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    The field research – Learnings beyond the research itself

    By Florie J Arlegui, on 7 July 2017

    While only lasting for a few weeks, the field research trip is an intense experience that provides in-depth learnings that go beyond the research outcomes themselves. One of the key highlights for me was how a good field research technique is about combining learnings from human interactions as well as using planning and organisational tools to reduce the uncertainty that surrounds field research.

    Part 1: Learnings from the people – Disillusionment in the periphery

    View from the community of Villa Lourdes Ecológico (VMT)

    View from the community of Villa Lourdes Ecológico (VMT)

     

    I’m standing here on the dark distant slopes of Villa Lourdes Ecológico, a settlement without water, sewerage or electricity access, looking down at the city of Lima that stretches as far as the eye can see. We have just had a focus group using headtorches with a group of mostly women, their kids playing at their feet. They came to meet us with hope, a hope to be listened to. They feel forgotten and right here, in this dark spot, I can relate to this disillusionment.

    Since arriving in Lima, I have heard many heartfelt sentences from people who have lost hope and no longer believe in the transformative change we came here to seek. Vicente Chavez, a leader of the fog catcher initiative from this community, wants to move back to Cusco instead of “waiting here, hoping for the water to come from the sky”.

    A few days before, at a march on water access, I came across the slogan “stop fighting is to start dying”. Whilst extreme for effect, I do believe that when people feel disheartened about their situation, they stop engaging and driving change.

     

    Without pressure on decision makers, they may well be forgotten.

    I can already observe the direct negative impact of the lack of hope. With the fog catchers project, people lost hope in official support and decreased engagement to the point that they were not making use of a solution that was already available to them. Some community members did not even know that they were entitled to a piece of land to cultivate using water from the fog catchers.

    And yet, people’s support and buy-in are rarely mentioned in policy briefs as a key prerequisite to foster participation. It appears critical that our recommendations consider how to help restore people’s hope in the potential for transformative change in order to ultimately foster their participation and make them instrumental in their future.

    Two crucial factors to regain this confidence from the people: transparency and action. Communities explicitly asked for “no more lies” about their situation. They need to understand better the short to long term plans to organise and decide accordingly. Not knowing often means that they linger in the fear of taking action that could damage their current situation. They also need to “see proofs” that improvements are made whether in the form of electricity access or small-scale infrastructure work such as stairs. When projects reach their community, people feel heard and that change is possible thereby increasing their likeliness to engage.

    This gave me an additional purpose and some guidance for our research. As future planners, we have the duty not only to bring to light these forgotten realities but to also deliver recommendations that aim at overcoming people’s disillusionment when requiring their participation. In other words, the role of a socio-environmental planner is to make sure that no one is left out in the dark without hope.

     

    Part 2 – Learnings from the process – Networking, my ally for achieving holistic research

    As Lima was my first field research trip I was aware that data collection would be the most challenging phase of the research process. As a project manager, I am used to things being planned from A to Z before a project even starts. As a result, I was fearing data collection as I viewed it as uncertain and unpredictable. Thankfully, I discovered a great ally that changed my perspective and allowed us to bring structure to data collection: networking.

    I understand networking as interactions with a system of interrelated primary and secondary connections that hold different roles, views and power about a given topic. To have a holistic data gathering, it is important to network with a diverse range of actors of various opinions. However, not all stakeholders play the same role in data collection. In the field, when time is limited, it is vital to be flexible and to learn to also rely on secondary connections. While they may provide a smaller share of information, these connections can be more engaged and transparent. In our case, we met with an engineer working on the ecosanitation project from Sedapal who could be considered as a secondary connection given his operational clout in the project. His insights, provided anonymously, proved even deeper than information provided by the key project partner AguaEcosan.

    Having recognised the importance of networking, it became critical to integrate it in our research process as a key planning tool for data collection. Recognising that these connections may not always happen organically, it is important to have the methods in place to foster networking and adapt it constantly in the field. Clear research objectives and actor-mapping were critical to  framing our networking. By knowing the data we needed, the current gaps and the existing actors we could interact with, it became easier to prioritise connections and make the required substitutions when needed, understanding the implications for our research.

