Route 66: Welcome!
Route 66: Welcome!
The familiar, iconic New York City skyline is one which automatically produces connotations of power, wealth and superiority. Missing, however, are the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. In the months following the 9/11 attacks, there was much contested debate over the future of the skyscraper as one form of megastructure. It is necessary, then, to investigate why the last decade saw the largest cluttering of cities with skyscrapers , along with the rise of the “supertall”.
The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre dominated the New York City skyline until 2001.
The article suggests that safety was merely one negative argument opposing the construction of tall buildings. “Supertalls” (over 300 metres) are not economically viable: building over 70 storeys incurs excessive costs to ensure structural safety, outweighing any initial financial profit. The journal article supports this, showing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur as no exception. Above the 84th floors, space was devoid of profit, featuring spires serving only to increase height in the global competition for the tallest tower. Despite this, and regardless of the Twin Towers’ fate, 350 constructions have appeared since 2001, the majority in the Global South (Lamster, 2011). Many Middle Eastern and Asian cities fight for their space in the global arena, suggesting that the skyscraper continues to equate to power and symbolise development. The use of the skyscraper to mark economic power is embedded in Western ideals, meaning that Southern cities use the concept of the “skyline” as a route to asserting themselves as prosperous countries. The journal article by Bunnell (2002), confirms this: the Petronas Towers, as part of the Vision 2020 programme, aimed to promote a world city.
The Petronas Towers- an attempt to state KL as a global city
A wider issue is the fear of the West in parallel to the South’s rise in power , wealth and visibility. The article demonstrates the West’s confidence that mega-structures are central to solving the future’s problems: climate change and overpopulation can be eased by tall buildings. High density cities will reduce urban sprawl and produce a compact centre, limiting the use of transport. The buildings themselves are becoming sustainable. For example, the Bank of America Tower produces air conditioning by freezing water into ice blocks in the basement, which then serve as the building’s air conditioning. This could be seen as a Western movement to step ahead of the threat of Southern cities once again. Indeed, the Petronas Towers house 5000 workers: the traffic congestion is not a move towards a sustainable city.
The Empire State Building will not make the top 10 tallest buildings in 2016. The list will be dominated by the Global South (Lamster, 2011).
Clearly, the reasoning for the creation of “supertalls” is more than simply competition: obtaining the factual record of the “tallest building” draws attention to Southern cities. Kuala Lumpur’s Towers served to build Malaysia’s path to a place in the global competitive market. While contemporary tall buildings are being planned and constructed in the Global South, it is crucial to realise that many of these are being facilitated by Western planning and engineering companies as experts in the field. This inevitably leads to the utilisation of supertalls as an economic and political ploy to imply power rather than as a useful tool to manage city space.
Journal article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9493.00040/pdf
Although the majority of African countries have been independent since the 1960s, the legacy of colonialism is still evident. Planning laws which led to prosperity in Western cities originally enabled the development of urban areas in many African cities, such as Nairobi, which was established during colonial times. However, with the process of decolonisation also came the responsibility of African governments to continue planning their cities. Western models were often ahistorical and without consideration of local needs, leading to informality and a somewhat unstructured planning policy in many countries. Despite this, it is possible that Western assistance is still required for a host of reasons.
Nairobi- a city aided by former colonial development.
There is widespread literature on the irrelevance of Western planning laws implemented in the Global South. The journal article by Wekwete (1995) questions the continuing existence of policies which hinder development due to their outdated nature. The main issue is that laws are replicas of those from colonial powers, such as the First Town Planning Ordinance in 1931, which used British outlines. Hand in hand with Western laws come assumptions of existing frameworks allowing for administration of policies (Wekwete, 1995). The reason for this is indigenous tradition: land often belongs to the community in areas of Sub-Saharan Africa- individual ownership and private property are newer concepts.
Despite this argument, looking at wider issues allows for the view that Western interference in planning may be beneficial. The article by Coralli (2011) highlights demographic alterations in many Sub-Saharan cities which call for help. As a result of rapid population growth (3-4% in 20 years), the concept of urban sprawl becomes an issue with uncontrolled growth. The cities of Cotonou and Lomé are not exceptions in the high growth rate. But as the population increases, so does surface area. Colonial influence meant that these cities were based around grid systems and split by function, but rapid growth combined with lack of structured planning has led to informal settlements in both cities. Urban sprawl has become so large that several cities along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea have combined, producing an “urban corridor”. International donors and organisations have attempted to tackle the issue of population growth: for example, UN-Habitat recognises trends in the urban environment and invents programs to provide for the growing population.
London’s Skyline- former colonies begin to look similar due to copies of Western planning laws.
The wider issue of vested interest is another argument for Western intervention. The huge metropolis areas created should be considered as part of the region. Currently, urban planning policies are only implemented in capitals, which hold the most potential in terms of economic competition. This calls for consideration of the interconnected cities along the Gulf of Guinea and whether they can sustain economic growth as a whole. Overall, the argument between donor assistance and governance is a contested one. Western planning organisations often provide surveys, therefore bearing some of the cost. They also use a participatory regime, so that local institutions can prosper, whereas Chinese partners do not usually make use of the workforce. It would seem that African cities should exercise independence, but it is also necessary to adapt to policies implemented by donors who can kick-start development: it is also in Western interests to consider these cities in a global context.
