This has been sitting in my writing notes ever since the first week of January when, satiated with a wonderful year-end trip deep in southeast Asia, I sat down to think about what 2014 is going to be like in this all-encompassing, jargon-filled world of urbanism. I was going to call these the top buzzwords in urbanism initially, but I couldn’t help but admit that leaving aside the compelling twenty-first century urbanist propensity to jargonise everything, it is hard to ignore that this is what’s happening in the world of thinking about cities and places and that at least a few of these have indeed transcended into something akin to a trend – and at least some of these are here to stay, for good reason. I’ll tackle one per post.

1. Buzzwords: Lean Urbanism / Tactical Urbanism / Open Source Urbanism / Agile Urbanism The New New Urbanism!

What it means: A new wave of urbanism, attempting to cut through the red tape and general lack of insight that surrounds planning decisions in most of our cities – no more “Big Civic”, as the Knight Foundation put it in their announcement for the $600,000 Grant to the Lean Urbanism Movement by architect Andres Duany. In simple words, the idea is to solve community problems at the community level, more often than not by using community resources. Small and bottom-up is the new way to go.

It makes sense, and that is perhaps why, never mind the buzzwords, the idea has really taken off in communities all over the western* world. To paraphrase that young star Alastair Parvin,  this is urbanism for the people, by the people, and indeed, Parvin’s TED talk is a wonderfully articulate example of the theme. Also, remember the much celebrated and much-copied projects by Candy Chang? That’s what we are talking about. And here’s another TED talk by Jason Roberts who’s doing just this through The Better Block.

Of course, I also think that our access to social media and technology in general is playing a big role in this wave. Community funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo go a long way in making these community projects possible, and have opened up the world of Getting Things Done to almost anyone who has a good idea and the will to make it happen.

Also called: Citizen Urbanism, Participatory Urbanism, Crowdsourced Urbanism,  DIY Urbanism, Shilpa Bhatnagar Urbanism. (Why not? Everyone’s making up their own names for it!).

*Why the emphasis on western? Well, the most organised top-down planning systems exist in the West, and it here where the shift from the top-down to the bottom-up approach is news. In the developing world, where top-down planning is usually lacking in resource or foresight, it has been much more common for communities to work their way around their problems of place. The solutions may not be ideal,  as they operate in a much more fragmented and often entirely unregulated environment, but they are certainly lean!

Oh and I know a fabulous example of this from India, which absolutely deserves its own post. Coming soon.


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