pits fill up too quickly, owing to which men defecated in the open along the sea shore or in public toilet at the far end of the kuppam and women used the toilets in the houses for purposes of safety and dignity. It was also not uncommon for women in houses without toilets to visit their friends’ or relatives’ houses merely to use a toilet. Basically residents who did not have toilets had to use the public toilets or defecate openly, while those that did have toilets were left to themselves to figure out the disposal of black water. While in some houses, soak pits were dug up, many houses simply piped their waste onto the shore, where beds of sewage became hotspots for garbage and disease. This was seen by many residents as being an acceptable practice even though, being fisher folk, their livelihoods largely depend on the well-being of the sea.

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The project team and volunteers physically mapping Urur Olcott Kuppam and collating information on the water supply and sanitation needs of the residents.


After intensive on-ground work, the next step was to digitize all the handdrawn maps and survey forms to enable an analysis of the existing conditions. Over the course of three months from May to July 2017, maps were digitized and overlayed with the data from the household surveys. This data was crucial in prioritizing which areas of the kuppam needed the least amount

of interventions and which needed the most interventions. Upon arriving at an estimated volume of wastewater that needed to be treated, a drainage consultant was brought on board to arrive at ways to manage waste water in a decentralized way for the kuppam. Another key finding of the study was that apart from sanitation, solid waste management was also a serious

Hand drawn maps and notes that were made during fieldwork were digitized for further analysis.

140 141


problem. This prompted a parallel study by Coastal Resource Centre on the frequency of garbage collection in the kuppam in comparison to the adjacent neighbourhoods. It turned out that while garbage was collected twice a day in the other neighbourhoods, it was only collected once in 3 or 4 days in the kuppam. This information was leveraged by Coastal Resource Centre and with the help of media support, they were able to highlight the blatant inequity in delivery of services. Eventually all the bad press and noise led to the garbage collection agency getting its act together. Nine months of intensive work culminated in a meeting with the community to present the findings of the studies and proposals which included some before-after photo montages of the kuppam to spark the community’s imagination. The meeting turned out to be an exciting experience for everyone involved. People from the kuppam were taught how to identify their houses on the map – possibly an experience they had never had before, and it thrilled them when they realized that the data gathered about their house was correct. Presentations were made by MOAD, UDC, Coastal Resource Centre and Urur CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

A community meeting was held where MOAD & UDC Team explained the spatial maps and the possible scenarios to the residents of the kuppam. Residents actively participated and gave their preferences/ suggestions on the designs as well.

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Olcott Panchayat on the data gathered and the way forward. The residents were enthralled by the photo montages and

wanted the changes made as soon as possible!

EXISTING An underused community space in Urur Olcott Kuppam

VISION / Provision of Public Infrastructure / Provision of Community Toilets / Provision of Community Space

Above and facing page- Before and after photo montages developed by MOAD for presentation to the residents of Urur Olcott kuppam.


EXISTING The shoreline- Polluted with garbage and sewage from open drains that flow onto it. Despite all this, children, women and fishermen actively use this space on an everyday basis and resulting in health issues.

VISION / Child-safe and hygienic beach-front free of open sewage drain / Beach-front free of debris and garbage / Multi-purpose platforms along the shore to dry fish and make and mend fishing nets

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திட்டம் 2 : �வாட்ஸ் கழி� ந�ர் �த்திக�ப்� அைல கட்டப்ேபா�ம் இடம் 60KLD = 6m x 20m

த�ேயாேசாப�க்கால் ெசாைசட்�


ெபா� கழிப்பைற

Reimagining underused public spaces Provision of Sanitation Infrastructure

மல்லிைக கைட

Reimagining underused public spaces

Solid waste management Reimagining underused public spaces

வைரபட �றிப்�

Provision of Public Toilets இரண்டம் கட்டம் கழி�ந�ர் ேசக�ப்� �தல் கட்டம் கழி�ந�ர் ேசக�ப்�

கழி� ந�ைர திறந்தெவள�ய�ல் வ��கின்ற வ�கள் �

ெபா� கழிப்ப�டம் கட்டப்ேபா�ம் இடம்

கழி� ந�ைர திறந்தெவள�ய�ல் வ�டாத வ�கள் �

Elliamman Temple

ெமக்கான�க் கைட

எல்ைல அம்மன் ேகாவ�ல்

Map of the Urur Olcott Kuppam showing locations for interventions as decided through collaborative workshops with theதிட்டம் residents of the village. கழி�ந� ர் �த்திக�ப்�


