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Covid-19, urban mobility and social equity

j.davila4 May 2020

Part of our Post COVID-19 Urban Futures series.

The hugely destructive health, social and economic effects of the novel Covid-19 respiratory virus have been amply illustrated in the world press over the past few weeks. This pandemic is, without a doubt, the toughest challenge faced by humanity in generations. As infected individuals unwittingly continued to travel in a world more interconnected than ever before, the virus rapidly spread from China to parts of Asia, Europe, North and South America and is gradually making its way to the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The measures taken to contain it have placed a huge fiscal and monetary burden on their governments – and on future generations. In many cases, it has involved using variations on ‘lockdown’ measures to temporarily reduce or stop all forms of face-to-face interactions other than with immediate household members, thus effectively bringing entire national and city economies to a screeching halt. In cities for which there is reliable data, this has resulted in over 90% reduced mobility compared to usual patterns, as reported by Google and as can be seen in the Citymapper image.

Source: Citymapper Mobility Index, 1/5/20

What has this pandemic got to do with urban mobility and social equity? The key lies in all of these concepts: urban, mobility, and social equity. Scientists are still trying to model the behaviour of Covid-19. The virus spreads rapidly not only through direct contact or close proximity to an infected person, but it also survives for hours or even days on different surfaces. More worryingly, it seems to persist in the form of micro-particles suspended in the air many minutes after an infected person has sneezed, coughed or even spoken. All of this has extremely worrying consequences for cities. As urban economists like my DPU colleague Alexandra Panman have written, the quality that makes cities so unique as one of humankind’s best inventions is their ability to facilitate the exchange of goods, services and ideas often through personal contact with others. Over the past 10,000 years or so, cities have been at the core of all forms of cultural and economic advances. The stringent lockdown and ‘social distancing’ measures imposed by governments the world over, desperate to reduce the speed at which the virus spreads while a long-term solution (such as a vaccine) is found, conspire against this very quality of cities. At present no amount of communications technology, however sophisticated, offers a substitute for face-to-face interactions, a feature so central to human society for thousands of generations.

The pandemic has also struck at the core of the issue of mobility, and potentially threatens some of the policy gains made in the past few decades. Mindful of the heavy carbon and health cost of car-centric urban plans implemented in the richer nations in the 1950s and 1960s and subsequently copied elsewhere, in recent years progressive policy prescriptions have sought to avoid the need to travel, shift essential transport towards non-motorised or efficient public transport modes, and improve the fuel-efficiency and lower the emissions of all forms of transport (the ‘avoid-shift-improve’ model). Urban and transport planners have sought to align more closely their plans to make cities more compact with diverse activities closer to each other so the need to travel is reduced. If well thought out, these policies can potentially contribute towards more equitable cities, as poorer citizens who tend to travel longer distances and spend a higher share of their income on transport can instead devote more time to their personal development and the wellbeing of their families. In the rare case of an epidemic such as the present one, or some threat to street life such as a terrorist attack on public transport systems, unless stringent measures are taken to make public transport safe for all, people will take matters into their own hands by, for example, shifting to private cars or motorbikes if they can afford them, or else spend even longer time walking to work. This would reverse any social and economic gains sought by a succession of progressive urban policies. It is also likely to leave a very large hole in municipal finances as much-needed revenues from public transport fares are drastically reduced.

The pandemic is exacerbating socio-economic inequalities around the world. In both middle and high-income countries, only some white-collar workers are able to continue working from home while those employed in factories, retail, hospitality, personal services and as street traders who must travel to work risk being infected or deprived of an income during a lockdown. As research from the UK shows, those with lowest household incomes are less able to work from home, a result echoed in preliminary results from DPU research on Colombian cities. Evidence from the UK and the US points to ethnic minorities being much more likely to die from the disease.

As those able to work from home using the internet will also tend to earn higher incomes than those in manual occupations, such measures will further exacerbate already wide income inequalities, unless national governments put in place drastic measures to prevent so, at a significant cost to national budgets. Once the data becomes available, analysis of lockdowns and their impact on city populations and economies is likely to add to the evidence that the ability to travel safely and efficiently is central to generate wealth, reduce income inequalities and, therefore, improve social equity.

The unprecedented situation in which most of humanity finds itself offers policy makers valuable lessons. Before Covid-19, and largely due to the effects of the SARS epidemic in 2003, only a handful of countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, China and Hong Kong had adopted preventive epidemic plans. It is very likely that many countries will add the threat of new epidemics into the planning of new urban transport infrastructure.

Scholars and policy makers have learned much from applying social, environmental and spatial lenses to the study of transport. These are extremely valuable advances that the current global emergency should remind us of. The challenge remains to make cities and urban transport safe, more equitable and less environmentally damaging for present and future generations, so that it continues to provide a lifeline to city economies, to communities and to individuals’ own advancement.

‘Stay at Home’: Housing as a pivotal infrastructure of care?

ucfurti6 April 2020

Co-authored by Catalina Ortiz and Camillo Boano

Part of our Post COVID-19 Urban Futures series.

“people survive difficulty by coming together as communities of care, not pulling apart in a retreat into individualism”  OluTimehin Adegbeye, 2020

“Housing is a condition to the right to life” Laia Bonet, 2020

Yangon public housing – Catalina Ortiz

It is always difficult to write something meaningful when the categories we often adopt are not sufficient to grasp the severity and the globality of the present condition. In pandemic times, the linchpin strategy to prevent the spread of disease relies on a ‘Staying at home’ mantra of securitization and immunization. But staying home proved to be a privilege not feasible for many and social distancing impossible for the majority of urban inhabitants.

This universal measure allows inequalities, vulnerabilities and structural perversions to emerge more violently. Now, more than ever, the centrality of housing and the practices of living are fundamental for population’s care and health. While many are interrogating on the future, if any, on the post-, and the surely extreme consequences at economic and political levels, the zeitgeist calls for fostering radical care.

In this short piece, we want to expand our understanding of the interdependent nature of housing and urbanism as well as possible directions for guiding the synergies of efforts of response and recovery.  The departing point for global solidarity, we argue, needs to frame housing as the pivotal ‘infrastructure of care’ for surviving in the present and for reimaging the future of cities.


What if we rethink housing as the key infrastructure of care?

The crisis has releveled as ‘essential’ not only the invisible precarious workers that sustain the maintenance and care that make cities operate; as well as, the gendered reproductive labour that sustain the collective responsibility of care. Care refers to “an affective connective tissue between an inner self and an outer world… and as a critical survival strategy” (Hobart & Kneese: 2020: 2). Here, housing conditions represents a matter of life and death and mediates the relations between individuals and societies.  We can think housing as ‘infrastructure of care’ inasmuch as the networks of solidarity in the proximity or from afar contained in the practices and tactics to sustain wellbeing. Here the infrastructures of care is what allows to weave “the individual body, the social body, and the body politic” (Neely & Lopez, 2020: 1). As a result, thinking on housing in a COVID-19 present is thinking on embodied, relational and affective cartographies of the space in our inhabiting practices.

In this context, as Hobart and Kneese (2020) remind us “care is unevenly distributed and cannot be disentangled from structural racism and inequality” (8). In some of our work we thought on inhabitation “as a form of care that emerge from the overlapping, simultaneous, and incremental encounters with and between different people, places, and services, and the spatial practices that develop to endure and maintain life” (Boano & Astolfo, 2020: 222), “support one another to sustain a meaningful life […] where the socio-political tensions are one challenge and the lack of governmental refugee policies is another (Yassine, et.all, 2019). The ‘Stay at home’ rhetoric is exacerbating racial and class prejudices, producing an uneven emptying of cities from certain bodies but also the filling of bodies in domestic spaces not all apt for healthy and peaceful coexistence. This crude reality urges us to call global solidarity to leverage the ‘Stay at home’ to champion the right to the adequate housing and the right to be in the city.

The pandemic resurfaces the existing housing crisis

Havana Alamar – Catalina Ortiz

The UN has shed light on an “international housing crisis” (Farha, 2019; Rolnik, 2013), from volatility of housing systems, to evictions, overcrowding, unaffordability, substandard conditions, homelessness, and displacement (Fields & Hodkinson, 2017). But the pandemic resurfaces a housing crisis not tackled systematically across sectors and now a becomes a long overdue duty.

Urban homes are part of a complex system, the outcome of many interdependent elements interacting within the city as a connected whole. Rediscover the centrality of the domestic dimension is to re-discover its political potential of housing as the central role in any society reveals how it contains many of the global challenges of the current urban condition and its possible futures: rapid urbanisation, inequalities, segregation, informality, resource depletion, ecological crisis, displacement and migration, privatisation, financialization, securitization, economic development, ageing, health and well-being.

Much of this is concentrated in cities of the Global South where a ‘second wave’ of global urbanisation is occurring and where inadequate housing puts at risk political, economic and ecological urban futures (Simone & Pieterse, 2017). Some estimate at 330 million the number of urban households living in sub-standard housing or facing financial strain, while in many cities a vast proportion of households and individuals resort to living in ‘informal settlements’ with no secure tenure and poor basic services.

The response has to enact a healthy recovery

This unprecedented challenge requires also inedited responses for building a long term progressive response to bring about healthy and more equitable cities. Housing, according to World’s Health Organisation’s Social Determinants of Health, along with infrastructure, socio-economic conditions, and social exclusion, are key determinants of population health. Therefore, an adequate response can only come from inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, situated and trans-regional knowledge, new paradigms of practice as well as new institutional capacities.

Such capacities are sorely lacking, particularly in contexts where specialisation and the action of governments has tended to become fragmented and siloed. Globally, but especially in cities of the Global South, housing policies have failed to respond adequately. This failure is at least partially due to a narrow conception of housing leading to policies that either worsen housing problems or create new ones (Monkkonen, 2018). Unidimensional approaches to housing have perpetuated policies that fail to adequately deal with marginalisation and environmental deprivation and racial capitalism (cf. Madden & Marcuse, 2016; Fiori, 2014; Gilbert, 2004; Goodchild, 2008; Martin et al., 2015).

Being both a commodity and a right, a new examination of housing requires a complex systemic approach to untangle this vast and multidimensional challenge, addressing simultaneously the domestic scale and broader political, institutional and financial issues. Thinking housing as infrastructure of care seeks to capture urban living as a dynamically complex system to help shape urban form and influence urban life.

Periurban Yangon – Catalina Ortiz


Survival unite us and a collective vision guide us

The COVID-19 present urge us to lure our collective imagination to enact a vision of the future we want to shape posing the ethics of care as a transversal axis. Inscribed in already agreed common goals contained in the international agendas such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we propose the following vision and objectives:

In thinking housing in this transformative time we call for urgent actions to develop an adequate response that lay the foundation for a housing, infrastructure of care, that helps foster non-discrimination while promoting equitable, low-carbon forms of livelihood creation and sustainable development, as well as physical and mental health and well-being.

