Thursday, July 7, 2016

Urban Design as a Continuous Process

  An Environment that cannot be  changed invites its own destruction.  We prefer a world that can be modified progressively against  a  background of valued remains, a world in which in which one  can  leave  a  personal mark alongside the marks of history.

            --Kevin Lynch, “What Time Is This Place?”,  cited  in  Roberta  Brandes
            Gratz’s “The Living City”.

Similar  to what modern urban planners had repeatedly  advo­cated  that  the  practice of  planning should  continually evolve as a process,  Alexander  (1987) pointed out that urban design  should  be likewise.  To such a notion, Jackson (1972) added that:

"the city of tomorrow   is  something  which  is   slowly  and   continuously created. It may contain new ideas  new  thoughts,  but  it  is   not  a  new creation because of the process of continuity and through the regular addition and frequent amendments to an  existing  urban  fabric... The  future  exists  in  the  city of  today,  and   as the circumstances of today move forward inexorably into the city of tomorrow,  society can if  so  wishes  bend, control, direct and lead the city as it now exists towards its horizon”.

Consistent with  the above  is  what Shirvani (1985) emphasized that urban design extends in both time  and space and therefore, the solutions put forward  by urban design planners must not only respond to the needs  of the present but should also be able to foresee the needs  of  the  future,  and,  the solutions developed  to  respond  to issues  in  one place can be used only as a basis  but  will need  to be reconfigured to fit the unique  requirements  of another place.  This, in essence points towards the  concept of sustainability.

The key to sustainable urban design is responsiveness  (with due  reference  to  the concept  of  responsive  environment propagated  by Bentley,, 1985), that is, to draw  designs  not too constrained as to just respond to a  specific need  of a specific individual or a homogeneous group  at  a specific  time but rather should be flexible and generic  as not to be exclusionary and time bounded.

The  exclusion of other groups does not only happen  because walls  were built or gates were installed. Often, the  built form  can exclude people by not being able to  resolve  conflicts between car and pedestrian, by not being  considerate to the needs of the disabled, and by imposing too much order and neatness. A pitfall to an urban design  planner who  had been car-dependent all his life is to design something which will  tend to be pro-car. Moreover, without the prodding  of more  sensitive people (who normally would be  our  everyday citizen and   not  those who are in the saddles of power),  a  physically-able urban design planner can tend to disregard accessibility for those who are physically impaired. Being exclusionary often  is not intentional. It becomes a tendency as  may  be dictated by how far one has gone and how many cases one  has seen. It is like an economic consultant who has not gone  to other countries and experienced the realities of life  there but is prescribing solutions to their problems. That is  why ,an   urban  design expert, to really be  effective  in  his craft,  should go out of his office and look  around,  feel, and  if  necessary, suffer from the common  people's  standpoint. This is what sociologists would term as the  participatory approach to sociological research wherein they go out and be beggars in the streets in order to analyse the situation  of street people in the social fabric. The  importance of  the information a professional planner can gather  while being really there is incomparable and can not be learned in the  classroom.  This bit of knowledge, combined  with  what others  have  discovered on their own can make up a  set  of realistic  objectives which the group can aim to fulfil  as they draw the design and build things from the ground.

It is important to bear in mind that what makes a  structure essential is its usefulness in the public realm. A structure with  maximized accessibility and permeability can  sustain­ably  be useful because of the very fact that it  does  not create  nuisance  to everybody, and it does not  just  serve only  a selected few. It does not hamper  people's  movement but  rather, it can actually aid them. As regards usefulness over time, the concern is not just  to secure  the physical integrity of the structure  (resistance to  earthquake, typhoon-proof, and so on) but also  to  make the design flexible so that it can easily be altered to suit changing  needs.  A  house may need to be  enlarged  as  the family grows, a wall may need to be knocked down, or a  room may  need  to be converted to a home-office.  A  sustainable design  can foresee all these probable needs in  the  future and  can  provide for them in the current format. In  buildings,  the sustainability of usefulness may be provided  for by considering access, building depth, height, hard  (lifts, stairs,  vertical service ducts) and soft areas, and  active and passive areas. Organizing the inside of the building can give  rise  to robustness, it being  the  characteristic  of being  able  to offer many different uses/purposes   to  its users  (Bentley, et. al., 1985).  Again, urban design  planners  can have a very limited view about what would  be  the future  needs of the family occupying a certain  house.  The limitation  can  be  caused by the extent of  what  one  has experienced  with his/her own family, for  instance,  he/she grew  up in a nuclear family and would fail to envision  the needs of an extended family).

To reiterate, because urban issues evolve, the expertise and knowledge of urban design planners should likewise do so. To be  able  to plan and design in a continuum,  they  have  to accept that learning is also a  process and ideas will  have to be kept up-to-date with the changing urban setting.

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