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    Spaces of Peace: A participatory process worth studying

    By Laura Pinzon Cardona, on 29 May 2015

    petare 3

    From my experience, living and working in Colombia and witnessing the struggles found in processes for upgrading poor zones in the city, I often wonder how can small organisations propose and deliver urban projects seeking for social and cultural transformation, without getting lost in the highly bureaucratic processes for funding and building permissions.

    I want to share in this post some points about a participatory methodology, initially used in Venezuela in July 2014 that points to interesting directions for achieving more comprehensive, and time sustainable, results for urban interventions in low income areas.

    Having said this, it is important to highlight that the experience in Venezuela needs to be studied critically, in order to understand local factors that made it successful and wondering whether it could be a methodology than can be easily replicated elsewhere.

    IMG_3588

    Spaces of Peace (Espacios de Paz) is the name given to this participatory methodology, and that was precisely the main purpose, to create places of truce in conflictive neighbourhoods with violent histories, through the transformation of empty buildings, and urban voids, into communal spaces for the practice of different activities related to cultural and recreational practices in the community.

    This initiative was lead by the Presidential Commission of the Movement for Peace and Life (Comisión Presidencial del Movimiento por la Paz y la Vida) and coordinated by the architecture firm PICO Estudio. Eleven social architecture collectives – both national and international – were invited to participate in the project, and to take part in five parallel participatory workshops across the country. The workshops lasted 6 weeks, which included one week for preparation, and five for design and construction.

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    This may sound straightforward for someone unfamiliar with managing and delivering urban proposals in low-income communities in South America. But the fact is that it is an outstanding accomplishment. The project achieved five good-quality results in parallel, in just six weeks, while remaining participatory throughout. In my experience, it can take about 6 weeks just to have the permissions ready for a small urban intervention, and that would only involve two or three actors – not the seven who came together for this project.

    There are a few details that piqued my interest in learning more about this methodology, which I believe these could be strategic decisions that explain the apparent success of implementation of this approach. The first detail I want to highlight is that local women managed resources for each project, including both food and money to pay for construction materials brought to the site.

    In doing so the role of actors in the project is balanced: the community all of a sudden receives these architecture collectives to guide the workshop, design and construction – even if they are from the same country, they are still somehow alien to local contexts. But at the same time it is the community itself, represented by their women, who are the ones in charge of managing the process in the best way possible to make the ideas feasible.

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    Production teams were in charge of all logistical details covering a wide range of tasks related to the preparation and implementation of workshops, including transportation, hosting, food, hiring and delivering of construction materials. Besides a small quota of voluntary students and some specialised craftsmen, men and women from the communities did most of the labour, being hired and paid for their time

    One final detail I want to highlight is that cultural and social activation started in parallel with the project being built. With the support of local and national networks of foundations, artists and collectives with social purposes, many different activities were planned and realised in the communities during the workshops. This called the interest of the community and gave a chance to more people to participate.

    I am part of one of the international collectives invited to be part of this exercise, Habitat sin Fronteras. Although I could not be there during the workshops I followed it from my home in Colombia, through the experiences of a colleague, and in August last year I had the chance to visit one of the projects in Caracas. In this project an existing two-story building was renovated, in a very crowded corner in Petare, a traditionally conflictive poor neighborhood.

    petare 2

    Inside the new building there are spaces designated for dancing and yoga, a music-recording studio, and an Internet room with a few computers. The roof terrace was reinforced and properly adapted for a single basketball court with space for stands and plants. During my visit I could see all these spaces were used intensely by local people, still being supported by some art and cultural collectives that participated during the construction exercise.

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    Looking at the impact generated by Spaces of Peace, it is hard not to think this should be done more often and in many more countries. However, specific local conditions such as political will, levels of coordination among institutions, strong funding management and production capacity from the project leaders, and community cooperation are, among others, some factors to study locally before replicating this particular exercise.

    Nowadays, Spaces of Peace 2015 is being implemented in Venezuela, and also in Mexico at a smaller scale on a project-by-project basis. I will share some of their experiences in future posts.

    Related Links:


    Laura Pinzon is an architect and completed the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU in 2012. She currently works as a consultant with Habitat sin Fronteras, a non-profit foundation, and is also manager and creative director of a communication company called 101 Media Solutions, developing communicative strategies to support development processes in Colombia, where she currently lives.

