Nation Building

Nation Building

This past J-term, I took a course called “Nation Building,” and it more or less covered the U.S.’s involvement in the ‘rebuilding’ of Afghanistan in the past decade or so.  I use quotes around the world ‘rebuilding’ because it is imbued with such controversy in the political sphere and is also relative to the different perspectives and interests at play.  What I noticed as a major problem in our efforts, however, was the fact that there was often little cooperation and communication between foreign aid agencies and the local population, if anything, only the elites were included, which often left room for corruption claims or a lack of sustainability.  After this course, I became deeply interested in the role that foreign aid and NGO’s play in post-conflict states and impoverished regions.  Coming into this course, then, I have realized how crucial these theories on placemaking are to any effective efforts to ‘rebuild’ failing states.  Putting the political conflicts of this effort aside, I think it is important to consider how such theories can be implemented in ‘nation building’ efforts.

One example I found most notable in the J-term course highlights the significance of placemaking in the international sphere very well.  An NGO was working with local elites to build infrastructure and a sustainable living environment in a village in Afghanistan, and a suggestion that the locals had was to build a water well.  The reasoning for this was because the women and children had to walk about five miles to and from the nearest well each day.  While this sounds like a totally rational and helpful idea, when the well was completed, they found that the women had decided to destroy it.  The reason for this was later found to be that the women actually wanted to walk those ten miles a day because it was the only time they had the privacy and mobility they wanted outside of the village.  A drawback like this could only ever be discovered by involving the local people of an affected area and asking them what they need and how it will be best used for their purposes.  To simply build for the sake of building is not only a waste of resources but it can also create conditions for further conflict and crowding out issues.

This example struck me as most notable because it doesn’t fit with what seems to be an easy and logical answer, so I think it serves as a nice reminder that what one might think may be helpful could actually be the opposite.  If placemaking is meant to have the effect of making a community stronger and “promote good health, happiness, and economic well-being,” then it should absolutely include the voices of more than just a select few locals.  I think that it can be an effective strategy to promote these qualities in a community because it gives the citizens or people living within a stake hold in whatever progress occurs in the area, which is a powerful feeling, especially since most post-conflict and impoverished states receiving aid are coming out of political environments that did not allow them such a position.

The Feeling of Place Over the Sight of Place

The Feeling of Place Over the Sight of Place

I’ve never really thought about places without people.  People have always seemed like such an integral part of my memories of places.  The warm waters and spam musubis of Hawaii I share with my family and closest friends.  The hikes all along PCH I’ve traversed with my terrier named Sonny.  It is difficult for me to imagine falling in love with a place without another being to appreciate it alongside me.  I try to imagine places that I’ve been alone; places that have directly affected me and not just the relationship I have with someone else.  The first thought that comes to mind is New York City.

As cliché as it is to declare at this point, New York City has an energy about itself that is independent of the relationships one shares with others.  Of course it can be a lonely place to live without interacting, but the movement, the flow of life, the momentum in New York City is infectious.  It will either motivate you or push you down, but the beauty of this is that you can flip a 180 at any moment in time.  One day you can refuse to leave your apartment, isolating yourself from the chaotic processes of life—the next, you can hit the floor running, effectively making progress towards whatever goal you have for that day or in that moment.

It is less the visual than the emotional features of New York City that affects me.  No description can do it justice, but I feel like New York City pumps through my veins.  My heart rate rises in excitement each time I step outside—excitement for what specifically?  I don’t know, but imagine that a mere place could evoke such a feeling after years of inhabiting it.  The fast pace in New York can be intimidating, but it can also be inspiring.  The same pressure that can feel like cement blocks stacking one on top of the other is the pressure that you can cultivate and mold into your own force to wield.

Sometimes, I have felt as though Manhattan wants me dead, especially in the winter.  There is a kind of wind that I have only ever known walking through the grid that constitutes this tiny island.  It is a biting, unforgiving wind that chafes at your cheeks and leaves you still shivering ten minutes after you’ve entered a building.  It is these same buildings, however, that create these wind tunnels—they are angled in such a way so as to foster seemingly direct blows to your face.  Sometimes, I have felt as though Manhattan might actually kill me, but then the sun starts to peek out from behind the clouds and before I know it, Spring has arrived, and I feel like Manhattan is trying to encourage me.

