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A home for Seiichi’s family: Ninety-two-years of Japanese Housing History

Yuka Aota5 July 2022

This housing story will explore the housing history of my grandfather named Seiichi Aota.  Throughout his 92 years (1928-2019), Japan experienced WWII, economic rise and fall, globalisation, and big earthquakes. The housing policies and land use have changed confronted changing socio-economic and political situations. From the perspective of my grandfather, this essay aims to highlight Japanese political context on housing. Interviews with his children (Aota family 2020, personal communication, March 2020) tell his housing story and livelihood. This story shows the transformation from the past housing programmes in a rapid population growth period to the current ones with more vacant houses in a hyper aging society.

Tough time due to WW II (1928-1951)

In 1928, my grandfather Seiichi Aota was born in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, in the western part of Japan. After a period of isolation from 1639 to 1853 when Japan only traded with the Netherlands, the Japanese government opened a port in Kobe in 1868 which is one of a few ports in Japan that allowed foreign trade. Railways were also established in late 1874 (Kobe City 2020), and this made Kobe accessible to the other business areas in Western Japan, such as Osaka.

At the age of six, Seiichi lost his mother and was adopted by his uncle Yutaka and aunt Mikao, who did not have children. Seiichi was moved to their house in Kitano, where the government had designated the area for Western-style residences built mostly for early foreign settlers (Kobe Ijinkan 2020). In 1939, WWII began, and he was forced to work in factories to produce weapons as part of the mobilization of students for production labour by ceasing his studies. The Japanese government banned the building of wooden houses that were more than 100 square meters (Nagano 2007). While Seiichi volunteered to be a soldier several times, as the only son of the family he was considered the single heir so his application was not passed. In 1945 there was a massive air raid that burnt down many of the traditional wooden houses, as well as almost all the houses that Seiichi’s uncle had bought before WWII. After Japan lost the war in August of 1945, it suffered terrible damage 3.1million people were killed in total and at this was also the start of the US occupation (Hirota 1992).

Part of this damaged included the 2.1 million houses that were burnt down, and it also left many people in need, there was 4.2 million houses were in urgent need to be built (Nagano 2007). The Japanese government provided temporary housing to victims of war, but the speed of provision was not enough to reach the demands. The U.S. General Headquarters (GHQ) introduced American democratic ideas to Japanese housing policies.  The GHQ’s guidance led the Japanese government to establish the Housing Loan Corporation for providing housings with low long-term interest rates. Due to the shift to a free economy, Japan faced inflation, which pushed up the price of building materials. The GHQ judged that Japan could not produce enough timber for housing. In order to promote less flammable buildings, they let Economic Science Bureau submit the comments indicating that reinforced concrete structures would be the most practical (Nagano 2007). This was the beginning of Japan addressing the issue of building less flammable housing in collaboration with private firms. These housing initiatives focused on efficient use of building materials whilst ensuring the minimum strength and promoting the use of non-combustible materials.

Seiichi’s family had all survived WWII. Because of the high demand for housing after the war, his uncle sold the remaining properties in Kobe. After that, his family left Kitano for Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture in the Southern part of Japan. His uncle became an investor in a relative’s shipbuilding business and negotiated with timber dealers for constructing ships in the mountains which were undamaged by the war.  Seiichi also worked in the same business. Difficulties obtaining affordable building materials led to the bankruptcy of the business. His parents went back to Kobe in 1950 and decided to open a candy store in Suidosuji shopping street in Kobe. They borrowed money from his aunt’s younger sister, who ran a restaurant close to Omuta Station in Fukuoka Prefecture. The City of Omuta was flourishing because of the coal industry and the population was the highest in 1959 (Omuta City 2020). Seiichi worked at the restaurant to reduce his uncle’s debt and earn a little pocket money. He started dating Kyoko, who was the daughter of his aunt’s eldest sister. Kyoko went on to become his wife. The loan was paid off by his parents afterwards.

Figure 1: Shipbuilding firm’s gathering in Amakusa

 

Aotayashoten headquarters and branch (1951-1970s)

Around 1951, when the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan was signed, Seiichi’s parents opened a candy shop named Aotayashoten (Aota’s shop) on the east side of Suidosuji shopping street. Literally, in Japanese, Suido (water) Suji (street). It was developed by installing water pipes in the 1920s and was filled with lively scenes along with a market street (SUIDOUSUJI CO., Ltd 2020). His parents rented a house from the owner of a nearby shoe store.

Figure 2: Aotayashoten Headquarters and Seiichi’s family and the employees in Suidosuji

The rental house had a shop front used for Aotayashoten with showcases of commodities and a dwelling area. Behind the shop front, there were four-tatami mats room, a small kitchen, a storage room and a toilet, there was no bathroom, so they used public bathhouses. The room was too small for the family and their employees to take meals together. Seiichi’s parents slept in a cramped tatami room that was very cold in the winter and was infested with mice. A classic example of the poor living conditions that was a result a state focused on increasing the numbers of houses and not the quality.

There was a period of economic growth from 1953 to 1973. Japan gradually started boosting up the economy by launching an economic growth policy and income doubling policy. The rapid population growth generated a housing shortage which resulted in soaring land prices, environmental problems, land sprawl, and many other issues (Nagano 2007). The government focused on housing policies and established four branches of Japan Housing Corp. in major Japanese cities, in 1955. The Corp. promoted housing estate development and land readjustment project. It launched 10,000 rental houses and 10,000 subdivisions of houses in half a year and created 35,000 new residences by the end of 1957 (Nagano 2007). In 1960, the income doubling policy led to mass-production and cost-cutting in housing. Additionally, the Ministry of Construction established the councils for prefabricated and public housing as well as financing systems which encouraged fast construction and the use of cheap materials. Due to this high demand in housing, private firms began industrialising the production of housing materials (Nagano 2007). This resulted in the creation of low-quality housing below the current standard (Suzuki 2008)

Riding on this economic wave, Seiichi’s parents rented a store on land belonged to the City of Kobe and opened a branch of the Aotayashoten in 1953. The branch was close to the east exit of the Higashi-Hatahara market, which connected to Suidosuji shopping street. The first floor had a store front with a showcase and a living quarter of around three to four tatami-mats, a kitchen, a toilet, and an entry way. There was no gas available, and they used a briquette brazier for making hot water. When they used a small heater in winter, the circuit breaker frequently tripped. So, they could not often use the heater. On the second floor, there was a six-mats tatami room and an eight-mats tatami room, a toilet, and a small wooden floored room. After Seiichi and Kyoko held their wedding at the restaurant, they left Omuta for Kobe to support Aotayashoten in Kobe. They rented a six-tatami mats room on the second floor of the apartment adjacent to the Suidosuji shopping street. Following the birth of their first son in 1954, the couple had their first daughter in 1957, the second son (my father) was born in 1959 and the second daughter in 1964. After the births they started living in the store. After living in the space, Seiichi bought the rented branch.

Figure 3: Aotayashoten in Suidosuji, 1954

A house for Seiichi’s family (1970s-1980s)

The Japanese government predicted that the baby boomer generation after WWII would need residences that could accommodate their families and spouses, and the houses built after the war would need renovation. In response to the demands, the government established the five-year housing construction plan in 1960. This plan was renewed every five years and considered the foundation of Japanese housing policy, which mobilised the private housing market.

The first phase began in 1966 through to 1970 secured an increase in the average dwelling space to more than nine tatami-mats per small household (two-three people) and more than 12 tatami-mats per general household (more than four people) (Nagano 2007).  As Figure five (Nagano 2007, p28) shows, housing provision was permeating, and the government started more weighing on the housing quality. In 1973, the ratio of the average housing standard with insufficient facilities such as no bathroom was 72.7%.  Then, the Ministry of Construction started the Industrial housing performance certification system, in which users can check building standards. The oil crisis boosted up the price of building materials which caused a shortage in supplies. However, owing to the improved construction methods, during the third phase from 1976 to 1980, the ratio of people living below the minimum dwelling size standard with complex criteria (e.g.,19.5 tatami-mats per general household) decreased to one third (Nagano 2007, Uesugi & Asami 2009).

Mass produced housing built after the war needed renovation in the fourth phase.  The fourth phase, from 1981 to 1986, was aimed at securing the housing quality above the renewed minimum housing standard with more space per household. It was the beginning of introducing initiatives focusing on renovations and harmonisations with local areas (Nagano 2007). In 1982, the building performance certification system was launched to guarantee the building of long-lasting houses and to make maintenance of these houses smoother. The housing strategies were created to respond to the various demands from customers and local needs.

 

Figure 4: The transition of total houses and households (Nagano 2007)


Aotayashoten
gradually made profits owing to economic growth of Japan. The development of the area surrounding the store increased the number of customers. This led to the hiring of more employees who were introduced to Seiichi by his relatives in Shimabara. Seiichi rented rooms in the apartment near the store in front of Hankyu railroad crossing. His employees lived in a six tatami-mats rooms with a kitchen and shared toilet.

In order to accommodate his growing family, Seiichi decided to buy an existing house in Kuraishi within three to four minutes walking distance from Aotayashoten in the 1970s. The house was on land leased by a private owner which cost around 8 million JPY (around 62,000 GBP). The house without land tenure usually costs from 60% to 80% of the housing with land tenure dependent on the market price of the land, as the landowner pays real estate acquisition tax, property tax and city planning tax and housing costs (Iecon 2020). It was much cheaper to rent land and buy the house, than buy both the land and house together. With the permission from the landowner, he refurbished the house, which was built before the Pacific War in 1941. The newly renovated house had a Western-style room, a tatami room, a dining room and kitchen and a toilet on the first floor, and two tatami rooms on the second floor. They still used public bathhouses. Since his aunt had already passed away, he invited his uncle to move from the store to the house with him. Seiichi would often stay at the store to ensure the business ran smoothly.

Figure 5: Kyoko in a Western room in Kuraishi before the renovation, 1972

 

Rise and Fall in the late 1980s, and the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995

In 1985, the U.S. invited Japan, U.K, Germany, and France to hold a G5 Summit and agreed with the Plaza to depreciate the U.S. dollar by intervening in currency markets.  This caused a sharp yen recession in Japan. Although the Bank of Japan adopted a thorough low-interest-rate policy, the result was an unprecedented “money surplus”. The surplus funds flowed into the stock market, and asset prices began to rise. The real estate market no longer played such an essential role, such as land speculation, which became a social issue. In 1989, the Bank of Japan suspended the low-interest rate policy, and the government regulated the lending. There was a rebound that had risen too sharply, and then stock prices and land prices entered a prolonged slump. This was the burst of the Japanese economic bubble. It took a long time to recover from the aftermath, and it was later called the “Lost 20 Years” (Nihon Sangyo Keizai Shimbun, 2013).

Reflecting the social and economic situation the birth rate started declining, the housing policies started to focus more on the elderly from 1986. The sixth phase of the five-year housing construction plan changed directions leaning towards integrating the housing programmes into a housing master plan. This showed the reconstruction of housing policies and the combining of the private and public housing sectors together as a commercial housing market. This encouraged local governments to reflect locally on their housing policies. The government promoted housing supply initiatives targeting the middle aged and elderly people through new town projects.

Once Seiichi’s children became independent. He decided to close the Aotayashoten in 1987, and his first daughter rented the same space and opened her own accessory store. However, the rental fee per month suddenly increased from 40,000 JPY (310 GBP) to 80,000 (620 GBP) in a half year and the impact of the economic bubble forced her to close the store.

