Embodying The Transformative Potential of Urbanism

Aseem Inam:  How does one symbolize urban transformation?

That was the creative challenge for designing the cover of my book, Designing Urban Transformation.  Does one go with the common techniques of either showing a city skyline, or a public space, or an abstract design?  Since my argument in the book is uncommon [i.e. more critical and much deeper and than most approaches], I wanted to embody urban transformation with the same multifaceted complexity that cities themselves represent.  Urban transformation in fact occurs in many different ways and takes multiple guises, including unexpected ones.

I worked with an excellent team, my TRULAB collaborators Namkyu Chun and Matt DelSesto, my editor at Routledge, Nicole Solano and the art director at Taylor and Francis, Sally Beesely.  The basic idea was to focus on one of the most compelling examples of contemporary urban transformation, the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi.  The project is deceptively banal.  On the face of it, it is simply a low-cost community-based sanitation infrastructure project and it has been presented as such multiple times.

However, a deeper analysis via the conceptual shift of “beyond practice:  urbanism as creative political act” reveals a much more compelling narrative of urban practice.  Within an incredibly challenging context of extremely poverty, violence and gender discrimination, the Orangi Pilot Project has not only dramatically improved the urban fabric and health conditions of an informal settlement, but has also mobilized the community and contributed to vital improvements in housing, health and entrepreneurship.

The background image is of a woman making and selling incense sticks, one of the beneficiaries of the Orangi Pilot Project’s entrepreneurship program.  The foreground diagram is the hand-made map of the lane-by-lane alley-by-alley sewage system that has benefitted an astounding one million people and counting.  This black diagram also evokes the intricate jaalis [i.e. windows with delicate stonework] of the Mughal architecture of South Asia. The colors of the cover—the white main title text, the orange font of the author’s name, the pink of the spine and back cover—are taken directly from the colors of the background photograph.

To understand how this all works together as a multilayered embodiment of remarkable urban transformation, the cover is best appreciated as a full spread, as seen in the image below.  AI.

The full spread of the cover of Designing Urban Transformation shows how the background image and foreground image [which spills over onto the back cover] work together with the placement of the texts and their colors.

The full spread of the cover of Designing Urban Transformation shows how the background image and foreground image [which spills over onto the back cover] work together with the placement of the texts and their colors.