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    How can local innovation respond to climate change in cities?

    By Nick Anim, on 31 March 2015

    In the final DPU Breakfast Talk of the term Vanesa Castán Broto was in conversation with Étienne von Bertrab about the role of local responses to Climate Change in urban areas.

    ‘Channeling’ two recent articles by George Monbiot, Étienne opened the discussion by suggesting that: (a) dealing with Climate Change requires the same legislative courage as was necessary to save the ozone layer, and (b), in the absent presence of the required legislation to address Climate Change, the only real spaces of hope and innovation are at the local level.

    Nick post header

    In Dar es Salaam water is distributed by private vendors using 10 litre jerry-cans in the absence of formal infrastructure. Local entrepreneurial responses may increasing be required to respond to water scarcity.

    He posed four opening questions to Vanesa:

    1. What have you been doing recently in relation to climate change?
    2. What do you think is the significance of this work?
    3. As an expert, is there a risk of being too close to the formal governance institutions, such as the Conference of Parties, when they have proven time and time again to be achieving very little and when counter summits, such as the People’s Summit, are emerging?
    4. What is the role of theory building in times of urgency?

    Socio-technical innovation is taking place in cites

    Drawing from her vast experience in the field, as well as some key lessons and conclusions from her recent book An Urban Politics of Climate Change, Vanesa began by pointing out that most socio-technical experiments and innovations take place in cities. Technical experiments such as capturing energy from the water mains, and social innovations such as Transition Towns were used to highlight this point in the context of urban transitions for climate change.

    In reference to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Vanesa highlighted the fact that there were technical alternatives available at the time, which facilitated the relative expediency of its implementation.

    VCD DPU breakfast copy

    Vanesa responds to Etienne’s questions at the DPU Breakfast event

    Participatory planning for climate change?

    A key topic in the discussion was the subject of participatory planning, and perhaps more specifically, participation for Climate Change planning. Climate change is framed almost universally as a global problem; therefore the challenges of addressing its governance have conventionally been approached from the top-down.

    The oft-held presumption that national states/governments are best placed to represent the interests of cities in addressing Climate Change is, it was argued, misguided. Vested interests, as highlighted by a recent Oxfam report, have a disproportionate influence in the corridors of power.

    What is the role of social movements?

    Within the political milieu, what then, it must be asked, is the role of social movements? Can they lobby effectively to counter the prevalence of the vested interests’ lobby groups? How can citizens’ and communities’ voices be amplified, heard and understood in the ‘attention marketspace’ of planning strategies for Climate Change?

    Reflecting on her recent work with informal settlements in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of the Public Private People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) project, Vanesa argued that the key to participatory Climate Change planning is developing a network of partnerships between civil society groups, municipalities, and businesses.

    Nick post - Lima

    Residents living in peripheral areas in water-scarce cities, such as Lima in Peru [pictured] are already facing serious challenges due to climate change

    Community-based solutions rely on open channels of communication

    Within this context, local facilitators are key to building good partnerships that can recognise and access the diversity of voices that constitute any given community. The success of the project in Maputo highlighted the fact that community-based practical actions can work best if the necessary channels of communication are developed and maintained with the different stakeholders from government, business and civil society.

    The participatory planning approach had a clear impact in terms of facilitating community organisation, and strengthening their representation through the establishment of a Climate Planning Committee (CPC) – whose expertise and legitimacy has been acknowledged in joint learning events with stakeholders and policy-makers in Maputo.

    Are academics too close to formal governance institutions?

    In terms of ‘being too close to the formal governance institutions’, it is important as a practitioner, to recognise the institutional milieu within which a project is situated, and in that context, it is equally important to work with, and not against politics

    Academia and its inherent practices of theory-building play an important role in planning and development. Although in many instances theories may take time to filter through to the grassroots, iterative processes between academic theories and field practice can ensure that new knowledge can be brought to illiterate communities for example.

    Whilst this DPU Breakfast Talk facilitated the discussion about local responses to Climate Change, we should see it as just the beginning of an open and continuous dialogue to which we can all contribute, and through which we can all learn.


    Nick Anim is a PhD candidate at the DPU. He completed an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2013. His PhD research looks at Transition Cities as a mean of  exploring the viability and potential of community-based initiatives in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy.

    Keep it simple: helping local governments reduce the risk from the next disaster

    By Cassidy A Johnson, on 26 March 2015

    The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction aims to make communities safer in the face of new disasters but could complex guidance be confusing issues?

    Flooding in cities like Dar es Salaam disrupts urban life on a seasonal basis. How can international frameworks, like the HFA II address these everyday risks?

    Flooding in cities like Dar es Salaam disrupts urban life on a seasonal basis. How can international frameworks, like the HFA II address these everyday risks?

    Four years after a powerful earthquake triggered tsunami waves that destroyed much of Japan’s northeastern coast, I joined a group visiting a peninsula connected to the mainland by a bridge that was obliterated by the tsnunami’s towering wave. I was in Japan for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was looking at how to respond to future disasters.

    Tragically, during the earthquake, a semi-truck toppled over and blocked the bridge so that when the tsunami hit, people could not evacuate the area.

