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    Refugee reception and housing practices in Greece. Notes from a workshop on inclusiveness and development planning.

    By Carlotta Fontana Valenti, on 23 May 2018

    This is a short story from a contested place: the town of Kilkis, located 40 km’s away from the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where, as in other rural areas in Greece, the economic crisis brought unemployment and depopulation. For its crucial location at the crossroads of migration routes, Kilkis has also been at the centre of the tragic events during the so called refugee crisis of 2015. Over a mid-November night that year, Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia decided, almost simultaneously, to close their borders and modify the conditions of entrance to those in transit towards Northern Europe.

    Thousands of people found themselves stranded in a small village of 154 inhabitants. This is how Idomeni became the largest unofficial camp in Greece and remained such for more than a year. In the absence of international aid, activist and citizen groups were active in the area since the summer of 2015 providing basic assistance to those living in the camp or in transit. Lately in 2016, with the arrival of international agencies, two military-run camps were formed in the surrounding areas of Kerso and Nea Kavala hosting 4.000 persons each.

    Camp accommodation remains an inadequate and hopeless response to displacement, generating exclusion and contributing to increase physical and social segregation between residents and newcomers, preventing any form of encounter and reinforcing the narrative according to which displaced population constitute a threat to the local community. The unsustainability of the situation became evident to a group of local volunteers from Kilkis who soon started mobilising local resources to find a better solution to the crisis. Capitalising on hospitality practices rooted in the history of the country (Greece welcomed displaced population after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and from the Republic of Turkey between 1918 and 1930), families in Kilkis opened their doors to refugees.

    It is in this context that the OMNES volunteer association started operating to implement a three-folded pilot project based on: 1) providing dignified housing for vulnerable people; 2) facilitating trust-building between residents and newcomers through the creation of an inclusion centre; 3) supporting income and skills generating activities to promote social and economic development starting from local resources. OMNES’ holistic approach to inclusion recognises home as the core of physical, social and psychological wellbeing of its occupants (Dayarante & Kellet, 2008) with the belief that, by providing dignified housing solutions, people in transit become better able to find security and trust toward collaborating with the local community.

    As part of a small initiative funded by seeds research funds of DPU and embedded onto a longer term action research engagement with local governments and NGOs operating in refugee housing provision and hosting practices in Southern Europe, I embarked on a visit to Kilkis during an international workshop/Urban Laboratory held in Thessaloniki between 12th-15th of April. The initiative, ‘Planning for Inclusive Cities’, aimed to bring together Mayors, Institutions and CSO from Greece and others cities in Europe to open a cross-country dialogue  and a learning exchange platform on inclusive practices.

    As the Vice Mayor of Athens argued during the workshop “Inclusion is our future challenge and cities are the ‘battleground’”; but “cities” another participant argued “cannot be left alone in dealing with inclusion. The task requires the broad involvement of state actors and the effective coordination of multiple stakeholders”. Across the discussion panels, from both politicians and local actors, Kilkis’ pilot project was regarded as the paradigmatic case for the promotion of inclusion through local development.

    Nevertheless, despite its successful outcomes, some questions arose. What is the long-term sustainability of a pilot project if it remains an isolated case within an atomised landscape of accommodation practices? How could the Kilkis project be scaled up at country level, and what is the potential applicability in cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki that present a completely different social fabric? What became clear during the three-day workshop is that Greece is working toward the decentralisation of reception, accommodation and housing for refugees, as part of a national effort to reconcile inclusion and development.

    The challenges to think differently the city, its design and its management in this era of increased migration and movement are great therefore calling for more action research to experiment solutions and policies that could inform new visions for city. The workshop, and the alliances that emerged with locally active NGOs as Help Refugees,  OMNESPhiloxenya International, Greek Universities such as Harokopio, Crete and University of Macedonia in Thessalonikki , and the involvement in European pilot projects for Urban Integration (UIA Urban Innovative Actions)  will be conducive to the development of a research proposal aligned to existing DPU projects led by Camillo Boano, Giovanna Astolfo and Ricardo Marten, including Refugee Cities and Borders and Camps; it also capitalises on and creates further opportunity for the annual BUDDcamps and the DPU SummerLAB 2018 in Athens.

     

    Carlotta Fontana Valenti is a recent graduate of the MSc In Building and Urban Design in Development. Trained as architect, she works between Italy, Portugal and France. Recently, her research interest focus on migration studies, reception practices and the relationship between society and space.