Figure 6: The entranceway of the flat in Tsutsui public housing by Seiichi, 1998

 

After the Japanese economy experienced inflation and deflation, the Great Hanshin earthquake occurred (Kobe earthquake) at a magnitude of 7.2 on January 17, 1995, at 5:46 a.m. This caused more than 6,000 deaths and over 30,000 injuries (NIST, 2017). Although Seiichi had renovated his house and put in place measure to strengthen it against earthquakes the year before, it was still damaged. As carpenters were in high demanded after the disaster, he was unable to fix them. The revised building standard act did not allow him to have a house of the same size, and he needed to leave as he did not own the land. Seiichi gave up rebuilding the house on the same site. They had no choice but to stay at a designated evacuation area in an elementary school and got allocated to a flat in a prefabricated house after some time. He applied for the restoration housing fund several times but with too many applicants he was unable to receive it. Finally, he was able to access public housing in June 1998. This was a small flat with a six tatami-mats room, a small western room, kitchen, balcony, a toilet, and a bathroom. That was the final abode for Kyoko and Seiichi.

 Conclusion 

After WWII, Japan experienced rapid economic and population growth. In response to the housing demands, the government established regulations, initiatives, and institutions for housing provision. As time passed, they encouraged private sectors to invest in housing materials and housing constructions for improving the housing quality.

Whilst globalisation has both good and bad sides, the Japanese economy was badly damaged by the Plaza accord. This put Japan into an economic recession for a long time which led to low birth rates and triggered an aging society. In 2018, 27.7% of the population was over 65 years old, and 13.6% of Japanese houses became vacant without maintenance (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan, 2019).

The Japanese livelihood has changed a lot over the 90 years of my grandfather’s life. In association with many life events and unavoidable circumstances such as work-related transfers, family and disasters, he lived in many different types of homes. After he cared for Kyoko who had dementia, he passed away of blood cancer last June, just one day before I got the unconditional offer from the University College London. He lived his life to the fullest.

 

Note – It is necessary to clarify a uniquely Japanese way to measure floors with using the unit of “tatami”.  The original meaning of tatami is a rectangular mat for floor covering, which consists of a thick straw base and a soft, finely woven rush cover with cloth borders from ancient times. A Danchi tatami measures approximately 170 by 85 cm and is about five cm thick (Magokorotatami 2020). Six tatami-mats room is Six tatami-mats room considered a standard size in Japan. While 4.5 mats can be recognised as small or cramped, an eight-mats or ten mats room is a quite large room in general (H&R GROUP 2018). The most Japanese houses request people to take off their shoes in the entrance.

Bibliography 

H&R GROUP. (2018) ‘Measuring Room Sizes in Japan’. Available at:  https://morethanrelo.com/en/measuring-room-sizes-in-japan/. (Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Hirota, J. (1992). ‘Taiheiyousensou ni okeru Wagakuni no Sensohigai:  Sensohigaichosa no Sengoshi Keizaigaku Saisyu Kogi yori’, The Journal of  Rikyokeizaigakukenkyu, 45 (4), pp. 1-20. Available at:

https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/120005887738/en/. (Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Iecon (2020) ‘Shakuchitsuki Tatemono wo Konyusuru MeritDemerit wa?  Wakariyasuku Kaisetsu’. Available at: https://iekon.jp/shakuchiken-merit-demerit/.  (Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Kobe City (2020) ‘Kindai Kobe Ryakunenpyo. Available

at: https://www.city.kobe.lg.jp/a57337/shise/about/energy/nenpyo.html. (Accessed:  21 March 2020).

Kobe Kitano Ijinkangai (2020) ‘Kobe Kitano History’. Available at:  https://www.kobeijinkan.com/history.(Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Magokorotatami. (2020) ‘Tatami no Saizu ni tsuite’. Available at:

https://magokorotatami.co.jp/sp/stopics_tatami4-1.html. (Accessed: 21 March 2020). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan (2019) ‘Heisei 30 nen  JyutakuTochitokeichosa: Jyutaku oyobi Setai ni Kansuru Kihonsyukei Kekka  Gaiyou’. Available at:

https://www.stat.go.jp/data/jyutaku/2018/pdf/kihon_gaiyou.pdf. (Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Nagano, Y. (2007). Jyutakuseisaku to Jyutakuseisan no Henkeku ni Kansuru  Kihontekikenkyu: Mokuzojyutakuzairaikohou ni kakawaru Fukkouseisaku no  Henkaku. Quarterly Journal of Nihon Jyutaku Kyokai. Geihakukoudai (25). pp.10-75

Nihon Sangyo Keizai Shimbun (2013) ‘Genzai Nihon wo Shirutame ni (14) Baburu Keiki towa Nan Dattaka’. Available at:

https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGKDZO50544580S3A110C1TCP000/.(Accessed:  21 March 2020).

NIST (2017) ‘Earthquake Kobe Japan 1995’. Available at: https://www.nist.gov/el/earthquake-kobe-japan-1995.(Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Omuta City (2020) ‘Tokeinenkan’. Available at: https://www.city.omuta.lg.jp/hpKiji/pub/detail.aspx?c_id=5&id=3991&class_set_id= 1&class_id=206.(Accessed: 21 March 2020).

SUIDOUSUJI CO., Ltd (2020) ‘Suidosuji Syotengai ni tsuite’. Available at: http://www.suido-suji.com/about/index.php.(Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Suzuki, T. (2018) ‘Ie to Jyutakugaisya no Rekishi: Gendai ni Nokoru Kindaikenchiku  no Katachi’, 7 June 2018. Available at:

https://www.sumailab.net/column/theme/4/article/71/.(Accessed: 21 March 2020).

Statistical Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan. ‘Jutaku Tokei Chosa’.

Uesugi, M. & Asami, Y. (2009). Significance of dwelling size standard and research trends in Japan. CSIS Discussion paper No.98. Available at http://www.csis.u tokyo.ac.jp/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/98.pdf. (Accessed: 21 March 2020).

 

This housing story is part of a mini-series revealing the complex ways in which personal and political aspects of shelter provision interweave over time, and impact on multiple aspects of people’s lives. Space for strategic choice is nearly always available to some degree, but the parameters of that choice can be dramatically restricted or enhanced by context. The wide range of experience presented in this collection shines a light on the wealth of knowledge and insights about housing that our students regularly bring to the DPU’s learning processes.

A Roof of Her (their) Own: Self-Constructing a Home in Lima

Rosa Paredes Castro28 June 2022

Introduction

Through time, the struggle of people who migrated from Peruvian rural areas to Lima, the capital of Peru, has been marked by the “informal” occupation of the land that has transformed Lima into a megalopolis. In this context, the story of Maria kicks off in the 1960s when her family was forced to move from their original Tayabamba, a small town in the Andes, to Lima. Her emigration story is the trajectory of thousands of families that were forced to occupy Lima’s outskirts due to Shining Path terrorist actions in several towns of Peru.

Maria’s story highlights the trajectory of a woman who seek to overcome the barriers of the unequal land distribution of housing and how in this context, migrants created self-constructed and self-organized agencies that enable them to create a space for their families, as portrayed in the documentary “A roof of my own” (Turner, 1964) and the follow-up “City Unfinished – Voices of El Ermitaño” (Golda-Pongratz & Flores, 2018). Likewise, it portrait how self-construction has evolved throughout time regarding the inclusion of further generations challenges.

Housing Self-Construction in Lima

In the socio-political context of Lima, self-construction practices have turned into the rule rather than the exception. Even for the past two decades, Peru has increased their economic profits, the production of informal settlements has been severely intensified. Nowadays, more than 90% of Lima’s expansion corresponded to the informal production of housing (Espinoza & Fort, 2020).

Self-construction processes started from 1960s when immigrants from the Andes and other rural regions of Peru were forced to occupy illegally Lima’s outskirts. This first period was marked by a massive and collective occupation of an undeveloped land. Andean cosmovision have its roots in a relational and collective cosmovision that were supported by the practice of “Minka” , which was a practice that entailed mutual aid and collective workforce used for the benefit of the community. Since the origin of the people who occupied those areas were rooted in those ancient collective practices, the first production of self-constructed housing was characterized by social relationships of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual-aid.

First Migration (1960): Assisted shantytowns

The story of Maria started in this first occupation of Lima’s outskirts. Up to this point, Peruvian socio-political was marked by the spatial effects of Shining Path terrorist actions over several rural areas in Peru, those actions were forcing people to move from their original regions to escape from persecution, terror, and an ever-growing internal war. Lima, the capital of Peru, was the recipient of massive occupations in underdeveloped areas.

Maria, at 25 years of age, was forced to leave her original town Tayabamba with her three sisters after her mother was assassinated when refusing to join Shining Path. Her mother was a farmer, and they live from the commercial exchange of the products that the land used to produce daily. In that sense, Maria didn’t possess any savings that allow her to take a housing mortgage and access a social housing program. This is why, in coordination with other women and families, they organized themselves to take Pampa de Cueva, which it was an undeveloped area in the Northern outskirts of Lima, that used to belong to an industrial company.

Figure 01: Pampa de Cueva land being organized to start the first period of “assisted shantytowns”.
Lazaro Gutierrez, V. (1960). Personal archive. 17nov1960. http://17n.limanorte.com/

 

Figure 02: Women cooperating in the preparation of the land to built-up a house of one of the settlement dwellers. Lazaro Gutierrez, V. (1960). Personal archive. 17nov1960. http://17n.limanorte.com/

 

Turner (1964) in “Housing by people” explain housing self-construction processes by proposing an autonomy in its production. By recalling “people as infrastructure” (Turner, 1964, p.17), Turner states that rather than centralize the housing production in the state, this effort should be transformed into a self-governing approach by considering people’s participation as a social capital. Maria, without economic capital to invest in her own house, started to organize herself with other families in Pampa de Cueva settlement by reactivating the cooperative practices that migrants from the Andes carried out through “minka”. Initially, on how to distribute the land area for the accommodation of each family and aftwerwards on how to build-up collectively the housing dwellings of the neighbourhood.

Nevertheless, the right to access a piece of land for Maria and the other families was not that easy to achieve. During 1960, there were successive evictions reinforced by the state and land private owners of Pampa de Cueva. The association between the government and the private sector produced several attempts to evict Maria and their neighbors. However, throughout “comites” (cooperatives), which were groups in charge of the community decisions organized at the core of the initial occupation, they started a process in which different forms of organization and mutual aid will take place, becoming key elements in the fight for the land tenure.

As stated by Turner (1964), if the right to the city is understood from a democratic and socialist context, “planning and administration are legislative processes limited to actions essential to establish and maintain an equitable distribution of resources” (Turner, 1964,p. 22). In Lima of the 1960s, that distribution was concentrated in powerful families that have inherited those pieces of land from their own families. However, the social capital of lower-income people was their only possibility to make decisions collectively and negotiate within the state regarding their right to housing tenure.

“We were not able to leave our houses because we have no other option to live, we persisted and remain despite the violence of the police. We couldn’t step back” (Maria, 2022). As a result of several negotiations with the state and a massive force of cooperation and self-organization, the right to remain was approved for Pampa de Cueva dwellers.

Figure 03: Polices taking Pampa de Cueva seeking to evict people from the settlement occupation. Unknown author (1960). Accesed: Caretas Archive (Lima, Peru)

Boom of “assisted shantytowns” and Collectivism strengthening (1970s-1980s)

Having achieved the right to remain, the spread of informal settlements increased rapidly in several underdeveloped areas of Lima as portrayed in the cover page of Architectural Design (Turner, 1963). In this period, the evolution showcases that the barriadas started covering the 10 per cent of Lima’s population in 1955 and 25 per cent in 1970 (Riofrio, 2003). Now that Maria and Pampa de Cueva dwellers have achieved the access to land tenure, the challenge was located on how to gain access to public services and technical assistance in the production of housing.

Figure 04: Pampa de Cueva (El Ermitaño) growth in 1963. Turner, J. (1963). Accesed: Architectural Design, vol. 33, nº 8. London.

