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Topic for Debate
 
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Looking at the history of ideas in the building science and industry one can see an accelerated innovation.

The rate of innovation is really going fast in terms of Materials, Methods, Systems, Lighting. However, in parallel to this accelerated innovation the built environment is increasingly degraded and mis-managed. While architects manage individual buildings well enough, the over all urban environment is in chaos.

Is this happening because of the isolation of architecture, planning, and engineering??

Is this happening because of those who make decisions about the built environment??

Why technology is going in one direction and the built environment is going toward another??


Hope this topic would stimulate some debate here.
Ashraf Salama
Responses
 
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Dear Ashraf,

You have a great insight into our times!
Yes, you are right, almost! The reasons are many. The first and foremost is while democracy provides citizens basic rights, such as freedom to express, pursue work of their choice, movement etc. the existing political, economic and technological leadership is too busy in the real-politik of business and enhancing their own wealth and power rather than fulfilling the larger societal goals. There is no shared vision for direction of development of the society or humanity as a whole.

As a result, freedom is used almost exclusively for the benefit of a few, who control the finance, technology and power. They prosper and they hope that prosperity will trickle down to the masses, which it does not in most cases.

There are incentives for individuals in the top management, technology leaders and power elites in terms of their further growth of wealth, control and political power. The egalitarian values, the most essential human and social rights, the environmental rights etc.are given a secondary treatment. As a result, the common good and concerns are neglected.e.g. the state of our habitat: villages, towns, cities and metropolises. These are collective concerns as compared to the buildings and complexes, where individual or firms are concerned about their own properties and growth. As a result, we seem to have greater innovations (though most of it is superfluous) in buildings, engineering, systems and technology as they compete with each other for attention and share in urban real estate, finance,construction and technology markets. While among cities, there is hardly any competition to attract citizens, investment and expertise. It is also a question of big finance. There is ample finance available for individual projects rather than large scale urban projects. We seem to have money for individual houses but not for housing! There is also political red-tapism in many a country where decision making is adversely affected at the level of civic governance, while at individual and firm's level there is quicker and more practical decision making! There is this factor of time. While buildings take a few years time to be built, cities take decades for their development. So there is greater chance of things going wrong due to lack of planning, urban design, co-ordination, proper monitoring and evaluation, lack of feed back mechanism and lack of citizen participation.

There are a few who are addressing these issues, such as movements for new urbanism, smart growth and humane habitat. It is about evolving common shared concerns and strategies for sustainable development of human settlements through wholistic and integrated approaches rather than fragmented and sectorial approach.

The quality of built environment: architecture, infrastructure and services which is going to determine the quality of life in our settlements.
It is, therefore, very important to create greater awareness about the issues involved. The movement for evolving humane habitat is dedicated to the goals and objectives of transforming the quality of built environment in human settlements and evolving a humane, sustainable and innovative architecture.

It would be interesting to learn from other participants their viewpoints on the issues.

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Dear Akhtar,

You have outlined the issue marvelously, and yes the reasons are many. However, your outline addresses almost all of them concisely. On the issue of ""democracy and the existing political, economic and technological leadership is too busy in the real-politik of business and enhancing their own wealth and power rather than fulfilling the larger societal goals."" I have quoted you since I consider this a strong statement. What is very strange is that leadership argues all the time that THEY encourage dialogue and all sectors of society have the right to say and contribute. I just wanted to quote the following statement of Gregory Baum (1977), that asserts and complements your thoughtful answer.

"True dialogue takes place only among equals. There is no dialogue across the boundaries between masters and servants., for the master will listen only as long as his power remains intact, and the servant will limit his communication to which he cannot be punished. In fact, to recommend a dialogue in a situation of inequality of power is deceiptive ideology of the powerful, who wishes to pursuade the powerless that harmony and understanding are possible in society without any change on the status of power." Thus, the issue of "dialogue becomes mono-logue", Society speakes politely and no listening.

The issue of governance that you introduce is also critical and it would appear that leadership does not care as long as their personal aspirations are met (manifested by technology, business, industry,..etc).

Just wanted to add a critical view of of architects as professionals(although I am an architect by default, education, training, practice, and research) who failed to rise up to the expecations of contemporary society, and perhaps this is one of the reasons for the gulf or gap between planning and architecture. Here, it would be good if we introduce some points about planning and architecture.

- The physical city versus economic and demographic city.

- The planner comprehensive/strategic plan versus the architect master plan.

- How it looks versus how it works.

- Macro ordinances versus micro projects.

I believe in addition to the reasons you mentioned, the preceding four points illustrate a paradox due to the the existence of two different professional mentalities making decisions about the environment (other than those in top management positions who have no clue about what is happening and about the built environment). The two professions are always existing in a contrast dichotomy, and have historically experienced reltionships that are basically competitive, negative, and juxtapositional. They say they collaborate but they do not, and this applies more to the developing world, and to some extent in the developed world.

