The City of the People and poblems of its formation. A model
of environmental analysis based on experience in the Soviet Union

Interdisciplinary integration or cooperation?

The practice of the reconstruction of the urban environment in the late 1970s, and in particular the role played by civic initiatives in this process have failed to an ever greater degree to provide an adequate explanation in the framework of traditional methodology. In fact, the urban environment in its totality has been captured most fully by purely artistic meansin literature, painting, cinemathrough the creation of an image. What you gain in con-creteness ends in this case in a loss of strictness or comparability, in personalism, in connection with which the artistic perception of the urban environment has had to find itself beyond the limits of scientific knowledge, beyond the field of vision of scientists and planners.

On the other hand, when considering the situation in the framework of the disciplinary approach, what you gain in strictness of approach will inevitably turn into a loss of the integrity of the object. Practical research in the sphere of the urban environment conducted during the last few decades has given birth to a vast body of specialized texts of such different content that any attempt at generalizing this totality would be an unrealistic undertaking. The most important thing, though, is the fact that in each specialized block of knowledge we have to deal with a different urban environment than in the adjoining blocks.

The city from the point of view of an ecologist, and the same city from the point of view of a theoretician specializing in settlement problems, are qualitatively different objects. Each of these cities, in turn, has little in common with the city viewed by a sociologist and, on the other hand, is hardly comparable with the image of a city from the viewpoint of a historian. Information about the city contained in these four interpretations does not tally, first and foremost, because here we deal not with one, but with four different objects. An element of the ecosystem, a spot in the settlement system, an autonomous social cosmos, a juncture of intertwining world historical processesnone of this can be described by one language. Despite the fact that, from the genetic point of view, we are dealing with different projections of one object on different planes of study, from the methodological point of view, they are independent objects.

The comprehension of this unavoidable obstacle to adequate reflection of the integral nature of the urban environment in scientific knowledge resulted in the fact that when the UNESCO programme Man and the Biosphere was being established in 1971, the problem of the interdisciplinary integration of knowledge concerning the urban environment was made a definite priority. During a decade of intensive work, a whole range of case-studies in the full sense of the word have been made in West Berlin under the methodological guidance of H. Sukopp (Berlin..., 1984), and in Hong Kong under the methodological guidance of S. Boyden and S. Millar (Boyden, Millar, 1981), etc. But even in these cases there are no real grounds to speak about an integral methodological approach to the subject of the urban environment.

Strictly speaking, it could not have been different, because in each concrete case there exists a certain specialist, inevitably accenting that image of the urban environment which is discernible and operational in his professional methods. If an ecologist plays the role of the integrator-methodologist, then almost inevitably practically all questions of human relations find themselves pushed into the background (unless they are interactions directly influencing the city's ecosystem). If this role belongs to the sociologist, then, on the contrary, the urban ecosystem is pushed into the background (or even further)in complete correspondence with the actual scale of the factors of social concern (in comparison with the availability and quality of work, availability and quality of housing, unless, of course, catastrophic situations of the urban ecosystem as a whole are concerned).

Any attempt to surmount this kind of usurpation of the role of the integrator through artificially introducing the practice of forming an interdisciplinary research team, as has in actual fact been demonstrated, is inevitably doomed to failure. In accordance with the laws of social psychology, even if each participant in the group process accepts the equality of qualifications, the actual role of the integrator will go, in this case, to the more powerful personality. As the integrator problem becomes increasingly obvious, it would be quite natural to expect that some individual researchers would attempt to set up a metamethodological system of procedures allowing interdisciplinary integration, while the role of the integrator could be performed by the very sequence of the binding methodological procedures.

Among these bold attempts, it is worth singling out works by A. Whyte (Whyte, 1981) and S. Boyden (Boyden, 1979). The content of these studies has been thoroughly analysed by O. Yantis (Yantis, 1984) and V. Glazychev (Glazychev, 1984). Boyden wrote that at the time the integral ecological approach to the study of human settlements was still in an elementary stage, and at this stage there was no possibility of producing an indisputable document concerning methods used in this sphere (Boyden, 1979, p. 39).