The strengthening of the social organizations in Pampa de Cueva was an important element in the process to gain access to further subsidies from the government for public services. This organization was rooted twofold. On the one hand, cooperatives operated at the level of the negotiations within the state and on the other hand, they operate at the grassroots level by negotiating with the other families regarding which decisions will be the priorities for the common challenges. In this context, Maria became a leader in the organization of all the “comites” of Pampa de Cueva, also enhancing its political capacities for the benefit of the development of the common challenges of the settlement.

Turner (1964) states that an autonomy of housing production implies that rather than centralizing the decisions towards the state, governments should act as mediators that could empower the social capacities of people and their autonomous decisions. “Instead of needing to know how many houses are or will be demanded in a given place and time or for a given social sector, planners and administrators need only know the approximate quantities of building materials, tools, and labour, land, and credit that will be required. (Turner, 1964, p. 30). Following this approach, cooperative, and collective aid keep marking the growth of self-constructed housing in Pampa de Cueva. Maria’s house was built-up with the help of their neighbours. “With the other neighbours, we organize shifts to work each weekend. We helped each other and we know that we can rely on our “compadres” to finish our housing roofs or building up our rooms” (Maria, 2022)

As a result of that force of self-organization and a massive social pressure, the Ministry of Housing approved the legal framework that will enable new shantytowns to gain access to a permanent legal tenure and further technical and economic assistance as public services and infrastructure (Castillo-Garcia, 2021). According to Espinoza, et al (2020), lower income dwellers understood that if they take the land, afterwards the government will subsidize the land tenure and the access to public services (Espinoza, et al, 2020). Peru rapidly became a reference of “assisted shantytowns” among Latin America, since it was the only government supporting the self-production of housing (Riofrio, 2003). In that sense, the agency of Maria and Pampa de Cueva dwellers contributed to the integration of the production of self-constructed housing in the National Housing policy and as part of the correlative development strategies. (Castillo-Garcia, 2021).

Figure 05: Pampa de Cueva dwellers playing a football game. Lazaro Gutierrez, V. (1960). Personal archive. 17nov1960. http://17n.limanorte.com/

The switch from self-production assistance to neoliberal policies opening (1990-2000)

Nevertheless, from 1990 onwards, housing policies took as inspiration Hernando de Soto’s theories of neoliberal planning (Riofrio, 2003). According to De Soto, with the legal housing tenancy the private sector will regulate the further upgrading of informal settlements (Riofrio,2007). Technical capacity was transferred to local governments who can approve tentative land areas for social housing interests (Castillo-Garcia, 2021) and the production of social housing was commissioned to the private sector through the creation of MIVIVIENDA fund. As a result of those policies, informal land speculators appeared in several underdeveloped areas of Lima. Those neoliberal attempts were supported by Alberto Fujimori’s government, who used a populist strategy to promise housing tenure to migrants and contributed to a culture of stigmatization of cooperativism, community organization, and political participation.

“During Fujimori’s government, the members of the comites were bribed and the way we cooperate with others wasn’t the same (…) people were also afraid to be stigmatized as a terrorist for Fujimori’s associates” (Maria, 2022). Meanwhile, up to this point Alejandrina’s family grew up. She got married and after having two children her family required more space for inhabiting and working. Since the plot that Maria’s fight for allowed her to progressively adapt her house, they built a second floor for their children and expanded the first floor to open a small grocery shop. However, her sisters could no longer live with them, so they started looking for affordable options closer to their social and economic networks. In this process, the only alternative that they find it was to buy informally some plots to land trafficants in Pampa de Cueva. Having understood that the process of assisted shantytowns will further provide access to public services and land tenure, private speculators created systems of informal occupations and further traffic of land, distributing the land and selling the plots for 700 dollars, a value that lower-income families could afford by a small loan from a local bank.

This situation marked a different occupation, the mutual aid has progressively been disappearing. In addition to the regulatory opening for speculators, new generations were more interested into remain closer to their social and job networks but less interested in contributing to a community belonging (Riofrio, 2002). Even though there was initial support for self-construction processes, by opening housing regulations to “let the private sector upgrade the assisted shantytowns” (De Soto, cited in Riofrio, 2007), who were benefited were the land speculators rather than lower-income dwellers.

Second Generation Challenges and a never-ending process (2000-2022)

From 2000 onwards, the government offered the major responsability for the social housing production to the Real State sector. Influenced by the United Nations Agenda, which “recognizes that governments are not able to meet housing needs through direct action or state provision and that the diversity and scale of such need require the participation of the private sector and local communities” (UN Agenda 2012, cited in Payne, et al, 2012, p.13).

Meanwhile, alternative options for Maria’s family have been limited. Maria’s son grew up and with a family, affording the initial payment of a mortgage was not possible. Even If the government proposed subsidies for social housing in some areas located on the outskirts of Lima (Espinoza, et al, 2021), he didn’t qualify for bank credit with a $ 300 basic salary and accumulated debts. Therefore, his only alternative was still to buy a plot from the land trafficators. Consequently, self-construction from the 2000s onwards, influenced by the land traficant organizations, became the only alternative for further generations. By 2018, the production of shantytowns represented tentative the 90 percent of Lima’s expansion (Espinoza, et al, 2020).

.

 

Figure 06: Informal occupation in the Upper Areas of Pampa de Cueva by land traffic (2017). Paredes Castro, R. (2017). Housing Self-construction Illustration in Lima (Peru).

In this context, how could regulation work to the benefit of lower-income dwellers? Turner (1990, cited in Payne & Majale, 2012) proposes a switch in the traditional housing regulation by an “open system” that will enable households to find adaptable alternatives suitable to their needs departing from a range of competition of all the suppliers involved in the production of housing. In Lima, policies oriented towards Real State profits and the inadaptability of regulations towards the needs of new generations contributed to the progression of a never-ending process of land trafficant. In that sense, the fight for affordable and secure housing persists in the story of Maria.

“Nevertheless, we are still positive in the future of our family, we struggle to build-up our houses and access to sanitation and electricity, I believe that my son will also be able to someday have a house for him and his future family” (Maria, 2022).

Conclusions

Maria’s trajectory showcase that even though the initial government support of self-construction processes benefited the development of lower-income housing access, within the enhancement of the neoliberal policies and the correlative land regulations for the benefit of Real Estate developers, a vast ground for private formal and informal speculators was opened. Furthermore, the strengthening of those policies and the new generations’ interests also has contributed to the weakening of the social organization and cooperative practices. In this regard, Maria’s story demonstrates that individual land tenure doesn’t guarantee that the right to housing will be achieved. As shown in the story, this also open the ground for alliances between the private sector and the state rooted in a long trace of corruption carried out in Peru.

Furthermore, Maria’s story also highlights the power of organization and people’s agency as social capital and strategic elements in the fight for housing. Beyond a romanticization of self-construction, the story shows that community participation is imperative in the journey toward housing. Therefore, housing requires to be reframed as a process rather than a product (Turner,1964).  Beyond understanding the housing question from a critique of the state, the story shows that the right for housing navigate in the nuances of politics, personal trajectories, community participation, and urban and housing policies. In this context, further questions need to be raised. How to co-create adaptable housing policies in which the different agents involved could generate flexible and affordable alternatives for lower-income dwellers? How to navigate land traffic challenges from a co-production and participation of further generations? And finally, how to reimagine collectively a roof of her (their) own?

Bibliography & References

  • Castillo-Garcia, F (2021). Public Housing Policies in Peru 1946-2021 and contributions to a public housing policy 2021-2030. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0316-5201
  • Espinoza, A. & R. Fort (2020).Mapeo y tipología de la expansión urbana en el Perú. Lima: GRADE; ADI. https://www.grade.org.pe/publicaciones/mapeo-y-tipologia-de-la-expansion-urbana-en-el-peru/
  • Fernandez, J.C & Pelaez,F (2021). Unidades cooperativas: de la vivienda titulada al barrio titulado. En FIIU5. Resiliencia Urbana. Tomo I. (pp. 21 – 27). LIMA. Ocupa tu calle. https://96p.ef8.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Libro-FIIU-5.tomo1_.pdf?time=1615397872
  • McGuirk, J. (2014). Radical Cities: Across the Latin America in Search of a New Architecture. London: Verso. – Watkins, Katie.
  • Golda-Pongratz, K. & Flores, R. (2018). Ciudad Infinita – Voces de El Ermitaño” [City Unfinished – Voices of El Ermitaño]” (2018)
  • Golda-Pongratz, K (2021). John FC Turner (1927-). The Architectural Review.Self-built housing + AR House: The Architectural Review Issue 1477, December 2020/January 2021. https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/reputations/john-fc-turner-1927
  • Riofrio, G. (2003). Urban Slums reports: The case of Lima-Peru. Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. The Challenge of Slums.
  • Riofrio, G. (2007). La política de vivienda en el Perú responde a la oferta y no a la demanda [In person]. Palestra, Portal de Asuntos PúblicosPE. http://repositorio.pucp.edu.pe/index//handle/123456789/11941
  • Payne, G. & Majale, M. (2012). The Urban Housing Manual: Making Regulatory Frameworks Work for the Poor. 10.4324/9781849773362.
  • Turner, J.F.C (1964). A roof of my own (UNTV 1964, 29 minutes)
  • Turner, J.F.C (1976). Housing by people: Towards autonomy in building environments. London: Marion Boyars.


This housing story is part of a mini-series revealing the complex ways in which personal and political aspects of shelter provision interweave over time, and impact on multiple aspects of people’s lives. Space for strategic choice is nearly always available to some degree, but the parameters of that choice can be dramatically restricted or enhanced by context. The wide range of experience presented in this collection shines a light on the wealth of knowledge and insights about housing that our students regularly bring to the DPU’s learning processes.

From a foundry-laborer in Moradabad to a foundry-owner in Mumbai: The housing journey of Ahmed and his family

Rohit Lahoti16 June 2022

This essay is the housing story of Ahmed (pseudonym) and his family, as it parallels housing-policy shifts in India, particularly in Mumbai. The timeframe for this story intersects with the three decades of economic liberalization and policy deregulation in India. As this personal trajectory unfolds in Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, it raises simultaneous questions and issues when linked to the social-housing evolution at the municipal and national scale. The story is broadly divided into three phases from 1990s to 2020, toggling between Ahmed’s personal journey and the political transformations occurring at different scales.

Figure 1: Conceptual timeline of Ahmed’s journey and Mumbai’s landmark events. Source: Author

 

1990-1998: Economic Liberalization and Migration

In 1991, a period of political deregulation and economic liberalization began as India opened its economy. Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, was the forerunner to witness a systemic transition in its social and physical growth pattern. As deindustrialization took place, the city witnessed a shirt from textile manufacturing to the service sector. This did not deter a boom in local informal industries; as people across the socio-economic spectrum moved to Mumbai, the lines between formal and informal blurred. Dharavi emerged as an important hub providing shelter and livelihood to its mostly migrant population.

Figure 2: Mumbai and the strategic location of Dharavi. Source (Nimjan, 2009)

 

Ahmed and his family, a part of this migration, came to Mumbai from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Moradabad was a small town with a population of less than a million and Ahmed struggled to find work and save money there. In 1993, Ahmed followed his elder brother, Nazir, to Mumbai to find work.

Both brothers lived with their aunt in Dharavi and began work as laborers in a foundry (locally known as bhatti) earning INR 100 per day. Ahmed and Nazir lived on the first floor of their aunt’s two-storey house. Despite their limited wages, they made sure to send INR 2500 per month back home. Through regular savings they were able to rent two rooms in Mukund Nagar in 1995 and bring their family to Mumbai. Ahmed was now living with his two brothers, two sisters, and parents. The rent of their room was INR 3500 per month (equivalent to a months’ earnings) and was in the same area where they worked. Like many low-income households across Mumbai, the other family-members were now engaged in home-based work to supplement the labor work, with the women doing shoe-fitting and sticking artificial diamonds onto shoes by hand.

