Why Inclusive Cities are the need of the hour

5 mins read

A city is not made of bricks, sand or mortar. It is made of its people – the ones who are living in it, growing in it and breathing life into its streets. A city is not a collection of buildings, but rather a collection of stories that bind together diverse people, their emotions and memories; creating a legacy that weaves itself into the pages of history. But what if the city were to start excluding the very people that it thrives on? What if the city begins to bar the people that do not fall into a certain age group, economic standard or social background, and restricts the participation of its inhabitants through design, policies and laws that discourage their presence?

At a time when the world is experiencing the highest rate of urbanization, and the present urban population stands at 55% and is expected to reach 68% by 2050, we need our cities to be more welcoming. Inclusive cities are the need of the hour – cities that foster participation of people from different economic classes, age groups and ethnicities, and which encourage culture that values diversity.

Architects and urban planners have a very crucial role to play in this process, not only as designers of built spaces, but also as facilitators of a process that creates an environment for community building. Hauderowicz of Studio Fountainhead says, “While we talk about communities which transgress age and ethnicity, we are creating cities with limits to participation which favour the economically prosperous.”

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Image courtesy: cnu.org

Informal workers are the best example of inadequacy in the consideration of design of urban spaces. These vendors and hawkers constantly face harassment by public officials and often have to bribe them to ply their trade. They are victims of a design process that forces them to endure unsafe work conditions and deprives them of basic facilities such as lighting, water or sanitation. They are often forced to move to other places, shattering their co-dependent network of informal trade. Escalating land values sometimes also cause displacement of these workers from their homes to be relocated to areas that are far from the city center. Such displacement is done without giving thought to their livelihood, which collapses in the absence of an effective transport system that can carry them to their place of trade. Very often such forcibly assigned quarters are located so far away that schools, hospitals and banks cannot be accessed by walk.

We are witnessing the death of a number of crafts because several artisans have fallen prey to uncontrolled urbanization. These Home Based Workers, are being denied opportunities to market their products as they are pressured to move to remote places, away from potential customers, no transport facilities and have to rely on ‘middlemen’ for the sale of their goods who underpay them and exploit them, forcing them to leave their skills in favour of better paid industrial jobs.

The repercussions of designing without consideration of any user group is detrimental to the collective society. Architects and planners should act as facilitators in helping all individuals gain visibility as workers and legitimate economic actors.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes, Founder of Architecture firm AKKA says, “It is time for designers to evolve and develop new shared typologies which move beyond the idea of sharing as a socially luxurious commodity towards an inclusive culture which values diversity.” Her ideology ‘Architecting Interactions’ is a service oriented approach to design. She advocates the theory that architecture should not focus only on the design of the mass or physical entity. It should instead concentrate on the creation of experience that results from the interaction of the user with the physical entity or built space. Her hypothesis that design should focus on the creation of context for interactions is an open ended, flexible methodology which is primarily driven by user inputs and experience.

Architects and urban planners need to expand their role by proactively participating in the city planning process by facilitating stakeholder participation, creating dialogue and optimizing the process by collaborating in policy making. Innovative ideas and solutions that explore new concepts of shared typologies and increase the gradient of function should also be continually developed. This role of facilitator and enabler is a crucial part of the community building process. The goal should be to create new spaces, optimize existing ones and build sustainable, timeless, inclusive cities that everyone can relate to.

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Image courtesy: creativetourist.com

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