Landscape Strategies For Informal Settlements: Creating Armatures to Shape Urban Form

What are the best strategies to deal with informal settlements and the growing populations of urban poor? Previous research on post-informal settlements focused on retroactive strategies that upgrade existing conditions akin to a “small scale urban acupuncture.” Yet little emphasis has been given to pre-emptive strategies that address future growth. Landscape urbanism as an urban strategy, advocates for flexibility, continual re-arrangement, and flux:it thus has a strong potential for improving the lives of the urban poor through a nuanced understanding of how informal areas adapt and grow. The following is an interview with David Gouverneur, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Landscape Architecture program, who has devoted his research to the study of landscape armatures as pre-emptive systems for the upgrading of the informal city. His insights provide a better idea of what these armatures are, how they perform, and how they can contribute to furthering the post-informal landscape urbanism discourse.

Leo Robleto Costante (LRC): In an increasingly urbanized world, why is it important to study landscape within the context of informal settlements? 

David Gouverneur (DG): The gap between the developed and the developing world is widening and the disparities are clearly manifested in the places in which people live and how these sites perform. In Asia, Africa and Latin America almost a billion people—one sixth of the world population and one third of urban dwellers—live in informal settlements, unplanned environments constructed by their own residents. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Program, it is expected that by 2030 this number will double. These staggering figures demand innovative approaches for dealing with this new scale of territorial occupation if we want to narrow down the disparities and therefore ameliorate social tension, resentment and violence, in a globalized world.

Different international organizations and authors have written extensively about the consequences of such demographic explosion and the nature of informal occupation, but little has been done in terms of envisioning how to deal effectively with the consequences of these demographic pressures and how to foster the growth of the predominantly informal city. This is the reason why I became interested in researching this topic and what motivated me to develop the notion of “Informal Armatures.”

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Informal armatures promote an ecology of relations (natural and social) which make the system resilient, focusing on aspects that the community cannot address on their own. Continue reading

Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure. Latest Issue Now Published!

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Image credit: “Delving deep: a ganat system in an Iranian desert tunnels deep into the mountain profile,” from The Humanity of Infrastructure by Dane Carlson. NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

We are excited to announce the launch of the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal – Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure! Crafted by Editors-in-Chief Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner of the the newly-named Scenario Journal, Issue 4 looks at the pressing questions of how infrastructure of the next century will be imagined and built. As the co-editors write,

“Infrastructure underlies and shapes urban growth, yet for the most part exists outside the realm of design discussions, tucked below ground or hiding in plain sight. Long fascinated with complex, dynamic powerful systems, designers are finally turning their attention to the potential of infrastructure as fertile conceptual territory.With the pressing issues of climate change, financial malaise, unemployment and failures of governance, it is clear that the old approach to infrastructure — heroic but expensive, brittle, and difficult to maintain — will not be possible for too much longer. How do we ensure that the urgent conversation about the design and conception of infrastructure is a multidisciplinary project? How do we move beyond the buzzwords of green infrastructure, soft systems, and eco-engineering, in order to create a landscape infrastructure that is robust enough for the challenging times ahead?”

These questions framed the past six months of research and work by Stephanie Carlisle and Nicholas Pevzner in the latest issue of the Landscape Urbanism Journal, Scenario 4: Rethinking Infrastructure. Continue reading

50 Ideas For The New City

“Support the arts through asset-building. Capture the energy of people going about their day. Make a difference in a community you know. Map everything. Design for generational diversity. Listen to your ecosystem.”

These ideas and others are part of 50 Ideas for the New City by Urban Omnibus and the Architecture League of New York. An open event and a “showcase for good ideas for the future of cities.” Do you have a project that captures (or executes) one of these ideas? As they write in their manifesto, “We hope, in some small way, we can help re-enchant the urban environment as a landscape of possibility, a realm of action and intention, and a place that represents — and deserves — a long and evolving history of creative ideas.” Check out the posters, below, also created by Urban Omnibus.

How will you participate?

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New Book Releases in Landscape: ‘Landprints’ and ‘Garden, Park, Community, Farm.’

Two gorgeous full-color hardback books just crossed the desk of Landscape Urbanism and we can’t wait to share them with you. The first, Landprints: The Landscape Designs of Bernard Trainor celebrates the work of Australian-born landscape designer Bernard Trainor, whose large-scale gardens, airy hilltops and gorgeous hillsides focus on “simple, understated frames to rugged natural panoramas.” While a book only captures the visual aesthetic of the landscape (and as with any photograph, can’t fully capture the sensory essence of being within a landscape) –the photographic work by Jason Liske captures the raw aesthetic beauty of the space and the timeless nature of the designs. The book makes us want to jump in a car and take a slow road trip just to experience each of these places.