While it was impossible to buy a room even after combining the earnings of all working members, Ahmed, like many other Mumbai residents, was persistent to look for newer ways of earning and finding a house. In 1995, the incumbent political party in Maharashtra launched a flagship scheme called the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRS). This scheme was intended for the “provision of free tenements to 4 million slum dwellers” (Risbud, 2003, p. 16) through a method of cross-subsidization, with the private developer as the main builder. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) became the main entity responsible for the redevelopment and rehabilitation of slums in the city, including Dharavi. While the ‘free-housing’ for the poor seemed beneficial on paper, it was highly contested as it engendered stronger competition for the city’s booming real estate sector. Between 1995-1998, Ahmed’s family frequently shifted houses as the landlord demanded higher rent every year. This created significant disruption for the family as they stayed in 6-7 different types and sizes of houses within the same area in Dharavi. The political transition in the city, with the incorporation of populist agendas and encouragement for more private-sector investments, reinforced the plight of slum dwellers like Ahmed as state policies failed to recognize their livelihood and housing conditions. With ever-increasing migration, competition for jobs increased and directly impacted the earning margin and work opportunities.  Ahmed said “Ek din kaam tha, doosre din nahi” (There was work one day and nothing on the following day). After a year-and-a-half of this, Ahmed started contemplating moving back to his hometown.

 

1998-2009: World-class Aesthetics and Rebuilding

Post 1998, the market in Dharavi was struck by a recession. Ahmed did not have any work from the foundry, accessing basic food and necessities became difficult, and he went back to Moradabad with his family.

Figure 3: Ahmed’s family-house in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Source: Ahmed

 

Moradabad is famously called “Peetal Nagri”, or Brass City, for its brass metal industry. Ahmed began working in a foundry there; his family lived in one unit in a shared housing setup which consisted of 24 families, enclosed by a main gate. The rent here was merely INR 40-50 per month. Despite the low rent, working as a laborer in Moradabad did not pay enough to pay rent and secure other basic needs. In 2005, owing to Nazir’s marriage, the family accrued large amounts of debt and struggled to procure basic necessities while repaying the debt. Encouraged by a friend, Ahmed decided to go to Nepal where he heard the daily wage in factories was INR 800-900. Despite the high wage, Ahmed left Nepal within two weeks because of unsafe living conditions. Rather than go to Moradabad, he returned to Mumbai to work in the foundry in Dharavi.

For Ahmed, and the majority of migrant laborers living in informal housing, this was a particularly difficult time owing to the growing neo-liberal paradigm that led to massive slum-evictions between 2003-2006. Two major developments in Mumbai exacerbated the insecurities of slum dwellers. In 2003, McKinsey & Company released a report titled ‘Vision Mumbai: Transforming Mumbai into a world-class city’, and in 2004, the Government of Maharashtra introduced the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) as a ‘special planning area’. The idea of redevelopment was envisioned by architect Mukesh Mehta, where the informal settlements were “to be replaced with high-rise developments irrespective of the existing vibrant economy” (Boano, Lamarca, & Hunter, 2011, p. 300). However, these new developments—within Dharavi and other informal settlements in Mumbai—did not alter the dreadful working and living conditions for laborers like Ahmed.

Ahmed eventually called one of his younger brothers to work with him. Renting a room for the two of them was impractical and unaffordable, so they decided to sleep outside the foundry, adjacent to a smelly gutter, and with big rats for roommates. They lived like this for 2-3 years, while sending a majority of their savings to the family in Moradabad. Ahmed’s enterprising nature helped him develop contacts within the foundry, and within a year, the owner offered him the foundry on rent. As the two brothers ran the foundry, their earnings doubled, and they saved enough to call the whole family to Mumbai again in 2007. This pushed Ahmed to rent a new room. Since it was a single room, the men slept outside at night while the women slept inside. Ahmed expressed the main challenge of sleeping outside was the social stigma of being labelled ‘criminals’ by the police with the perpetual risk of being removed. However, by this time, Ahmed and his brother managed individual foundries while the family was engaged in home-based work like shoemaking and decorations. This pushed Ahmed to rent another room, adjacent to their current house, where they lived for around three years.

Since the family now managed two foundries with additional sources of income, their place in Dharavi was secure while there were slum demolitions and evictions going on in other parts of the city. The third phase in Ahmed’s life talks about a series of major formal housing transitions that gave stability to the family and improved their livelihood conditions significantly.

 

2009-2020: Political Realignment and Social Mobility

Ahmed got married in 2009 in Moradabad and decided to upgrade to a better house as their existing space in Dharavi did not have a private toilet. In the same locality, a slum rehabilitation project (SRS scheme) called the Shivneri Cooperative Housing Society had been constructed recently. These rehabilitation projects typically prioritized households originally living on that plot of land, while additional houses were given to Project Affected Persons (PAPs). However, once people got possession of their apartments, many would informally put them on rent and move back to the slums themselves. According to Ahmed this was because people were not used to living in high- rise structures, and they looked at an opportunity like this to earn. Ahmed was one such beneficiary of the system. Ahmed managed to informally rent one such apartment.

Ahmed rented his first apartment in Shivneri in 2009 for INR 5500, with a deposit of INR 50,000 to the owner. He also kept possession of one of their earlier rooms to accommodate all family members. Ahmed and his wife slept in that small room while the rest of the family lived in the apartment. However, since these houses were rented informally, there was no rent ceiling and the landlord demanded higher rent every year. After having the same experience in a second apartment in the same building, Ahmed and his brothers began the hunt for another apartment. Despite the constant burgeoning of rents, they decided to live in the same complex since it was stone’s throw from the foundry and Ahmed’s family had steadily built significant social capital in the vicinity.

By this point, the required initial deposit had doubled from INR 50,000 to INR 1 lakh. They found an empty apartment in Shivneri where the owner was demanding a massive deposit of INR 7 lakhs but with a condition that Ahmed’s family would then live rent-free. During this phase, a primary source of money for them was their regular deposit in the Bank Correspondence (BC) scheme[1]. By the time Ahmed was able to put this large amount together, the deal was redundant, and he ended up renting a smaller apartment in the same building for around three years, with a deposit of INR 2 lakhs. This was his family’s third move in the same building.

Figure 4: First two photos of Shivneri Cooperative Housing Society and third photo is the exterior view of his commercial space in Dharavi, Mumbai. Source: Ahmed

 

This instability and continuous fluctuation in Ahmed’s life had a parallel reflection at the national level. In 2014, the BJP government took charge at the Centre, with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. This massive political shift had an impact on the urban policies and programmes that were launched, like the Smart Cities Mission in 2015. Further, with the third Mumbai Development Plan 2014-2034 as a simultaneous advancement, the development focus was to further incentivize the private sector. Locked pockets like the salt-pan lands and the mangrove areas in Mumbai were opened up as ‘special development zones’ to construct more ‘affordable housing’ for the poor. These contrasting narratives of inequality became increasingly conspicuous as on one end, many like Ahmed were continuously fighting with burgeoning living costs, while at the other end, the number of vacant houses in Mumbai kept surging.

The rise in vacant housing stocks was complemented with rising rents. Seeing a strand of this pattern, in 2015, Ahmed’s apartment-owner got a better deal and sold the unit to someone. This gave Ahmed’s family two months to vacate the apartment. Unfortunately, they could not find any vacant and affordable unit in the same society; Ahmed and his family shifted 1 km away and reluctantly stayed there until 2019. Through contacts with a bank manager and an agent, in 2019, Ahmed finally got an opportunity to buy a one-bedroom apartment in the Shivneri Society again—his fourth apartment in the same society. Ahmed took a loan of INR 40 lakhs by keeping the property document as a collateral and arranged the remaining INR 10 lakhs through BC savings and by borrowing from friends and family. He repaid all the borrowed money and lives there till date with his family. With time, Ahmed managed to get a room for INR 13 lakhs for commercial purposes, which he converted into a three-storey workplace. The current value of this property stands at INR 20 lakhs and they can easily get a rent of INR 17000 per month if they put it in the market.

Figure 5: Red is the location of Ahmed’s house in Shivneri and blue is his commercial unit. This group of satellite images, transitioning from 2000 to 2019, show the surmounting real estate pressure around. Source: Google Earth

 

The multiplicity of transitions Ahmed and his family went through must be realized with simultaneous socio-political shifts at the city, state, and national levels. At different moments over a period of three decades, there was a rhythmic interplay between the personal and political. How did the launch period of Slum Rehabilitation Scheme coincide with Ahmed and Nazir bringing their family to Mumbai? What brought Ahmed back to Mumbai in 2006, at a time when development control regulations were modified for Dharavi? Policies, political changes, rise of civil society, evictions, and increasing real estate pressure are some of the factors which directly or indirectly induce people’s decision-making. Community perceptions and systemic changes often have a non-linear relation which calls for a multi-dimensional analysis. Exploring individual narratives, then, becomes a unique way to understand the grounding of policies and the state of our ‘global cities’.

Figure 6: Ahmed’s present 1-BHK apartment in Shivneri Cooperative Housing Society in Dharavi, Mumbai. Source: Ahmed

Bibliography

Baweja, V. (2015). Dharavi Redevelopment Plan: Contested Architecture and Urbanism. The Expanding Periphery and the Migrating Center, 381-387.

Boano, C., Lamarca, M. G., & Hunter, W. (2011). The frontlines of contested urbanism: Mega-projects and mega-resistances in Dharavi. Journal of Developing Societies, 27, 295-326.

Kaur, G., Kaur, S., & Soni., V. (2014). A study of slums in Mumbai with special reference to Dharavi. International Research Journal of Management Sociology & Humanity, 159-166.

Nijman, J. (2009). A study of space in Mumbai’s slums. University of Miami, USA : Department of Geography & Regional Studies, Urban Studies Program.

Risbud, N. (2003). The case of Mumbai, India. Understanding slums: case study for the Global Report on Human Settlements.

 

[1] A BC scheme is analogous to ROSCAs (Rotating savings and credit association) which is centered around peer-to-peer banking. In BC system, there is a ‘chit fund’ where individuals decide to pool in some money every month. Once a month, there is a draw and that person gets the full money to use.

 

This housing story is part of a mini-series revealing the complex ways in which personal and political aspects of shelter provision interweave over time, and impact on multiple aspects of people’s lives. Space for strategic choice is nearly always available to some degree, but the parameters of that choice can be dramatically restricted or enhanced by context. The wide range of experience presented in this collection shines a light on the wealth of knowledge and insights about housing that our students regularly bring to the DPU’s learning processes.

The paradox of refugee hotspots: De/Rehumanisation within logics of permanent temporariness

Rita Lambert18 May 2022

By Rita Lambert and Edurne Bartolome

Entrance of Mória Refugee Camp in Lesvos. Image source: Rita Lambert

As the EU welcomes tens of thousands Ukrainians fleeing war described by the UN as the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen since World War II, those escaping conflicts and hardships from places in the middle East or Africa, are denied similar humanitarian consideration and receive a more hostile treatment.  Although the double standards and racialised approach of the EU and US has been criticised by many, limited attention is placed on the experience of these ‘other’ asylum seekers entering into the EU reception system. Almost a decade since the start of the 2014-15 crisis, that saw the world’s refugee population increase by about 9 million according to United Nations Refugee Agency data, important lessons can be learnt from examining how the EU’s policy has evolved and how it materialises in particular places.