    The visit was a sobering reminder of the importance of properly managing the risks associated with natural hazards. What is needed to enable cities like Sendai to address disaster risks in the future?

    Hyogo Framework for Action II

    At the conference, governments adopted a new framework to guide government, civil society and donor actions on managing the risks associated with natural hazards for the next 15 years. The framework was signed ten years after the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.

    While the new framework includes many different ways to approach the reduction of disaster risks, the lack of specific targets was disappointing. Earlier drafts of the agreement had set out percentage-based targets that governments would need to report on. However in the final negotiated framework, these were removed, which is a great shame.

    Ben Wisner argues that the seven new targets do not prioritise building local community and local government capacity to make their citizens safer.

    Years of advocacy have led to an understanding that, with preparedness and good risk governance, it is possible to greatly reduce the impacts of disasters. Most governments acknowledge this, and have been working to support disaster risk reduction, along with donors and civil society.

    How can we operationalise risk reduction?

    We need to focus now on how this should be done. What are the processes and actions needed to reduce disaster impacts? How can limited resources be best used to tackle the risks of disasters? So it was important that the overarching discussions at the conference related to operationalising disaster risk reduction.

    There are many ways to approach this, and perhaps action is needed on all fronts. We know that poverty and other forms of inequality make some people more susceptible to disasters when a hazard does strike.

    We also know that small-scale disasters which happen regularly (but often do not make the international news), cause more losses overall than do the large events. Tackling those vulnerabilities and focusing on both big and small-scale disasters is important.

    The role of local government      

    The new framework does specifically acknowledge the role of local governments in risk reduction, and the importance of tackling disaster risks in urban areas to reduce the impact of both large and small-scale disasters that are increasing in intensity as urban areas grow and urban populations expand.

    The UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign, an advocacy campaign which aims to get local governments to address risks as front-line responders, has already had over 2500 local governments sign up to it.

    However, it’s clear that local governments need more guidance on what to do. They especially need more guidance on how to address the most acute risks now and into the future through low-cost, implementable actions.

    So, what does this look like from the perspective of local government? It means learning from other cities that face similar kinds of hazards through exchanges that build the capacity of local government and people to take action in their city are important.

    It could also involve assisting cities to address basic infrastructure deficits and working with local planners and civil society groups to help them think about disaster risks in their work.

    Tools promoting urban resilience

    One of the tools that the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) campaign uses is the 10-Essentials for Making Cities Resilient. It’s a ten-point, simple checklist that is a version of the main framework, but aimed at local governments.

    I have recently been involved in a revision of the 10 Essentials, which were originally developed in line with the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Our aim was to update them to become more operational.

    We have managed to flesh out the 10-essentials with more details but, in my view, we need to be careful that they do not become overly complicated. Their complexity risks alienating the very local governments they are aimed at. The aim needs to be a simple set of goals that helps local governments with limited budgets and capacities develop a plan of action .

    Connecting cities

    We had a lot of discussions at the conference about how to build the capacity of local governments to take action on risk reduction. UNISDR is establishing a new platform, called Resilient Cities Connect which aims to bring together knowledge about risk reduction across cities.

    A session about the new platform featured presentations both from local governments in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and from a wide range of expert groups, such as AECOM and C40.

    Are global responses relevant to local challenges?

    In my view, the expert group presentations seemed to be highly technical, and aimed at cities with big budgets to invest in expensive consultancies and equipment. At the end of the session, a woman from a local government municipality, Kisumu, Kenya, with a population of around 400,000 people put up her hand and said: “What do I take home from this session? What is it that I can implement in my city? We have four computers in my municipality.

    As small and medium cities are expanding rapidly, this is where disaster risks are accumulating and will continue to grow. Municipalities like Kisumu are on the front line of disaster risk reduction. If we can help them work with their residents to address disaster risks, then we will all win.


    Cassidy Johnson is a Senior Lecturer at the DPU on urban resilience and disaster risk reduction and recovery in cities. She is currently leading the DPU’s part of the Urban Africa Risk Knowledge project, which explores the relationships between urbanisation, poverty and environmental risk in small and medium sized cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The project aims to support local knowledge and preparedness to risk.

    This blog was originally posted on the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) blog on Wednesday 25 March 2015.

    Experiences in community mapping

    By Mariangela Veronesi, on 24 March 2015

    The Philippine Alliance, where I am currently interning for 6 months as part of TAMPEI, has been involved in community mapping since 2013, when the first pilot project was conducted in the city of Valenzuela within Metro Manila. You can read about this in the Grounding Knowledge booklet produced by the 2013 DPU interns.

    The purpose of participatory mapping is for the community, in partnership with the Alliance’s technical assistance team, TAMPEI, and the Homeless People’s Federation, to gather detailed physical and social information about an area. This reliable data serves as the basis for further planning, design and negotiation for upgrading or for relocation.

    It can also initiate mobilisation, increase awareness over local issues and allow the community leaders and members to build up technical and organisational skills. This video about mapping by CAN/ACHR is worth having a look at!