    Transformation in a Time of Transition: Engaging with People-driven Upgrading Strategies in Cambodia

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 26 May 2015

    In the last 20 days students from the MSc BUDD have been engaging with people driven upgrading processes in Cambodia as part of the annual action oriented design research fieldtrip project.

    Working closely with local communities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) and the Community Architect Network (CAN) and supported by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), BUDD students, along with 22 local students from 7 different Universities, developed design strategies for city wide upgrading and inclusive urban design, starting from a socio spatial full immersion in three informal communities in Phnom Penh and Kompong Thom.

    Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

    Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

    Two of the three sites share similar challenges, even though one is located in a mostly urbanised area in the periphery of Phnom Penh (Chbar Ampov District), while the other is located in the Province of Kompong Thom, 160 km far from the capital city, in a mostly rural part of the country.

    Poor though cohesive communities are here facing the perpetual lack of land tenure – one of the many by-products of the murderous urbicidal past of the country – and basic services (water, sanitation, waste management..); on top of that, seasonal flooding worsens the already precarious conditions in urban and rural Cambodia weakening the relationship between environment and people. But local people’s knowledge and technology, their inexhaustible inventiveness and resilience, their ability in organising and building, proves once more to be strong enough to imagine, design and plan a different future.

    Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

    Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

    The third site, Anlong Kngan community, has been even more challenging, given the large scale (it is in fact formed by nine communities for a total of 500 households), the extremely contested and conflictive context (a relocation site in the periphery of the city, today a densely inhabited area with high pressure over land) and lack of cohesion in the communities. The Anlong case is paradigmatic as it represents a common feature in the urban production of Cambodia: massive settlements generated ad hoc from forced evictions and acts of emptying the centre of the city paired to the use of peripheral land to relocate informal populations, toward building the image of a ‘charming’, globalised and competitive city.

    Anlong Kngan combined the perverse failure of the relocation system in Phnom Penh with another example of the resilience of the Khmer people and their ability to work out the worst condition, resist unjust urban dynamics, reclaiming the right to shape, built and inhabit the city.

    Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    The Kompong Thom community is formed by 30 households and lives in unhealthy and unsafe conditions above a polluted canal. Houses are built on stilts echoing the traditional vernacular wooden architecture ubiquitous in rural Cambodia. During the rainy season, the water of the canal reaches the floor level of the houses worsening the living condition of the residents.

    In light of the vulnerability of the area and taking advantage of the lack of land tenure of the residents, the municipality is willing to relocate the community in a site 70 km far away causing the disruption of their livelihood. However, the small city does not show evidence of a possible pattern of growth or urban development that can explain the relocation or make sense of such pressure over land. Also, it is unclear how imminent the threat of eviction could be.

    Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

    Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

    Nevertheless, the community urges to envision alternative scenarios as tools to expand the room for manoeuvre with the local authority, to catalyse attention, gain visibility, mobilise other communities and reach a level of autonomy. Helped by a pro-poor oriented Municipality, the BUDD developed and tested several proposals for on-site upgrading (domestic space, shared spaces and infrastructures), re-blocking and relocation to another land of choice.

    Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

    Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

    The group of students worked along with community members to jointly develop a strategy to be presented to the local authority first, and, after further refinement, to the vice Governor in Phnom Penh.

    It is of crucial importance that the first presentation is led by the community, in order to capitalise on the unique opportunity for urban poor communities to share their story and upgrading aspirations directly with local authority. Similarly, the aim of the second presentation is to facilitate the institutional recognition of the presence of such enormous capital in each communities.

    Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Anlong is a peri-urban site for relocated people, where the government allocated empty land for victims of (deliberate) fire in the more central zone. Fast forward 15 years, the communities have transformed the empty land without infrastructure and services in a dense lively urban space.

    Four of the nine communities not included in the relocation process, are illegally occupying part of the land. The site is therefore two times a locus of contestation, for being a relocation site and for being a squatted relocation site.

    Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

    Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

    Great effort was put by the students in disentangling the complex dynamic of resettlement as a mechanism repeatedly present in the system of the city and in unpacking the conflicting agendas of different actors.

    The proposed interventions aim at the incremental occupation and densification of the site (sensitive reblocking), the activation of self-sufficient mechanism and growth of the site as a self sufficient city, at strengthening the interdependency of the communities settled in the site, and at increase the rootedness and sense of belonging.

    Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

    Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

    The three sites despite local specificity share similar features related to the uncertain institutional and legal framework for the urban poor’s access to land in the new course of the National Housing Policy implementation; even when present, laws and regulations on land and housing are rarely fulfilled.

    The collaboration between BUDD students, Staff and representatives of the recently established General Department of Housing (GDH) as part of the Ministry of Land Management (MLMUPC), has been an attempt to catalyse attention to people driven processes in the production of the city and attentive participatory methodologies.

    Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

    Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

    Since reliable data and maps, when existing, are difficult to gather or deliberately hidden or simply not recognised as forms of knowledge, a cross cutting underlying common goal of the fieldwork in each site has been the co-production of knowledge, including settlement profiling, enumeration, mapping, and participatory design activities, at the point that it is difficult to say who contributed more: the community, the Khmer students or the BUDDies.

    Image: co‐production of knowledge(©Giorgio Talocci)

    Image: co‐production of knowledge (©Giorgio Talocci)

    Finally, a common trait of the work has been the constant learning attitude, inspired by the humble, no-hero work of CAN and ACHR. Such attitude is central and constantly reasserted in their approach: learning from the people, learning from urban reality, learning from each other, learning by doing.

    If once Giancarlo de Carlo said that architecture is too important to be left to architects, maybe there is a greater role for Community architects?


    Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13. This year’s cohort of BUDD students will present the outcomes of their research on Wednesday 27 May 2015.

    Action-learning in Euston: inputs for HS2 Citizens’ Charter

    By Maria P Sagredo Aylwin, on 21 May 2015

    co-written with Ashley Hernandez
    HS2 makes me feel

    Since 2013 students from the MSc Social Development Practice have been working with Citizens UK on researching the aspirations of Euston residents in London affected by the HS2 plans. This project involves the development of a high-speed rail that will connect London to Birmingham.

    The students addressed various topics, among them housing, jobs and training, community relations and the accountability of the HS2 project, through participatory research methods. The research included transect walks, interviews and mapping of the area. The main findings were presented at a community meeting, where residents could express their ideas and engage with the findings. The result of this research contributed to the development of a charter elaborated by the Camden branch of Citizens UK.

    The following video summarizes the process of research and its main findings. The video was presented at the pre-launch of the charter that was organised by Citizens UK in April 2015. The event was attended by residents of the area, Camden Council and students from other contributing universities.


    María Paz Sagredo and Ashley Hernández are students of the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. This research formed part of their London-based Social Development in Practice module, which aims to actively engage local communities in policy and planning processes to ensure more equitable and transformative development outcomes. 

    Exploring possibilities for community-led urban land development in Dar es Salaam

    By Rafaella Simas Lima, on 19 May 2015

    For the past two-weeks students of the MSc Urban Development Planning have been working in three sites across Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as part of their field trip project supporting community-based initiatives for informal settlement upgrading.

    Working with the Center for Community Initiatives (CCI), a local NGO, and members of the Tanzanian Federation of the Urban Poor, students have been trying to understand the realities of urban life in these three areas while developing ideas to guide more socio-environmentally just trajectories of urban development at the city-wide scale.

    Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site Image: Rafaella Lima

    Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site
    Image: Rafaella Lima

    The three sites in which the groups are based—Karakata, Chamazi, and Mabwepande—have much in common: they are all growing peri-urban areas, they are all mostly “informal” or “unplanned”, most residents are low-income, and they face similar interlinking challenges such as infrastructure, access to basic services, sanitation, and solid waste disposal. But they also represent different patterns of land acquisition and development within the Tanzanian context.

    Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

    Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

    Karakata is the longest-established settlement of the three, and developed as residents from elsewhere in the city moved further out in search of more affordable land and rent prices. Considering Karakata’s close proximity to Julius Nyerere International Airport, as well as its diverse array of livelihood activities, the value of the land is currently rising at a rapid rate.

    Residents face big issues such as sanitation and access to medical services, and the rapid erosion of the river in the area presents a grave environmental threat. Students assigned to this site have been working on ideas such as community-led environmental risk assessments and a more sustainable model for the Federation’s waste-disposal system.

    Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

    Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

    In Chamazi, Federation members formed a housing cooperative to collectively purchase a plot of land to build homes for those who were evicted by the government from Kurasini Ward in 2008, due to the expansion of the port area.