Reimagining underused public கழி� ந�ர் ெசல்ல ைபப்�கள் spaces �ட்�ய��ந்த வ�கள் �

Bay of Bengal

அட� கைட

Feb ‘16 Mar’16 Aug’16 Sep’16

______ /____ /___________ /_____ /_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ /


1 / Project initiation

/ Dialogue with the Community members and local panchayat / Define Project Goals

2 / Urban documentation / Physical Mapping

/ Household Surveys

3 / Data digitization / Data Verification / Data Correction / Generating Spatial Maps

4 / Vision development / Community Meeting / Vision Development

5 / Taking it forward

/ Identifying sources of funding

The project proposal for Urur Olcott kuppam was therefore developed in conjunction with the local community after analysing the existing situation at the kuppam and discussing possible future scenarios. It is comprised of 5 broad components:

• Provision of Sanitation Infrastructure • Solid Waste Management • Provision of public toilets • Reimagining community space • Knowledge transfer to other coastal villages facing similar issues

/ Reaching out to relevant government agencies for implementation

The village panchayat took the study and proposal forward with the City Corporation and demanded infrastructural improvements for Urur Olcott kuppam. Thanks to the intervention of an eminent retired senior bureaucrat who attended the subsequent Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, 146 147


the residents managed to secure a meeting with the Managing Director of the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB). CMWSSB eventually prepared a proposal for linking the unserviced portions of the village to the main sewer line. The village panchayat, assisted by the organisations and people supporting its efforts, is approaching elected representatives for financial support to execute the project.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Going ahead, this project will continue to be a model for collaborative engagement with residents particularly in under-privileged settlements to arrive at ways to improve their community spaces rather than have a solution imposed on them. And drawing from this experience, presented here are Ten Commandments for community engagement-

Look out for and build unconventional collaborations. Localize global issues creatively—Make it personal. Build up urgency towards the issue using data. Put faith in the people. Invest in creating local champions. Target the full range of stakeholders. Specify a clear call for action. Reinstate the value of people’s participation. Don’t be afraid to use disruptive practices. Be persistent! Use a multi-pronged approach.


No. of people living in 48 under-privileged settlements in Chennai = Population of Paris Source - Marine Fisheries Census 2010, Tamil Nadu & Slum Clearance Board Survey 2003-2004

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Ksheeraja Padmanabhan is an architect interested in natural materials and structures. She has worked with MOAD, Chennai, during which time she also worked on the UOK project. She later interned with the Dharmalaya institute, during which time she was also briefly mentored by Didi Contractor. She is now a freelancing architect and web developer. Abinaya Rajavelu is a passionate urbanist with a keen interest in creating people centric cities. She received a Masters degree in Urban and regional planning from the University of Tours, France and Bachelors in Architecture from SRM University, India. Currently, she is a senior associate at Urban Design Collective. Abinaya strongly believes that collaborative and participatory methods play a major role in the creation of sustainable and lively cities. Over the past three years, she has worked with several local communities, institutions and organizations in a multitude of projects that hinge on public awareness and participation, data based sustainable city development and art in the city building process.

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SKANDERBEG SQUARE Where all roads in Tirana lead to



View of Tirana, 1920. Image source: National Archive of Construction.

150 151


Living in Tirana comes with the perk of getting to know its every nook and cranny, every piazza and street, and knowing not to refer to them by their official names as a GPS would suggest, but by their landmarks and socio-political associations. For example, ‘Blloku’, situated southwest of Tirana’s centre, is quite literally a block of communist regime era villas, identified by government personalities and officials, of the time. Wherever in Tirana you may be, all roads lead to Skanderbeg Square, identified by the statue of the notable historical figure Skanderbeg. This was intended by design since its conception. Tirana became the temporary capital of Albania in 1920, and has since been through many political turmoils; shifting and changing regimes and governments. This inevitably affected at a citywide scale, Tirana, and at a local scale, Skanderbeg Square. The very first master plan came from Austrian architects and engineers during 1916-1917, when Austria had occupied most of Albania. At the time Tirana was mainly rural, with under 20,000 inhabitants. A subsequent plan in 1925, also by the Austrians, modelled Tirana based on the Garden City diagram. The manifestation of this vision is still relatively present even today. The bazaar at the centre of the city which dates back to the Ottoman empire was replaced by a square in 1926, when a new regulatory plan was formulated by Italian architects Armando Brasini and Florestano di Fausto. The plan encompassed a boulevard that would extend through the city, and end precisely on one end with the building that would become the Fascist House, and on the other this square, CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

