Understanding and Untangling the “Messy” Asian City by Prof Jeffrey Hou
Date : 01 Mar 2017
Time : 14:00 - 15:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Prof Mike Douglass, Asia Research Institute, and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore


Seemingly messy and chaotic, the landscapes and urban life of cities in Asia possess an order and hierarchy often escaping understanding and appreciation. The interplay and overlays of order/disorder, formal/informal, is an experience that defines urbanism in many Asian cities. These spatial, temporal, and socio-economic processes and juxtapositions enable many of the neighborhoods and communities to function effectively despite extremely high densities and limited infrastructure. In some cases, such order and processes enable marginalized populations to stake out a place and sustain themselves in the unevenly developed terrains of cities and regions. In others instances, entrenched cultural norms and traditional spatial practices persist despite planned interventions and displacement.

Understanding the urbanism and urban life of these cities requires an understanding and untangling of these compositions and processes that are often hidden, disguised, underappreciated, or dismissed as simply messy and underdeveloped. Messiness becomes an all-encompassing concept for things “disorderly,” incomprehensible, and unacceptable. At worst, they are stigmatized through a process of “othering.” With a cross-disciplinary group of contributors, the book Messy Urbanism: Understanding the “Other” Cities of Asia explores the social and institutional politics of cityscapes in Asia, and the contexts in which this “messiness” emerges or is constructed. Through multiple case studies, the book presents a range of perspectives on the informal orders and processes as well as their interplay with formalized systems and mechanisms in selected Asian cities. The studies further address questions concerning the production of cities, cityscapes and citizenship in Asia.


Jeffrey Hou, PhD is Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture and Adjunct Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle. His work focuses on design activism, community engagement, public space and democracy, and community and cultural resilience. In a career that spans across the Pacific, he has worked with indigenous tribes, farmers, and fishers in Taiwan, neighborhood residents in Japan, villagers in China, and inner-city immigrant youths and elders in North American cities. Hou is the editor of Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities (2010) and a co-author of Greening Cities, Growing Community: Learning from Seattle’s Urban Community Gardens (2009), which received the EDRA Places Book Award in 2012 and 2010 respectively. He is also the editor of Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking (2013) and a co-editor of Messy Urbanism: Understanding the ‘Other’ Cities of Asia (2016). His forthcoming co-edited book is titled City Unsilenced: Urban Resistance and Public Space in the Age of Shrinking Democracy (2017). He also contributed to many books including The Emerging Asian City (2012), The Informal American City (2014) and Encountering the City (2016). Hou co-founded the Pacific Rim Community Design Network in 1998. He was appointed the City of Vienna Visiting Professor at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) in 2013 and was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan in 2015. Hou received his PhD in Environmental Planning and Master of Architecture from University of California, Berkeley.


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY