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Learning about urban risk

Adriana EAllen11 August 2016

Originally published by CDKN

Different forms of rational and experiential knowledge underpin the way we learn about the city; the way we discern where is safe and unsafe, what is just and unjust, and what realities – as well as whose – coexist in its everyday life. As argued by Colin McFarlane in Learning the City, this knowledge of the city is not something that urbanites either possess or lack. Rather, it emerges from the process of making sense of the city, in which urban dwellers reproduce or contest data and information, as well as beliefs, discourses and practices. Furthermore, the learning process is not completely internal to individual women and men, but rather shaped and reshaped by multiple interactions with other people, places, stories, images and imaginations.

This is the first of two interlinked articles that reflect on the insights on public learning gained through the action-research project cLIMA sin Riesgo. Focusing on Lima, the world’s second largest desert metropolis, the project explores the conditions that produce and reproduce vicious risk accumulation cycles, or ‘urban risk traps.’ It looks at how and where risk traps materialise, and with what consequences for women and men living in two contrasting areas: Barrios Altos, located in the historic city of Lima, and José Carlos Mariátegui, situated in the poorest and most densely populated district in the periphery of the city (Allen et al, 2015). In these areas, most local dwellers live in conditions of poverty, marginalisation and high vulnerability to everyday risks and small-scale episodic disasters. In 2015, both areas were among those declared under emergency due to the forecasted impacts of the warm phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The ENSO cycle – both El Niño and La Niña – causes global changes in temperatures and rainfall, which for local residents means worsening everyday risks and episodic disasters threatening human life and wellbeing, as well as man-made and ecological infrastructure.

Figure 1: Living in risk in the centre and Figure 2 (below) Living in risk in the periphery of Lima

Figure 1: Living in risk in the centre and Figure 2 (below) Living in risk in the periphery of Lima

The project approaches ‘public learning’ as a means to reframe the way in which everyday risk is perceived, experienced and addressed, in order to promote concerted and strategic interventions to build just urban resilience. This piece reflects on how such learning can be deepened when those directly exposed to everyday risks participate in mapping and surveying their own neighbourhoods (Lambert and Poblet, 2016).

Learning from the barrio: From research beneficiaries to knowledge producers

Learning about urban risk is a complex process, requiring individuals to anticipate potential dangers before they occur. Furthermore, while many urbanites might be aware of the potential threats of large-scale events such as earthquakes, the risks underpinning the everyday lives of marginalised people often go unseen. Paradoxically, the experience of everyday risks is often invisible to those who are most exposed to them, and thus internalised as something that is part of life. This is the case for instance, when local dwellers believe that living without water and sanitation or negotiating their everyday life through the steep slopes is part of the price they have to pay to remain in the city. cLIMA sin Riesgo starts from the assumption that everyday risks need to be learnt spatially both by those who experience them and those who aim to address them. This requires the inclusion of the lived experiences, exposure and perceptions of those who are most vulnerable to them at the scale of the neighbourhood (‘barrio‘) and the household. Between July and November 2015, the team conducted a comprehensive participatory survey that covered 700 households – about a third of the total households found in 12 informal settlements in José Carlos Mariátegui and in the rented multi-family housing units (‘quintas’) of Barrios Altos.

Local women and men joined a research team combing the neighbourhoods through the application of a geo-referenced questionnaire. Using accessible smartphone technologies such as Epicollect+[i], they gathered data on types of risks affecting dwellers in each area, what makes some households more vulnerable than others and how people respond to these conditions to cope, mitigate or prevent actual and potential impacts. The survey offered insight into the capacities of local dwellers to act individually, collectively and with external organisations. The process allowed those taking part in the survey – both as interviewers and interviewees – to make sense of common experiences but also different realities confronting people in the same area. Furthermore, zooming into the household and out into the wider scales’ of each area and the city revealed many of the processes and actions that produce and reproduce risk traps.

Figure 2: Testimony from a woman participating in the survey in José Carlos Mariátegui: “We worry about the settlement, but we are not always aware of what happens behind our back… With the drones[ii] we were able to understand how land traffickers are operating in the area”

Figure 2: Testimony from a woman participating in the survey in José Carlos Mariátegui: “We worry about the settlement, but we are not always aware of what happens behind our back… With the drones[ii] we were able to understand how land traffickers are operating in the area”

In Barrios Altos, for instance, we recorded the quiet process by which many of the multi-family structures that are part of the cultural heritage of the city are being turned into warehouses that store heavy containers that often provoke the collapse of buildings. We also captured the process of quiet eviction in which pipes are intentionally broken to make dwelling impossible, thus forcing tenants out of the quintas and making it possible to demolish and redevelop the area for more lucrative and speculative purposes.

In José Carlos Mariátegui, zooming from the level of the household and local community (‘Agrupación Familiar’) into the wider political geography of the settlements’ slopes revealed how urban risk traps are exacerbated by the actions of land traffickers who, through the illegal appropriation and sale of land, urbanise the upper areas of the slopes, resulting in frequent rockslides and landslides that affect those living below.

It is said that ‘we live and learn’, but can we reframe our learning of the experiences of others, faraway from our own everyday lives? A follow up piece (coming soon) will reflect on this question and on how public learning might reveal the unseen, helping us to learn urban risk beyond our lived experiences and to be part of transformative change.

To learn more about the project, or to expand the ongoing learning process to other cities, please register on the bilingual website of the project at www.climasinriesgonet and/or contact:

Figure 3: Participatory mapping process in the centre of the city

Figure 3: Participatory mapping process in the centre of the city

[i]Epicollect + is an open source smartphone application that enables the design of surveys and the georeferenced data gathering and its transferal onto GIS.

[ii] Drones are remote controlled airborne devices with cameras capturing up-to-date images. Although there is controversy about their application, if used sensitively, they can help advance the visualisation of typically disregarded realities. In ReMapLima, a project that preceded cLIMa sin Riesgo, drones were used to generate up-to-date images of both settlements which were later used as a cartographic base to geo-referenced the data gathered through the mapping process.

How friendships and networks matter for urban economic development

Naji PMakarem23 June 2016

Why do some cities perform so much better than others? According to new research from, Naji P. Makarem, it’s not just down to their resources – both human and physical – but also how people and organisations interact and work together. In studying social relations in business communities, he finds that while San Francisco’s diverse and connected social structure has allowed the Bay Area to withstand new economic challenges, Los Angeles’ comparable regional network has not been able to maintain its connectivity, which has led to relatively poorer economic outcomes for the city. 