Journal article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0197397594000513
The contemporary issue of community participation in planning is a contested one within the Global South. While the West may impose their formal planning regulations on Southern cities, informal settlements such as slums provide opportunities for communities to construct their own environments: something which rarely occurs in Western urban areas. There is often a lack of government planning intervention in slums as the poor are often seen as a problem for which few wish to take responsibility for. However, Yap and Wandeler (2010) show Bangkok’s unique view of informal settlements and their communities. Looking at the implications of improving housing for the poor around the theme of responsibility allows for connection to wider issues. These include Bangkok’s position in the global economy and the role of informal settlements in maintaining the country’s competitiveness in the global market.
The journal article is relevant in highlighting the theme of responsibility and the necessity of community participation. It describes the Baan Mankong housing programme, which aimed to improve housing and tenure security in 2000 communities (Yap and Wandeler, 2010). CODI implemented a networked saving group scheme, with entire and united communities forming partnerships with local governments, NGOs or other professionals across the city. The community can then produce their own solutions designed around their needs, including upgrading or relocation. Community-led programme Baan Mankong was the most successful programme introduced, with several previous government efforts failing. Governments often fail to take responsibility for informal settlements as they occupy land illegally and solutions are complex. This is evident in Chamwino, Tanzania, where water was denied when authorities neglected responsibility (Percival, 2011).With aid of an NGO, the community built its own water pipes. This demonstrates the necessity for community participation in improving quality of life in areas where accountability is lacking.
Who’s Responsibility? U.S Navy Seabees work with Thailand Army soldiers to build a community centre in Ban Poon Suk as part of the Cobra Gold 2004 programme.
This necessity can be further shown by linking to wider issues, which reveal possible reasons for lack of government responsibility. The informal sector in Bangkok supplies cheap labour, goods and services, assisting the formal sector in competing in the global economy. As these services are critical in maintaining and promoting a global city, the government may overlook improving livelihoods in poor areas. Another wider issue demonstrating this is visibility. Bangkok is unusual in that it has the capacity to house most of the urban poor in some way: a result of community spirit and culture in Thailand, where landowners take responsibility from governments, allowing residence on their land. This may give the illusion of a well-housed population, but where society takes responsibility for the poor, community participation is necessary to provide them with a voice to the government. In Chamwino, a water committee now represents the village. In Bangkok, the small settlements located near wealthier areas allow for establishing links with others.
Communities in a nearby province: informal settlements are also an issue away from Bangkok.
Community participation is vital in asserting communities’ role in the city’s position in the global arena. Conversely, community projects in the West are less essential, usually occurring for benefit of the environment. For example, Lammas promotes the building of eco-houses. Community participation in Bangkok was successful but not without its limitations. Linking to previous themes of sustainability, Baan Mankong ultimately would not produce a sustainable city, calling for a top-down approach and further highlighting sustainability as less important for Southern cities.
Journal article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197397509000940
Recent environmental discussions on the linked subjects of sustainability and development were central to the Durban conference. These specifically focused on the roles of individual countries in assisting the achievement of global sustainability goals. However, for the developing cities of the Global South, discourses concerning local planning highlight the requirement for a balance between urban development and sustainable emissions. To overcome this, Rosales (2011) suggests that applying sustainable indicators (which provide statistics for a wealth of categories, such as resource use) early in the planning process would enable planners to produce a sustainable city. Without these templates, effects of unregulated planning in terms of sustainability are evident when examining Mexico City. Considering the wider issues involved, such as the quality of planning and links to global aims for environmentally friendly cities, allows the evaluation of the use of sustainable indicators.
An example of traffic congestion management in a Western country
The first issue presented by Veloz (2011) is the congested centre of Mexico City, which leads to assumptions of poor sustainable planning: indeed, the government does not discourage car use. The city has the highest “Commuter Pain Index” in the world, taking into account aspects such as anger and travel times. Rosales (2011) demonstrates a similar view by applying the Urban Health Indicator on Mexico City, which examines factors constituting a sustainable urban environment. The study concludes that the city has exceeded its carrying capacity and is classed as unsustainable. Therefore, Mexico City possesses a linear metabolism, whereby resources are consumed at a high rate, resulting in eventual exhaustion. However, by applying indicators prior to further development, planners can analyse where resource use needs to be slowed. Ultimately, then, sustainability will be naturally built into all cities and poor planning in terms of the environment will be a past experience. This relates to the wider issue of global aims for sustainable cities. Millennium Development Goal 7 targets the loss of environmental resources, linking to the idea that applying indicators immediately can provide a tracking catalogue of resources in order to control their use. In Mexico City this is clearly not being practiced by planners, as demonstrated by Veloz (2011), who condemns encouragement of car use.
Mexico City’s Subway: More environmentally friendly than the high car use in the city.
Another aspect of Millennium Development Goal 7 is injecting sustainable development into all country policies in order to contribute to the global goal. This connects both articles which allude to the lack of sustainable plans when creating policies in Mexico City. The journal article calls for the unique planning strategies of individual countries, depending on its current conditions and state of resource use, which could be observed using an indicator. Clearly, the news and journal articles are united by concern for the lack of suitable planning knowledge and application in cities in the Global South. Further consideration of this issue would be in examining the imposition of Western policies in a possibly unsuitable context, hinted at by Rosales’ (2011) suggestion that each country is unique. This extends to wider issues: without the knowledge to plan efficiently, urban areas in the Global South are unlikely to achieve their share of worldwide goals, impacting on global sustainability.
Journal article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877705811048946
MDG Information: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/environ.shtml