A recovery that enacts:

  • Improved urban governance for spatial justice (SDGs 5-17): Urban governance operates at different scales through an ecosystem of formal and informal institutions where the state, civil society and private sector actors negotiate regulatory frameworks and practices around the production and use of housing. However, major gaps exist in understanding the complex multidimensional nature of housing within the urban development conditions. We need to push for open access spatial data on housing and harvest the myriad situated co-produced knowledges of different networks across regions.
  • More just financial mechanisms and markets for land and housing (SDGs 8-12): ‘Markets’ are a core component of housing, relating to how land, finance, materials, construction and sales are accessed and valued. Nonetheless, we experiment lack of consistent definitions, situated data and geographical evidence on the links between housing production, land, infrastructure and labour markets. We need to activate trans regional and trans disciplinary networks for policy and practices and resistance exchange.
  • Better living conditions for migrants and people in temporary housing (SDGs 8, 9, 13,16): Temporary dwelling is the result of conflict, disaster and economic shocks that is why we need to better understand of how state institutions, civil society, businesses, community organisations and people themselves respond to crises. But we witness a lack of capacity of housing institutions and decision makers to address housing inequality and affordability. We need that humanitarian agencies and a broad range of stakeholders to develop new forms of collaboration with practitioners, researchers, and activists.
  • Improved urban resilience and physical and mental health through housing (SDGs 3, 5, 16): In most cities, mental and physical illness and premature death are disproportionally concentrated in poor communities and ethnic minorities in as much as the links between housing and health are understood in relation to dwelling features. However, the long term state withdrawal and poor governance has caused the abandonment of housing as a political urban process. We need to push for the kind of institutional transformations to enable structural improvements in both housing and health and shifting urban politics towards more healthy cities.
  • More energy efficient -low-carbon-, innovative and sustainable housing (SDGs 7, 9, 12, 13): Cities across the world perform like linear metabolisms where housing and built infrastructure have a fixed design life expectancy. An appreciation of the city as a ‘circular metabolism’ will further the transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive future, with nature and non-human environments. Nonetheless, we have dysfunctional policy-action systems for housing provision producing energy intensive consumption. We need advocacy for innovative modes of housing production in Global South cities.

Opening an uncharted territory of infrastructures of care

Central Havana – Catalina Ortiz

Thinking housing is to transform the way we think we inhabit the bodies, the collective and the city. The COVID-19 present urge us to rethink, radically our housing future as it is the way we are inhabiting the word (Boano & Astolfo, 2020). Stay at home, at least the in the meaning we want to provocatively frame it here, is not to be interpreted with its a shut-up, privileged immunological meaning, but more stay-with-home as to re-centre home as the significant infrastructure through which we care of each other’s and out cities and territories. Re-centre housing in its global significance as infrastructure or care is to think the problems (economic crisis, migration crisis, ecological crises, violence) from another framework.

If, on the one hand, housing has returned to the centre, at least in the simple public imagery of the pandemic, inhabiting needs a continuous rethinking outside of contemporary nuclear living, governed and imposed by states. Care practices have always emerged in time of crisis, and thinking housing as infrastructures of care is materialising resistances, as adaptations, as desires and networks. It is an attention to bodies and spaces, is revisiting rhythms, collectives, redefining proximity, and coding new positive passions, but also re-inventing spaces and finding new trajectories.

We are all scared of a ‘new normal’ being presented to us, we are also scared of ‘getting back to a normality’ that was complicit if not the whole problem. We have to inhabit the present, inhabitation is a form of caring (Boano and Astolfo, 2020). To live is to be present is caring the present.

 

* Note – Some excerpts are adapted and come from a collaborative research proposal for GCRF on Housing Hub led by DPU, UCL.


Works cited:

Boano, C., Astolfo, G., (2020) Notes around hospitality as inhabitation. Engaging with the politics of care and refugees dwelling practices in the Italian urban context. Migration and Society: Advances in Research, Vol.3, pp: 222–232.

Corburn, J. (2015), ‘Urban Inequities, Population Health and Spatial Planning’, in Barton, H., Thompson, S., Burgess, S., and Grant, M. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Planning for Health and Well-Being, London, Routledge. and Grant, M. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Planning for Health and Well-Being, London, Routledge.

Farha, L. (2017), ‘Commodification over community: financialization of the housing sector and its threat to SDG 11 and the right to housing’, Civil society report, Spotlight on Sustainable Development.

Fields, D.J. and Hodkinson, S.N. (2017), ‘Housing Policy in Crisis: An International Perspective’, Housing Policy Debates, 28(1): 1-5.

Fiori, J. (2014), ‘Informal City: Design as Political Engagement’, in Verebes, T. (ed.), Masterplanning the adaptive city: computational urbanism in the twenty-first century, London, Routledge.

Gilbert, A. (2004), ‘Helping the Poor through Housing Subsidies: Lessons from Chile, Colombia and South Africa’, Habitat International, 28(1):13-40.

Goodchild, B. (2008), Homes, Cities and Neighbourhoods. Planning and the Residential Landscapes of Modern Britain, Hampshire, Ashgate.

Hobart, H and Kneese, T. (2020). Radical Care: Surviving Strategies for Uncertain Times, Social Text 142, p. 1-16 .

King, R. et al. (2017), ‘Confronting the Urban Housing Crisis in the Global South: Adequate, Secure, and Affordable Housing.’ Working Paper. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

Lancione, M. (2019) Radical housing: on the politics of dwelling as difference, International Journal of Housing Policy.

Marcuse, P. and Madden, D. (2016), In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis, New York, Verso. Martin, R., Moore, J., and Schindler, S. (eds.) (2015), The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing, and Real Estate. A Provisional Report. New York, The Trustees of Columbia University.

Monkkonen, P. (2018), ‘Do we need innovation in housing policy? Mass production, community based upgrading, and the politics of urban land in the Global South’, International Journal of Housing Policy, 18 (2): 167-176.

Neely, A. & Lopez, P. (2020) Care in the Time of COVID-19, Antipode online blog, retrieved at:

https://antipodeoneline.org/2020/03/10/care-in-time-of-covid-19/

Rolnik, R. (2013), UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, ‘Guiding Principles on Security of Tenure for the Urban Poor’, UN doc. A/HRC/25/54.

Simone, A. and Pieterse, E. (2017), New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Yassine B., Al-Harithy, H., Boano, C. (2019) ‘Refugees Hosting Other Refugees’ in Ouzaii (Lebanon): Endurance and Maintenance of Care. The Journal of Refugee Studies.

Housing, displacement and the elderly: intersectional spatial narratives from Tareek el Jdeede, Beirut

Camillo Boano26 June 2019

By Monica Basbous, Nadine Bekdache and Camillo Boano

The current habitability crisis, the failure of progressive policies to consider the way cities adapt to different forms of displacement and resisting the three interrelated venomous practice of expulsions, extraction and externalisation are clear to everyone engaging with urban spatial practices. Displacement is a key characteristic of the urban present that requires interrogations across different geographies and with different methodological approaches. This short contribution stems from a current research partnership between Public Works Studio and DPU in the remit of the RELIEF Centre Project to study the effects of real estate policy and the financialisation of housing markets, which have resulted in the eviction and displacement of the most vulnerable social groups in Beirut turning the capital city into an exclusive, unjust and vulnerable place. The brief reflections below stem from the first part of the study, focusing on the eviction of the elderly in the neighbourhood of Tareek el Jdeede in Beirut, and were presented last week in London by Nadine Bekdache, Monica Basbous, Abir Saksouk and Camillo Boano in the symposium “Vulnerability, Infrastructure, and Displacement: The role of Public Services, in Lebanese spaces of Migration”.

Methodologically, the research develops housing narratives and spatial stories that, situated within a larger research, are narrated as the crossing point between the impact of market-driven urban development on housing rights in the context of Lebanon, and the strategies, opportunities, expectations and disappointments of elderly women in mitigating evictions, displacement and the social security of their families. Housing stories and diagrams were investigated with design research and drawings that were published on The Housing Monitor an interactive online platform for consolidating research, building advocacy and proposing alternatives to advance the right to housing in Lebanon.

 

Dwelling in Tareek el Jdeede

In this phase of the study, we examine the eviction of the elderly in the neighbourhood of Tareek Jdeede and in the wider city. Although today’s urban transformations in Tareek Jdeede may seem similar across most of Beirut’s neighbourhoods, the urban history and socio-spatial make-up of each neighbourhood determines a particular set of interactions, strategies of resilience, housing typologies and vulnerabilities. 

Mazraa – the larger administrative zone containing the neighbourhood of Tareek Jdeede – gathers around 30% of Beirut’s tenants living under the old rent law. These tenants – whose contracts were established prior to 1992 – have been subject to case-by-case eviction through a candid reconfiguration after the civil war that aligned the interests of local bureaucrats with real estate development[1]. Yet with the new 2014-rent law, evictions became a city-wide condition. Many of Tareek Jdeede’s old-rent tenants, today aged 45 and above, have been evicted or threatened with eviction at an increasing rate (Public Works Studio, 2015-2017). Among these, the elderly (and the retired) carry as a social group a set of particularities that places them at odds with state housing policies, which are basically reduced to homeownership loans. They also face the threat of displacement in the absence of social housing programs and with limited social-security benefits. The elderly in some neighbourhoods are nonetheless protected by family connections and attract charity organisations that are often affiliated to sectarian institutions. When it all fails, displacement has severe impacts on the elderly’s ways of life and on their physical and mental health well-being. While their relocation generates a number of possible scenarios, we focus on two cases: on the one hand, a case of eviction and relocation within the neighbourhood; and on the other, a case of eviction and relocation to a distant suburb. Through these case studies, we set out to investigate two main questions: in what ways do urban processes and property frameworks impact the displacement – and more generally the housing conditions – of vulnerable social groups? And what urban and architectural forms are being generated as a result of housing-related displacement?

 

Em Yumna and Em Hassan graphic stories 

Em Yumna and Em Hassan lived a few meters away from one another, yet they had never met. While Em Yumna’s eviction led to her displacement outside of the city, Em Hassan managed to relocate across the street from her previous dwelling.

Em Yumna was 14 years old when she moved from Beqaa to live in Beirut. She had married a young Berjaoui man who worked at a company in the city, and they settled in one of the small homes of Ras Al Nabaa in the mid-fifties. A year or two later, the country would be shaken by a series of earthquakes. Entire villages collapsed in Chouf Al Aala and Iklim, and Em Yumna’s house in Ras Al Nabaa came apart. In 1957, the young family packed up their belongings and moved. At the time, Em Yumna did not intend to spend the next 55 years of her life in that little three-room house atop Zreik Hill in Tareek el Jdeede. 