From the hillsides of the Amalfi Coast to the old-city, village-like feel of Salzburg, I can honestly say that none of these places, as places themselves, have affected me like New York City has affected me.  I can call these places beautiful for how they look, but I can only call New York beautiful for how it makes me feel.

Strategy in the Streets

Strategy in the Streets

I have always related the streets of New York to a game—any kind of strategic game, based on speed, foresight, and resiliency.  The heavily populated areas of Manhattan pose a challenge to my daily schedule, especially when I am running late.  Even from a young age, coming into the city while visiting my family always felt like I was facing a more advanced opponent.  The more people in your party, the more difficult your venture through the streets, through the crowds of people, the stragglers and steadfast alike.  The sidewalks downtown always seem narrower than the ones in midtown, or perhaps they’re just more populous, teeming with the anonymity of countless pedestrians going about their daily activities.  I always imagined I would be a hard person to track because of the frequent shifts in direction or route I take.  It’s not because I’m trying to lose anyone though; I’m just reacting to the movements of the light, the people, even the winds—nobody wants to get caught in a street that’s a wind tunnel in the winter.

Since I moved to New York for school, I have realized that I prefer to walk alone on these city streets much more so than the suburban sidewalks I grew up on, where I always wanted to walk with someone.  The street-game is easier to organize when it is just yourself maneuvering between groups of people, timing the lights, and dodging bikers.  In fact, the streets of Manhattan have come to represent for me a kind of microcosm for life: the speed, the foresight, and the resiliency have all become such crucial features in my life that I am grateful more and more for the tangible experience of them all each time I step out the door.

During my freshman year, I had a difficult time adjusting to dorm life.  In the many nights I couldn’t sit still long enough to fall asleep, I would take to the streets—I would walk the length of Third Avenue, from the Third North Residence Hall up to 42nd street and then back.  At first, it was just to clear my head, but as these walks became more frequent, I would vary them up,  sometimes heading a bit West to start off and then making my way up to Central Park.  It was exhilarating for me to observe so much life in the middle of the night, not even to participate, but just to watch.  This was why I moved to New York—so that even when I felt like I might never fall asleep, at least I wouldn’t be alone in it.

My frequent nighttime walks have slowed throughout the passing years as my homework load and obligations have increased, but I will always look back on those experiences as the ones that truly shaped my relationship with this city.  As much as I prefer to walk through Manhattan on my own, I never have to truly feel alone—my part in the chaos of these sidewalks is one in a greater puzzle.  My strategies to get from location to location operate seamlessly with the other pedestrians who cross my path, embarking on their own daily missions.  I will always feel like I am a part of something, not in a superficial sense, but in a more existential sense.  I may never speak a word, even make eye contact, to the people whose paths I cross, but their presence alone will always serve as a reminder that we are all participating in this game, and whether we work with or against each other, we are in something together.

Epcot Theme Park

Epcot Theme Park

Inauthenticity, as Relph explains, describes an attitude and characteristic of placelessness—placelessness being the conception of a space that may be organized or built with a particular methodology, but evokes nothing more than its physical function.  This is not to say that such ‘places’ are useless, but rather that they are purely strategic.  One example I can particularly relate to is Relph’s analysis of the ‘disneyfication’ of place.

When I was fifteen, my family and I visited Orlando, Florida, and toured many of the amusement parks in the area such as Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Harry Potter World and the rest of Universal, as well as Disney World.  I would like to specifically examine Epcot, however, in relation to Relph’s reading because of its relationship to stereotypes.  Because my primary academic study is focused in the Middle Eastern region, I pick up on what seems like minor offenses in the politics of representation, particularly when it regards the Middle East, but also in a broader sense when I see representations speaking louder than the subjects they are representing.  As a fifteen-year old, I did not recognize the stereotyping occurring within the amusement park, but throughout my education, I have begun to realize the extent to which the Epcot center actually generalizes many countries, perpetuating certain stereotypes and representations that contribute to its ‘non-place-ness.’