    The role of networking as a planning tool for data collection was critical in achieving our research objective to understand better the eschemas model, a publicly-driven city-wide framework from Sedapal to provide water and sanitation services to 100% of the population. Making a direct connection within Sedapal had not yielded any result so we mapped potential actors that could help us gather similar data and decided to network upwards from the communities. We leveraged our existing relationship with the NGO Peruanos sin Agua to connect with a leader from an eschema committee at a water protest march. While the march itself had little importance from a data collection perspective, the contact had the potential to be the missing link we needed to connect with Sedapal as the march was organised in collaboration with the worker union from Sedapal. This allowed us to achieve our initial research goal.

    First, these key learnings about the methods to network efficiently allowed me to overcome my fear of data collection by understanding that data collection can be planned and is not as uncertain as I saw it originally. Furthermore, recognising the existence of this system of interrelated primary and secondary connections enabled me to use networking as a key ally to engage with these connections and collect data in a holistic and efficient way. Ultimately, this ultimately has a positive impact on the quality of our research outcomes.

     

    Conclusion

    It is undeniable that pre-research plays a key role in research trips as it allows to gain deep knowledge about a given field of analysis and form initial hypotheses to verify during the research. However, once on the ground, the reality can challenge assumptions and reshape priorities… but after all, research is about ‘trusting the process’. While tools such as networking should be used to help reduce uncertainty, planners should remain flexible and embrace the research journey to gather findings that go much beyond pure research outcomes.


    Florie Arlegui is a product strategy lead studying for a MSc Environment & Sustainable Development as a part-time student (2015-2017) in order to pursue a career change. She is particularly passionate about sustainable mobility in cities.

    MSc Development Administration and Planning 2017 Fieldtrip. Recount of the visit to the Bujjuko Low Cost Housing Demonstration

    By Lilian Schofield, on 15 June 2017

    The international field trip is an integral part of the MSc Development Administration and Planning Programme (DAP) and this year, the students travelled to Kampala, Uganda for their field trip.  This is the second year running that the MSc DAP programme has been working with development partners in Kampala, Uganda. This year, the MSc DAP programme partnered with eight NGOs and CBOs which included; Community Integrated Development Initiatives (CIDI), ACTogether, Community Development Resource Network (CDRN), Children’s Rights and Lobby Mission (CALM Africa), Living Earth, Uganda, Kasubi Parish local Community Development Initiative (KALOCODE), Action for Community Development – Uganda (ACODEV- U). The 8th partner, Shelter and Settlement Alternatives (SSA), gave a site visit in which they showed the students one of their current projects – The Decent Living Project.

     

    Cover pic

     

    Development in Practice

    The city of Kampala is experiencing rapid urbanisation. A city, which was originally built on seven hills, has now expanded to that on more than twenty hills, with informal settlements sprawling up in different parts of the city.  Infrastructure in the city has not expanded on par with the rapid urbanisation and access to amenities is a challenge for the millions that inhabit or the thousands that troop into the city for employment. The city of Kampala is also going through massive regeneration and this is visualised through the many construction works going on in the city. As developers and inhabitants contest for the urban space, those who cannot afford to live in the city are forced to move to peri-urban areas and some are even forcefully evicted. However, some of the community members are establishing cooperatives and also working with non-governmental organisations to have access to land.

    The central theme for this years’ field trip was examining how a development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, and the MSc students worked with their partners in understanding how Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) in Kampala, Uganda, approach the planning and implementation of ‘development’.

    One of the projects that the students visited was the Bujjuko Low Cost Housing Demonstration, which is a component of the Decent Living project implemented by Shelter and Settlements Alternatives SSA.  The beneficiaries include the Kwefako positive living women’s group, who were previously living in an informal settlement in Kampala city centre and ended up being displaced. The group were living under poor conditions and with the fear of eviction before they were identified as a potential partner. The group were encouraged to form a cooperative because it was the best way to have the community organised. SSA and WaterAid initiated to assist the group. Hence, the Kwefako Housing cooperative was conceived and registered in 2014.

