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    Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis – Lessons to be learnt

    By Lilian Schofield, on 2 December 2016

    The debate and discourse surrounding migration and the current refugee crisis is one that can be contentious and to a certain extent emotive bringing about polarised stands amongst different parties. The surge of refugees to the UK and other European countries in the past few years has been a major issue to politicians and consequently, been in the foreground of policy makers as well as a topic of great concern among its citizens.  So serious is this issue that it has been regarded as a major emergency and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel stated that ‘the issue of asylum could be the next major European project’ (Berry et al 2016). A statement made in response to the high numbers of refugees arriving in the European Union escaping the wars in Syria and Iraq.

     

    Dr. Nasser Yassin’s presentation on ‘Informal Institutions Shaping Refugee’s Cities – Lessons from Lebanon’ drew in an audience from several walks of life. The venue was filled to capacity and the discussions were intellectual, challenging and passionate as expected. His research presented a great avenue to understand and appreciate how Lebanon, a country with its own problems has coped with the huge influx of Syrian refugees.

     

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    Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis

    Lebanon, a small country with a population of about four million has taken in a large number of Syrian refugees (Loveless, 2013). Data and sources gleaned from reports and literature show that about 250,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011 (Dionigi, 2016). It is purported in literature that since the start of the war, over three million Syrians have fled their country and over 1.1 million fled to Lebanon (Barnard 2015). Dionigi (2016) attributes the choice of Lebanon to two main reasons. 1. The geographic proximity. 2. Language and historical relations.

    According to the UNHCR report, there are about 930,000 refugees that are registered or waiting to be registered. In addition to the Syrian numbers is also an influx of Palestinian refugees (Save the Children 2014 report). Some of the refugees stay in poor areas of Lebanon with limited infrastructure. At this juncture, it is important to note and understand that Lebanon has its own challenges such as a weak and fragile political state and has experienced the absence of a central government for some time. For a country that is characterised by weak state capacity, economic and regional inequalities, social and sectarian schism and inadequate infrastructures that have not been upgraded for decades, Lebanon’s role in absorbing the large number of refugees is commendable (Dahi, 2014).

     

     

    Lebanon refugees distribution - Source: UNHCR Lebanon

    Lebanon refugees distribution – Source: UNHCR Lebanon

     

    In Dr. Nasser Yassin’s presentation, he highlighted three main ways that Lebanon was able to cope with the crisis.

    1. History: Lebanon has had a history of accepting refugees going back to 1860 with the acceptance of Christian refugees brought to Beirut.
    2. Social geography: Refugees move to places where they have social networks and places they know.
    3. Political economy: 70.5% of Syrian refugees and 27% of Lebanese live below the poverty line. Syrian refugees engage in manual labour doing basic jobs. 95% of Syrians work in the informal economy allowing them to work and earn a living. Hence, there is a rise of micro enterprises started by Syrians, which is mostly informal.

     

    Although Lebanon has done a commendable job in absorbing the large number of refugees, given its fragile and weak state, financial and economic challenges and limited resources, there are some areas of contestation especially in the area of providing legality to the refugees, access to basic amenities – health and education and informality. For example, in January 2015, Lebanon announced a restricted 6-month visa for displaced Syrians. The lack of  legal papers meant that Syrian refugees could not have access to basic amenities and social services – meaning that access to education, health facilities and other amenities were often a challenge as either inaccessible or there was a lot of hurdles to cross to get access to these basic needs (Balsari et al, 2015).

     

    From the presentation, it was clear that Lebanon plans to return some of the refugees back to Syria after the war. According to Dr. Yassin, one reason for this is linked to the findings of an interview conducted with Syrian refugees in which they were asked to pick anywhere in the world they wanted to settle in and about 40% of those interviewed stated that they wanted to return home after the war. Hence, Dr. Yassin stated that the main focus for Lebanon is finding a way to end the war so that these refugees can go back home.

    Dr Yassin

    In addition to the preceding point is the nuanced debate on being honest about the effects of absorbing huge numbers of refugees and reaching a tipping point whereby the country could not cope with the large numbers given its limited resources and already existing weak infrastructures.  According to data presented there are about 100,000 Syrian newborns, 98% have not been registered, 80% have no legal papers, 61 of under 18 are out of work. With inadequate infrastructure and amenities, Lebanon may not be able to cope.

     

    Is informality a bad thing?

    The presentation also opened up an avenue to debate on informality and its legality – ‘is informality all-together a negative thing’? Although this question leads to a whole new and separate debate and open to moot point, it is, however, important to highlight on what is meant by informality. Informal institution is often referred to in literature as the ‘unwritten rule’ guiding informal social networks, capital, family and mutual help. In many developing countries where there is a weak state, unwritten rules are the order of the day (Bratton, 2007).  Understanding how the Syrian refugees are able to cope in Lebanon entails understanding the role of informal institutions – how informal institutions help in meeting the needs of many where formal institutions are weak, absent or challenging. Unfortunately, whilst informal institutions can provide some form of manageable living to refugees, it has its disadvantages and hence why the audience focused on the debate regarding its legality.  However, Dr Yassin argued that there is a need to be open minded on issues such as the role of informality.

     

    Some reflections and conclusions

     

    The debate was concluded on the grounds that there is a need to create a paradigm shift to not totally view informality as a negative phenomenon especially within the context of developing countries – understanding that many households in developing countries function within informal institutions.

     

    There is also a need to be cautious about our criticisms of the workings of countries that we are not all too well familiar with their workings as well as being cautious in our generalisations. There is a need to look at things through different lenses and not assume or follow the hegemonic rhetoric of a particular or familiar view that we are used to.

     

    The question of applying theory to practice needs to be realistic and the complication and complex nature of doing this not taken for granted.  As future practitioners, there is a need to be open minded as well as understand the thinking of a policy maker.

     

    Our ontological perspectives and positionality do play an important role in our arguments and assumptions. Hence, it is important to view arguments from different ontological and epistemological perspectives as well as understand the role of the researcher and how research can influence policy change and public knowledge.

    You can hear the lecture in the audio podcast here:

     

    References

     

    Balsari, S., Abisaab, J., Hamill, K. and Leaning, J. (2015) Syrian refugee crisis: when aid is not enough. The Lancet, 385(9972), pp.942-943).

    Barnard, A. (2015) As Refugee Tide Swells, Lebanon Plans a Visa Requirement for Syrians. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/03/world/as-refugee-tide-swells-lebanon-plans-a-visa-requirement-for-syrians.html?_r=1. Accessed 28/11/16.

    Berry, M., Garcia-Blanco, I. and Moore, K. (2016) Press coverage of the refugee and migrant crisis in the EU: a content analysis of five European countries.

    Bratton, M., (2007) Formal versus informal institutions in Africa. Journal of Democracy, 18(3), pp.96-110.

    Dahi, O. (2014) The refugee crisis in Lebanon and Jordan: the need for economic development spending. Forced Migration Review, (47), p.11.).

    Dionigi, F. (2016) The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: State Fragility and Social Resilience. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/65565/1/Dionigi_Syrian_Refugees%20in%20Lebanon_Author_2016.pdf. LSE Middle East Centre Paper Series. Accessed 29/11/2016.

    Loveless, J., 2013. Crisis in Lebanon: camps for Syrian refugees?. Forced Migration Review, (43), p.66.

    UNHCR http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php.

    Save the Children (2014) Save the Children’s Humanitarian response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: Overview. https://lebanon.savethechildren.net/sites/lebanon.savethechildren.net/files/Lebanon%20Context%20and%20Programme%20Overview%20February%202014.pdf  [Accessed on the 29/11/2016].


    Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She has over five years experience working in Higher Education Institutions in the UK as well as experience in the development field having worked with development consultancies and NGOs in Nigeria. Lilian Schofield has a PhD in Construction and Property Management and investigated the role of stakeholders in housing development projects in poor communities in Nigeria.