    One city, different realities: Infrastructure development and urban fragmentation in Nigeria

    By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 22 July 2015

    Osbourne Foreshore_wide

    Modernity meets Informality at the reclaimed portion of Osborne Foreshore

    Every day on my way to work, when I cross Third Mainland Bridge and look to my right, I see the type of planning portrayed by conventional wisdom as progressive, reformist and modernist in its contribution towards attaining societal goals. In Lagos this is manifested in the high rate of construction activities observable in Osborne Foreshore, Banana Island, and Lekki axis.

    These developments demand the reclamation of large expanse of land, raising environmental concerns. However, when on my way back home and on the other side of the bridge, I see ‘blighted areas‘ such as Makoko and Okobaba; [1] they remind me of what Oren Yiftachel referred to as the dark side of planning – where government actions or inaction leads to the marginalisation, oppression, and impoverishment of citizens.

    Bana & Osbourne

    Land reclamation at Banana Island (left) and Osborne Foreshore (right) as seen from Third Mainland Bridge

    The accumulation of wealth in places like Osborne Foreshore is in stark contrast to the endemic poverty prevalent in places like Makoko and Okobaba, hence resulting in a great divide. However, of greatest concern is the fact that government action and/or inaction is – whether knowingly or unknowingly – reinforcing, reproducing, deepening and institutionalising the divide.

    My concern is premised on the belief that the government’s infrastructural development drive, which places emphasis on road infrastructure, is based on the hegemonic assumption that all citizens, in spit of their of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, will benefit equally.

    An example is the 1.36 km cable-stayed Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge built at a cost of N29 billion of public funds (approx. £93 million/$145 million). Although lauded as a good initiative, more pertinent questions to me are, who are those benefiting from the presence of the bridge? Whose productivity, livelihood and wellbeing does it enhance? Whose position is it privileging?

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge_500

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge

    I would posit that the government is, whether by design or accident, indirectly subsidising the means through which the elite/property class can ensure their livelihood and wellbeing at the expense of the poor/non-property class. Especially when such interventions are substantiated with discriminatory and exclusionary acts such as not allowing commercial means of transportation – the main means of mobility for majority of Lagosians – to use the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge.

    Such practices have been revealed to be detrimental to sustainable development and akin to what David Harvey termed ‘the quiet redistributive mechanism’, which helps to maintain or widen the socio-economic gap.

    My thoughts therefore are: if government can subsidise the wellbeing of the elite/property class, why same cannot be done for the poor, marginalised and non-property class? A good opportunity for such was when residences of Makoko submitted a regeneration plan for their area, which was rejected by the government on the basis that the community did not have legal title to the occupied land. [2]

    I view this as a missed opportunity for local collaboration and partnership with these community-based organisations, especially those designated as ‘blighted areas.’ This could be used as the basis for developing an alternative model for urban development and slum/informal settlement upgrading in Lagos, hence setting a precedent which could have been gradually institutionalised through wider public learning.

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    This is given added significance in view of a statement by officials of the Lagos state government, in a 2008 Cities Alliance report, confirming the limited implementation, success and, sustainability ratings of the government’s approach towards slum upgrading.

    I am of the opinion that if the government really wants to promote sustainable and inclusive development, it needs to take deliberate actions to ensure the poor and marginalised are not excluded from accessing opportunities for wealth creation.

    Also of importance is seizing opportunities, such as the Makoko scenario, when they arise to expand the room for partnership and collaboration with poor and marginalised communities. This is because, as aptly pointed out by Agbola & Agunbiade, “marginal people are unlikely to have access to the resources that are required to overcome the restrictions imposed by marginal environments and thus enable them to live beyond the limits of subsistence”.

    I believe that if the government does not take deliberate steps to address the great divide we are currently seeing, it will result in the continuous fragmentation of Lagos along the lines of socio-economic conditions and levels of infrastructural development.

    References:

    [1] 42 ‘blighted areas’ were identified by UNDP in 1995 (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009).

    [2] This is not peculiar to this case but is a general issues with most slum/informal settlements (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009). For the experience of Ijora Badia another blighted community refer to The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC), 2013, If you love your life, move out! Forced eviction in Badia East, Lagos State, Nigeria, London: Amnesty International.


    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.

    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.