    Pic 1

    Participatory approach

    Participatory approaches have been heralded in the development discourse as crucial in achieving sustainable development (Parfitt, 2004, Cleaver, 1999). However, it has also come under criticisms and raised questions about its effectiveness in truly empowering those in the grassroots (Parfitt, 2004).

    Pic 2

     

     

    The visit to the housing project offered an opportunity to understand how the beneficiaries influence the planning and implementation of development project from the start of the project to its completion. According to the SSA project assistant, participatory process was utilised in all phases of the housing project from the planning to the implementation stage. The project assistant stated that there were several consultations with the members of the cooperative on several issues ranging from what they wanted as a group to the location of the housing. On the question of location, a feasibility study was conducted with the input of the members of the cooperative. The members were then brought to the site of the proposed housing to see for themselves. The members agreed in relocating to the area because of its proximity and accessibility to markets, schools and places of worship. There are 34 members in the cooperative. 24 families are presently occupying the houses and 10 houses are going under construction for the remaining 10 members.

    The Cooperative members were also given the ‘liberty’ to draw their dream homes and after several consultations, came up with the current design.  Not only did they come up with the design, they also constructed the houses themselves using the blocks that they made. Each Unit costs 26 million UGX to build. The residents pay an upfront of 10 million UGX and then 70,000 UGX monthly giving them about 30 years to complete the payment. However, they can pay up before the 30 years period. The amount they pay for these homes were said to be similar to the rent they paid in the informal settlement.  On defaulting in payment, the group stated that if a month’s payment is defaulted, members could go to SSA and come up with a payment plan agreement.  Although, the residents stated that paying is a challenge, they have several sources of livelihoods such as making and selling crafts. SSA was also said to have carried out some capacity building workshops with the cooperative members and trained them in different income generating activities. And according to the residents, future plans of generating income include acquiring machines to make and sell blocks and also, start giving training workshops.

     

    Pic 3 House Plan 1 unit

     

    Pic 4 House plan for 2 unit

     

    Transferring ownership. The cooperative members stated that members could not just sell their houses to anyone. There are agreements between all of the members when it comes to the transfer of ownership, especially if it is through selling of the house. To sell a house, a member must go through the following regulation:

    1. The person buying must be a member;
    2. The person selling must consult all the other residents and members of the cooperative;
    3. A member can buy

     

    Appropriate Technology Transfer

    Apart from capacity building, SSA also engages in appropriate technology transfer with the group. For instance, the interlocking soil stabilizing blocks that were used to construct the houses were made from the soil in the land. Further, the materials they use in sifting the soil is mostly made from local materials.

     

    Pic 5 Appropriate technology

     

    It was also mentioned that cultural and social issues were taken into consideration for this project. The use of interlocking soil stabilizing blocks was appropriate technology, which was suitable for the members. The site of the housing was suitable for the members and did not alter their social lives, rather enhanced it as they stated.

     

    Residents now enjoy amenities that they did not previously have. Each house has a water tank and each family pay what they use.

     

    There have also been other benefits from the project such as the national water extending water pipe to the community that the project is located in.

     

     

     

     

    References

    SSA: UHSNET Newsletter 2016.

     

    Demonstrating Decent Living – A Publication of Shelter and Settlements Alternatives and Uganda Human Settlements Network.

     

    Cleaver, F. (1999) Paradoxes of participation. Questioning participatory approaches to Development. Journal of International Development. Vol 11. No 4. Pg. 597

     

    Parfitt, T. (2004) The ambiguity of participation: a qualified defence of participatory development. Third World Quarterly. Vol 25. Issue no 3


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

    Experimental modes of urban design research: BUDD in Cambodia

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 2 June 2015

    The BUDD Fieldtrip engages with urban challenges in informal settlements in Cambodia by experimenting a different mode of design research. A mode that is embedded, relational, and therefore also active, reflexive and certainly collective. Embedded refers to the learning and knowledge production which is seen as a process integrally related to the practices and lived experiences of people in specific contexts. The work on the field starts from the understanding of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers. Participants focus on how people shape and reshape space and how their specific forms of life shape and produce the everyday.

