Urban Acupuncture

Posted by Flux on 

16 July 2012


What’s trending now?

Urban Acupuncture

Urban acupuncture is a design approach that works by viewing the city as a living organism and then identifying areas in need of repair. It proposes a minimum input for a maximum result, in which an intervention at one particular place (or node) will have a ripple effect throughout the community.

Why it’s important?

Cities have always played an imperative role in the way people interact with each other and the environment. In an ideal world cities would be built in a way that would allow for this type of interaction but this is not the case in South Africa because as Mokena Makeka (speaking at The Flux Trend Review 2012) put it, ‘we have inherited infrastructure that is problematic’ and it is close to impossible to entirely change our cities.

Urban acupuncture is a more realistic and less costly method to revamp the cities in a way that would allow for the people to come together and use their surroundings in a manner that would yield great results. It is important for city planners and citizens to know and understand this approach as it as an effective way to make minor improvements in the communities in order to achieve a greater good in the cities. In the words of Leon Kaye ‘In an era of constrained budgets and limited resources, this pinpointed approach could democratically and cheaply offer a respite to urban dwellers’.

What’s the butterfly effect?

As Makeka mentioned when people come together ‘amazing things happen in public spaces’ and urban acupuncture will lead to just that. This will provide a means for people to unlock their creativity and the advantages thereof, for example, innovation and entrepreneurship. All of these outcomes will further lead to the empowerment of these people and their children thus creating more economically active citizens in the future. A quality of urban acupuncture is that it concentrates on parts of the city, i.e. communities thereby providing opportunities to those areas which do not have the sort of infrastructure that is found in mainstream cities.

The use of urban acupuncture will lead to environmental conservation as well because only smaller areas of land are used for smaller projects, for example, the creation of enormous shopping malls will use up a large amount of green land and resources while the building of smaller shopping complexes in the communities requires less thereof but it will achieve great results by allowing the people easy access to it and improving the quality of life in that area and over time the city as a whole. Furthermore the emission of green house gasses will be reduced as people would not have to travel very far away from their homes for shopping and recreation.

The pioneers

Urban acupuncture is the brainchild of Finnish architect Professor Marco Casagrande who developed the theory in the Tamkang University of Taiwan. The theory came about when he was invited by the Taipei City Government to study an urban farming community enclave within the city of Treasure Hill where he noticed a great potential of human energy.  He says’ on the 3rd Generation city website:

‘like turning over the compost that has been the smelly part of the farm just to become the most fertile top soil. I was careful to manipulate these hidden energy flows and the small elements that I introduced to Treasure Hill can be compared to the needles in acupuncture’.

Another pioneer of urban acupuncture is Jaime Lerner, ex-mayor of Curitiba in Brazil who uses this concept in his urban redevelopment projects. Teddy Cruz, an architect working in the border towns of San Diego and Tijuana uses this concept in his work to create a combination of programs of community housing and services in under-utilised areas of the city. The concept of urban acupuncture is used in South Africa by Mokena Makeka  with his many projects in Cape Town, for example the recent development of MoDILA (The Museum of Design, Innovation, Leadership and Art). MoDILA is a museum of contemporary African art and design that could bring about great improvements in the art and design industry.

The global hot spots

As mentioned above urban acupuncture is widely used in Curitiba in Brazil, San Diego and Tijuana. In Dallas, the concept of urban acupuncture was used as bases of the Better Block project. Urban acupuncture contributed to the rebuilding of Japan after the tsunami through the development of projects like that  Hikado Marketplace; a mobile ramen noodle shop that is a community marketplace for  the surrounding  temporary shelters. As mentioned in Greengopost the Parkman Triangle Park in Los Angeles was developed as an urban acupuncture project and has sparked the establishment of many similar developments.

By: Mariam Mahomed


About Mariam


“You can never be overdressed or over-educated”, these words of Oscar Wilde has become the principle that I live by. Even though I am a fashion student I have a curious mind that forces me to learn more about everything and to analyse what surrounds me. I believe that knowledge is what will guide me as I walk in heels towards my dreams while making a stop at the Vogue Editor’s office on the way.”

Mariam was part of the 2012 Flux Trend Review innovating with Samsung, Social Media Monitoring Team in partnership with LISOF, led by Trend Analysis lecturer Loren Phillips (@lorenphillips)


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