Firstly, any attempt to build a model of an integral ecological approach to the urban environment while remaining entirely inside the system of scientific knowledge cannot be considered correct from the methodological point of view. The formation of urban ecosystems is done, first and foremost, by the planner (urbanist, architect, designer, engineer, economist) with specific professional knowledge and skills. The only approach which can be considered integrative, is that which creates a common basis both for the planner and the scientist. Secondly, as has been demonstrated by the social practice of the last few decades, it is impossible to build a model of a monological approach to the urban environment from the position of specialists (scientists and planners) without taking into account the values and attitudes of socio-cultural groups of urban residents. Consequently, only the dialogical approach to the urban environment as an object of understanding and assessment can be considered integrative in reality. As M. Castells justly emphasized when characterizing a kind of challenge to scientific thought extended by the residents' civic initiatives, their growing impact on the city and urban policies called into question the whole logic of the model of urban development (Castells, 1983).

From our point of view, the introduction of new complicating factors clearly demonstrates the lack of promise in further attempts to reach an integral ecological approach. At the same time, these complicating factors urge us to accept the change of attitude as productive: not an integrative, but a cooperative principle of the interaction of knowledge, skills, and values. From the point of view of logic, the cooperative principle removes the unsolvable problem of the integrator because every specialized projection of the urban environment on the plane of specific knowledge preserves its sovereignty. The introduction of the principle of cooperation takes us back to the vital problem of understanding the nature of the object as an entity. It is exactly the comprehension of the totality of the urban environment that later becomes the basis both for research and for planning in order that the researcher as well as the planner can combine their efforts to solve the concrete problematic situation of a particular city. Thus, from our point of view the only real form of the integrative ecological approach is the establishment of a complex link: an environmental approach to the comprehension of the totality of the urban environment binding for each participant in the interaction; pooling of knowledge and skills in a concrete problem situation. In the environmental approach, in our view, the incompatibility of individual specific approachesresearch, socio-technical (designing), socio-cultural and finally, methodologicalis potentially removed. In contrast to two-dimensional schematizations (S. Boyden) wesee fig. 1go over to the three-dimensional model representing an image equivalent to a certain new reality in thought.

The mastering of the totality of the object in accordance with our model does not infringe upon the autonomy of each of the specialised approaches formed by the age-old history of knowledge and skills, but rather builds over them a holistic ideology embracing them all.

However, it should be emphasized quite definitely that our working model, while characterising the idea of the totality of the object, cannot be considered satisfactory. Determining, to a large extent, the nature of the necessary pedagogical procedures for the restoration of holistic ideology, countering the disintegration of knowledge and skills into individual disciplines, in its primary form this model does not embrace the nature of the environmental approach to the city as active. In order to make our model operational, it is necessary to transform it by introducing a fourth dimensionthe time of activity.

As follows from fig. 2, such a transformation can be adequately carried out by transforming the tetrahedron ABCD into a hyper-tetrahedron (by pulling a pyramid through its centre).

Now through an externally uncomplicated transformation, we receive an extensive model of an environmental approach joining into a single whole both the basic specialized approaches (research, socio-technical, socio-cultural, methodological) and the main interactions of characters possessing knowledge and skills, in the process of formation and reconstruction of the urban environment: programme, project, plan, action. Strictly speaking, only the introduction of this last element ensures both theoretical and practical novelty for our working model. Until recently the methodological activities of professionals have been concentrated on project and programme, to a lesser degree on plan and planning, while the direct practical action aimed at the realization of plan, project and programme has been left beyond the field of vision of researchers. But it is in action that the social nature of communication between specialists and civic initiatives is demonstrated with particular clarity. Only through action and its result (including an expected result) is the assessment of both plan, project, programme and feasibility studies made in such communication. Only action in a concrete urban environment has a direct social nature, while in plan, project, programme and studies this social nature of communication has an increasingly indirect character.