    As it is an immersion in life, the research is also necessarily relational – recognising that knowledge production and learning are defined within relative positions, and in conversation with existing discourses, social and material processes.

    Active refers to a practice that is engaged with material conditions and social and political complexities, while reflexive acknowledges the contexts in which the research is produced and challenges hegemonic outcomes.

    It is precisely in the apparent contradiction between active and reflexive that an ongoing balancing act between withdrawing from taking action and engagement takes place. Withdrawing from taking action implies a humble, flexible and reflexive approach against the risk, inherent to design, to get trapped into solution-delivery, and prescriptive and exogenous plans.

    What follows is a visual account of the process to which BUDD students are exposed to and contribute to shape during and after the fieldtrip. It makes sense of the word collective, as the essential attribute of the above mentioned design research. The work developed during the fieldtrip is two times collective: in recognising that space is collectively produced by multiple subjectivities and therefore in pursuing the production of knowledge as a common endeavour.

    Embedded in the present text there are some students’ notes developed during the fieldtrip and posted in the BUDD blog as part of the reflexive praxis of the course.

    Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

    Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

    In Cambodia BUDD students were divided across three sites, working with Community Architects Network (CAN-Cambodia), CDF (Community Development Fund), GDH (General Department of Housing) representatives and Khmer university students. The fieldwork unfolds similarly in the different sites following a modus operandi that is now consolidated.

    During the first days, after being introduced to the community members and leaders and have met local governmental officials, participants indulge in observing, surveying, mapping and interviewing, to grasp an understanding of the context, in its physical and social construction. Collective activities aimed at gathering information, identifying issues and developing proposals follow one another filling a very dense agenda.

    They are also aimed at mobilising the community, reinforcing the cohesion when present, and building a relation with the materiality of the living environment. For instance, collective mapping of boundaries, landmarks and households; enumeration; focus groups; participatory exercises – such as the ‘dream house’ and ‘dream community’ exercise; design workshops as the ‘re-blocking workshop’; and even more playful activities as the ‘talking jacket’ and the ‘participatory massage’.

      Image: The 'dream house' exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

    Image: The ‘dream house’ exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

    “Housing is conceived from inside to outside scaled by the households through the scale of the body, its shapes, its dimensions. The house is understood far away from stereotypes repeated as a stamp, seeking an average family or an ideal life standard acquirable as commodity. The exercise challenged concepts repeated and taught in Universities as a mantra: The house is clearly not “a machine for living in”. The body, the people and their social relations are in the centre.

    Before the exercise, we were afraid to invite the community to dream a house far from what was possible to achieve by them in the reality. We discussed about the risk of the exercise in the creation of false expectations. However, during the activity, we discovered once again that people knowledge is linked with the reality and experience. The outcomes of the exercise were projects feasible to be built in the future.

    Projecting the dream house was an exercise of reality, affordability and hope. The dream house is not a luxury mansion impossible to build, maintain or inhabit. People dream, but with open eyes : small steps, flexible projects, and reality. All the houses, created with individualities, were proposing improvements and new realities. ” (Cristian Robertson De Ferrari, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

      Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

    Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

    After the initial observation, survey, mapping and participatory activities, the group of students start working along with community members to jointly envision and materialise a proposal to be presented to the local authority, either at the municipal or district level. It is of crucial importance that the presentation is led by the community. This is in fact a unique opportunity for them to share their story and upgrading aspirations.

    “Together with university students, ministry representatives, CAN Community Architect Netwwork, CDF Community Development Fund, we facilitated community to open communication with local authorities. We could have called it an ‘urban forum’, where the community became visible and openly spoke out their proposal to government.

    Their agency to act and bring something on the table was important to build trust and recognition as equal partner for government in shaping the environment. Collective agency, then, means everyone who presence in the forum understand their capacity to act, listen, and speak for themselves. Knowledge was produced both about space and positionality. We spoke in different language, but actually our meaning was mutual.” (Sri Suryani, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

    Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia's transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.  Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.  Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

    Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia’s transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.
    Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.
    Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

    Proposals, interventions and strategies developed with the community are refined during the last days of the fieldtrip and presented to the vice governor in Phnom Penh. This is a further opportunity to exchange the learning and outcomes; it is also aimed at making visible the presence of such enormous capital in the communities, the ‘people technology’. Capitalising on the site work, back in London, BUDD students share once again their outcomes in a final presentation that concludes the Cambodia fieldtrip project.

    Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

    Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

    Contemporary urban challenges call for a deeper reorientation of design research. The BUDD mode – embedded, collective, relational, active and reflexive – aims to do so. Immersed in the tradition of action learning of the DPU, these pedagogical dimensions foster a constitutive role for urban education in addressing urban exclusion and inequality, and global disparities in the production of knowledge and space.


    Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13.

    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.”

    IMG_20150207_141144836_HDR

    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.”

    2_sportello (5)-1

    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 1 – Flero

    By Giulia Carabelli, on 24 February 2015

    MSc Building and Urban Design for Development students have just returned from the annual BUDDCamp. Over the next four days we will be presenting a series of blogs that discuss what the students have been doing while away, alongside individual and collective reflections about their experiences and observations.

    The BUDDCamp is a 3-day design workshop, part of the 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.

    LDA proposed four different urban spaces to explore. Students worked in groups and had to develop small, low cost, ‘doable’ design strategies, paying special attention to the narrative, the understanding, the needs, and the aspirations of the refugees working with LDA and of the citizens living in the area where they intervened.

    Flero 1

    BRESCIA

    Brescia is an extremely interesting urban laboratory. It is a small town with a population of less than 200,000 inhabitants where the effects of sudden economic transformations due to global and national crises have been accompanied by shifts in the makeup of the population.

    In fact, an increasing number of immigrants have settled in the city, often creating various clashes and tensions. BUDD students were presented with a representative selection of these challenges in order to provide strategies and projects aimed to foster equality and social justice.

    Surveys, interviews, focus groups, mapping and transect walks are few of the participatory activities that were undertaken to collectively understand and engage with the spatial and social experience of the sites.

    The main outputs of this intensive action-research workshop were a range of design strategies aiming to maximise the potential of these places as catalysts of new social dynamics and development towards urban justice. Students had the opportunity to present their urban strategies to our hosts and to local practitioners and civil society groups thus creating a vibrant platform for sharing their visions and ideas.

    Flero 2

    URBAN SPACE 1: Abandoned Carabinieri Station in Flero Municipality

    The group working on this case was confronted with the specificity of the periferia diffusa (sprawled periphery) and asked to work in the small municipality of Flero, just outside Brescia. Participants had to provide a vision for the decaying and unused “Carabinieri” station; an impressive concrete skeleton of a military station that remains unfinished and derelict.

    There were two main challenges: the large scale of the abandoned structure and the fact that the building is partially immersed in a swamp, which has a negative effect on the wellbeing of the inhabitants (such as the invasion of rats and mosquitos).

    Flero 3

    Is it possible to look at these problems as opportunities?

    Ana: “The shared impression among our group was that the municipality workers were very open and flexible for an input to create a vision for the structure that could provide for the well-being of the residents. However, the municipality didn’t seem to be very engaged in a dialogue with the residents themselves in discussing that vision.”

    “So” – adds Jiaqi – “we started this program by initiating a dialogue with the local community to actively engage people in the process and to produce a portfolio of ideas”.

    “As a result” – add Miro – “we came up with the concept of mixed-use. We developed the idea of creating a strategy that was demand-driven rather than supply-driven, which means that we encourage all kinds of private sectors, small businesses, and flexible activities to happen here in small units of the building”.

    Principles for Regeneration

    The group developed a set of principles for the regeneration of the area, the use of the building and its social activation. These include: a programmatic diversification of functions and investments; an incremental occupation/appropriation of the available space and the self-sustainment of the reclamation/remediation.

    Although simple, the combination of these three principles constitutes a viable and realistic proposal to mediate between the scale of the building and the lack of resources.


    Giulia Carabelli is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc BUDD programme. She joined the current MSc students on the BUDDcamp in February. Look out for reflections from the other 3 case studies on the blog later this week.