     

    Climate-induced resettlement risk

    By Charlotte A Barrow, on 29 November 2016

    I attended the Hugo Conference in Liège/Luik, Belgium from the 3rd – 5th Nov. 2016. The conference marked the creation of The Hugo Observatory for Environmental Migration at the University of Liège, named for the Australian migration scholar Graeme Hugo. Designed to feed into the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) taking place in Marrakech a few days later, the conference focused on two areas that seem to be gaining attention in the global research and policy landscape: migration and climate change. Notwithstanding recent discussion on the interplay of these processes at high-profile events like the Habitat III conference in Quito, the merging of these two fields is relatively new. Thus, the majority of academics and policy-makers attending in Liège were expert in one or other of the fields – but not both; lending the conference a sense of forging new ground.

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    I was there to present on the project Reducing Resettlement and Relocation Risk in Urban Areas which I’ve worked on for the past year with DPU colleagues Cassidy Johnson, Colin Marx and Giovanna Astolfo, together with our international partners Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), and Makerere University. The focus of the research project is resettlement and relocation (R&R) policy and practice within and between cities, viewed from the lens of disaster risk reduction. We’ve looked at multiple drivers for R&R (e.g. decision-making, valuing processes, cost-benefit analyses etc.), from a variety of perspectives (individuals and households, neighbourhoods, governments) in urban centres in 5 countries across 3 continents. The project culminated in a workshop in Quito during the lead-up to Habitat III, which brought together 60 international academics, policymakers and representatives of NGOs with a special interest in R&R.

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Our research thereby forms part of the picture of environmental migration, by considering for example the role of climate change in increasing disaster risks and the ways this can lead to ‘voluntary’ or ‘involuntary’ movement of populations, as well as a focus on the need for more practical measures and implementation innovations to address the on-going problems plaguing many government interventions. However, while covering a wide geographic spread, our research takes a local, urban perspective and thereby differs from much of the work in the field that operates on a more macro level by interrogating international mobility flows and barriers and potential planning and policy implications globally.

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    In my presentation in Liège, I spoke about some of the key aspects of R&R within a disaster risk reduction framework, such as urbanisation and the pressure this puts on local governments’ resources and planning capacities. In my view, one of the most important aspects of R&R is the specific politics of decision-making in each initiative; e.g. who decides when a settlement is ‘untenable’ or a risk ‘un-mitigable’? What agendas are these decision-makers fulfilling? What importance is given to the value systems and long-term development needs of the populations at risk? R&R approaches that focus solely on the immediate imperative of getting people ‘out of harm’s way’ and ignore longer-term outcomes are partly enabled by the often theoretical and future-looking nature of risk and of climate science. This interacts with the language and popular understandings of climate change. While many incidences of migration are spurred by disasters resulting from environmental instability experienced by populations, R&R initiatives cloaked in the rhetoric of climate change mitigation and adaptation can at times mask a range of other drivers, and may do more harm than good for vulnerable populations.

    These issues have been considered in varying depth in a range of locations through our and others’ research, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. One of the recent outputs of our project was a series of four policy briefs: one for each region included in the project and one that built on the outcomes of our Quito workshop (available on our website, see link above). This is hopefully a small contribution to addressing the enormous global need for a shift to thinking about climate-induced R&R that takes into account longer-term development planning needs.


    Charlotte Barrow is a research assistant at UCL working on projects relating to climate change and urban resilience. She has lived and studied in Canada, Sweden and the UK and is beginning a PhD on the use of local knowledge in climate change adaptation.

    Collective practices vs. the Neoliberal City?

    By Harshavardhan R Jatkar, on 24 November 2016

    Has democracy failed to resist the neoliberal vision of the city and does architecture have anything to contribute to the debate? A presentation by Leonardo Cappetto, an architect and co-founder of Grupo TOMA, came as a fresh and potent ray of hope on Thursday evening – 17th November 2016. Thanks to Dr. Camilo Boano, Leonardo was invited to present at the Development Planning Unit. His presentation commenced by juxtaposing the rise of populist right-wing politicians almost all around the world and the seeming demise of an alternative to the neoliberal city. But the optimism rose as he presented the work done by the Chile based collective – Grupo TOMA towards attempting to find that alternative.

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    The promise of an alternative reflected within the very structure of Grupo TOMA, defying the norms that governed the 20th century professional world. Grupo TOMA is a collective of architects without any hierarchical internal relationships. It is a nomad organisation that resents the idea of growth for its sake and it works with temporal communities inherently being denied the chance for any permanent architectural statement.

     

    What motivates a group of architects to let go of the egotistic practice of the 20th century? What inspires their continuing reconciliation with temporal existence? Leonardo’s presentation was just a glimpse into some of the aspects that may answer these questions.

     

    TOMA’s first project involved bringing together neighbours to discuss and decide potential uses for an empty plot in a neighbourhood. Not having accomplished the desired outcomes after months of working with the local government, TOMA moved to set up its office in a factory that was commissioned for demolition and used the opportunity to invite 10 organisations to collectively model a city, comprising of design shops, kitchen, discussion areas, artist workshops, bicycle shops and media outlets among others. Though short lived, the experiment involved developing a territory and building a social organisation to organise that developed territory. According to Leonardo, such an experiment has immense potential in stimulating political questions over the city and thereby informing us of the alternatives.

     

    TOMA’s journey continued in a new factory, commissioned to be converted into a centre for innovation. Cautious of the potential of their actions towards gentrifying the neighbourhood, TOMA embarks on a new project of generating a social narrative of the history of the place. Using a fictitious character of an elderly resident, Mr. Hugo, the narrative attempted to capture the rise of social speculators, searching for their gains in the neoliberal city – “a speculopolis – a Chillicon Valley”, suggested Leonardo. Although criticised of being a “dystopian narrative”, Leonardo claimed that such an exercise helps prompt discussion and provocations against the “seduction and destruction” of neoliberalism. Grupo TOMA has carried out similar other projects in Santiago de Chile, as well as Chicago, where they moved their office for a few months.

     

    Leonardo concluded his talk by hinting at three main contributions architecture can make towards questioning the dominant neoliberal city. Firstly, he claims, the contribution lies in acknowledging the interrelation between the territory and its social organisation, something the profession has neglected so far. Secondly, in his opinion, architecture can help mobilise contemporary political discussion through use of unconventional languages and of experiments. Lastly, he concluded by asserting the potential of architecture in building spaces and scenarios for involving all socio-political conflicts.

     

    Undoubtedly, Leonardo’s passionate accounts of TOMA’s work and its ideological journey stimulated a lively debate. Questions came from the audience that ranged from the ethics of involving community during projects to TOMA’s future plans for a bigger and a more permanent movement. Leonardo’s fitting comments, modestly acknowledging the unknown and further provoking the ideas of permanency, growth and the neoliberal, closed the session by stating, “Although temporal, the projects are Real and even as they disappear – nothing remains the same.”

     

    Follow the works of Grupo TOMA here.

     

    Playing with goldfish: Engaging people through games in the age of the falling attention span

    By Nausica Castanas, on 11 November 2016

    Research in the age of the falling attention span

    There is undeniably a great amount of social science research produced around the world. In the field of development, much of it aims to inform the public, perhaps even with the expressive aim of changing behaviours. Yet how can one produce engaging content when it is well documented that the general public cannot focus for more than seconds at a time? There has been substantial research on people’s decreasing attention span. In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman advanced his thesis that television and the emphasis placed on entertainment has altered the way people consume information, and decreased their ability to concentrate on issues they do not find pleasurable[i]. Nicholas Carr focused his study on the advent of the Internet, arguing that our use of the Internet not only makes absorption harder, it actually impacts our ability to be engrossed in written material both online and offline[ii][iii]. Statistics seem to concur with this thesis. A 2008 study found that Internet users spent 10 seconds or less on any given page over 50% of the time, while the average time for a stay on a page was placed between 2-3 seconds[iv]. A 2015 study by Microsoft found that overstimulation through the Internet and smartphones has decreased our attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015, jokingly compared to the attention span of a goldfish[v].

     

    The evidence is all around us: news videos online last on average under 3 minutes. In development, the trend is very much the same. Most organisations – including DFID, WaterAid and ODI to name a few – now produce a mix of short videos and infographics to present their material. Information is distilled in bite size pieces which audiences can easily digest.

     

    Conversely, when people are engaged, they can focus for longer. And this is where things get interesting. Coming up with engaging ways to communicate information can make all the difference. And what better way to engage someone’s attention than turning the subject into a game? Playing games de facto retains the player’s attention, and, for that reason, they have long been used in education. Whether it was through educational board games or through the use of computer games in school for math or physics modules, most of us were exposed to learning in game format.

