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Concept of Bottom Up Urbanism

The large-scale growth of informal settlements in the recent past, across many cities across the globe continues to indicate the persistent nature of informal urbanism. Research studies indicates that as of 2014, about 54 percent of the world’s population resides in informal settlement while the number is expected to grow in future to accommodate the growth in urban migration (Miraftab & Kudva, 2014). A need therefore arises to evaluate the nature of informal urbanism as new concept of urbanization. This essay seeks to evaluate how the bottom up urbanization approach can be used to cater for the rising needs of urban residents despite the long-held assumption of informality as an illegitimate form of urbanization. The essay will seek to analyze the resilient development of the informal city of Tamansari in a bid to ascertain that informal urbanism can serve a potential approach of accommodating urban migration and should be evaluated as a vital aspect of urbanization.

For the past few decades, informal urbanism has remained as a resilient and common feature of both developing and developed cities around the world. Despite the long-held characterization of cities as formal in nature, all cities take up a mixture of formal and informal characters. While formal urbanism is oriented from a pre-designed plan of an emerging urban development, informal urbanism is associated with severe deviation of activities that occur outside the control of the governance structure. Although urban planners in many cases choose to neglect informal development with a singular focus on the formal urbanism aspect, studies have shown that there is a growing need for urban planners to provide a supportive development plan for informal settlements. In fact as various research studies have established, informal urbanism is complex in nature as the formal and informal activities development cannot always be rigidly distinguished. In reality, the two concepts often overlap and in some cases, attain a symbiotic relationship on many levels (Dovey and King, 2011; Dovey 2012; Devlin 2010). A good example of interlinkage between formal and informal urbanism are road side vending carts in from of formal buildings, sanitation systems and water supply process that over time are adapted to suit arising needs of the populations living in cities (Devlin 2010)

It is worth noting that the resilience of informal urbanism is as a result of mutually arising needs among the populations living in certain areas of the city. The needs may entail the populations need for economic empowerment as well as changing social and physical environments. As a result informal urbanism is inevitable and will continue to grow. In what is referred to as a bottom up approach, Urbanization is borne out of social anarchist and creative behavior that is need oriented at the community level. Social habitats work outside the legal threshold to provide necessary planning in a bid to generate resilient outcomes that would otherwise be not possible through legal governance structures. Adaptation of housing structures, and changing utility of public spaces create habitats that are adapted to meet the needs of the residing society. In context, informal urbanism has been considered as illicit, criminal in nature and not recognized by authority, informal features play a crucial role for the population living in such settlements. However informal development is highly organized where governance structures take shape in form of neighborhood and community associations that guide how development will commence at an informal level (Seeliger and Turok 2014).

Informal Urbanism as Evaluated in Theory Against Its Practical Aspect

The concept of informal urbanism is construed as falling outside the realm of regulation. Additionally, informal activities have been associated with squalid environmental conditions that are synonymous with underdevelopment of areas due to poverty, that generate squatter settlements (Dovey 2012). Most informal activities are deemed illicit in nature. the conventional policy provisions for mitigating informality have often included ignorance of the informal activities or complete expulsion of such settlements to make way for planned formal development. Formal development is evaluated to come first while informal activities are viewed as an encroachment of the formal planned structure. The simplistic view of formal and informal urbanism is highly misrepresentative of the nature of informality in the urban cities (Seeliger and Turok 2014). In most cases the perception of informality cannot be easily identified with illegality or poverty. In fact, many developed cities infused with vast coverage of informal activities across a variety of sectors tend to be very productive – most of which is known as creative economy (Brugman, 2009). In such cases depicting informality as a construct of underdevelopment or a marginal sector is a misconception. In contrast bottom up urbanism has become a prevalent aspect of urbanization for the past few decades, globally. The concept has also become the main form of housing most rural urban immigrants. It therefore follows that the currently held concepts of informal and formal urbanism should be reconsidered so that informal urbanism can be viewed as a potential aspect of evaluating urban development. the predisposition to view informality as reaction to formal urbanism limits one from understanding and realizing the value that is generated by informality as a way of urbanization. Notably one finds that bottom up urbanism has enabled many cities and communities to flourish as noted by the resilience of communities living in Lebak Siliwangi and Taman sari, Bandung in Indonesia

