Divided we fall

Friday 10 Sep 2010

Social integration – A bridge too far?

A picture tells a thousand words. The time honoured phrase sprung to mind when this photograph came to into the WAN newsroom this week. It was a graphic illustration of a major problem facing our emerging cities and didn't rely on reams of demographic statistics to make its point.

The figures are there of course with an unrelenting migration from rural areas to urban. Greater São Paulo currently holds a population of 17 million, and is forecast to reach 21 million by 2015.

The photograph immediately sparked passionate discussions amongst the editorial team and we decided to send the image out to a few leading architects to see if it provoked the same reactions with them. See below for links to their opinion comments.

Some will argue that this is just the natural order of things. In medieval times, markets and their dependent communities often sprung up around the gates and perimeter of walled cities. The trading opportunities were clear and accepted by all. No matter how we try, inequality will always prevail.

Look at Oscar Niemeyer's utopian vision for Brazil's new Capital which is now served by a periphery of shanty towns, satellite communities populated by people unable to afford the high costs of living in the city centre. Further east, Mumbai, city of dreams is also a city of horrors. Viewing the gulf between rich and poor is often as simple as crossing the street.

When quizzed on the topic of structural inequality, Senior Partner at FXFowle Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP, PP, LEED AP commented: "From a planning and urban design perspective, there is general agreement that creating sustainable communities means balancing social wellbeing, economic opportunity, and environmental quality.  If we are going to succeed in redefining ‘economically and/or socially challenged' places like Sao Paolo, Mumbai, and Detroit and make them more ‘livable', we need to start by tearing down the walls between the haves and have-nots by creating more opportunities to nurture and expand the middle-class.  This is the recipe for spurring quality and sustainable development for all."

The UK, even with its much lesser extremes has been driving forward a plan of forced social integration; all new residential developments have a mandatory element of low cost or social housing. It is an untried initiative and only time will tell if it works. The ambitious plan is a backlash against the huge post-war council estates, which were created on an immense scale to provide mass housing at low cost. Most were situated on the edge of towns and became ring-fenced, isolated communities. The worst cases were often the pioneering examples of residential towers which evolved into the notorious inner city ‘sink estates'.

What can be done to create a step change in addressing these huge dilemmas of our twenty-first century Mega Cities? Possibly an even more important question is how could it be funded?

Do you have a vision for a city of the future? Send in your ideas and we’ll publish them on WAN’s new Urban Design forum…

ROY COLLADO - ColladoCollins, Architects & Masterplanners


KARL SHARRO - PLP Architecture

Michael Hammond

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