It looks like all initiatives of self-reliant citizens seem to take place at the small scale of the house, the street or the neighborhood at most. But what does it mean for the larger scale of the city, the country or even transnationally? Archis Speaks Volumes #3 invites three experts to reflect on those larger scales and what kind of governing or ‘rules of the new game’ should be in place.
Portugal faced a dramatic housing shortage in the early 1970’s that contributed to the energies of 1974’s revolution. One of the first acts of the new government was to institute new housing policies and institutions, Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL, Service for Local Mobile Support), that focused on promoting the right to the city through collective processes of design, construction and management. Manifesting itself differently throughout the country, SAAL was irreparably altered just a few years later due to political conflict. Since then, the fates of these architectures and their built agendas have lay uncertain. What will be the legacy of this failed proletarian utopia?
If there is a moment to test a community’s resilience, it is after disaster has struck. Such situations often show a community pulling together in a shared feeling that ‘things’ have to be done, but also ambition to be involved and participate on an individual level. Christchurch, New Zealand was no exception when the city was ruined by a series of earthquakes. Yet, it may have come as a surprise for most to see how many people felt engaged and how many (temporary) projects were being proposed and executed. Maybe less surprising was the tendency among existing structures and powers to just carry on. The self-building city was welcomed at first, or maybe just tolerated by the powers that be, provided it wasn’t in the way of business as usual. So, how fundamental a change did we actually see?
Once upon a time ‘left’ equaled ‘collective’ and ‘right’ ‘individual’. Those were the days. Today, it looks like ‘left’ adopted a rightwing agenda in its plea for individual freedom and the right to choose. In the Netherlands, social-democrat politician Adri Duivesteijn advocated a different approach in the nation’s housing program: instead of continuing with top-down provision of the housing product by commercial developers and housing associations alike, stimulate and propagate individual house building. It seemed like swearing in church when this became political in the late 90s, but upon a closer look the policy stems from a consistent analysis of the individual’s place in society. Volume sat with former alderman, currently MP, Adri Duivesteijn to learn about the difference between the right to decide and the position to do so.
Alongside luxury developments and public displays of wealth, over half of Cairo’s urban population, a megacity of over 17 million, live in unplanned and self-built communities. Massive population shifts and a lack of governmental oversight fostered a culture of collaborative urbanism, incremental architecture and entrepreneurialism. Due to the explosive growth created in the power vacuum after the 2011 revolution, the government has formally recognized this informality and services have started being provided. How will these highly nuanced building practices be brought under the remit of planning policy and urban governance? Will they change in the process to produce new forms of urbanism, or will they be accepted and become the new official standard?
There is a theory that the more organized (read: developed) a society is, the less self-sufficient it becomes. All sorts of services and amenities, from housing to energy, from culture to justice, are centrally organized and distributed. But is that necessarily so? Or are we heading for a new order in which decentralized and self-reliant become the norm?
Recently, I learned about a new research program at Utrecht University focused on cycling. It is not part of their health department, as one might expect, but of a department specialized in modeling data. The researchers want to investigate cycling in the city as a complex system and produce a model to describe its dynamics. My first response was: people take their bike and move from A to B. How complex can that be? But with a little more information I started to understand that the bicycle has a dynamic relation with its surroundings. We take it for granted that an airport is a logistically complex system and has become a city on its own. We know that the car and the highway produce new functions and organize the distribution of them. We see that gas stations turn into super markets, that football stadiums are built next to or even across motorways, and so on. But the bicycle seems to escape such interactive relations. It is a faster way of walking, not a producer of space and program. But it is. With the ongoing growth of inner-city bicycle use to the detriment of the car, a kindergarten or daycare can be located in a street without parking facilities and yet be commercially viable. A small supermarket or baker will locate itself next door, taking advantage of the flow of potential customers bringing their children. If we see the bike as the producer of such arrangements, and not just as the means to reach them, we start to understand that to promote bicycle use and eventually even to exchange cars for bicycles in the city has far-reaching implications. There is more to it than constructing bike lanes and bike sheds. It’s changing the city’s systems.
Volume’s upcoming issue addresses how people’s initiative creates the city, focusing on housing. Temporariness is one of the conditions that favors small-scale and bottom-up initiative. Martynas Mankus discusses some realities.