 

“If I’ve learned anything in the last seven years, it’s that ideas live

less in the minds of individuals than in the interaction of communities”

(Fred Turner, 2006-p.VII)

 

Economists attribute economic performance – growth in output, employment and wages – to initial factor endowments, such as educated workers, patented inventions, lucrative industries, good infrastructure, property rights and excellent public services. This makes sense to the extent that cities with higher levels of these factors are undoubtedly better equipped to grow their economies and incomes. But if we stop to think how these factor endowments produce economic growth and respond to technological, market and political shocks, challenges and opportunities, the picture becomes more complex, dynamic and social.

 

A closer look reveals the diversity of individual and organisational actors in economic development processes. Such a sociological perspective focusses on individuals and their ideas, knowledge, cultures, world views, interactions and social relations; firms and their practices, strategies, cultures, structures, technologies, capabilities, networks and social responsibility; financial institutions and their lending practices and risk strategies; formal institutions and their laws, regulations, policies, public services, bureaucracy, infrastructure investments, incentives and power relations; and civic organisations such as charities, community-benefit organizations, private foundations, unions and business associations.

 

A dynamic perspective reveals how individuals and organisations interact to combine and re-combine ideas, knowledge, capabilities, assets and resources into novel combinations in pursuit of lucrative opportunities. Such interaction and re-combination in response to market challenges and opportunities is enabled and constrained by two intrinsically-linked aspects of institutions: The social networks in which actors are embedded, and their formal and informal ‘rules of the game’. Entrepreneurship and investments in a region emerge from this interaction and re-combination in the face of challenges and opportunities, steering urban industrial structures down specific industrial pathways, with its consequent impact on employment, wages and public revenues.

 

In a new study, I focus on one of these two institutional aspects of urban economies: The structure of social relations in high-end business communities. The economic sociology literature investigates how entrepreneurial and innovative contexts are associated with more connected, diverse and central social structures. While this has been researched using network analysis techniques at the scale of sub-regional industrial clusters, entrepreneurial communities and small cities, it has never been tested at the scale of large metropolitan regions.

 

To fill this gap in the literature, directorate research was used as a proxy for the social structure of the business community in two large metropolitan regions, the Bay Area and Southern California, whose per capita incomes diverged significantly between 1980 and 2010 (Table 1). This case selection within the State of California to a great extent controls for differences in formal government institutions, broad-stroke cultural and linguistic attributes, climate and geographic location, infrastructure, amenities and distance from the technological frontier.

 

Table 1 – Per Capita Incomes in the LA and Bay Area CMSAs, 1980 and 2010

Picture1

Source: Author’s calculations using BRR data.

My analysis reveals that both networks were almost identical and highly connected back in 1982. Figure 1 below shows that the largest component (a fully connected network of nodes, whereby each node is linked to at least one other node) in both networks included over 50 percent of the 70 sampled firms.

 

Figure 1 – LA and SF networks of board interlocks, 1980.

Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

 

Over the subsequent three decades of economic divergence however, their network structures also diverged. While the Bay Area’s maintained and even increased its level of connectivity, the LA region’s network fragmented by 2010, with a mere 20 percent of firms in its largest component (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2 – Percentage of sampled firms in largest component, by year, LA Vs SF

Source: Author‘s calculation, number of interlocked firms in each network‘s largest component as a percentage of all firms in the sample.

Source: Author‘s calculation, number of interlocked firms in each network‘s largest component as a percentage of all firms in the sample.

 

Figure 3 shows the two networks in 2010, clearly highlighting the connectivity in the Bay Area (SF) and the fragmentation in Southern California (LA).

 

Figure 3 – LA and SF networks of board interlock, 2010

Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

 

Turning to the degree of diversity, the two networks were found to be equally diverse in 1982, however by 2010 while the Bay Area network had maintained its high level of diversity, LA’s had declined substantially, despite having more industries represented in its 2010 network. While the Bay Area’s high-end corporate social structure maintained its high level of connectivity and diversity over the three decades of economic divergence, LA’s became less connected and less diverse.

 

The analysis of centrality of business-civic associations, whose role it is to represent the needs of the business community, is equally revealing. The results on a broadened network (which included the 50 largest Private Foundations in each region) shows the Bay Area Council in the Bay Area to be the most central organization in the network, with an nBetweeness score of 18 percent (i.e. The Bay Area Council lies on 18 percent of the shortest paths between all node pairs in the largest component). This is three times greater than the LA Chamber of Commerce, the most central business-civic organisation in the LA network with an nBetweeness score of 5.86 percent. The Bay Area Council arguably plays the role of an ‘anchor tenant’ within the region’s industrial social structure, connecting business leaders across industrial categories. No comparable business-civic organisation exists in LA.

 

The Bay Area’s connected and diverse social structure withstood the tumultuous challenges brought about by the New Economy, and successfully combined and re-combined its ideas, knowledge, capabilities, assets and resources in response to these challenges and opportunities. It successfully produced new firms and technologies that carved new industrial pathways in IT, biotechnology and supporting services such as venture capital and specialized legal services. The interactions behind such productive recombination were embedded in a connected, diverse and central high-end corporate social structure. LA’s comparable regional network on the other hand was unable to maintain its connectivity and diversity, and failed to productively combine and re-combine regional endowments in the face of a rapidly changing economic reality.

 

While my study sheds light on the network dimension of regional business institutions, our co-authored book investigates perceptions and world views of various public, private and civic actors, revealing further notable differences. Policy makers and business and civic leaders may draw from this research by focusing attention on the social architecture behind their industrial structures. Business-civic associations in particular may play a central role in bringing influential business leaders from across industries to interact and think about their regional economies and their collective challenges and opportunities.

 

This article is based on the paper, ‘Social networks and regional economic development: the Los Angeles and Bay Area metropolitan regions, 1980–2010’ in Environment and Planning C Government and Policy.

Disclaimer: This blog was also posted in USAPP (An LSE Blog)


 

Naji P. Makarem is co-director of the Msc. Urban Economic Development at the Bartlett School’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) at UCL, and a lecturer in Political Economy of Development.

New COP, New Targets, Newer opportunities for India to lower carbon emission

DaljeetKaur15 January 2016

The last quarter of 2015 marked the adoption of three big international agreements, The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and the Paris Agreement. Thus, the New Year – 2016 begins with great fervour and hope. The resolutions for the international community this year are more or less custom made – how to plan effectively to meet global commitments and achieve local targets. The world together has taken a leap into a promising 2016 to accomplish the ambitious goals set out to make development more sustainable. We have one extra day this year, to take that extra mile, to fulfil our commitments in lowering down global temperatures.

