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    The Amazonian city in Peru at crossroads

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 3 August 2017

    The contemporary urbanisation of Amazonas is a geopolitical creation, and a recent phenomenon. For long time native communities have been living in sparse, often isolated, settlements. Adapting to the mutable conditions of the river, they created a system based on mobility, economic diversification and ‘multi-sited territorial appropriation’ (Peluso and Alexiadis, 2016). Such use and production of space was and still is disarticulated from any single master principle of spatial organization and from usual dichotomies such as rural/urban and public/private. Starting from the 1960s, extractive activities favoured rural-urban migration. Cities such Iquitos, Tarapoto and Puerto Maldonado in Peru, Leticia in Colombia, Belem and Manaus in Brazil grew immensely in few decades. Rural population moved to the cities, settling along the river, often retaining the traditional spatial organisation. Their survival is now threatened by climate change and flooding risk, coupled with recession and growing unemployment following the recent decline of oil extraction. Exploitation of resources prevented the growth of productive activities offering now little alternative sources of income to the urban population.

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    It is in this complex context that the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA), led by Pablo Vega-Centeno at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by the BUDD alumna Belén Desmaison (PUCP), with the involvement of DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo, is developing a participatory process with local communities, local authorities and the national government to co-produce sustainable spatialities and promote alternative livelihoods systems in the Amazonas, starting from local technologies and knowledges. The project aims to create evidence-based methodology for a more participatory implementation process of preventive relocations. The project looks at the city of Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, where a massive relocation process of around 16,000 people living in the flood-prone low-district of Belén is undergoing amid great difficulties and resistance. The government-led relocation has been implemented following a DRM policy released in 2011 and as part of the national programme “Programa Nuestras Ciudades”; despite many positive pioneering aspects, the decision-making process was centralised and the project poorly articulated, failing to capture the socio-spatial complexity of the context. Particularly, the relocation threatens the traditional spatial organisation of Amazon’s communities, negatively impacting the livelihoods system.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Approximately 200 families have been relocated to date. However, the decision whether to move or not is creating tensions and conflicts amongst the remaining groups, as highlighted in earlier research conducted by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) as part of the research “Reducing Relocation Risk in Urban Areas” led by Cassidy Johnson at DPU.  If, on one side, relocation can improve health condition and security, on the other side it might result in greater impoverishment consequent to the loss of jobs and traditional ways of living. Currently, most of the population is against relocation. Lack of trust in the process, and the polarisation of political parties are poisoning the debate (Chavez, 2016). Understandably enough, relocation is, above all, a matter of the narrative that is created around it.

    Connected through a newly constructed road, Nuevo Belén is distant from the city of Iquitos, and from the Amazon River and its tributaries which are the main source of income. It is an artificial city that looks like a dorm, as few of the planned facilities have been built so far. Each family has been given a lot of around 120 sq.mt., out of which 40 are occupied by the house. The housing typology is far from reflecting the social organisation and the constructive tradition, let aside being suitable to the climate. Reason why most of the dwellers have already transformed the space. Shelters on stilts are popping up where the ‘gardens’ should be, while the concrete houses serve as shops. Productive spaces (‘huertas’) are mushrooming around the houses as a consequence of informal appropriation of land, although under temporary deals – as the land will be soon occupied by the second round of housing construction.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Starting from the ‘huertas’, the workshop that took place in July in Nuevo Belén focused on alternative design proposals for the creation of self-sufficient systems to ensure the economic sustainability of resettlement, and to create new livelihoods options. Proposals, developed by an interdisciplinary team of PUCP students and validated by the community, investigate what technologies and construction techniques are better adaptable to the context in social, spatial and climatic terms (particularly related to solar energy and rain collection).

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Clearly, Amazonian cities posit great challenges, particularly to those communities affected by economic recession, settled on flood-prone areas and at risk of relocation. It is necessary to think a different urbanisation, flexible, adaptive and temporal, more similar to the tradition of disperse settlement of the native communities. Relocation should be conceptualised as an urbanism in flux characterised by interconnected mobilities and heterogeneity (Browder and Godfrey, 1997); and its open spaces should not be purely private nor merely public and should be understood as in-between spaces, reproduced through mobility that is constitutive of this urbanity in flux.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA


    DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo are involved in the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA) that looks at the Amazonian city of Iquitos. The project is led by Pablo Vega-Centeno of the Centro de Investigación, Arquitectura y Ciudad (CIAC), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by Belén Desmaison (PUCP and DPU alumna). As part of the project, in July Giovanna Astolfo participated to the workshop ‘Taller Partecipativo’ in Nuevo Belen with CASA team and students from PUCP.

    https://casapucp.com/

    CASA is part of the CRC Initiative funded by CDKN, IRDC and FFLA. https://crclatam.net/