Tirana Regulatory Plan of 1921. Image source: National Archive of Construction.

now known as Skanderbeg Square. This

The entire setup—the borders, the

plan would lead up to Tirana’s boulevard

watchful presence of Hoxha’s statue,

(Dëshmorët e Kombit), notoriously

and the surroundings—generated an

referred to as “A Boulevard without a

overall lack of sociability contrary to


the fake transparency that called out

Historically, since the dictatorship era, Skanderbeg Square symbolised power and dominance and contained all major

for gatherings in public spaces. Even though Albania made a rapid transition to democracy in 1997, this sentiment is still very present today, notably in the buildings around Skanderbeg Square—

government buildings in one location.

the Opera, the Hotel, the National

All existing streets culminated at the

Museum, the National Bank, and the

square, at the centre of which stood

Ministries—all embodiments of fascist

the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha.

architecture. 152 153


A boulevard without a city. Image source: National Archive of Construction.

My earliest childhood memories of Skanderbeg Square concur with that of most millennials of Tirana – it was a pedestrian space where families posed for photographs next to a water fountain or kids went go-karting with CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

the modest vehicles that were at our disposal. Though vehicular movement through the square was allowed during the Communist regime, privately-owned cars were only a privilege of government officials and military heads. When the

View of Skanderbeg Square, 1990. Image source: National Archive of Construction.

regime fell, Tiranians overcompensated

Sala proposed an all pedestrian square

for their new-found individuality with

defined by its surrounding buildings—

private cars crowding the square with

the Theatre of Opera and Ballet on the

traffic. Skanderbeg Square was reduced

northeast, the National Museum to

to a traffic node that needed to be

the north-west, the National Bank to

crossed in order to get in or out of the city. In 2007, an international competition was launched by Edi Rama who was

the southwest, the Tirana International Hotel to the north, and the triangle of administrative buildings to the south. In 2010, work on the square was halted when the local government changed but it resumed in 2015. The first phase

mayor of Tirana at that time, calling for

was concluded in June 2017, with

project proposals for the square. The

an inauguration ceremony meant to

winners, Brussels-based studio 51n4e

unofficially re-brand the square as a

in collaboration with Albanian artist Anri

public space. 154 155


The Skanderbeg Square as a traffic node, after the halt of works in 2010. Image credit: 51n4e On site in 2017. Image credit: Author


My first encounter with the redesigned square was in 2017 right after the inauguration ceremony during which the first stone was placed. As is the case with any construction site, the square was closed to the public and traffic was rerouted. The time-gap between the design and construction phases was used to solicit public opinion on the square through public hearings, consultations, and various

media channels. This led to changes to the original concept for the square’s redesign. A building overlooking the square and envisioned as a panoramic tower was removed and an underground public parking facility was added. Skanderbeg Square with a site surface area of 97,344 square metres and 90,509 square metres of built-up area is indeed the biggest urban-scale project of its kind for Tirana.

Local stone that was used in the reconstruction of the square is sourced from Kalivac in the region of LezhĂŤ located 66 km north of Tirana. Image credit: Author

156 157


View from the gap between the National Museum on the right and Hotel Tirana on the left. Image credit: Author

View of the node of Kavaja Street from the Square. Image credit: Author

Upon entering the square, one feels the absolute void after walking or driving through the chaos of the city to reach this point. For me, the square has always CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

been a pause point in the perpetual race against time that prevails outside of its edges. It is almost as if the struggle to catch up with modernization is not

felt here. The hardscape and softscape are beautifully interwoven together. Twelve gardens surround the square, each linked to a building bordering the square. The landscaping by Plant en

Houtgoed provides a green oasis, rich in character and function, while individual trees seem to artfully pop up and disrupt the hardscape in front of the National Bank.

Skanderbeg Square from the steps of the National Theatre during sunset. Image credit: Author

The concrete structure serving as a shade and the core for the underground elevator. Image credit: Filip Dujardin

158 159



The many gardens of the square. Image credit: Author

160 161


The hardscape paving for the square

At night, visitors are attracted by the

is carefully articulated as well. Local

quietness and stillness it offers. There

materials were selected and every

are no lamp posts or neon lights and by

stone tile is carved out of local quarries

design, the square is simply lit from the

originating from different parts of

lights of the buildings that surround it.

