The New Landscape; Urbanisation in the third world

    The book ‘The NEW LANDSCAPE; Urbanisation in the third world’ is intelligently written with very graphic instances with a concern for humanity and quality of life. The very tone of the book is humane. There are various phrases that will leave you empathetic and gives you a peek into the real world. “The poor can easily survive with nothing. As they are doing right now.” being an example.
The book centres around observations, analysis and solutions for the planning problems in the third world; Mumbai at its’ focal point. The book consists of various analogues and paradoxes, making it a book for everybody.

    The core of the book lies in the idea of designing homes for people that suits their needs and also is within their economic reach, rather than just cities with houses. The author believes that over the centuries, every society has produced the housing it needs, naturally and indigenously. End products of a process organic to society. Thus, the city planners should provide guidance as to how organic growth can be used in advantage to the society as a whole. It also provides very useful insights to policy makers especially dealing with the problem of increasing urbanisation. The author also understands that progress has its’ limits and the real task at hand is; still attempting to maintain and improve the general quality of life. Three major changes have upset the delicate balances between town and country which existed before: the industrial revolution, the revolution in transport and the revolution in health. Each of these has put limits to natural, unplanned growth, that must be reorganised. The first has created hazardous processes, materials and wastes that make it necessary to separate the living areas from the factories. The second has made it possible to travel 50 km by a suburban train in the same time as it took people of ancient Athens to walk or ride 3 km to work. This has expanded the physical limits of the city and laid the foundations of the megapoli of 15 and 20 million inhabitants that are springing up everywhere. And the third has created a rate of urban population growth that was never known before.

    The book starts the discussion as to how the people (as social and human entities) in the third world, are still intact and a major reason of the development despite of the poverty, exploitation and deprivation faced. It also extensively discusses on migration where the author also points out how urban centres are growing to distressed migration of marginal population. People have formed the opinion that it is because of the migrants that derogates the form of the city assuming housing has very low priority on their list of needs (they want to be where the jobs are) but the author points, “functionally migration serves to re adjust the socio-economic pressures. Far from being the indicator of demise of people, they are a sign of hope, of the will to survive.” To offer them self-help housing on land at the edge of the city, far away from their jobs, is to misunderstand totally their predicament, and the sole reason why they return to pavements and squatters rather than living in houses provided to them. He also suggests solutions to distress migration (Land distribution and social reform, new growth centres, medium cities over large ones) along with how political and social objectives can pose as a hinderance towards it.
Next, the author advocates low rise housing rather than high rise, pointing out various advantages associated with low rise. The most important being; low rise housing distributes the employment opportunity throughout the bazar sector. The low-rise investment spreads the benefits to a much wider segment of the population than a high rise. Also, protecting the skyline. The cost of a housing unit in a multi storey building is far beyond the reach of most third world poor, making the case stronger for low-rise housing.

    The author confers of space as a resource, he talks about how village poor are not as dehumanised as urban poor as, there is always space in a village to meet and talk, to cook, to wash clothes, for children to play in.
    The room(cell) that people usually live in is only one element in a whole system of spaces that people need, and is hierarchical: space needed by the family for private use, areas of intimate contact(e.g. the front doorstep where children play), neighbourhood spaces, like a water tap, and urban area open space used by the whole city. In different societies the number of elements and their inter-relations may vary, but all human settlement throughout the world have some analogue of such a system; an analogue, which modulates with climate, income levels, cultural patterns etc. of the society concerned.
    It is followed by facts as to how humans require both covered spaces and open-to-sky spaces. Both spaces can be traded off for each other. The change in open to sky space changes usability of the housing. And, the elements in the hierarchy are interdependent, i.e. a lack of space in one category can be adjusted by providing more in one of the others. For example: smaller dwelling units maybe compensated by larger community spaces and vice-versa.
    The discussion concludes as to how whenever there is a lack of concern for other spaces than just a room, results in an environment which is inhumane, uneconomical and quite unusable. Which is also a major concern of the self-help(low-cost) housing which perceives it only as a simplistic issue to pile up as many dwelling units as possible in a given site.