Em Yumna was evicted in 2012 when the owner made a development agreement with an investor to demolish the 3-storey building, and moved to Barja, a town located 35 kilometres south of Beirut. Her social relations and daily activities were severely ruptured, as they revolved around practices in the alley behind her house.

 


In 1982, Em Hassan, aged 18, moved from the neighbourhood of Noueiri to Tareek el Jdeede with her two children. Originally from the south of Lebanon, she married a relative of hers who resided in Beirut. Today, Em Hassan is in her late fifties, and continues to live in the same quarter of Tareek el Jdeede, but in a different house, after she was evicted from her previous home in 2016. A real estate company bought the building in 2011, and Em Hassan agreed to evict, using the compensation money – in addition to other resources including a loan from a religious institution – to buy the adjacent house. By doing so, she bought into a shared property, which is by itself another form of vulnerability.

Between her two dwellings lies a small courtyard that holds the past, present and future of Em Hassan’s housing. One can find her there every afternoon, having coffee and a cigarette, while at her right lies the window of the house she lived in for 34 years but is no longer hers, and facing her, the door of the house that allowed her to remain in the city. After having lived as an old-rent tenant for decades, Em Hassan’s eviction led her to buy her new home as her only means of resisting displacement. 

Em Hassan’s courtyard (1982)

 

Em Hassan’s courtyard (2019)


The similarities and differences of these two cases allow us to draw a comparative analysis, looking at the impact of both the process and destination of displacement on evicted elderly and their wellbeing, by looking into the following questions: what means do the elderly have to resist displacement and what role do socio-spatial networks play in this dynamic, especially in the case of Tareek Jdeede? Does relocation within the same neighbourhood mitigate the negative impacts of eviction on the elderly and how? How do eviction, displacement, and spatial typologies impact the socio-spatial practices of the elderly, their mobility and their relation to the neighbourhood? 


Reflections from the comparative analysis

Despite accessing housing for most of their lives through rent, the perception associated with property ownership as the primary means of achieving socio-economic and housing security, prompted both women to seek homeownership after eviction through mobilising a complex web of resources. The capital required to attain homeownership is tightly enmeshed with the relocation options available for these elderly women, and provisions for their children were deciding factors in this decision-making.

Nonetheless, the sense of security that homeownership might bring is accompanied by multiple forms of precarity and vulnerabilities. There are no affordable options to buy in the city where new unaffordable high-rise buildings are replacing the older fabric. As such homeownership for the aspiring middle class has mainly meant displacement from their city to nearby suburbs in the making, usually chosen in conformity to sectarian affiliations or origins. In contrast, the working class access substandard housing in the city, usually in the urban fabric built before 1992 that is threatened with sudden changes emanating from real estate investment or planning implementations. In the meantime, the gap between housing conditions is widening in the city. This takes a heavier toll when the same evicted units are used to exploit politically and economically vulnerable groups, particularly refugees and their families, whereby developers grant them temporary housing in order to generate profit while retaining the power to evict them spontaneously to proceed with building demolition.

Other forms of vulnerabilities linked to the production of housing in Lebanon manifest in the making of the suburbs. Apart from the poor urban planning practices resulting in environmental and spatial injustices in urbanising suburbs, the arrival of the displaced to these towns sheds light on the psychological violence exerted. The elderly endure the crumbling of social networks and support systems, the difficulty in fostering new ones, the reduction of mobility and autonomy, the deterioration of health, the loss of spatial references, and consequently the loss of sense of place and belonging. Concurrently, it was intriguing to observe how the urban morphology – spatial typology or density- can impact the building of social ties. Em Yumna was unable to adapt to her new surroundings in the suburbanizing town of Barja. Sparse urbanization and lack of accessible mobilities have led to feelings of alienation, which pushed her to seek a different spatiality for socialization: the grocery-store by the side of the road. This is echoed by Em Hassan’s husband who also opened a shop in the city, primarily as a means to socialize after the neighborhood was progressively emptied of its older inhabitants.

Through this study, we situate urban evictions beyond the confines of the city, shedding light on an emerging territorial dynamic between inner-city neighbourhoods undergoing waves of eviction and radical spatial changes, and the suburbanising towns that are hosting displaced households. Along this process, the myth of homeownership as a secure form of housing is revisited in its relation to poor urban planning practices and precarious ownership frameworks. These cases both present narratives that portray housing in the city as an access point to vital economic resources, in a context where urban space is commodified and financialised, both in practice and in discourse. They also highlight the importance of socio-spatial networks for the elderly – and the urban and suburban processes that threaten them – whereby the understanding of home takes on a larger, more social dimension than that of the physical domestic space. 

Urban density as economic resource: Em Hassan’s son and his service business

Looking further into the vulnerabilities associated with homeownership, we will next investigate how the legal framework for inheritance in Lebanon perpetuates women as minority-shareholders in collectively inherited properties. Our previous research has shown that these women are often the only shareholder still living in the inherited property but have limited negotiating power and constrained agency over their housing conditions and their susceptibility to displacement.

Through an in-depth study of such a case, the next phase of our research will aim to identify the social and legal conditions that systemically place female heirs in a position of weakness regarding the future of their dwelling.

_______________________

[1]“Evicting Sovereignty: Lebanon’s Housing Tenants From Citizens to Obstacles”, Nadine Bekdache – Arab Studies Journal (Vol. XXIII No. 1), Fall 2015 – p.p. 320-350

_______________________

Monica Basbous is an architect, designer and urban researcher. Producing maps, images and writings, her work tackles questions of urban mobility, informal spatial practices, politics and representations of space, and speculative geography. Monica teaches architectural design at the Lebanese American University since 2017, and is a researcher and partner in Public Works Studio since 2016. She holds a MSc. in Architecture from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

Nadine Bekdache is a practicing designer and urbanist and co-founder of Public Works Studio. She researches socio-spatial phenomena through multidisciplinary methods; including mapping, imagery and film as both processes of investigation and representation. As part of her research on urban displacement, she authored “Evicting Sovereignty: Lebanon’s Housing Tenants from Citizens to Obstacles”, and co-directed “Beyhum Street: Mapping Place Narratives”. She is also a graphic design instructor at the Lebanese University.

Camillo Boano is Professor of Urban Design and Critical Theory and Joint Programme Leader of MSc Building and Urban Design in Development at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, where he is also the Director of Research. Camillo is also co-investigator of the the RELIEF Project.

Transmedia Storytelling: Activating Urban Learning for Slum Upgrading

ucfurti9 May 2019

By Dr. Catalina Ortiz and Gynna Millan


A research collaboration between The
 Bartlett DPU staff, UN-Habitat, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), Cities Alliance, the Municipality of Medellin and six grassroots organisations part of Movimiento de Pobladores and Sandelion – a local transmedia production organisation- to co-design a digital platform that helps to learn about slum upgrading strategies.

For a Spanish version of this blog click here

Graphic recording of the workshop ‘Co-designing a transmedia storytelling platform’. Drawn by Melissa Avila (@MelissaDibuja)


Learning across cities is vital to building cities ‘that leave no one behind.’

Global slum dwellers have grown on average six million a year since 2000, and by 2030, about 3 billion people will require proper housing (UN-Habitat 2014). Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, expressed to the UN Assembly that “the living conditions in informal settlements are one of the most pervasive violations of human rights globally and yet this is being ignored by most and exacerbated by many” (2018:1). In this context, slum upgrading “remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums” (United Nations 2014:15). World leaders have committed to ensure ‘access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing, basic services and to upgrade slums’ as well as to ‘strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda’ (UN Habitat, 2016). Following this, SDGs 11 and 17 as well as the UN-Habitat New Urban Agenda highlight the need for people-centred approaches and peer learning platforms as crucial preconditions to engage stakeholders across cities to implement international agendas locally, particularly about Slum Upgrading Strategies (SUS).

Even though learning about SUS across cities is imperative for urban governance and planning in contemporary cities, how such learning occurs and the types of knowledge that are valued, documented and circulated have been less scrutinised and understood. The research project “COiNVITE: Activating Urban Learning for Slum Upgrading” financed by the Bartlett ECR-GCRF, led by Dr Catalina Ortiz  -@CataOrtizA- and Gynna Millan -@Gynaji- (PDRA) at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) aims at finding alternative spaces and methodologies to recalibrate the debate on slum upgrading policies and the role of the circulation of urban knowledge across cities through new visual and digital tools. To achieve this, COiNVITE will deliver the prototype of a Transmedia Storytelling Platform co-designed by multiple urban actors.

International workshop in Medellín with the new actors alliance. Photo by Sandra Tabares

Transmedia Storytelling for Learning

Storytelling has been as a powerful tool for planning practitioners to connect with more human-centred approaches to urban development. Storytelling is emerging as a key tool to raise public awareness (Anderson & McLachlan 2015; Cities Alliance 2018), policy advocacy (Davidson 2017, Brown & Tucker 2017) and peer to peer learning (Hara 2008, UCLG 2018) since generating emotional connections is essential for triggering social change. In this light, urban planning in itself has been described as a ‘performed story’ (Sandercock 2003:13) and storytelling in the field has received recent attention as a means for persuasion and empowerment (Sandercock 2003; Throgmorton 2007; van Hulst 2012; Mager & Matthey 2015; Olesen 2017; Devos et al. 2018). In sum, storytelling helps to foster empathy, to understand the meaning of complex experiences and to inspire action.

With the rise of the digital era, new digital technologies at hand have redefined the way we tell, connect and engaged with stories. The world of entertainment and the field of media and communication studies have framed the emerging strategies of communication as Transmedia Storytelling (TS). Transmedia implies using multiple channels to tell a story from different angles in a coordinated and unified way. It also offers as an expansive and immersive experience using multiple platforms where each media provides a unique contribution to the development of stories (i.e. community radio or newspapers, WhatsApp, Instagram, cartoons, etc.). This new way to engage with storytelling is “by nature fluid and fragmented… in transmedia, meaning changes with exploration… this suggests that knowledge is fluid; it changes with time” (Pence 2012:137). In that way, TS offers new avenues to mobilise learning.

In urban learning codified knowledge is more easily expressed since it is written, and tacit knowledge –the one that often communities have- does not travel as well and is more difficult to communicate (McFarlane 2011). Transmedia helps to translate tacit knowledge and make it travel in different formats. Henry Jenkins, who coined the term, argues that TS “is the ideal aesthetic form of collective intelligence”, that is to say, “those new social structures that facilitate the production and circulation of knowledge within a networked society” (2007: 1). That is why, TS, translated into the development and planning field, offers enormous potential for the circulation of diverse urban narratives and alternative tacit knowledges that reside in local urban communities.

