Urban Design and Planning are commonly understood as interventions conceived ‘from above’: plan views at different scales are often the basis for devising strategic approaches for interventions. Whilst looking at an area from above - through a bird's-eye view - can offer powerful insights into physical and formal aspects of a particular area, this approach is also generally blind to many issues that should inform our interventions. For instance, looking from above, we completely miss otherwise visible things such as traces of use, actual use of public space, textures, materials, state of repair etc. Crucially, however, we also miss out on gaining an understanding of intangible and non visible aspects of the area such as general atmosphere, audio and visual qualities but also signs of political tensions, cultural character(s), daily challenges and desires.
A situated approach to urban design and planning relies on landing from above onto the ground. This adjustment of positioning allows for a complementary approach to intervening in the city rooted on a less abstract understanding of it. Our relationship with the area of intervention is developed through a number of different lenses, and from a number of personal perspectives (as resident, student, designer etc). A situated approach to Urban Design also acknowledges the designer as active within ever changing networks, frameworks, and organisations within cities.
This close, personal, relationship of the designer with the actors involved in processes that shape the city, crucially, brings to the fore ethical concerns about who gains what, what are the motives, the fairness of processes and equality amongst actors. Situated designers as mediators, interpreters and participants, conversing across tables and becoming embedded in multiple ‘homes’, need to pay particular attention to the ethics of their practice to ensure inclusivity and equality.
Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies vol. 14 no. 3 (1988): 575–99. doi:10.2307/3178066.
Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
Sheila Foster, “Justice from the Ground up: Distributive Inequities, Grassroots Resistance, and the Transformative Politics of the Environmental Justice Movement,” California Law Review vol. 86 no. 4 (1998): 775–841. doi:10.2307/3481140.
Sara Ljungblad and Lars Erik Holmquist, “Transfer Scenarios: Grounding Innovation with Marginal Practices,” Proceedings of CHI 2007: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 28 Apr-3 May 2007, San Jose, CA, USA.
Ash Amin, “Collective Culture and Urban Public Space,” City vol. 12 no. 1 (2008): 5–24. doi:10.1080/13604810801933495.