- Reading Conflicts and Congruencies in the Built Environment   click here to open paper content681 kb
by    Murphy, Melissa | melissa.murphy@umb.no   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
The results of urban planning and management are difficult to assess due to
complexity and external factors after projects are built. The built
environment can be read as a mitigation between past plans and current
life. Tracing resident behavior through physicality can illuminate local
conflicts and intention vs. implementation data.
The physical environment of a city can be largely understood as a built
translation of the past's planning efforts. Planning practice has long been
plagued by difficulties in evaluation, due to complexities and insufficient
or disparate methods in a field that crosses disciplines. However, criteria
for assessing future planning needs is often found in people's behavior -
responses to and perceptions of life within cities and within the places
that compose cities. This paper proposes that the lived, physical
environment of a city could be a starting point for reflecting upon past
and current planning measures - through the marks that life leaves on a
city's places.

The act of living can alter and leave traces upon the physical environment.
City residents may plant trees on abandoned lots, chewing gum may mark a
sidewalk indefinitely, car exhaust may discolor building facades. Conflicts
amongst individuals and between daily life and governance occur and are
often physically apparent. Planning practice can encourage or limit human
behaviors which impact the environment and spatial management can attempt
to mitigate affects deemed unwanted. While the results of planning
processes are often questioned, the resulting life and human behaviors that
respond after planning processes receive little attention.

Human life, as it integrally relates to the built environment can be
understood by bridging different theories on place definition from
geography and sociology. Humanist thought after the writings of Robert
David Sack describes how people's life and environmental perceptions
contribute to a defining place. Sociologist Bruno Latour's Actor Network
Theory has lead to urban researchers such as Mathias Kärrholm developing
perspectives on the socio-materiality of place, further informing how
physical and social aspects mutually impact each other.

Together, these strains of thought provide a theoretical framework for
understanding the physical environment as a field of mitigation between
spatial governance and the spatial life. The physicality of a city is
dually affected by the past goals of urban planners, the current planning
efforts of spatial management, and the ongoing actions of people's life.
This effective link between planning and city fabric and city life can
potentially illuminate past gaps and oversights that have occurred between
plan and built translation. Through comparing the life in, and use of,
places against planning intentions, a basis for reflection over decision-
making and planning input and execution can be informed.

The paper proposes the framework described above and tests it through a
preliminary pilot study in a neighborhood of Oslo that has undergone an
urban renewal project finished in the early 2000s - Miljøbyen
(''Environment-city'') Gamle Oslo. The pilot study is an observation-based
study that uses film and photography for documentation, supplemented by
qualitative interviews with local residents about use of place. This study
is currently ongoing, so all findings are preliminary. The proposed
framework and observation methodology are designed to be widely applicable
for assessing built results of planning efforts from the scale of a
building up to that of a neighborhood or city district. The work is
grounded in learning from existing, local contexts and the benefits of
learning through reflection over practice, as described by Donald Schön.
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