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Landscape Urbanism as a critically informed discipline

Cities in the present scenario are both shrinking and expanding. Shrinking, as the virtual becomes more realistic and provides a platform for social, communal and economic activities; eliminating the need for physical space. And at the same time expanding because of the shear need to cater to the growing urban population, by providing new physical infrastructures.

Due to this immense need for growth the pressure is increasing tremendously on the planning organisations. The transition in the current scenario is drastic and the conventional planning methodologies seem to operate less efficiently. As Koolhaas states (with respect to architecture) that there is a discrepancy or time-lag between the acceleration of culture and the continuing slowness in architecture(1), the case becomes intensely factual with respect to the current urban growth where the economic and social conditions are altering rapidly.

Growth is evident, curbing the growth is not a possibility; in such a dialectic situation going anti-urban would be demanding to go against the system! But, following the system with traditional models of urbanism is also ridiculous.

The Asian market is booming up rapidly and one can clearly see the reflection of it in the growing economic giants like China and India. China in the recent past has become a humungous economic hub for the world market. The neo-liberal policies on international trade during 1980s opened up the whole world to transformative market and financial forces. In this clinch China also opened up, albeit under strict state supervision, to foreign trade and foreign investment, thus ending China’s isolation from the world market(2). As a response, sudden growth of economy was evident in South-East China because of the proximity of a long coastline which led to international trade routes. This has led to certain alterations within the urban cores of this region closer to Shanghai, which raises questions of concern with respect to consequences in urban development. The primary changes occurred in the last twenty years is a thick migration from rural to urban; this has led to an unimaginable growth of the cities in this region. In some of the cases the bureaucratic boundaries of these cities have expanded up to more than two folds.

Taking the case of China and its stance towards rapid urbanisation (although the phenomenon is global) the intent is to enquire the methodologies applied in the process of its recent growth and its ambitious proposals in the near future. And test them against prior models of urbanisation.

Figure 1: Potential zones of urbanisation in China (Source: GO West)

Currently the implied methodologies of planning for urbanisation in China fail to function as desired, leading to stagnation in moulding the urban. There is a clear need for an adaptive practice, which manoeuvres itself according to the changing conditions and yet blends perfectly with the context. Equally, the methodology should be proficient enough to be implied in multiple scenarios, as there is a need for an urgent growth. Existing cities are expanding, new cities are proposed to distribute the pressure of the existing cities; the approach should not be the solution itself, rather it should become a proficient situation to start a new acceptable disturbance within the existing which attempts to make the entire system autonomous.

A stage primarily perceived for this rapidity is an urban development methodology which could be implied easily on the context to derive a solution; certainly unlike the prototype of an urban grid this prototype needs to be more meaningful, and should take into account several parameters such as economy, ecology, society, culture etc. Since these parameters are not physical; these unlike previous models of urbanism, need not always translate the physical appearance of the layout – the grid, but rather shape intricately through the existing conditions respecting the aspects prevailing over the territory.

This outcome, currently still undergoing tests and is being developed, seems promising as it has the capability to adapt and re-adapt to changing scenarios, and it considers the ground (or territorial)

conditions as the basis for evolution (programmatically as well as physically).

Since in the recent years, urban is evolving not only because of the schema for infrastructure development but also because of the political conditions, acceptance of several economically thirsty trade policies, alterations in social and cultural behaviour, and the changes in ecological, regional and environmental conditions, the growth in the coming future seems huge and erratic. Asia (and more specifically China) is a major ground for experimentation, where the conditions are exactly the same which America in the past has experienced. It is left to the future urban visionaries to deal with these scenarios.

Exploring the possibility of Landscape Urbanism as a critically informed discipline, the urbanists need to derive a design methodology which contradicts the negative factors of the prior approaches and perceives the future of urban through a domain of Landscape. Looking at the scenario of rapid transformations, we need to go to the basic level, investigate the pragmatic structure to device a process which has the capability to adapt, accept and experience both physical and non-physical transitions occurring in an urban situation.

Landscape Urbanism, as a theory, not only seems promising in post-industrial cities or in conditions of rapid urbanisation of Asia, but seems promising in any hypothetical or existing scenario and scale, anywhere because of its capability to adapt and credibility towards the considering the subtle nuances of the urban or global conditions.

1 –Koolhaas, Rem (2004), in an interview in IconEye

2 –Harvey, David (2005), A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p.121, (Neoliberalism ‘with Chinese Characteristics’), New York, Oxford University Press Inc.

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