Uncovering Tunis: ultradense urbanism and urban informality in the neighborhoods of Tunis

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Submission Summary
This paper explores the particular condition of informal and unequal urbanism in Tunis, which can be spontaneous and uncontrolled in the outskirts or proximity of the capital. Although of similar population, cities in Global North, such as Copenhagen, often reflects a formality and showcases a paragon of urbanism set by the designer on behalf of policymakers, whereas, in Tunis, the urbanism grew rather spontaneously in some neighbourhoods with minimal engagement from policy-makers and designers. These neighbourhoods called Gourbivilles/Bidonvilles developed spontaneously before independence, and particularly in the 1940s. They expanded around the Sijoumi Pond (Sabkhat al-Sijoumi), around the city’s lake and around the hills (Stambouli, 1996). In this paper, we will re-visit and use three major case studies of informal settlements to shed light on the urban conditions and consequences of informal urban planning. The three settlements include Jebel Lahmar--the oldest and the densest Bidonville in the capital where one-quarter of the Tunis’ inhabitants lived (Timoumi, 1997), Hay Ettadhamen--the densest neighbourhood of Tunis and North Africa, and Hay Hlel--another large one with approximately 10,000 inhabitants. Precise statistics and accurate studies on poverty, unemployment and crime are lacking in these areas. This research builds on previously studied case studies of Asian cities--Dhaka and Shanghai (Shafique and Villatoro 2017 and 2019) and the introduces the concept of “Ultra-dense Urbanism” in North Africa as an analytical lens. Using five key registers of impacts of a dense living condition, namely bodies in space, architecture in fabric, movement in the city, socio-economies and control in the city are to be used as the basis for developing a conceptual framework for the Tunisian case studies. While it is known that the condition of some of the large and most dense neighbourhoods in Tunis is precarious, both in terms of urban conditions as well as socio-economic realities with buildings and bodies packed in a dense, fragile and marginalized urban context, there has been little study linking the informal morphology of the unplanned settlement and the psychology. This paper situates itself at a trans-disciplinary dialogue between urban planning, architecture and their possible psychological linkages in these three settlements. This research examines informal and unequal urban planning threats and opportunities in the case study informal settlements. It does so by analysing the chaotic urban conditions in urban settlements as well as urban health and precarious planning using triangulation between the existing literature (architecture and psychology), archival research of newspaper articles and urban morphological analysis of archival geo-spatial data of the three case study areas. The spatial data will be though the use of morphological mapping (Dovey and Kamalipour, 2017). While there is limitation of empirical psychological profile of settlement dwellers regarding the affective consequences of being packed in dense settlements and under the pressure of poverty, inaccessibility of amenities and state marginalisation, this research draws from existing secondary literature to open up the questions, rather than definitive answers, in relation to psychology and its linkage with how people use, behave and populate urban spaces. Finally, through the analysis of the above-mentioned settlements in Tunis, the paper arrives at an understanding of how the dense and chaotic urban condition has engaged its citizens and their everyday planning, which opens up possibilities for local architects, planners, policymakers and politicians to form a new body of knowledge to talk about future planning responses. Nine years after the Tunisian Revolution, there is an urgent need to start an open discussion about the rapid urbanization coupled with spontaneous and uncontrolled growth in order to meet the social and economic demands of the revolution. Situating within that larger issue of planning justice, this paper draws attention to the bodies in the constricted psychological and physical space, the urban morphology and possibilities for stakeholders' involvement in the holistic development of such informal neighbourhoods.
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Submission Type
Submission Track
6: Creating Healthy and Inclusive Urban Environment
Teaching Assistant
University of Melbourne
University of Melbourne
Clinical Fellow
Hamad Medical Corporation
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