Greece has been a major gateway into the rest of Europe. In particular, the five Greek islands closer to Turkey- Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos- are the first port of entry and thus major sites for refugees reception. The EU’s designation of these five islands as ‘hotspots’ in the Aegean Sea since 2015, means that refugees and asylum seekers that arrive on these islands cannot continue their journey into Europe and are instead taken to camps to wait for the outcome of their applications. After the signature of the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016, the hotspots essentially became centres for returns to Turkey and provided for the automatic detention of new arrivals for up to 25 days in Reception and Identification Centres (RICs), even if an asylum application has been initiated. In many cases, the time spent in the RICs can extend by many months or even years before a definitive decision is made on the asylum application.

Dehumanising spaces and practices of the hotspot approach

Examining the trajectory of the hotspot approach, it is difficult to ignore the adoption of increasingly dehumanising spaces and practices and how these become institutionalised over time. Having visited the sites of the previous and current camps (in Lesvos- Mória Refugee Camp (figure 1) and its successor Kara Tepe; in Samos- Vathi Camp, the ‘jungle’ (Figure 2) and reports from the new Zervou camp; in Chios- Vial Refugee camp), as well as the proposed sites for new RICs, we see increased restrictions on camp dwellers’ movements, their isolation from the social and economic life of the islands, and restrictions that impact their agency and autonomy. The newest camps are even more disconnected, out of sight, and disempowering for migrants, who are spatially and symbolically bundled with all that is ‘unwanted’. In Lesvos for example, the proposed RIC is located by the largest dump site, while in Chios it will be built in a rocky, barren and water scarce area in the Northeast of the island. The new phase of the hotspot approach, based on establishing remote and inaccessible camps away from city centres, is condemning thousands of displaced people (of all ages and backgrounds) to challenges that impact their ability to act in the present and also plan their future.

Figure 1: Boundary wall of Mória Refugee Camp in Lesvos
Image source: Rita Lambert

Figure 2: The jungle outside Vathi camp in Samos
Image source: Edurne Bartolome

In Samos, the Zervou RIC has already been built. Despite numerous reports highlighting the dehumanising architecture and practices, it is hailed as the cutting edge of refugee reception and a prototype for others to emulate. The land is cleared of all trees and grass, tons of concrete has been poured to support the structures, and a gridded street layout facilitates surveillance and control. The environment is hostile and stark, devoid of social spaces or children’s play areas.

These RICs require considerable infrastructure investments to connect water, electricity, sewerage, and roads to their remote locations. The way they are planned clearly indicates their physical permanence. At the same time, they operate through a seemingly temporary logic. This logic is deeply problematic, as it manifests in processes that are dehumanising. This is evident in the practices adopted by RICs around food amongst others. Instead of preparing meals in situ, the camps depend on ready-made meals and a bottle of drinking water per person brought from outside. These meals do not always provide for a balanced diet and overlook recipients’ cultural or religious preferences. They also produce a lot of waste as one refugee highlights: “Every meal comes in a disposable container, so if we are getting it three times a day and there are 4000 people within the camp, that is 12,000 plastic containers that go straight to the island’s dumpsites every day since there is also no recycling”.

Despite the allocation of EU funds to meet camp dwellers’ needs, the food provided does not reach all who need it, and some might forego it because it is not in line with their religious beliefs. Hence many people still experience food and water poverty. Daily cooking in camps is prohibited. Accessing food is also difficult due to the limited resources asylum seekers might have, the remote locations of camps and the restrictions on movement. Asylum seekers and refugees are thus reduced to passive agents receiving food over months and even years, not being allowed to decide how to fulfil the basic human need of feeding themselves and their families. Moreover, the endless queues, held in cage-like structures, stretching for hours to receive the cooked food, contribute to the experience of dehumanisation, oppression, and control. As a refugee, who experienced life in the camps told us: “we have time for little else but queuing, it’s exhausting, demoralising and frustrating. Food can run out without everyone receiving their share and fights can easily break out in such a tense environment”. Authorities who work in the camp, as well as informal leaders within the camps, can exacerbate the unequal access to food and other supplies, also contributing to the experience of scarcity.

 

Rehumanising practices of solidarity care networks

Despite the fact that Greek authorities seeks to take full control of the refugee reception services, various NGOs and civil society organisations have stepped in as solidarity care networks to attend to the unmet needs of camp dwellers.  Although discouraged, and sometimes criminalised by the state, the NGOs we met take the role of service gap fillers. They also play an important part to counteract the hostile experience in RICs and rehumanise reception for migrants. There is thus a dehumanisation-rehumanisation dynamic in place. This plays out between the space within the camps and the space just a few meters from the tall fences where NGOs can operate out of full view.

The NGOs and grassroots organisations we visited highlight the importance of food beyond its nutritional value. Food and cooking represent not only activities of one’s daily life,  but are also implicit carriers of cultural and religious identity, deeply rooted in people’s daily practices and cultural codes. Cooking and eating together represents an important social moment where families sit and share their experiences and exchange thoughts. Food practices are acquired and transmitted through habitual socialisation processes, and find themselves at the core of culture. If families are prevented from cooking, and conversely, have to queue for prepared food, this daily cultural practice is interrupted, and a relevant part of identity and collective family life is negated.

To counteract this, the NGO Refugee Biryani and Bananas in Chios, delivers dry provisions, carefully selecting the type of food and tastes people want, so families have the ability and autonomy to cook. They can also choose the right moment for them to do so within the course of the day and eat according to their cultural codes. This is only possible where camps authorities turn a blind eye to cooking in camps or for those refugees and asylum seekers who have had the possibility to move to alternative accommodation outside the camps. When independent cooking is not possible and ready-made meals are the only option, the example of the NGO Zaporeak’s practice, displays a number of respectful considerations. Zaporeak hires people from the refugee community, who are trained and employed as chefs to cook food which is sensitive to people’s desirable tastes and customs. These NGOs take considerable care to build and maintain trust with asylum seekers, by providing a sense of predictability and fairness in the delivery process amongst other strategies. A lot of effort is placed on the micro-processes of re-socialising the experience of receiving food by exchanging smiles and greetings in the many different languages and by considerably shortening the length of queues, avoiding preferential treatment, and minimising the potential for conflict.

Although they fill an important gap, these NGOs are forced to adopt a temporary logic too, through practices based on emergency response rather than sustainable solutions that acknowledge that the displacement of people is here to stay. The supplementary cooked meals, for example, can only reach recipients if packed in disposable containers. This produces considerable waste which impacts the islands’ fragile ecosystem. As our interlocutors have also highlighted, when the process of supplying food is perpetually based on a crisis mode, opportunities to work closely with food producers and local vendors from the islands to enhance sustainability along the entire food value chain are missed. In the Greek hotspot islands, ‘crisis mode’ has been the dominant operational temporality for almost a decade now and is ongoing.

 

Image source: Rita Lambert

“We had to listen to people and adapt the type of meals we cook. Our flat bread is especially popular and now famous in Lesvos“ (volunteer from Zaporeak)

 

Image source: Rita Lambert

“People‘s lives are spent queuing, for food, for water, for the toilet, for permits… we seek to make the queues as short, as fair as possible, and provide essentials that people want“ (volunteer from RBB)

 

Working through the paradoxes of permanent temporariness

Dominant paradoxes are found within the hotspot approach, that have long term destructive consequences. Although hotspots give all indications of being permanent, their practices are still firmly lodged in the temporary logic of emergency. Consequently, this clash not only negatively affects asylum seekers and refugees’ mental health and self-worth, but also the islands’ fragile social, economic and ecological systems. The large amount of waste and intractable problems that this logic creates will accumulate over time on the islands but will also be felt across geographies, as the final destination countries will have to address migrants’ traumas that have been produced in the process.

The very conceptualisation and planning of the hotspots, and the RICs within them, through a permanent temporariness, is deeply problematic. The seemingly permanent, stark and controlling physical environment is socially violent and ultimately, dehumanising. Furthermore, the practices that are embedded in the temporary logic legitimise further dehumanisation to the point of institutionalising it with every iteration of this camp model. This also serves to deter newcomers and asylum seekers from remaining in the EU entry point and amplifies the message for those still coming to seek refuge, no matter their circumstances. It is therefore important to understand how the hotspot approach can become part and parcel of a hostile strategy for dissuading and preventing migrants from arriving into Europe. In this environment, we see that NGOs and grassroots organisations try to compensate through rehumanising practices. Despite their efforts, they are also forced to adopt a temporary logic that in turn can create unintended negative impacts. There is thus an intricate connective link between the top-down and bottom-up approaches. Although the two seem to be disassociated and to work in parallel, the top-down policies are preventing the bottom-up responses from becoming more sustainable.

Given that displacement of people due to conflict and climate change will continue, and is expected to grow across the globe in the following years, it is important to better understand the impacts of the hotspot approach as it guides the way that refugee movements will be dealt with more widely, producing rather than mitigating crisis. Many lessons can be drawn from solidarity care networks as they retain the flexibility, adaptability and creativity to respond to people’s shifting needs. The externalities produced by the present approach could be avoided if the role and lessons of solidarity care networks were recognised in EU policy and planning circles dealing with migration. The inclusion of these networks becomes vital to devise strategies for dignified, socially and environmentally sustainable refugee reception. Understanding the top-down and bottom-up approaches, their interaction and possibility for working together is key for enhancing a more just system.

This blog draws from the project ‘Understanding the impact of the ‘hotspot approach’ to tackle the refugee crisis on fragile island systems’ funded by the UCL Global Engagement Fund. The project is led by Dr Rita Lambert from the DPU-UCL, in collaboration with the University of Deusto (Dr Edurne Bartolome Peral) and five NGOs in Greece (Samos Volunteers, Zaporeak, Echo100 Plus, Glocal Roots and Refugee Biriyani and Bananas).

To cite this blog please use:

Lambert, R. and Bartolome, E. (2022) The paradox of refugee hotspots: De/Rehumanisation within logics of permanent temporariness, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London. Available online at: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/2022/05/18/the-paradox-of-refugee-hotspots-de-rehumanisation-within-logics-of-permanent-temporariness/

“When there’s a will, there’s a way!”: Interrogating collective narrative production and participatory documentary making in Solo, Indonesia

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren29 April 2022

By Fildzah Husna Amalina, Kirana Putri Prastika, Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren

DPU’s partner NGO Kota Kita, reflects on the role of documentary making as part of the action-research project Re-Framed conducted in two low-income neighbourhoods in Solo, Indonesia and Lima, Perú. The project aims to advance collective narrative construction, and to develop an ethical and practical framework for working remotely on visual outputs. 

Facilitators from both countries joined a series of trainings and webinars led by DPU, and then conducted participatory sessions in a low-income neighbourhood in their city. Participants – female ad male residents from a range of ages – scripted, directed and edited their own documentary. 

Source: Kota Kita


Reframing community’s stories

The process started with questions: “Why tell a story?” and “what story to tell?”. In the beginning, we wanted to encourage more conversations on what stories mean and what role they play in the community—and reflect on what kind of stories residents wanted to tell that reflected their own experiences and reality.

Kampung Ngampon is a neighbourhood that is located in Mojosongo, Solo, known for its bamboo birdcage craft. Ngampon is a dense neighbourhood in an urbanised area of the city, with a total population of 700-800 inhabitants. Most of the residents are birdcage makers and rely on home-based craft businesses for their livelihood.

We asked the participants: “What comes to mind when you hear about Kampung Ngampon?” “What do you want to tell others about your neighbourhood?” As challenging stereotypes and reframing narratives was a key part of the project. Some participants felt that a story that could reflect on gotong royong – an Indonesian term translated to togetherness and mutual cooperation – would be a good angle when telling a story about their solidarity within the neighbourhood. They wanted to share a story that could be an example for the younger generation in the community and, at the same time, make more people interested in learning about their neighbourhood. This process then was not about finding a story only for the film. It also came as an important reflection of the values they appreciate—from their togetherness as a community to their image as a birdcage makers’ neighbourhood.

