Sociable Space in a City of Life : the Case of Hanoi
ABSTRACT This study, Sociable Space in a City of Life ¬ the Case of Hanoi, is a diploma work by Mr. Mikael Bäckman and Ms. Maria Rundqvist, for the Master’s Programme in Spatial Planning presented at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden. It was carried out as a Minor Field Study and a scholarship awarded by SIDA has partly financed it. The study began in Sweden, early 2003, when we learnt that Hanoi in Vietnam was the scene for large-scale housing developments and that there where discussions among experts about pros and cons of this modernisation process. The field study and the major background research were completed during a six months long stay in Southeast Asia. A large part of this stay was spent in Hanoi, Vietnam. To broaden our experiences of dense urban environments we also went to Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. We arrived in Asia in September 2003 and left six months later in February 2004. The study introduces and investigates Sociable Space as a planning concept and explores aspects to consider when people-friendly urban environments are to be planned. It is to a large extent based on observations and experiences from our field studies in Hanoi. As a case study, a central urban area; Nguyen Cong Tru in Hanoi, which is about to undergo total reconstruction, is used. Two conceptual proposals created for this area aim to exemplify how different design approach in the physical structure affects the possibilities for sociable spaces to emerge in the urban environment. The study describes how the sociable spaces of the urban environments are dependant on certain physical and experiential fundamentals. The physical structure is one of the key elements behind the possibility for sociable spaces to emerge. The structure creates the arena for various activities and functions. Together with the structure, the functions set the conditions for where people stay in motion and where people linger. From our experiences of various urban environments and from observations of people making use of them, we formed our ABC’s of the Sociable Space: A. The Structure of the urban environment sets the arena for various functions and influences people’s direction of movement and choice of transportation means. B. Functions such as service, commerce or greenery for example, answer to people’s needs in one way or another and attract people to use the urban environment. C. Activities taking place in the outdoor environment are dependant on both structural and functional aspects to occur. These three parts: Structure, Functions and Activities are interlinked. A pedestrian-friendly structure is an important precondition for activities to emerge and the structure further work as an arena in which various functions are active. The various functions and activities taking place in the urban environment are sorted out in the study, to be able to handle them in a planning process. The following broad categories are identified as sources of activities taking place in the urban environments: Service & Commerce Greenery & Recreation History & Aesthetics These three categories comprise the multitude of factors that attract people to inhabit the urban environment. If one or more of these sources are present, various outdoor activities then have the possibility to emerge. The activities in turn, we have categorized into five groups: 1. The street as a living room 2. Daily delivery of serendipity and expectedness 3. When the occasional intervenes 4. A space for challenge and learning 5. Harmony and contrast All these aspects of the urban environment are necessary to keep in mind when one studies the sociability in existing neighbourhoods or plan for new sociable environments. The sociable spaces of the urban environment are spaces where people without effort can meet and interact; spaces in which we can learn from others and grow by experiences. These spaces must be designed for accessibility by pedestrians and must further appeal to all our senses and meet our needs. A city should have a people-friendly design all over and the sociable spaces should not be confined to ‘islands’ surrounded by its opposite. The more the structure forces (or encourages) people to use private vehicles to transport themselves to work, to school and home again, the more difficult it will be to move about in the city on foot. Heavy traffic creates barriers and hazardous environments for young and old. If people can not move about on foot in the urban environment it will never have the possibility to become people-friendly. One thing we have learnt while performing this study is that if one wish to create truly people-friendly environments then nothing can be simpler; - plan for man and not for man’s cars!
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