    Interviews with community members and settlement mapping training in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

    Interviews with community members and settlement mapping training in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

    Creating a Base Map

    TAMPEI assists on the technical side of the process, while the Homeless People’s Federation oversees the community engagement component of mapping. A Core Team is established, usually made up of community leaders and representatives of various local institutions, and is trained by TAMPEI in spot mapping (creating a map outlining streets and landmarks), photo documentation, GPS boundary/landmark mapping and interviews.

    These methods are then used by the Core Team to carry out an ocular visit of the areas to be mapped, which permits the collection of a first layer of information for the creation of a base map and brief description of the settlements. It is also a great way to start interacting with the wider community and its members, to explain the purpose of mapping in preparation for the steps to come.

    Muntinlupa Core Team involved in GPS mapping during the ocular visit

    Muntinlupa Core Team involved in GPS mapping during the ocular visit

    Collecting Information at Household Level

    The next phase actively involves the community in mapping out individual structures and collecting information at household level. The community representatives introduce the idea to the other members, the structures are mapped out on the base map, allocated a number, and the household survey forms (demographic data and housing information) are then filled out according to the structure numbering.

    Within this phase, a focus group with the leaders and/or the elderly is conducted to create an in depth Settlement Profile (characteristics, issues, state of housing and infrastructure, access to services, employment opportunities, etc). Once this stage is completed, the Core Team encodes the data and a complete map is created to be presented to the community for validation.

    Collection of structure and household information in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

    Collection of structure and household information in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

    The mapping procedure follows the CAN/ACHR methodology, although it is adapted along the way to fit with each specific context.

    As part of the Metro Manila team, I’ve mostly been involved in mapping in the city of Muntinlupa: located along the Laguna de Bay lake and characterised by several high risk zones and widespread insecurity of tenure. So far it has been a very insightful experience terms of seeing the mapping being carried in practice and in furthering my learning on working with communities.

    Lessons learnt during the process so far

    One aspect I have found really interesting is the importance of flexibility, the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, the capacity to modify plans, tools and methodologies while maintaining clear objectives and ensure they are met. Basically, at times things don’t seem to really go as initially planned… and that’s ok! It really is. As long as the process comes together and the goals are reached, it is ok to adapt and change plans.

    Both small and big lessons are accumulated through time, and can help improve the process for the next mapping exercise. For example, some of the materials used to create the maps turned out to not be so user friendly and had to be rethought (at times sticking symbols for landmarks seems to be better than writing directly to avoid being confronted with undecipherable handwritings!).

    These methodologies and lessons are shared across the regional offices. One occasion was during training that took place in Davao, Mindanao in March, where the Metro Manila team had a chance to share but also to learn from a specific local context that was quite different the capital. Key distinctions identified were working with different religious communities, language barriers due to difference in dialects, and on average lower income levels.

    Community mapping in Ilang, Davao

    Community mapping in Ilang, Davao

    Clarity in communication

    The importance of communication with the Core Team and with the community has struck me as eessential, especially in terms of clarifying the objectives and purposes of mapping, and of avoiding misunderstanding, misplaced expectations or conflicts.

    For example, if communication is ineffective one of the recurrent issues we encountered is community members believing that by flagging up their house they might either be able to obtain a new one for free, or might be faced with eviction… The real objective was simply to collect data! This misunderstanding can lead to people refusing to engage in the activity, or signaling more houses than they actually own…

    Another aspect that caught my attention is how the process varies according to many factors such as the actors involved, the type of incentives created to participate , and the trade-off between participation in the activity and other engagements, thought to the size of the community, the urgency of the need for a new plan for the neighbourhood and other considerations such as the layout of the community.

    These changed from one place to the other, and even within the same areas varied significantly. Juggling between all these different considerations has possibly been the most challenging but stimulating aspects so far!

    The goal of the mapping process

    The ultimate goal of mapping is to inform planning and design, so that the solutions that TAMPEI and the communities elaborate together can truly respond to local needs. The organisational capacity, skills and data that results from this process guarantee greater power to the communities when it comes to engaging as an active group and pledge for change.

    It is a fascinating process which brings many issues to light, but still remains a challenge: sometimes there is a pressure to move onto more ‘tangible’ aspects such as land purchase, access to loans, planning and design. I will be looking forward to see how this ties into the next steps and hopefully, since in the case of Muntinlupa it is being carried out at city-wide level, how this translates into more comprehensive and holistic development for the area.

    Mapping training in Ilang, Davao

    Mapping training in Ilang, Davao


    Mariangela Veronesi graduated from Environment and Sustainable Development in 2012 and has since been working on the World Habitat Awards for sustainable and innovative solutions to housing issues (www.worldhabitatawards.org) at the Building and Social Housing Foundation. She is also the co-founder of Bugs for Life (www.bugsforlife.org), a non-profit organisation for the promotion of edible insects, both in the UK and in West Africa, as a sustainable option contributing to global food insecurity. She is currently working in Metro manila with the Philippine Alliance National Team as part of the 6 months joint DPU-CAN-ACHR internship programme. Her interests also include gender issues and informal economies.

