Smart Vagueness: Alternative Urbanities of the Global South

Anubha Kakroo: Indian Institute of Art and Design, India

Anuradha Chatterjee: Cracknell and Lonergan Architects, Australia

 

KEYWORDS: Terrain Vague, Public Space, Global South, Democracy

This sessions addresses the theme of smartness and public space in the context of (smart) cities in the Global South. It looks at the intersection between the problems inherent to smartness, such as threats to democracy due to the emphasis on technology and over governance; and the speed of urbanization that the phenomenon entails, which is likely to create interstitial spaces, or gaps in the urban landscape that exceed the constraints of use and economy, and the boundaries of the plan. We suggest that these gaps may be the way to complexify the debates on smartness beyond the paradigms of technology, control, and efficiency.

Such spaces can be thought through Ignasi de Sola Morales’s notion of terrain vague, which is defined as: “Unincorporated margins, interior islands void of activity, oversights, these areas are simply un-inhabited, un-safe, un-productive. In short, they are foreign to the urban system, mentally exterior in the physical interior of the city (1995).” However, as Karl Kullmann (2014) has more recently argued, it is important to think of such spaces through the frames of “openness and potentiality” of uselessness, such that their potentiality is not co-opted by hegemonic forces, and such that their looseness is maintained “by people actively transforming their close-at-hand environment in real time.”

To this end, the session problematizes the citizen-driven ‘activation’ programmes of terrain vague spaces in cities in the Global South, which aim to create greater custodianship of spaces, through city beautification and public art projects. It invites participants to ask whether interstitial spaces in cities can provide alternative, and democratic public spaces. Is this already happening? Should these spaces be open to community appropriation and occupation, on what terms, and to what extent? What is our role as designers in this? Should these occupations be temporary, or permanent? Should these spaces be managed? Would the potential of these spaces be diminished if they were formalized, and absorbed into the gamut of planning? Can such spaces provide alternative urbanities that are beyond design, beyond typologies?