Going beyond the ‘best practice’

Urban decision-makers look for best practices to inspire action and speed up effective urban interventions. The research project uses as a pilot case the city of Medellin, Colombia that has been considered a benchmark for urban transformation and social innovation becoming an inspirational case for Global South cities dealing with entrenched violence and informality. Medellin has shown a decisive convergence of extended practices of strategic planning, urban design and architecture, which have focused local state interest and public investments in traditionally excluded peripheral neighbourhoods. These spatial interventions have included expanding the interconnected transit system (i.e. metro, tramway, cable cars, BRT, and so on), the generation of public spaces and the construction of multiple iconic public facilities.

Medellin demonstrates that ‘informal settlements’ of global South cities are sites of urban planning innovation and collective agency, thus challenging orthodox urban planning narratives that argue otherwise. Learning about the conditions under which transformation is possible goes beyond only listening or praising official narratives about success. For this, TS helps to build a more comprehensive picture of the plurality of stories and learnings that have produced the city and the trade-offs of slum upgrading strategies. In this sense, the main objective of the co-designed Transmedia Storytelling Platform is to make visible those alternative –but often ignored– voices, memories, and learning spaces that have disrupted upgrading urban practices. Thus, the project challenges the notion that slum upgrading is an expert-driven and state-led activity by engaging with community-led processes in the epistemology of knowledge co-production.

 

Working group discussions. Photo by Gynna Millan

COiNVITE: Building a strategic learning alliance

‘Convite’ is a word in Spanish that designates the celebration of collective actions that result from solidarity and empathy networks among urban dwellers. In Medellín, ‘Convite’ has been a social, cultural and technological tool to build urban infrastructure at the neighbourhood level with a city scale impact. During a ‘Convite’, learning and knowledge exchange is essential to achieve common goals. In a ‘Convite’ everyone has knowledge and expertise that can be shared and transferred through storytelling and collective practice, something like “doing while telling”. Medellín is a city that has been transformed significantly by urban ‘Convites’. As a result, we named the -digital and social- platform after this meaningful practice.

A key challenge for effective urban learning is the ability to bring together multiple actors operating at different scales and times and who often have confrontational perspectives. Building on this, COiNVITE’s methodological approach was to first established a learning alliance with multilateral agencies and global coalitions –UN-Habitat, Cities Alliance, UCLG, the Global Platform for the Right to the City and the HIC–, along with the Municipality of Medellin, National University of Colombia, Los Andes University, University of Colorado Boulder and several grassroots organisations linked to the social movement ‘Movimiento de Pobladores’ in Medellín, to shape the content of the Transmedia Storytelling Platform and provide their knowledge and expertise in a collaborative way.

On the other hand, one of the significant challenges of assembling a platform for urban learning is the expertise that it requires. This journey cannot be made without the alliances between usual urban actors but neither without a team that can translate urban knowledge into the technicalities that make possible the new digital environments. This is why we collaborate with a local transmedia production organisation – Sandelion Productions @SandelionPro –  an expert on linking co-creation processes, storytelling and transmedia experiences. Creating a transmedia experience is a complicated endeavour, as they involve multiple dimensions such as narrative, cultural and historical contexts (Rampazzo 2013). For Jenkins (2010), this is in part because transmedia represents the intersection between fields that are typically separated. To ‘fast’ prototype a transmedia platform is even more complex as it goes against the long periods that can take generating multimedia material that is this case should be meaningful human centred stories. To overcome this, we partnered with the NGO Mobility / Movilidad that since 2012 has been producing what is now an extensive archive of stories about dwellers’ struggles in Medellin informal settlements. This combination of actors made it possible to assemble a strategic learning alliance to explore the potentials of bringing TS to processes of urban learning.

The exploration of a methodological repertoire and the encounter of the multi-actor alliance took place between the 27th March and 2nd April and was hosted our partners at Exploratorio – Parque Explora and Moravia Cultural Centre in Medellin. The international workshop served as a disruptive action to bring about innovative urban learning strategies for: a) fostering togetherness across partners under the equalising notion of ‘we are urban storytellers’ and bonding through creative thinking activities; b) sensitising about the key learnings on local slum upgrading using character-driven stories; c) experimenting with unconventional methodological tools for creating transmedia storytelling; and d) linking partners’ initiatives working at different scales on slum upgrading to act collectively.

In sum, from The Bartlett, we are leading an effort to co-design a learning TS platform as methodological experimentation to localise critical targets of the Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 17 as well as the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda. COiNVITE will deliver a fast prototype of the platform that will be publicly tested in June 2019. If you are interested in any way about this project, get in touch by email or by following any of our social media channels using @coinvite.

Twitter @COiNVITE, FB StorytellingUrbanLearning y en Instragram coinvite

 

Walkshop around Comuna 13. Photo by @Zootropico films.

References

Anderson, C. R. and McLachlan, S.M. (2015) Transformative research as knowledge mobilization: transmedia, bridges and layers. Action Research, Volume: 14 issue: 3, page(s): 295-317.

Brown,  & Tucker, K. (2017) Unconsented Sterilisation, Participatory Story‐Telling, and Digital Counter‐Memory in Peru. Antipode, Volume 49, Issue 5, 1186-1203.

Davidson, B. (2017). Storytelling and evidence-based policy: lessons from the grey literature. Palgrave Communications, 3:17093, 1-10.

Devos, T. et.al (2018) Valuating narrative accounts in participatory planning processes. A case of co-creative storytelling in Antwerp, Belgium. In: Participatory Design Theory, Routledge, 284 p.

Hara, N. (2008) Communities of Practice, Fostering peer to peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Springer 138 p.

Hulst, M. (2012) Storytelling: a model of and a model for planning. Planning Theory, 11(3), 299-318.

Jenkins, H. (2003) “Transmedia Storytelling.” Technology Review.

Jenkins, H. 2010a. ‘Transmedia storytelling and entertainment: An annotated syllabus’. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies (24), 6, 943–58.

McFarlane, C. (2011) Learning the city, Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Willey-Blackwell, 218 p.

Olesen, K. (2017) Talk to the hand: strategic spatial planning as persuasive storytelling of the Loop City, European Planning Studies, Volume 25, Issue 6, 978-993.

Pence, H. (2012) Teaching with Transmedia. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, Vol. 40(2) 131-140.

Rampazzo, R. (2013) Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical Considerations. Baltic Screen Media Review, Volume 1, 81-100 p.

Sandercock, L. (2003) Out of the closet: The importance of stories and storytelling in planning practice. Planning Theory & Practice, 4(1), 11-28.

Throgmorton, J. (2003). Planning as persuasive storytelling in a global-scale web of relationships. Planning Theory, 2(2), 125-151.

UN-Habitat (2014) A Practical Guide to designing, Planning, and executing citywide slum upgrading Programmes, 165 p.

UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing (2018) Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, United Nations General Assembly, 24 p.

United Nations (2016) New Urban Agenda, Habitat III Secretariat, 48 p.

Crowdsourcing inputs for future impact evaluation? Pilot participatory mapping for liveability and health baselines of a transport-centred project in Cali, Colombia

ucfudro2 April 2019

This blog is part of the health in urban development blog series – the full series can be found at the bottom of this post.

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Urban transport and mobility are critical instruments for development, health and sustainability. Transport is one of the most data-, land- and resources-intensive sectors in urban public policy, consuming often more than a third of public budgets in Global south cities and being explicitly linked with many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, conventional transport planning lacks sufficient tools, policies and methods that make explicit the links between transport, liveable and sustainable cities, and health. This blog showcases a participatory methodology for drawing a baseline and developing future impact assessment on liveability and the social determinants of health in transport-driven large-scale urban interventions. The blog argues for the use of health-informed methods using our research experience in Cali – Colombia’s third largest city – in the implementation of web-based participatory mapping tools for a project in the implementation phase.

The centrality of transport to urban development trajectories

Transport is a very effective instrument for urban policy definition and delivery. As showcased by the rapidly increasing number of kms of Bus Rapid Transit (BRTs), cable-cars, cycling lanes and many such other projects built in recent years throughout Latin America, transport has claimed a central role in current urban development trajectories. For instance, out of the 170 cities that have implemented Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems globally, 55 (32%) are in Latin America, with 1,816 km of BRT networks built regionally (BRTDATA.ORG, 2018). Investments in mass public transport infrastructure have opened the door for urban transformations driven by transport developments via promotion of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), reclaiming of public spaces, development of non-motorised infrastructure, and other transport-land-use integration strategies. Strategies such as the above have enabled sustainability and climate-change adaptation agendas to redefine some of the relationships between built environment and transport infrastructure across the region (1; 2). There is also larger awareness in the research and policy spheres about the health implications of transport, from a preventive medicine and physical activity perspective, to access to healthcare, environmental exposures and road safety (e.g. 3; 4; 5).

The Caliveable project

The Caliveable project (www.caliveable.com) is a research initiative led by Dr Daniel Oviedo at the DPU and funded by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The project involves a multi-disciplinary team of UK-based and Colombian researchers seeking to develop frameworks and methods for baseline studies of liveability and the social determinants of health of nascent transport-centred urban projects. The project argues that by building on rigorous and tested frameworks such as liveability, which are cross-cutting to both the built environment and health, it is possible to construct tailored baselines for the design, monitoring and evaluation of the effects of transport-centred interventions on the social determinants of health. The project studies Cali’s Corredor Verde (CV) as the empirical context for the development and implementation of the study. The CV is a large-scale infrastructure and public space investment programme aimed at enhancing social, economic and regional integration with a regional train at the centre of urban interventions traversing the city from north to south.

The Corredor Verde project has a modern public transport system intending to serve as regional link with emerging poles of population and economic growth near Cali (e.g. Yumbo, Palmira). The corridor also intends to become an environmental anchor and axis for supporting urban biodiversity, linking interconnected biodiversity points and support structures – such as waste and recycling plans, nurseries and educational trails. The transport dimension of the project aims to promote active travel and urban transformations based on the notions and principles of TOD, which align with the overall objective of re-unifying the eastern area of Cali with the rest of the city. However, there is no evidence on how this is consistent with the implementation of measures that promote determinants of health and liveability neither on the guidelines or the project’s masterplan. Moreover, given the socio-spatial distribution of the population, the investment rises questions regarding its distributive effects. Will the citizens from both sides of the corridor be benefited equally? Could the CV create an increase in land value and consequently ignite processes of gentrification and expulsion of low-income residents?

Source: Caliveable, 2019; OPUS, DAPM and Espacio Colectivo Architecture team, 2016.