    The author also attempts to explain the staggering high density in third world countries; where he talks about how it is not because of the common notion of high-rise buildings but because of the extraordinarily high occupancy rate per room and by the omission of social infrastructure like play spaces and community space, in order to accommodate the rising population ignoring the fact that community spaces are the heart of social life, without which a society cannot function healthily.
    He also points it as an act of ignorance of determining the densities of our cities by the random and self-interested decisions of individual commercial developers, who benefit from the fact that higher densities would ultimately result in higher infrastructure prices, leaving the entire building industry to be affordable by only middle and upper classes, forcing the others to settle down on pavements.
Thus, he suggests the re-establishment of land use allocation as the solution for housing the vast majority of urban poor.

    “Today the amount of urban space one controls is directly proportional to one’s status and/or income; it has no connection with actual family size” sets the next agenda that is discussed; equity. He suggests how low-rise housing could serve as a solution to growing inequality in the third world, because of its’ crucial advantages; incremental, variety, sensitive towards environment, speedier provision to housing, low interest cost, inexpensive materials, low maintenance and renewability. Renewability should be one of the prime objectives of mass housing in developing countries. For as the nation’s economy develops the housing pattern can change. He also suggests the concept of, equity plots, that gives room for social, economic diversity to flourish rather than the rigid economic sectors of housing units seen across a city, which is a result of economical designing of cities. Older un-designed cities are usually such an organic mix of income groups and communities.

    The author next talks about mobility as, age old pattern of work-dwelling mix found all over the third world are far more humane and economical than the exclusive zonal systems introduced by modern town planning. The author suggests planning of small decentralised communities, not vast centralised cities; seeking to shift employment where people live, and not concentrate it in specified "business" or industrial locations, forcing people to travel to them. In sum, wherever possible, allow natural growth to proceed unhindered.

    Seeking a paradox; Bombay decaying as a physical plant, yet improving as a city, the author discusses as to how too much attention is given to the physical and economic aspects of a city and not enough to it’s mythical, it’s metaphysical, attributes, which actually is the life of the city. The author's views on this subject is strongly supported by the thinking of Doxiadis, founder of the Institute of Ekistics in Athens. Both of them shared the same view that cities grow organically out of the needs of the people, and of those who are drawn to them. Since these needs are social – in-as-much as they are born of man's relationship with other men - cities become the personification of the societies that have built them. It is a place for communicating, reinforcing and challenging.

    Cities have always been unique indicators of civilisation. Mass production of houses is not the solution. The author recognizes, that the modern city cannot be a carbon copy of the cities of former times. Replicating one ideal house thousand times does not ensure an ideal community. Political will is one main factor for the city to prosper. One major reason for city’s breakdown is; the civil structure of the city does not relate to the new social realities of the city. He says “Not only has the shared aesthetic evaporated, but the interface has diminished.”

    The author is of the opinion that people have created incredibly beautiful habitats. “In fact, if we look at all the fashionable concerns of environmentalist today – balanced ecosystems, recycling of waste products, appropriate lifestyles, indigenous technology, etc. – we find that the people of the Third World already have it all.” The irony, though, as the author notes, is that while there is no shortage of housing in the Third World, there is most definitely a shortage of ‘the urban context in which these marvellously inventive solutions are viable.’ His call, therefore, to architects, is to help generate that urban context. Correa's book offers a valuable insight into how the problem of urbanisation and shelter can be tackled. Balanced ecosystem, recycling of waste products, appropriate lifestyles, indigenous technology are important factors to be looked at. He advises to always judge optimum density in relation to the other crucial factors of economy, culture and lifestyle.

“One cannot see anything. Suddenly there is a flash of lightning, illuminating the entire landscape. In that one split second, one has seen everything – and nothing. What we call composition is the patient recreation of that landscape, stone by stone, tree by tree.” Likewise, to the problems faced by the cities of the Third World, solution lies in searching out and recognising ‘those stones and trees… as they gradually coalesce into the new landscape,’
- Charles Correa

By Sanjukta Kumar : Sanjukta is a student of Urban planning, has spent the last couple of years reading, writing and understanding the cities of India. Is driven by the objective of creating an impact and uplifting & simplifying lives.


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