Saturday, April 7, 2012

Emerging Asian Urbanism

The phenomenal growth of Asian cities remains a challenge to their infrastructure, existing resources, and the roles that have traditionally constituted city-making in the broadest sense.   If we consider the city constructs and the unique elements of its organic identities as self-organizing systems within a greater global complexity, then they are the access nodes to communication and distribution. They are also, within the system, ruthless reminders of social poverty and alienation.

On "City Building in an Age of Global Urban Transformation", Richard Burdett and Miguel Kanai observe  that “The quintessential urban paradox comprising confrontation and promise, tension and release, social cohesion and exclusion, urban wealth and intense squalor is a profoundly spatial equation, with enormous democratic potential. Ultimately, the shape we give society affects the daily lives of those who live and work in cities across the world”

For the urban designer today, it is critical to explore and distinguish those urban interventions that are crucial in shaping the physical and spatial environment of the Asian city. Critical interventions are innovative and transformational in their ability to revitalize, renew and transform the urban environment. For the purpose of this effort, key criteria should be established to determine their success in transforming the complexity of the city. It  is necessary to highlight those interventions that nurture, inspire, revitalize and empower their unique communities to compete as a holistic and functional system.

The purpose of this initial post is intended to stimulate dialogue leading to conscious action on the part of designers, policy makers and elected officials. The goal is to innovate and implement appropriate interventions that will address the velocity, growth and direction of the evolving Asian city. With little exception, selected citizens of any major Asian city have benefited from global connectedness through communication, trade and the flow of vast amounts of capital. Through appropriate interventions in their evolving trajectories, the revitalization of our cities will embrace the vast majority of its citizens to benefit from the wide range of dynamics at these strategic global nodes.

Saskia Sassen notes that “the formation of the inter-city geographies is contributing a critical infrastructure for a new global political economy, new cultural spaces and new type of politics”. It is almost as if Asian cities are learning to sustain and absorb the shock of what Ricoeur referred to as “modern civilization” in his quintessential essay on universalization. In this context, one must not only address the issue of an Asian identity but also the function of innovation in redefining a city’s identity. 

Asian cities draw ideas from many sources that transcend conventional boundaries. While inspired by external/global/western models, they also draw on their own past and local culture, and from neighboring societies. Each Asian city is substantially different from another in that their locally evolved identities are  transforming in unique ways that are far more complex than changes occurring at the CBD, the slum, and the historic district in what is today a global node. They may be responsive to the local, the traditional or the transnational and our goal is to observe and learn from the lessons of their formal and spatial transformation.

For the purpose of this effort, a comprehensive approach that encompasses the urban response and the architectural fabrication are considered as integral and complementary elements of a transformative intervention. The urban condition, the historical context, the proposed program and the stated objectives of key stakeholders are considered elements that inform and guide the formal and spatial responses. Initially, interventions may broadly be classified as one of the following:
§     Interventional Megaform    I  Development  
§     Interventional Abode         I  Residential     
§     Interventional Transport     I  Mobility           
§     Interventional Landscape  I  Sustainability  

The critical interventions considered perhaps could respond effectively to the following questions:
§  How are Asian cities evolving at the global, trans-national and local level?
§  What are the unique links between sustainability and city form in the Asian context?
§  How can innovative forms of transit and urban development promote social equity?
§  How can Asian cities integrate the cohesive potential of urban spaces?
§  What are the urban innovations that distinguish the Asian city from that of others? (Europe, N. America)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why not the Bullet?

Japan has had the Bullet Train for almost fifty years. Yes, the Shinkansen has been around since 1964! We may get our first HSR in another decade if we are lucky. HSR or High Speed Rail can surely intimidate anyone. It conjures up an image of technology and machines rushing through your neighborhood. The Bullet train though has always been about Speeeed. Krugman compares the speed and convenience of Trains, Planes and Automobiles and tries to place things in perspective. In fact he has been writing about this for a while. It takes an entire state though, to make a perceptional mess of what might have been a phenomenal showcase even if flawed. Taking advantage of Florida's short-sightedeness, California may once again show, like its mythological Queen Calafia, that the riches are far west.