    However, since the project began in 2009, many houses have not been completed and a high percentage of families have yet to move to the site. One hypothesis for this has been that Chamazi’s distance from the city center (sometimes 3-4 hours with traffic) means much fewer livelihood and employment opportunities.

    But the Chamazi site is not as isolated as it once was; in only the past few years the area around Chamazi town has grown rapidly, bringing new businesses, markets and services. UDP students have been exploring the seeming disconnect between the housing site and the town, along with the financing of the housing project to understand how it can remain affordable and viable.

    A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

    A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

    Mabwepande is another peri-urban site for relocated people, however in this case the government allocated land for victims of flooding in the more central Suna zone.

    At the moment the area feels rural and many residents use the non built-up space for agricultural purposes, but we have yet to see how increased development of the area and new pressures on land will affect them.

    As the Federation has only just begun working in this site, Mabwepande had yet to be mapped in a way that was accessible to its residents. Along with conducting interviews and focus groups to begin to build a larger picture of the Mabwepande community, students created maps with the help of community members to be shared on the site.

    Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

    Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

    These three sites are illuminating important citywide processes, such as the uncertain institutional relationships that govern the urban poor’s access to land (for example, there is no clear resettlement policy that might guide the relocation of people like in Chamazi and Mabwepande).

    Students are understanding the notion of “scale” in practice, as they come to grips with the scale of informality and poverty across Dar es Salaam. This has been underpinned by the rainy season, in which intense flooding across the city has brought the hardships faced by Dar’s poorer residents into clear focus.

    Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

    Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

    Finally, there is the challenge of gathering reliable data in a city that is growing so rapidly, in a context where certain forms of knowledge are not recognized. The field trip focuses on the way knowledge is built at the local level as students learn from the Federation model of settlement profiling, enumeration, and mapping.

    In return, students offer input and experiences from their diverse home countries to try and support community-led processes of co-production of housing, land development, and knowledge.

    Snapshots of the urban economy: Mekelle, Ethiopia

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 11 May 2015

    For the past 10 days I’ve been with staff and students of the MSc Urban Economic Development in Mekelle, Ethiopia. They have been making sense of economic development by exploring four broad topics, and assessing their contribution to the local economy:

    1. Mekelle University as a supporter of small enterprises
    2. Urban and peri-urban agriculture
    3. Co-operative organisations
    4. The airport as a catalyst for economic development

    We have put together a series of images, which provide a snapshot of different parts of the urban economy in Mekelle.

    Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress. Image: Tsuyoshi

    Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress.
    Image: Tsuyoshi Aiki

    Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops if greater quality in greater quantity, peri-urban farmer are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops of greater quality and in greater quantity, peri-urban farmers are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Triangle’, a popular tourist route. The local tourist board believes that 95% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Clusters’, a popular tourist route. The local authorities believe that 98% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach an international market. For the emerging manufacturing sector in Mekelle, and elsewhere, this challenge must be overcome if the sector is to become a key driver of national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach a wider international market. This challenge must be overcome if manufacturing is to make a greater contribution to national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Mekelle is not a densely populated city at present, so urbanisation tends to happen close to infrastructure and services. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. He has been in Mekelle, Ethiopia with the MSc UED programme for the past 11 days. The MSc Urban Economic Development has been working with Mekelle University for 5 years now, understanding urban economic development in practice.

    Sanitation and the Politics of Recognition in Kibera

    By Tamlyn Monson, on 6 May 2015

    To kick off their field trip to Kenya, students on the MSc Social Development Practice spent much of the day with representatives of Practical Action and Umande Trust, hearing about the ways in which these organisations have worked with local residents to promote productive and liveable settlements in Kenya’s slums.

    Part of the day’s programme was a trip to Gatwekera in Kibera, Nairobi, where we visited two of the settlement’s 16 biocentres. The biocentres provide accessible toilets, where – in an awesome reframing – excreta becomes a ‘human investment’ that is collected in a biodigester to produce gas for cooking and slurry that can be put to agricultural use.

    Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit:  Tamlyn Monson

    Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit: Tamlyn Monson

    Our objective was to understand whether and how these infrastructure projects could help us identify avenues through which such projects can be scaled up to more explicitly political claim making around citizenship. However, the reality of the interventions exposed some of our received assumptions about how such claim making should proceed.