Albania, from the south up to the north. It is a matter of pride walking down this pavement; this time the feeling is born out of a re-evaluation of the richness of the country and not as an imposed manifesto. Additionally, water fixtures embedded in the stone tiles refresh the hardscape by creating wet spots which further enhance the beauty of the stones.

Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square is never a dull experience. In this time and place, it is indeed a fitting solution for a public space.

The scale and treatment of the square ensures that the monumentality of the buildings is not overpowering. Image credit: Filip Dujardin


The stone paving pattern on the square is further highlighted when it is wet as the individuality of each stone becomes more apparent. Image credit: Author

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PROJECT SPECIFICATIONS Location: Invited competition: Completion: Client: In collaboration with: 51N4E tasks: Project team for 51N4E:

Consultants: Structural engineer: Lighting: Landscape:

Construction management: Construction: Programme: Site surface: Built surface: Construction cost (excl VAT):


Tirana, Albania 2008 2017 (phase I) Municipality of Tirana iRI, Plant en Houtgoed Full process Johan Anrys, Freek Persyn, Peter Swinnen, Ulrike Franzel, Valbona Koçi, Griet Kuppens, Tom Baelus, Marc-Achille Filhol, Philippe Nathan, Emmanuel Debroise, Sotiria Kornaropoulou, Alice Babini, Guillem Pons, Charlotte Schmidt, Martin Pujol, Jolein Bergers, Guillaume Boulanger Aquafontal & Gatic (fountains) Gentian Lipe Atelier Jeol Plant en Houtgoed (Nicolas Vandenplas, Pieter Hollants, Jeroen Deseyn, Vincent Luscomb) iRI (Gent Agolli, Guust Selhorst, Ajmona Hoxha, Ardian Rapo, Olsi Pere, Xhorxh Shkurti) Fusha Public space, Cultural facilities 97,344 m² 90,509 m² 13,000,000 € Source:

The peripheral lighting of the Skanderbeg Square from the surrounding buildings and the water fixtures with different colours make for a stunning spectacle even at night. Image credit: Author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eneida Berisha is a young, Tirana-based architect and writer. Her work experience ranges from building science research and architecture to urban planning, as evinced by her recent engagement in drafting the TR2030, the master plan for Tirana. Currently, she works for the Integrated Sustainable Development of the Southern Coastal Region, a project that intersects tourism, urban planning, and conservation. Eneida is Albania’s Country Reporter for Her writing aims to draw the attention of the architectural community to the rebuilding Albania is actively involved in, encouraging discourse on public spaces, preservation, and infrastructure, while maintaining a strong connection to historical relevance.

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Reflections on the Masters in Urban & Regional Planning Foundation Studio at CEPT University, Ahmedabad VANI HERLEKAR & MANSI SHAH CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

BACKGROUND Cities are diverse and complex habitats with multiple interactions and interests, divergent ideas, and limited resources that are often contested. In this context the role of Urban Planning is to find a common ground and a shared vision of the future amongst conflicting interests, in the pursuit of improving quality of life enhancing health and safety, and furthering environmental sustainability in cities. Planning makes it possible for societies to undertake these improvements in an organized manner, while helping delineate rules for distribution of resources and allocating costs for these improvements. Planning also makes it possible to have just and rational decision-making processes so many people can live in close proximity with little friction. In India and across the developing world, cities are gaining attention as more productive and attractive places to work and live in, drawing a large number of people from villages to cities. This rapid growth has taken a toll on cities. They are overcrowded, often marred with pollution, congestion, and poor sanitation. The growth is haphazard, infrastructure is highly stressed and social amenities and public spaces are almost non-existent. Our cities need well-trained professionals equipped to meet these challenges. The focus of the Foundation Studio (first semester) in the two-year Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program at CEPT University is to introduce students to the practice of urban planning and develop their professional competencies to start engaging with these urban problems. We present here our reflections of teaching one studio unit comprising 20 students in the 2017 foundation studio. The Studio encouraged students to engage with different aspects of the planning process through the preparation of area plans for two distinct areas in the City of Ahmedabad that served as the student’s learning laboratory. 166 167



