Our restless urban landscape

Introduction : Our urban centers since the 2nd half of the 20th century are not what they were a few decades before. Recent census reports indicate that more and more of the population is moving into the urban centers.
DR. PETER BUTERA BAZIMYA
DR. PETER BUTERA BAZIMYA

Introduction : Our urban centers since the 2nd half of the 20th century are not what they were a few decades before. Recent census reports indicate that more and more of the population is moving into the urban centers.

But the changes experienced by the urban centers are just beyond demographics. They have a different form, structure, and appearance.

And within the framework of the newly developed, redeveloped or deteriorated tracks of urban areas there have emerged significant new spatial, cultural, social, political, technological, economic and ecological dynamics that pose many challenges to public policies.
 No doubt, urban centers are constantly changing, adopting and adapting.

The built up environment, in particular, bears witness to the restlessness in the formation and reformation of new geographical landscapes are in response to the imperatives and contradictions inherent to the dynamics of market economics and societies.

This restlessness has been particularly pronounced, however, since the 1960s.

New trends in the local, regional, and national economies have brought new needs, opportunities contradictions and tensions that have quickly been written into the urban landscapes.

The variegated fabric of pre-independence central city neighborhoods has become blurred as distinguished features of class, race and family status have been overshadowed by the post independence lifestyles, cultural preferences, economic priorities, changing values, attitudes and perceptions.

Long established city neighborhoods have either fallen into decay or social disorganization. Urban centers have experienced a selective centralization of economic activity that has brought more waves of urbanity, a rush of speculative growth under the banner of more development.

The symptoms of this restlessness are distressingly familiar: bulging towns and cities, overloaded transport arteries, mass-migrations propelling rural communities into an urban existence, whose pressures they only dimly understand. Everywhere there is growth without plan, movement without seeming purpose, variety without genuine choice and scenery without real beauty.

Towns and cities are crippled by the distortions and imbalances of an urban dominated culture. Housing is insufficient and inadequate as to volume, comfort and affordability.

In theory space can be considered apart from those who use it, but in practice the two are so inextricably intertwined.

However, this spatial component of urban planning seems not to have been taken into consideration and, if it has, it has been barely been applied.

Beyond the Central Business District, suburban strips and subdivisions have been displayed by the conventional forms of new developments in exurban corridors for office parks, business sub centers, privately owned recreational and residential communities, and outlying retail commercial centers, big enough to be called satellite towns.

Many of those examples have grown upon greenfield sites, near wetlands, along highways, and straddle several administrative jurisdictions; As a result, they often fail to show upon maps.

They are satellite towns that are economically significant but politically invisible. They comprise of few office jobs but contain large retail space and accountant for rather high volumes of night life commercial activities.

They form a new urban geography in which the individual elements seem to float in space but, seem together they resemble a galaxy held together by mutual gravitational attraction, but with large empty areas in between clusters.

The galactic urban landscape is characterized by sandwiched landscapes of mixed densities and unplanned juxtapositions of forms and functions. Meanwhile, the new urban landscape has appeared in strikingly variable architectural designs.

So just as it seemed that urban theories and models might have captured the essential elements of urban geography, the evolution of towns and cities themselves has made many of the old models obsolete, forced a revaluation of the theories and, raised new issues that new models and revised new theories must accommodate.

From these geographical circumstances, there has emerged a widespread recognition of the need to address the constitutive relationships between class and living space, which is here, termed the socio-spatial dialectic.

In this context, the urban landscape environment, in our region, occupies an important position as both the product of, and the mediator between, socio-spatial relationships.

The shifting and restless urban landscapes, observe many scholars, bridge space and time; they also mediate economic power by confirming to the restructuring norms of market-driven investment, production, distribution and consumption network systems.

Hence, the urban landscape environment is a good place to begin in order to make sense out of the new geographies that are being inscribed into the old framework of urbanism the phenomenon, and urbanization the process.

New forms of urban development, new architectural designs, and new urban impacts and contradictions are all important elements of these new geographies in their own right.

More compelling though, is their significance as a task that can be read in order to reflect on the imperatives of spatial, economic, social, cultural, technological, political, temporal and ecological factors.

These factors are important in their interdependent web to several social economic, spatial, and ecological relationships of urbanization, to interpret the political content of socially created living space, and to suggest the conflict tensions, and contradictions unvalued in the process of urbanization and here the urban landscape, then, must be analyzed as an assemble simultaneously dependent and conditioning outcome and mechanism of dynamics of investment, production, distribution and consumption patterns.

