Will Architects And Planners Fail The World's Urban Dwellers?

With rapid urbanization overtaking the world, experts worry that planners and architects are too few and lack experience to tackle the coming challenge.

"This summer, the number of people living in cities exceeded the number living in rural areas for the first time. Of the planet's six billion people, three billion live in cities, of whom one billion live in urban slums. Twenty years from now, the total global population is forecast to increase to eight billion, of whom five billion will be living in cities, two billion of them in slums.

As the demands on the world's planners grow, academics from around the world gathered at a recent conference and expressed great unease about their ability to prepare the next generation of architects to build for this urban future.

"Every year the urban population increases by 80 million, equivalent to the population of Germany," said Lars Reutersward, an architect and director of the global division at UN Habitat, the United Nations department that looks at urban development.

"Within that there will be an increase in slum dwellers the size of Holland and Belgium put together - 35 million - every year. This is a complete disaster, and it doesn't have to happen," he added.

"People are dying in slums every day. It is horrible. We are lacking a sense of urgency; we are not coping with the speed of it."

The United Nations estimates that only 5 percent of the building work under way in the world's expanding cities is actually planned; in many Asian cities, 70 percent of residents are thought to be living in unplanned areas. These are usually the poorest inhabitants, who find themselves in badly built urban sprawls, with poor access to electricity, water and drainage.

In many parts of the world, the problem is worsened by a shortage of competent professionals. There is a stark disconnect between where architects are being trained and where the challenges lie.

"Seventy percent of architects come from the developed world but 70 percent of the work is in the developing word. There is a total mismatch," said Gaétan Siew, president of the International Union of Architects, at the conference on issues of urbanization organized by the Rockefeller Foundation in Italy last month.

"These architects are trained to work in their own country, not in the developing world. There is mobility of architects, but with mobility you can get inappropriate solutions."

The entire continent of Africa has 35,000 trained architects, of whom 25,000 are in Egypt. "Italy alone has three times this number," Siew said. "You can see the magnitude of the problem.""

Full Story: Architects aren't ready for an urbanized planet



Why architects?

It would seem that this is more of a shortage of planners and engineers, not architects.

This is a frustrating article...

This article claims that planners are ill-equipped and under prepared to solve the worlds problems. Yet wherever you turn, planners are accused of interfering with market mechanisms. A regular motif of anti-planner diatribes is that planners are over-educated theoreticians.

Thinking constructively about inequality

It may be true that there are more planners dealing with additions to mansions in American suburbs than there are designing sanitation systems for slums. Professional planners work in a very constrained world that follows money, power, and the community's willingness to participate in a plan.

This article makes salient points, but it's confusing because it doesn't put responsibility somewhere. Should comparatively wealthy western "planners" go to other countries and set up their infrastructure services? They already do, through the UN, the Peace Corps, MercyCorps, US AID and countless other organizations. What about planners in the western world whose goal is to reduce western consumption of resources? Do they get any credit for addressing inequality?

The article conflates development professionals with starchitects. It seems to be calling out an injustice but doesn't mention colonialism or other power structures. It doesn't mention the number of sophisticated "planners" working for multinationals to extract natural resources in the developing world--some of whom also serve developing communities as part of their job.

A more solid point to take away from this article would be that there is a need for expansive education in planning in the developing world--and an expansive education in the western world about a critical framework for dealing with such planning inequities.

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