Nabeel Hamdi is one of the pioneers of participatory planning and his 2004 book, Small Change, has been highly influential in describing the role that informality plays in urban life. It sets out a way of thinking on cities that gives precedence to small-scale, incremental change over large-scale projects. He shows how the trickle-down effect advocated by conservatives everywhere does not produce the sort of large-scale changes that are predicted. It is instead the trickle-up effect of self-organised systems that produce the biggest changes. He uses examples from cities in the global South, writing of how the smallest change such as the installation of a bus-stop that results in a group of people waiting, induces a whole host of small-scale economies such as people selling food or drinks, or the provision of street lighting around which children gather to complete their homework due to the lack of electricity at home, means that sweet and book sellers appear in the area hawking their wares.
Hamdi's own practice has always used the tactic of small-scale change at grass-roots level, whether in his early housing work with the Greater London Council that tested ideas on participatory design and planning, or his later work as consultant to various governmental and UN agencies. His work epitomises an approach that looks for ways to use his skills as an architect to bolster or augment already existing structures, rather than starting ab initio. It is a way of working with the given, making small changes, giving time and giving agency to those involved rather than leading the process from the outside.
As a pedagogue, Hamdi set up the highly successful Masters in Development Practice at Oxford Brookes University in 1992 as part of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice. The MA course was one of the first of its kind and, being practice based, allows students to collaborate with practitioners in the field.
Hamdi, Nabeel, Housing WIthout Houses: Participation,
Flexibility, Enablement (London: Intermediate Technology,
---, Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the limits of Planning in Cities (London: Earthscan, 2004).
Hamdi, Nabeel, and Reinhard Goethert, Action Planning for Cities: A Guide to Community Practice (Chichester: John Wiley, 1997).
Hamdi, Nabeel, and Jane Handal, eds., Urban Futures: Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction, Urban management series (London: ITDG Pub, 2005).
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