    The Philippine Alliance: collaboration for planning and design

    By Jessica Mamo, on 17 March 2015

    In January this year, three DPU alumni travelled to the Philippines to work with the Philippine Alliance as part of the DPU-CAN-ACHR Junior Professional programme for six months. This blog kicks off a four-part series from the interns, serving as an introduction to the work of the Alliance.

    The next posts will explore and reflect on different aspects of its work; community mapping (as told by Mariangela Veronesi, based in Metro Manila), community mobilisation (thoughts from Laura Hirst, in Davao) and settlement planning and design (from Jessica Mamo, in Mandaue). This first post gives a brief overview of the history, structure and different partners in the Alliance, along with how they work with the urban poor in the Philippines.

    Community mapping in Barangay Ilang, Davao City, March 2015. © Laura Hirst

    Community mapping in Barangay Ilang, Davao City, March 2015. © Laura Hirst

    The Philippine Alliance: a brief background

    The Philippine Alliance works with the urban poor living in informal settlements across the Philippines. They also work with other vulnerable groups, such as communities living on land susceptible to natural and man-made disasters or those facing the threat of eviction. Through partnerships with local government and other stakeholders they provide sustainable housing solutions for the urban poor.

    The Alliance itself is a partnership between five organisations; Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines Inc. (HPFPI), Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc. (PACSII), Technical Assistance Movement for People and the Environment Inc. (TAMPEI), Community Resources for the Advancement of Capable Societies (CoRe-ACS), and LinkBuild. Each of these organisations has a particular role, and work together throughout the process of acquiring land tenure and providing new housing solutions for the urban poor.

    Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines Inc

    The work of HPFPI started in the 1990s with the creation of savings groups among waste-pickers living on a garbage dump site in the barangay (neighbourhood) of Payatas, in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Originally addressing immediate needs, the programme evolved to tackle issues of land security and eviction. Its successes in Quezon City, in addition to local and international networking and exchanges, encouraged the federation to intensify its work and expand across the country.

    Today HPFPI is a national federation of community associations and savers pursuing community-led housing and upgrading processes.

    The main role of the federation is to promote and facilitate savings among member-communities, as a way of building their financial capability to invest in their own development. This mobilisation aims to uphold the aspirations of its members to secure their own land, maintain decent living conditions, break the cycle of poverty, and protect their dignity and human rights.

    Diagram 1: The Philippines Alliance; Partners and their main responsibilities

    Diagram 1: The Philippines Alliance; Partners and their main responsibilities

    Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc

    PACSII is a non-profit NGO, registered in 2002, and serves as the intermediary support institution to HPFPI, coordinating the Alliance’s programmes across the various regions, providing overall guidance in their mission.

    PACSII provides extensive assistance on legal and financial matters, finding resources, serving as a legal holder for these resources, but most importantly giving the federation the space and opportunity to genuinely develop as a community-driven institution.

    Technical Assistance Movement for People and the Environment Inc

    TAMPEI is the technical support unit of the Alliance, supporting the federation in community-led technical processes, specifically through the design of low-cost incremental housing, community upgrading, community mapping and planning initiatives at different scales; from community to city level developments.

    Community Resources for the Advancement of Capable Societies and LinkBuild

    LinkBuild and CoRe-ACS are newly-formed social enterprise and micro-finance institutions which support the communities that form the federation. LinkBuild provides development finance and builds houses while Core-ACS provides end user financing for low-income families through accessible loan systems.

    LinkBuild was formed in order for the Alliance to deliver sustainable housing to scale for HPFPI members, affiliates and partner community networks. HPFPI and TAMPEI are directly engaged in the project planning and implementation processes in order to ensure community preparedness and involvement.

    Surplus and cross-subsidy projects are being explored as means to sustain the programs and make housing affordable for very low-income families. Houses constructed by Linkbuild are sold to CoRe-ACS, which is then responsible for handing over the houses to households who have been assessed and approved to receive a housing loan, and administrating and collecting these loans.

    Diagram 2: The methodology adopted by the Philippine Alliance, and associated partners involved in each stage

    Diagram 2: The methodology adopted by the Philippine Alliance, and associated partners involved in each stage

    How the Alliance mobilises member-communities

    Although the process varies depending on the context, the starting point for the federation has historically been the mobilisation of communities through the promotion of savings. As communities become mobilised, the aspiration of securing their own land becomes progressively more realistic. Another important stage is the collection of relevant data regarding the community, referred to as community mapping.

    If the community has already been organised by HPFPI, the mapping process can represent a crucial step before moving onto planning and design. Nonetheless, mapping can also be used in communities that are not yet organised or involved with HPFPI.

    In fact it is often used as a strategy to start interacting with a community and to then introduce the concept of organising and saving to find housing solutions. For large projects, such as housing development, mapping is an important stage which profiles the settlement.

    Taking a participatory approach, data is gathered at the household level (for example the number of families, occupations, building structure and facilities), on physical characteristics (such as the boundaries of the settlement and the communities present) as well as on the historical development of settlements.

    Once the data has been gathered, verified, analysed and synthesised by community members, it is presented to the wider community, to be used as a tool in the next stage of community land acquisition, planning and design.

    What are DPU interns doing?