The recently concluded agreement at the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, reinforced the need to collectively act towards meeting global emission targets. The global climate agreement signed in Paris, commits to hold the global average temperature to “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. According to climate change experts the world needs to move off fossil fuels by 2050 to achieve the 2 degrees celsius limit.

India, the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China and America, is an important player in meeting the target of zero net carbon emissions between 2030 and 2050. India’s stand on common but differential responsibility in the climate politics was also seen in the Paris Conference. Despite this, we acknowledge that it has become imperative for India to take corrective measures and respond to the global call for local action to prevent a climate crisis.

Figure 1: Citizens of Delhi pledging to make their city pollution Free with the sign – Volunteers for the government

Figure 1: Citizens of Delhi pledging to make their city pollution Free with the sign – Volunteers for the government

Odd and Even Scheme in Delhi

In addition to the Prime Minister’s announcement of cutting carbon emissions by 2030 overall, the Delhi Government’s drive to reduce pollution by introducing new measures in cutting down vehicular emissions comes at an opportune time. While several oppose to the proposed measure of allowing vehicles with odd and even number plates to ply only on alternate days, many intellectuals feel that introduction of such strict laws will help abate pollution which has increased beyond permissible limits in Delhi.

Figure 2: Winter Smog in Delhi. Less than 500 meter visibility even at 10:00 am in the morning

Figure 2: Winter Smog in Delhi. Less than 500 meter visibility even at 10:00 am in the morning

Delhi is the most polluted city in the world. Late last year the levels of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5[1], the particle known to be most harmful to human health, were found to be 50 percent higher on Delhi roads at rush hour than during ambient air quality readings. Black carbon, a major pollutant, was found to be three times higher in Delhi. The experimental fifteen days of the odd/even formula, which started from 1st of Jan 2016, have shown obvious reduction in the vehicular traffic from many roads of Delhi. In addition, Delhi Government claims that levels of PM 2.5 have come down by 25-30% from the December 2015 monitored count. Despite these claims, there are many critiques of the scheme. The peak hour air quality readings presented, before and after the implementation of the scheme, are challenged on the basis of this year’s weather pattern, wind speed, temperatures, school holidays, etc.

[1] PM 2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs.

Figure 3: Peak hour traffic on Delhi Roads during usual days

Figure 3: Peak hour traffic on Delhi Roads during usual days

At such an early stage, it is hard to side with one opinion as there is merit in the argument presented by both sides, for and against. For such initiatives to be successful we not only need a comfortable and reliable public transportation systems but also stronger regulatory mechanisms. Government’s effort should be more on making an imperative shift from private to public transport rather than a forced transformation causing inconvenience to the public. The change needs to be brought over time, thus there is a need to focus on editing people’s choices toward a certain lifestyle. In other words, shifting consumer values from ownership to access.

Drivers of Change

At the same time, Government can adopt simpler drivers of change like introducing higher congestion taxes during peak hours, providing incentives to companies adopting flexible hours for their employees, encouraging car pooling by disallowing single passenger/driver car during office hours, well-connected & comfortable public transport system etc. In most European countries, this drive for choice editing has been termed as “pay-as-you-live” lifestyle, which adopts renting, sharing, gifting as a means to reduce per capita consumption.

Global civilisation has completed a full circle; with reduced resources, decision makers have to now reverse the growth curve. The continual demand for economic growth has always prompted countries to draft lenient environmental policies, much like how the critiques of Paris conference and the environmental activists’ world over, are describing the COP21 agreement. When our solutions to abate climate change or protect the Earth’s finite resources end with either development or growth, the failure is confirmed. We live on a finite planet with finite resources and one cannot envisage development without exploiting resources. Green Growth or Sustainable Development are incompatible as the world runs on a capitalist’s economy promoting higher consumption every year.

The problem we face today may not have a simple solution but a combination of many solutions. Decision makers as well as citizens, globally, have a vital role to play in reducing climate stress & environmental hazards simply by being informed and responsible. A way forward would be to adopt simple, innovative measures which necessarily only promotes lifestyle changes, especially from the rich in both the developing and the developed world.


Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at IPE Global Limited. Her interest lies in urban planning; urban reforms, environmental management; climate change and its mitigation & adaptation; knowledge management. Daljeet currently works as Associate Director, IPE Global an international development consulting group.

A bottom-up approach to heritage conservation: the case of Barrio Yungay in Santiago, Chile

Maria PSagredo Aylwin12 January 2016

Heritage has become a key element of the development of cities and an asset for urban renewal strategies. Historic neighbourhoods and cities have become valuable spaces because of their sense of place, the concentration of cultural activities that reflect local identities, and the increasing economic relevance of global cultural tourism (Bandarin and Van Oers, 2012). However, the production of heritage is not a neutral process. It implies a process of reinterpretation of the past in order to engage with the present. In consequence, it is also about challenging existing power relations and transforming how communities are perceived and classified (Smith, 2006).

In this context, critical literature recognises two main approaches to the production and conservation of heritage, each of them related to different scales. The first one refers to the production of global heritage supported by international organisations such as UNESCO and/or national governments. This process is mainly carried out by authorised experts, creating an official heritage discourse (Harrison, 2010). This approach has been criticised for leaving out local communities from the production of heritage, and even from heritage sites themselves (Bianchi and Boniface, 2002); nevertheless it has also implied the access to conservation funds and plans that would hardly have been accessed by other means. It has also been criticised for focusing mainly on the tangible heritage, i.e. buildings and facades, leaving aside the intangible aspects of heritage, represented by the use and practices carried out in the physical spaces (Bandarin and Van Oers, 2012).

A second approach refers to the production of unofficial discourses of heritage, mainly at a local level. This approach emerges from the actual relationship of people with objects, places and practices, and therefore it constitutes a bottom-up approach to the production of heritage (Harrison, 2010).

Plaza Yungay

Plaza Yungay

A good example of production of heritage at a local level has occurred in the Barrio Yungay, located in the city centre of Santiago, Chile. The neighbourhood was built during the 19th century and it was one of the first planned neighbourhoods of the city. It was originally inhabited by upper and middle class families, but during the late 19th century it became a workers’ neighbourhood, characterised by the presence of cités, a continuous construction of one flat houses with a central common space and one or more accesses to the street.