    Yangon: Transformation in a Time of Transition – BUDD Fieldtrip 2017

    By Ricardo Marten Caceres, on 19 May 2017

    In the late hours of November 8th 2015 it was clear that Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize winner, had scored an unquestionable electoral triumph. After decades of military rule, the NLD categorically won Myanmar’s latest elections, gaining control of parliament and thus starting a new chapter in the country’s turbulent political history. The ensuing months, however, have been far from perfect, with repeated tensions and confrontations that expose Myanmar’s deeply rooted problems with religious tolerance, ethnic integration, displacement and migration. In a momentous time of transition, the country’s transformation towards democracy, growth and aperture faces innumerable challenges –a reality that is particularly evident in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.

    Yangon | Ricardo Martén

    Yangon | Ricardo Martén

    Focusing on the urban implications of these processes, the recently concluded 2017 BUDD fieldtrip attempted to shed light on Yangon’s recent evolution, exploring a series of analytical frameworks anchored in both design research and critical thinking. Rather than settling on a removed diagnosis of the city, the BUDD students were able to explore and produce strategic urban planning visions that emerged from site visits, lectures, discussions, and permanent exchange with numerous local actors, international experts and community organisations. With the collaboration of local students from Yangon Technological University (YTU), interns working with Women for the World, and support from the Community Architects Network (CAN) and the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR), the fieldtrip was the conclusion of a two-month academic process developed in our Urban Intervention Studio.

    Community-students dialogue in Yoelay Village | Ricardo Martén

    Community-students dialogue in Yoelay Village | Ricardo Martén

    With a population of over seven million, Yangon’s metro area is a blend of cultural influences, historical periods and varying densities, defined as much by the city’s geographical location, its environmental conditions and the inevitable tensions brought by inequality and spatial disparities. As emerging economies and fast-track urban developments collide with traditional everyday practices, the BUDD students looked at potential opportunities brought by the inevitable processes of urban transformation, suggesting alternative means of design and development where spatial variety is recognised and where strategies put forth by the urban poor are allowed to coexist together with the large-scale measures enforced by the planning authorities.

    Site visit, Hlaing Tar Yar | Ricardo Martén

    Site visit, Hlaing Tar Yar | Ricardo Martén

    The fieldtrip was designed around the collaboration between Women for the World and CAN-ACHR, who have engaged with numerous community savings groups across different townships, producing remarkable slum upgrading projects in villages with poor infrastructure, limited mobility and complex land ownership dynamics. The BUDD student teams worked on different sites in the Hlaing Tar Yar and Dagon Seikkan townships, engaging with communities at different stages of the upgrading process through interviews, mapping, visual exercises and other means to better understand the sites dwellers’ aspirations as well as their immediate needs.

    Community mapping exercise | Ricardo Martén

    Community mapping exercise | Ricardo Martén

    As part of the programme’s requirements, the student teams delivered two different presentations over the course of the fieldtrip, one before community members from the visited sites, and a concluding presentation before most of the partner institutions. The first presentation was a direct response to the fieldwork, with analysis placed at the community scale and focused on participatory means of knowledge sharing and co-production. The second presentation scaled-up the proposals at the township/city level, with strategies, principles and guidelines aiming at possible urban policy entry points for inclusive spatial integration. This last event also included a discussion panel including members from the BUDD staff, CAN-ACHR, and top representatives from the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), addressing further themes of contention and debate around Yangon’s city model for the future.

    Strategies presentation | Ricardo Martén

    Strategies presentation | Ricardo Martén

    The future of Yangon will reflect Myanmar’s ruling class capacity to integrate a country deeply divided along political and ethnic lines. Societal tensions are inevitably translated into the built environment, materialising through spatial configurations, taking shape through forms, networks and materiality –in roads, in house typologies, in infrastructures, in trade economies, in territorial ownership. The friction between the antagonistic pressures that dispute rapid large-scale transformation against the slow-paced growth of local communities exposes the need to address the disparities in relation to mobility, access and environmental risks –and in Yangon’s specific case, the right to the city to come. If local communities’ capacities for upgrading and city-making are acknowledged, anchored in multiple agencies rather than unilateral imposition, Yangon could build a vision of open, heterogeneous, and rich urban life.