    Throughout our time here we hope to be working in different capacities on all stages of the process in order to support the Alliance in its work and to learn from their experience.

    Look out for the three forthcoming posts about our work and experiences in the coming weeks.


    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. 

    The Meaning of Solidarity

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 13 March 2015

    Protestors outside Downing Street in London, February 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    Protestors outside Downing Street in London, March 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

    For me, the most significant definition of solidarity is expressed in the words of Eduardo Galeano’s, the  extraordinary yet humble Uruguayan writer:

    “Charity humiliates because it is practiced vertically and from above; solidarity is horizontal and implies mutual respect”

    This is what many of us, upset about the state visit of Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto last week to the UK, found not only in the streets, but in lecture theatres in UCL, LSE, SOAS, Queen Mary University, and several other public spaces.

    The other pleasant surprise was the discovery, at least for me, of Jeremy Corbyn, MP, who was the most outspoken about this state visit (the Queen has two of these per year) in light of the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico, which the Mexican state has been contributing towards in a significant manner.

    The two videos featured in this post say a lot. The first (in English), about the protest on the first day of Peña Nieto’s visit; the second (mixed English and Spanish), about the extraordinary discussions held in universities in the space of just one week.

    Finally, while the bilateral Dual Year Mexico-UK insists on focusing on trade and investment – and yes, also a bit of education, culture, and nice arts and yummy food – a growing number of people, including 44 members of the UK Parliament, insist that without addressing the pressing issues that affect Mexican society, this initiative is at best misguided, and at worst a slap in the face to Mexican society at large.

    In Mexico traditional media is highly controlled or pro-government (supporting whoever is in power). In the UK, Mexico has been afforded very little attention in the media, though this is changing.

    For this reason, we have created this site with meaningful, trustworthy information of what really goes on in Mexico, all in English, with the hope of educating and increasing awareness: www.ukmx2015.org

    I invite you all to visit the pages and simply to watch and read some of the content, in solidarity.


    Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

    Gender and sanitation: the hidden issue of gender-based violence

    By Christopher Yap, on 11 March 2015

    Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Kombo Ward in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

    Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Vingunguti settlement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

    Access to safe, dignified and appropriate toilets and sanitation facilities is a basic right for women, men, boys and girls worldwide. However an estimated 2.5 billion people still do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities globally. This issue is most prevalent in the Global South, and in urban contexts a lack of appropriate sanitation facilities is a particular, commonplace condition of informal and unplanned settlements.

    Sanitation in informal settlements

    Lack of access to appropriate sanitation facilities is closely related to the complex reality of insecure living conditions facing informal urban inhabitants. Those living in ‘slums’ are often denied access to formal infrastructure due to their insecure tenure and livelihoods, and marginalised status within the city.

    As a result, these citizens are forced to develop their own infrastructures for toilets and sanitation. Each solution, including communal, privately funded facilities, and pit latrines, comes with its own assemblage of risk, be it health or hygiene-related, environmental or social, or a combination of these.

    The vast majority of toilets and sanitation facilities in informal settlements exist not in private homes, but in public spaces. The nature and degree of risk associated with these spaces reflects the broader social relations of power in the community. Central to this inequitable distribution of risk is the issue of gender inequality.

    Image: Adriana Allen

    Image: Adriana Allen

    Gendered differences in use of public space

    In many patriarchal societies, a public/private space dichotomy exists by which women’s access to public space is more restricted than men’s. Women’s mobility is restricted due to both time constraints associated with reproductive roles as well as ‘symbolic dimensions surrounding the ‘forbidden’ and ‘permitted’ use of spaces governed by patriarchal power relations and norms of female propriety.’ [1]

    Gender-based violence is an expression of these unequal gender relations. It exists in a variety of forms, from physical abuse, assault and rape, to verbal insults and psychological trauma.

    In this sense it might be understood as a response to perceived infractions of gendered ideologies (such as women moving freely in public spaces or earning more in a household than men). While the vast majority of gender-based violence is perpetrated by men against women, men and boys can also be victims. In Mumbai, for example, the practice of ‘eve-teasing’ is commonplace, with men targeting women with obscenities and in some instances throwing stones.

    Women adapt to avoid risks – but where does the problem lie?

    In informal settlements, women are often at greater risk of gender-based violence due to the lack of effective policing, and lack of access to formal recourse mechanisms, including the justice system itself. In many cases the onus is on women to alter their behaviour in order to avoid risk, rather than the perpetrators.

    For example: WaterAid found that 94% of women they surveyed in Bhopal, India faced violence and harassment when going to defecate, and a third had been physically assaulted [2]. Communal toilets are often built near the peripheries of settlements, meaning that women are more vulnerable to assault, particularly at night and in areas with little or no public lighting.

    The facilities themselves can be poorly maintained, unhygienic and lack privacy for women. These conditions drive the practice of open defecation in settlements, which increases the health risks to the community and further exposes women to violence amongst other risks.

    The association between gender-based violence and toilet and sanitation facilities in informal settlements is only one manifestation of citywide injustices relating to gender, class, caste, and identity amongst others. Lack of access to adequate toilet and sanitation services can lead to an increased vulnerability to gender based violence in different forms.

    Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

    Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

    A right to safe and secure sanitation

    Focusing on this issue makes it possible to identify ways of improving the everyday safety and well-being of women in informal settlements through better design and management of facilities. It also has the potential to confront the gendered ideologies driving the reproduction of risk and violence in informal settlements.

    We must grasp the urgency of taking action to combat the disproportionately hostile experiences facing many women when accessing sanitation, particularly in informal settlements.

    The realisation of the right to sanitation is a necessary but insufficient step towards addressing gendered inequalities, not least the elimination of violence against women. But it is only by recognising the daily challenges facing women around the world that we can begin to address them.

     

    Indefensible Space: Gender based violence and sanitation in informal settlements

    is a Project implemented by the DPU and the Institute of Child Health, UCL, and SNEHA, Mumbai and supported by the Institute for Global Health/UCL Grand Challenges.

    On Tuesday 24th March practitioners and academics will host a half day Colloquium exploring the issues relating to gender-based violence facing women in slums; there will be a first London screening of a participatory film produced with slum communities in Dharavi, Mumbai as part of the Project. Read more about the project and book your place in the audience today.


    Notes:

    1. Chant, S. and McIlwaine, C. (2013). “Gender, Urban Development and the Politics of Space”, 4 June 2013.
    2. WaterAid and National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (2013). Research on the DFID-supported IPAP programme in India in five states (unpublished).

    Chris Yap is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Urban Development Planning. He has worked with a number of organisations including the International Institute of Environment and Development, London International Development Centre, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa, and Oxfam America on topics including the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, communal and collective land tenure options for low income groups, participatory budgeting in a post-disaster context, community led-mapping and urban agriculture.

    How can social media help assert citizenship rights?

    By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 5 March 2015

    The use of social media by people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands of their government has been enabled through the emergence of a variety of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, change.org and avaaz.org.

    This can be traced back to incidents such as the Arab Spring, and the ‘Occupy’ movements seen in some western countries such as the United States of America (Occupy Wall Street being perhaps the best known). More recently political crises in Spain and Greece, and significant campaigns such as #bringbackourgirls and Je Suis Charlie have found a global audience online. Social media as a mobilising tool continues to gain in currency.

    The successes of social media have varied from locality to locality based on different factors and contexts. What cannot be denied is that such practices have increased the ability of citizens to rally around solidarity not only locally but global issues.

    Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

    Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

    #bringbackourgirls: Global visibility shrouds local action

    One recent incident that is especially close to home for me, as a Nigerian, has been the #bringbackourgirls campaign. This originated in Nigeria due to the kidnap of 276 girls by the Boko Haram sect from a school in Chibok located in North-eastern Nigeria on April 14, 2014.

    Reflecting on the #bringbackourgirls campaign: its gains were its ability to solicit global support and situate the blight of those impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency into the international consciousness. However, its key pitfall has been the inability to elicit concrete response and action from the Nigerian government.

    My conclusion is that the reason for this can be attributed to several factors among which is the fact that the global support garnered was not matched by sustained local pressure. Additionally the politicisation of the issue by both the government and the opposition has meant that in the process the voice of the victims been muted somewhat.

    Silencing the victim’s voice

    Before delving further into reasons for the limited success of the #bringbackourgirls campaign, I would like to expand on this critical issue; the silencing of the victim’s voice, which came to the fore. This is not particular only to the #bringbackourgirls campaign but its reflective of various mass movements of activism in the developing world.

    Vyncent Elvin Eebee highlighted this in an article titledFor Whom Does the Speaking Woman Speak?, where she concluded that rural women’s voices are submerged by the voice of urban female advocates, which result in rural women becoming invisible due to the articulation of their voices by the other.

    She further stated that when the rural woman participates in action, it is upon trumpeted and highly advertised invitations, which are not conducive to effective participatory mass movements.

    To me this was visible in the #bringbackourgirls campaign, because these trumpeted and highly advertised invitations were tools utilised by the campaigners, government, and the opposition to publicise themselves while the plea of the victims was not concretely tackled.  

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    The ‘digital divide’

    In my opinion key factors that contributed to the limited success of social media in Nigeria and developing countries as a whole relate to the digital divide.

    This is not only in terms of penetration but also with regards to access and understanding of how to utilise these tools and platforms, especially when the literacy rates in many countries are taken into consideration.

    This was reflected upon by Merridy Wilson who acknowledged that

    “the problem of the growing technology and/or knowledge gaps between and within countries, places certain groups of people further in the shadow regions of global information flows. These gaps persist both at the level of access to ICT infrastructure, and in terms of the form of information conveyed and who is able to use, understand and produce the information and knowledge which ICTs potentially make accessible.”

    We need conscious, strategic approaches to effectively use social media for change

    My conclusion therefore is that social media can become an enabling and transformative tool for people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands in developing countries, such as Nigeria. But it calls for prudent adaptation of techniques and tactics for effective strategies towards mass mobilisation.

    This can only be attained by being conscious of local realities in the African continent, as in other climes, and supported by concerted and sustained pressure on ground to match the global support a social media audience provides.