Based off of World’s Fairs, Epcot moved away from the traditional Disney project, which operated off of fairytales and imagination, and instead sought to celebrate the cultures of various nations throughout the world.  Some of my favorite exhibits were Morocco, Italy, and Japan; however, the theme park also created sections for Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Mexico, Norway, and of course America.  As fun as a visit to the Epcot amusement park may be, a critical analysis will find vast generalizations and the effects of such a grand scale museumification of these nations to be rather offensive in its reductionism.  For instance, one will find very traditional Japanese architectural designs in the section designated for Japan, such as in the smoothly curved rooftops. Roof-Japan

The same goes for all the other countries represented, where some of the most well-known attractions in those countries are reconstructed within the theme park to be symbolic of that nation.  One can see it in the French pavilion with the Eiffel Tower or the Katoubia Minaret in the Moroccan pavilion.

Eiffel Tower-FranceKatoubia Minaret-Morocco

What is interesting to me, in the context of Relph’s analysis then, is how such representations begin to erase the historical narrative of such places and recreate them into homogenous and ahistorical spaces, effectively transforming them into non-places of value.  The concept of ‘kitsch,’ which he relates to inauthenticity, refers to the strategic methodology of constructing place and how mass values serve as its main authority in design.  This, I think, is very reflective of the representations of nations in the Disney’s Epcot theme park, and even more so when we begin to look at the funding for certain pavilions.  For instance, the Moroccan pavilion is the only pavilion funded by the government rather than a private corporation—this only goes to suggest that there are always underlying motivations for design, and given America’s strong ties with Morroco, this one reflects those values.  Overall, as much fun as I had at this amusement park, I have realized that I cannot just take the representations of place that I experienced at Epcot at their face value.  If I truly wish to learn anything of these countries, I must actually visit them because these pavilions after all, are only representations—static and inauthentic.

Politics in Architecture

Politics in Architecture

Wolfe brings up some very interesting perspectives on architecture and its historical narrative.  I had never really considered political associations with the design of architecture, but it certainly sparks my curiosity.  The idea that anything handmade would be associated with the bourgeois class and anything machine-made for the proletariat is quite profound given the working-class’s primary employment in factories during the Industrial Revolution.  This offers a somewhat reversed theory on architecture compared to the material we have encountered before in terms of the way that design originates in the pre-existing attitudes of society versus design affecting the attitudes and behaviors of society.  If I were to apply this concept to the same traditional form of church buildings as I described in my past post, I would find a much more political dimension to its architecture.  I say political in this context because one could claim that characteristic features such as high ceilings and pulpits were designed in order to command the audience’s attention and obedience, rather than simply having this effect.

I suppose this topic has emerged as something worth discussing in my opinion because of the historical criticism against organized religion—this is not to point fingers at the Catholic Church or any particular following though.  In applying the concepts from this week’s readings to this topic, however, would seem to suggest that architecture might have played a role in the methods of governance, if you will, that organized religion does in fact institute.  One particular building I would like to focus on is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome.  To begin with, the entire layout of the structure is traditional in that it is in the shape of a cross, with the elongated center forming the entrance.

St. Peter's Layout

The entrance into the actual church is preceded by an even longer, outdoor center path—St. Peter’s Square—that is surrounded by colonnades that are meant to contain and lead crowds of people into the church. Colonnades of St. Peter's Square

The aerial vision of this construction reminds me a lot of Foucault’s analysis of Bentham’s panopticon, in which the main component that such a structure serves is that of a constant sense of being under surveillance for those subjected to the eye of the panopticon.  The centralization and control of populations that the structure forges, then, places St. Peter’s Basilica, and especially its windows and front facade, in a position of authority as a kind of all-seeing-eye into the square, thus limiting mobility and the concealment of the people.  Continuing into the church, people are led still by the long end of the crucifix figure until reaching the center point of the altar, another point commanding authority in its positioning within the space.  This notion is also supported by the fact that this is also the highest point within the church, as directly above the altar is the dome, which rises to 390 feet.  Considering common practices within the Catholic religion, one can understand how high ceilings might imply a closer connection with God, since one might usually direct his or her attention upwards when praising or talking to God.  This would suggest that whoever is positioned on the altar is closest, therefore possesses more authority, with God.  In addition to this, the sheer grandiosity of St. Peter’s Basilica, both in its architecture and interior art, is enough to silence any visitor from any religious background.

