Dec 24, 2012

Post-calamity socio-physical reconstruction: Untapped potential of urban planning!

It’s high time they should care for heritage values of shattered settlements.

Contemporary planning response : A wake-up call!! 

Any Natural calamity, An Earthquake, A Tsunami, A Flood or A Hurricane strangles the life of community and leaves a physical and emotional mark behind! Damage which is irreversible, but still people gather their spirit and strength and try to reconstruct that which has been shattered, their home, their neighborhood, their community, their village, their city, sometimes on their own sometimes hand in hand with community, with the support of government and with the aid and good wishes from around the world. It’s a collective effort of those who care to rebuild, those who feel responsibility to reconstruct, everyone contributes their bit!

A relevant question to ask here is that what an urban planner, an architect, an urban designer, a conservationist or a policy maker can do to restore the faith, hope and dignity of that community, How they can better contribute in the socio-physical reconstruction after an unforeseen natural calamity which physically shatters the settlement, a settlement which might have evolved in course of centuries whether it’s a village or a small town or a metropolitan city. Of course such situations demand a quick immediate response, a fast solution, a resettlement plan, a re-construction effort, a physical master plan to absorb and protect the affected population as quickly as possible; an infrastructure fast and techno-economically optimized enough to be viable. But in this race of providing the immediate comfort and amenities to the affected population we usually tend to forget or sometimes purposefully ignore the very basic need of community, the settlement itself, the fabric of settlement with which community has intimately remained attached throughout its life, probably they have grown together help shaping each other and hence the highly emotional bonding of community and settlement cannot be ignored neither its legacy of heritage value and learning.

In a neighborhood or community affected or devastated by natural calamity, an individual is not just bothered about his or her own loss, their own damaged house, but they are subconsciously also moved by the loss of others in the community and their very own settlement and neighborhood which has been shattered heavily. Their memories of growing in that neighborhood, those winding streets, their facades and architecture, their community spaces, those lingering familiarities and so on. We can try to reconstruct the original face of settlement if the damage is low and concealable, but sometimes they feel it’s better to reconstruct the settlement in adjacent open lands if the physical damage is much, this phenomenon is more noticeable and even more a point of concern in the rural or small urban communities. Usually physical planning response form the government and planners after a natural calamity in most of the cases is generally a super-optimized techno-economic solution, an efficient physical infrastructure, fast paced architecture, but surprisingly lacking in emotional response and nativeness in terms of architecture, lacking in regional impression and heritage values of planning, alienated from urban/ rural design principles and practices of the region, a shear absence of conservationist inputs and above all lack of human touch. Outcome seems an efficient but emotionless physical planning response which can and are being radially justified in the name of constrained resources and urgency of demanded action. Image above speaks for itself!

Though a much needed temporary relief, imagine the emotional and functional pain this new mechanical re-settlement master plan causes to the inhabitants in longer course of time through its totally alienated new physical planning environment, fabric and architecture, by continually reminding them of the disaster which occurred in past, due to its ever-present imposed unfamiliar environment. Imaging the continual struggle to adapt to this new imposed “efficient but rigid” neighborhood plan which has no relation whatsoever to the original form and architecture of the village or town which was devastated in earthquake or else and the loaded feeling of never to return to a spatial experience in their lifetime which even vaguely resembles to their original neighborhood or to a locality with its regional character! Imaging the loss to the future generation who is going to grow up in these reconstructed integrated prefab concrete township or villages with identical kind of off the shelf household unit next to the fading ruins of their devastated ancestral village and who will never know how it is like to live in the vibrant settlements were their parents, their grandparents and their ancestors used to live!

It’s high time that the legacy of heritage planning values, unique and integral to specific regions need to be acknowledged and incorporated in the post disaster reconstruction efforts specially in physical planning of the settlement which will have a long term beneficial effect. Even the communities in crying need of immediate physical reconstruction support, in a post-natural-disaster environment, need a physical planning solution with a “human touch”

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