    Careers in development planning: reflections from the DPU

    By Étienne von Bertrab, on 19 December 2011

    Is the professional world of development planning shrinking, or expanding?
    Given current and future urban and global challenges, what are the key capacities of a development practitioner?

    On the first evening of December students from the six MSc programmes at the Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL), engaged in a dialogue with their course directors. The theme debated was challenges and opportunities for careers in development planning. The session involved a discussion of what constitutes the field of development planning, elaborations on scenarios for the practice vis-à-vis current and future challenges, and concrete recommendations for development planning students during and after completion of their MSc.

    A resonant view amongst panel members was that the professional world of development planning is increasingly competitive, and that is shrinking, at least in the most conventional areas of practice. Adriana Allen, Director of the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development, and Camilo Boano, Director of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development, suggested that the field might be expanding, particularly if we think laterally and out of the box. DPU’s Director and Director of the MSc in Urban Development Planning, Caren Levy, pointed out that precisely because of realities of globalisation, governance, and the very nature and complexity of urban and global challenges, conventional professions need to be challenged, and shifted towards more strategic and innovative approaches for transformative change. One example of where such approaches are needed is in professionals’ engagement with urban informality, largely neglected in urban planning despite an urgent need to recognise it and work with it. Another reflection was the fact that communities across the world are no longer passive recipients, but on the contrary, they are increasingly articulate and mobilised, and very often ordinary women and men are at the centre of transformative change. The capacity to listen to the range of different voices was raised as a crucial skill for development planners.

    What are the contributions of the DPU in the education of development planners? Panel members expressed that, rather than focusing on what the (job) market demands, the programmes are shaped and reformulated with a commitment towards building a visionary, strategic and long-term perspective. While the courses might have a different ‘entry point’ to development planning, they all have an explicit objective of contributing to the development of reflective practitioners, who are able to constantly question their assumptions, what they know and what they don’t know. As highlighted by Le-Yin Zhang, Director of the MSc in Urban Economic Development, another increasingly relevant aspect is the internationalisation of students and of academic bodies, who are also engaged in research, training and advisory services around the world.

    Going back to key competencies for the practice, the capacity to critically engage with reality was highlighted by Caren Levy, stating that a wider understanding of complexity is highly valued by organisations, as it can help them constantly reflect on what they do and how they do it. She also expressed how crucial the capacity to communicate is, highlighting spoken interventions, oral presentations and writing as key skills to apply in professional life beyond the MSc.

    Patrice North, co-Director of the MSc in Social Development Practice and Michael Walls, Director of the MSc in Development Administration and Planning, recommended students to think strategically about the dissertation (and to that effect, on the selection of each piece of coursework). For many, the dissertation has become the stepping stone for either studying a PhD or for exploring a future area of work. Also, as reminded by Michael Walls, the value of the overseas field trip itself shouldn’t be underestimated: it is the prime practical experience of the courses, experience that can also be reflected in a CV. Moreover, for some, such as the Alumni behind the recently created initiative Travolution.org, the fieldwork can become an important source of inspiration to pursue new independent endeavours. Further building experience, for example by volunteering or doing internships (when possible and affordable), may generate opportunities in a network-based environment. However, as put by Michael Walls, networking is an active process that needs to be utilised effectively. It is also important to simultaneously think of geographies, themes and organisations of interest. Also essential, panellists agreed, is to think what is important to one self. It might be an uncertain work future, but as Adriana Allen reminded students, it is important to keep things in perspective, and to think of our situation in relation to that of others. (After all, isn’t thinking of others a key engine in planning for socially just sustainable development?).

    Responding to a student’s (great) question on what is advised not to do, there was some wisdom to offer: don’t panic, don’t become captivated with what seems to be mainstream, don’t knock on all the same doors as everyone else, don’t be flippant when you apply and take every opportunity (and organisation) seriously; target your CVs and cover letters rather than sending ineffective applications and, above all, don’t lie: being truthful about personal objectives and capacities may be the more effective way to develop the career you want. All these aspects might seem basic and derived from common sense, but, as DPU scholars – also employers – seem to agree, they are not always that common.

    Were you present in the session and didn’t find the space to ask your questions? Are you an ex-DPU student and want to add your bit of advice departing from your own experience? Are you part of the development planning network and want to add your thoughts to this (herein abridged) discussion? You are welcome to write your comments.