Although the topic of church buildings does not explicitly pertain to Wolfe’s analysis of the design styles, and basically the death of great architecture, he points out the way in which a political landscape can play a large role in the historical narrative of architecture–in terms of what might be perceived as great at a certain period in time.  Using his example of the non-bourgeoisie design as a point of departure, I chose to assess St. Peter’s Basilica under an assumption of political motivation in its design (1506), especially given the growing divisions within the religion, already split between east and west, and quickly approaching the Protestant Reformation.  From this brief overview, I would say that Wolfe’s analysis is extremely valuable in unpacking designs as more than just a visually aesthetic set of decisions and more as a reaction to current political and social climates.

Architectural Environment and its Effects on Social Behavior

Architectural Environment and its Effects on Social Behavior

Jackson discusses the “vernacular landscape” in terms of places throughout history, and the present, that have been commonplace and have shaped particular social attitudes, morals, and even behaviors.  He stresses the historical association between the house—all of its symbols especially created on the interior—and the land—what its exteriorality signifies and the practices it has produced; however, he explains how the automobile has fostered a shift in this association; the automobile has reorganized ways of life—instead of the interior of the home creating meaning, it seems that the automobile has created new forms of social interactions.  One of the most significant features that I thought he explained was how mobility, in every sense of the word, defines a person’s patterns of behavior.  For instance, a person who is physically mobile, as with a car or other form of transportation, is likely to spend less time in the home because what the home has always offered is privacy—a car, however, provides a type of privacy-on-the-go, thus enabling people to venture further from the home and rely on the accessibility of the car.  A person who is figuratively mobile, such as with social mobility, is also likely to spend less time in the home because privacy, at least in my perspective, represents a kind of momentary pause or stagnation in the ‘flow of life,’ thus a socially mobile individual will not require as much of a transitory pause as he or she can blend and feel comfortable mixing with various groups of people.

Returning to the concept of a vernacular landscape, then, one idea I think important to explore is how values are translated by a particular place and the varying behaviors people engage in are shaped by these.  Even in my own person, I notice that I will act a particular way appropriate for entering someone else’s home versus my own home.  Or I may interact with people in a friendlier manner in a workplace setting in contrast to a sporting competition.  Different places evoke different characteristics of an individual’s personality.  Much of it could have to do with the people that person is surrounded by, but we should not overlook the effect of architectural design and how that might also evoke certain characteristics.  As Jackson described with the home and its ‘formal hosting’ features with an entryway, dining room, or parlor, a guest will likely only see these spaces in another person’s home.  In his or her own home, however, the individual will likely bypass these locations in a hurry up the stairs into a more comfortable setting like the bedroom or loft.  This concept seems important in the design of public spaces then, whether they be indoor or outdoor, because it can affect the social behaviors of people.  For example, if we consider the architectural features of most church buildings, we will find that they have high ceilings, which help to promote this sense of ‘other-worldiness,’ allowing people to set aside material-world issues for a moment, pew-type seating instead of individual chairs, promoting a sense of community, and the pulpit, which communicates an air of authority for the person that steps into that space, thus quieting the crowd.  It would be interesting further to explore the attitudes and behaviors that regions of the city may evoke, such as the differences in people in the East Village versus the West Village.

