Image above: Homs city residents coming back to their homes after the cease-fire between the so-called rebels and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, 2014. source: Ghassan Najjar/Reuters

Post By Marines Pocaterra

Efficient city officials all over the world must be preparing plans for growth, if they are aware of the known growth predictions published in the urban investigation media. We have a long list of failed urban experiments and also wonderful examples of sound development.

I’ve chosen 2 Ted Talks that provide clues on the effects our built environment exerts over society. It could make the difference between peaceful and productive communities and broken radicalized societies.

The first one is titled: How Syria’s architecture laid the foundation for brutal war by Marwa Al-Sabouni. She suggests that architecture played a crucial role in the slow unraveling of Syrian cities’ social fabric, preparing the way for once-friendly groups to become enemies instead of neighbors.


… this young Syrian architect who had just published a book written during the war, while living in the middle of, called The Battle for Home. I picked it up and read it, and found, first, an amazing story of courage and resilience, of insight and hope. But the core of the book is a convincing study on how communities move apart, mixed urban fabrics turn into segregated islands, and living together morphs into sectarian hatred. The Syrian war has many roots — political, social, religious and economic. Marwa’s book highlights another cause that has been overlooked: the role played by decades of mismanaged architecture and divisive urban planning. A sentence from her talk summarizes her main argument: “From my point of view, losing the sense of belonging to a place and the sense of sharing it with someone else has made it a lot easier to destroy.”

The second one is titled “Architecture that is built to heal“ by  Michael Murphy

 “Murphy led the design and construction of MASS’s first project, the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, which opened in 2011. The award-winning hospital established the MASS blueprint: immersive study of each location for its challenges and advantages, design of buildings that will improve the well-being of patients and communities, low-impact and environmentally sensitive construction that enriches the community, and evaluation of each design’s impact in improving lives.”

Although we have become used to grand adjectives (Future, Sustainable, Green, Smart, Good Governance, and some others) Also, many NGOs and certification systems have  tried to break them into a measurable set of Goals ( Green Globes, Leed Certification, Resilient Cities)

I will attempt, as a self reminder, to resume a short list of issues professionals must practice and preach/spread, not only to citizen’s realm but to government representatives.

Social Commandments for Architecture & Urban Planning

  1. Support general participative methods. We have to take urban planning from the desks to the crowds. For example  voluntary taxes, measuring results of urban projects, in order to maintain people’s belief they can influence and practical access to planning actions, responsibility and a right to shape the urban environment.
  2. Work towards densifying the existing urban fabrics while trying to control sprawl. Sprawl raises costs of infrastructure, maximizing trips and difficulty supplies.
  3. Develop a meaningful built environment that deserves to be cared for, reflecting traditions and people’s identity.
  4. Provide enough quality common space for different groups to mingle and exchange experiences, It should be both meaningful and attractive, while also serving its purpose well. Promote culture walking and alternatives to private vehicles.Such requirements are not a luxury in our 3rd world, but an utmost necessity
  5. Promote urban Local, National and international Connectivity: cultural, infrastructure communications, transport, commerce, electronic. As opposed to political/religious  divides, borders, sects, etc. It could be a strong protection against conflicts.
  6. Promote fields Professional’s Social Responsibility to achieve deep democratic values. Prioritize permanent principles of Urbanism: universal access to cities and citizenship benefits.
  7. Guarantee strong financing systems for urban expansion, remodeling, updating, activating and maintenance of urban models.
  8. Sustainability goals ( zero Emissions, Recycling, local supplies, risk control, long term economic feasibility, etc.)
  9. Promote Social inclusion and mixed uses, avoiding ghettos reflecting income or uniform use.
  10. Increase Urban footprint performance by use of new technology that raises levels of efficient use of infrastructure and facilities. One way is spreading the active timetables of cities into the night time.

If I were to choose 2 statements to englobe those commandments:

  • Cities will work if Citizens love it and are willing to work for it.
  • Shared experience tends to maintain common goals and ties between neighbors.

 Hoping you readers can add other points I might have missed

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