An introduction

VIDEO: Check out this brilliant compilation, depicting people and their lives in cities around the world.

Photo credit: Ayesha Islam

Photo credit: Ayesha Islam

In a world that is shifting rapidly from rural to urban, more than half the world’s population live in cities. The ability of cities to concentrate financial, technological and political resources make them hotbeds of opportunity. Money flattens the playing field, enabling people with the best talent and ideas to get ahead.

“The efficiency of urban association underlies the basic process of human invention and innovation. People of all backgrounds are drawn to cities to break from the restrictions and injustices of traditional rural societies and to reorganize themselves into new communities. By facilitating new forms of association, our cities increase the pace and variety of human invention and social change” – Jeb Brugmann, Welcome to the Urban Revolution

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

On the flip side, increased migration to cities increases competition for resources within them. The race to get ahead, demotes every transaction to a purely quantitative level. Individuality and personality becomes invisible in the city and people tend to become part of, as Georg Simmel describes, “the faceless crowd”, caught up in an infinite loop of a time bound life. Wake up-work-socialise-sleep-repeat. Over burdened resources, if improperly managed, widens chasms between the rich and poor.

The primary challenge of every 21st century city is the same. How does she remain efficient and productive while offering equality and access to resources to all her inhabitants? Can the urbanite utilise his urban advantage in more responsible, socially beneficial ways? Can we build cities that allow people of diverse interests to meet and connect without the pressure of having to “gain” something at the end of every interaction? Can cities be less about purpose and more about life?

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

The students of this course, while ideating about possible solutions, try and find creative expression to the issues faced by cities; and in the process, discover much about their environments and themselves. Creativity always attracts a following, thus allowing for greater public engagement with the issues facing cities. From all the research available what is undeniably clear is the fact that well structured public private partnerships will drive the design, structure and execution of the cities of the future. Inhabitants cannot continue to be indifferent to the challenges facing the city. Instead they must become co creators, fashioning their environments to serve the greater good.

In order to include residents in the discourse about the metropolis, cities have to make people feel like they belong, which is counterintuitive to its very innate purpose. How can cities nurture a sense of belonging?

Exploration. Experience. Connection. Reflection.


Photo credit: Ayesha Islam

The above can occur in myriad ways, through photographs, books, film, music, sound and imagination. Through this course, we look at how cities are perceived and explored by writers, theorists and artists. We look at how they are deconstructed, how they take apart the elements of the city to negotiate a better life within the urban environment. We look at how cities are built layer by layer, network upon network to create the urban “jungle”. We look at the effects of the city on our psyche and how we unconsciously and consciously choose to engage or disengage with our surroundings.

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

We are fortunate to have Dubai serve as our veritable playground. It is an international, multicultural city whose residents enjoy a fairly high standard of living. Resources are incredibly well managed and the regular challenges of urban life seen in other parts of the world, do not feature here. How does Dubai manage this? It embraces a unique and innovative urbanism: by marrying futuristic architectural and technological ambition with a strong emphasis on areas which promote play and social cohesion.

While Dubai has been featured increasingly in travel literature, films and books, we are hoping to use social media tools in conjunction with multimedia to allow for higher levels of engagement and exploration. We want to discover Dubai in ways not discovered before and we wish to share what we learn with you.

Get in touch to know more.


One thought on “An introduction

  1. Pingback: Urban Intervention | Middlesex University Dubai's Urban Writers Lab

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