Suburban California

Suburban California

My experience growing up in a southern California suburban neighborhood can be summarized in a single word: waiting—waiting for the time to pass; waiting for the next life milestone; waiting on my parents to drive me somewhere or another; waiting in traffic.  Kunstler said it: most of his friends that he would visit in Long Island sat around doing nothing, waiting until they could get their licenses.  My town was as spread out and inaccessible for the walking population as any other suburbia.  Luckily, my four best friends growing up all lived within one or two neighborhood tracks from me, so getting together never posed too much of a problem before we could drive.  This is one of the advantages of attending a public elementary school in suburbia, though—because students are placed in schools based on the district in which they reside, building friendships was actually much easier, knowing that your fellow classmates all likely lived within relative walking distance, than it might have been if we had all gone to separate schools throughout town.

Until we could get our licenses, my friends and I generally found ourselves hanging out in the abundance of neighborhood parks or at someone’s house.  Most houses looked the same—of course some were older, some newer, but they all had similar layouts: two story, living room or entryway first, then comes the dining room, kitchen, an office or guest bedroom, and a few bedrooms on the upper level.  One could enter a home that he or she had never been in before and still know his or her way around.

My particular track of homes was built over an orange orchard; some of it still existed in my friend’s neighborhood next to me, and both bordered a massive river bank separating us from the next town over.  I call Ventura a town, but it’s actually considered a city—suburbia, though, seems to have impressed upon me a sense of small-town-ness with all of its sameness.

Similarly to Kunstler’s experience after moving to the city, when I return home for short visits, I realize that I have developed a new appreciation for this town-y feel.  I can’t ever imaging moving back like he did, but I can definitely see the value in the organization of suburbia.  I never noticed as much “no-space” in Ventura, as Kunstler did in his own analysis of suburbia; in fact, Ventura, in my opinion, makes great use of space.  As a coastal city, Ventura is almost divided between a suburban, beach town and a more standard sense of suburbia, both of which were made up of track homes, shopping malls, parks, schools, and a downtown area.  Parking was allowed on streets, and most parking spaces, whether they were garages or lots, remained full for most of the day, suggesting to me that they were not simply ‘taking up space.’

Ventura, California by Xanthe Bouma

A View from Grant Park by Buck

In retrospect, and perhaps this is bias, I think that the suburbs I have experienced up and down the coast of California are some of the best suburbs because of geographic reasons.  Even putting weather aside, California has both mountains and beaches; this means that even in suburbia, one can still find other things to do besides isolate in a home or go out to the nearest shopping mall.  I think that suburbs can really only work when there are natural alternatives to activities like shopping or inviting friends over, otherwise, one will get this same sense of ‘waiting’ that I felt growing up, but theirs may be a ‘waiting’ of no anticipation.

Ask Them

Ask Them

Jacobs’s primary argument in his book is that city planners and designers operate from a textbook perspective—they fail to include the concerns and desires of the people who will actually inhabit or put to use a space, and they instead create places that sound good in theory however find little practicality once resources have established them.  This, he vehemently condemns as the ruin of cities, as it results in the misuse of space and allows for the social behaviors of cities to decay.  He gives many examples particularly from New York of redevelopment projects throughout the city by explaining the theoretical framework from which certain ideas emerge and then contrasting them to their actual ground effects on the people—or lack thereof.

Jacobs’s fundamental argument makes sense because third parties can hardly ever effect positive change on an issue if their only understanding of the issue is as an outsider.  Although he strongly warns against applying his ideas to other contexts than cities, the fundamental emphasis placed on the people who inhabit or use space and their concerns could be applicable in any situation, whether it is a development project in the city or the spending of foreign aid in a post-conflict country.  Neither will be effective if the resources are not spent towards things that will actually be used.  Parks, for instance, might actually pose a threat rather than a leisure activity in an area that houses more of a laboring class than an upper class.  If one considers the difference in available leisure time between these two groups, the only people left to use the park in a laboring-class community are the people who don’t have jobs or people looking to cause trouble.  While the textbook theory will suggest that parks are developments that create better environments in a city, an unused park can easily become a hot spot for illegal activities.  This aligns with Jacobs’s analysis of city streets and sidewalks, where those less populated tend to be less safe due to their lack of ‘eyes,’ referring to people or the illusion of people with building windows being around to watch street activity.  Parks do not have the luxury of these imbued sense of surveillance to ensure safety, so they must be well-populated or less shaded with greenery in order to create safety.