     

    Games can therefore be a great communicative tool, especially for complex information. Openspace, the organisation I am currently working with in Bangkok, has teamed with Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome from the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Thammasat University, to translate the results of a 5-year international research project of the Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR) on urban resilience into a game.

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

     

    Urban Resilience and the CCaR research

    Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR): Building Adaptive Capacity for Managing Climate Change in Coastal Megacities is a research project financed by Canada, looking at climate change and urban resilience, with respect to flooding in Vancouver, Lagos, Manila and Bangkok. CCaR uses modelling through the VENSIM program, using data derived from City System Dynamic model, to input known variables and produce future scenarios for these cities. Interestingly, the causes of flooding are different in each city, which allows for a broad field of study.

     

    Urban Resilience refers to the capacity of a city to bounce back after a shock. The most widespread definition, coined by the Community and Regional Research Initiative on Resilient Communities (CARRI), defines resilience as the “capability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy, and national security”[vi]. As evidenced by this definition, urban resilience has adaptability and complexity at heart. It views cities as adaptive systems, where the interactions of a wide set of factors need to be taken into consideration. Moreover, preparedness is key to achieving urban resilience, as anticipating potential future threats to urban settings allows for greater adaptability. This becomes ever more significant given the looming threat of climate change, which already brings an increase in the occurrence and severity of extreme weather phenomena around the world. While urban resilience involves more than natural disasters, these are considered a central aspect of the threats that need to be countered.

     

    In Bangkok, it is very intuitive to focus on flooding. Bangkok floods severely every couple of years, and, with climate change, the intensity is worsening. 2011 witnessed the worst flooding in decades; the year remains engraved in people’s minds and imagination, and routinely comes up in conversation as the benchmark for all subsequent flooding. The numbers are staggering: 884 people died, while a further 13.6 million were affected. 65 provinces were classified as disaster zones, and the World Bank estimated the total economic losses at $45.7 billion, making it one of the five most costly natural disasters in history[vii][viii].

     

    To a lesser extent, Bangkok floods semi-regularly. For example, it only takes a heavy night’s worth of rain during the rainy season to flood Lat Prao, the area where I live. The CCaR research concludes that flooding in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) will intensify as both the intensity and frequency of heavy rain will increase.

     

    Perhaps surprisingly, the prevalence of flooding has not been linked to climate change or urban resilience, be it at policy level or in people’s minds. It is also telling that there is no government agency responsible for dealing with it. “It ranks low on the scale of political priorities, far behind questions of economic and social development” remarks Dr Marome, the leader of the CCaR team for Bangkok.

     

    Dr Marome stresses the importance of preparing society. “While investing in infrastructure can be very useful, it can only ever represent 70% of dealing with climate change. The remaining 30% needs to be done by people themselves, through preparedness. Japan is a great example of that. The state provides different measures to mitigate earthquakes, from law and regulations to earthquake resistant structures, but society has also adapted. Children are being taught from a very young age how to prepare for earthquakes”.

     

    Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome, Faculty of Architecture & Planning, Thammasat University

    Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome, Faculty of Architecture & Planning, Thammasat University

     

    In Bangkok, there is clearly a gap between the people who have the relevant information on the one side, and the wider public and government agencies on the other. The Urban Resilience Board Game tries to bridge this gap, by making information easily accessible to a wider public, beyond the scope of academics and people in the field.

     

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

    The game is played by 4 or 6 players, each the mayor of a Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) – Bangkok Metropolis, Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, and Samut Sakhon – and a facilitator. Each region has distinct characteristics and conditions, all based on the CCaR research findings: some are more developed, some have issues with waste management, some have issues with social cohesion, or environmental protection. Overall, there are six different urban futures, each affected by four different drivers: socio-economic factors, housing and land use, environment and health, and flood management.

     

    All players are allocated an initial budget, to be used for future investments. The players roll the dice to advance on the board and get handed an event that they need to deal with. Events range from anything between a drug problem among the area’s youth to the construction of a fast train linking this area to its neighbours. The player needs to identify the risk, the opportunity, and, where necessary, invest to deal with the event. Points are allocated for correctly identifying each, and all need to be relevant to the specific area’s profile. This urges players to link different issues and eventually identify necessary investments in the short or long term.

     

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    Rolling a six or completing two rounds triggers a flood round. Flood intensity varies each time, and affects each region differently. An area’s resilience ultimately depends on preparedness stemming from investments in the previous rounds. For example, should an area have a serious garbage problem, investment in clean up prior to the flood round would increase resilience, as refuse not only obstructs drainage, thus worsening the flood, but also spreads diseases. During the flood round, all investment proposals need to be voted on by the mayors of the other regions: players need to argue their case to seek approval. The game ends when any participant reaches the end of the board; the player with the most points wins.

     

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    The Urban Resilience Board Game thus has a double role: first, it raises awareness about flooding and resilience, allowing people to think about urban resilience and find linkages between different issues. Second, it brings people from different backgrounds together and opens a dialogue that would not otherwise be happening, and certainly not under these conditions. In June 2016, Thammasat University and Openspace organised a workshop with academics, policy makers and representatives from the local government, specifically from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). Many participants had no experience with these issues but all played the board game for two hours. The feedback was extremely positive, as they found the game both informative and entertaining. Interestingly, the game seemed to transcend political red tape, allowing people to consider flooding and urban resilience without the backdrop of the sometimes charged political considerations that happen in Thailand.

    In action: The Urban Resilience workshop, June 2016

    In action: The Urban Resilience workshop, June 2016

    The appeal for planners is evident. The game opens a platform for people to discuss complex issues in an informal way. Instead of being confined by the structure and convention of a meeting or conference, participants can let their guard down and engage with the material in a new way. More importantly, the subject matter becomes accessible to people with no prior experience. In the guise of explaining the rules and aim of the game, facilitators are actually presenting the basic information for people to understand the core ideas of urban resilience. Yet all of this remains unthreatening; at the end of the day, it is only a game. The players are then pushed to really think about the issues, and see the connection between investments in infrastructure and cooperation with other regions, and achieving urban resilience. Their output is then fed back to the CCaR team and Openspace, who collect the documented actions that players took during the flood round. This is crucial, as it allows for a feedback loop into the research in a very direct way.

     

    In the next months, more workshops will be organised. Moreover, Dr Marome and Thammasat University plan to train members of the public to be facilitators, allowing for greater exposure, perhaps even spilling to other Thai cities in the North. They are also working on having a workshop with urban policy planners from across Asia to play the game. The possibilities are endless, because who would not like to come play with us?

     

    [i] Postman, N. 2005 [1985]. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. London: 2005 Penguin Books

    [ii] Carr, N. 2008. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”. The Atlantic. July-August 2008

    [iii] Carr, N. 2010. The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. London: W. W. Norton & Company

    [iv] Weinreich, H., Obendorf, H., Herder, E. and Mayer, M. 2008. “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use”. ACM Transactions on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1

    [v] Mcspadden, K. 2015. “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish”. The Times, May 2015. Retrieved in September 2016 from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/

    [vi] Wilbanks, T. 2007. The Research Component of the Community and Regional Resilience Initiative (CARRI). Presentation at the Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado- Boulder; as quoted in C. E. Colten, R. W. Kates, and S. B. Laska. 2008. Community Resilience: Lessons from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved in September 2015 from http://www.resilientus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/FINAL_COLTEN_9-25-08_1223482263.pdf

    [vii] Emergency Operation Center for Flood, Storm and Landslide. 2012. Flood, Storm and Landslide Situation Report. Retrieved in October 2016 from http://disaster.go.th/dpm/flood/flood54/news/news_thai/EOCReport17JAN.pdf [in Thai]

    [viii] Impact Forecasting LLC. 2012. 2011 Thailand Floods: Event Recap Report. Retrieved in September 2016 from http://thoughtleadership.aonbenfield.com/Documents/20120314_impact_forecasting_thailand_flood_event_recap.pdf

     


    Nausica is a DPU MSc Environment and Sustainable Development alumna. She is currently completing the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme in Bangkok, Thailand. All images taken by Nausica Castanas

    Harnessing ideas, partnerships and resources to transform urban Sierra Leone

    By Andrea Rigon, on 21 October 2016

    Dr Andrea Rigon and Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani  from the DPU coordinated and supported a delegation from Freetown (Sierra Leone) at the UN Habitat III conference. The delegation included Sam Gibson, Mayor of Freetown, Sulaiman Parker, the Environment and Social Officer of Freetown City Council and the two co-directors of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), Dr Joseph Macarthy and Braima Koroma. SLURC is a research centre created through a partnership between the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and Njala University with the aim of generating knowledge that could bring together city actors to achieve just urban development.