    What this therefore requires, as put in the words of Andrew Burkett,

    “are much more difficult, time-consuming and probably not as glitzy as ICT development efforts – that is, political will, recognition of personal and social responsibilities, and ultimately action on the part of governments and civil society.”


    Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.

    Breaking the Ice: how digital technologies are trickling down globally

    By Alejandro Echeverria Noriega, on 3 March 2015

    The past years have led to one of the most dramatic transformations in how we create, manage and deploy information. In fact, a large percentage of all the information generated throughout human history has taken place in the last five years.

    This can be attributed to one thing: the rise of digital technologies, its accessibility, and dwindling implementation costs.

    Yet changes have been so rapid, that it is difficult to see how the advent of digital technologies are changing our daily lives and what the future will look like in the next 10-20 years. One thing is for certain, these technologies aren’t going anywhere.

    Image by the Beyond Access Initiative

    Image by the Beyond Access Initiative

    A Digital Revolution, not just in the ‘developed’ world

    While much of the talk around this so called “digital revolution” has traditionally come from the developed world, we have started to see the unexpected: that digital technologies are also surging in the developing world.

    From mobile micro-financing to platforms empowering voices and public discord through social media, digital technologies are no longer an exclusivity of the developed world.

    Enablers of social mobilisation

    These changes have come too fast and too soon in the eyes of many. As I was undertaking postgraduate studies at the DPU in 2010/11, I remember how commentators and analysts began to realise the power of digital technologies as major enablers of social mobilisation. And it was only a matter of time before these technologies played a greater part in major events such as the Arab Spring.

    Markets were flooded with the tools for communities to effectively communicate, organise, do, deploy (and son on) and to reach out to the highly connected and globalised world. In essence, millions of voices now had channels through which to make their concerns heard.

    Social movements like this might have been an easy sell. However, many people havesince questioned real use of these technologies when it comes to policy and building for a better future. Mainly because, as it goes, communities, cities and regions, need basic services to grow economically and socially, services such as water, roads, legal and political frameworks. Following this logic, infrastructure for digital technology comes as a low priority in many contexts.

    Opening new channels for citizen engagement

    As a technophile running a social media platform during the last three years to promote sustainable development, I have noticed that some digital technologies are already enabling communities in cities across the world.

    Firstly, in the areas of policy and citizen engagement, we are experiencing direct lines of communication between citizens and authorities; most common practices are usually riddled with red tape processes wherever you are.

    Citizens are voicing their concerns, they are more active than ever, better organised and participating in the public debate in real time like never before. So far I’ve seen grassroots projects from Copenhagen to Durban and from Lagos to Medellin that are bypassing traditional channels and actually achieving their goals; people reporting potholes through photo sharing platforms, crowdfunding for public space improvement, data sharing for traffic reduction, and so on.

    Can everybody be connected?

    Secondly, hardware has flooded the market, be it for the good or for the bad. It is not by coincidence that mobile phone manufactures and digital giants are trying to reach every single person on earth and have them connected within the next two decades – think of latest comments by Facebook and Google.

    This may seem an overstatement, but look at the numbers and where the industry is growing: 14 out of the top 20 countries with the highest mobile phone penetration are so-called developing nations. Additionally, getting connected to the network is not the expensive endeavour it was in the 90s.

    Telecommunications, mobile phone manufacturers and tech giants are deploying “off the grid” solutions to reach the furthest corners of the world. This is a game changer if you think of education, health checks, access to information and having a voice in the ever increasingly connected world.

    Digital tools are not silver bullets

    Thirdly, social media, Internet of Things, smart cities, the Mesh, etc, are being evangelised as the tools to end all the world’s maladies. But the truth of the matter is that they are buzzwords that get everyone excited without having full understanding of what they mean or do; at the moment they are just tools that enable and should be treated as such.

    The Internet and web platforms won’t build the cities of the future, won’t solve social issues, and certainly won’t make the most pressing matters go away. They are excellent channels that act as enablers and policy makers, practitioners, businessmen and women, community leaders should understand that.

    Here to stay

    Digital technologies’ role in our daily lives will only continue to grow as demand increases, prices drop, and as their distribution channels expand to reach most of the world’s population. I don’t believe this trend will disappear as is clearly indicated by the ways in which governments, private enterprises and others are including these into their agendas.

    Whatever angle, be it bottom-up or top down, developed or developing, Global South or Global North, city or region, digital technologies are here to stay.


    Alejandro has been working for the past 3 years with This Big City, a online social media platform for the promotion of sustainable development in cities across the globe; to date he has helped over a dozen grassroot projects achieve scale. He works for the Mayor of London’s office on economic development issues through innovation and consults European cities on creating long term cultural visions for urban regeneration purposes as an independent professional. He also enjoys playing video games.

    Alejandro graduated in Urban Development Planning from the DPU in 2011. Follow him on Twitter @thisbigcityes

    BUDDcamp2015: Urban Space 4 – Via Saffi

    By Giulia Carabelli, on 27 February 2015

    URBAN SPACE 4: LDA Via Saffi

    This space, the historic building of the Municipality of Brescia, is the City of Brescia’s refugee front desk, and now home to one of the welcome and shelter projects managed by the Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Zavidovici.