The facilitation process acknowledged that each individual might have their own vision of a good story—and to ‘choose’ one out of many ideas wouldn’t be an easy task. We divided the participants into two smaller groups so that everyone could have more space to share their thoughts and explore their creativity. The first group wanted to tell a story about the reality they faced through one young character; meanwhile, the other wanted to show their community’s collective solidarity and togetherness as part of their identity. When discussing again in the larger group, the participants didn’t compete to pick only a single story. From two different stories they had identified, we worked collectively to prioritise, compromise, and decide on a general plot. We combined and incorporated the main messages and made them into one. 

Doing a narrative-driven process was helpful because it provided a room for imagination in seeing the situation around us. It was not only about the challenging circumstances, but also about the possibilities. Eventually, in Kampung Ngampon, the film’s ending reflects a more hopeful vision of the community; as Bagus, the main character, put it, “From my perspective, the main message of this film is (for everyone) to keep up a resilient spirit and not give up. When there’s a will, there’s a way!

Source: Kota Kita


Exploring Creative Approaches for Community Facilitation in Kampung Ngampon

When it comes to facilitation with the community, it is not only the participants who learn and gain something from the process. In Ngampon, the initiative provided an opportunity for the team of facilitators of Kota Kita to reflect on some of our current practices and what we can explore more.

Storytelling and videography as tools of sharing thoughts and aspirations in a more meaningful way—beyond social media posts they were already familiar with—were new for the community of birdcage makers we had worked with during the project. The sense of newness and their curiosity about the tools brought up their spirit in engaging and contributing to the dynamics of the discussion. The more practical filmmaking skill set that we exchanged throughout the training was something that the participants found challenging but also exciting to learn—which then ‘bound’ the participants to the end. During the discussions, imagining the visual output, for instance, in the storyboarding workshop, also helped encourage more imaginative ideas and visual forms of aspiration, which would have been more unlikely to come up from conventional facilitation methods.

The power dynamics between facilitators and participants was something we reflected together through the training and filming process. The use of stories as facilitation tools meant that the participants had enough room to shape and direct the story they wanted to tell. As facilitators, we usually position ourselves in a place where we have the control to structure the discussion, but still allow people to feel comfortable to participate. Through the process, we compromised and intentionally gave up our control to allow the narrative to be owned by/and created organically by residents. 

 

Beyond a Film

In a participatory initiative, it is important to produce a collective output that is able to incorporate collective messages. The participants decided and shaped the story together, came up with the dialogue that best portrayed their daily interaction naturally, acted in the film, decided the angle and shot the video footage, assisted the editing process—they are not only part of the film, but also the filmmakers. As facilitators, we noted that having one output that the community can claim as something they owned is important to redefine that participatory process is not always used only for conventional ‘data collection’ as part of a research whose the result may not be directly ‘rewarding’ for the community.

In the end, it is not only about the film. The overall process was also a learning opportunity. The discussions have enabled a space for reflection for the community about their own narrative and what they wanted to share with everyone else through the film. It was also a capacity-building experience not only in the sense of technical skills, but also a space to strengthen their collective awareness and agency—while, of course, having a lot of fun together in the process.

 

Source: Kota Kita

________________________________________________

Re-Framed is an action research project led by DPU´s Dr. Rita Lambert, Dr. Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren and Alex Macfarlane. Its objective is to advance collective narrative construction through remote, participatory documentaries, and to develop an ethical and practical framework for working remotely on visual outputs produced by urban dwellers in low-income neighbourhoods. The implementing partners are NGO Kota Kita in in Solo, Indonesia and CENCA in Lima, Peru. The project received funding from DPU’s Internal post-COVID research initiative

Fildzah Husna Amalina and Kirana Putri Prastika work at NGO Kota Kita, a non-profit organisation based in the Indonesian city of Solo with expertise in urban planning and citizen participation in the design and development of cities. 

Holding the space: Women and Girls Safe Spaces for refugees and asylum seekers in Greece

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren24 November 2021

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Ignacia reflects on the importance of securing women´s safe spaces for female refugees and asylum seekers and shares her experience working with refugee women in Samos, Greece, one of the five EU designated ´hotspot islands’ with newly imposed restrictions on refugees.

Photo credit: Author

 

Women and girls have less access and power in public spaces than men. The creation of safe, female-only spaces has been a key counterspace created for women to feel safe and for feminist movements to organise. In humanitarian contexts and emergencies – in which the existing social networks and institutional structures disintegrate – safeguarding women and girls’ rights is crucial. In this context, Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) have become a strategic intervention to protect female refugees. In a male dominated environment, they aim to create a place safe from violence, but also safe to connect cognitively, intellectually and emotionally, to receive psychosocial support, create solidarity amongst women from different countries, and claim rights.

Adult women represent a fifth of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. This smaller overall proportion (in the last 2 years, 42.6% are male, 23.1% are women and 34.3% are children), has been explained by the risks and the high cost that the journey entails, with young men opting to travel first and then reunite with their families. Although Greece has been one of the preferred points of entry to the EU, the designation of five islands – Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos – by the EU as ‘hotspots’ in the Aegean Sea means that refugees and asylum seekers that arrive on these islands cannot continue their journey into Europe, but are instead processed there, often waiting indefinitely for the outcome of their applications.

In addition to the current Covid restrictions in Greece, the controversial new EU-funded Reception Centre in Samos – a closed space, with double barbed wire, metal detectors and a strict entry and exit policy – has drastically reduced the possibility for women to access female-only safe spaces, legal advice and health care outside the camp.

What do WGSS do for female refugees and asylum seekers?

Female refugees are at high risk of gender-based violence, exploitation, and human trafficking. This is an issue that civil society organisations, alongside asylum seekers, have been campaigning for across Europe. In this context, WGSS aim to provide:

“(…)  physical spaces where women and adolescent girls can be free from harm and harassment. They are also places where women and adolescent girls can gain knowledge and skills; access GBV response services or other available services, and foster opportunities for mutual support and collective action in their community.” International Rescue Committee-International Medical Corps

The ultimate aim of WGSS is to foster transformational change, serving as a counter space within a larger unequal space, such as in humanitarian settings. Specifically for GBV interventions, evidence of WGSS around the world shows that safe spaces for women and girls represent a key intervention and entry point for meaningful access to lifesaving services for GBV survivors seeking access to case management and psychosocial support services hosted in the WGSS.

Holding the space for women and adolescent girls within new Reception Centre restrictions in Samos island

There are at least two spaces dedicated exclusively to female refugees and asylum seekers in Samos, both of which are managed by NGOs: WGSS from Samos Volunteers and We Are One Centre from Glocal Roots. Both spaces have been operating for several years and have adapted to the needs of female refugees and the changing situations for refugees in the island. Until September 2021 (when refugees were transferred to the new Reception Centre), both WGSS catered for thousands of women that lived in the ‘old camp’ just outside of the city of Vathy.

In the last 2 months however, women’s access to these spaces has been drastically reduced. The new Reception Centre – one of five multipurpose reception and identification centres – was built in an isolated area 6km away from the city centre, far from services and NGO support, and has reduced the possibility for women to access WGSS. In this context, holding the space is not only creating and maintaining a physical space for women, but also advocating for these spaces to exist.

Since 7th November, Covid restrictions in Greece stipulate that a vaccination pass is required to enter any building.  However, the camp only vaccinates once a week and women have said that they need to arrive at 6am as the doses available are limited, and then they need to wait 2 weeks for the certificate. Most importantly, on 17th November, further restrictions were introduced in the Reception Centre further reducing women’s possibility of leaving the camp.

The Reception Centre operates with a card reader and metal detector. The new restrictions affect new arrivals who have to wait between 1 to 2 months for vaccination and an ID card; people with a second rejection in their asylum claim, whose card is taken from them and who are waiting for legal aid to make a new case or to be sent back; and people with residency whose card has also been taken until they are allowed to leave the Reception Centre.

The Reception Centre’s drastic restrictions measures means that women – the majority from Somalia, DRC and Afghanistan – have very few places to congregate. Each container sleeps eight people (two bunk beds in each room and a kitchen). There are no communal spaces in the containers. There is a football pitch which women do not use, and a communal area, mostly occupied by men. Where do women meet in the camp? What places do they find safe? It is hard to know. Women are just getting used to this new arrangement. Some women find solidarity with women from their same country of origin, as they share the language and everyday practices.

Providing a space that can foster solidarity, empowerment or even just a basic nurturing environment which is free of violence has been severely constrained. And so, amidst the uncertainty, holding the space is fundamental.

______________

Author:

Dr. Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren is an Associate Staff at Development Planning Unit (University College London) and is currently based on the island of Samos, Greece.

Reflections from the frontlines: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 2)

Nick Anim18 November 2021

Read Part 1 here.

Mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK have long been challenged by what I call a ‘chronic affliction of diversity deficiency syndrome’. A consistent criticism levelled against them is that of ‘elitism’, which comes with a charge that their activists tend to be predominantly White, middle-class, well-educated, and post-materialist people who often have the time, space, and wherewithal to engage in environmental activism. Implicit in that charge is that environmentalists are constantly preoccupied with, for example, the conservation of nature and the increasing parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but otherwise characteristically silent or seemingly apathetic to the hostile environments billions of people endure and navigate daily due to a variety of persistent and durable inequalities (Cf. Tilly, 1998; Morris, 2000).

Relatedly, from my research exploring the perennial challenges of inclusion and diversity in glocal environmental movements, movements which ‘think globally and act locally’ on issues of environmental degradation – case study the Transition movement – a question that I have wrestled with is ‘do environmentalists have a problem with social justice?’

Introducing that question in my previous piece (Anim, 2021a), I signposted research by various political theorists and urban planners which problematise and challenge the widely-held assumption that environmental sustainability and social justice are not only interconnected, but also interdependent in a relationship of mutual reinforcement on the same virtuous circle of development (see, for example, Dobson, 2003; Marcuse, 1998). Theories and debates examining their immanent antagonisms, tensions, ambiguities and universal compatibility notwithstanding, my longitudinal autoethnographic research of, and hence activism with, diverse environmental movements and organisations, indicate that two recent global events – the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations – ushered in something of a critical inflection point regarding how, and perhaps even more importantly why, movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity across differences with groups fighting against persistent issues of racial and social injustice, in order to achieve their shared demands for systems change.

Against the backdrop of social justice grievances being filtered through the lens of racial justice and propelled to the fore by those two recent events, I reflect in this piece on trying to help the Transition movement (TM) better understand and address its diversity deficiency syndrome, and consider how the movement has been recalibrating its notions and narratives of environmental transformations to include concerns about social justice.

 

Transition and the collective action dilemma of ‘all lives matter’

Since its emergence in 2006 as an environmental movement predominantly concerned about peak oil and energy descent, the TM has always been in transition; a real-life, real-time global social experiment that periodically revises its principles and core-values through iterative processes of learning and unlearning. Based on its ideological roots and references to the principles of permaculture, the TM’s community-led model for change has frequently emphasised the importance of diversity as a segue to encouraging local Transition groups to engage with matters of social inclusion and, relatedly, social justice. However, in practice, the approach adopted by many groups has, at best, been passive and, at worst, non-existent. My research suggests that for many activists drawn to the movement by its defiantly positive solutions-based approach, and its staunchly apolitical stance, ‘wicked problems’ of social and particularly racial injustice are often seen as far too political and divisive, especially in our current moment of polarising identity politics.

