Developing Urban Patch for Goldenhorn Watershed

Pratt GAUD Summer School, 2013 and 2014
with Sulan Kolatan

Design in the Age of the Super Wicked Problem
What is a (Super) Wicked Problem?
“Wicked problem“ is a phrase originally used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The term ‘wicked’ is used, not in the sense of evil but rather its resistance to resolution. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems…..
Classic examples of wicked problems include economic, en v i r o n m en t al , and political issues. A problem whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior is likely to be a wicked problem. Therefore, many standard examples of wicked problems come from the areas of public planning and policy. These include global climate change,[5] natural hazards, healthcare, the AIDS epidemic, pandemic influenza, international drug trafficking, homeland security, nuclear weapons, and nuclear energy, waste and social injustice….
A recurring theme in research and industry literature is the connection between wicked problems and design. Design problems are typically wicked because they are often ill defined (no prescribed way forward), involve Stakeholders with different perspectives, and have no “right” or “optimal” solution. Thus wicked problems cannot be solved by the application of standard (or known) methods; they demand creative solutions….
Wicked problems cannot be tackled by the traditional approach in which problems are defined, analysed and solved in sequential steps. The main reason for this is that there is no clear problem definition of wicked problems. In a paper published in 2000, Roberts identifies the following strategies to cope with wicked problems: Authoritative, Competitive and Collaborative.
Rittel hints at a collaborative approach; one which attempts, “…to make those people who are being affected into participants of the planning process. They are not merely asked but actively involved in the planning process…”
Kelly Levin and colleagues introduced the distinction between “wicked problems” and “super wicked problems” in their discussion of global climate change, defining super wicked problems as having the following additional characteristics:

  1. Time is running out.
  2. No central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Policies discount the future irrationally.
    While the items that define a wicked problem relate to the problem itself, the items that define a super wicked problem relate to the agent trying to solve it. Global warming as a super wicked problem, and the need to intervene to tend to our longer term interests, has also been taken up by others, including Lazarus. – Excerpted from Wikipedia
    The Golden Horn Watershed
    Since the 1980ies the Golden Horn has been the focus of a long-term remediation effort that by all accounts has been tremendously successful in achieving what is set out to do. The successive removal of industrial facilities, halting of industrial and toxic waste, and construction of public parks and buildings dedicated to cultural activities has significantly improved the estuary and its urban edge.
    And yet, when we evaluate the improvements within the framework of the emerging ecological discourse, it becomes quickly apparent that the solutions and tools applied to the problem are part of the standard repertory of the 20th century (smooth and hard land-water edges, shallow-grass dominated parks, object buildings) and as such fail to take on the challenges and opportunities of the super wicked problem that is the Golden Horn Watershed.
    Ecology is teaching us to reconsider our ways of breaking down the world into “meaningful” entities. As far as water systems are concerned, any meaningful way of looking at a river or estuary implicates the entire watershed. Issues occurring anywhere along the watershed affect the whole system. Thus, an exclusive focus on the Golden Horn without an understanding of the rest of the hierarchy does not produce the kind of shift necessary, namely, long-term change in urbanization strategies. – Sulan Kolatan