Identity informed cities versus soulless cities

Cities are fast expanding into global cities where digitization is leading to the blurring of the geographical boundaries. With the rising urban mobility, what is perceived to be an image of the modern city is changing as well. A skyline, somewhere in modern Beijing can very well be placed in Singapore, or anywhere else without appearing alien to the place.  These ‘generic cities’ which are being created are a manifestation of the present and future needs of the urban audience. It has no past. It appears and vanishes depending on the needs of the people it accommodates. It is superficial, away from the cycle of dependency. It does not connect with the people on an emotional level. It portrays the homogenization of the urban spaces as a means to move towards similarity. It seems like a very righteous, efficient and low maintenance plan? But if we take a critical look to ponder on what we are actually creating…

What is identity? What does a city become when stripped of identity?

As humans, we aspire to create what we perceive as a ‘home’, somewhere where we could get a sense of belonging.  The relationship between architecture and society is very closely embedded. Architecture can be perceived as a medium of expression of human emotions, beliefs, and values which reflect our identity as an individual, as a community and also with our environment.

Identity is the true essence, the core values, and meaning which defines us and our environment. Each city thus has its own identity which gives meaning and uniqueness to that place.

A city is not a product. It is a process of engagement of humans with each other and their surrounding landscape. It is timeless, evolved organically through the overlaps of many networks and layers over a period of time. It is much more powerful than the mere efficiency and experience of its physical assets. The fascination towards modernity has led to the negligence and loss of the acquired knowledge and experiences inherited by living in a particular place for a long time.

How do we create identity informed cities? Creating identity informed cities does not mean replicating the physical aspects and form of a particular context. Neither does it mean to resist expansion, growth, renewals, and interpretations. The intent is to realize the ‘core values’ which defines a place and replicate this essence in an urban space with a contemporary approach. There needs to be an understanding based on the spatial based study and approach rather than image-based solutions. Perhaps, we will then be able to create the same vibrancy and ultimately the ‘quality’ as that of the cities of the past.

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