24 December 2012

Foster's New World ~ Architecting Slum Solutions

The latest Economist Intelligent Life issue includes a piece by J.M. Ledgard on architect Norman Foster's New World which includes interesting prospective slum solutions...
"In particular, the challenge for Foster is Africa. [...] Africa's population will double to 2 billion before 2050. Its urban population will more than quadruple. [...] I pressed him on the question of a new model of city for Africa, necessarily poor, without an industrial base, but youthful, vital, playful and verdant. "It is absolutely essential", he said, "to get that balance of greenery, vegetation, animals, space, silence, light and dark. We only appreciate urbanity when we have the opportunity to experience the opposite. Of course, if one thinks of wilderness, nature, safaris and biodiversity one thinks of Africa." He remains a firm believer in the transformative and lasting power of huge projects. [...] He is adamant that cities dependent on the car will fail. Rising fuel prices make this inevitable, he argues, as does the sprawl of the car-driven city. [...] What is needed in African slums", Foster ventures, "is the industrialisation of units that provide the sanitation, kitchens, energy-harvesting, run-off of rainwater, and a proper infrastructure of drains and sewers. That would be transformational, but that's a very different approach to the design-profession response to wipe it clean and superimpose another order, which completely disregards the fact that, notwithstanding the horrific deprivation, there is an underlying social order and an organic response to needs." [...] the cause of African future cities need not be philanthropy. There is plenty of money to be made from squatters. Most of the economic growth in the world in the coming years will be from the poorest bits of cities in the poorest countries. [...] instead of thinking as in the past that you have one authority talking about pylons, another rail, another roads, why not bring those together with tremendous economy and elegance? In a way, the Victorian tradition had the courage to imagine that. High-speed rail is still operating on the track Stephenson created for the Rocket. Olmsted laid out Central Park at the time when people were herding sheep, horses and carts. Now, bringing back a pedestrian-friendly experience, taking away the dependence on gasoline, why drive when you could walk, design with an understanding that these are very scarce commodities -- Africa has that opportunity."
Bold, but let's see if and how his Masdar City lives up to grandiose promises first.

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