    For instance, we found that in advocating for the rights of informal settlement residents, NGOs may also face certain informal political dynamics at higher scales within the state, and therefore opt to advocate for change outside of the ‘direct’, formal channels.

    According to Peter Murigi of Practical Action, completed infrastructural investments have the potential to legitimise the claims of informal residents to improved living conditions, this is because in permitting these interventions the state has indirectly recognized the need for change. Rather than explicitly lobbying through formal channels for change, advocates can use these achievements as precedents justifying claims for further practical improvements when opportunities to indirectly influence power holders arise.

    Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

    Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

    Witnessing the significant achievements of the Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) Network, both staff and students were struck by the limited role of the state in these achievements: the government’s contribution, according to the TOSHA chairperson Moses Ambasa, is merely to “allow us” to go ahead – with projects realized through donor funding and community labour only.

    Ambasa was satisfied with this situation, in which slum dwellers are, so to speak, permitted to solve ‘their own’ problems. Participants felt a tension between the need to give due weight to this community voice, and the need to challenge the idea that residents of slums should shoulder such a disproportionate burden of cost and responsibility in securing basic living conditions.

    In an afternoon debrief, students acknowledged various shifts of perception inspired by the visit to Kibera, which exposed many to the complexity and ambiguity of an informal settlement for the first time. This was an exciting and stimulating start to a field trip in which students will soon be entering an unfamiliar field in the secondary city of Kisumu. The reflexive trajectories opened up today will be a valuable asset as students soon begin a practical engagement with the Kisumu Informal Settlements Network (KISN). They will be entering the field well prepared to begin unpacking the various entanglements we always find there.


    Tamlyn Monson is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU and a PhD candidate at the LSE. Staff and students on the MSc SDP programme engage in overseas research with Practical Action in Kenya each year – read about the collaboration on the DPU website.

    MSc DAP field trip and the tragedy in Kathmandu

    By Kamna Patel, on 4 May 2015

    "Nepal relief location map" by Uwe Dedering - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

    “Nepal relief location map” by Uwe Dedering – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

    If the world today were as it was a little over one week ago, 35 students on the Development Administration and Planning MSc programme would be boarding a plane to Kathmandu for our annual overseas field trip. That they are not warrants relief and great sadness; relief at not being caught up in the tragedy of a powerful earthquake, and great sadness at the scale of loss in Kathmandu.

    Since news of the earthquake came on Saturday 26 April, the figures of people who have died, are lost or have been forced to leave their homes, is steadily rising. Images of ancient places students were to visit as part of a city orientation, are images of rubble and dust. When tragic events happen in distant places it can be difficult to translate every statistic in a death toll to a real person and every crumbled building to a home.

    For our Nepali friends and field trip partners life has changed in an instant. As phone lines and internet connections slowly come back online a sense of relief returns; email messages confirm they are alive and unhurt.

    The messages also reveal people slowly coming to terms with the challenges before them. Some predict it will take at least a month after the shocks subside for a semblance of normalcy to return to the country. In the meantime, they and their families are sleeping outside and cautiously visiting homes and offices to check on damage, gather supplies and plan for what happens next.

    All of our field trip partners are engaged in the development sector either as scholars or practitioners. For them, a priority equal to securing their heath is returning to work to assist some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Kathmandu, people who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of an earthquake.

    In the process of cancelling our trip and reinforcing our distance from tragedy, we are inspired and humbled by the commitment of our friends and partners in coping with the inescapable realities of this calamity.

    To support relief efforts in Nepal, donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) are very welcome: http://www.dec.org.uk/


    Dr Kamna Patel is a lecturer at the DPU, where she co-directs the MSc programme in Development Administration and Planning.

    Elections and the homeless: who is heard?

    By Lauren Asfour, on 30 April 2015

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    Image: Courtesy of the Electoral Commission/Flickr via Homeless Link

    With the UK elections creeping up on us, on the 7th May, I’d like to grapple with the volatile question of elections for who? Given the general apathy towards voting and politics, and the Guardian asking us, “are you engaged and energised by the election campaign – or can’t wait for it to end?”, I find myself considering: who is being represented in the political sphere, and are those marginalised by society being heard? On the MSc Social Development Practice, we have been exploring the importance of hearing from those who are regarded to be on the margins of society, and how their voice can be articulated to generate new knowledge and approaches to urban development.

