Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the Urban Living Conditions
Due to exponential population rise, Lebbeus Woods states that the 21st century will be one marked by instant cities, a term Woods re-purposes from Archigram to describe informal settlements. Where, dramatic population increase, urban migration, and displaced peoples will be increasingly forced into the peripheries of cities, and poor conditions within informal settlements such as slums. As these factors cause increased demand within cities, these instant cities will continue to come into existence or expand, faster than they can be planned for. Designers are faced with how to retroactively improve conditions within these informal settlements to provide for the basic needs of those who live there. Architects through confronting political and social issues have the potential to act as a catalyst to affect social change to improve the lives of those neglected by society (such as slum dwellers). Even though small interventions that tackle basic deficiency’s within informal communities, architects can have big impacts on their lives by freeing them of time and stress intensive burdens.
Slum improvement can instigate political change, to break down the socio-territorial barriers that have been erected between the formal and informal preventing societal change. This literature review will seek to establish a theoretical framework for the research, with which to integrate and build upon through the design process. To create a sympathetic design response to the complex issues facing the informal settlements in Caracas, examples of architectural design and theory as activism will be investigated. The conclusions arrived at will be used as drivers to create design experiments aimed at creating regeneration strategies that seek to improve the lives of Caracas’ urban poor.
Abraham H. Maslow in his book “Motivation and Personality” discusses his theory that human needs follow a hierarchy, where he states that an individual must satisfy their most basic and fundamental needs, before striving to fulfil intangible ones. At the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy resides physiological needs, imperative to human survival, such as air, water, sustenance, shelter, and sleep. After fulfilling these basic needs people can shift focus to next level of Maslow’s hierarchy which he describes as safety which includes the need for an individual to fulfil their want for the security of, self, health, employment, property, and access to resources. After safety, the next echelon of the hierarchy focuses on the need for a sense of belonging and intimacy through friendship, and family. Following achieving a sense of belonging a person then seeks to boost their esteem and confidence through achievement, and gaining the respect of their peers.
Maslow then states that only after surmounting the other levels of the hierarchy, can an individual attempt to achieve self-actualization through education, activism, and creativity, to improve their social standing. I propose to reapply Maslow’s theories towards architecture, and specifically the urban poor living within informal cities, to create a more humanist holistic approach to design within informal settlements. Therefore by using the hierarchy of needs within this context it can be understood that the emotional stress experienced the inhabitants, caused by fundamental deficiency’s within informal communities, can prevent communities from improving their circumstances and affect social change. A holistic approach to design would involve an analysis of informal settlements through Maslow’s hierarchy, to outline the fundamental needs of a community to create a design framework with which to meet the aims and objectives of this research. This framework would then be used as a design driver, through which to evaluate deficiency’s within informal settlements and propose methods to inform the design process. The framework proposed follows Maslow’s hierarchy of physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Physiological needs are perhaps the most important needs to address within informal settlements, as having a deficiency of these needs becomes the focus of an individuals existence, without them the situation cannot improve. From Maslow’s writing and agreed by Lebbeus Woods, people in extreme poverty can be paralleled to those coming out of times of war with similar psychological trauma, needs and wants, but unlike victims of war who can expect a return to normalcy as these conditions are the status quo (Slow Manifesto). As according to Lebbeus Woods these are the most pressing needs: “Living in the slums means living without many beneficial, even necessary, things … Everything is now, today, and each day is a new struggle for survival.
The gains made yesterday were maybe enough, but they were consumed yesterday. Nothing carries over, except the needs.” (Slow Manifesto)When designing within informal communities, architects must consider the capacity of the urban form to meet the fundamental needs of the community. As these needs such as food, water, employment, shelter, and services, have the potential to affect the most change and improvement in the lives of the urban poor. Any intervention that helps meet these needs must be accessible within these dense neighbourhoods to everyone while not becoming a burden on the community. Even if only the physiological needs of Maslow’s hierarchy was attained for the urban poor, a marked improvement of their quality of life would happen, freeing them of time and stress intensive burdens. Potentially allowing them to seek to fulfil their higher needs with Maslow’s hierarchy.