In spite of its abstraction, our working model outlines the major lines of interaction between the basic specialized approaches to the object: research and socio-technical approaches (plan of action), socio-technical and socio-cultural approaches (programme for exerting influence on the object through the alteration project), meta-methodological approach (action proper). It is this circumstance that makes it possible to speak about the fact that our model of an environmental approach is at the same time a model of joint activities aimed at transforming the urban environment as an integral ecosystem.

The working model submitted is easy to understand, but its practical implementation involves considerable difficulties. That is only natural, as the simpler, two-dimensional schematizations have revealed their inability to grasp the phenomenon of the environment.

The means of interaction and the languages of communication

Beginning with the publications by K. Lynch (Lynch, 1960), C. Alexander (Alexander, 1972), V. Glazychev (Glazychev, 1973) and other experimental researchers, the technical problem of the language of supradisciplinary communication in the understanding of the urban environment has gradually become a priority in methodological studies. While in the process of interaction between prominent specialists, communication is established with a certain degree of difficulty using maps, schemes, graphs, tables and commentary on them in the everyday cultural language, the necessity of interaction between specialists and initiative groups of residents confronts the former with a rather complicated problem.

Even the simplest symbolizations, like the plan of the city or part of it executed on a conventional scale, seemingly familiar from high school, are interpreted, as was convincingly demonstrated by K. Lynch, with a great deal of difficulty and, as a rule, inadequately. Our experience shows that the problem is aggravated by the fact that adult residents feel uncomfortable with the insufficiently clear understanding of information given them by reputable self-reliant specialists, which often results in imitation of understanding. In these numerous cases the outward appearance, the ritual of interaction, only hides the fact that there was no genuine interaction.

Both in Western and Eastern Europe, attempts have been made for almost last two decades to overcome this standard difficulty. At least four main directions have been revealed.

The first direction, most advanced in West Germany, combines the work of plan methodists with individuals, families, small groups (dialogue in the everyday cultural language) with the graphic means of execution of plans, perspectives, axonometries, as close as possible to ability of perception of the man in the street (for instance: Stadt Koln, 1984). Natural colouring (grey asphalt, green trees, blue water, etc.), a detailed legend for each image, clear business-like commentary on every spot marked by an ordinal number on the planall this undoubtedly simplifies communication. But it is obvious that here we are dealing with a purely auxiliary method which has no independent significance without accompanying oral commentary. At any rate, only a very intelligent partner skilled in the art of image-dimensional perception is capable of making an independent comparison of several variants of the principal planning solution (of a block, a park, a region) without such commentary. Nevertheless, the practice of continuous contacts between specialists and individual families by means of graphic information accompanied by commentaries deserves attention and study. Of particular significance is the specialists' striving in preparing such texts to take into account ethnic heterogeneity, addressing residents in several languages.

The second direction, theoretically developed by C. Alexander, stresses a prolonged educational interaction between a planning group of skilled professionals and a large group of partners in order that the influence of specialists could be aimed at initiation of consistent self-organisation and self-education in groups. The notes by the dean of a faculty at the University of Oregon most clearly demonstrate the effect of mastering new intellectual experience. He wrote that the majority of us, no doubt for the first time, had to think in terms of dimensional relations, encountering the problems of spatial perception. We also (which was rather an exception) began to deal directly with each other, while experts did not play cat-and-mouse with us but simply talked to us,... no, they did not even talk to us but somehow made us understand that the thing was not that they knew exactly what should be done and hid it from us, but it so happened that in essence what came of it originated within us (Alexander, 1975).

There are no grounds to doubt the high efficiency of such activities, but this efficiency depends on the ability of experts to devote a great amount of time to interaction with consumers who become co-planners, and on the quality of the partners' general education.