to analyse and address planning challenges facing Indian cities within The studio’s key pedagogic objectives the current realities and constraints. The were to 1) introduce students from students developed an understanding different backgrounds (including of the statutory planning framework architecture, engineering, geography and decision-making processes and urban studies/planning) to in Ahmedabad, and engaged with the practice of urban planning, 2) communities and other stakeholders develop their competencies in skills including business interests, private required to understand, analyse, and developers, and political leadership. communicate the urban environment, They also addressed the constraints 3) encourage discussions on the role of limited finances available with city of plans, planners, and planning in governments and discussed creative urban development processes, and 4) ways to finance urban improvement encourage students’ understanding of what constitutes a ‘planning response’ to projects. challenges facing our cities. Adopting a ‘Structured Learning’ Approach The studio adopted a hands-on approach The goal was to help students grapple combining field-based work, lectures, with complex urban problems through a discussions, intensive studio exercises, mentored, structured learning approach. and frequent critiques by instructors At the beginning the learning objectives to guide the students and help them of the studio were set. To help students advance in their studio project. The key achieve these objectives, we engaged aspects of our studio approach included: them in targeted exercises (advancing in scope and difficulty), critiquing them, Simulating Real-World Problems and building on what they learnt from one week to the next. The exerciseRather than adopting a utopian based approach helped students approach and envisioning an ‘ideal develop fundamental skills (like reading city’, the studio encouraged students


and analysing the built environment, articulating and communicating information, issues, potentials, and ideas visually and using written means, developing arguments using maps, consensus building and balancing multiple interests), while simultaneously applying them in planning situations. Building Individual and Team Competencies In studios, planning is often approached as a ‘team’ exercise, which requires interdisciplinary collaboration between students from various educational backgrounds. While it is advantageous for students to work together in teams to maximize their own and one another’s learning, we felt it was equally important to focus on building individual competencies, especially in the foundation semester. Thus, within the overall framework of the studio, students worked both individually and as part of teams where they contributed to a group output. This encouraged a healthy collaborative and competitive learning environment.

Cultivating a Hands-on Learning Environment The students learnt by doing. The fast-paced nature of the studio and frequent submissions encouraged actively producing knowledge through discussions, inquiry, and faculty and peer-to-peer critiques. The studio also had frequent active learning sessions where the instructors worked with the students towards developing skills and problem solving. Emphasizing Representation and Persuasive Communication Planners must communicate their ideas, and the reasoning and rationale behind these ideas, as clearly and effectively as possible to a wide variety of stakeholders including local communities, decision-makers, the larger development community and other interest groups. The studio emphasized developing verbal, graphic, and quantitative communication skills and application of these skills to deliver professional-quality outcomes that are suitable for dissemination to a wider audience and not limited to just fulfilling academic requirements.

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Image 2: Hands-on learning environment: a. Exhibition for external stakeholders; b. Role-play: Understanding tradeoffs when making planning decisions; c. Feedback from planning practitioners; d. Design charrette- student’s learn by doing. Image Credits: Shivani Palepu, Utkarsh Srivastava CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

THE STUDIO CASE Most Indian cities are facing the twin challenges of haphazard peripheral expansion and densification, and deteriorating quality of life in inner cities. The Studio allowed students a hands-on opportunity to engage with these two contrasting areas of the city: the fringe and the core.

Image 3: Chandkheda, located on the North-East fringe a,b: Located in the North-East Fringe of Ahmedabad, Chandkheda is characterized by presence of large tracts of relatively cheap vacant land (some still under agricultural use), burgeoning residential growth, lack of transportation linkages, reliance on private infrastructure and services, and lacklustre development with a poor quality public realm.

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Image 4: Jamalpur, located in the core Walled City- a: Jamalpur is located in the southern edge of the old walled city of Ahmedabad, which was inscribed as the World Heritage City by UNESCO in July 2017. Jamalpur is situated right adjacent to the recently developed Sabarmati riverfront and is characterized by very high population density (with a large concentration of lower income populations); b: The area has significant heritage monuments, several of which are under threat due to rampant encroachments and new construction. CITY OBSERVER | June 2018

ANALYSING & INVESTIGATING URBAN ENVIRONS AND INTERESTS The various exercises planned during the first few weeks of the studio exposed students to methods of understanding and analysing the urban environment and equipped them with fundamental knowledge and conceptual, analytical, and communication skills necessary for making and communicating plans. The exercises included mapping,

analysing, and visualizing geospatial data, investigating statutory plans and regulations, reading and writing responses, and engaging with stakeholders and building consensus around key issues. While multiple modes to communication were encouraged, visual representation was emphasized as one of the most important methods to describe

Image 5: Exploring public and private interest in land. Students mapped land under public ownership and also identified big landowners (both public and private) with a stake in the area.