After fulfilling their basic needs people can shift focus to next level of Maslow’s hierarchy which he describes as the need for safety. Safety, when applied to urban conditions, means a lack of fear when moving through or residing in a space, which within informal settlements can mean threats to personal safety from, people, natural disasters, or the surrounding environment. Designers then must create or improve spaces within slums to be safe to traverse through, live, and work. Jane Jacobs in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities advocates for safety in urban street design, therefore her views provide actionable design parameters for translating Maslow’s theory into architecture and urban design. Jacobs outlines the three main aspects that can promote safety in a community through urbanism.
The first Jacobs discusses as providing clarity between public and private space to prevent the easy movement of strangers between the two. Next, she advocates for buildings to orient towards the street, to provide the opportunity for residents to look out into the neighbourhood. As a means to discourage bad behaviour through people nearby being able to render aid or sound alarm. Lastly, Jacobs states there must be healthy levels of street activity to encourage residents to watch the street by providing interesting subject matter (Jacobs, 35). To achieve Jane Jacobs three qualities within informal settlements, designers will need to improve the dense, damaged, or inaccessible access-ways already present. By improving access-ways and making them easily traversable this will improve street traffic, and potentially encourage residents to occupy these spaces as community space adding to “eyes upon the street” (Jacobs, 35).
As another benefit of improving the communities feeling of safety, they will be encouraged to invest more in their homes and communities by reducing threats to investment. BelongingAscending from safety Maslow discusses individuals need for belonging and intimacy through friendship, family, and community. Urban design can support belonging by bonding a community together by creating a feeling of identity, pride, and ownership. An example of this can be seen in the Favela Painting Project by Haas&Hahn (page 67) who worked to raise the pride the community had in their homes and neighbourhood, through the simple act of providing a unique identity for the community through art. When an urban form is a source of identity and pride, a community will work collectively to maintain, improve, and protect it, strengthening their ties to each other. These social ties strengthen through opportunities to communicate and cooperate together, urban design then needs to provide spaces for chance meetings and congregating such as parks, schools, places of worship, or even bump spaces like streets and access-ways, are vital for helping people form friendships and community ties.
Belonging can also already found to some extent within informal settlements as John F.C. Turner states that rural communities or extended family often transplanting their social ties with them by setting up neighbourhoods together within slums. Turner also states that these settlements often have “far healthier social environments” (Turner, 14) compared to social housing imposed by governments. When slums populations are forcibly relocated these ties can be broken, disenfranchising the people and destroying their sense of belonging.
Once a community has achieved belonging they will seek esteem through external recognition which Robert Putnam (in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community) interprets as “bridging social capital” (Putnam 8) defined as the social ties which retain a community’s identity within the external urban context. Informal settlements are largely ignored by governments decreasing their esteem with their perceived value, this can be changed by showing the community is valued through aid and investment by outside parties. Furthermore, the communities esteem can be increased through the creation of facilities such as, schools, cultural activities, and places of worship which benefit the community and a point of pride worth celebrating.
Through increasing the communities esteem through these methods they will be more prepared to face adversity together, and advocate for the community’s importance and share their knowledge with other informal settlements. Self-ActualizationAfter the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy have been satisfied, to parallel those already living in the formal city, Maslow states that people will be free to seek self-actualization and social change through education, activism, and creativity. To achieve this as a collective a community informal settlements must respond to their current values and surrounding built form, by doing this they can strengthen their stability at the other levels of the hierarchy. However as Clayton P. Alderfer’s discusses in his ERG theory – which builds on Maslow’s hierarchy – as his frustration-regression principle states, satisfaction at a lower levels will lead to progression upwards, although frustration with being unable to satisfy needs at higher level cause a regression downwards towards needs that appear easier to satisfy (Alderfer 151). Future urban design changes must then be flexible to change while still being sympathetic to the communities values, this can be achieved through continuous community engagement and participation. Ensuring their needs will be fulfilled in the future and the community remains stable at the higher levels of the hierarchy.
This literature review investigates a way to translate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs towards architecture, and specifically the urban poor living within developing countries. Maslow’s theory’s can be used to prioritize intervention within informal communities into stages, helping designers to locate the most urgent needs, and provide the community with the means to ascend the Maslow’s hierarchy. Through approaching slum improvement through this process designers will be able to expand the scope benefit a great number of people and responding to the social challenges of the next century. The project will seek to integrate and build upon these views into design experiments aimed at creating regeneration strategies that seek to promote a collaborative construction of the physical environment, in order to boost neighbourhood development.
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