During the last decade, residents of Barrio Yungay formed Vecinos por la defensa el Barrio Yungay (Neighbours in defense of Yungay), an organisation that intended to protect the neighbourhood from real estate pressures. After presenting a request with more than 2000 signatures, the neighbourhood was declared typical zone by the Council of National Monuments in 2009. This status prohibited the construction of multi-storey buildings and other potential alterations of its traditional buildings, among them, the cités.

2. Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

Since then, there have emerged many movements that have focused not only on the protection of houses and buildings, but also on the intangible heritage of the neighbourhood. An interesting initiative is the Fermín Vivaceta Arts and Crafts School founded in 2010. This was a community project that arose from the need to train people to conserve and restore the architectural heritage of the neighbourhood after it was declared a typical zone in 2009. Additionally, the earthquake that occurred in 2010 affected many buildings in the area, intensifying this need. The proposal was supported by Neighbours in Defense of Yungay. It has been focused mainly in teaching traditional crafts to young residents of Yungay with the aim of conserving the heritage of their own neighbourhood.

The most recent community project related to the protection of heritage is a Community Museum inaugurated in 2015. The museum is located in an old house that was donated by residents of the neighbourhood to the Yungay Neighbourhood Association. This is the first museum of its kind in Chile. It exhibits the history of the neighbourhood, some 19th century objects that belonged to the original house owners, and other objects and paintings donated by current residents. Thus, it intends to reflect the identity of the neighbours of Yungay.

Community museum mural

Community museum mural

Finally, one of the highlights when visiting Yungay is the French Barbershop that has existed for over a 100 years. Not only has the building been preserved, but it still functions as a barbershop. During the 1990s the building was restored adding a bar and a restaurant that now attracts mainly tourists.

Residents of Yungay have managed to protect its tangible and intangible heritage, gaining the support of local and national authorities that have contributed to its preservation. The neighbourhood is now a place that is highly valued by its cultural activities that reflect its local identity. It has become a neighbourhood that attracts the attention of visitors from other parts of the city and foreign tourists. Thus, the new challenge for residents and authorities is to transform this increasing interest in an opportunity to improve the well-being of residents, avoiding the threats of gentrification and touristification that may end up pushing away those who have always lived there.

 

References:

Bandarin, F. and Van Oers, R (2012). The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in and Urban Century. UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Bianchi, R. and Boniface, P. (2002). Editorial: The Politics of World Heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 8 (2), pp.79–80.

Donnachie, I. (2010). World Heritage. In: Harrison, R. Understanding the Politics of Heritage. UK: Manchester University Press. pp. 115-153.

Harrison, R. (2010). What is heritage? In: Harrison, R. Understanding the Politics of Heritage. UK: Manchester University Press. pp. 5-42.

Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage. USA: Routledge.


María Paz Sagredo just completed her MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. She has experience working in consultancy and NGOs in Chile. She recently started working in community development projects in a Municipality of Santiago. She is also occasionally contributing in cultural heritage conservation initiatives. 

Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City – 20 years on

MarianaDias Simpson4 December 2015

In 1996, when Rio de Janeiro was a candidate to host the Olympics for the first time, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) proposed that such a mega event should be accompanied by a “social agenda” with five goals (one goal for each Olympic ring), defined then by Betinho, Ibase’s founder and prominent civil society representative. Rio didn’t win the bid, but the social agenda gathered great support from civil society, governments and the private sector, and had repercussions for years to come.

Twenty years on, as Rio is about to host the next Olympics Games, Ibase is revisiting the debate on the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for the city. The NGO proposes that special attention is given to one of the goals proposed in the 1996 social agenda: “Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City” .

Ibase, DPU, and youth volunteers.

In a first initiative carried out by Ibase in partnership with the DPU[1] in November, teams from both institutions and a group of young volunteers from the favelas of Borel and Providência[2] debated the topic, interviewed key informants (slum and city dwellers, social movements and governmental representatives) and realised a workshop. The initial idea was to have housing, mobility and public security as a starting point.

The young volunteers draw out their storyboard. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The young volunteers draw out their storyboard. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

Choosing to leave the discussion open, the topics debated by the young volunteers with the DPU’s mediation naturally converged into issues related to a) the pressing threat of eviction and gentrification felt in favelas. This is reinforced by the Games and by public policies that favour land speculation, currently pushing local residents to the city peripheries; b) difficulties in freely accessing the city, as racism and ‘social apartheid’ make them feel unwelcome in the wealthier parts of Rio. This feeling is intensified by the city government’s recent decision to end direct public transport links between the (poorer) north and the (richer) south zones of the city; c) the fact that favelas’ culture and identity are being curtailed by public security policies such as the ‘Pacifying Police Units’ (UPPs) that ‘militarise’ these territories and locals’ everyday lives. Public tenders open to local cultural groups were also mentioned. On a positive note, these tenders allow them to have access to public funds, but as a side effect, their perception is that the groups are being ‘used as small parts of a larger engine’ in which they are allowed to take part without ever having a leading role.

The final ‘world cafe’ workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

Based on that, it was decided that Ibase should approach the target “favela upgrading and integration into the City” from the perspective of three strategic values: a) inclusion with locals’ prominence; b) encounter of differences; and c) citizen participation. The understanding is that, to be successful in building a socially just city, public policies must encapsulate these three strategic objectives.

The interviews with key-informants were filmed to support a workshop[3] that brought together an important group of collaborators. For the workshop, it was proposed that all participants worked as groups to identify obstacles faced in the past 20 years to achieve the overall goal and strategic values mentioned above; opportunities and possibilities for advancement; and, finally, actions that may be taken in order to achieve the goal of upgrading and integrating favelas into the city.

The final 'world cafe' workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The final ‘world cafe’ workshop. Photograph by Alex Macfarlane

The debates were extremely rich and this intense week of work shared between Ibase and the DPU is being seen as a seed for future projects. Ibase’s plan is to use this solid base to develop actions aiming to strengthen existing favelas’ organisations and networks through political and capacity building for the co-creation of campaigns that should occupy educational, public and virtual spaces in order to promote encounters to disseminate debate and influence public policies for the city we want – an inclusive, diverse and participatory city.

[1]    Represented in Rio de Janeiro by Alex Frediani and Alex Macfarlane.

[2]    The youth group was formed by Cosme Vinícius Felippsen (Providência/ Rio de Janeiro’s Youth Forum), João Batista (Providência/ UFF), Luiz Henrique Souza Pereira (Borel) and Renan Oliveira dos Santos (Borel-Formiga/ UFRJ).

[3] The workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro in November 13th, 2015 and used the methodology known as “world cafe”.


Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.