Harnessing the links between transport, liveability and health

We aim to examine liveability in seven domains – employment, food housing, public space, transport, walkability and social infrastructure – linked with health and wellbeing outcomes (6). Two challenges emerge when approaching a project such as the Corredor Verde from a liveability perspective: the first is lack of purpose-built data for comprehensive analysis of the different dimensions of the concept, the second is lack of resources for collecting a sufficient sample that can serve in later stages for impact evaluation. The Caliveable project addresses these challenges using web-based geo-questionnaires designed for participatory mapping. We optimised resources available to deploy targeted field data collection campaigns in areas with lower income and access to technology and neighbourhoods with high levels of illiteracy and other restrictions for self-reporting. Using  Maptionnaire (www.maptionnaire.com) the team has designed a comprehensive 15-minute questionnaire dubbed The Calidoscopio, that allows building indicators based on numerical scales, Likert, multiple choice question, multiple choice grid and draw buttons. Drawbuttons are a feature of the approach of participatory GIS as it enables respondents to map out different features of their behaviour and their urban environment.

The Maptionnaire platform enables the construction of geographical-based features, making it possible to crowdsource mapping for different purposes. For example, a respondent is asked to draw the area of the neighbourhood they perceive as more polluted and then evaluate how they perceive how this contributes/affects their quality of life. The graphical result allows both the interviewee and the researcher to work with a superposition of georeferenced and self-completed information layers. The platform also allows mapping routes and points in the city, which are relevant for transport-specific analysis such as accessibility and walkability. The superposition of layers of analysis through easy visualisation is one of the key advantages of the web-based tool for participatory GIS.

Source: Caliveable, 2019

Initial findings from the deployment of the liveability questionnaire in Maptionnaire have produced comprehensive information about behaviours, preferences, needs and perceptions, not often captured by traditional data collection methods applied in transport studies. The tool enabled the research team, even from the pilot stage, to add a spatial dimension to variables explicitly linked with the social determinants of health, informing location, distribution and characteristics of the built environment from an urban health perspective. This will inform not only planning and development of the Corredor Verde and other relevant transport infrastructure projects in Cali, as well as leaving a replicable methodology for monitoring and evaluation. The Caliveable project seeks to establish alliances with government authorities and researchers for the appropriation of the tool and scaling-up of the methodology for future health monitoring and impact assessments of the Corredor Verde.

 

Learning from the experience: transport equity and participatory mapping

Experiences with the use of alternative methods for data collection have been introduced in the DPU’s curriculum for years. Such practice has continued in the context of our Transport Equity and Urban Mobility module of the masters in Urban Development Planning course. Students have received training in the Maptionnaire tool and have had the chance of designing and deploying a small-sample test survey in the London Bloomsbury area. Students from across the DPU and the Bartlett have used participatory GIS questionnaires to address issues such as night-time mobilities, liveability and well-being related to transport, transport and security, and walkability. The experience with the use of innovative methods and technological tools for data collection have served for collective reflections about the role of data in leading to more inclusive and sustainable urban transport planning and the need for grounding innovative methods in rigorous conceptual frameworks and context-specific considerations as those covered during the module. The exercise also informed reflections related to research ethics, data management and privacy and the challenges of development research in the digital age.

 

References

  1. Paget-Seekins, L., & Tironi, M. (2016). The publicness of public transport: The changing nature of public transport in Latin American cities. Transport Policy, 49, 176-183.
  2. Vergel-Tovar, C. E., & Rodriguez, D. A. (2018). The ridership performance of the built environment for BRT systems: Evidence from Latin America. Journal of Transport Geography.
  3. Sarmiento, O. L., del Castillo, A. D., Triana, C. A., Acevedo, M. J., Gonzalez, S. A., & Pratt, M. (2017). Reclaiming the streets for people: Insights from Ciclovías Recreativas in Latin America. Preventive medicine, 103, S34-S40.
  4. Salvo, D., Reis, R. S., Sarmiento, O. L., & Pratt, M. (2014). Overcoming the challenges of conducting physical activity and built environment research in Latin America: IPEN Latin America. Preventive medicine, 69, S86-S92.
  5. Becerra, J. M., Reis, R. S., Frank, L. D., Ramirez-Marrero, F. A., Welle, B., Arriaga Cordero, E., … & Dill, J. (2013). Transport and health: a look at three Latin American cities. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 29, 654-666.
  6. Badland, H., Whitzman, C., Lowe, M., Davern, M., Aye, L., Butterworth, I., … & Giles-Corti, B. (2014). Urban liveability: emerging lessons from Australia for exploring the potential for indicators to measure the social determinants of health. Social science & medicine, 111, 64-73.

 

Health in urban development blog series

How and in what ways can local-level risk information about health and disasters influence city government practices and policies?
By Cassidy A Johnson

Treat, contain, repeat: key links between water supply, sanitation and urban health
By Pascale Hofmann

Health in secondary urban centres: Insights from Karonga, Malawi
By Donald Brown

Gaza: Cage Politics, Violence and Health
By Haim Yacobi

 

If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.

Reflections on Waste, Informality, and Scaling Up

ucfurla28 September 2018

Also by Ruchika Lall – Finding Spaces of Longitudinal Learning and Institutional Reflexivity

The global challenge of waste is irrefutable – it is visible, urgent and common to us all. Product-to-landfill life cycles make explicit how the global north and south are relational. Multinational corporations manufacture in regional hubs, for global markets, and transnational waste exports are offshored as recycled waste. Plastic debris floats from shore to shore.

On April 14th 2017, an avoidable tragedy – a man-made disaster – took place, as a mountain of garbage collapsed in North Colombo, Sri Lanka. Over a hundred homes were buried in the debris, displacing over 600 families, and killing 31 persons living at the edge of Meethotamulla land fill. The abandoned paddy field had been receiving tonnes of municipal garbage every day for over 20 years – growing to the height of a six-storey building, with a footprint of almost 20 acres. Reports list several causes for the collapse: (1) The incremental unsettling of the mountain of waste caused by rains; (2) Decomposition releasing methane and toxic gases which combusted into fire; and (3) A lateral landslide triggered when the lowest layer of the wetland soil couldn’t take the weight of the waste any longer. While emergency services were brought in and the dumping of waste has been stalled – a mountain of waste is still visible at the landfill today. More concerning still, several similar land fill sites that exist in Colombo remain fully operational – a shocking sight, yet unsurprising, given the global crisis of waste.

Often, communities living in marginal lands are caught within this crisis Sri Lanka, informal settlements often emerge alongside wetlands, canals and beach fronts. Engaging with these communities, as a part of efforts to improve waste management initiatives is therefore crucial.

In October 2017, Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre started a community-led Municipal Waste Recycling Programme (MWRP) in Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia – a municipality adjacent to Colombo. MWRP is a transnational initiative designed to reduce plastic pollution of the oceans. Funded by USAID, the programme is active in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. As an NGO positioned as an intermediary between the state and communities, Sevanatha’s aim for the programme is to facilitate building a responsive society in partnership with the local municipality to address the challenge of waste. It aims to raise awareness around waste separation, for recycling and reuse, and to build partnerships between the government, private sector and civil society. The project focuses on a few key approaches in parallel – research and analysis, conducting awareness raising programmes in communities and schools, enabling a network of waste collectors and recycling businesses, and prevention of waste disposal into canals and beach fronts. Unifying these approaches, and inspired by successful iterations in Thailand and Indonesia, Sevanatha aims to establish community waste banks[1] to promote a shift towards a circular economy. Across the municipality, Sevanatha has identified priority informal settlements in environmentally sensitive areas to work with – these are typically positioned along stretches of canals, wetlands, and the coastal belt.

Auburn Side, a coastal settlement, and a part of the MWRP area, is one such example. Auburn Side is split into two ‘sides’ by a coastal railway line that runs parallel along Sri Lanka’s South Western Coast. These are the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’, separated as the ‘beach side’ and ‘land side’. While several residents of the ‘beach side’ qualify for state-built apartments in another part the city, they choose to live along the coast to continue their daily livelihood as a part of generational fishing communities. The informal categorisation of the settlement however affects the level of municipal services that the ‘beach side’ receives. While the municipality waste collection trucks serve the ‘land side’, they do not cross the railway line onto the ‘beach side’. Further, a storm water drain from the city regularly discharges plastic waste from the formal city into the informal settlement, before it spills out further into the ocean.

Auburn side

Given that waste as an issue bridges the formal and the informal – through urban lifestyles, production, consumption and disposal patterns – How can waste management projects that engage with informality, such as Sevanatha’s MWRP, leverage waste as an entry point for ‘scaling up’? I use the term ‘scaling up’ in the context of the search for scale within housing policy, through programmes that strategically engage with informality with ‘multi-dimensional, multisectoral and multi-scalar’ ambitions[2]. This is especially relevant to Sri Lanka, where decades of policy and programmes such as the Million Houses programme that engaged with in-situ upgrading, have been steadily replaced by programmes[3] that liberate land ‘occupied’ by informal settlements through ‘involuntary relocations’.

What would such an approach towards scaling up entail? I reflect on three approaches within waste management projects and three follow up questions, that could, in parallel, leverage waste as an entry point to scaling up –

1) Coproduction by building on existing on ground initiatives

2) Networks to share and platforms to cross-learn

3) Challenging assumptions and analysing parallel economies

 

1) Coproduction by building on existing on ground initiatives

An approach that uses waste as an entry point for scaling up would involve building on existing informal initiatives, making them visible and connecting them to larger institutional systems.

At Auburn Side, Sevanatha’s project team is familiar with a few supportive community members who are conscious of how closely their lives are dependent on the ocean. An elderly fisherman is an inspiration – recovering almost 25 plastic bottles from the ocean every day. His home – a living museum of our ‘legacy’ of waste – is decorated with his craft of upcycling these bottles as ornamental lampshades. Similarly, a resident who grew up in the settlement is a newly elected member of the municipality and wishes to set up a waste collection centre.

 

Can projects build on the actions and aspirations of such individuals within the community, to facilitate constructive institutional engagement?

 

Sevanatha’s strategy of incentivising separation of waste through establishing waste banks in partnership with the municipality, and operated by the community, is one opportunity to do so.

 

2) Networks to share and platforms to cross-learn

 

In order to pilot and iteratively develop the waste bank, Sevanatha’s team has, through trial and error, organised to focus on three settlements in the municipality – Badowita, Rathmalana, and Auburn Side.

Badowita

This organisation provides the project team to iteratively learn from experiences in these three settlements, and to consciously inform approaches in the other. In Badowita, a waste collection centre owned by the municipality is operated by two women from the informal settlement along the polluted canal. While they collect waste from a formal settlement in the municipal area, they have also started to receive waste from their own community – for example, an enterprising woman in the informal settlement has started receiving waste from neighbours at her house, to deposit it at the waste collection centre. Similarly, post a beach cleaning programme in the informal settlement at Rathmalana, a few individual residents started collecting recyclable waste to send to the Badowita Waste Collection Centre, facilitated by Sevanatha. Sevanatha’s project team further hopes to use the experiences in Badowita and Rathmalana, to learn from and to further develop a suitable model of a waste bank at Auburn Side.