Image 5: a,b,c,d: Interviews with key stakeholders. Key stakeholders were interviewed and engaged with to understand the dynamics of the local area, and to better inform plan making.

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Image 6: Mapping Spatial characteristics Students conducted surveys and entered and analysed spatial data sets in GIS to create a set of maps communicating the most fundamental physical characteristics such as land use, street network, building height and typology, built and population density, public realm and so on, a. Series of maps of Chandkheda; b: Mapping FSI consumption in Jamalpur.


Image 7: Investigating regulations for affordability and imageability Students studied a building in the given area and observed and analysed how the building sits on the plot, setbacks, height, and other site planning considerations. They compared this data with the existing development regulations to infer how regulations impact built form and sometimes lead to violations and illegal development. Representation included a 3D sketch and a list of key built parameters observed.

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the physical environment. Students learnt Geographic Information Systems (GIS) softwares to map and analyse spatial datasets, basic three-dimensional modelling to communicate how regulations, phasing, and plans might manifest on ground, and also publication softwares like Illustrator and InDesign to effectively communicate their plans. MAKING AND COMMUNICATING PLANS Based on the earlier understanding of planning concepts and synthesis of their research on planning issues, a group of 5 students prepared a comprehensive plan for their assigned areas, with each student detailing out distinct project(s). The students presented their plans as an exhibition to external audiences including AMC and AUDA officials, practicing architects and planners, and civil society organizations. They also compiled their findings and the plan in a book format. Following are some key ideas that the students explored in their plans: Appropriating Land for Public Uses Including Streets, Public Spaces, Social Housing & Other Amenities In India, land is a private resource. Land held under multiple ownership (with multiple interests) is one of the defining features of Indian cities. One of the significant challenges in planned urban expansion is appropriating land for a road network (with supporting trunk infrastructure) and other public uses. Students’ explored land pooling and land reconstitution, known as the TP Scheme in Gujarat as a tool to carve out land for physical and social infrastructure in the urban periphery.


Image 08: Fostering organized growth in the periphery using TP Scheme as a tool. a: Existing network of streets; b: Rationalizing street network; c: Allocating and consolidating green spaces and creating green network; d: Appropriating public land for recreation, green spaces and social housing. By Nivedita Jadhav and Arundhati Nagargoje.

Image 09: Visualising the proposed interventions a,b: A block in Chandkheda with carved spaces for public greens, social housing and other amenities. By Shivangi Tanna

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Image 10: Improving street connectivity in developed areas a: In already built area, the proposal explored how a more robust street network could be put in place as area undergoes redevelopment; b: Envisioned development post restructuring. By Vidit Kundu

Image 11: Using public land parcels to cut new streets Streets cut through public land parcels to reduce block sizes and increase accessibility in Jamalpur. By Vishwa Mistry


Reclaiming Streets for People Increasing traffic congestion, unregulated traffic movement, high noise levels, haphazard parking on roads, absence of proper usable footpaths are key issues affecting the quality of streets. Our streets continue to be planned keeping in mind a singular function: vehicular mobility, often jeopardizing the comfort and safety of other users. Students’ engaged with the concept of complete streets, and its applicability in designing streets and junctions in heritage precincts and otherwise.

Image 12: Transforming Jamalpur into a pedestrian priority area a,b,c: Designing streets with visual variety to improve the heritage experience in core walled city. By Shreya Mokhashi

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Image 13: Transforming street intersections to reduce conflicts and taking care of pedestrian flow a, b: The strategies for junction design include, simplified geometry of intersection, improved the transport movement, good pedestrian infrastructure, appropriated green pockets. c: Envisioned 3D post restructuring. By Pooja Sharma

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Formulating Context Sensitive Regulations To Foster High Quality Built Environment Development regulations are the key tool used by planners to regulate activities/ nuisances in urban areas. These include built use and density, lot sizes, setbacks, coverage, building heights, site planning, parking and other requirements. Several of these regulations have a detrimental effect on the quality of urban environment. For example, minimum setbacks result in an uneven (often inactive) edge, which is not pedestrian friendly. Other regulations like minimum parking requirements and high premium on FSI deter transit use, drive up the cost of construction and often discourage redevelopment. Student’s critiqued the applicable regulations around transit corridors and in the old city and recommended modifications to foster more active and engaging built edge.

