On one of my Stumblings (I admit, I use StumbleUpon, it’s a nice way to learn new things related to your interests) I came across a Non-Profit Organization called Arch-Peace which, as the name suggests, contains architects, planners, environmentalists and engineers from all parts of the globe in support of design for the public good. I admit, I am a sucker for non-profits, I think the concept of an organization working for the public good instead of private profit is an excellent idea (and while it may not provide the greatest financial package, the personal satisfaction is no doubt great), and NGOs that deal with issues I am interested about are placed even higher on my list. I’ve really only heard of one engineering NGO out there – Engineers Without Borders – but I wasn’t that ignorant, I knew there were plenty of other NGO’s that were related to my interests. I didn’t just want to help out (although that’s nice), I wanted to use skills that I learned and put them to good use. I’ve come across plenty of other NGO’s during my Stumblings but I came across an article on Arch-Peace titled “How I became interested in Urban Planning.” It was an interesting article, written by Andrew Ma, which charted the evolution of his interest from film-making to urban planning. Urban Planning is something I am considering studying, more-so for the physical planning and design aspect of the field and its relation to civil engineering (if a relation exists) and infrastructure development than the economic and policy analysis. But while I detest the messiness of politics and economics, I’ve come to appreciate what Urban Planners do (well, the visionary ones) in designing solutions that encompass all aspects of city life. I see politics as a necessary evil, it’s messy and it polarizes people, but it’s how the government and society gets things done, it’s how laws and policies are drafted that define countries and goals, it’s a framework that sets up for future development. I am not politically active, and while I do have certain ideas of social justice, I am not one to go shouting on the streets for a cause. I’m more prone to working in the background using the skills that I learned and doing what I love for causes I believe in. Now, I have no skills like Mr. Ma and his film-making, nor do I have the international development experience of becoming a certified planner in a Korean Village like Mr. Ma, but I still share his appreciate for Urban Planning and Design and the benefits it can bring not only to the Urban Community, but to Rural communities and societies as a whole. Design is becoming not just an aesthetic concept, but a process that also encompasses community needs.
One thing that is mentioned in the article is the concept of Urban Acupuncture, which basically is the idea that targeting a certain, specified aspect of the city will bring about a ripple-like effect that will generate positive consequences throughout the city organism (I use the word ‘organism’ because I see the city as more than just a complex system, but a living one). Jaime Lerner uses this phrase (although I’m not sure if he coined the term) in respect to his urban redevelopment projects in his Brazilian City, Curitiba. It’s a different approach from the top-down belief that if one makes large encompassing changes, like policies and large-scale projects, the projects will be able to eventually affect the city positively. Urban Acupuncture instead focuses on specific problems and addresses them, it can be as simple as planting flowers by sidewalks, improving sign-age, or even the design of bus-stops, the result is a cost-effective, community-centered solution. It’s an interesting idea, providing solutions for multiple small-scale problems to bring about a greater good, and I could see that it could bring about some disorganization and dis-unity, but it certainly is something worth thinking about.
Well, that’s all I wanted to say on the subject right now, I know I didn’t actually say much, but if you want to learn more, I encourage you to watch Jaime Lerner’s TED talk and other TED talks (they are very interesting, educational and intellectual stimulating) and to do some research of your own. There’s a lot out there in regards to re-creating our cities for the future. In the end, I suggest that instead of considering large-scale publicity-drawing projects in the name of sustainability and urban renewal, consider smaller, cost-effective, need-based approaches. After all, I like to say, “do as much as you can with as little as you can.”