I do hope your points and this topic are received by good responses from the community.

With all warm wishes,
Ashraf Salama
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
I will go with the second point i.e those who make the decision about the built environment.

An article of Lewis Mumford on " what is a city" also will support my choice. In his article he has presented his viewpoint on the development of the cities in the modern age according to the population factor.
He has criticise upon the decision maker that is city planner for overcrowding the city which has densify specific spaces of a city,i.e. spaces of more interest or business, assuming that this will help the city to prosper, which have caused the city environment to deter gradually instead of matching the technological advancement, as you have mentioned.

He has also presented the solution to which one can solve these issues that there is a requirement of setting a proportion to which a city will develop or grow.
For example city planner should decide that how much the population will be accepted to grow or migrate with such and such resources of amenties and other facilites.
In this way we can hopefully can overcome the problems as mentioned above and can ended up with a more appropriate city environment to live in.

Regards
Arshad Siddiqui
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Dear Ashraf,

Thanks for your appreciation of my views on social, economic and political context. I believe that we need innovation in these fields of governance in order to bring about the qualitative transformation of our societies and living environment.

Now to focus on the four key issues you outlined.

a. As planning students of early 70s we were charged up with the idea of comprehensive socio-economic planning. We were very critical about the physical planning practiced by the orthodox town planners of the govt. departments on one side and the economic planners of the planning ministries. The debates were very encouraging. We founded National Organisation of Students of Planning (NOSPLAN)as a forum to carry forward these radical ideas. Over the years, there has been some change in the govt. outlook, the plans appear to be more comprehensive but they lack vision and commitment to address the key issues in developing world such as removal of poverty, creating more job opportunities for all, strengthening social infrastructure for education, health care and social welfare. Instead more resources are poured in the physical aspects trying to make Mumbai look like Singapore or Shanghai!

b. Structure planning was adopted as a better alternative way of planning rather than master planning. But the change was cosmetic rather than substantive. The flexibility and open-ness of structuring process required reforms in the rules and regulations, which were not forthcoming. As a result our structure plans are almost as good or bad as earlier master plans! Charles Correa, Privan Mehta and Shirish Patel conceived the twin city of Navi Mumbai way back in early 70s. The structure plan for the city of two million was one of the visionary proposal which was implemented. But while realising many compromises were made in the name of orthodox physical planning and the result lacks the creative impulse and intellectual vigour. It fails to inspire.

Decades later, Correa, Doshi and Kanvinde were given new nodes to be planned within Navi Mumbai. These planning proposals were more creative and interesting. Correa planned Ulwe node for a population of 350,000 people and I was a planning consultant on the team. The plan proposal was aimed at a sustainable development through encouraging public transportation networks of railways and busways. As a result the plan provided greater accessibility and choice to different sections of the population. Urban design and environmental planning were integrated into planning process to generate urban form in harmony with the landscape. Yet while detailing the plan, compromises are being made and result may not be as envisaged. Doshi designed Kharghar as a resource conserving city but while implementing there has been so many compromises that the original ideas seems to have been lost.

c. The physical planners like architects are greatly concerned about how it looks. Therefore, they all talk about making it look like Singapore! The most visible aspects of such development is road network which is given prime importance. The issue of public transportation, making it more affordable and environment friendly are forgotten or given secondary importance. More fly-overs and bridges, six lane highways and expressways are given go aheads while proposals for public transportation gather dust. There are some pockets of glitter, urban showcases with steel, glass and aluminium cladding competing with each other for attention. In most cases, there are no energy audits or environmental impact assessment of the proposals.

d. The concepts of micro planning or planning from the grass roots or bottom up planning was introduced way back in 70s. These projects for rural and urban community development were pioneering exmaples of involving people in planning process. Some of the programmes were taken up at state and national levels and as a result many communities were benefitted. However, these remained as mere exceptions. The main planning process continued in the same old fashion way. In the process planning has been reduced to one more function of the governance rather than becoming the key process of bringing about social transformation. It has become more ad-hoc.The result is more than 50% of population of metropolises live in slums, nearly 1/3rd of the people are poor, rural areas are neglected, there is unemployment, environment is degraded and quality of life for a majority of population does not seem to improve substantially. In many a case it has degraded furhter.

e. While technological innovation has provided people with greater access to communication. There are phones and mobile services. They have electricity and in cities access to cooking gas. The network of educational institution has been extended through privatisation. The healt services have improved. There is a lot more of entertaintment and leisure facilities. For the upper middle class and the higher classes there is greater mobility. But the poor sections continue to suffer. Only recently there have been significant changes in the constitution. The 73rd and 74th amendments provide for greater inolvement of people through effective citizen participation. However, there is not much awareness and political will to make it succeed. It is here the role of architects and planners become critical in making these measures as instruments of social transformation. But are we prepared to bear the great social responsibility?

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Will get back to this discussion soon.
My best,
Ashraf Salama
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Dear Akhtar, many thanks for the introdcution of these critical issues.