    IMG_0668The government encounters complex challenges in identifying those experiencing homelessness, particularly with the presence of the ‘Hidden Homeless’, who typically reside in bed and breakfast hotels or sleep on friends’ sofas. As such, there is no distinct voting classification for the homeless as a ‘sector’, but rather these individuals are grouped with those living in social housing.

    My personal concern is that government fails to recognise the diversity between those experiencing homelessness and those in social housing – and thus an ignorance of the difference between those who benefit from the state, and those who appear to fall outside the system. Although those experiencing homelessness have a right to vote and exercise their voice in society, figures indicate that while 74% of homeowners turned out to vote at the last UK election, only 55% of those living in social housing (and those experiencing homelessness) voted. Such statistics would indicate that many of these individuals are not articulating their voice.

    Democracy for who?

    While the government maintains that it is working to ensure homeless people have and can access their rights, organisations such as Homeless Link ask: “are residents of social housing and homelessness services really part of democracy?” The government might argue that rough-sleepers’ right to vote indicates that they can access the ballot along with the rest of society – but are they doing so? Those experiencing homelessness need a declaration form from local authorities to vouch for them – but will such bureaucratic hurdles actually encourage individuals to engage in the system?

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    Encouraging homeless voters

    The ‘Your Vote Counts’ scheme is an initiative funded by government, aiming to engage rough-sleepers and those in social housing to participate more actively in democratic practices through voting. This is a great encouragement, and I look forward to seeing how such initiatives will materialise in the upcoming election.

    With growing inequality in the UK, the voices of the marginalised are vital if we are to develop our society into one which safeguards all members of our community. Organisations such as Homeless Link are working diligently to encourage such engagement, with a recent article endeavouring to break down the barriers for those experiencing homelessness and provide clarity on themes such as:

    1. Have a say on important issues
    2. Make sure decision makers don’t ignore your views
    3. Improve your credit rating
    4. No fixed address? No problem
    5. Keep your information private
    6. Register online in minutes
    7. You don’t have to go to a polling station
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    Photo taken at Webber Street Day Centre (or All Souls Clubhouse) courtesy of ASLAN, the ministry for homeless and vulnerably housed people of All Souls, Langham Place. Volunteer for ASLAN: http://volunteer.aslan.org.uk

    Individualism or Dependence?

    My question to all (and to myself), is how can we engage those experiencing homelessness – and others who have become marginalised by social structures – to contribute in the political sphere? How can we encourage such individuals into invited spaces for participation, to learn from their experiences and create substantive change for our society? [1]

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    http://volunteer.aslan.org.uk

    No matter who comes into government, whether you believe in the power of the welfare state or not – it is important that we don’t forget our individual duty to care, outside of the model propelled by the state. At the third annual conference on Homelessness, Social Exclusion and Health Inequalities, Dr Lynne Friedli, author of Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities, highlighted that dependency is not failure, but rather a feature of being human.

    As a sense of community is eroding, particularly amidst a growing individualism in London, how are we recognising our natural dependency on one another? And thus, if the vulnerable aren’t being heard, what is our role in advocating for their needs? Whilst inequality continues and homelessness remains prevalent in our society, how do we avoid silencing the most vulnerable – the very people who will depend most on the social system that all of our votes shape?

    [1] See Gaventa, J. (2006), Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis. IDS bulletin. 37 (6).


    Lauren Asfour is currently studying the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. She has been part of research in London on Regeneration Aspirations for Euston: Local Perspectives on the High Speed Two Rail Link and is a volunteer at ASLAN.

    Settlement Planning and Design: Experiences from Mandaue City, Cebu

    By Jessica Mamo, on 28 April 2015

    1. Heading image_Completed landfilling on site_web

    The Philippine Alliance has been an active agent in Mandaue City since 2000. Their work is primarily focused on two large sites, involving a large number of communities, each one at a different stage of settlement upgrading. The team collaborate with Local Government Units (LGU) to address the housing gaps within the city by adopting a sustainable citywide approach which benefits both the low-income groups, as well as the city’s vision of development.

    This post explains the approach that has been adopted for the upgrading of the 6.5 Relocation Site in Paknaan, one of the two prominent sites where the Alliance is active in Mandaue City.

