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.”

IMAGE-1_Armatures Sketch_640

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

Exploring Philadelphia’s New “Penn Park”

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to stop by Philadelphia and the University of Pennsvylania’s new Penn Park, a 23-acre waterfront park woven in between more than five different infrastructural systems and multiple-level land locks. Previously the site of the   post offices’ land, the site stood as unused acreage between Penn’s campus and the Schuylkill waterfront. Surrounded on all sides by Amtrak, light rail, local rail, the highway, and the upper and lower decks of local Walnut Street, the site was not an easy place to access.

While a student at Penn, the site looked like this image (from the Penn Connects website, 2008):

In just a couple of years, the University has transformed the waterfront area into a set of public and private fields, complete with several ramps and bridges that connect the multiple levels together. An overview of the project (via Michael Van Valkenburgh‘s website):

The rest of the photographs are from a walking tour through the project–I walked through it from the Walnut Street entrance (adjacent to the freeway on ramp). The following photographs are all from my camera, December 2012.

Walking onto the site from above, a view from the Walnut Street Bridge: Continue reading