The third direction actively developed during the last two decades by the associates of the Central Experimental Studio of the USSR Artists' Union (E. A. Rosenblum, M. A. Konik, V. L. Glazychev) (Rosenblum, 1974) stresses the intensity of the imagination of mass viewers through artistic means. In this case the expert takes the initiative, advances a principal design proposition aimed at reconstructing the urban environment, imparts to this proposition the form of an artistic exhibition at which are represented image models of concrete situations accompanied by a brief oral commentary. As has been demonstrated by prolonged practice in numerous cities of the USSR, an exhibition of this kind on the one hand creates a general attitude of interest and sympathy for ideas of reconstructing the environment; and, on the other, gathers around it people capable of setting up an initiative group of experts to continue planning and research activities in the future.

The initiating functionfrequently a counter-proposition is formed in relation to the officially submitted reconstruction project, a line also pursued by the L. Krier independent bureau active in a number of cities in Western Europe (see, for instance, Krier, 1987)is realized most efficiently in this form of activities. But it is apparent that the fate of the temporarily established understanding between professionals and non-professionals depends entirely on the technique and tactics of further interactions already requiring different language forms.

Lastly, it is necessary to single out the pedagogical direction in which experts intend to form a stable minimum of environmental perceptions with the residents, beginning with the first year of high school and continuing these activities until graduation. With the help of a painstakingly developed sequence of exercises performed in small groups there emerges a real possibility of sharply improving the level of environmental perception of the residents of the next generation (Environmental Awareness, 1986).

There is no doubt that the fundamental groundwork for environmental communication in the future is laid in the framework of these activities. With educational activities supplemented by specially developed games and active organisational games for adults, we have every reason to count on a significant improvement in communication in 10-15 years.

It seems obvious that all the above directions of experimental activities in the sphere of developing environmental communication are supplementary. In an ideal situation their combination could have been capable of producing the cumulative effect of mutual intensification. Regrettably, until recently all similar efforts (methodological materials show that the fortunate exceptions are Japan and some Scandinavian countries) have been implemented mostly by enthusiasts and have had insufficient material and organisational support. We still encounter a highly insufficient understanding of the impact of the language of communication on the efficiency of application of complex and expensive methods of research and design activities. This lack of understanding on the part of the bureaucratic apparatus of state or municipal departments comes as no surprise, and even at present this lack of understanding is characteristic of the professional milieu of scientists and designers. In this connection it is becoming ever more apparent that the generalization of the accumulated experience and its polarization are acquiring key significance.

The practice of creating the environment and the comparability of the results

The rapidly growing practical experience of environment formation activities in the dialogue mode engenders a complex problem of comparing the results. Obviously a strict scientific comparison of the quality of the urban environment is no more than an ideal. We are capable of comparing individual parameters characterising living standards in settlements predominantly on the basis of measured negative characteristics: water, soil and air pollution; the residents' state of health; the level of crime, etc. We are also capable of individually comparing the formal data on the educational level of the population or the level of environmental concern of its various groups. But as soon as we touch upon the quality of the environment, i.e., its comparison with a certain subject model existing in the human consciousness, we categorically cannot ignore the particular socio-cultural context of a country or region.

Even concentrating on Europe alone, we discover a qualitative multitude of environmental situations (taken in a given context) which cannot be subjected to strict comparison in principle. First of all, even if we attempt to compare the pictures of environment formation activities for cities formally belonging to one class in size and functional specialization (say, Glasgow in Scotland and Arkhangelsk in the North of the European part of the USSR), we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. One urban community (Glasgow) is built into the system of private capitalist social relations, while the other (Arkhangelsk) belongs to the system of socialist relations. The economic fate of the former is directly dependent on the international market situation, and the shrinking of the British ship-building industry brings the urban community of Glasgow into direct confrontation with the sharpest problems of sustaining life in conditions of growing unemployment. The economic fate of the latter is directly dependent on the national programme of the distribution of productive forces, so the development of the manufacturing industry confronts the urban community of Arkhangelsk with acute problems linked with the comfort of the urban environment in conditions of an influx of migrants and a shortage of housing.