 

Business-civic leadership’s urban social responsibility

Naji PMakarem29 October 2015

Mainstream economics attributes economic performance to factor endowments; the characteristics of a national or regional economy expected to impact future output growth and wages. These can be understood as Lego pieces of various colours and shapes needed to produce lucrative products and services. According to this view of the world, the Lego set endowed to cities determines economic performance: Yellow blocks of human capital might be limited to lower educated two-pronged blocks in one region, and higher-educated 5-pronged blocks in another (usually proxied as educational attainment), can explain past or determine future growth and incomes. Factor endowments typically used in growth regressions include population size, the cost of housing, ethnic composition, the industrial structure (often proxied by the share of manufacturing and FIRE industries – Finance, Insurance & Real-estate), innovation (often proxied by patents per capita) and of course educational attainment. Carefully designed econometric models can explain and predict economic outcomes fairly well, given initial factor endowments. They only do so however ‘on average’, evident by persistently high residuals and numerous outliers.

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

There are two problems with this approach: First, regions and countries can change the composition of their Lego sets through unpredictable governance mechanisms that create characteristics which the market fails to create, such as by investing in education, infrastructure, changing migration policies and zoning laws. Second, there are much smaller Lego pieces excluded from the analysis, in the form of people, ideas, assets, experience, organisations and capabilities, which can be combined and recombined in a multitude of different ways. The industrial structure of two regions with seemingly comparable initial factor endowments at a given time can evolve and branch out into very different activities, despite initially comparable Lego sets. Their systems of governance can focus on different issues and tackle challenges very differently (as institutional economists and political scientists would argue), and they can combine and recombine smaller Lego pieces in very different ways. Both of these important dynamics are exogenous to econometric models, thus persistently large residuals and outliers in growth regressions.

 

Our in-depth historical case studies of the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions expose the limitations of the growth accounting and other mainstream economic approaches to explaining economic development. We found that given two seemingly very similar Lego sets back in 1970, and you might be surprised by the incredible similarity on so many fronts, the two regions developed their so-called factor endowments and combined their people, ideas, assets organizations and capabilities very differently: The ability of their regional governance systems to respond to major regional challenges and opportunities, through cross-jurisdictional coordination, diverged significantly around 1950; the perceptions and world-views of their business and political leadership vis-à-vis their regional economy and its role in a globalizing world with serious environmental challenges differed starkly since at least as far back as the 1980s; differences in their corporate practices with regards to attitudes towards failure, entrepreneurship, spin-offs and out-sourcing were starkly different; their civil movements organized and responded very differently to social and environmental concerns throughout the 1900s; and their high-end corporate social structures diverged significantly between 1980 and 2010.

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

The Bay Area’s social, relational and political contexts created fertile-ground, as our co-author Taner Osman would put it, for break-through technological innovations, start-ups, spin-offs and initiatives by robust actors to flourish. We show that even though these were abundantly planted in both regions, they had greater regional spillovers in the Bay Area, giving rise to an eco-system of world-leading firms and clusters. In LA however comparable events had negligent spillovers beyond the boundaries of large and highly successful vertically-integrated corporations, or the confines of the Hollywood entertainment complex. The culture and relational structure of the San Francisco region, evident in its long civic and political history and in its recent high-end corporate social structure, allowed the region to develop its Lego pieces and to combine and re-combine its smaller Lego blocks in response to economic, technological and environmental challenges and opportunities. Through this recombinatory process the industrial structure developed new innovative firms, products and services in response to the changing economic reality, carving new lucrative industrial pathways for innovators, investors and entrepreneurs. It is through this process that the industrial structure of the Bay Area evolved, branching out into new unchartered and highly lucrative industrial terrains, producing tremendous high-waged employment in the region. As a result, the Bay Area ‘won’ the New Economy, whereas the LA region missed it, for now. This has had important implications to social mobility, personal incomes and public expenditures in the two regions.

 

Back in 1970 a person with a job in LA would have earned a very similar wage to his or her comparable counterpart in the Bay Area (same level of education, recent immigrants or not, and in the same industry and occupation); today there is a staggering difference in their wages across all these comparable groups, with the average person in LA earning 30% less than in the Bay Area. And this was achieved with comparable levels of population growth, openness to immigration and levels of inequality. The Bay Area produced its Lego blocks and combined and recombined its smaller blocks better in response to the challenges and opportunities brought about by technological change, globalization and the emergent New Economy.

 

How does all this apply to developing countries and cities? I propose the following transposition of ideas and insights from our study of the Bay Area and Los Angeles: Business-civic leadership can play an important role in both shaping the perceptions and world views of the broader business community (employees, entrepreneurs and investors), and in mobilizing public and private resources in response to economic challenges and opportunities. Their world views can either be narrow and conservative in nature, focusing on cutting costs by weakening labour rights, reducing taxes and diminishing social and environmental regulations, fearfully perceiving technological change and globalization as a threat, or they can be progressive, perceiving technological change, social and environmental regulation and globalization as an opportunity. Moreover, their regional perspectives can either be narrow in nature, focusing their attention on aspects of their cities that directly impact their business operations, such as access to land, services, connective infrastructure and red-tape, all very important albeit partial aspects of a functional business climate, or broader in nature, incorporating the entire urban system in which they operate, recognizing and valuing the potential gains from a functional agglomeration.

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

A functional agglomeration generates agglomeration economies which are the advantages firms and people gain from propinquity. These are namely the advantages of sharing infrastructure costs, the convenience and efficiency of geographically proximate suppliers and customers, the matching of jobs with specific skills and therefore the probability of finding the right job, and the learning from social interaction and people moving between firms. That is the economic rationale behind current high rates of urbanization – cities essentially reduce the transactions costs of all these activities. Business communities with strong and broad regional identities recognize and value the whole breadth of agglomeration economies which the city offers them, and the potential for unlocking its full agglomeration potential.

 

Progressive business leaders are aware of their interdependence with the region, and therefore they have a broad perspective of the business climate, which includes secure tenancies and the cost of housing, the quality and accessibility of education, congestion and accessible public transport, access to quality healthcare, sanitation, education and social safety nets for all citizens. Together these determine the quality of human capital, people’s access to employment, the quality of social interaction and the propensity for entrepreneurship and innovation, all integral to a functional urban agglomeration. Business-civic leadership in the Bay Area, as reflected in reports by the Bay Area Council and the Association of Bay Area Governments amongst others, have been concerned with broader regional issues such as the cost of housing, the environment and public transit over the past few decades. Progressive business people understand that their community is highly interdependent with the functionality of their urban system, and they mobilize public and private resources in response to urban challenges, with the aim of unleashing the agglomeration economies which they and their children will benefit from.

