Rethinking Urban Public Space - IIA NATCON 2016 Presentations

Events Diary Dated:  Dec. 19, 2016
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Indian Institute of Architects - Karnataka Chapter

We are sharing with you a brief on the speakers, moderator and the thoughts put forward by them in Session 2 titled 'Rethinking Urban Public Space' at the recently concluded IIA Natcon 2016 at Bengaluru.

Focal Points:

  • Is there a difference between 'public space' and 'civic space'?
  • What kind of an urban commons do we need in order to sustain an inclusive urban culture?
  • What are the links between infrastructure and public space?
  • What are the links between mobility and public space?
  • What are the links between gender and public space?

About the Speakers:

Dhiru Thadani is an Architect + Urbanist and a former Member of the Board of Congress For New Urbanism, Washington DC. During his 43 years in Washington, he has taught, practiced and worked to place architecture and urbanism in the public eye. As a design principal and partner for more than 30 years, he has completed projects the world over and he continues to provide a broad range of consulting services in architecture and urban design. He has edited and authored books including The Language of Towns & Cities: A Visual Dictionary and Visions of Seaside: Foundations/ Evolution/ Imagination/ Built & Unbuilt Architecture which chronicles the 33 year development of the first new urbanist community.

Thadani is a five-time recipient of the CNU Charter Award for Design and the inaugural 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by the International Society of Regional and City Planners.

Neera Adarkar is a practicing architect and an urban researcher based in Mumbai. She runs a joint practice under Adarkar Associates, a firm engaged in architecture, planning, conservation and urban research. She is one of the founder trustees of School of Environment and Architecture (SEA), a graduate school of architecture started in 2014. Neera is one of the initiators of the Women Architects Forum, a collective of women architects, emerged in the early 90's to revisit the profession and the built environment at large through the lens of gender.

She participated in many urban struggles, specifically in the Textile Mills Workers struggle. She has co-authored One Hundred Years One Hundred Voices, Oral History of Millworkers of Girangaon (2004) and has edited a volume: The Chawls of Mumbai: Galleries of Life (2011).

Franz Zeigler is cofounder of Zeigler | Branderhorst architecture and urban planning in Rotterdam. He is well known for his specific research-design approach and his strong analytical capacities. The work of his form covers multiple levels of scale and complexity of programs.

Franz teaches at the University of Maastricht and Amsterdam as researcher for the 'Future Urban Regions Chair'. He is a member of the Municipal Committee for Urban Quality (ARK) in the city of Haarlem. Since 1992, Franz Zeigler is involved with several academic exchanges with CEPT Ahmedabad and Chandigarh College of Architecture. He has traveled extensively in India and has been a design consultant in various Indian teams and collaborations.

The session was moderated by Kaiwan Mehta, a theorist and critic in the field of visual culture, architecture and city studies.

Speakers' Thoughts:

Dhiru Thadani's presentation focused on Public Spaces. Civic space is the soul of the city. Open land remaining free for public use is in constant threat from human squatters, commercial encroachment, and auto parking. Municipalities do not have the resources or political will to be vigilant in preventing these open spaces from being consumed in the vortex of illegal occupation. This reality plagues many Indian cities.

Historically, public spaces and civic institutions have had a symbiotic relationship. One did not exist without the other. These spaces and buildings form the predominant landmarks found in liveable, thriving urban neighbourhoods of cities and towns. Coupled with their compact size, mix of uses, connected street network, transportation options, and a discernible centre and edge, these public spaces playa crucial role in allowing neighbourhoods to flourish.

To continue the tradition of making memorable and beautiful public spaces and cities for all ages and income groups to enjoy, the design professions must incorporate these time-tested ingredients. Yet quantitative incorporation is not sufficient. for it is the very qualities of these places that determine their liveability.

Successful master plans reserve sites for public buildings and spaces. These reserved building sites occupy the most important locations within the master plan, physically as well as visually. The building sites may terminate a street vista, be located on high ground to denote importance, or most commonly enfront a public space.

For the most part, these reserved building sites with their related public spaces should remain vacant until the need arises to build a civic institution. Temporary public uses of each site, for markets, playing fields, and fairs, is encouraged to develop a sense of place and a recognizable 'address.' However, the fear of illegal encroachment onto these vacant sites makes their temporary use difficult to justify.

There are three approaches to managing the sanctity of public spaces: municipal, non-governmental or privatization. Municipal control has generally proven ineffective, while privatization has occasionally led to draconian measures to keep out those they have deemed undesirable. The optimal solution has been the formation of public-private improvement districts, wherein all owners, whose properties enfront the public space, pay a share of the maintenance, security, and management costs. This has often been accomplished by the improvement district through the employment of a small uniformed staff, who through their maintenance work discretely display and accomplish the preservation of civic ownership for all.

This form of control should be considered in the Indian context, to make outdoor public spaces accessible to every citizen since they have a legal right to enjoy the public realm, which after all belongs to everyone. Globally, non-profit agencies and quasi-governmental entities are successfully reshaping public behaviour to enable a return to using outdoor spaces by creating safe and secure environments for all ages and incomes.

Neera Adarkar's presentation dwelled on “Beyond Safety: Gendering of Urban Public Spaces”. Misconception around the notion of neutrality of urban space is now widely discussed. Many studies have shown that no urban space. built or open is gender neutral. We need to understand how the hierarchy of social relationships is reflected in the production of urban spaces and how in turn it defines the engagement of women to the space. Women perceive and use public space differently than men and therefore have different needs and expectations. The session on 'rethinking urban public space' should therefore consider how the public spaces could be conducive to fulfil these. The presentation shared some findings from a comprehensive study on public open spaces in Mumbai and the experience of ongoing process of intervention by a group of women architects and activists, in the proposed Development Plan of Mumbai.

Franz Ziegler, spoke about “Nolli's Map of Transit Space”. Addressing public space, we take the perspective of a surveyor / cartographer and argue that mapping is the mast powerful tool communicating urban issues. Transit space is our focus; there is great potential and demand for quality in transit environments and many spin off benefits for local economy. Transit by nature requires spatial planning, but too often lacks collaborating stakeholders, management and vision. Mapping transit environments with a variety of techniques can reveal the la!ent challenges, future possibilities and step-by-step strategies. Maps can now be interactive documents part of community building processes. This argument drew from case studies, best practices and inspiring maps relevant to the Indian context.

Source: IIA, Karnataka Chapter. Reproduced as Digital Partner, NATCON.

Session 1, Session 3, Session 4, Session 5, Session 6

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