Around the world people are rapidly moving to cities in an incredible manifestation of consolidated growth. The Museum of Modern Art’s Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities is the culmination of a 14-month initiative to address developing problems — from affordable housing to the limits of available land — in six of those cities, by involving the communities most impacted.
According to the UN’s World Urbanization Prospects report, by 2030 the global population is expected to surpass eight billion. Uneven Growth emphasizes that around two-thirds of those people will be living in cities, with many in slums and unplanned neighborhoods. The exhibition, which opened in November, showcases proposals for New York City, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, Hong Kong, and Lagos. Each was created by a team of architects, planners, and designers in an attempt to examine how “tactical urbanism” — an aggressive term for DIY and grassroots city planning — could be encouraged.
For Hong Kong, where open space is scarce, MAP Office and Columbia University’s Network Architecture Lab propose adding manmade islands to the over 250 landforms already clustered there. Similarly, NLÉ and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas looked at the water life of Lagos, particularly the Makoko slum, where tens of thousands of people live in floating housing on a polluted lagoon, and theorize about adding “energy islands” as a renewable resource, as well as improved homes and community centers. NLÉ has actually already implemented one aspect of this: its Makoko Floating School prototype built from bamboo.
DIY building in Mumbai is taken up by URBZ and Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab, particularly in making the city’s small-scale “tool houses” into multilevel high rises, bringing marginalized neighborhoods up instead of destroying them for new development. Vertical growth is also central for Istanbul and New York City: Superpool and Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée consider how the Turkish TOKI housing developments could be reimagined as hyperlocal alternative economies through car sharing, urban farms, and other bartering; SITU Studio and Cohabitation Strategies rethink the “Other New York,” where illegal conversions are already taking place in affordable housing, and instead suggest a cooperative that could use air rights as leverage to build vertically, with cohabitation and shared community space. The only proposal that seems bit out on its own is RUA Arquitetos and MAS Urban Design‘s for Rio de Janeiro, which advocates “puxadinho” — add-ons that enhance existing buildings with repurposed leftover material — as a source of entrepreneurship for the growing favela middle class.
The exhibition itself consists mostly of the text for the proposals and some scattered video screens, the walls covered with maps and photographs. It’s a little hard to navigate and would have benefited from a stronger narrative unifying the ideas, since none of them is completely isolated. As MoMA curator Pedro Gadanho writes in the accompanying catalogue: “Even if they offer only acupunctural outlooks on how change for the better could be induced in diverse urban contexts, they aspire to solutions that could be replicated in different contexts.” More engaging is the interactive online site, where the Uneven Growth proposals are joined by complementary ideas for a more diverse cross-section of urban centers. While incredible government support and funding would be needed to really implement any of these ideas on a large scale, it’s worth continuing the conversation on how to address growth by bolstering solutions formed in the communities themselves.
Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities continues at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown West, Manhattan) through May 10.