    IMG_5343

    Sierra Leone is one of the countries with the lowest Human Development Index and is facing a process of urbanisation which has the potential to improve the well-being of its citizens. On Sunday, the delegation participated to the World Mayors Assembly. Mayors of the world strongly asked to be recognised as the central actors in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and asked for more powers, particularly in terms of direct access to finance mechanisms.  There was also a mayor call for more women in local government leadership. The Mayor of Freetown had the opportunity to informally meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and put the needs of cities in least developed countries on the political agenda. The delegation had the opportunity to meet with IIHS, an indian-based research institution which had similar purposes and learn form their history.

     

    The Mayor of Freetown met with UN-Habitat to discuss the challenges of the city in terms of appropriate legal frameworks to implement city planning. These reflections were later presented at the special session on urban rules and regulations. The discussion also highlighted the need to clarify responsibilities between the city and central government and the need for the city to improve their own revenues. The delegation was also approached by the UN programme Capital Development Fund, which helps cities getting access to capital markets and bridging relationships with donors, in order to discuss municipal finance

    IMG_5312

    The following day the delegation met with the Secretary for Territory and Housing of the Quito Municipality and their civil society partners to learn from the experience of Quito. A number of areas were identified in which Quito has very interesting and successful policies that could benefit Freetown. These are the effective system of property tax, betterment tax and land value capture which are used to invest in the city infrastructure. Moreover, the land regularisation process for Quito informal settlements can be a useful model for Freetown. The delegation was also introduced to the cooperative housing model which enabled low income groups to access high quality housing and regenerate important ecological areas next to the creeks. We discussed the potential for south-south city-to-city cooperation and the Quito Municipality was open to organising a trip to Sierra Leone. In the afternoon, we had a meeting at the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing where we furthered the discussion around south-south cooperation and the possibility of a delegation from Ecuador including both municipal and central government staff in order to share with Sierra Leone  on division of labour and cooperation between these levels of government could work for the city.

    IMG_5340

    On Wednesday, the delegation met with Cities Alliance to discuss the possibility to expand their programme to Sierra Leone and focus on upgrading through an alliances of government, civil society and research institutions. Later, we met with the Government of Kenya to discuss slum upgrading approaches and learn from their experience with the Minimum Intervention Approach based on community building, land titling and infrastructure. They invited us to the session of the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP), a UN programme in multiple countries. The Mayor asked for Sierra Leone to join the programme and the European Commission which fund it welcomed Sierra Leone as long as central and local government are jointly willing to implement slum-upgrading policies.

     

    On Thursday, SLURC was launched internationally through a press conference to explain how it operates as an urban learning alliance introducing a new mode of urban knowledge production through partnerships with central and local government, universities, civil society organizations, and local communities. The following people explained the importance of an organization such as SLURC: Mr. Sam Gibson, Mayor of Freetown, Mr. Francis Reffell, YMCA Sierra Leone, Dr. Joseph Macarthy, SLURC co-director of SLURC, Prof. Julio Davila, Director of Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, Dr. Irene Vance, Comic Relief.

    IMG_5324

     

    Following this international launch, a networking invited brought together six urban alliances between universities and city actors, from four continents to share their insights and recommendations for SLURC and how urban learning alliances can play a key role in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

    Friday morning was dedicated to visit two communities and projects dealing with housing. In the morning, the delegation visited Los Pinos a community in the outskirts of Quito, while the afternoon was dedicated to getting to know the  housing project of the cooperative Solidaridad.IMG_5353

    ‘Africa Regional Dossier’ highlights some key issues raised by civil society groups in advance of Habitat III

    By Rafaella Simas Lima, on 20 October 2016

     

    For the past year and a half the DPU has worked in collaboration with the international civil society network Habitat International Coalition (HIC) to understand the various preparations and processes leading up to Habitat III, set to take place in Quito, Ecuador, in October. Namely, the intent has been to understand how civil society groups and grassroots movements have been involved (or not) in these processes, that are meant to culminate in the ‘New Urban Agenda’, to be agreed upon by national governments at the Habitat conference.

    The first iteration of the DPU-HIC research was to look at the process of Habitat III national report production in eight countries where national report drafts were being prepared. Our research showed that in most cases, civil society participation in the national reporting process was quite limited, representing at best brief consultations, at worst reports undertaken by government institutions or consultants without much outside input. In addition, with a few exceptions, national reports themselves were quite limited in terms of commitments to ‘right to the city’ principles and other rights-based approaches advocated by some several civil society groups.

    Alexandre Apsan Frediani speaking at the HIC general assembly meeting

    Alexandre Apsan Frediani speaking at the HIC general assembly meeting

    As attention shifted from the national level to regional meetings and the development of regional reports, the second project was an attempt to more actively respond to regional processes. Regional reports were developed by the five UN Regional Economic and Social Commissions and UN-Habitat. Like at the national level, the opportunity for civil society input at the regional level again seemed limited, and while regional reports were ostensibly supposed to build on national reports, it is unclear how much this actually happened in practice. Accordingly, the DPU, steered by an advisory committee of civil society networks, grass-roots movements and academics spanning the African continent, helped coordinate an Africa Regional Dossier (full report available here) to highlight key issues requiring more visibility and reframing in the New Urban Agenda, from a civil society vantage point. Beyond a reliance on selected interviews, the Dossier builds on two pan-African civil society gatherings organised in Johannesburg in November/December 2015: the Global Platform on the Right to the City’s regional meeting and the Session of Inhabitants coordinated by the International Alliance of Inhabitants at Africities VII. Meanwhile, HIC coordinated a Latin America response, which is taking the form of an alternative Latin American regional report (forthcoming).

    The Africa Regional Dossier is not intended to be a comprehensive report, but serves to highlight a series of key urban issues and propositions articulated by civil society actors in need of further visibility and commitment from national and transnational actors, to be reflected in the New Urban Agenda. The propositional aspects of each issue are summarised as follows:

    1) Forced evictions and land grabbing: The urbanisation practices that are driving evictions and land grabbing need to be placed at the centre of struggles around evictions. This implies rethinking the balance between collective rights (including the collective ‘right to occupation’) and individual land rights acquired through land markets. Habitat II commitments to ‘prevent and remedy’ unjustified evictions need to be upheld. There is a need to develop legislative frameworks for legal redress, in order to support community rights in case of evictions that are deemed unavoidable.

    2) Land tenure: ‘Land tenure’ should not be limited to private ownership and private land rights. Rather, diverse forms of collective and individual tenure can be recognised and explored as mechanisms to ensure marginalised groups’ access to land.

    3) Rural-urban ‘divide’: Re-framing ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ not as a dichotomy but as interconnected parts of the same system, allows for the recognition of diverse urbanisation trajectories. Policy making could reflect this plurality and the linkages between the ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ by emphasising inter-municipal and cross-departmental coordination rather than dealing with ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ as separate categories governed by different authorities.

    4) Infrastructure: At the local scale, infrastructure development plans need to recognise and integrate decentralised, low-cost and low-skilled solutions through targeted financial resources and training. Understanding diverse infrastructure provisions within the urban-rural continuum and through a combination of financing sources that connects Africa’s diverse economies is key. This can be facilitated through cross-departmental and cross-boundary coordination among local governments. Additionally, there is an opportunity to view infrastructure and service delivery as providing environmental outcomes, creating employment or economic opportunities, as well as social outcomes, for example, in mobilising youth.

    5) Governance and the right to political voice: There is a widespread call amongst African civil society actors to reframe ‘good governance’ through a focus on deepening meaningful democratic practices. This implies ensuring better recognition of different social actors, facilitating increased participation in decision-making structures, and achieving more equitable redistribution of wealth and services. Equally important as involving civil society actors and other stakeholders is recognising unequal power relations among actors, taking steps to address these power imbalances in decision-making fora, and ensuring that more democratic governance leads to equitable outcomes.