The iterative learnings and organisation of the project could further create opportunities for scaling up, when translated into facilitating networks between local champions from these three settlements, as well as municipal stakeholders – to create a network and platform to share cross learnings, that continues in the long term.

Further, how may stakeholders extend such networks of sharing, and platforms of cross learning, in other settlements, once fixed project periods finish?

Rathmalana

3) Challenging assumptions and analysing parallel economies of waste 

The opportunity within waste management projects that engage with informality, such as Sevanatha’s MWRP, to leverage waste as an entry point for ‘scaling up’ – is to position informality in the context of the city. With such an approach, a ‘community waste bank’ is not just about recycling the waste of the informal settlement but is also about enabling opportunities for the settlement to negotiate with and link with the larger municipal area – as a means of scaling up. The challenges within these approaches are two-fold –

First – to read between the lines of assumptions and regulations. Much of the assumptions linked to illegality and drug use have proven to be a convenient narrative to disengage with informality and small-scale waste collectors. These assumptions have become stereotypes that make it easier to marginalise low-income settlements and their rights, to the extent that the current low income urban housing programmes in Sri Lanka have shifted towards involuntary relocation. Scaling up involves rethinking municipal regulations on land use, while also actively reaching out to minority or vulnerable communities that may be engaged in the informal trade of waste.

Secondly, while project interventions may push for coproduction, there do exist parallel economies of waste. For example, in North Colombo, an agglomeration of settlements exists in Wattala, within an informal economy of land reclamation. In a low-lying area prone to flooding, residents and informal landlords purchase construction waste to increase the level of the land before (and even annually, after) construction, while several houses are visibly sinking due to the settlement of the soil. Understanding and analysing these parallel economies of ‘informal’ land reclamation and markets is relevant – as they potentially compete with processes of coproduction that projects such as MWRP may wish to support, while trapping communities in cyclical poverty – often so, with the influence of individuals with access to institutional power.

Finally, how may interventions build a discourse that moves beyond assumptions or existing formal-informal collaborations of clientelism, to instead recognise the agency of communities?

_________________________________________________________________________

Ruchika Lall

Ruchika Lall participated in the third wave of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme. During her time in the programme, she was embedded with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ruchika is also an alumna of the DPU’s MSc Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) programme.

_________________________________________________________________________

Reference

Fiori, J., 2014. Informal City: Design as Political Engagement. In: T. Verebes, ed. Masterplanning the adaptive city: computational urbanism in the twenty first century. London: Routledge, pp. 40-47.

[1] Community Waste Banks exchange recyclable waste for incentives in cash or kind, to promote separation of waste and recycling at the household level.

[2] Scaling up seen “as not a quantitative process but a change in the quality of the city itself and in the nature of its political institutions; and as a political restructuring of urban institutionalities through synergies and contradictions across processes operating at multiple dimensions and scales, including social, economic and political” (Fiori, 2014)

 

[3] Urban Regeneration Programme of the Urban Development Authority, Sri Lanka

Finding Spaces of Longitudinal Learning and Institutional Reflexivity

ucfurla28 September 2018

Also by Ruchika Lall – Reflections on Waste, Informality, and Scaling Up

It is the Sinhala – Tamil new year, and my colleague (and friend) at Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre warmly invites me to her hometown, an eight-hour picturesque train journey from Colombo into the Sri Lankan countryside. For almost a week, I have the good fortune to meet her entire family and witness the rituals of celebration that bring multiple generations together in the same space to celebrate the new year. And in this celebration, I see how my friend explains to her Attamma (grandmother) about her work and her life in the city, as Attamma listens proudly. In the evening Attamma teaches us how to prepare her recipe for chicken curry. In many subtle examples, I witness, as is the case with numerous South Asian families, how families find spaces for conversation to share generational wisdom, and yet balance this with the freshness of the aspirations of the younger generation. Embedded in these rituals that make Sri Lanka – is an acknowledgement of the value of learnings compounded over time, and an evolving openness to new ways of living.

Move back into the changing urban-scape of development in Colombo, and my reason for being at Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, through the DPU-ACHR-CAN internship programme. I wonder – as families continuously learn to balance and juggle old values and new – can Sri Lanka’s urban institutions similarly evoke a similar dialogue between old approaches and new aspirations – through spaces of institutional learning and reflexive conversations?

I write about longitudinal learnings, because Sri Lanka has a unique past of urban housing programmes[1] – one which saw people centred urban development processes piloted, and then scaled nationally. These are approaches and conversations that the Development Planning Unit has very much been a part of[2]. Between 1980 and 2010, more than 90 percent of the classified underserved [3] settlements have benefitted from some form of upgrading[4]. However, times are changing in Colombo, and the current Urban Regeneration Programme (URP) seems intent on disregarding this legacy. In a distinct move away from earlier in-situ development models, the URP now looks to relocate settlements that have often engaged in years of upgrading processes, in a rush to transform Colombo into a world-class city, newly emerged after decades of civil conflict.

Figure 1 : The changing skyline of the city of Colombo

In 2018, the pulse of urban development in Colombo is rather urgent and anxious. Indeed, in the anxiety to create a strategic regional hub of finance and the knowledge economy[5], there has been much loss of institutional memory. This is paradoxical as such memory can be an inherently rich resource of learning through longitudinal reflection. In terms of housing policy, there is much merit in revisiting the past to reflect on the impacts, challenges and limitations of earlier housing programmes and asking how can these learnings inform current housing programmes?

This summer, the DPU field trip for MSc Urban Development Planning (UDP) students, facilitated by Sevanatha, attempted to recreate a space of reflection on settlement upgrading and relocation processes in Colombo. Founded in 1989 as an intermediary NGO between the state and communities, at a time when the state was clearly recognised as an enabler of people-led housing processes, Sevanatha were uniquely positioned to intermediate this project. Along with the experience of navigating almost three decades of shifting policies, overtime, Sevanatha have cultivated strong relationships with actors from within the state, communities, academia and civil society, making it possible to bring together multiple perspectives and open up a space of reflection on longitudinal learning.

Figure 2: Nawagampura

Figure 2: Muwadora Uyana

For two weeks in May, UDP students were able to ground their research in three unique sites across Colombo – Nawagampura, Muwadora Uyana and Mayura Place.

  1. Nawagampura: Originally emerging as a planned relocation site in the 1980s, the interceding years have seen waves of informal appropriation, incremental self and state supported upgrading, transform Nawagampura into a community that belies its classification as an underserved Whilst not without its challenges, Nawagampura bears little resemblance to the underserved caricature put forward as justification for the URP.
  2. Muwadora Uyana: A multi-block, high-rise housing scheme, in which residents arrived from multiple relocation sites across the city, Muwadora Uyana is a recent URP project. The scheme offers many layers to unpack, including significant variance in the way in which each family (indeed each family member) experiences relocation.
  3. Mayura Place: Although officially existing as a URP relocation project, the twelve-storey development of Mayura Place could also be reclassified as an in-situ upgrading project given the site’s proximity to residents’ original dwellings and the active political engagement of residents throughout the process. This site offered a window into the value of maintaining social networks during relocation, whilst also opening up conversations concerning how different design, planning, engagement and management processes can impact residential experiences of relocation.

Figure 4: Multi-stakeholder Panel discussion at Moratuwa University

Within the three sites, and the larger context of urban development in Colombo, it was possible to observe a shift in the priorities and mandates of urban development institutions. With the facilitation of Sevanatha, a workshop and multi-stakeholder panel discussion was convened at the University of Moratuwa. The workshop enabled reflections from government professionals, academia and housing rights activists – each offering a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities of upgrading and relocation processes in the city of Colombo. Through these discussions, it was interesting to note how state programmes did engage in an internal reflection process that fed back into individual programme designs – for example changes to the apartment design across phases of the URP. The discussions however also highlighted the need for a space of cross-learning and longitudinal reflection on the shift in housing policies and programme approaches more broadly, taking a view that spans much further than electoral cycles or project tenure. As a long-term actor in Sri Lanka witness to these shifts over the last three decades, and as an intermediary between the state, civil society and local communities, Sevanatha has an important convening role to play in extending these much-needed reflections on urban development.

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Ruchika Lall

Ruchika Lall participated in the third wave of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme. During her time in the programme, she was embedded with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ruchika is also an alumna of the DPU’s MSc Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) programme

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[1] Such as the Million Houses programme and the Urban Settlements Improvement project

[2] DPU engagement in the Million Houses Programme was started by Desmond McNeil, Patrick Wakely, Babar Mumtaz, Ronaldo Ramirez and Caren Levy. This involved capacity building with the Sri Lanka National Housing Development Authority, with funding from ODA from 1984-1990

[3] The term underserved settlements is specific to Sri Lanka’s classification of areas identified in the late 90s as low income with various constraints regarding access to basic services and tenure.

[4] As documented by a survey in 2012 by Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, Colombo Municipal Council and Homeless International

[5] Western Region Megapolis Master Plan

Between Upgrading and Resettlement: Fieldwork reflections from locations in Colombo

Tim Wickson17 September 2018

This post was prepared by Balint Horvarth, Mateo Lu, Fernando Toro, Nada Sallam and Karlene Stubbs with editorial support from Tim Wickson and Barbara Lipietz

(Ruth McLeod) Rapid urban development in Colombo

 

Introduction

It is not every day that 35 post-graduate students from 21 countries have the opportunity to travel to a new country, partner with local organisations and policy makers and learn from the urban policies and practices at play there. In May 2018, this opportunity was presented to us through our MSc Urban Development Planning field trip. After months of desk-based preparation, we left London for Colombo (Sri Lanka) with only one certainty in mind: we were going to learn, not to solve. Our ambition was to listen to the city and reflect on what the different voices were telling us.

Guided throughout by Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), our work in Colombo focussed on exploring upgrading and resettlement in the context of an active state-led Urban Regeneration Programme (URP). The URP aims to deliver a slum-free Colombo by 2023 by moving 75,000 households out of so-called under-served settlements and into high-rise housing projects. Implemented by the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the programme’s financial model rests on a combination of end-user repayments and market cross-subsidy generated by the release of liberated land for private sector development.

Working in collaboration with recent planning, sociology and social work graduates from three local universities, our research benefited from in-depth discussions with affected local communities; face to face meetings with government officials; as well as structured inputs from a host of Colombo based experts and activists. Based on these experiences, we were able to build up nuanced understandings of how urban and housing policies operate at different scales in Colombo; problematise the under-served settlement and slum-free discourses; and begin exploring cracks for alternative urban development approaches in the city.