Landprints Book Cover Continue reading

Video: “Why Not? Conversations With the Stewards and Designers of the Golden Gate National Parks”

In the last post, we asked what it took to create a national park on the scale of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. In a joint effort by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and a multitude of volunteers and contributors, a 30-minute documentary explores these questions. Take a look:

Conversations with the Stewards and Designers of the Golden Gate National Parks

Decades of Park Advocacy: Behind San Francisco’s Presidio and Golden Gate National Parks

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What does it take to create nationally-recognized landscapes like the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Parks in San Francisco, CA? The answer is more than just one designer, planner, steward, or advocate–and a lot longer than a decade. On April 4th, the Cultural Landscape Foundation honored the “exceptional number of Bay Area stewards and designers” that have played pivotal roles in creating and shaping this landscape over many decades, including three key leadership organizations: The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, The Presidio Trust, and The National Park Service.

Here are some of the photographs of the Presidio and Golden Gate National Recreation Areas, documented by SWA Group’s Principal Photographer, Tom Fox:

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Exploring Philadelphia Landmarks: At Olin, A Look At North Broad Street Development

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The stately Divine Lorraine rises ten stories above Broad Street.
Originally designed in the 1890s, it closed in 1999 and now sits vacant.

Once upon a time, elephants paraded into the Metropolitan Opera House and the Divine Lorraine stood regally ten stories above North Broad Street in Philadelphia. A fantastical quality remains in these two buildings that has outlasted entertainment trends, housing fashions and urban shifts that led to the general decline of the surrounding neighborhood and the near demise of these two landmarks. I had the opportunity to explore these iconic structures on a tour led by Hidden City Philadelphia and learn about their storied pasts and aspirations for the future.

Divine Lorraine Dining Hall

The White Company, a Cleveland-based automobile manufacturer, held its Annual Dealers Banquet at the Hotel Lorraine in 1922. Photo Courtesy Philadelphia Free Library.

The Divine Lorraine is a Philadelphia legend, if not for its striking architecture than for its resilience. Continue reading

Las Vegas and the Downtown Project: A Photo Tour

Last week, Tech Cocktail and the Downtown Project invited a small group of tech entrepreneurs, innovators, and city enthusiasts (like Landscape Urbanism) to take a look at the projects and grounds of the new Downtown Project area in Las Vegas. I also gave a quick 10-minute talk on questions about the future of cities (forthcoming), but in the meantime, here’s a visual assortment of photographs from both the city-at-large as well as the downtown areas, generally.

Greater Las Vegas: Residential Patterns (and Aerial Photographs)

Flying in from San Francisco, here’s a couple of photos of the cityscape from the airplane window:

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Looking towards the airport and the strip, offset in the background. One of the main visual characteristics of Las Vegas is the desert landscape and the mountains surrounding the flat, tan lands. Note the patchwork of development in the foreground and the scattered suburban developments. 

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Residential suburban housing is an easy pattern to pick up from an aerial view: organized, repetitive, single-colored rooftops.  Continue reading

If The Lights Went Out: The Dark City

What would happen to our great cityscapes if the lights went out? If electricity, candles, and other generated light sources were rendered null? Photography Thierry Cohen created a series of cityscape images that render the city at night under just the light of the stars.The art process for creating these images is quite complicated– as DVice describes: “Cohen visited deserted places that are situated at the same latitudes of the featured cities. With shots of starry skies from the wilderness in such places such as the Mojave and the Western Sahara, he superimposed them across the matching cities.”

Shanghai.

Tokyo. Continue reading

Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet: Carbon Zero, by Alex Steffen

Landscape Urbanism recently met up with Alex Steffen to talk about his latest book, “Carbon Zero,” which was just published on November 27th, 2012. The self-proclaimed “little book” looks at the current condition of our growing–and urbanizing, and warming–planet, and calls for a radical re-imagination of what our city futures could look like. It’s a blueprint, a warning, and a strategic call-to-action for our global urban leaders to take (radical, imaginative) steps towards a more resilient future. 

The following two excerpts are from the book’s introduction and overview (emphases added); the full book is on Amazon, here.  

Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by Alex Steffen (Excerpt)

1. Our Urban Future

Humanity is already an urban species, with more people living in cities than in the countryside. By the middle of the century, we will likely have as many as 9.5 billion people living on the planet, with 70%–75% of us (around 7 billion people), demographers estimate, living in cities themselves, and 95% or more of humanity living within a day’s travel of a city. By the 2050s, the overwhelming majority of humanity will be participating in urban systems of health care, education, communication, commerce, and government that only a few decades ago were limited to the “developed” world. Continue reading