    The relocation site is situated in Barangay Paknaan, on the periphery of Mandaue City, and covers an area of 6.5 hectares. Originally a mangrove area, the site was chosen to accommodate 1,200 families, organised into 12 Homeowner Associations (HOA). These families are being relocated from along Mahiga Creek in central Mandaue City, as part of the River Rehabilitation Program, after the area was devastated by flooding in January 2011.

    Although the site was still a mangrove area, families started living in Paknaan in October 2011. Today, 465 families who were allocated a plot of land have moved on site, some building permanent housing, whilst others simply rebuilding houses out of light recycled materials.

    Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

    Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

    10 out of the 12 HOAs are part of the Homeless Peoples Federation (HPFPI) and collaborate with the Alliance, particularly with regards to organising communities to save, enabling them to finance the construction of their new homes, or pay monthly amortizations for loan repayments. TAMPEI, the technical support unit to the Alliance, have provided assistance in the planning, design and construction stages of the upgrading process.

    The Role of Homeowner Associations

    The strong role of the HOA is interesting to note. In order for a family to be eligible for an upgrading or relocation programme, they must first form part of a HOA which is registered by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. This requirement has driven communities to get organised and collaborate closely with one another, creating close-knit communities which take pride in the recognition they receive as a registered HOA.

    This contrasts greatly with the situation in some other countries, for example the communities I encountered during fieldwork in Cambodia with the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development last year. The particular settlement we were working with in Battambang faced particular concerns regarding community mobilisation and organisation. As a students group, we were constantly challenging the concept of referring to the residents as a community since they did not actually work as a single unit, and found it difficult to support each other. Therefore, the requirement of forming part of a duly registered association acts as a form of mobilisation for residents to really act as a community.

    The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

    The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

    Land Acquisition and Financial Support

    One of the most important elements of slum upgrading is the acquisition of land, which allows families to have security of tenure, whether they are being relocated, or able to upgrade on site. Without the constant threat of eviction, families are able to invest in their homes by building permanent structures. To be able to do so, families need the financial support to buy the land, as well as to pay for the construction of the house and site development. This support either takes the form of the savings program run by the Federation, or loans.

    An important stakeholder is the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC). SHFC is mandated by the President of the Philippines, and aims to provide shelter solutions to organised, urban poor communities. It was created to lead in developing and administering social housing programmes, such as the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), which is currently being implemented in Paknaan. The CMP is a loan system, targeting residents of informal settlements, that aims to finance the lot purchase, site development and house construction, which will be repaid over 25 years.

    By far the most encouraging approach that has been adopted in Mandaue City is the housing construction through personal savings. Some families, mobilised and organised by HPFPI, have been able to limit their loan from SHFC to the lot purchase, and finance the construction of their homes through their own personal savings.

    The construction of their houses, which began in September 2014, was dependent on the capacity of the families to save a fixed amount per month to keep up with the rolling costs of construction since no capital was initially available for the project, other than the money they put aside.

    In March 2015, 5 units were completed, with another 8 units still under construction. Out of the original 23, 10 families struggled to meet the monthly target, which means that the construction of their units has been delayed. However, these families have shown that persistence can challenge the notion of charity and free housing.

    Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

    Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

    Housing and Service Provision

    There are two approaches to the housing development, depending on the affordability of the family in question. If the family is able to cover the full expenses or monthly loan repayments, then the family may proceed to construct the full housing unit. If families are unable to take the full loan amount, they may instead opt to construct them incrementally – however, this second option has never actually been implemented.

    Very often, residents aspire to apply for the complete rather than the incremental option, even though they probably cannot afford the loan repayments. This results in families being rejected from taking the larger loan, and therefore actually being unable to build any form of permanent housing.

    As part of the TAMPEI team in Mandaue City, I have worked on the design of new housing units that cost less than the original low-cost row house design and are therefore a viable option for a greater number of families, without resorting to the incremental construction. So far, five alternative housing units have been developed, two of which are illustrated in the images below.

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    Service provision and site development in Paknaan is still lacking, particularly with regards to sanitation services. Through the initiative of one particularly active HOA called SMASH, two communal toilet blocks will be built soon. Through the collaboration between TAMPEI and SMASH, the design proposal and community management system were developed.

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    By far the biggest challenges that we have faced throughout the developments of the Paknaan relocation site have been due to the large number of stakeholders that are involved in the project… surely a common issue when approaching citywide upgrading!