Lebak Siliwangi and Taman sari in Bandung have gradually become highly condensed informal settlements strategically placed to accommodate affordable housing for a high population seeking employment in the city of Bandung alongside other adjacent cities. The informal cities are both ordered by the Cikapandung river. Although both areas were initially reserved to serve as agricultural green spaces, the increase in rural urban migration, coupled with the need for affordable settlement saw the development of informal housing units in the area. Additionally, the low level of governance control and multiplicity of the local arrangements allowed the subdivision of vacant lands that contributed the vast area in Tamansari to develop into a one of the largest informal cities in Indonesia.

Resilience of Informal Urbanism through adaptation in Taman sari and Lebak Siliwangi

Fig 1 Image of Taman Sari Kampung (left) and a settlement in Lebak Siliwangi along Cikapandung River(Right)

Initial housing units in Tamansari were constructed using bamboo and wood structures which later evolved into brick and concrete oriented walls and corrugated iron roofing. Over the years increased population migration into the area alongside the initial residents’ communities of Tamansari has led to continuous adaptation of the housing structural designs to suit the housing and economic needs of its residents. One area that has morphed is the architecture of housing units. One finds that in Tamansari, the need for affordable housing has led to land owners modifying the typology of their houses by continually putting up additional stories to an existing building (vertical Adaptation) that serve as renting premises or additional living spaces. However due to the low control over architectural regulation, Tamansari is filled with a complex adaptation of housing structures that are each developed according to the different needs of the residents. For instance, different structures are adapted using different materials such as wood adaptations on a brick wall as well as iron sheet walling on a wooden house developing structures are dissimilar in nature.

Fig 2 (image 1: Horizontal  adaptation (adjoining space between to buildings is reclaimed to form additional private utility space Image 2: Vertical adaptation of a protruding balcony meant to create additional living space)

Horizontal adaptation which involves addition structures developed existing spaces have left very little space to serve for public utility such as circulation and passage. In Tamansari the average size of an alley way is about 1.5 to 2 meters wide, which only allows for pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle use only (Kamalipour 2016). However, it is notable that due to the dense nature of Tamansari, the alleyways are compact but attain a variety of utilities which include serving as walking pathways, motorcycle transport pathways as well as vending areas. Mobile vending carts and open air merchandizing ensure multiple use of alleyways for pedestrian uses and economic use as well.

Fig 3 How Taman sari resident adapt public space to serve multi purposes

Clearly, despite the highly dense population in Tamansari, resident show resilience within the locality as they adapt their environments to suit their day to day needs. The horizontal adaptation has left resident reclaiming limited spaces around their environment. For example, bordering residential structure may opt to seal private alley way which can be used as storage space or an extension of their living space. the newly development enclosure can be mutually shared by the residents to serve their different needs. Additionally, such adaptations may also present an opportunity to vertically develop the housing units that can be used for economic purposes or increase the living space for residents (Kamalipour 2016). Another instance of resilient adaptation is the conversion of public space utility to suit the needs of communities. For instance, in Lebak, an unused public swimming pool has been converted into a playground for children and a community gathering area.

Informal Housing development in Lebak and Taman sari

Despite the outward appearance of the informal settlement in Tamansari, one finds that the adaptations provide the necessary economic amenities that allows the settlement to thrive. Residents have established trading avenues within the public streets where a large number of by passers can shop as they traverse to their residents. Transportation of goods is facilitated mostly by bicycles and motorbikes thereby ensuring circulation of items in and out of the informal city. In some areas one finds that the housing adaptation are vertically well structured and designed to suit the housing needs of the residents.

