The Placemaker's Guide to Building Community.
London and Washington, D.C.: Earthscan, 2010.
This book represents a summation of Nabeel Hamdi's career as a practitioner, researcher and teacher of development planning. Its empirical material is comprised of a composite case study in a hypothetical informal settlement, based on notes and reports from the author's four decades of work as a consultant in many parts of the world and as a professor in the U.K. and the U.S. Its target audience is the community of planners, architects and other professionals who endeavour to improve the living environments of the poor. The term "placemaker" is well-chosen, though "community builder" would have served equally well, and perhaps even better: Hamdi's focus is on how professionals can work with communities to help them improve their physical, social, economic and political conditions.
The book is divided into four parts. Coming after an overview of the work and a sketch of the history of development planning, Part I describes the types of issues that development planners must face, both in practical and theoretical terms. Hamdi emphasizes the notion of vulnerability in understanding the plight of poor people, as well as participation in doing something about it, and the role of livelihoods in assessing those improvements. Part II contains the majority of the empirical material of the book and presents practical advice on how to perform the actual tasks of gathering information, fostering collective decision-making, drawing up plans, etc. in informal settlements and similar places. Part III contains the theoretical chapters of the book and deals with the values, approaches, attitudes and goals of good practitioners--whom, for Hamdi, are above all moral individuals guided by a code of conduct that they must define for themselves. Part IV sketches out a framework for such a code and presents the author's conclusions for teaching, in particular in studio courses.
Hamdi belongs to that school of planning and design for which the chastening experience of misguided planning in postwar decades has made expertise a source of suspicion rather than pride. Of course, professionals have things to offer to local communities, but their role of providers must remain limited, as their role of enablers of community empowerment is more significant. Equally important is their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to...