Un­lock­ing the PRISON MEN­TAL­ITY of ur­ban de­sign

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

The no­tion of fence­less con­do­mini­ums is pre­pos­ter­ous to those who de­mand ex­clu­siv­ity and se­cu­rity, and are pre­pared to pay top dol­lar to keep out­siders from tres­pass­ing on their ter­ri­tory. In an era of height­ened threats, they ar­gue, pri­vate build­ings ought to have more ro­bust safety fea­tures, rather than free ac­cess and public ar­eas. Such re­sis­tance helps main­tain the sta­tus quo and old ways of thinking about ur­ban de­sign.

In­stead of fence­less de­vel­op­ment, a bet­ter ex­pres­sion per­haps is spa­tial in­te­gra­tion that is ap­pro­pri­ate for cer­tain prop­er­ties at par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tions. Some parts of a condo might well re­quire high walls when these abut a busy ex­press­way or in­dus­trial area, as a bar­rier against noise and dust is needed. Sec­tions that over­look a lake or public park would ben­e­fit from low, see-through or veg­e­ta­tion bar­ri­ers to cre­ate a sense of airy spa­cious­ness for condo res­i­dents. Prop­er­ties in the heart of a city might opt for ur­ban buzz and mul­ti­ple ameni­ties on the ground level, which can be sup­ported by public pa­tron­age and earn rental in­come for the man­age­ment coun­cils of con­dos. To each his and her own.

Vis­ually por­ous de­signs are not just aes­thet­i­cally more mod­ern and pleas­ing, they can also help to cre­ate a co­he­sive ur­ban land­scape. Hous­ing de­signs should cater to safety, of course, but not be so de­fen­sive that res­i­dents scarcely know who’s liv­ing around them and have no op­por­tu­nity to mix so­cially. They would also be in­con­ve­nienced if there is limited con­nec­tiv­ity to ameni­ties out­side the condo. By lim­it­ing the ar­eas open to the public, se­cur­ing other com­mon spa­ces and plac­ing condo fa­cil­i­ties on higher floors, res­i­dents would still be able to re­tain peace of mind.

The con­verse idea of walled com­mu­ni­ties and gated devel­op­ments are so­cially off- putting, es­pe­cially when it sharp­ens the rich-poor di­vide or is as­so­ci­ated with an en­clave for for­eign­ers out to cre­ate a lit­tle world of their own.

Pro­gres­sive ur­ban de­sign might con­ceive of shared court­yards in con­dos that pro­vide public ac­cess to water­front ar­eas or key public fa­cil­i­ties. The thinking is that some real es­tate cre­ated at great public ex­pense, like the up­com­ing Ma­rina South district in Sin­ga­pore, should not be just prime prop­erty for the have-a-lots. Pay­ment by first- time buy­ers would then en­ti­tle them and suc­ces­sive own­ers to en­joy pre­cious views or easy ac­cess to public ameni­ties in per­pe­tu­ity, while oth­ers, say, strug­gle to take the long way around to reach their des­ti­na­tion.

Ur­ban de­sign should evolve from box- like devel­op­ments and hard bound­aries to cre­ative ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tions – to cope with land scarcity, cre­ate open and con­nected spa­ces, and con­trib­ute to out­door ur­ban life.

WALLED COM­MU­NI­TIES AND GATED DEVEL­OP­MENTS SHARPEN THE RICH-POOR DI­VIDE, OR BE­COME AN EN­CLAVE FOR FOR­EIGN­ERS OUT TO CRE­ATE A LIT­TLE WORLD OF THEIR OWN.

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