Going back a couple weeks, another example of developments that sound good on paper but don’t quite live up to their theoretical potential is the design of the plaza and its intention as a social space.  The question of why some plazas are used to linger and socialize while others are merely used to pass through from one location to another was found to be in the amount of sittable space and the quality of that space within the plaza.  All this was discovered by simply observing, as Jacobs recommends, the space and how the actual people use it.  It seems wrong then that blueprints for designs are drawings of buildings or places rather than drawings of people using these buildings and places. Blueprint Without People

After all, any type of development is for the people who use it—people, by nature vary greatly—so to create places from a theoretical model of people will naturally produce error if it attempting to standardize peoples’ behaviors.

Orientation in NYC

Orientation in NYC

Having grown up in Southern California, the only way I knew how to orient myself in any part of my regional area was through the comfort of my car’s GPS.  Other than leisure, walking is not exactly an acceptable form of transportation as it is here in New York, so when I moved here for school, I was in for an entirely new challenge.  Thankfully I had visited the city a couple times before moving; however, I found that having only ever visited with my parents, I never developed my own wayfinding abilities; I grew too complacent with depending on my parents to direct our experience.  In fact, I have rediscovered this shortcoming time and time again now that I am beginning to revisit certain places in the world with friends rather than my parents, and each trip reminds me how easy it is to rely upon others to wayfind for me.  To an extent, smartphones have replaced my parents and my car’s GPS, but after living in New York City for a few years now, I have found that I am rarely inclined to pull out my phone in order to navigate my way to each new location of interest—here at least.

I think it is important to understand why this is—aside from becoming familiar simply out of time, the design of New York City is incredibly orientation-friendly.  The fact that the midsection of Manhattan is lined with numerically-named streets allows one to figure out if he or she is headed north or south; this, paired with the division of east and west by 5th Avenue, allows one to even determine the cross streets of an address without a map.  The fact that metro stations exist every 10 or so blocks also adds to one’s ability to navigate through the city because it provides landmarks of sorts from which to base further travels and distances.  Although it is easier for pedestrians than cars to navigate with all the one-way streets, it is still made rather simple to find one’s way.  Furthermore, the various iconic buildings making up the New York City skyline serve as points of reference to make orientation easier.  For instance, when I first started using the subway, I might have known that I had arrived to the Herald Square stop on the D train, but I would have had no idea whether the direction I started walking in was east, west, north, or south if I did not glance up in search of the Empire State Building. Herald Sq View of Empire State Building by Agaliza

In addition, the fact that Manhattan is an island makes West Village travels less intimidating.  The first time I got lost in New York, I was actually in the West Village—being new, I had no idea the streets were suddenly diagonal rather than straight, and I found myself struggling to find a single street I might recognize.  Eventually, what I did find, was the water—I followed the Hudson north until I was certain I could turn back into the heart of the city without losing myself in that maze again.  I think that, ultimately, Manhattan’s relation to a compass has helped me understand my way around and keep my cool even when I do get lost.

Can City Formations Contribute to the Efficacy of State Institutions?

Can City Formations Contribute to the Efficacy of State Institutions?

Lynch’s analysis of the modern city—what ultimately makes it strengthen its public image—provides an interesting framework form which to explore the makeup of any city and speculate on possible weaknesses affecting efficiency.  As I have a deep interest various forms of governance especially in the Middle East and Central Asia, I thought it might be a fruitful experiment to apply Lynch’s mode of thought to an investigation of developmental projects in other parts of the world, particularly that of Afghanistan.  Though the scope of this analysis will be severely limited by the Lynch’s primary focus on what one might call ‘modern’ American cities, I hope to use his ideas as a point of departure in order to show how they are applicable cross-borders and how they can actually improve state efficacy.  When a region of land is legible, as Lynch would term, it would seem plausible that this sense of direction and understanding of one’s environmental surroundings would also contribute to a greater sense of safety, trust, and recognition of a bureaucratic legitimacy.

