July 01 2013

Cultivating Communities From the Bottom-up: Small Change by Nabeel Hamdi

Small Change cover

Small Change, a 2004 book by Nabeel Hamdi, is a participatory design and place-making journey from the bottom-up. Through its pages the reader can witness the conception of a community and then follow its bit-by-bit emergence, gradual development and finally, its vitality. Nabeel Hamdi’s long experience in housing, in conjunction with his career as a teacher in prominent architecture schools, has turned him into a synonym to bottom-up planning, where planning gives up on all the assurances and jumps into the world of uncertainty – exactly where innovative ideas stem from.

The book’s organization is also a bottom-up approach. Hamdi starts his narration from practice on site and ends in theory, exactly at the point where bottom meets the top. It’s a narration that avoids the rhetoric style and jargon as if he is not addressing the specialists, developers, planners and the like – but everyone. Next, we follow him to his ordinary friends in dense city contexts discovering where true potentials in city planning lie, where improvisation and an accidental encounter can turn into a strategic viable city plan.

We see how seven different stories of a bus stop, two pickle jars, a barber shop, a fish run, a delivery fleet, a sharing waterpipe and a recycling waste center intertwine and evolve into wider schemes that sustainably scale-up and transform the city. These catalysts – as very commonly Hamdi calls them -produce place by mobilizing women, children and elder people in the process of city planning. Hamdi encourages urbanists and professionals to work like the acupuncturist who seeks to find the exact points where important energy poles exist and creatively intervene in those exact points.

Small Change Hamdi

Small Change is a book that teaches urban planners to respect peoples and community needs within urban planning  procedures. It is also a book that shows how small scale interventions – even in the most complicated urban contexts – can lead to gradual scaling-up and sustainable development.

Have you experienced a similar small-scale urban intervention in your neighborhood? If yes, please share your experience with us.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Alkisti Eleni Victoratou

Alkisti Eleni Victoratou originates from Andros, a Cycladic island in Greece, and has lived and studied in Thessaloniki, England, Spain, and Athens-where she currently resides. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and in Architecture from the National Technical University of Athens. Having this multicultural and interdisciplinary background gives her a better understanding of socially sensitive urban issues. Her dissertation thesis in Architecture dealt with the study and assessment of the legislation relating to Bioclimatic Architecture in the European Mediterranean countries of France, Spain, and Greece. Her interests also extend to sustainable technologies and parametric design, contributing to building design and urbanism. During her internship with The Grid, she will concentrate on the most important top-down and bottom-up urban transformations of Athens during their current Crisis. Her aspirations are to further her academic and professional specializations in urban issues and sustainable design.

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 1st, 2013 at 9:01 am and is filed under Book Review, Community/Economic Development, Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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