Cities, Urban Planning
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Who Decides Our Spaces?

In the past week, there were two news items that came to my attention regarding public space. One is in Hong Kong, where the Town Planning Board is reviewing a plan to extend the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. The other is in New York, where the mayor is openly considering the removal of the pedestrian plazas in Time Square. Though the motives and incentives are different, both instances are controversial : they seek to remedy areas that are actually immensely popular (though more for the tourists in the case of Time Square).

This brings me to ask, who should be in charge of shaping the urban environments around us? It appears that both in Hong Kong and New York, they appear to employ top-down planning favoring expertise and technical knowledge. Yet, is that really a good approach, especially when most of the decision makers do not necessarily visit or have intimate knowledge of areas they are trying to change. On the other hand, a bottom up approach to planning could be chaotic and disruptive.

Looking at urban spaces from this perspective, I believe urban environments as relics of their pasts reflect the governing structure of a place in many ways. Drawing from the “Rights to the City” literature, it is obvious that cities, all over the world, are constructed not for the well-being of their citizens but for the benefit of the local economic and political apparatus. How can we remedy that? Is it possible for the ordinary person to truly have a voice in shaping the environment?

Image via Marriott Hotel Hong Kong

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