    Field trip team and partners | Xiaodan Li

    Field trip team and partners | Xiaodan Li

    As mentioned, the 2017 BUDD fieldtrip was possible thanks to the programme’s partnerships with Women for the World, Community Architects Network (CAN), the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR), Yangon Technological University (YTU), the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA) and the special contributions from Somsook Boonyabancha, Jayde Roberts and representatives from the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

    Axonometric design | Salma Nassar

    Axonometric design | Salma Nassar


    Ricardo Marten Caceres is an architect and urban designer, graduated from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) and with an MSc degree from BUDD. He has worked as an architect in between studies, leading a studio practice in Costa Rica focused on residential projects, as well as being partner in a design practice based in Germany working with several NGOs in Haiti, the Philippines and Tanzania. His academic interests lie in the urban dynamics between informal settlements and territorial variables. Ricardo’s current PhD candidacy looks to examine these elements, particularly focusing on the urban legacy of official spaces of exception and the resulting informal counter-narratives.

    Between reception and exception. Engaging with refugees dwelling practices and the politics of care in the Italian urban context

    By Camillo Boano, on 10 March 2017

    By Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo

    Statistics confirm that more than 60% of refugees worldwide live in urban areas and in the future, this figure is likely to gradually increase. Such a global phenomenon is forcing us to think not only about how integration and systems of care and assistance have to be shaped, but also about the very nature of the city and their forms.

     

    andrea

     

    Cities are places where both migrants and non-migrants interact, be it through working, studying, living, raising their families or simply walking in the street. While cities offer great opportunities for migrants and refugees, at the same time they are also faced with challenges in creating opportunities for care, integration and inclusion. More than ever refugees and migrants become a concern of urban design. In the Italian urban context, the presence of migrants at different stages of their migration experience has triggered a complex system of reception and housing options. It is within this context of inherent contradictions and opportunities brought along by the practice of reception, assistance and integration itself that the BUDD Camp 2017 (integral part of the MSc Building & Urban design in Development Practice Module) embarked on exploring migrant’s dwelling practices.

     

    IMG_8761

     

    Thanks to a long-term partnership with Associazione per l’Ambasciata della Democrazia Locale a Zavidovici Onlus (ADL), BUDD students visited Brescia (Italy) last February, to explore a variety of housing/hosting/reception typologies including centers, dormitories, and shared houses that house/host refugees, asylum seekers, and no fixed abode migrants.

     

    In line with the practice of our partner, BUDD students would experience the different tensions that arise from local inclusive and integrated practices that are inherent in the multi-level governance of the so-called refugee crisis: between reception and exception; dwelling and transition; visibility and invisibility; proximity and distance; present and future; inside and outside; faith and despair.

     

    jingran (13)

     

    Refugees’ lives are exceptional, suspended in a sine tempore condition, trapped in a country where they might not want to be, or they might not be welcomed, and forced to perform a role. Refugees are individuals who are in need for protection and shelter but because of this need are denied the possibility to live a full life, and forced into a condition of temporariness which compromises the very meaning of home in itself.

     

    The meaning of home becomes political. Boundaries of homes have been experienced in the multiple forms of socialisation, appropriation, and narratives inside and outside the physical spaces of hospitality. However, that of reception is indeed a mechanism that often becomes a dispositive of control as it ensures protection only at the expense of individual freedom. Houses and homes where refugees are hosted have strict rules and limited freedom that govern the space and its routine and nevertheless refugees are asked to keep them with the same care they would have if those where their houses.

     

    Social workers and volunteers engage with passionate political sensitivity with the refugees and struggle to deal with such limitations to reconcile the legal meaning of protection with the universal right to freedom and the political imperative to host and help. But nevertheless reception and care remains an opportunity. Especially in the meaning given by ADL, where reception is not about giving a roof, but building recognition and reciprocity, through social networks, job opportunities, interactions in the urban space.

     

    Venkatesh Kshitijia

     

    ADL currently coordinate the SPRAR project (Sistema di Protezione Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati) that focuses on improving the integration of forced migrants in the city of Brescia and its surrounded municipalities. The SPRAR project aims to oppose the humanitarian approach where the refugee is seen as a ‘beneficiary’ and the person that needs help, an action which often leads to segregation from the wider urban community. ADL is currently questioning how to transform the top down governance system into something that addresses the needs of individuals, that is tailored on individuals. The project rather aims to stimulate self-awareness, autonomy and inclusion of refugees through individualised and targeted programmes.

     

    ADL further recognise that integration and hospitality need to be systemic and relational; need to support each other and need to be well coordinated. Their work endeavors to emancipate the current policy that addresses refugees as alien to the society into a welfare that embrace refugees and residents as equals. Of course, there is no immediate solution but rather an incremental effort to push the boundaries of existing frameworks and transforming the systems of expulsion into an inclusive one.

     

    Within levels of complexity, in a commendable effort to grasp most of what is possible in a short engagement timeframe, BUDD students have investigated individual experiences, spatial phenomena and potential alternative interventions. Strategies and interventions developed in Brescia seek to reinforce socio-spatial relations and the creation of new ones, to foster recognition and advancement on citizenship.

