Newsletter January 2009

Imelda Baleta

 Editorial Urban coherence and social cohesion: People, above all

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet utters: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”

I thought the same thing of Hanoi…, Bangkok, Chiang Mai…Siem Reap, Phnom Penh…Manila, Cagayan de Oro…Yogyakarta…Cologne…all the cities where ForUm trodded…

What’s in a city? 

That where everybody is going,
By any other look would appear endlessly varied...
...old yet new, young but old, postmodern but traditional,
unique but common, fancy but real, rich but poor,
teeming but deficient, degraded but ennobling,
state-of-the-art but outdated, expensive but cheap,
thriving but dying, inspiring but frustrating,
warm but indifferent, spacious yet congested,
international but local, formal but informal,
cohesive but competitive, coherent but segregated, etc…

Individually, all the cities which played host to Forum's summer schools have all been a one and only experience. They contributed significantly to the enrichment of our knowledge and each one left a lingering imprint. Many things have gone great and awry in those cities. The impacts have been the result of the individual and collective efforts of the people, or the lack of it. The intensity of our exposure would be hard to match. For 2008’s theme on urban coherence, the Hanoi summer school brought up one point: spatial relations reflect social relations and vice versa (but not all the time). Hanoi’s Westside development showcases spatial coherence, but social cohesion is not automatic. This was not a major issue in Viet Nam, may be not yet. But in the ancient quarters, one could sense that there is more social cohesion there. As urban coherence processes are newly taking root in Hanoi, expected effects, outcomes and impacts may bring unexpected effects, outcomes and impacts, too. Social cohesion may be relegated to the background. Is there a formula that can guarantee social cohesion when there is urban coherence? Indeed social change is needed. Social cohesion is more difficult to achieve. Do we need to pit this with each other? Should the other be prioritised over the other one? The economic factor surely exerts an influence in achieving cohesion because how material needs are met will determine how people assess themselves as better off or worse off compared to others. Widening disparities may not be conducive for sowing the seeds of social cohesion. Whatever the argument may be, one thing is for sure, people, above all, are important. As Shakespeare, in his play, Coriolanus, exclaims: “What is the city but the people?” This 8th issue of ForUm’s newsletter features the highlights of the recently- concluded summer school in Viet Nam on urban coherence and social cohesion, the role of civil society in urban development as the key focus for 2009 (article by Prof. Kraas), latest publication by ADB on civil society organizations (summary of a 2007 publication), participants’ views on mutual benefits from participation in the network, and lists of references on urbanization. Imelda