New Blog!

Dear Friends! I have moved myself to a new blog to make recording my adventure a little easier. Please follow me at: urbanflux.jux.com

Lots of new material plus a title wave or articles on the way!!

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Two Definitions of Density

It is mind boggling trying to comprehend the number of people that occupy the labyrinth of lanes and claustrophobic boxes that comprise India’s developing areas! For the malleable inhabitants of India’s slums, Australia’s densest suburb, Pyrmont-Ultimo in Sydney would prove to be a vast paradise.
 
Based upon approximate figures attained from Seva Kendra Kolkata on the population density of the ‘Muslim Camp’ (one of four target wards under their development Program for Rag Pickers) and statistics produced by the Bureau of Statistics in June 2012 on the population of Pyrmont-Ultimo I have devised a brief analogy to emphasis how alien our concept of density is in Australia.
 
‘Imagine Australia’s most densely populated suburb. Demolish it. Remove 80 percent of the rubble, 90% of the plumbing and electrical infrastructure and rebuild it without adherence to building codes and skilled labour within a 6 month period. Multiply the population that resided there by 11.5 times and you have the muslim camp in kolkata.’
 
People not only exist in areas as dense as this, but live, prosper and innovate.
 

Delhi – India

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The heat of Delhi sucked moisture from every pore. It was hard to imagine that anything other then breathing would be possible in such extreme conditions. However people continued their existence, stoic to the bone.

Nothing was new or unblemished. Buildings were scared with snaking cracks, bricks crumbled, horns shrieked, vehicles scraped and crumpled.

The air was dust laden, the sun appearing brown.

Amidst all this perceived adversity, progress was made and life was carved out.

The layers of complexity, corruption, horrifying social imbalances are overwhelming. Every sight, smell ad sound evokes an irrepressible emotive response. India is both incredible and incomprehensible.
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Incredible India -Theme Parks Unecessary

Incredible India -Theme Parks Unecessary

Jump on any hurtling hunk of metal and your bound to experience the ride of a lifetime – India…a place where anything capable of being pushed, pulled or propelled is a mode of transport.

Advice on how to travel on buses in India:

Imagine being a sardine jammed in a tin that is strapped to the muscular backside of a bucking bull. Riding a bus in kolkata is as jerky, jolting and organ rearranging as the image suggests.

INSTRUCTIONS:

[Boarding]

Avoid being killed by darting traffic of all forms as you stand precariously on the road – watching and listening to the beckoning calls of the ticket men as the buses they straddle swoop in towards your position.
Rarely do they stop – thus you must hastily identify the correct bus, in the next millisecond begin running, then undertake a leap of faith in the direction of the bus doorway, arms outreached to grab onto anything metal.
Finding a seat is usually an impossibility. Having a railing to hold to stop being flung around within the metal tin of a bus, equally improbable.

[Alighting]

Exiting an India bus requires similar athletic prowess to boarding!

Firstly you must whack some piece of metal to signal to the ticket man and driver that you wish to exit, weave like a snake between densely packed, sweaty bodies and once again leap into the air, legs swinging back and forth, evolving into a running action.
While in mid-air, glance left, right, below and above you to ensure that you will not be converted into a fesh but bloody naan bread.
If you are lucky your hastily moving legs will enable a relatively smooth reconnection with the pothole laden asphalt road.
Take the next 10-15 minutes to let the adrenaline dissipate, for you to regain a regular heart beat, and for the streaming beads of sweat to disappear from you entire body.

Every journey in India is unique, adrenaline packed and death defying. The efficiency of the hybrid transport system is highly efficient and inexpensive. No road, path or lane is too narrow for some mode of transport to enter. Although appearing to be chaotic, which it is, the system works beautifully in its madness.
The transport system in India’s cities, particularly kolkata’s is a model that should be studied by first world cities the globe over!

Shenzhen… the manifestation of Le Corbusier’s ‘Radiant City’

A splash of icy water to my first impressions as the true Shenzhen stood up and shone its glare ridden face. Shenzhen Day 3.
Friday 26th April 2013

I feel like I have been removed from a familiar ‘real’ environment, rudely plonked on another planet sometime in the future, forced to take part in a Utopian experiment.
I was ignorant and naive to assume that Louhu district was symbolic of Shenzhen, it is merely the starting point of this explosive 30 year growth that has charged west, carving pulsing veins of asphalt and erecting glass shrines, monuments to the mission underlying Shenzhen’s existence, the generation of cold, hard, cash!

An eerie sensation took hold of me as I both drove and walked, through, under and around the Futian and Nanshian districts. It was as though I was waltzing through Le Corbusiers dreams, embodied in his ‘Radiant City’ proposal. Twelve lane highways acted as arteries of circulation, at regular intervals spiralling exits led to smaller veins of tar. In the patchwork like pockets of earth that remained between the grid of roads stood slender columns that housed both life and business, at times difficult to differentiate between functions due to the monotonous repetition of facades and the formula that one size fits all approach in relation to a buildings form and scale. There was however an absence of piloti and undistrupted green space on the ground plane that quickly began to suppress my joy that I was witnessing Corb’s vision being played out in real life.