In its essence, the bottom up approach to urbanism is dynamic in nature and prevalent due to the resilience of the circumstance revolving around the residents. While an increase in rural urban migration creates the necessity for incremental needs, a formal settlement is unable to fulfil those needs by itself. Thus, the development of informality is inevitable. In such a case, informal urbanism should be evaluated on its own right where by its understanding can create room for provision within the legal policies framework. In many cases neglecting the existence of informality has led to the perception that informal controls are an attribute of bad governance where bribes are issued while planners choose to turn a blind eye on some construction irregularities (Tunas. and Peresthu 2010; Wilhelm 2011). Additionally, the misconception that water and drainage systems as well as amenities such as electricity include illegal connection may not be entirely true.

Informal urbanism has enabled low- income households unable to afford formal housing, to build homes and develop informal economic trade on the street ways for self-reliance. For instance, informal recycling practices have become a source of income for low income families in Taman sari and Lebak which in turn, reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills (Kamalipour 2016; Dovey 2013; Devlin 2011). Additionally, informal trade has also led to the emergence of a middle class whose resilience to thrive is seen in their progress despite the lack of formal interventions (Seeliger and Turok 2014). The main conceptual issues that arises from the informal settlement is the ability to understand the complex and dynamic urban development characteristics within such an area.

The challenge of developing an internal planning mechanism and design for the informal urban development that can provide coping mechanisms for the residents require further evaluation and study. For example, in Tamansari, one of the greatest threat to the health of the residents’ is availability of clean water that may depreciate their standards of living. The need for developing plans to create availability of clean water among other arising needs is necessary to improving the conditions of the high population living in Tamansari which cannot be ignored as a part of the city residents.

Adaptation of Public and private

The legitimization and recognition of informal cities is a necessary aspect that can allows the partial consideration of the needs of the residents. Studies have shown that even as resilience and adaptations in informal settlements take many different forms, there are a few key themes that can be realized from evaluating the main factors necessitating adaptations (Seeliger and Turok 2014). For example, in Lebak and Taman sari, additional living space is one of the factors leading to vertical and horizontal adaptations. Additionally, houses are built in a continually incremental status while public boundaries remain fluid and serve multiple purpose. Such understanding of the informal city dynamics and needs could allow the sensitization of a bottom up governance structure that can help to develop design plans that can accommodate such needs without depreciating the standards of living for the residents.

Fig 4: Image of adaptations that are need oriented to informal settlements (image 1: a proposed sidewalk development along river bank) image 2: An unused public swimming pool In Lebak that has been reclaimed into community ground)

Learning from the resilient nature of informal city dwellers, legitimate improvement efforts can be applied to develop adaptations that can help accommodate the ever-increasing development in informal cities (Parnell and Robinson 2012(Roy 2011; Elsheshtawy 2013). For example, a protruding passage way along the Cikapundung River can help decongest the alleyways which remain fluid within the settlement. Such a project may increase accessibility for the residents and also develop new spaces in which residents can use multi-purposely without further decreasing the environment conditions, as the population increases. By rethinking the concept of informal urbanism as an urbanization phenomenon on its own, continuous understanding of the motivational factors that lead to the development of the informal sector can help in developing a plan of continued growth (Parnell and Robinson 2012; Kang 2009; McFarlane 2012; Owen Dovey and Raharjo 2013). The plan would work to maintain living standards of informal city dwellers as well as provide supportive infrastructural avenues that work to continuously improve the informal settlements. This may involve create study awareness of alternative development planning design well suited for informal development and a collaboration of the top down and bottom up approaches to urbanism.


Based on an evaluation of the resilience in the informal city of Tamansari, Bandung, one can establish that informal urbanism is a separate yet visible concept of urban development. While in the past, informal urbanism has been viewed as a reaction emanating from the formal urbanism, the nature and reality of informal settlement across the globe requires a new approach of perceiving informal urbanism as an entity on its own. In the same way that city planners and developers put into consideration the requisite needs of those living in formal cities, there is also need for a plan in place, that continuously evaluates the needs of informal urbanization. However, this is only possible when the wider notions surrounding informal urbanism as an illegitimate form of urbanism are shunned. Neglecting the acknowledgement of informal cities in favor of urban development taking the form of formal urbanism work to further constrains the potential and positive features of a bottom up system of urbanization. The bottom up approach can play a crucial role in providing housing resilience as well as economic advantage for a wide variety of population living in the cities.


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