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

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

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

Going National: Urban Issues and the Public Debate

With four-fifths of Americans living in urban areas, we are a nation of cities, yet this is not the narrative you’re likely to hear in our national political conversation. As a result, urban policy doesn’t get the debate it deserves. But as U.S. cities change and evolve, it may finally be time for urban issues to become something that both parties care about.

In media reports and stump speeches, you’ll hear that true American identity resides in the heartland, on Main Street, in our farms and small towns—and in our ubiquitous suburbs. The suburbs are the political battlegrounds where the parties vie for attention, so it is no surprise that suburban issues, like the price of gasoline, get a voice, while more “urban” concerns, like public transportation or infrastructure planning, get short shrift.

A recent op-ed in The New York Times by Kevin Baker, titled “How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party,” gives a great history of how this perceived bifurcation between cities and the rest of America came to be, why it is problematic, and why its days may be numbered. Continue reading

Does It Matter What You Call It? Landscape Urbanism in ‘Scape 2012

“It doesn’t matter what you call it–the larger effort to engage landscape ideas and landscape thinking in broad discourse is what the larger disciplines of landscape, urbanism, planning and architecture need.”

Does the name Landscape Urbanism matter? Probably. In fact, it does–and the editors and writers behind this site have had numerous discussions about the use of the term “Landscape Urbanism,” capitalized, and “landscape urbanism”, lowercase, as well as the theoretical and pedagogical implications of the term’s rise to relevance over the last few decades. But as Jessica Bridger, an American landscape architect and critic points out in the latest issue of ‘Scape–and something I also very much agree with–while the dialogue about terminology is important, we also should pause that dialogue for a minute and consider that the larger effort to “engage landscape ideas, and landscape thinking, … in broad discourse,” is what our larger disciplines of landscape, urbanism, planning and architecture need.

This website and our online journal are the subject of review in the 2012 November issue of ‘Scape, out now. Ms Bridger writes: Continue reading

Valencia’s Green River: Landscape Infrastructure and the Transformation of a City’s Identity

“Bold ideas are easy, implementing them is hard. This is particularly true as cities around the world want to use their landscapes as infrastructure to address current urban issues.”

Valencia’s Green River, Photography by Brian Phelps.

Bold Visions For Valencia

Bold ideas are easy, implementing them is hard. This is particularly true as cities around
the world want to use their landscape infrastructure to address the issues they face. How can interventions be woven into the existing urban fabric? Beyond simply mustering the financial resources or political will, one must seek opportunities to carefully insert or adapt landscape systems to the constraints of established urban communities. New York’s High Line, Atlanta’s Beltline, and Madrid’s RIO project all relied on abandoned or superseded rail or highway infrastructure to thread linear landscapes through the hearts of old cities. Valencia, on the other hand, relied on a crisis, and in the words of Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Continue reading

The Call For A Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism

“There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world. Moreover, one of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as ‘slums.’ What is the future of the city after the influx of informal settlements?”

There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world similar–and sometimes much worse–than La Moran, in Caracas Venezuela (pictured above).

“Post-Industrial” is widely regarded as the primary condition that appears throughout much of Landscape Urbanism literature in its attempt to reformulate contemporary city-making following the industrial booms of the past centuries. While it is important to recycle, re-use and reconsider sites of this nature, it is also important to consider other “post” conditions and projects.

Landscape Urbanism has to move on from defining what it is to what it can do; from theory to praxis, from book to built. Instead of being limited to the endless task of defining and arguing for the relevance of its initial conceptualizations, it is the job of designers to find new areas onto which this new approximation can have a successful implementation. Through this thinking, we can find other “post-” conditions, one of which has an immense sense of urgency and potential in today’s world: “Post-Informal”.

Population Growth and City Projections

Four years ago, the world reached a significant milestone: 3.3 billion human beings live in cities, making this planet’s human population predominantly urban. Yet, the importance of this milestone is not just that an ever-growing population lives in cities, but how they live in cities. One of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as “slums”. Informal settlements are usually characterized as poor areas that come about outside the margins of any legal urban planning, usually constructed by means of self-help housing that tap into the existing services and infrastructures of the city. This urban phenomenon should be regarded as one of the most important characteristics of modern urban development because of the impact it has on landscape, environment, social components, existing cities and infrastructure. Continue reading