During the last few years, there has been a significant shift of interest towards grassroots interventions in the urban realm. A book like Handmade Urbanism: From Community Initiatives to Participatory Model is not just a compilation of grassroots initiatives, but an effort to set the foundations of a theoretical discussion around grassroots-driven urbanism. This endeavor is also supported by the book's structure and the careful organization of its material. The interview format - that basically forms the main body of the book, in combination with the comparative summarizing charts, succeeds rather well by interlinking the projects and creating a base for further contemplation.
The initiatives presented are innovating, inspiring, and most importantly, built under the spirit of partnership between a multitude of stakeholders. All of them had a positive tangible impact on the urban realm; although, in some cases, this was not the initial purpose. All the examples showcased originate from five “mega-cities” around the globe: Mumbai, San Paolo, Mexico City, Istanbul, and Cape Town. These mega-cities were all either winning or participating initiatives for the Urban Age Award founded by the Alfred Herrhausen Society. The Cultural Center Consejo Agrarista, which was made up by marginalized gangsters in the heart of the Mexico DF, and the "Music for Peace," - a music program for children in a deprived neighborhood of Istanbul - that first began in an underused school's basement and ended up in a new conservatoire, are just small tokens of a variety of case studies.
The interviews that followed the project's presentations were monitored by prominent and devoted researchers and urban planners. The interviewees - key figures of every intervention - unveiled the inner mechanisms that put into action the latent dynamics of each case, thereby providing the reader with a better insight into the many faces of participatory planning. In addition, they touch on hot issues like the incomparable power of art in engaging people to act for their environment, the scaling-up of these initiatives at a city level, and the importance of networking.
Concerning the book itself: A well-prepared publication by the German Jovis Editions, with beautiful before and after infographics, maps, captivating illustrations and an excellent DVD ROM with a series of short documentaries for “getting the true feeling” of the people's power to bring about remarkable changes in their lives.
In my view, "Handmade Urbanism" succeeds in offering a fresh analysis by giving the reader a chance to be transported into fifteen invisible neighborhoods of the world that have succeeded in making a difference, with sustainable results.
Are there grassroots initiatives in your neighborhood? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Credits: Data linked to sources. Images taken from the book.