Imagining Identities of Future Places: Placemaking in the Time of Globalization

Globalization has led to the adoption of living practices that have changed where and how we live, and not necessarily for the benefit of everyone

Individual identities have contexts. Layers of geographies, bodies, languages, cuisines, attires, symbols, beliefs and practices.

A lot of who we are, comes from where we are (from). A question that now matters lesser and lesser to many of us, as we live in a world where we are connected to people and places far and wide regardless of the spaces we occupy. Though we recognize these spaces for their function, we experience them as communications. The mutual communication between spaces and people constructs the identity of the place and that of the people. People make places and places make people. Identity of places are constructed through the cultures existing within them, and are thus continuously de-structured and restructured like the cultures they house, which are being reinvented faster than ever by global influence. Place identities are heavily reliant on their perceived image, and what controls this image are power relations, which in a globalized world are determined by the economically powerful.

Thus it is not surprising that the idea of modern public places in the globalized world have mostly been eurocentric. The result being, ‘whitewashing’ of cityscapes, a worldwide de-contextualization of places by economic forces. Forced architectural assimilation of ‘modernity’ into local cityscapes overlook the knowledge of vernacular architecture that evolved over centuries of understanding the soil, climate and people of the land.

“It is important for designers, architects, builders and planners to realize that we do have a choice to live in spaces that are us”

It is important for designers, architects, builders and planners to realize that we do have a choice to live in spaces that are us, that context matters, that it isn’t necessary to imagine and measure places in different geographies and socio-political environments to a single standard. This is what placemaking advocates have been essentially saying, that one size doesn’t fit all, and when locations are unique and people are unique, the cities for those people and public spaces in those cities must be designed to reflect and accommodate that distinctive uniqueness as well.

Cities do not necessarily have to conform to every aspect of global trends without being sensitive to the local contexts in order to be considered modern. Eventually it is the people using those spaces who decide its usage and success regardless of what or who it was designed for.

‘Venice’ in north-eastern Liaoning province, China | Photograph: HAP/Quirky China News/Rex

After all the intelligence we have accrued over millennia, we shouldn’t be accepting the negativity of modern cities as status quo, we must demand more from our public spaces. We have somehow come to understand that the modern life is one that is connected but disenchanted. That is never missing out but never really there. While we have gained intuitive intelligence to find and be in engaging virtual spaces, we seem to have consigned to oblivion the benefits and importance of engaging and well designed physical public spaces. However, virtual media has added new dimensions to the way we consume these spaces, and we are consuming and creating new spaces more than ever and in more ways than ever.

Looking back, the most popularized imaginations of the future from the early twentieth century, were of landscapes devoid of the ‘clutter’ of diversity. Places of vague ethnoecologies.

If science fiction is a means of discussing present day anxieties and issues via the future, then it only follows that the architecture and design of our fantasies can make a massive impact on how we see our present day.

“Globalization has led to the adoption of living practices that have changed where and how we live, and not necessarily for the benefit of everyone.”

Globalization has led to the adoption of living practices that have changed where and how we live, and not necessarily for the benefit of everyone. As these practices are woven around the power structures that created them, the places they are practiced in reflect their discriminatory nature. When we have dominant identities controlling the perception of the identities of places, the other identities in those places experience conflict and urge to express themselves. This calls for the need to imagine places that grant freedom of expression to all identities occupying them. The first step towards a visibly diverse future, is imagining it, and more importantly imagining it collectively.

Singapore’s Rail Corridor Project | Image: Nikken Sekkei

Imagining places that recognize and reflect the strong diverse forces involved in making them. Imagining spaces that offer unconditional freedom for all identities occupying them. Imagining that a greener future is indeed possible. Imagining that with initiative and planning we can accommodate green spaces in our cities. Imagining cities which are not rigidly planned, but simply yet flexibly designed at macro and micro levels, which enable their citizens to engage and create the kinds of places they want, identify with and are comfortable in.

The identities of the places of the future will shape the identities of the people of the future. We ought to articulate and imagine landscapes of freedom as opposed to those of oppression to evolve from de-contextualized landscapes to de-colonized landscapes, because only when we envision a future, we start working towards that future.