     

    20170206_105037

     

    Through life story interviews, ethnographic observation, key informant interviews and participatory maps, the short workshop aimed to reflect on the efficacy and limits of housing and immigration policies and further expands from hospitality to integration issues, looking beyond dwelling towards inhabiting the urban space, intended as lieu of encounter and conflict.

     

    Witnessing, learning and discussing LDA practices, ethics and operations have given a fantastic opportunity to learn about the complexity, the tensions and the opportunity of the urban design of refugee crisis, however in a small, short and incomplete manner. ADL works at the edge of the politics of care, between the ethical and the licit dealing with vulnerability, normative frameworks, and political struggles.

     

    Their work made is made more challenging by the Italian context of austerity and cuts to welfare and social services, increasing unemployment and homelessness and proportional surge of nationalism and xenophobic sentiments. The unwillingness to receive strangers, migrants, ‘the other’ in general is on the surge, and unfortunately not only in Italy.

     

    IMG_8759

     

    Reception has always been and remains a hot debate in the peninsula, and it reflects a wider trend in the EU context as well. The refugee identity and experience is questioning our own identity and our assumptions about space, places and design agency and it open an active interrogation of practices of recognition, emancipation and activations in any act of city making.


    Camillo Boano is a senior lecturer at the DPU, and is co-director of the MSc Building & Urban design in Development programme.

    Giovanna Astolfo is a teaching fellow at the DPU, and works closely and contributes to the teaching of the MSc Building & Urban design in Development programme.

    Shifting Perspectives – A reflection on the use of video in the field

    By David McEwen, on 23 August 2016

    The lens is an eye. Video and photography offer a unique opportunity to represent or share a situation, an event, a person, a moment in time. Within the context of academia and research, where it can be far too easy to dilute a point through a mass of text or statistics (or big words), these mediums serve as infinitely powerful and diverse tools to reflect on a particular subject (or no subject at all).

    IMG_4423

    Through my experience on the field, I have viewed the capacities of video in a few different, interrelated ways: as a documentary, evidence gathering tool; as a democratising force, a platform with which to share hidden or silent perspectives; as a tool for advocacy, support and ‘legitimisation’. As three broad categories, these ultimately refer to the opportunity to craft a certain narrative to, one that engages with the senses on a scale that other mediums cannot. You see the sights of the cameraman, you hear what and who they hear, you feel what they feel.

    Working with local communities on our field-trip to Cambodia (as part of the BUDD masters), we used video to document the results of participatory design workshops we ran alongside community members. This proved valuable as a resource to draw from during presentations in front of key local and national government officials, demonstrating the success of our participatory planning pilot and suggesting a potential future for participation within the planning system. Similarly, while on the field in Uganda, I worked alongside local NGO ACTogether to document community planning meetings in which participatory exercises were conducted to attempt to address the issue of flooding. The video and media content produced as part of these meetings is invaluable in not only sharing the general aims and methodology of the NGO, but in legitimising its efforts, providing firsthand evidence of its work, efficacy and influence.

    IMG_5407

    The value of crafting a narrative is particularly felt when viewing video as a democratising tool, as an amplifier for those voices unheard. Within the context of London, I have used documentary films as a platform with which to express and elucidate the concerns of various community groups fighting juggernaut developers and regeneration proposals. The typical structure for participation within the planning system does not offer many opportunities to voice objections and concerns, and where present, they remain particularly formal and confined. Creating films and sharing them online, we were able to share and voice our views to a much wider audience than would otherwise be available and generate greater opportunities for discussion than standard methods for participation would allow. This felt particularly empowering as we were able to craft a message within boundaries set by ourselves, rather than an outside agent.

    IMG_5200

    The freedom offered by the last case is something that deserves greater reflection as it is not something that will necessarily be available in situations where video and media is tasked with representing the views of others in research and academic work. There is an inherent bias and degree of manipulation involved in the creation of video/film/photography; this is its greatest asset and weakness. In an academic or research context (perhaps in every context), it is important to meditate on the role of the photographer/videographer, how they may be shaping or influencing their surroundings and the material they record, and consequently the role of the editor or curator, tasked with weaving a particular narrative or message. Questions of fidelity and authenticity are necessary at each of these stages to avoid the potential of misrepresenting or distorting a subject. I am afraid I have no concrete answers though; the ultimate beauty of the medium lies in its ability to be interpreted in many different ways: to portray the right and the wrong, the easy and the hard, the simple and the contradictory, all at the same time.

     

    My final advice:

     

    Think, record, then think again.


    David McEwen is a filmmaker and architect, a recent graduate of the BUDD masters programme, with an interest in design and democratic spatial practices. His work has included the production of documentaries on development processes in Cambodia and Uganda and more recently the representation and advocacy of minority ethnic interests in urban design and planning practices in London.