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