Advising on that reticence to engage in race matters and why matters of race matter in environmental matters, I have, in numerous presentations and workshops delivered to various Transition groups and other environmental organisations since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent BLM protests, argued that to demote, sidestep, hold at arm’s length or strategically swerve persistent matters of racial and social injustice in the dogged apolitical prioritisation of ecocentric resilience and sustainability, is to appear well-adjusted to injustice, well-adapted to indifference, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

On that last point of living in cognitive dissonance, an apolitical stance that is grounded in the post-political conditioning and configurations often deemed necessary for the disciplining role of consensus-building in environmental activism, betrays an ignorance borne of and maintained by a social, moral, and epistemic imaginary of self-deception and structured blindness. And that, as Charles W. Mills has argued, reveals an implicit ‘agreement to misinterpret the world’ (1997:18). Seen as non/mis/mal-recognition, that approach functions to effectively filter out any empirical evidence about the durable inequalities that conspire to create and perpetuate social and, relatedly, racial injustices. Such self-deception and structured blindness are axiomatic in the recursive and pervasive ecologies of wilful ignorance intrinsic to the colour-blind perspective within environmentalism’s, and hence environmentalists’ de facto ‘all lives matter’ entry point. Yet, ‘all lives matter’ is a promise, an ideal, that is yet to be met. And yet, it must be met. And therein lies an inescapable collective action dilemma – the recognition of difference. Aristotle was right; there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. In the context of the BLM protests, ‘all lives can’t/won’t matter, until Black lives matter’.

When allied with power and the ‘invisible knapsack’ (McIntosh, 1988) of race privileges in the unsettled multiculturalisms (Hesse, 2000:2) of countries such as the UK, it becomes clear that the wilful ignorance of colour-blindness, understood as an active and dynamic perspective formed through processes of knowing designed to produce not knowing, is, in the words of James Baldwin, ‘the most ferocious enemy justice can have’ (2007: 149). The silence of wilful ignorance, colour blindness, ‘all lives matter’, is a form of power too. With the power and privilege to speak or act in the face of others’ distress and injustice, to remain a silent bystander, to bear silent witness, is to be complicit. Silence is violence.

Transition’s (a)political pivot?

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and during the BLM protests, the organisational body of the TM released a statement of solidarity, expressing an ambition to do much better and much more to “become a movement which actively supports social justice and amplifies the work of Black and [B]rown communities striving to create a safe, resilient and regenerative future for all people, [and] to bring clearer focus to the huge shifts urgently required of the Global North if we are to deliver anything remotely resembling climate justice for Black and [B]rown communities in the Global South” (McAdam, 2020).

Overall, the statement captured perhaps the most explicit suggestion of a paradigm shift intention by the TM since its inception. In its entirety, it appeared to orientate the TM towards adopting a more political stance, and a proactive, rather than passive, approach to social justice. How, since then, has the movement operationalised those intentions?

Transition Bounce Forward: (re)locating social justice in the Transition Movement

Following the TM’s BLM statement, the ‘Transition: Bounce Forward’ (TBF) initiative was set up with the express ambition of helping local Transition groups advance its paradigm shift intentions. I joined the nascent TBF team to advise and help assess how emerging Transition projects could better understand and then engage with issues of social justice, looked at through the varifocal lens of race, class, and other constructs of marginalisation.

Under the momentum of that paradigm shift thinking, we, the TBF team, designed and delivered the ‘What Next? Summit’, a series of online events that were held over a three-week period. We grappled with challenging topics, questions, and conversations about the intersections between justice and the environment, and how Transition groups might navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their community-engagement approaches. For several sessions of the Summit, we platformed and amplified the work of Black and Brown community organisers, as well as projects focused on the concerns of marginalised groups.  In my research and activism with the TM, it appeared that the Summit marked a pivotal moment in the movement’s approach to issues of social justice (see, Anim, 2021b).

To say the Summit ‘appeared’ to mark a pivotal moment for the TM is to simultaneously acknowledge and suggest that time will, ultimately, be the arbiter of integrity and success. In that respect, it is also important to question how the visions of paradigm shifting that were widely discussed and promoted during the Summit, have cascaded down to the ways Transition groups are reaching beyond ‘the usual suspects’, their choir of adherents.

To help Transition groups navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their locality, TBF offered a course on ‘engaging with difference in collaborative community organising’. A key focus was on learning and unlearning to encourage activists to develop an approach to community engagement practices that put connections first by building relationships through trying to understand the lived experiences of disparate community members. With this approach, the course aimed to prompt and help Transition groups to pursue collaborative projects that bring together social justice and environmental sustainability.

It is noteworthy here that although the course was fully funded and open to all Transition groups in the UK – just under 300 – less than 10% of the groups took up the offer. Whilst bad timing and availability of activists were given as the main reasons for the low uptake, the question about environmentalists having a problem with social justice looms large.

In my study of Transition Town Brixton (TTB), guided by my research findings and the discussions during the ’What Next? Summit’, as well as the TBF community engagement course, we conducted some visioning exercises that involved numerous interviews with diverse members of the community, and four online workshops under the umbrella question of ‘What If Lambeth?’ to establish how people envisioned the borough in 2030. Focusing on four themes – food, enterprise, community spaces, and fashion and music –the resulting visions, captured in the composite sketch below, begin to encapsulate our recalibrated ambition of ‘inspiring local action for a sustainable and socially just future’. Whilst there is much more work to be done in relation to what I call ‘hot-button issues’ such as racist policing and the politics of urban poverty, the paradigm shifting has begun.

To conclude this piece, the question of whether environmentalists have a problem with social justice and, perhaps more specifically, issues of racial justice, is one that has long plagued mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK. Regardless of how accurate its analysis of the situation is, no movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing. Therefore, it is vitally important, from time to time, to engage in a dose of critical self-inventory. Why? If a movement is unwilling to expose itself and its ideas to some scrutiny and criticism, then it will not grow or succeed. In that regard, the TM has, even if morally coerced to do so by the zeitgeist resulting from recent events, embarked on a journey that I believe will help it become more relevant to different groups beyond its usual adherents. That is especially important in the unsettled multiculturalisms of urban agglomerations where there are often imbalances in available resources, cultural heterogeneity, ethnic and/or class tensions and transient populations. Though the organisational body of the TM, and indeed other environmental movements such as Extinction Rebellion, have seemingly embraced a ‘justice pivot’, many activists remain reticent. It is, therefore, the duty of the core movement organisers to help activists understand why their fight for environmental sustainability and matters of justice are intertwined and inseparable in the long quest for ‘systems change, not climate change’.

Having mainly focused here on the ‘how’ factor of the TM’s efforts to address matters of social justice, I propose, in my third and final piece under the titular question ‘does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice?’, to look at ‘why’ I believe environmentalism should not be pursued in dogmatic isolation, and hence movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity with social justice groups.

 

References

Anim, N., 2021a. Reflections from the frontline: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 1). The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Access via: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/2021/04/01/reflections-from-the-frontline-does-environmental-sustainability-have-a-problem-with-social-justice-part-1/

Anim, N., 2020b. The What Next Summit: a pivotal moment for social justice in Transition? Transition: Bounce Forward. Transition Network. Access via: https://transition-bounceforward.org/the-what-next-summit-a-pivotal-moment-for-social-justice-in-transition/

Baldwin, J., 2007. No Name in the Street. 1972. New York: Vintage.

Dobson, A., 2003. Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, pp.83-95.

Hesse, B. ed., 2000. Un/settled multiculturalisms: diasporas, entanglements, transruptions. Zed Books.

Marcuse, P., 1998. Sustainability is not enough. Environment and urbanization, 10(2), pp.103-112.

McAdam, S., 2020. Black Lives Matter: A statement written collaboratively by the Transition Network team…Published 6 June 2020. Accessed via: https://transitionnetwork.org/news/black-lives-matter/

McIntosh, P., 1988. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.

Mills, C.W., 2014. The racial contract. Cornell University Press.

Morris, A., 2000. Building blocks of social inequality: a critique of durable inequality. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 42(2), pp.482-486.

Tilly, C., 1998. Durable inequality. University of California Press.

Embracing Diversity: Inclusive Mobility for Women with Disabilities from Low Income Households in Kelayan Barat, Banjarmasin

Anyu Liu5 August 2021

Written by Fitria Nazmi, Gusti Muhammad Irsyad Maulana, Muhammad Firdauz Nuzula, Orchidea Annaysa Azizah, Rika Febriyantina, Yun Gu, Shuqi Fang, Manjin Wei, Adina Kaztayeva, Yaozhi Xu, Quynh Nguyen and Anyu Liu

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In April and May 2021, students from the MSc Social Development Practice programme, UCL together with students from the Urban Citizenship Academy, Indonesia (UCA)  and the Indonesian NGO Kota Kita conducted an Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). The engagement took place remotely due to the restrictions for the Covid-19 pandemic. Its overall aim was to learn about disabled people’s aspirations for inclusive public space and community engagement, and ultimately to promote inclusive citizenship in Indonesia, for our group it is especially in the city of Banjarmasin. The engagement is a part of the ongoing action-research project “AT2030: Community led Solutions” led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub.

During the OPE, our research specifically focused on the issue of inclusive mobility to increase access to public space for women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat,  Banjarmasin. Qualitative research methods were employed for our data collection, including a literature review, semi-structured interviews, and photo voice. With support from Kota Kita, a total of 15 interviews were carried out, of which six were face-to-face with women with disabilities who are residents from low-income households in Kelayan Barat. The other interviews were conducted online with policymakers from relevant governmental departments and a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) namely Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI), or Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, women participants were invited to take or choose videos and/or pictures themselves (photovoice) to visually demonstrate what they believe to be the good practice/ barriers associated with inclusive mobility. 

Key findings from our research demonstrate a highly prevalent need for mobility of women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat as well as the multiple barriers hindering this aspiration, which include:
 

Inadequate infrastructure and transport: The physical infrastructure of Kelayan Barat is a daily struggle for people with disabilities. The lack of inclusive design and quality infrastructure, e.g. unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway, prevents women with disabilities going out  and safely accessing public spaces. When they do go out, companions are often needed for assistance. The women  have limited access to transportation and assistive technology is inadequate, hampering mobility to the point of making some women housebound.

Image: Photos taken by participants during photovoice activity, April 2021 Row 1, left to right: favourite transport (motorcycle), example of insufficient infrastructure (unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway) Row 2: flooding in the settlement


Lack of social recognition and prevalent social stigma associated with disabilities and gender:
While most policymakers acknowledged the need to recognise the diversity of disabilities, challenges remain in realising this programme delivery. Amongst the interviewed stakeholders, only the HWDI leaders paid explicit attention to the social barriers which hinder the mobility of women with disabilities, such as insufficient social acceptance. The experiences shared by the women participants demonstrated the layered and intersectional discriminations they face due to their identities as women and having disabilities highlighting the importance of designing taking these intersectional identities into consideration. Specifically, women’s reproductive role can worsen their physical health and further obstruct their already limited mobility, and the role of house caretaker can restrict their freedom for mobility. In some cases, stigma against disability and the heavy burden of housework can result in them being prohibited from going outside by their own family.


Low active participation of women with disabilities in the planning and design of policies/programmes on mobility:
Women with disabilities participation in the planning process appears to encounter various challenges. First is the relatively top-down administrative style as policies/programmes are often designed and planned based primarily on policy makers’ and community leaders’ perceptions without sufficient inputs from women with disabilities. Secondly, women with disabilities lack information on relevant activities available to them. Besides, insufficient accessibility and affordability together with social stigma earlier discussed also hinder their participation in the process.


Limited community awareness and collective actions in supporting women with disabilities’ mobility: During interviews, women with disabilities and HWDI leaders indicate that community connection is crucial in improving the mobility of women with disabilities. While various departments at city level have implemented programmes, within the community, collective actions to support the mobility of women with disabilities appears limited. Although neighbourhood leaders considered the community environment to be open and friendly, the women interviewed felt the need for more community care. Social barriers such as the aforementioned stigma are not well recognised by community leaders, which further hinders the community’s collective efforts for the women’s social rehabilitation.