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Economics and society interact in important and meaningful ways. This offers hope to people in urban economies who might otherwise feel locked-in to a path-dependent low-road trajectory of high unemployment, low wages, poor governance and weak public finance. It also raises community and business leaders to a broader sphere of regional social responsibility. How they think, organize and lead in response to regional challenges and opportunities is important: Their world views, social relations, association and leadership can have a profound impact on regional governance and organizational cultures and practices. As Douglas North argues, “[t]he dominant beliefs, that is, of those political and economic entrepreneurs in a position to make policies, over time result in the accretion of an elaborate structure of institutions, both formal rules and informal norms, that together determine economic and political performance” (North, 2003-p. 6).

 

The broadening of world views that transcend narrow conservative self-interest has long been the subject of intense research in the fields of psychology and philosophy (Wilber, 1996). Our world views, cultures, organizations (Laloux, 2015) and political and economic systems co-evolve towards greater levels of complexity, interdependence, creativity, compassion and shared-knowledge, and are doing so at a faster rate than at any other time in human history. Business communities have the power and responsibility to facilitate our journey towards more inclusive, just, wealthy and sustainable societies.

 

 

 

References:

 

Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker.
North, D. C. (2003). Understanding the process of economic change. In Forum Series on the Role of Institutions in Promoting Economic Growth: Forum (Vol. 7).

 

Wilber, K. (2007). A brief history of everything. Shambhala Publications.

 

 

 

 

 

i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 3 Review

Matthew AWood-Hill10 July 2015

3.9

The i-Rec conference 2015 started its final day on Wednesday 8 July with a plenary session, as has been the format for the previous mornings.

Maggie Stephenson asked what is the relationship between shelter and survivor? – especially in light of post-disaster needs assessments (PDNAs); who decides what people need? Taking the time to discuss what is useful to survivors is therefore essential.

Rohit Jigyasu looked at attempts to salvage cultural heritage in the wake of the recent Nepalese earthquake. In some cases traditional materials and components, especially windows, held up better than more contemporary counterparts. He is part of an initiative with the Smithsonian Institute that is seeking to ensure that this physical heritage is not lost in the wake of the disaster.

Having been in Nepal when the second earthquake struck, Sneha Krishnan commented on the role that social networks paid in people’s preparedness when it came. She suggested that some of the early responses imposed by NGOs – such as dividing toilets between men and women, when given the extreme context they were willing to share facilities – were inappropriate. She also witnessed an indecisive response from the state who at some stages were eager to defer to outside help, and at others were very directive in their approach.

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Roundtable 4B: Linking disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) with disaster risk recovery and reconstruction

Ilan Kelman started the session by placing DRR and CCA within a broader framework for sustainable development. He suggested that any reconstruction is done so for the future, which necessarily has to include potential impacts of climate change. As we understand that hazards themselves do not cause disasters, but vulnerability does, the emphasis on sustainability as a key contributor to DRR is brought into sharper focus.

Drawing on the recurring effects of cyclones in Odisha, India as a case study, Sneha Krishnan argued for the value of learning from previous disasters to build resilience. For her, preparedness is key and the recovery phase is a missing link that has not yet been fully understood.

Candida Maria Vassallo presented the importance of reconstructing public buildings as a mean of reconstructing normal life. She exemplified this process with the case of the reconstruction of new Swat Archaeological Museum in Saidu Sharif (Pakistan) damaged by 2005 earthquake and 2008 Taliban attack, but the relevance is that this process can be implemented in other contexts thanks to its flexibility and adaptability, which was appreciative of local needs and histories. The discussion that followed revolved around how we might tackle the complexity that inevitably emerges in these situations. A second key discussion point was how to rebuild communities in a way that is not merely ‘back to normal’ but a marked improvement on how thing were.

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Roundtable 2D: Planning approaches and strategies for recovery

The session raised the necessity of longer-term thinking. This was discussed importantly with regards to listening – often to the lessons of history that past disasters have taught us – when planning for the future, and fostering an environment where collaboration and sharing of knowledge is embedded. Different tools and methods to facilitate this, within and outside of project structures, were debated.

Understanding roles and responsibilities in relation to resources – both financial and human – was also elaborated upon. For example: who does monitoring and documentation,and how? Who decides what is insured and what aspects of the built environment are covered? The session ended with a reflection on the role of the researcher in disaster recovery scenarios, and the contribution of academic work.

Roundtable 4C: Aspects of resilience and recovery

One of the key themes of the roundtable was urban resilience and how it may be affected during the process of recovery by the role of the governments and NGOs. An interesting point of discussion asked what methods are used to classify populations in order to address their recovery needs, and can such a method generate tools to help recovery? This pointed to a knowledge gap concerning different types of analytical variables and the importance of developing analytical categories for the underlying social variables.

The papers generated comparative discussion about the role of the government in the process of recovery and how their initial initiatives and efforts may impact long-term resilience with examples from Yalova in Turkey, Bam in Iran and Assam, India which offered three different interpretations.

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Roundtable 2A: Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities

David Alexander presented findings from research into the transitional phase of post-disaster recovery in the cases of Tacloban in The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and the Sanriku coast in Japan, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He concluded that a successful transitional phase requires a pact between the survivors and the government. This could be achieved through information sharing; a clear, simple and robust plan of action; a well-defined timeline for the transitional phase,;and serviceable transitional housing and facilities.

Charles Parrack talked about urban displacement, comparing community participation in cities and in camps. The objective of the study was to identify gaps for outside of camp strategies developed by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM). A common theme centres on empowerment and developing social capital, which will be a focus for further research.

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Based on her work in Chile and Peru, Elizabeth Wagemann explained how people have adapted post-disaster shelters to convert them into homes. While a temporary shelter is understood to be time limited and the transitional shelter could be understood as an incremental support, both have been modified and adapted by the families, even though they are not designed for this purpose. The study compared the modifications during a five year period.

Faten Kikano compared different types of shelters used by Syrian refugees in Lebanon over a number of years. She looked back to the shelters adopted by Palestinian refugees sixty years ago for further comparison and questioned whether camps are an effective solution to refugees’ needs. The common focus on the transitional phase in disaster recovery was carried over into the discussion. The panel acknowledged unanimously that we are beyond ‘one size fits all’ solutions.


Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Bernadette Devilat, Julia Wesely, Rachel Valbrun and Jacopo Spatafora for their inputs.

Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

View all i-Rec related blogs, including the summaries of Days 1 & 2 via on this page.

i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 2 Review

Matthew AWood-Hill8 July 2015

2.8

The 2015 i-Rec conference continued on Tuesday 7 July with another packed day.

The morning keynote panel saw Frederick Kimgold focus on regulatory initiatives to build urban resilience – these include four key components: Regulatory action at the national level, based on a strong legal foundation; improving and enforcing building codes; an emphasis on local implementation; and knowledge sharing at the international level.

Stephen Platt drew his insights from 10 cases studies. His findings, from disasters in countries as varied as Japan, Turkey and Chile, showed different patterns for human and economic losses. He commented on the successes of the speed of recovery in different places, noting that rapidity, highlighting the case of Turkey, is not always the best way to achieve effective planning outcomes.

Gerald Paragas analysed the upshot of the Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts in the Philippines. He emphasised the roles of different actors in these processes and called for continued coordination in order to better harmonise relief and reconstruction with urban processes; recovery should always be city-driven and not donor-driven.

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Roundtable 3C: Histories, perceptions, and ethnographies for understanding urban recovery

The presentations showed cases from in Italy, Guine-Bissau and Chile. The discussions questioned how architects should work in reconstruction – does an absence of specific architectural training in relation to humanitarian aid mean architects should be seen less as designers and more as facilitators embedded within a more holistic process of design and reconstruction?

Certainly it was acknowledged that better dialogue between communities, architects and humanitarians is essential. Finally the speakers considered the tensions that exist around traditional construction and vernacular architecture. How can these be better understood alongside our own practice?

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Roundtable 4A: Integrated Approaches for recovery and resilience

This session discussed examples from Haiti, Japan, Malawi and the Philippines, where attempts at integration has taken place with differing degrees of success. Time was identified as a key tension, particularly when engaging with communities. Inclusive decision making processes can be long and demand resources. Community vs production-based approaches is a big dilemma that was witnessed Philippines.

In the case of Malawi dispersed populations added to the time needed for effective local inputs, the knock-on effect being that international organisations are not always able to make the most of local capacity. The conversation therefore turned to post-disaster adaptive resilience and at what point does the transition from recovery to resilience-building take place, and how does this work?

Roundtable 2C: Challenges, character, and tools for recovery

These four presentations tackled different solutions around how to make recovery faster and more effective. They looked at logistical challenges faced during the response and early recovery stages following the Canterbury earthquakes; the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as enablers of multiple interactions actors and people involved in recovery and reconstruction; new methods for clearing debris; and how the type of disaster itself can impact the type of reconstruction that takes place.

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Roundtable 2B: Community-driven practices

Four different case studies from Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil were presented. It was suggested that vulnerability (especially of the urban poor) has always been tackled and studied using a top-down approach. Informal settlements remain almost invisible – therefore researchers and organizations should engage in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange with the population.

By doing so, it is possible not only to identify the root causes of local vulnerabilities but also the social resources and capabilities that can contribute to resilience at a local scale. Interventions developed by researchers and NGOs should be community-controlled and should involve all the relevant stakeholders. Moreover statistical measures are recognized as being insufficient to measure community recovery, and this could be revised in order to incorporate local needs and perspectives.

A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

Roundtable 5A: Relocation from hazardous areas

Using comparative cases and single in-depth studies, this session took a critical lens on the relationship between hazards, vulnerabilities and risks, and – more broadly – between hazards and development. It was emphasised that relocation efforts have to consider the reasons why people live in hazardous areas in the first place, and why some people refuse to evacuate, move away or eventually return to these unsafe sites.

A general point that recurred throughout was that relocation is not only about housing, but also livelihoods, infrastructure and basic services, economic opportunities, social networks etc. Post-disaster relocation happens in a situation where people are traumatised and rapid decisions are taken. The challenge is therefore to think beyond just improving post-disaster relocation, but also to consider pre-disaster management of the diverse risks that residents are confronted with.

Roundtable 5B: Relocation and resettlement strategies

These four presentations focused on empirical cases that gave insights into some of the challenges of relocation and resettlement. These included attachment to place, and a loss of urban identity through to knock on effects in terms of planning such as urban sprawl and the need to better manage self-build housing within a coherent planning framework.

It was suggested that in the case of Fukushima, Japan, preparedness has focused chiefly on natural disasters, rather than human induced disaster, which was a reason behind the large number of casualties. In Montserrat, part of the West Indies, a large scale relocation on the small island-state placed a heavy strain on the few health facilities that were well placed to serve the affected population.


Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Elizabeth Wagemann, Sneha Krishnan, Serena Tagliacozzo and Julia Wesely for their inputs.

Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 1 Review

Matthew AWood-Hill7 July 2015

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The 7th i-Rec conference got underway yesterday. As Cassidy Johnson explained in the introductory session, the network began in 2002 with just 20 people. This year an impressive 120 people are here in London, as the network continues to grow.

The first keynote session set out some of the key questions to be discussed over the forthcoming days. Allan Lavell asked “does transformation within reconstruction take into consideration the context appropriately?” He elaborated on two modes of reconstruction: expensive retrofitting against disasters on the one hand, and an understanding of reconstruction and recovery in terms of everyday risk on the other.

Jennifer Duyne focused on the opportunities for reconstruction, suggesting there is a need for more local involvement in devising appropriate solutions to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and reconstruction, particularly in informal settlements. Stronger collaborations between humanitarian and reconstruction agencies could go a long way towards making this a reality.

Situating the conversation within the urban context, the focus of this year’s event, Graham Saunders asked what does it mean to operationalise a specifically urban DRR and reconstruction? He went on to expand on the opportunities that exist within cities for collaborations across different types of groups and institutions.

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Across the three days of the i-Rec 2015 conference there are 14 sessions. the plenary sessions apart,  these are grouped into six thematic roundtables and associated sessions.

Roundtable 1: Disasters in Urban Contexts

These conversations focused on the spatial dimensions of ‘the city’ as a space where disasters, and recovery/reconstruction occur. Specifically, what do planning decisions made in one part of the city mean for others? And how can interventions be scaled up? An interesting discussion emerged out of the differences in resilience and the capacity to respond of ‘stress cities’ – which may face a more diverse set of hazards – versus ‘shock cities’, set up to cope with larger, more clearly observed hazards.