I believe that focusing on the physical aspects only (at the expense of other issues) and the lack of committment and vision is based on the fact that now developing world governments aim at meeting cultural aspirations superficially, or meeting the aspirations of a specific social class, not others!

The issue of compromise while implementing a plan seems to be a critical concern and might lead us to think of the nature of "HOW" and the implementation processes. In my view, compromising to the extent where the original ideas are evaporated goes beyond the plan itself and its implementation. It becomes a matter of selling certain ideas and projects to decision makers. In my involvements in some policy projects on tourism development and environmental planning in Egypt, and in strategic facility planning in the US, I can conclude that having decision makers buy the project ideas and the planning concepts became a top priority. The process of selling and buying is political and involves exhaustive efforts. In some cases compromise occurs because of the absence of certain specialties and expertise in the very early stages of planning. Therefore, I would argue that deep involvement of "all" needs to be encouraged and needs to take place very early in the process.

I completely agree with you on the issue of the physical planners' interests in how it looks, and this is a sustained dilemma. Although the issue of citizen participation is encouraged politically it would appear there is a lack of mechanisms on how to do so. I believe if architects and planners showe their responsive tools and their validity and reliability public involvement will take place. The issue of the roles architects and planners could or should play is a concern. In some of my earlier postings and in my book "new trends in architectural education", I have introduced five architect/planner role models, and one of them is the facilitator, where decision making powers are equally distributed and collaborative mechanisms are envisaged through active involvement. In this context I assert that not involving everyone can cripple the outcome for years to come. I firmly believe that moving from "compromise" to "consensus" should be our future concern!
Ashraf Salama
Accelerated Innovation - Accelerated Degradation
Dear Ashraf,

As you have pointed out with your experience in Egypt in tourism sector, buying and selling is a reality. In capitalist "free market" economy, planning has a very different role, guiding and supporting / strengthening market forces, than in a socialist planned economy ( control and development towards fixed social goals) or in social democracies or welfare state (facilitating and ensuring that certain public standards are achieved and maintained).

Role of different actors, such as politicians, administrators, technocrats, planners, contractors, non-govt. organisations, activists and citizens are determined by the context of social, economic and political processes. In the era of globalization, the role of planning is largely determined by the commercial needs of the corporate sector, the political and the administrative class. While consensus is an ideal, the reality in most part of the world is that plans and programmes are thrust upon people with a minimum of consultation. The role of planner as an enlightened consultant is very crucial for ensuring that the quality of life improves in our human settlements.

The efforts of advocacy planners since early 70s have resulted in many a socially relevant and environmentally appropriate project that have transformed lives of many. Yet, most of the planning in government and corporate sector is more concerned with the technical, financial and physical aspects rather than human, social and enviornmental issues. The role of planners as "facilitator", as suggested by you, is both desirable and practical. I only wish to emphasize that in order to really succeed, planners will have to be effective first to convince the political and corporate sectors on the key issues of sustainable development. This they can not achieve in absence of enlightened public opinion. This is where the most important role of planners comes into focus, that of educating the citizens and creating awareness on the issues.

Without an effective involvement of "all", particularly the common citizens,plans would remain as mere dreams. At the same time, we need to look at the planning process,standards and norms rather critically. We need a lot of innovation here in order to evolve planning as a process of shaping a better quality of life for all. This can not happen without a vision and a philosophy. May be there is a scope for pluralism, not just one vision or a philosophy, but may be a whole range! We will have to critically look at related disciplines of philosophy, sociology, psychology,political science, environmental sciences,urban management,law, etc to be able to generate a movement towards evolving human settlements into sustainable, livable, affordable, humane and creative communities.. into a humane habitat! However, many would question the need for this all, so we need to give evidence and proof of the reality of " accelerated degradation". A quick check-list would read as follows:

Global and regional climate change, environmental pollution, uncontrolled urabnisation, urban sprawl, traffic congestion, unhealthy cities, lack of community feeling, alienation, increasing stress leading to mental and social disorders, increasing violence and growing crime rate, unaffordable housing, inadequate social and health care facilities, inadequate sports, recreation and leisure facilities, unsustainable infrastructure, lack of employment for all and lack of involvement of all etc.

It would require on going research and evaluation to identify the issues and problems at different levels in local, national, regional and global context.
A lot has been done and a lot needs to be done! We need to interact and exchange ideas and discuss processes! It calls for life long struggle or engagement with the issues.

All our innovations would be meaningless if we can not ensure that every human being has meaningful work, social security, human rights,an affordable home, within a caring community and a sustainable settlement and that natural resources for future generations are conserved and resources are rationally utilised for sustainable development through good governance. CIAM was a heroic attempt at shaping the 20th century, will UN Habitat II, UIA, CAA, WSE, ArchNet.. and in a humble way ICHH contribute towards evolving sustainable humane habitat in the 21st century ?

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
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