    6) Economic opportunities: The ‘economy’ can be re-conceptualised within a plural perspective of diverse systems—formal, informal, social, solidarity, etc.—interacting together. The fluidity and adaptability of informal practices can be harnessed while pursuing policies to limit potential exploitative conditions. In addition, viewing employment conditions through a human rights perspective would imply the need for the protection of jobs, especially in the informal sector, and the right to legitimate and decent work. At the same time, a focus on the capacity of local governments could improve their ability to generate revenue through taxation and the capture of value from real estate or infrastructure developments.

    7) Security and urban conflict: In order for urban stakeholders to meaningfully address urban security, the varying manifestations of urban conflict and violence must be acknowledged along with the intersecting social, political and economic factors behind such violence. Often, interventions to address urban safety address merely the side effects rather than the root causes of urban violence. Security commitments need to call for building linkages between humanitarian, development and human rights approaches, and the fundamental principles of security and equity.

    8) Climate change and environment: Climate change can go beyond concepts of sustainability and resilience, and be re-framed from the perspective of environmental justice. This allows for the links between social justice and climate change to be acknowledged, and for a discussion about the distribution of environmental benefits and hazards, so that the differentiated effects of climate change can be addressed.

    In addition to these eight issues, the Africa Regional Dossier argues that the New Urban Agenda should place more emphasis on protecting against the loss of entitlements (for example, those outlined in previous Habitat agendas and human rights conventions), the distribution of resources and opportunities towards a more equitable urban development, and to the roles, responsibilities and capacity of local actors to implement and monitor the agreed agenda. The case studies in the Regional Dossier demonstrate some ways in which civil society groups can partake in such processes.

    The regional scope of this Dossier reinforces the need for territorial debates in the process of elaborating international agendas such as the New Urban Agenda. This research also highlighted the lack of opportunities for civil society groups to participate meaningfully in such a process. Lack of transparency and limited access to regional reporting procedures compromised the potential of the agenda-making process to deepen a collective understanding of on-going urban challenges in Africa. This has thus represented a missed opportunity to build commitments from a variety of stakeholders towards a transformative New Urban Agenda.

    The process of coordinating the African Regional Dossier demonstrated the appetite of civil society groups to share experiences, deepen their understanding about wider regional processes, and collaboratively build synergies for transnational collective action. We hope that this Dossier, far from being an exhaustive list of key issues, can contribute to the on-going discussions within and around Habitat III, but most importantly, that it can be of use in the building of linkages and collaboration among civil society groups across the Africa region advocating for more just urban development.

    Universal design in a divided world: The young architects building urban resilience through social inclusivity

    By Cindy Huang, on 4 October 2016

    It’s hardly arguable that one of the most prevalent human activities is picking sides.  From ethnic conflicts down to people’s taste in music, the world finds itself divided – by nationalism, classism, other-isms or simply a difference of opinion.  And amid the Brexit aftershocks and cries over racial violence in the States, amid the broken trust and broken spirits flooding our news channels, where does the term “universal” stand?  How can we, in these circumstances, imagine a unified vision to take care of each other?

    Although the built environment has a way of reinforcing social divisions, whether through gender-specific bathrooms or communities ghettoised by gentrification, it can also host spaces that inspire solidary over status, and spaces that actively embrace the most excluded people of our societies.  Today, pockets of planners and architects work to promote a less socially divided world, and some of them are doing it through universal design.

    Universal design, defined

    Often presumed as design for people with disabilities, universal design actually embraces a much broader definition.  It is “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.”[1]  In other words, it tries to befriend as many as possible – selfish in a selfless way.  It assumes all people have disabilities to some extent;[2] just as we gain abilities with age, we also lose abilities – whatever “normal” is on this spectrum will always be trend-related and misguided.

    The term was coined by Ronald L. Mace, an American architect who at age nine contracted polio, became a wheelchair user, and in his twenties had to be carried up and down the stairs at university.[3]  It was perhaps forecasted, then, that he would help institute the first accessibility building codes in the United States in 1973, which went on to influence national policies including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.[4]  During this period he also founded what is now the Centre for Universal Design at New Carolina University.

    His legacy not only etched a space of dialogue for disability discrimination but also raised the question of what constitutes social norms to a new height.  “Unfortunately,” Mace said in a speech, “designers in our society also mistakenly assume that everyone fits this definition of ‘normal.’ This just is not the case.”[5]

     

    Young Ronald L. Mace (source); Mace later in life as an architect (source)

    Young Ronald L. Mace (source); Mace later in life as an architect (source)

     

    Mace’s work evolved from recognising people’s differences to harmonising them – from disability design (focused on the inclusion of one group) to universal design (embracing all individuals’ differences).  The strength in universal design is that it simply acknowledges human diversity.  With no technical guidelines, it serves as a new reference point for practitioners, informed by anthropological understanding – sort of like a social justice challenge.

     

    No rules attached

    Tar-Saeng Studio, an offshoot of the collective Openspace with whom I’m working in Bangkok as part of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme, is helping to grow universal design into Thai society.  Using participatory approaches channelled through the comforts of informality, they create spaces attentive to the often overlooked needs of elderly people and people with disabilities, who live on low-incomes or in poverty.  The studio is run by a small group of community architects who are in their mid-twenties to early thirties.  They represent a new generation of practitioners building urban resilience through inclusive design—both in product and process.

    When I chatted with Tar-Saeng Studio founder Ploy Kasama Yamtree about universal design, I found it interesting that their work is largely dependent on the country’s institutional gaps.  “In Thailand, universal design is still linked to regulations, like the correct ratio for a ramp or handrail,” Ploy said, “But when you go into people’s bamboo houses, you see it’s not possible to have the 1:12 ratio because people just don’t have that type of space.”

    Conveniently, building codes go unenforced in most remote or slum areas of Thailand, giving Ploy’s team creative freedom to shape genuinely usable spaces for those who need them.  “We go and figure out what we can do without following the rules,” she explained, “We are more interested in adaptive design.”

    There’s a very human approach to all this.  Building codes unquestionably play a role in keeping our societies safe, but like with anything institutionalised they can be restrictive to the ever-changing contexts.  Tar-Saeng Studio chooses to carry out their work—safely and strategically—whether it adheres to the legal systems or not, for they do it to solve problems, not to abide by the confines that sustain problems.

    And in the process they are making a point – “When we design and don’t follow building codes because it’s impossible to, it’s a statement we’re putting out there that these building codes need to change,” Ploy said.

    Tar-Saeng Studio works with vulnerable populations to provide living environments suited to their needs. (Photo: Openspace)

    Tar-Saeng Studio works with vulnerable populations to provide living environments suited to their needs. (Photo: Openspace)

     

    Designing for Thai society

    Before Tar-Saeng Studio was established, Openspace worked in some of Thailand’s poorest communities and noticed this widespread but untrodden issue.  In 2013, about 7.3 million people in Thailand lived below the poverty line, and another 6.7 million were at risk of falling below it.[6]  For these people, access to safe shelter is already a struggle.  Thailand is also the world’s third most rapidly aging country with more than 10 percent of people over 64 years old,[7] and it’s projected that by 2040 this number will jump to 25 percent—that’s one in every four people.[8]  And of the near 2 million people with disabilities,[9] almost 40 percent are above the age of 64.[10]   Adapting for an aging society in Thailand with increasing cases of disabilities is just smart planning, yet no one was doing it.

    The first time Openspace actively applied universal design was in 2011, or as people here call it “flood year” – referring to the floods that caused 884 deaths and an estimated loss of 45.7 billion USD.[11]  In a riverside community in Pathum Thani province, elderly people felt uncatered for in the local amenities.  The goal was to create a space in which they can socialise, exercise, and spend time in.  More importantly, a space where they can connect with each other and lead healthier lives, and where the inherent vulnerabilities from unwanted isolation can dissipate over time.