Right: Image 14: Enhancing historic character while supporting new development in core walled city a,b: Special regulations for AMC recognized pols; c: Modified TDR policy for provision of additional financial incentives


Image 15: Supporting transit orientated development—encouraging mixed use, mixed income, high-density pedestrian priority corridor a: Strategies include: Removing constraints on maximum utilization of land, Increasing street connections to transit corridor; b: Improving the quality of built environment by modifying current urban design guidelines such as built to line, no parking in front and reducing minimum parking requirement for TOZ to encourage use of BRT; c: Visualization of continuity of live frontage and pedestrian room on TOD corridor. By Mansi Gupta

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Carving Out Public Spaces In A Dense Urban Setting Through A Participatory Approach

illegally developed), and are difficult to view and access. There are limited opportunities to pause and rest. The Ahmedabad old city has several heritage students proposed removing the blanket buffer requirements and instead buildings of national importance undertaking surgical interventions to protected by ASI, which mandates a improve access and public spaces in ‘No Development Zone’ around these these areas through a participatory buildings. However these regulations approach by involving and engaging have been difficult to enforce. Most heritage buildings are engulfed by dense with landowners, residents, and other stakeholders. residential development (sometimes


Left and Above: Image 16: Improving public realms around ASI monuments through surgical interventions a: Replacing 100m ASI no development buffer with a planning boundary; b: Surgical interventions to be carried out in this planning boundary by local authority to improve / enhance monument; c. Demonstrative case- Haibat Khan Mosque. By Malvika Saraswat

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Addressing Affordability By Supporting Housing Choice Development regulations (and common minimum standards) often impose a high cost to legally built housing making it less affordable to low-income households. Students explored the concept of ‘graded standards’ and how relaxing some of the mandatory

regulations reduce housing cost without significantly impacting quality or safety. They also made a case for delinking housing options from income (for example EWS, LIG or MIG) and instead promoting a more choicebased framework that allows a variety of legally-built housing to come up in housing areas.

Image 17: Revisiting regulations to accommodate affordability for everyone and not just a particular income group a: Current housing spectrum; b: Showing relaxed norms for self-driven incremental growth; c: Allocated land for EWS housing at a walkable distance from the BRTS Corridor. By Priyankita Pant


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Image 18: Final outcome of the studio Four groups of 5 students each, brought together a book documenting the entire process of making a local area plan which included their findings of the area, analytical maps, stakeholder interviews, strategies, proposals and projects.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS Vani Herlekar is as an independent urban planning and communications professional based in Ahmedabad. She has over twelve years of experience working internationally and in India in areas of urban planning and policy. She has expertise in framing communication and advocacy around urban issues and facilitating collaborative design and planning processes. Prior to her independent practice, Vani has worked with non-profits such as UMC and ITDP in senior positions. She has led planning projects, facilitated training programs, and contributed to design and development of publications, and advocacy campaigns. Earlier, Vani has worked in the US and Hong Kong, leading stakeholder engagement in a range of projects. Vani also coordinates research and advocacy initiatives at Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), an Ahmedabad based not-for-profit and teaches in the Faculty of Planning, CEPT University. Mansi Shah is an architect-urban designer. She is currently based in Ahmedabad and is teaching in Faculty of planning at CEPT University. She works on her independent research projects on different subjects under Ahmedabad Mapping project, City water walks and Pocket-garden. She has also co-authored the book ‘Prathaa: Kath-khuni architecture of Himachal Pradesh’ while working as a senior researcher at Design Innovation and Craft Resource Centre, DICRC, CEPT University. She has a keen interest in pedagogy and research related to urban planning and design, urban ecology and biodiversity and cartography and has carried out several projects to explore innovative ways to support learning experience for students. Credits to all students Amulya Pothknuri, Arundhati Nagargoje, Doriwala Vishv Sunandan, Jadhav Nivedita Jay, Malvika Harish Saraswat, Mansi Gupta, Mehta Darshan Rameshbhai, Mistry Vishwa Sureshbhai, Nidhi Singh, Pooja Sharma, Pravalika Sarvadevabhatla, Priyankita Pant, Saubiya Hanzala Sareshwala, Shivangi Abhijit Tanna, Shivani, Shreeda, Shreya Satish Mokhashi, Shubham Gupta, Tushar Sangal, Utkarsh Srivastava, Vidit Kundu

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