During our time in Colombo, we were encouraged to blend an appreciation of theory with an awareness of how urban practices get materialised in the city. This approach helped unpack relationships between different actors; and exposed the differential impacts of vested interests and influences at different scales. We worked with communities from across three sites in Colombo – Muwadora Uyana, Nawagampura and Mayura Place – and each contributed uniquely to our picture of the city.

(Nada Sallam) Solid waste collection in Nawagampura

 

Site 1: Muwadora Uyana

In the case of Muwadora Uyana, we chose to investigate how the Urban Regeneration Programme had impacted the quality of life enjoyed by those families and individuals who had been moved from settlements across the city into the high-rise housing complex that is Muwadora Uyana. As far as possible, and given the limited research time available, our (action) research and propositions were guided by the ideas and themes that arose from initial discussions with residents themselves. This approach enabled us to identify what quality of life meant to the relocated residents; avoiding the imposition of a normative framing.

High-rise housing blocks in Muwadora Uyana

 

Building out from this embedded definition; we pursued a mixed-methods approach comprised of floor by floor spatial analysis; participatory mapping with young people and children; and semi-structured interviews with over 30 residents. In so doing, we were able to unpack why it was that some people who are relocated into high-rises are able to thrive, whilst others struggle to survive.

As well as highlighting the importance of embedded research and face-to-face dialogue with effected communities, this project served to challenge the assumption that all people have the capacity to adapt to living in high-rise conditions. In fact, for many groups and individuals, their agency for adaptation is limited. As such, by introducing agency as a crucial determinant of quality of life, our research problematised the fairness argument often-used to defend a relocation policy based on standardised, one-size-fits-all apartments. Indeed, we argue that this reframing creates space to consider alternative options for both current and future residents alike.

 

Site 2: Nawagampura

Nawagampura is a thriving neighbourhood originally established as a relocation site under the Million Houses Programme in the 1980s. Over the past 35 years, the settlement has evolved and consolidated, stitching its residents into the fabric of the city. However, despite its centrality, the buzz of daily economic activity, and residents’ access to a range of services and facilities, the neighbourhood is still classified as underserved. In the main, this classification relates to the fact that many residents still lack secure tenure; although a number of structures also lack individual toilets and others suffer from periodic flooding issues.

(Nada Sallam) Municipal canal cleaning in Nawagampura

 

The diversity in residents’ experiences and opinions of their neighbourhood served as an interesting point of departure for our research. In the context of state-led efforts to transform Colombo into a world-class city, all neighbourhoods classified by the state as underserved have been slated for future relocation. Though not under imminent threat of relocation, Nawagampura presented a rare opportunity to challenge the stereotypical depiction of underserved settlements and communities that underpins much of the state’s thinking around resettlement in Colombo.

Working directly with residents, community-leaders, and members of resident-associations we sought to provide a more nuanced picture of the challenges and opportunities associated with living in settlements such as Nawagampura. By helping reframe underserved settlements as complex and varied communities, this approach allowed for the development of grounded strategies in defence of in-situ upgrading as a just alternative to one-size-fits-all relocation. 

 

Site 3: Mayura Place

Mayura Place (or Lakhmutu Sevana), sits at the edge of an area previously dominated by textile mills and weavers’ colonies. With the wider site long since shuttered and cleared for luxury real estate development, Mayura Place development is often depicted as a success story of the UDA’s Urban Regeneration Programme’s (URP); an exemplary demonstration of how underserved working-class communities can be successfully resettled into purpose-built high-rise towers. However, as our research unfolded, a more complex picture began to emerge.

(Ruth McLeod) Inside Mayura Place

 

On the one hand, the experience of Mayura Place residents reinforces the value of keeping communities together during relocation from horizontal settlements to high-rise apartments, as well as relocating communities as close as possible to their original homes. Such an approach, contrasting with larger URP projects that drew residents from across Colombo and constituted new communities through a lottery allocation process, has clearly limited the disruptive impact of relocation on the social fabric of Mayura Place and offers valuable learnings for the UDA.

On the other hand, a number of issues were brought up in discussion with inhabitants, questioning the ‘success story’ of Mayura Place. In particular, many residents are grappling with the shortage of common and private space necessary to realise a dignified existence, whilst the appropriateness of high-rise living for certain household industries was raised by a number of our interlocutors. Importantly too, the extent to which the burden of management and maintenance is born equally between residents and the UDA remains unresolved. Meanwhile, there remain serious issues regarding the fact that not all of the original Mayura Place community received rehousing in this block, due to an inconsistency between the UDA’s apartment for a house replacement policy and the reality of multi-family occupancy in former dwellings. Additionally, for those who have received replacement housing, many still lack official documentation recognising their right to secure tenure status.

Whilst our discussions with the UDA hinted at an apparent openness to debate and institutional learning, it remains to be seen how far this is constrained by the programme’s overarching ambition to liberate commercially valuable land and beautify Colombo. Overall, when considering the exceptionality of Mayura Place within the UDA’s broader urban regeneration programme, it is important to look beyond the façade and embrace this case in all its complexity.

 

Closing Reflections

Working across three distinct communities in Colombo provided a unique insight into the overlapping processes of regeneration, resettlement and upgrading at play in Colombo. Whether working in Muwadora Uyana – a labyrinthine high-rise housing complex home to 5,000 residents from across Colombo; Nawagampura – a vibrant working-class neighbourhood that is still classified as underserved despite significant upgrading initiatives; or Mayura Place – a former weavers colony now verticalised and stacked within Colombo’s largest luxury residential enclave – it was clear that the voice of Colombo’s diverse communities was almost entirely missing from formal plan-making in the city.

Delving into this issue further, our time in Colombo focussed on exploring and elaborating the cracks for alternative policy and practice to gain a foothold in the city, proposing grounded strategies for change and laying a foundation for future fieldwork projects to build upon. Example strategies included:

  • Community-led Building Management – Increasing Transparency through Community Contracting: Building on Sevanatha’s existing experience with community-contracting models, this strategy was proposed for two reasons. First, to recognise the capacity of relocated residents to take ownership of common areas within high-rise developments; and second, to increase transparency around the way in which UDA-controlled maintenance funds are currently deployed.
  • Learning Platforms – Bringing People to Policy: This strategy was designed to help systematise and extend the existing learning practices employed by the UDA through the creation of multi-actor learning platforms. These platforms would institutionalise multi-directional communication between actors from the state (UDA, Colombo Municipal Council etc.), representatives from academic, activist and civil society organisations, and local communities. By bringing together conversations and relationships that currently exist in isolation, this strategy aims to build synergies between actors helping identify and resolve issues within existing housing stock and planning processes and allowing the lived experience of residents to inform forward looking policy and design decisions.
  • Changing Planning Language – Challenging the discourse of Underserved Settlements: Building on Sevanatha’s earlier mapping of Colombo’s underserved settlements, this strategy proposed the development of neighbourhood profiles (based on resident survey data, asset and risk mapping, documentation of upgrading etc.). These profiles would then be used to both challenge the idea that all underserved settlements suffer from an identical set of challenges; and strengthen the negotiation position of communities in the context of relocation.

Embedded in the lived experience of three specific communities, the tentative strategies proposed during this project sprung from a common source – the need to reintroduce complexity, diversity and fluidity into a planning context intent on sorting Colombo into the static, binary categories of underserved and regenerated; world class and working class; planners and the planned for. By failing to account for the multiple realities and capacities of Colombo residents, this reductive framing shuts down the space to think differently about urban development in Colombo and encourages the proliferation of top-down, standardised development models. In contrast, a reframed understanding of Colombo’s communities as dynamic, diverse, capable and connected creates room to advocate, adapt and evolve planning processes towards the achievement of more just, people-centred development. This reading of Colombo planning resonates strongly with ongoing work by academics, activists and civil society organisations in the city, some of whom are already actively engaged in efforts to develop and convey this message onwards to decision-makers. In this way, the fieldwork project enabled the DPU to add its voice to a growing call for more socially, spatially and environmentally just development.

Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude for the fantastic support provided by the MSc UDP staff team as well as all of our project partners in Colombo. In particular, special thanks is owed to Chularathna Herath (Executive Director of Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre) and Ruchika Lall (DPU alumna and DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professional).

Cultura Negada: Reflecting on Racialised Urban Violence and Practices of Resistance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Federica Risi9 July 2018

Prominent academic debates around violence in the city most often seem to be concerned with how structural economic and political drivers codify violence into the urban space. To appropriate Harvey’s terminology, with how urbanisation by dispossession – in other words marginalisation – of urban groups contributes to increasing crime rates and gangs-related violence. It is only in recent decades that ‘institutional’ abuse  – perpetrated by police forces under the blind eye of the Hobbesian state – as well as more structural forms of selective and – most often –  race-based violence are confronted[1]. And yet as a category of analysis of the urban, violence emerges as a causally less linear and more nuanced construct.

Measurability of course is an issue and deserves being questioned. What indicators are taken into account when defining urban violence? What types of data are considered? Who collects them? How are they read and  disseminated? The action research conducted in Salvador, as part of the MSc Social Development Practice overseas field trip, has evidenced how municipal – and national – indexes reflecting increasing rates of homicides as related to organised-crime, robbery and drug trafficking overlook important aspects of the realities of violence lived everyday by vulnerable urban communities. Vulnerability on its end also warrant a discussion on methodology. Drawing from the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition in urban planning, vulnerability is here understood as socially (re)produced and as related to asset ownership (Moser, 1996; drawing on Sen, 1981) and the capacity to cope with shocks; whether environmental, economic, political or all of these combined.

In this blog series, I undress some reflections on how Salvador, the blackest city of Brazil, epitomises such a nuanced appreciation of how violence is urbanised, that is, how it becomes spatially codified in the city;  and in turn is itself an agent of urbanisation. Graffiti[2] is offered as an entry point for the analysis.

 

Aesthetics of inequality. View of Saramandaia, Salvador, Brazil.


In context..

The Bahian capital is a city of contrasts and embodies the clash between the gentrifying force of globalisation as it manifests in the built environment and locally grounded social action reclaiming identity as forgotten history. Identity as ethnicity. Identity as part of the rich African heritage of Brazil and its institutional neglecting. As Kwame Dixon (2016) aptly elucidates in his book Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the country abolished legal slavery in 1888, but provided no institutional mechanism to free former slaves from racial discrimination. Almost a hundred years later, when Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, burgeoning blocos afros[3], black social and political movements revendicating Afro-Diasporic consciousness emerged to seek racial justice and equality, to claim their ‘right to the city’ as a right to live and exist in the city.