Approaching the urban landscape in those terms presents a considerable challenge. It must be treated as a out of the totality of urban change, in which specific out comes must not be abstracted from the broader sweep of socio- spatial change.

At the same time, this broader sweep must be recognized as a complex discontinuous sequence spatially and temporally.

It follows that changes in the urban landscape must be situated in the context of the structural transformation of economies and societies, but also in terms of behaviors of particular agents of change and, groups of individuals in particular locations and, particular times.

This thesis represents an attempt to begin to meet this challenge and, to contribute to a new geography that addresses new urban realities.

Recent transformations in urban landscape patterns of investments, production, distribution, and consumption are crammed and, an overview of some of the new dimensions of urbanism the phenomenon and urbanization the process associated with these transformations as they are occurring in our region is required as urgent policy inputs.

The Urban Illusions: Just walking through the streets of any sizeable urban centre in our region is a challenge.

Noise (human and vehicular and otherwise) fills the air, garbage litters the streets and market areas, smells of all kinds emanate from open servers, serverage flows freely in open channels, animals and people compete for space, shanty towns are everywhere, cart pushing transporters compete with vehicles for road space and, human congestion is quite high.

But, the urban canters also display some unique landscapes of luxury and privilege, with visible islands of wealth and abundance particularly apparent.

Thus, visual displays of poverty compete with the spectacular evidence of wealth suggesting that urban canters are gateways through which productive investments seek new markets to exploit.

And, these investments in turn, have generated, in the last three decades, smaths of developments with consequent glamour and glitter of wealth that adorns new offices, hotels restaurants, boutiques, super-markets, pharmacies, shopping molls, retails plazas and high class residential neighborhoods.

However, the new urban canters remain areas where the plight of the poor in hurge slums invades everyone’s daily routine.

They are the areas where poverty cannot be avoided or sheltered away from public view.

The urban canters contain large concentrations of inner-city and sub-urban poor, revealing all the ravages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness and violent crime.

Nonetheless, the urban canters remain areas where dreadful nightmares and fantastic dreams invade each others terrain.

These are the areas where there is no escape from the tangle of poverty and luxury; these are the areas where urban pathologies and opportunities should be readdressed in a collective effort.

The urban canters are areas where policy-markers have intentionally (it seems) transferred resources to the privileged wealthy few. They are also the areas in which the media appear to act as the vigilant guardians protecting this privilege and wealth from public knowledge.

Yet, in the urban canters economies are emerging, information systems are in place, relatively fast transport services allow products to be made and moved and sold where and when they are needed and where people and businesses are not really tied to particular places.

The urban centers…… the building blocks of industrial societies…. are however challenged by dramatic and rapid change. Businesses and individuals, free to locate where and when they want, contribute to this restless change.

The urban centers are also competing, and their competitive edge is the new measure of the emerging opportunities.

But the urban spatial restructuring engenders uneven development and as attention is focused on the livable urban environment, it is simultaneously withdrawn from the impoverished and abandoned rural areas.

Again, this privatization of public issues bypasses the source of social conflicts. It also produces massive spatial restructuring which is the result of no overall public agenda or plan, and offices no political forum for debate.

Information networks may have enabled corporations to create national decision-making bases and markets for their products but, they have simultaneously eroded the public system and discounted the process of public accountability.

Consequently, in the interest of luring investment capital to the urban centers, planners and policy makers are inserting new nodes into the existing urban space.

As a consequence, they are encouraging horizontal, vertical, and diagonal spatial linkages that suppress the sequential order of land uses and activities. The connecting in between space imposes instead, an imaginary order of spatial outcomes.

Those imaginary outcomes interrupt the communal vision of the whole; focus only on the empty box which must be filled with any combinatory patterns, result in images of the contemporary urban totality that link various centers together … the urban landscape in which no map spells out the patterns of uneven development and no plans are available for the urban beyond the hidden costs embedded within the urban centre illusions, the forgotten needs of areas pushed through the sieve of spatial restructuring.

The urban landscape suggests unmet education, health, housing, transport, employment, security, and ecological concerns of the majority in the population, and the marginalization of large segments of the public.

The urban centre also entails the inversion of the terms public `and `private with the increasing privatization of what was once public discourse and public terrain.

And these neglected spaces and forgotten needs, these inversions of discourse, of course, should shape public policy and urban planning agendas in the region as of the 21st century.

Email : bbazimya@yahoo.co.uk

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