Futian district, the commercial and governing center of Shenzhen is void of social vibrancy and diversity. Although not a place to reside, as a working environment it lacks sufficient amenities that are essential for one’s physical and mental well being. Footpaths as wide as oceans, (maybe to cater for future road expansion) replace green space, there is no colour, there is a sense of oppression and of measured thinking and actions.
It is disconcerting thinking of those who work all day in one of the innumerable concrete, steel and glass towers that make up the commercial forest of Futian. A days cycle would involve finishing work and descending in a polished steel elevator from your office on he 40th floor, walking momentarily along grey expansive footpaths, descending further into the bowels of the subway, having your organs rearranged as you are squished into a subway car, regaining consciousness as you ascend out of the subway, once again a fleeting interaction with the outdoors as you claw you way over a tiled footpath, only to ascend in an elevator that takes you to your box of a home in the sky! Where is the lifestyle, where is the standard of living?!

The drug of financial prosperity appears to come at a sever cost….genuine social interactions are not possible nor valued, green space unnecessary as it doesn’t provide economic reward, architectural repetitive monotony because it costs less and is quicker to build.

The future city that I hoped of seeing, does exist! It is a complex place of bold urban design gestures, repetition, padlocked green space, socioeconomic disparity. A city void of cultural heritage and public facilities that are essential to both grounding and sustaining social cohesion and vibrancy. I cannot help but think that the pursuit of financial gain is creating an unstable society that doesn’t have the capacity to be resilient to future growth.Image

‘A standard of living…can it be measured in smiles?

Reflections on a surprising day 2 in Shenzhen.
Thursday 25th April 2013

A self guided walking exploration of Louhu, elucidated a disparity in social classes and a sense of happiness.

My preconceived notions of Shenzhen as a space age city composed of glass, steel and concrete, built by money for the generation of money couldn’t have been further from the reality.
In the Louhu district of Shenzhen the buildings are of diverse size, shape and colour. Each building hasn’t a single use but a multitude of functions. Every element of the built environment has a sense of tiredness, of age and of enduring. Although the majority of Shenzhen is less than 30 years old, an exploding population, its demands and impacts have obviously burdened the city with accelerated ageing. As a foreign on looker you are thus deceived into perceiving heritage and history.

There is a miss-match of residential archetypes…from 3-5, 10-15, 25+ story complex’s that gives the cityscape a layering or terraced effect. The older buildings are adorned with small windows and balconies, caged in by heavy duty steel barriers. The more modern towers merely replicate the one facade treatment from bottom to top where a rare few mountainous towers are sporadic and random in their adornment.

The roads in Louhu are rivers of constant movement, acting as powerful axis’ for the district. Although the car is clearly favored the footpaths are also extraordinarily wide…maybe to accommodate for future traffic condtions? In conjunction to oversized circulation for pedestrian traffic are exorbitant building setbacks that both defy logic when they occur for every building and kill the engagement of the building with the street.
Polarizing this urban design aspect are zestful zones of lower density hybrid buildings that function on the ground plane as shops of all descriptions and above as residences. The streets are narrow and branch off to small pathways where filtered light enters via a cluttered path between air conditioning units and clothes lines. The buildings have no setbacks and the lanes evoke the atmosphere of ancient European districts. There is a buzz in the air, a composition of frying food, babies crying, laughter and heated business exchanges. There are smiles on faces, the streets are spotless and a feeling of comfort and safety took hold of me. There is a strong sense of social cohesiveness here, enabled by a high density, low rise archetype. Connections are enabled and fostered. The buildings engage with the street and narrow lanes and they in turn engage with the buildings.
There is such life in this lower density hybrid district where anything you could ever need is within a few short steps away.

The lifestyle present here in the shadow of modern towers, although void of green spaces does portray a desirable lifestyle, if viewed from a sociology lens.

Adjacent to the ‘urban district’, and providing me with a juxtaposed experience was a shiny new multilevel mall complex called, The MixC. It was clinical in its smell and appearance. I could see my reflection in the polished tile floor. Void of people and of life, it was providing for the elite rich and privileged in Shenzhen. I was perplexed by its existence within a district where they average monthly wage would struggle to buy a single item of clothing that hung within one of the innumerable boutique clothing sores.
It highlighted to me a point that I hadn’t previously considered, that the disparity of socioeconomic classes with Shenzhen is immense. How will such divisions in wealth, power and privilege effect the future prosperity of the city?

I have much to learn, observe and study. Shenzhen is proving to be a city of complexity and incomprehensibility.Image