Ice Breaker: The Big and the Little
My blog will discuss role and impact of urban designers on how we live and interact in our urban spaces. It also examines the concept and of top-down development, which is a type of development that does not involve or benefit the local communities.
Urban Designers have a great deal of power over how we live and interact in our urban spaces. They shape the way we travel and use our towns and cities. They can create new paths or erase old ones with every stroke they make. As designers, we can be tempted by our aspirations and seek the next big idea that can promise to improve and transform an area that looks dull, neglected and poor to us. But to someone else, that place is their home, and the imperfections we see might be the very reason why they call it home.
The development of an area can create great opportunities for many, but sometimes, the inhabitants of a development can see none of the benefits. These people could be classified as developmental refugees, a term coined by Thayer Scudder, an Anthropologist, in his article What It Means To Be Dammed. He used it to describe the unique situation of people displaced by large dam projects in rural countries. These people do not benefit from the dams, as they are not involved in their construction, operation, or electricity consumption. Scudder also called this kind of development top-down development, which he defined as “development from above syndrome coupled with the myth of the conservative or lazy peasant” (Scudder,1956, p.10). This refers to the attitude of politicians, planners, and decision-makers who think they know what is best for local communities.
Many places in the world experience top-down development schemes. For example, Boris Johnson’s Nine Elms scheme and Battersea Opportunities plan in London in 2012, which planned to profit from redeveloping some of the city’s poor areas. One of the main goals was Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth, a city landmark that had been deserted for a long time. The borough has some of the worst poverty levels in London, with 36 % of residents below the poverty line and 2,826 children without a home or in temporary housing, as reported by the Trust for London.
The scheme didn’t look to support the people of Battersea but instead turn it into an ultra-luxury residential and shopping district for the world’s elite, with flats being sold for millions and the affordable houses promised for the residence of Battersea only 40% of the total units promised where built and the most basic units still go for £1,614 a month. The developer would argue that they brought new jobs to the area, but those jobs are low-skill, low-pay jobs in the retail sector, meaning the locals missed out on the estimated £1.8 billion profit made by the developer.
As designers, we must remember by fixating on the big, we forget the small. We should strive to involve those affected by the lines we draw and involve them in the design process to create well-rounded schemes that benefit all parties involved and create urban environments for all classes of people.
McMillan, D. E., Thomas and Scudder, T. (1992) Settlement and development in the river blindness control zone. Washington, D.C., DC: World Bank.
Nixon, R. (2010) “Unimagined communities: Developmental refugees, megadams and monumental modernity,” New formations, 69(69), pp. 62–80. doi: 10.3898/newf.69.03.2010.
Scudder, T. (1981) What It Means to be Dammed. Available at: https://calteches.library.caltech.edu/3291/1/Scudder.pdf.
Srblin, D.-R. (2018) Child poverty in Wandsworth. London, England: Child Poverty Action Group.
Vijay, A. (2018) “Dissipating the political: Battersea Power Station and the temporal aesthetics of development,” Open Cultural Studies, 2(1), pp. 611–625.
Ravencroft, T (2022) Battersea October 05 2022. [online image] (Accessed: October 24, 2023) https://www.dezeen.com/2022/10/05/battersea-power-station-opens-wilkinson-eyre/