The external resemblance of the problem situations of old city centres (the necessity of their preservation and revitalization), the external likelihood of the formation of initiative groups of residents should not hide from us the principal diversity of socio-economic mechanisms into which are built both the problem situations themselves and urban initiatives developing in their context. Strictly speaking, the only comparable thing is the change between a certain initial situation with a new situation arising in five, ten or fifteen years.

Moreover, as follows from long studies in the Soviet Union, even with an identical socio-economic structure we succeed only in comparing the fact of change in the context of a concrete urban situation taken separately. When speaking about changes, we have in mind not only the number of apartments (in due proportion to the growth of the city population), but first and foremost change in a certain integral level of the state of the urban environment, which is interpreted by the residents and outside observers as an obvious change in quality. For instance, among the cities of Soviet Lithuania for the last fifteen years on the basis of the obvious quality of the environment, the city of Siauliai advanced to one of the leading placespreviously an outsider, at present it has edged ahead of both the capital city of the republic,Vilnius, and its perennial rival Kaunas. The active environment formation attitude of the city council in Shaulyai has long consolidated a tradition of active participation of the majority of the city's residents in the transformation of the city's urban environment (for instance, the formation of a developed system of bicycle paths as well as an integral system of urban design) and ensured for it an acceleration of development that has left other cities far behind.

A similar process is observed in the city of Sumy (Soviet Ukraine) where in a short period of time the urban environment began developing with such a rapidity that it managed to edge past the former favouritethe city of Donetsk (for instance, in such an exotic indicator as the number of rose bushes growing in the streets and squaresapproximately one million bushes in Donetsk against two million bushes in Sumy). A similar process is taking place in all Soviet republics.

And still, it appears that we can solve the task of comparing the results of urban environment formation activities if we use several indicators of the second order. In spite of all the diversity in social and cultural contexts, all the differences in the scenarios of urban environment formation activities and the means of the implementation of these scenarios, there still exist some universal features.

Evidently, it concerns an average rate of tangible reconstructive transformations interpreted by the residents and independent observers in the categories rapid, average, slow, zero. In the final analysis, in these generalized estimates is integrated the entire volume of perceived changes at the expense of the aggregate human experience. Whatever the number of attempts to replace this rough estimate with a system of formalized procedures, in the end they will inevitably encounter a similar approximate picture of expert estimates based on the similarly approximate procedure for establishing the weights of any given factor.

It is similarly advisable, in our view, to take into account the share of environment formation actions implemented with the real participation of residents in the totality of reconstructive influences of the urban environment. With a high accuracy of registration, this percentage can be established in documentary form, but in reality the most important thing is again the subjective perception of this contribution by residents and experts from among their number. In the final analysis the common feeling of the residents, whether the changes in the urban environment happen with or without their participation is, in our opinion, an integral indicator efficient enough for comparative studies of cities.

Finally, it seems reasonable to establish the ratio between residents who are inclined to assess the state of the urban environment as balanced, improving or deteriorating. It stands to reason that in each individual case such a generalized estimate can depend on a multitude of personal circumstances, but when the number of people questioned is large enough, it is reasonable to expect a mutual exclusion of such individual deviations and emergence of an integral estimate of the quality of the urban environment.

From our point of view, the above generalized indicators are sufficient for a basic comparison of the total quality of the urban environment in settlements of various types, situated in different social and cultural contexts. And on the contrary, any attempt to overspecify indicators and formalize their compatibility among themselves will inevitably result in the inapplicability of methodologies with a change in the objects and contexts, and will make fundamental comparison more difficult.

When conducting large-scale, periodically repeated studies based only on the three above-mentioned generalized indicators, which can be obtained in the framework of simple procedures of sociological investigation, we have every right to hope to obtain a general picture of changes in the urban environment of European countries. It goes without saying that on the basis of broad consultation with specialists, the character of generalized indicators can be made more precise or even changed, but at any rate it is obvious that only after attaining a consensus on the standard methodology of the simplest studies can we hope to achieve a more or less complete picture of comparable effects of environment formation activities.


Published on "Cities of Europe...", Mezhd. Otnoshenia. , 1991

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