    Shortcomings and delays have been caused by both the communities, some of whom have been unable to keep up with their required savings, as well as the local government units, who have promised more than they can deliver with regards to the site development. However, it is only through close collaboration by actors across various levels that such large-scale projects can be implemented, and have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the city’s urban poor.


    Jessica is an architect and has recently completed the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently, she is working in the Philippines, as part of the DPU-ACHR joint internship programme. Her interests lie primarily in community-led upgrading, particularly with regards to housing and service provision.

    Urban street trading: tailored thinking for the Global South

    By Lila R Oriard Colin, on 17 April 2015

    On the 25th of March we ran a one-day seminar on street trading in the cities in the Global South. Prominent researchers from different parts of the world mixed with young PhDs to share their research and reflections on the topic.

    During the reception after the seminar one of the speakers remarked: ‘I feel people in this room are talking on the same language and sharing similar questions; an exciting feeling’.

    I really sympathised with that comment: to connect disconnected research and people was one of the key motivations behind the event. In fact, street trading as a tool to understand cities is currently disconnected from major debates, despite their widespread presence in cities in the Global South.

    Street trading_web

    The seminar looked at street trading on two levels: On a practical level about the difficulties encountered with regards to implementing city policies; and another more theoretical level using street trading as a conceptual tool to understand (and challenge understandings) of cities, and city-making processes.

    The conceptual problem of street trading

    The exercise really started long before the seminar, when we had to choose a title that accurately framed the subject and our objectives. I first proposed the title ‘Street traders and the cities in the Global South’.

    This was quickly changed to specify ‘street trading’ as we acknowledged that the commercial system (traders, organisations, marketplaces, local and transnational commercial connections) is far more complex than only street traders, which only considers people and not wider spatial, political and economic contexts.

    Looking for a more appealing title, Yves Cabannes and I proposed ‘Street trading: the privatisation of public space’.

    However, we realised that that we were getting trapped by the very same conceptual-box that we were trying to escape and challenge: the modern paradigm of cities.

    In fact, the definition of ‘public space’ and ‘privatisation’ fail to adequately explain how streets in the Global South work. In this context, the appropriation of the streets and open spaces by street traders, without formal permission from the municipality, is already a current, and to a certain extent, legitimate practice. In other words, to have informal street trading in the streets is normal.

    Our discussion on the title illustrates a conceptual problem with street trading: as researchers, we lack theoretical frameworks that fit properly to explain how cities and streets work and the conditions that make them suitable places for street trading. After this discussion we settled on the title Street trading in the Global South: Practical and theoretical challenges.

    Informality is never black and white

    Among the different discussions held during the seminar, I have chosen three that show how the current theoretical frameworks fail to address street trading.

    The first of these discussions was on the concept of informality. It was quickly agreed by participants that while this concept seems to propose a black and white understanding of the phenomenon, the reality that we observe is actually somewhere in-between – different shades of gray.

    Is this concept useful to understand how street trading works? Are the street traders doing wrong by operating outside the law, or rather have cities been unable to offer them a dignified role in the city-making process?

    Contested urban spaces and city-making

    The second discussion related with the claims of vendors to urban space and the legal systems that regulate the activity. Traders have been facing evictions in many locations and some of them start mobilisations to protect their places on the streets. Most of these evictions occur when groups of the urban elite, supported by city authorities, ‘clean’ the streets to re-appropriate spaces used by them in the past such as the city centres.

    The contestation of urban space is an interesting angle to see how the city is made and for who. This perspective shows that street traders are not often seen as having a voice in the making of their own cities.

    Urban streets are more than mere thoroughfares

    We also discussed the need to move to a new paradigm of space that integrates the richness of the streets as vibrant places where many things happen throughout the day. In the past, streets were conceptualised mainly as a ‘road’, a space of transit, where separation of uses and users was optimal to fulfill this function.

    This idea still predominates in the way we think about a street and the way city authorities expect it to work. Street trading hardly finds a space in this functionalist conception of space.

    Street trading can only find a proper space in the cities if we start thinking about the streets as a different kind of ‘object’, one that understands the vitality, dynamism, polyvalence that streets in the Global South have.

    Lastly, I want to thanks to all the participants for making this seminar an exciting space for exchange, and specially to Yves for the enriching discussions we had.


    Lila Oriard has recently completed her PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Her doctorate explores street vending and its ability to produce space, through an examination of  the Tepito market in Mexico City downtown area.