 

Despite having one of the oldest and largest black populations of the Americas, Salvador has never elected a black mayor nor has the Bahian State chosen a black governor to date (Dixon, 2016). And, if urban violence seems to follow the racial and spatially confined pattern of poverty in the city, with residents of majority black, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods being more likely to be killed than their better-off, white neighbours (Chaves Viana et al, 2011; Huggings, 2004); institutional memory as well as public opinion as shaped by the media exert more intangible, narrative forms of violence on these vulnerable groups. These narrative forms of dispossessions become activating agents of citizenship and identity revindication from within the city.

“Minha Vida” – My Life. Graffiti in Barra District, Salvador, Brazil.


I wanted to talk about cultural syncretism, I ended up taking about violence…

It would be amiss to document and account for the richness and multitude of cultural manifestations in Salvador without engaging with how these are shaped by violence in the city, and how, in turn, they impinge on it.

A graffiti tour of Ladeira da Preguiça, literally “Slope of Laziness” helped vividly retrace the institutionalisation of racialised violence in Salvador. In the 17th century, the road, which historically connected the port area[1] (cidade baixa) to the upper city[2] (cidade alta), was used by African slaves to carry goods on their shoulders while being shouted at “to move faster” (Moreira, 2018). With the development of more easily accessible routes in modern[3] Salvador, the Ladeira and its people were abandoned by public power. The area, as a result of its narrow streets and vacant warehouses, slowly lent itself to organised crime and, most recently, to drug-trafficking.

In recent years, the stigma[1] of violence and insecurity –which is almost as damaging as violence itself– eventually provided the perfect justification for the municipality to push forward a privatisation project that was meant to regenerate –and gentrify– the area. Local moradores (“residents”), however, joined forces and, in 2013, collectively mobilised to rehabilitate the Ladeira, reconstructing collapsed mansions and painting decaying façades with colourful graffiti referencing the African Diaspora; exposing Brazil’s institutionalised culture of exclusion as a means to call for the city to remember and for reclaiming their housing rights. A vibrant cultural centre was founded by residents themselves, Centro Cultural “Que Ladeira é Essa?”, to breath a culture of resistance through art. By calling attention to Brazil’s rich African heritage, the centre offers classes of  capoeira, afro-samba dance and percussions as well as painting and graffiti workshops. Cultural offerings then become an element of aggregation, an instrument for articulating a powerful counter-narrative to deconstruct stereotypes.

To say that civic action is a reaction to violence would be simplistic and necessarily reductionist. Nevertheless, the tradition of survivalism through art and symbolism[2] has permeated the urbanisation of Salvador as emerging from the oppression and structural exclusion of black populations within the city (for a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Brazilian popular culture read: Assunção, 2003).

 

Reflecting on causality

On the one hand, local practices of resistance rooted in the syncretism of Salvador’s condemned[3] neighbourhoods are an unapologetic expression of resistance to the stereotyping narrative of the city. A violent narrative of violence; one that lexically and imaginatively reduces majority black-afro-descendant communities to urban realities of degradation, crime, and carencias (“deprivations”) . A narrative that is reminiscent of colonial oppression and a revivified vehicle of neoliberal domination.

Capoeira dancer. Graffiti in Pelourinho.

 

On the other, it is precisely because of this concatenated cycle of oppression-marginalisation that non-white urban communities find themselves more exposed to violence stemming from their surrounding, built as well as non-built, environments.

 

In this direction, there is room for critical urban theory to expand its scope to explore how violence – and even more so the fear of it – shapes city making. In fact, if market forces and political discourses are key determining factors in the urbanisation of violence, in its physical as well as narrative manifestations, violence too influences how people (re-)claim the city, how they move inside the city, use collective spaces, build or adapt their houses.

 

Our co-investigation with local urban collectives and social movements in Salvador has revealed how urban violence and fear thereof shape the social production of urban habitats and community practices around culture, housing, use and production of collective space and mobility. Further considerations and findings from our field trip will be collated in a report produced with our partner, the research group Lugar Comum, and published in the coming autumn.

 

References

Assunção, M.R. (2003). “From Slave to Popular Culture: The Formation of Afro-Brazilian Art Forms in Nineteenth-Century Bahia and Rio de Janeiro”. Iberoamericana, Vol.3, No.12, pp.159-176.

Dixon, K. (2016). Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. University Press of Florida.

Huggings, M.K. (2000). “Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility”, Social Justice, Vol.27, No.2, Issue 80, Criminal Justice and Globalization at the New Millennium (Summer 2000), pp. 113-134.

Manco, T., Lost Art, and Neelon, C. (2005). Graffiti Brasil .Thames & Hudson: London.

Moreira, W (2018). Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Moser, C.O.N. (1996). “The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies”. World Development, Vol.26, No.1, January 1998, pp.1-19.

Moser, C.O.N. (2004). “Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap”. Environment and Urbanization, Vol.16, No.2, October 2004.

Resident. (2018). Interview. Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

 

Federica Risi is the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the MSc Social Development Practice. Herself a DPU graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development, Federica has experience in participatory action research focused on urban risks. She is also a Research Associate at the Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), where she is conducting an investigation on South-South Cooperation between Peru, Brazil and the Horn region.

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[1] Residents reported that identifying as black and “saying you are from the Ladeira, it’s like admitting you are a criminal”, which “[…] stops you to get a job and continue education” (Resident, 09/05/2018).

[2] Capoeira  and Candomblé rituals for example, emerged as practice for African slaves to compensate for the loss of identity (Assunção, 2003, p.160).

[3] Carnival Blocks.

[4] In the sense of being publicly perceived as unsafe and rife with violence.

[5] Where Portuguese ships would arrive to deliver materials and goods, historically, the part of the city dedicated to commercial activities.

[6] Here, were established the main government offices and churches; also where the aristocracy resided.

[7] Referring to the end of Portuguese colonial domination and Brazil’s independence in 1822.

[8] In the October 2004 No.2 Issue Vol.16 of Environment and Urbanization, with the article ‘Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap’,  Caroline O.N. Moser draws on Galtung to extend the notion of violence as going “beyond situations of overt brutality to include more implicit forms such as exploitation, exclusion, inequality and injustice” (p.6). In this sense “…violence [can be] built into the structure [of society,] …show[ing] up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969 cited in Moser, 2004, p.6).

[9] Drawings and writings scribbled or painted through a variety of techniques on public walls; “a vehicle for [the excluded] of the city to assert their existence and self-worth, and to do it loudly” (Manco et al., 2005).

 

The role of architectural knowledge vis-a-vis urban challenges. Nurturing the dialogue between educators and future practitioners

ucfuast21 February 2018

With more than forty-five participants, the workshop and training “People-centred design” held at Yangon Technological University (YTU) between 13th-15th February brought together students, community architects and academics from Yangon, Mandalay, Bangkok and London, consolidating strategic partnerships and adding new layers of engagement between DPU, YTU, Silpakorn University and the Asian Coalition Housing Rights – Community Architects Network. Stemming from a series of discussions emerged last year around the nature and the possibility of an equal partnership, the aim of the three-day multi-target initiative was to support YTU in building the capacity of young professionals and staff to understand and engage with current urban challenges, in particular low income communities’ housing problems, while sharing theoretical and methodological insights in light of the three-year engagement with the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development at DPU.

People-centred design workshop – final group picture

The initiative aimed at fostering the reflexivity of students and staff towards the identification of knowledge needs and pedagogical challenges. The workshop exposed the participants to low income communities, their technologies, practices and agency. While experiencing the city – the ‘informal’ self-built city – students were tasked to observe and document material and immaterial aspects; as well as reflect upon their positionality. Learning how to critically observe, listen, reflect and narrate ultimately led to re-questioning the role of the practitioner/architect, its attitudes and skills. The training helped participants to reflect on how the new urban question is calling upon the recalibration of the architectural practice, and how this reflects in architectural education in terms of skills/knowledge/attitudes across different pedagogies. Urban challenges such as rapid informal urbanisation and the reproduction of spatial injustice have to be investigated and tackled by embracing a new and radical mode of practice. If challenges are utterly complex, is the old-fashion market-driven technical-based knowledge sufficient? Architecture and urban design should be seen as a series of processes that engage with political and social realities. What type of spatio-political knowledge is required within a studio then? The failure of modern architecture and urbanism in addressing people’s needs has shown the limits of thinking the built environment as an authoritative and autonomous discipline. Anyone can build. Anyone can be an architect. Whose creativity counts then? This calls upon re-questioning the role of the expert and the way in which discourses of expertise are constituted in particular contexts.

People-centred design workshop – brainstorming

Initially involved in separate activities, staff and students ended up together in a conclusive participatory reflection on the role of the of the knowledge in architectural and urban design practice. While discussing about skills, attitudes and knowledges, one of the participants asked “What are the right shoes for an architect?” looking down at the poster on the floor, representing a human body, possibly that of an architect and its embodied knowledges. Watson, Odendaal, Duminy et a., in their 2014 “The Planner in Dirty Shoes” would have argued that the right type of shoes entirely depends on “the unique ability (…) to take context into account and to get close to reality”. Indeed, architectural knowledge is situated, as it emerges from particular contexts of application, with and within their own theoretical frameworks, methods of research and practice. And architectural knowledge is relational, as knowledge production and learning are necessarily defined within relative positions, in conversation with existing discourses, material processes and the socially constructed and mediated structures of power. It is through unpacking these relational dimensions that we make sense of urban objects and processes, and identify opportunities for positive transformation. Finally, architectural knowledge is reflexive, especially with regard to the role and position of architects working within people-centred processes. It calls for a constant reflection upon and reinvention of the self and the other. Situated, relational and reflexive, three pedagogical challenges that foster a constitutive role for architectural knowledge in addressing spatial injustice.

People-centred design workshop – Supitcha Tovivich lecturing on What creativity counts

Far from being a narcissistic reflection on the disciplinary and professional role, the three-day activity enabled the encounter between pedagogical needs – shaped by new urban challenges, competences and methods. Delving into what it takes to make an architect, the training proved that education can be changed in a participatory way – meeting the needs of the students, a demand-led approach to curriculum change.

The “People-centred design” workshop and training is a three-day activity held in Yangon between 13-15th February 2018 at Yangon Technological University (YTU). The initiative is funded by UCL’s Global Engagement Funds and DPU’s TAS funds; organised and coordinated by DPU (Giovanna Astolfo and Camillo Boano) in collaboration with YTU and Association of Myanmar Architects – AMA (Ma Wah Wah); facilitated by Community Architects Network – CAN (Witee Wisuthumporn) along with Bithukar Community Platform (CBP) and DPU/ACHR/CAN interns (Saptarshi Mitra and Shoko Sakuma); with the participation and inputs from international guest lecturers Supitcha Tovivich (Silpakorn University, Bangkok), Catalina Ortiz (DPU) and Ma Pwint (YTU).