Transnational mobilities and local planning

The examples of Singapore as a rising yet multi-faced model for Asian cities and the mobility of Vancouver’s planning and design solutions are quite interesting. In Singapore and Vancouver, for example, the impact for inhabitants and users was envisioned and balanced with reference to economic feasibility and attractiveness for international investments in the real-estate market and for global tourism. Dubai Marina is a quite explicit experiment that mostly targeted real-estate profitability and, according to the local standards, did not worry about exclusionary effects. It is evident that the circulation and transfer of similar projects and master plans are in general mildly affected by the presence of spatial and infrastructural visions at an urban or metropolitan scale. According to the evidence collected for this book, land-use regulation is seldom relevant and even more rarely determinant.

The visibility and meaning of landmark projects can be better understood within this transnational framework. It is clear that the meaningful transformation of non-artificial places takes time and is the outcome of collective action, rather than a single mastermind and the implementation of one single design (Palermo and Ponzini, 2015). Again the relevance of different local contexts and ways of managing urban development dramatically affect the potential impact of iconic projects. By comparing the urban environment around the towers in Doha and Barcelona, one can see that the quality and liveliness of urban space and even the recognition of one building as a landmark do not depend on intrinsic architectural features, but on the planning and design of it and of the surrounding areas. The careful composition of a varied urban landscape in Barcelona contrasts the mono-functional and car-dependent business district in Doha. The central business district of West Bay intended to project internationally its skylineas the symbol of modernization of a politically ambitious country. In this overbuilt district, the iconic Doha Tower resembles the Agbar Tower, designed by the same architect and completed several years prior in Barcelona (which, in turn, is often compared to the Gherkin in London, designed in the same period by Norman Foster). The application of the provocative “copy and paste” approach (Maas and Madrazo, 2017) can be seen in its limits and problematic relationship to urban context.

Planning and reflecting in the process

A generic and globalization-prone approach to circulation and transfer of urban and architectural design solutions that do not consider the qualities of place of landing are exemplified in the Abu Dhabi Plaza case of Astana. The excessive stated expectations toward transnational designers and developers ended up inducing negative effects for all: not only excluding lower social strata from benefiting, avoiding the generation of relevant taxes for the public, but also - by creating a generic, non-branded, and non-spectacular project in the central and monumental part of the city -failed to meet the symbolic goals of the ruling elite and the President of the country.

Ironically enough, transnational experts alone (and according to current disciplinary approaches) are not likely to solve the urban problems of circulation and transfer - to some extent they might not even be interested in facing the issue other than in rhetorical terms. Self-proclaimed critical and context-sensitive architecture and planning experts (remember the idealtype words of Vittorio Gregotti at the beginning of this section) will eventually succumb to local interests and transnational ways of doing things. In this sense, it seems important to acknowledge and better understand the transnational forms, actors, and processes that the transformation of central places in contemporary globalizing cities entails. In most cases the local identity of and the design techniques used to transform central places in cities like New York, Vancouver, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Astana, Singapore, Chongqing, Barcelona, or Doha are inherently transnational (Reisz, 2018; Molotch and Ponzini, 2019). They cannot simply be conceived of by resorting to alleged local or authentic features. Yet the deeper consideration of the global/local nexus in specific projects and processes does not mean surrendering to generic urban globalization arguments and solutions. On the contrary, it requires nurturing local (as well as international) planning and design competences in order to have higher ability to accomplish transnational projects that serve multiple interests and, if it is the goal at stake, that better stand out internationally for their expression of a city’s urban identity as a meaningful contribution to its urban landscape.

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