    Openspace worked side by side with the local people, like a true partnership.  Using low-cost materials like discarded bamboo and motorcycle tyres from nearby shops, they made an area consisting of benches at varying heights, a hanging garden, and an exercise station—it was modest, useful, beautiful.  The benches aimed to connect the elderly with the children; the hanging garden had attached platforms for stretching legs; the exercise station held removable weights made of stones stored in bamboo.  Everything served a purpose in bettering older people’s lives.  Equally as valuable were the skills gained and relationships reinforced within the community, and perhaps a proud sense of ownership to something they collectively brought to life.

    A few months later came the floods during which the structures were destroyed.  Ploy heard that after the water subsided, the community rebuilt the space.  “It was really nice to hear,” she said.

    Community members weaving a bench seat with recycled tyres for a socialising/exercising space for elderly people; the space being exhibited; the hanging garden on site of the community (Photos: Tar-Saeng Studio)

    Community members weaving a bench seat with recycled tyres for a socialising/exercising space for elderly people; the space being exhibited; the hanging garden on site of the community (Photos: Tar-Saeng Studio)

     

    Eager to pursue universal design with greater commitment, Openspace partnered with the Institute of Health Promotion for People with Disability, a government entity, on a four-month project involving seventeen people with disabilities living in underprivileged conditions.  Most of them were in rural housing unfit for accessibility building codes, and couldn’t afford the “standard” equipment for their needs.  This is the reality; affordability should be integral to accessibility but disability-focused design can be expensive, leaving out those who are poor.

    Openspace visited the seventeen people across two provinces.  Case by case, they studied the clients’ health and living conditions then came up with low-cost design solutions, published in an illustrative book titled Differently-Abled Architecture.  It includes people with cerebral palsy, paraplegia, hemiplegia, deafness, blindness, and mobility difficulties from diabetes.

    In one case, they created an “at-home playground” for an eight-year-old boy with cerebral palsy that allowed him to stretch different parts of his body and aid the development of his muscles and joints.  It was constructed from bamboo, rubber tyres and concrete.  Another project was a “DIY horizontal toilet” built into wooden floors, and beneath it sat a plastic bucket connected to pipes, a hose, and a water tap.  It was for a client who couldn’t sit up but was perfectly capable of moving around in his own ways; he just needed an environment suited to his methods of self-reliance.

    These projects underscored the basis of universal design – understanding the concept of “normal” as shifting with the users, all of whom differ.

    Ploy measuring the hand of an eight-year-old client with cerebral palsy; drawings of the “at-home playground” shown in Differently-Abled Architecture. (Photos: Openspace)

    Ploy measuring the hand of an eight-year-old client with cerebral palsy; drawings of the “at-home playground” shown in Differently-Abled Architecture. (Photos: Openspace)

     

    What Ploy grasped at the end of the four months was the dismally isolated nature of these cases.  These were just seventeen of 2 million people with disabilities in Thailand, who happened to be among the poorest populations, divorced from public assistance.  There was no space in which they can support each other, no platform on which they can be heard, and no signs of progress towards their inclusivity.

    “I decided that in our next projects we wouldn’t do it the same way,” Ploy said, “Instead we will combine many cases.  A process of building together, and taking care of each other, would be better.”

     

    “Lit Eyes”

    At this point, in 2013, Ploy set up Tar-Saeng Studio, a private entity detached from government organisations—detached from politics, a precarious area of discussion in Thailand—aimed to mainstream universal design into Thai society.  The word tar saeng means “lit eyes” in Thai and “community” or “villages” in Laos, chosen to give familiarity to local people (whereas Openspace, a mishmash of English design jargon, means little to many).  Through Tar-Saeng Studio, Ploy would advocate for the inclusion of vulnerable populations to built environment practices.

    But she also acknowledges it won’t be easy.  The concept of universal design is still alien to most, and when it does ring a bell to some it’s often perceived as an extra luxury, covered by extra costs, sacrificed from the “real” necessities.  Trying to convince poorer communities to embrace universal design principles has been tough.  Many say they simply don’t see the point; meanwhile Ploy would watch them struggle to move around their homes.

    She realised it will take a lot more awareness raising before implementation can go full force, and decided to keep the message simple, which was, “Look, there are no rules.  It’s about knowing your own resources and adapting to your environment.”

    Since then, Tar-Saeng Studio has undertaken a series of projects ranging from low-cost furniture making to hospital design.  Their outputs are always based on inclusive design principles, and their processes on participatory empowerment. They’ve also published and distributed books to institutions and the wider public, and held training workshops in small communities.  It is Ploy’s hope for Tar-Saeng to become a social enterprise one day, with income from private sector clients subsidising projects for poor communities.  “It’s very important to connect with people doing similar things from different sectors,” she mentioned, “You can’t really do this alone.”

    Tar-Saeng Studio holding a community workshop in Ching Rai on universal design for public space. (Photo: Tar-Saeng Studio)

    Tar-Saeng Studio holding a community workshop in Ching Rai on universal design for public space. (Photo: Tar-Saeng Studio)

     

    What this means for urban resilience

    The floods of 2011 brought great devastation across Thailand.  People lost their homes, they felt desperate, they wanted answers.  This triggered a well-needed public dialogue on urban resilience and climate change adaptation; like a newcomer experiencing culture shock, Thailand had struggled to cope with these new waves of events and adapt to a new language through which to understand them.  So this was a good step.

    A city’s urban resilience is characterised by its social and physical capacity to take on different types of pressures, endure through them, and recover from them.[12]  Whether hit by an earthquake or economic recession, things like governance, ecosystem balance, physical infrastructure, social services, and community support networks, all determine how a city bounces back.  Conversations around urban resilience in Thailand, however, remain primarily on physical infrastructure, while social capacity—people’s knowledge, mental and physical health, and resourcefulness during a time of crisis—have remained more or less a faded backdrop.

    Ploy’s decision to focus on universal design, she told me, has everything to do with building urban resilience in Thailand.  People are aging, losing abilities, living in poverty, and some need particular types of assistance.  The fluctuating climate is also adding to these stresses.  She said, “What we’re doing is planning for the future, for the environment that’s always changing.”  Tar-Saeng Studio is proving that building adaptive environments through participatory approaches can increase social capacity by minimising vulnerabilities and strengthening communities.  Their next goal is to demonstrate that these grassroots activities can be scaled-up to the regional and national levels.

    It’s as if Mace predicted the volatile state of the world today and decided to send a note to the future.  In a 1998 speech he said, “I’m not sure it’s possible to create anything that’s universally usable…We use that term because it’s the most descriptive of what the goal is, [which is] something people can live with and afford.”[13]  What seemed like a vague statement then has become significant in today’s social practice.  I’ve noticed that Ploy rarely speaks about disability, elderly, or po-poor focused designs as independent from each other, but instead she talks about making environments inclusive to everyone.  Now I understand how she’s running with Mace’s words.  But it’s not that these things—disability, elderly, pro-poor focused designs—always go together either.  I guess universal design is like a head-to-toe winter outfit that you modify according to the weather that day.  You just need to check the forecast to make the best decision.

    As Mace wrapped up his last speech, at a New York conference in 1998, he said, “We are all learning from each other in a wonderful way and need to continue what we have started here—communication and the exchange of ideas and experience.”  And eighteen years later, reading his words were a small group of young architects in a traditional Thai house, lying on the floor, scribbling away, planning for the future.

     

    References:

    [1] Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, 2012. What is Universal Design. [online] Available at: <http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design>
    [2] Mace, R. 1998, ‘A Perspective on Universal Design’, speech, New York, 19 June. Available at: <https://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_us/usronmacespeech.htm>
    [3] Saxon, W., 1998. Ronald L. Mace, 58, Designer Of Buildings Accessible to All. [online] 12 July. Available at: <http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/13/us/ronald-l-mace-58-designer-of-buildings-accessible-to-all.html?_r=0>
    [4] Center for Universal Design (2008) About the Center: Ronald L. Mace. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_us/usronmace.htm>
    [5] Mace, R. 1998, ‘A Perspective on Universal Design’, speech, New York, 19 June. Available at: <https://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_us/usronmacespeech.htm>
    [6]
    The World Bank, 2016. Thailand: Overview. [online] Washington: The World Bank Group. Available at: <http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/thailand/overview>
    [7]
    HelpAge International, 2014. Aging population in Thailand. [online] Available at: <http://ageingasia.org/ageing-population-thailand1/>
    [8] The World Bank, 2016. Aging in Thailand – Addressing unmet health needs of the elderly. [online] 8 April. Available at: <http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/04/08/aging-in-thailand—addressing-unmet-health-needs-of-the-elderly-poor>
    [9] International Labour Organization, 2009. Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Thailand [pdf fact sheet] International Labour Organization.
    [10] Thongkuay, S., 2016. People with Disabilities – Thailand Country Profile [draft report 2016].
    [11]
    Impact Forecasting LLC, 2012. 2011 Thailand Floods Event Recap Report Impact Forecasting. Chicago: Aon Corporation, p.3.
    [12] 100 Resilient Cities, 2016. What is Urban Resilience? [online] Available at: <http://100resilientcities.org/resilience>
    [13] Mace, R. 1998, ‘A Perspective on Universal Design’, speech, New York, 19 June. Available at: <https://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_us/usronmacespeech.htm>


     Cindy Huang is an alumna of MSc UDP and a participant of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme, currently working on community-driven development projects with Openspace and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights network in Thailand.