Fundamentally, Lynch narrows down the most important characteristics of a city’s image to five features: paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks—all of which are distinct in creating a mental model for the individual.  Paths must connote a sense of directional continuity in order to promote maps and images; edges must clearly separate one entity from another so as to create identity; nodes must represent central juncture points as a point of departure; districts must consist of a homogenous character, and landmarks must, unmistakably, distinguish themselves.

To provide an extremely brief overview, one of the intrinsic issues Kabul—the capital of Afghanistan—in particular, but the country as a whole, faces in the construction of a functioning city is its basic geography.

Afghanistan Topographic Map


A topographical map illustrates just how much the Hindu Kush Mountain Range divides and isolates certain areas—in fact, Afghanistan consists of three very different climate zones, all of which harbor different strengths and weaknesses concerning agricultural capacity, in its three regions: the Central Highlands, the Southwestern Plateau, and the Northern Plains.  Kabul sits at the base of the Central Highlands, cutting the capital off from most of the country’s 33 other provinces.  As a result, Kabul has faced a longstanding tension in centralizing state authority—this is also aggravated by the lack of legitimacy and efficacy that the state has represented to its citizens in providing basic state functions such as security, dispute resolution, and protection of rights to name a few.  Again, the scope of this analysis will be limited to a discussion of how the construction of Lynch’s understandings of paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks could actually contribute to the state’s legitimacy—legitimacy being illustrated by a kind of social contract between citizens and their government.

To begin with, the lack of quality road services presents a major security and legitimacy issue in the region.  As much of the terrain in Afghanistan is hardly passable by nature, those paths that are deemed safe have actually become prime locations where local warlords or tribal and ethnic leaders require payment for taxes and customs in order to pass.  The fact that this revenue never sees Kabul reduces the legitimacy as well as the functional capacity of the state government.  If, however, their roads were properly constructed according to the terrain and sustainability, secured by the state authority rather than local armed forces, and conveyed a sense of continuity rather than one of risk, the state would in turn strengthen its perceived legitimacy.

An ‘edge,’ as Lynch, puts it, “gains strength if it is laterally visible for some distance,” meaning either a natural or man-made construction that serves to distinguish two regions that are perhaps less contrasting in appearance than their actual nature (Lynch 100).  One note that he makes, however, is that although the edges distinguish, they do not separate but rather serve as a means of exchange, which is interesting in the context of Afghanistan because while the country is pervaded by an entire mountain range of natural edges that isolate rather than promote exchange, its borders with the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and barely China do represent edges of exchange—whether those be arms, opium paste, or even people is another issue that necessitates stricter forms of border control.  Thus, the dilemma is again back to the issue of security that can be applied through Lynch’s framework emphasizing functional edges.  Districts, too, Lynch characterizes as a ‘seam’ rather than a dividing line.  Because it is likely impossible to organize a fully centralized government in Afghanistan due to the geographical conditions, districts, or rather provinces, organized in such a way would be conducive to an administrative decentralized form of governance.  A deconcentrated, decentralized authority seems best in Afghanistan because it would allow provincial leaders to respond to the different issues their specific region faces–whether that is the Central Highlands, the Southwestern Plateau, or the Northern Plains–all the while still being financed and supervised by the central government to preserve its legitimacy.

Decentralization Versus Centralization

The last two features that Lynch describes are nodes and landmarks.  I group them together because both are characterized by their distinctness and the sense of recognition of the surrounding area that should accompany a successful ‘node’ or ‘landmarks.’  The point in which they differ is where landmarks contrast with their environment so as to create an identity, nodes are actually ‘places’ and can often be composed of a series of landmarks.  The landmarks themselves make a node unforgettable, thus making a mental image of a city more conceivable and, by extension, a safer and more navigable region for both civilians and for the state authority to patrol and secure.  Though the scope of this application fails to address the further issues of security and legitimacy that face the new government in Afghanistan, I think Lynch’s concepts can be instrumentalized in the construction and development of post-conflict states in order to promote a greater sense of safety and trust amongst the citizenry.


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