    It is located near Brescia train station, under an overpass, but apart from this physical centrality it is quite marginal and difficult to access. Being traditionally seen as the first “port of entry” in the city for refugees and migrants, it has been under fierce attack by anti-immigration individuals and small groups – who in protest have thrown eggs and food against the premises, for example.

    Brescia_2

    Social Visibility

    The structure is large but only partially used. It is poorly connected with the surroundings, although it remains very visible in terms of its “social role” (perhaps a territorial stigma?) due to the fact that migrants and refugees often gather outside.

    Students were asked to propose strategies that could improve the visibility and usability of the space and, due to its social significance, how to better connect it with the vicinity and stimulate integration within a diverse community.

    The Identity of the ‘Unknown’

    Christian: “despite the barriers of the language and the possible misgivings of our first meeting, we had the opportunity to talk to some of the refugees attending the programmes in this building. Their stories made us wonder about the deep motivations that exist in encouraging people leave their homes towards the unknown.”

    “Despite the differences in detail of their histories, they all talked about arriving in the city as people invisible, vulnerable and unknown. Paradoxically, and even without wishing it, these invisible individualities that silently scattered throughout the city have started to be recognizable as a specific group composed of ‘unknowns’ and, therefore, as an ideal group to mystify.”

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    Art for Urban Transformation

    Vishakha explains: “we proposed to place a white flag outside the building as a symbol of neutrality and peace. It was a simple, light yet powerful step towards making the space more visible and at the same time redefining the nature of that space. We propose using art as a tool to transform progressively the neglected unsafe spaces around the site in an attempt to make it both more visible and more inviting.”

    “These changing perceptions in the design methodology, and our thoughts, became a part of not just foreseeing change but also as a means of grounding the proposal in reality.”

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    Repositioning the Area

    The group’s strategy addressed the visibility and perception of the area by means of artistic interventions; the first, most simple, and extremely poetic intervention is to mount a large, white flag outside of the office to provide a clear visual signal of where the office is. The white flag will stand for the Embassy of All People, echoing the name and vision of LDA.

    The second intervention sees the participation of local artists and art students in painting the wall of the uninviting space around the office. This could transform it into a more welcoming place that can attract people to the area, offering them the opportunity to learn about the activities promoted by LDA for refugees and migrants.


    Giulia Carabelli is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc BUDD programme. She joined the current MSc students on the BUDDcamp in February. You can read here provious posts from the BUDDcamp on this blog: Urban Spcae 1 – Flero; Urban Space 2 – Caffaro; Urban Space 3 – UISP Headquarters.

    The BUDDCamp is a 3-day design workshop, part of the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development’s Urban Intervention Studio where students bring together theory and practice by working on the proposal of innovative design strategies for specific urban issues. For the fifth time, the BUDDCamp took place in Brescia (Italy) in collaboration with the Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Zavidovici, an organization working with refugees and asylum seekers in the city.

    BUDDcamp 2015: Urban Space 3 – UISP Headquarters

    By Giulia Carabelli, on 26 February 2015

     UISP1

    URBAN SPACE 3: UISP (Unione Italiana Sport per Tutti) Headquarters

    UISP (Unione Italiana Sport per Tutti) is an association that promotes the right for all citizens to practice sport as a means to a healthier and better life.

    The headquarters of the association is not far from the city centre, yet it struggles to become visible in the existing urban dynamics. The MSc BUDD students who were working in this area were asked to formulate a strategy that could make this place more open and attractive to the population at large.

    They were also asked to think about how refugees could become more active in the centre thus exploring the possibility for this place to promote integration among all the citizens of Brescia.

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    David: “The prospect was very exciting as sport and games are a natural catalyst for interaction for all; many of the activities UISP are running have proven this (through successful work in women’s prisons and with drug addicts). Our task was to tap in to this ‘common ground’ that sports and games frequently served as, which after discussion and research we concluded could be food.”

    The group continues: “We proposed a sagra; (a food festival) a community event in which refugees and local citizens could both participate and express themselves through the medium of food. The refugees could share recipes from their original countries creating a special menu with the assistance of UISP and our partners, the Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Zavidovici, for the event. This event could be organised monthly to attract a different range of citizens and refugees who will have the opportunity to discover the great and diverse programmes offered by UISP.”

    3_uisp (2)-1

    This catalytic event, the sagra, can connect people, trigger curiosity and participation while sharing different identities and cultures by means of ‘sensory routes’ (smells and sounds). The proposal is particularly attentive to design a strategy that could involve the refugees in the planning and delivery of the activities.


    Giulia Carabelli is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc BUDD programme. She joined the current MSc students on the BUDDcamp in February. The final post reflecting on the BUDDcamp 2015 is now also online.

    The BUDDCamp is a 3-day design workshop, part of the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development’s Urban Intervention Studio where students bring together theory and practice by working on the proposal of innovative design strategies for specific urban issues. For the fifth time, the BUDDCamp took place in Brescia (Italy) in collaboration with the Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Zavidovici, an organization working with refugees and asylum seekers in the city.