On the other hand, the active and substantial role that NGOs such as HWDI and Kota Kita play in providing diverse support to people with disabilities) in general and women in particular is promising. A report and advocacy output will be produced by the research team at the end of the engagement. We hope that what we have learned will contribute to the wider AT2030 project, as well as to the overall efforts in improving inclusivity for people with disabilities.


About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

 

Upholding ethical considerations during collaborative remote research in Banjarmasin, Indonesia

Ritwika Deb30 July 2021

Written by Naufal Muhammad Azca, Jianglei Bai, Chang Chao, Ritwika Deb, Farah Dhafiya, Kristy Adelia Gayatri, Ahmad Rizky Rolanda, Hargita Saputri Mei Vita, Mojun Sun, Yu Wei, Menglin Yang, Haoyang Zhang

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In late February, we were introduced to our research project that aimed to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesian cities through a process of remote knowledge co-production that was to be designed and implemented by our group of 11 students from Kota Kita’s Urban Citizenship Academy and UCL’s MSc Social Development Practice programme, based across Indonesia, the United Kingdom and China. The project presented us researchers with the opportunity to learn from and contribute to  the Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) and the low-income neighbourhood of Pelambuan in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

While preparing the groundwork for the research strategy, the work of scholars like Nidhi Singal (2010) helped us understand that disability research in countries of the South faces many challenges and dilemmas in terms of design and implementation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our project included elements of both face-to-face interaction and remote data collection, which led to additional complexities, especially in terms of ethical and logistical considerations, which had to be carefully contemplated.

To account for the dilemmas that emerged from this challenging context, our team of researchers identified the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research (British Psychological Society, 2017) as the relevant code of ethics to build on.  Scholars and researchers across the board have long emphasized the importance of ethics – and for good reason, because us researchers ultimately are responsible for whether or not we do harm or good to communities. From setting the goals to shaping the strategy and implementing the methods on the ground – we play a key role as decision makers. By using the code of ethics, we learned that such a code can support researchers in general decision-making by giving them a structure to follow in the middle of the dynamic process of field engagement, allowing them to be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas if and when they arise. Especially in a scenario like ours, where unprecedented challenges could arise at the complex intersection of disability research and remote knowledge co-production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, this code of ethics served as a structure for our team members from the moment we began our engagement, not only helping us prevent potential challenges, but also making the process of dealing with emerging issues much easier.

 

  1. Ensuring informed consent

This principle of the referenced ethics guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring that participants make informed choices. The first practice in this regard was to provide adequate information about the research, to specify what kind of commitment was required from participants, and to make it very clear to them that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the research at any time if they wanted to.

To this end, the consent strategy was developed in accordance with the nature of the research methods and the needs of participants with disabilities.

First, a simple consent video was developed in the local language so that the research objectives could be clearly communicated to all, including participants with visual impairments.

Second, an accompanying consent form was created to enable participants with hearing impairments to lean on written information.

Third, participants were also given the opportunity to share verbal consent, if more feasible.

Finally, people with cognitive disabilities who expressed difficulties in giving informed consent were still invited to participate as long as they were accompanied by a family member or caregiver.

 

  1. Recognising participants’ choices

Another effort in relation to this principle was also to ensure that participants’ personal choices or preferences are always respected. To further stimulate responses to interview questions, we introduced a participatory photography method. In addition to securing consent from participants to use their photographs in our research work, we made adaptations in the process to allow participants of all abilities to take part by giving them the flexibility to either take the photos themselves or request the assistance of a researcher.

Our primary effort was to foster a safe space for them to express their opinions, address any unintentional stress during the activity and assure participants that if they withdrew their participation at any point there would be no consequences. An important instance to note is that when one of the participants showed a strong expression of autonomy on her part during the fieldwork and asserted that she was no longer in the mood to participate in this method, the researchers respected her decision without contestation.

Overall, this ethical consideration and the strategies used to promote it strengthened our understanding that a research project such as this should strongly value the opinions of participants, facilitate their inclusion and true participation even if the methods involve technical complexity. and ultimately consider participants’ needs, lived experiences and autonomy to be of the utmost importance.

In conclusion, adopting this ethical approach enabled us to adhere to a form of self regulation that guided us and defined the boundaries between what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in research. Although no code of ethics can describe every situation one will encounter, building a solid understanding of the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ and adapting the guidelines to a version appropriate to our specific context, served us in most cases. This, coupled with a spirit of continuous reflection through the research process, enabled us to spot any danger early on and to move forward with increased self-vigilance when engaging with all involved parties.

 

Bibliography

 

British Psychological Society, 2017. Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/ethics-guidelines-internet-mediated-research-2017. [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Capstick, A., 2012. Participatory Video and Situated Ethics: Avoiding Disablism. In: E-J. Milne, C. Mitchell and N. de Lange, ed. The Handbook of Participatory Video. Lanham MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 269-281.

Denscombe, M., 2010. Research Ethics: A practical guide. In: The Good Research Guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 329-342.

Padan, Y., 2015. Asking Questions. Practising ethics guides to built environment research Series. The Bartlett Ethics Commission. Available at: https://www.practisingethics.org/project [Online] [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Singal, N., 2010. Doing disability research in a Southern context: challenges and possibilities. Disability & Society, 25(4), pp. 415-426.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

What is the role of gender in Spatial Data Infrastructure?

Sandra Rodriguez Castaneda20 July 2021

This blog is adapted from an essay submission for the MSc Urban Development Planning module ‘The City and its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development’


Introduction

Is land a source for gender equality? “Perhaps the most significant pro-poor urban transformation of the late twentieth century had to do with the gains of the feminist movement and the emergence of gender-based planning” (Parnell, p.27, 2015). , However, there is still a long way to go before women have an equal role in cities and rural areas. In the case of land, it is fundamental to the development of women’s identity, wellbeing and mobility (Chant & Datu, 2015). It is acknowledged that good management of land is key addressing gendered concerns. However, how does gender figure in the technologies of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) that underlies good land management? Therefore, this post investigates how SDI is gendered and argues that this has consequences for land administrators seeking more equity.

There are multiple processes around the land in which the gender approach must be studied and taken into account. Generally, when talking about gender and land, it is often based on the reformulation of policies around women´s right to access land, land distribution and titling programmes. What this tends to leave aside is how data is integrated to understand the relationship between land and women’s public-private roles. Additionally, land standards are applied to define guidelines but they tend to miss the intersectionality of gendered social relations, and methodologies for assessing indicators around land use and tenure do not reflect women’s real participation.

Despite the fact that the SDI seeks to facilitate and improve processes and decisions around land, the technological and modern component does not resolve the question of the role of gender in its understanding and comprehension.

I argue for the need to have a holistic vision to generate knowledge and cooperation to understand the role of gender in spatial data. Therefore, the tools developed to support land management should be understood under a differential and gender inclusionary approach.

 

Why is this argument important?

In this section, two examples will be explored to provide evidence why this argument is different and important. The first example is based on the fact that SDI is a technological component intended to facilitate decision making around land and productivity. Therefore, its focus is on capturing spatial information, and it does not have an explicit differentiating approach that considers social roles that make up land relations. The second example is based on evidence of the current situation of the relationship between women and land, and it is argued that the specific needs of women are not clearly understood, and so discrimination that replicates colonising models continues to exist.

According to Coleman and McLaughlin (1998, p.9), SDI “encompasses the policies, technologies, standards and human resources necessary for the effective collection, management, access, delivery and utilisation of geospatial data in a global community”. Definitions such as these suggest that the main objective of SDI is based on effectiveness, while the social component is limited to human resources and the use of data in the community. Rajabifard and Williamson (2003, p.3) note that, “SDI is much more than data and goes far beyond surveying and mapping, it provides an environment within which organisations and/or nations interact with technologies to foster activities for using, managing and producing geographic data”. However, even in this wider view, SDI as a social approach remains very much implicit in thinking about how SDI can be an enabling tool for organisations and nations.

In this light, what kind of data should be generated to understand social roles and especially women’s roles? This first example shows, through the most cited definitions of SDI above, that raising the question around the role of women in this technological tool is significant. As an additional element, it is also worth noting that inherent in technology itself is a complex language that is often based on strategic and rational concepts that leave aside social components (Cohn, 1987). Therefore, technology could become a gender-unequal tool despite being conceived to be gender-neutral if there is not a broader approach and understanding. We are in search of more socially and spatially just cities, so it is valuable to think about using the technological tools that support decisions about land to generate a more inclusive vision.

The role of women has been affected by sexist and colonising models that have limited their access to land. Throughout history, the subordination of women in society, based on a patriarchal structure, has been in evidence. Also, it is assumed that housing policies affect men and women equally when it is evident that there is discrimination against women (Borja & Castells, 1997).  As a result, it is essential to understand that there are socially constructed roles of women in the household and society: productive, reproductive, community managing and politics (Levy, 2009) that must be understood from a diverse perspective and taking into account the context and identity characteristics of each woman (age, religion, ethnicity). Accordingly, it is valuable to ask how this is reflected in the capture of information, in the standards implemented, in data analysis policies and in land governance in general.

According to FAO (2018, p.1), “Reliable, sex-disaggregated data on land is crucial for highlighting disparities in land rights between women and men. (…) there is still a lack of understanding as to what data are available and needed, and what they can tell us about women’s land rights”. This shows that there is still some way to go in understanding the role of women and the discrimination they face in relation to land rights. Given that SDI is an important part of land administration it will be important to work on how the inclusion and protection of women’s land rights can be enhanced through technology.

 

Conclusion and final discussion

This post presents an essential question in the context of SDI and gender equity. The framing of the question outlines a new challenge that combines the rational understanding of technology, the social dynamics around the land, the recognition of women’s real needs and the use of spatial tools. Consequently, technology should not be seen as a sole means of efficiency and productivity but also of inclusion.

Among the challenges that this question implies are to generate a holistic and decolonising vision that helps breaking with stereotypes and exclusionary models that are reflected in women’s lack of access to land, in the absence of protection of their rights, and the lack of representation and participation in decision-making related to land administration. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand that the relationship between women and land is complex and requires recognition of their roles in the public and private sphere. This will lead to the identification of the different entry points that need to be studied in order to find effective solutions according to time, scale and space.

Finally, “prosperity is not an inevitable outcome of urbanisation, and in the absence of appropriate management, cities can become sinkholes of poverty and inequality” (Chant & Datu,2015, p.40). Therefore, raising the question of the role of women in SDI shows that it is not enough to have efficient geographical tools; their appropriate use and management is fundamental to fight against poverty and inequality. Thus, the pressure of globalisation and the search for productivity need to be oriented to create new questions that confront the status quo and do not blind the construction of inclusive policies and strategies.

 

 

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Borja, J., & Castells, M. (1997). The City of Women. In Local and Global (pp. 45-67). Routledge

Chant, S, & Datu, K. (2015). Women in Cities: Prosperity or Poverty? A Need for Multi-dimensional and Multi-spatial Analysis. In The City in Urban Poverty (EADI Global Development Series, pp. 39-63). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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Coleman, D. & McLaughlin, J. (1998). Defining global geospatial data infrastructure (GGDI): components, stakeholders and interfaces. Geomatica, Canadian Institute of Geomatics, 52(2):129-144. [Accessed 20 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291089003_Defining_global_geospatial_data_infrastructure_GGDI_components_stakeholders_and_interfaces

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Sandra Esperanza Rodriguez Castañeda is undertaking her Master’s degree in Urban Development Planning at the University College of London. As a civil engineer, she has worked and led projects related to geomatics, geographical information systems, cadastre, and transport.