Planning in Ten Words or Less
A Lacanian Entanglement with Spatial Planning
Michael Gunder, University of Auckland, New Zealand and Jean Hillier, Newcastle University, UK
BOOK REVIEW (by DOMUS):
Urban Future Manifestos
Kimberli Meyer, Zvi Hecker; Peter Noever, Ai Weiwei (eds). Hatje Cantz, 2011 (168 pp., US $40).
“Predictions and propositions for the future are always hindered by the blind spots of the present. Nevertheless, the consciousness of everyday life holds vast potential intelligence. To focus, observe, analyze, postulate, and act critically upon the surrounding world is to wield significant agency.”
The Occupy Wall Street folks are back in full swing at Zuccotti Park — even bringing back the food line.
on urban planning in the Egyptian desert.Pipes being installed in Dar es Salam neighborhood of Cairo,
January 2011 © Meredith Hutchison. Courtesy of the Photographer and CairoFromBelow.org
Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control
The American University in Cairo Press, 2011, 335 pp.
This past August in Heliopolis, the Cairo suburb built over desert by a Belgian industrialist in 1905, I sat in an architect’s office, a place called Cube Architectural Consultants, and heard a glowing, impromptu presentation on “Cairo 2050.” Cairo 2050 is a series of outlandish master plans and megaprojects for Egypt’s capital that the regime of Hosni Mubarak began promoting in 2008, with the help of the United Nations and the Japanese government. Its future, an earnest architect informed me gently, was “uncertain in the new Egypt.”
Imagine Dubai in the Nile Valley, if instead of building it on empty sand, futurist skyscrapers and business parks rose over what are now the packed, informal neighborhoods that today house the majority of Cairo’s estimated 17 million people. This authoritarian, outsized development “vision” would involve relocating millions to the furthest edges of the desert — areas banally termed “new housing extensions” — to make way for “10 star” hotels, huge parks, “residential touristic compounds,” and landing-strip-sized boulevards lined with a monotony of towers. It’s unlikely to happen in an Egypt after Mubarak — if it was ever possible at all, given budgets and popular resistance. Still, Cairo 2050 offers a glimpse at the Egyptian government’s approach to urban planning and policy. As David Sims, an economist and consultant who has worked in Cairo since 1974, writes in Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control, the Cairo 2050 project represents “a continued penchant for the manufacture of unrealistic dreams” on the part of “government planners and their consultants.”
Sims is one of Cairo’s sharpest observers. He was one of the first scholars to study Cairo’s informal areas — large and expanding “extralegal” neighborhoods, as he defines them, that were built without planning or permits mostly on once private, reclaimed agricultural land. They began to proliferate in the 1970s, largely funded by remittances sent home by Egyptian men laboring in the oil-boom Gulf. The informal areas have come to dominate the city’s urban fabric, yet are known pejoratively in Cairo as ‘ashwa’i areas or ‘ashwaiyyat (“random” or “haphazard” in Arabic), condemned by the government and the well-to-do as vast slums, as home to rural migrants unable to adapt to the city life, and, beginning in the 1990s, as havens for Islamist militants. Which isn’t to say the government has no presence in informal areas. Corrupt urban bureaucracy tacitly accepted their expansion, making access to basic municipal services and infrastructure a matter of bribes and clientelism. Often described in monolithic if shadowy terms, many informal areas are left off maps of the city altogether. Yet Sims shows that they demonstrate great adaptability, with a variety of building types and a vernacular order mimicking the patterns of medieval Cairo, with their density, their compact plots, and their narrow, meandering streets.
Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism
For centuries now, great thinkers have been telling us that we live in a fantasy world. Our continual ignorance is like that of the prisoners in what is popularly known as Plato’s cave. Our laziness and enchantment with our supposed ‘reality’, which is really just our fantasies, is comparable with Descartes’ brain in a vat theory. That is, we are truly brains in a vat whereby a system tells us how to think, how to act, and how to feel. All the while, we ignorantly live blissfully thinking that all is well. If we dig for the truth, however, we would encounter the tiniest surface of the truth of our world. And that is only just the beginning.
Arguably, it is more difficult than ever to stumble across such truths as Baudrillard have proposed that
“in this postmodern world, individuals flee from the “desert of the real” for the ecstasies of hyperreality and the new realm of computer, media, and technological experience. In this universe, subjectivities are fragmented and lost, and a new terrain of experience appears that for Baudrillard renders previous social theories and politics obsolete and irrelevant. Tracing the vicissitudes of the subject in present-day society, Baudrillard claims that contemporary subjects are no longer afflicted with modern pathologies like hysteria or paranoia. Rather, they exist in “a state of terror which is characteristic of the schizophrenic, an over-proximity of all things, a foul promiscuity of all things which beleaguer and penetrate him, meeting with no resistance, and no halo, no aura, not even the aura of his own body protects him. In spite of himself the schizophrenic is open to everything and lives in the most extreme confusion” (1988: 27). - Stanford encyclopaedia
It’s not easy to pull ourselves away from the distractions that surrounds us, and of course it is much more comfortable to live as we are - as we are told to live. It’s difficult to confront the truth, accept it and be able to continue to function in this messed up world of ours. But it is not always bleak, for with truth comes the beauty of true existence - of knowing our purpose, of being able to dictate our own path free from the influences of others.
I always tell my friends “one day, I’ll blog!” Well, its been god knows how many years, at least several failed attempts later and no blog, no website. I’m a Gen Y-er for fucks sake! I grew up with most things you reading this have grown up with, and I’m sure most of you have a blog?