    Urbanisation, smart cities and the future of energy

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 20 September 2016

    The Seminar on EU-India Cooperation on Sustainable Urbanization took place in Pune, on the 15-16th September 2016 in a cooperative and multi-disciplinary atmosphere. The workshop was organized by the Global Relations Forum from Pune and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Academic Foundation and it was supported by the European Union’s Delegation to India and Bhutan. During the two days, delegates discussed what is smart in the territorial and demographic transformations associated with urbanization in India.

    ‘Smart’ is a multidimensional promise for better services, better environments, more educated people. The discussions suggested that, in many ways, smart is nothing else than a variation on the preoccupations about the shortcomings of the city in the twenty-first century: Eco cities, sustainability, future proof cities… are all labels that indicate a will to improve the livability of our cities. They all have something in common: an interest on the simultaneous possibility of technological and social transformations. Yet, focusing on characterizing the city as smart, low carbon, green, or ecological may distract from actually thinking through practical solutions to address the challenges of urban life.

    IMG_20160916_142240

    In my talk I focused on two questions which I think are, specifically, useful to understand the urban energy transition in India. The first question is: why does energy matter to city dwellers? It is a way to also ask: what is the lived experience of energy in each city? The second question is: what kind of interventions can bring about an energy transition?

    With regards to the first question, my insights draw from my project ‘Mapping Urban Energy Landscapes’, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, which aims to understand from a comparative perspective how energy is embedded in everyday existence. The first insight from this project is that social and material relations with energy in any given city are unique. They belong to its city as they depend on the local culture, on the specific history of infrastructure development, and, given the political character of energy, on the way in which energy politics are played at the local level.

    For example, some of the case studies I have been comparing have been Hong Kong, Bangalore and Maputo. Of the three cases, Hong Kong is the only one which has a homogeneous energy landscape, based upon traditional models of fossil fuel electrification. In contrast, Mozambique’s population relies mostly on charcoal and other biomass fuels, with electricity covering only 8% of the total energy consumed. The energy landscape of Bangalore is characterized by its diversity. All manners of energy sources and means of provision coexist in the city. Energy needs are as unequal as unequal is the society of Bangalore. Generally, the intermittency of energy services characterizes the energy landscape. In conclusion, each of these cities has to be looked at independently, in relation to different problems. In Bangalore, we know that increasing the availability of electricity alone, for example, is not improving the reliability of the system, let alone facilitating energy access to the urban poor. We need context-tailored solutions, in which attention is paid to the specific factors that shape the provision and use of energy in every city.

    IMG_20160916_142328

    My second question is thus, where are the possibilities for action: not just what to do about global energy challenges, but also who should do it and how. Past research on global climate change action included the review hundreds of climate change innovations, concluding that experimentation is a key means to create positive action all over the world, Europe, India, you name it.

    This means appreciating the value of localized, context-specific, scale-appropriate alternatives which respond directly to the needs of urban dwellers. Here, I am particularly interested on what is the role of planning? In Bangalore, for example, there is an urgent need to understand the interactions between the system of urban planning and that of delivering energy services, as they both operate in a completely uncoordinated manner. Planning has a big role to play, not necessarily in a spatial sense, but rather, as a means to facilitate partnership building and build up collaborative institutions. Planning is a key instrument whereby local needs can be met by bridging different forms of knowledge, bringing together top-down and bottom-up approaches, and, ultimately, making possible strategies for co- designing livable cities.

     

    Further reading:

    A survey of urban climate change experiments in 100 cities by Vanesa Castán Broto and Harriet Bulkeley


    Vanesa Castán Broto is a senior lecturer and co-director of MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Her work spans a range of issues in developing cities, including disaster preparedness, climate change adaptation and energy supply.

    CAN Co-Creation: Reflection

    By Luisa Miranda Morel, on 5 September 2016

    In July 2016, the 4th Community Architects Network (CAN) Regional Workshop brought together community action practitioners from countries all over South East Asia. The first day was spent in Bangkok, Thailand, introducing the participants to the work done and challenges faced by CAN members in Thailand, China and India. The following five days were spent in groups – each focusing on a different sector of city development, for example the transport group, which I was part of – doing fieldwork alongside local communities in Chumsang City of Nakornsawan Province, Thailand.

     

    Today is just about listening

     

    “Today is just about listening,” we were told. That was how we started our fieldwork on the 16th of July. Focusing our attention on understanding the local communities of Chumsang, listening to their ideas, concerns and how they wished their city to be in the future. This was a challenge, particularly as most of us had spent the first two days of the workshop meeting and exchanging with many different people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. So by the time we arrived in Chumsang, my mind was already full of questions and ideas. I was excited and a little rushed to quickly understand the context of Chumsang, considering we had very few days to do so and then to, somehow, ‘co-create’ something.

     

    Co-Creation was the theme of the workshop. It was described in the introductory programme as the “co-creation and design between man and nature through a process of understanding and respect”. Understood in this way, co-creation was very representative of the dynamics and needs of Chumsang. Like other similarly sized cities in Thailand, Chumsang faces many concerns related to its natural resources and landscapes, the loss of its cultural traditions, the changing dynamics of migration in its young and old populations and as a result the increasing day to day challenges in making the city livable, sustainable and lively.

    Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

    Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

    Following this theme, the workshop in general had a loose structure that allowed space for conversations to evolve, take different directions and reveal those elements that were not immediately obvious about the city and its people. At first this way of working felt uncertain, unfamiliar and risky but as we were immersed in to the fieldwork, the friendly people and the excitement of it all, it became easier to go with the flow and allow our ideas and projects to develop in a very organic way.

     

    Our behinds were burning but our faces were bright

     

    As the transport and cycling group, we happily spent a lot of time on our bicycles, visiting the city and using any excuse to get on the saddle. By the end of the first day, it was harder to walk straight and our faces were quite pink from the sun, but it was through these rides around the city that we found inspiration to work. We even wrote a song!

    One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

    One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

    Within the transport group, I felt very connected to my colleagues, not only by being part of CAN, which encouraged us to work together but also through our other interests, in my case cycling. In other cases, photography, culture, music, heritage and ecology brought people together to share ideas on making the city. These elements, represented through our different interests and hobbies, are also an important part of what makes cities vibrant and CAN Co-Create seemed to build on this synergy very well. It took a wholesome perspective toward community architecture and in this case, for the first time, at the scale of the city. I think this was one of its greatest strengths.

    Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

    Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

    In this way, the opportunity that CAN workshops bring about by generating attention, bringing in professionals and practitioners from many contexts to work with local communities and catalyze change not only focused on one arm of city development but many. We established groups that addressed housing, mobility, politics, environment, culture, health and one that emphasized the connectivity and cohesion between these different elements at the level of the city. The workshop also became an opportunity for the mayor to come face to face with the energy of the city’s people, their desires and motivations and to engage in direct conversation with them about their different ideas for the future of Chumsang.

     

    At the same time, this transversal approach also brought many communities to work together. We worked with two cycling groups, a group of elderly, the old market community, young school children, communities that were to be relocated and communities that had already been housed. Initially, it seemed that these different groups had their own motivations for participating in the workshop. However, at the end of each day, as we reviewed our progress and our findings, the work gradually demonstrated how intricately connected these different motivations and processes really were.

    Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

    Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

     

    Although some groups progressed quicker than others during the five days of fieldwork, reviewing, changing and even starting over a couple of times; the level of involvement from community groups in the presentation of the outcomes, on the last day, was moving. It showed that these processes of participation intrigued people and invited them to feel part of something greater.

     

    So although lengthy and sometimes frustrating, the time it took to build, validate and present ideas with communities, seemed to generate a collective sense of a ‘Community of Chumsang’. In a way, the notion of ‘co-creation’ really materialized through this challenging and timely process. Toward the end of the workshop, I increasingly noticed that people built on these connections and worked with them, moving around the room, between different groups, sharing information and presenting ideas in sync with each other.

    Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

    Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

    Sharing is where everything starts

     

    There were many things about the CAN workshop that motivated me but it is what happens after the workshops, which I find the most significant. How the transformative process that CAN workshops initiate, by bringing so many minds together in one place, can ripple out into a series of waves of transformation in other places; How those of us who attend the CAN workshop can carry our experiences and through them, diffuse the energy of CAN into existing and new networks. After the workshop I was left with this intrigue, excited to see what happens next.

     

    The workshop produced Facebook groups [CAN Co-Create Chumsaeng City & Unsung Stories of Chumsaeng); brought cycling movements together to carry out a collective ride throughout the city with the support of the police; created brochures to promote tourism, made a song and proposed many other small achievable projects that the local communities could carry on after the workshop. I see these outcomes as small actions and tools that are practical and achievable in the short term but which have the potential to keep co-creation running by “people’s process”, as we like to say, in the long-run. If people follow up and use them.

     

    Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

    Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

    A month later, I am visiting some of the CAN members in Vietnam. They have been great hosts, showing me around and teaching me about the beautiful city of Hanoi.

     

    “Sharing is where everything starts” says Houng, one of my hosts and also a CAN member. Being back in conversations about community practices reminds me of my intrigue, what happens after the workshop? How does the transformative process of CAN Co-Create continue?

     

    Still excited from the experience, I’ve noticed some signs that suggest the transformative process is still running. The actions that we took and the ‘web’ of tools that we began to create seem to have given the ‘network’ a potential to catalyze this process. Believing it all the more as I listen, discuss and exchange with people who, despite having returned to their busy lives, are still talking about visiting Chumsang again, strengthening the CAN network in Vietnam and even about extending the scope of the existing one.

     

     

    [Video]

    CAN Co-Create Workshop Teaser Video – Final Video will be published in October

     


    Luisa is an alumni of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently she is working in Manila, Philippines as a beneficiary of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme.

    Reviving cities’ urban fabric through art

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 1 September 2016

    Cities are socio-technical systems, precariously integral, capable of growing as well as becoming smaller and fragmented but still functioning. Even though they have a resilient inherent quality, many cities around the world are witnessing slow death. The reasons could be many – environmental and social degradation, diminishing opportunities for the young population, shifting economic centers, poor governance, loss of character, etc. The dying city is reflected in everything thereafter, in its form, function, and most important the functionaries – the city dwellers. The first sign of decay is visible in the urban form, which instead of undergoing a constant transformation, stops in time and becomes redundant.

    Photo 1: Abandoned Township, Lost fervour

    Photo 1: Abandoned Township, Lost fervour

    Smartening the Cities

    The smart city concept brought out by the current government in India, urges planners to design innovative future cities to address the urban transition India is experiencing. In 1900, around 15% of world’s population lived in cities where as in 2015 more than 55% lived in cities. By 2050 it is estimated that 70% of world’s population will be living in cities. According to United Nations, Cities are using only 2% of the entire planet’s land mass and 75% of the world’s natural resources, accounting for approximately 80% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge ahead for city planners is to accommodate the 70% population which will be living in cities by 2050 in the 2% of land available to them.

    Improved access to global markets, rapid advances in technology, as well as rising expectations of citizens is fueling the growth engines of urbanization. Cities around the world are embracing a smart agenda. There are several definitions of what it means to be a “smart city,” thus giving an opportunity to governments to define their own programs, policies and procedures, responding to their own unique priorities and needs. Famously, the word SMART as an acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based goals. Most of smart city frameworks in the developing world comprise projects and programs that feature smart grids, smart buildings, clean technology and smart governance. However, apart from meeting basic needs, smart cities need to also improve livability, give its citizen a sense of pride, ownership, identity and belonging.

    Reviving the urban fabric

    Every city has a peculiar character, represented by elements such as smell, form, colour, texture, sound and culture, commonly described as the urban fabric. A smooth texture, a ragged landscape, a dense weave, a focal point, an intriguing maze, etc., all represent the city’s unique character. Thus, just like a fabric, a city also has a print, a pattern and a colour and when it evolves with time, more often than not, it changes these inherent characteristics. In other words, by accommodating migrant population, welcoming new cultures and traditions, the city voluntarily or involuntarily absorbs elements – and loses its basic essence for better or worse.

    Delhi is a historic city, between 3000 B.C. and the 17th century A.D seven different cities came into existence in its location. The remnants of each of these seven cities can be seen today in structures such as Gates, Tombs, Water Bodies, Economic Activities and Streetscape, though most features have lost their fervor with time. An organic city by nature, Delhi has seen drastic changes in its urban form. Several rulers conquered Delhi and adorned it with their symbols, Turk introducing Minar, Mughal Domes, Persian coloured tiles, Maratha’s shikhars and British Bungalows with Gardens.

     

    Photo 2: Delhi’s old structures peeking out of the evolved streetscape today

    Photo 2: Delhi’s old structures peeking out of the evolved streetscape today

     

    However, in modern times, the urban design is not dependent on rulers and thus before a city involuntarily transform we need to plan the inevitably transformation. The launch of four flagship Missions (Smart City, AMRUT, HRIDAY and Swachch Bharat Mission) by Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India represents a realization of a paradigm shift which is taking place in addressing the challenges this evolving unplanned urban transition. These interlinked Missions built on broad overarching objective of creating clean, sanitized, healthy, livable, economically vibrant and responsive cities propagate ‘Planning’ as a fundamental tool for providing realistic direction and cohesive development.

    The question however still remains – will smart cities revive the decaying urban fabric? The cities of today need a renaissance movement to make them more inviting, sustainable and vibrant. Art can be instrumental in renewing the look of the city and thus the new trend of using graffiti in portraying emotions, conveying messages and giving dimension to the otherwise plain façade is an idea which is fast catching up in cities around the world. An individual’s expression, graffiti – triggers different reactions from onlookers. Where, many relate to them, some also find these obscure and obstructing. Besides, igniting different feelings amongst people they are being welcomed more and more as part of the urban form. In addition to urban features like, street furniture, signage, kiosks and structures; art and colour are becoming popular urban elements reversing the slow death a city is prone to undergo.

    Art on the walls of houses, schools and community spaces is not new to India. Women have been painting their homes from outside by drawing specific geometric patterns. Folk art and strings of mystical stories are common illustrations found in villages with lined mud houses, helping to differentiate the otherwise similar looking brown facades.

    Photo 3: Traditional paintings on the walls of Rural India.

    Photo 3: Traditional paintings on the walls of Rural India.

    Continuing with this tradition, Delhi has recently endorsed graffiti on its vertical frame changing the streetscape altogether. One of the first public intervention adopted by the residents of Lodhi Colony in Delhi has helped convert their residential area into an art district. Several Art Volunteers from across the globe have been tasked to reform the plain walls of the residential blocks into masterpieces. The art portrays – mythology, technology, nature, Indian ethnic patterns, future but above all it portrays pride. Pride which every citizen needs to feel for their larger abode – the city in which they live to respect and to protect the space.

    Photo 4: Recent promotion of Street Art by international artists in Lodi Colony, Delhi

    Photo 4: Recent promotion of Street Art by international artists in Lodi Colony, Delhi

     


    Daljeet Kaur is Associate Director – Knowledge Management with IPE Center for Knowledge and Development (http://ipeckd.com/ipeckd). IPE CKD is the knowledge management arm of IPE Global Limited (www.ipeglobal.com), which was established in 2013 to extend the frontiers of knowledge and promote experimentation for innovative solutions to global development challenges. Alongside her work, Daljeet pursues her passion of painting, sketching and drawing under the banner madhURBANi.