Roundtable 3A: Linking a past, present, and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design, and its influences on urban recovery

Two presentations were made, by Camilla Wirsching Fuentes on open space in San Pedro de la Paz, Chile and by Rachel Valbrun on DRR in post-blitz London and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. The speakers drew upon their personal connections to recent disasters in these places. In their critiques they drew attention to the trade-offs that seem to exist between urban planning and DRR and recovery, such as the pressing needs for shelter and the benefits of keeping more open space so planning can take place with a longer-term perspective.

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Roundtable 6: The role of local governments in recovery

The four presentations in this session offered some interesting case study examples – from Chile, Iran, New Zealand and the Philippines – with rich empirical evidence on how states performed post-disaster from varying perspectives – researchers, practitioners and varying outcomes. A key topic of conversation centred on who leads the reconstruction in different geographies. Where the local government coordinates this they can be left exposed to blame and criticism if the process in efficient or ineffective, whereas the private sector has different levels of involvement in each of the cases. The fundamental question that the panel were ultimately unable to agree upon was ‘How can reconstruction support local government?’

Roundtable 3B: Culture, place, and identities in urban disaster recovery

This Roundtable discussed the connections between people, place, culture and risks. The question of who decides what risk is and what is the perception of risk relates to the question of what is it that forms people’s attachment to place. Culture was discussed as something beyond the built environment and more about the people, not just the monuments – expanding the definition of cultural heritage to include the day-to-day lives and activities of people. In the process of recovery, what role does culture play and what impact does recovery have on culture, especially in the case of displacement?

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Book Launch and Discussion: Shelter after Disaster by Ian Davis

The first day concluded with a discussion on the publication of a new second edition Ian Davis’ book; the first edition was published in 1978. Ian expressed some of his observations about what has and has not changed in the last 20 years of DRR. Accountability still remains an important topic when considering the range of actors involved in relief and reconstruction efforts. A paternalist idea of what constitutes good practice also remains – the consequences of this include half empty temporary settlements and inappropriate transitional shelters, showing tangible areas that can be improved upon.

In terms of what has changed though, he sees better cash and rental support, and an appreciation that disasters occur not only in rural areas of developing countries, but in impact developed countries and – importantly in the context of the conversations taking place in this conference – in urban areas. Nevertheless the growing urban populations that have brought more attention to urban risks constitute a formidable challenge that has seen escalating casualties at the hands of natural disasters over the past two decades.

ASC_6085https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/wp-admin/post.php?post=7429&action=edit

The respondents were also keen to flag up some of the challenges we still face, and have not resolved in this period. These include a need to evolve beyond needs assessments, a reluctance to fully learn and incorporate the lessons of the past, and an observation that so-called transitional settlements invariably remain so, very often becoming permanent.

In addition new issues, such as rental housing and urban planning, and coordinated technical assistance are now more fully on the agenda. Maggie Stevenson commented that the value of the book is being ‘not about the people, but about us’, asking the critical question: are we doing what we are supposed to do?

Day 2 is already well underway. You can follow the live updates and conversations via #irec2015 on Twitter, and look out for the day 2 blog tomorrow.


Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Garima Jain, Lisa Bornstein, Sneha Krishnan, Rachel Valbrun and Elizabeth Wagemann for their inputs.

Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

On the Wall/Within the Street: Re-Engaging Urbanites with their Environment

ClaireTunnacliffe30 June 2015

London, December 2014

London, December 2014

Walking along the Regents Canal at the end of last year, this Tasmanian Tiger caught my eye. As Londoners, life can be fast-paced, and not in the least stressful – everything happens at 100 miles per hour, and if it’s not, then you’re probably not doing it right. Or at least, it certainly feels that way… And yet, this encounter made me stop and pause and look and reflect.

The Tasmanian Tiger is extinct, and amongst the bleak backdrop of greying sky and murky canal water – I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been worth it? Did the person who placed this up want me to reflect on the Tasmanian Tiger (okay, not indigenous to London) but on the wider disappearance of the natural world within our very urban existence?

A quick Google search revealed that the artist behind these eulogy-style pieces is Indiana and The Extinction Project, “my work has focused on the idea of wilderness and freedom, in escaping from the current modern society and moving to the country. This society steals most of our time in exchange for money that we spend on things we do not need, and in the process we are destroying what we really belong to: the nature and the world”.

Walking the streets of many cities around the world, I’ve often come across artistic interventions from people having taken to the streets and scribbled, scratched, pasted, created beautiful murals or one-word retorts. While the expanse of what can be described as street art is huge, I define it as the act of taking to the streets and inscribing on the walls artistic, but also a political, social and environmental responses to the state of the world from a very personal perspective.

London, September 2012

London, September 2012

Over the last few years, I’ve researched urban street art as a tool for social transformation. The world has an infinite depth of artists, writers, and creative individuals marking their place in the world. Street art is a powerful tool in reflecting the experience of the urban, provoking an engagement of urbanites with their environment.

As a global artistic and social movement, it repurposes space through experimental interventions and challenging the dominant visual culture (an unending stream of advertising, commodity, industrialisation, consumption and alienation), it provides alternatives to this vision. Encounters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently.

Through its lens, we reconnect within an increasingly urban existence, one we had forgotten the natural and social entanglements that make up the fabric of the urban context. With urban street art disrupting the mainstream experience of the urban, the spectator is provided with an alternative vision of the world at play.

As a result, at the crossroads between urban street art and everyday life, the spectator evolves from a passive to an active participant. By awakening new understandings and raising consciousness, engaged urban street art provokes a re-engagement of urbanites with the environment, acting as a catalyst for transformative social change.

Marrakesh, May 2014

Marrakesh, May 2014

So, that’s the theory. But in practice? To move beyond the topical and speculative to the practical act of catalysing transformative social change, there needs a more grounded understanding of the cultural effect of urban street art itself: Who are the spectators? How does it make them feel? What do they take away from the encounter? Do they change their routine because of it? How can we understand more fully the role of the active participant?

The same question started rolling itself in my head: “How does urban street art open up new ways of seeing and feeling the world around us?” I began to ask around, artists and academics, everyday encounters and in-depth research. These interviews are part of a wider project around documenting these encounters around the city.

The answer has, up till now, always been a reverberating Yes. But how? Speaking to Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, “Of course street art has the opportunity to encourage social transformation, for so many reasons. It enables talented artists to leave gifts around the city, which are beautiful and site sensitive. It allows artists to be challenging and ask difficult questions. It counters the idea of a single authoritative aesthetic, which allows for a diversity of opinion and a diversity of voices. Its transience gives people something to look out for, to be interested in, less threatened by and maybe even excited by change.”

New York, October 2013

New York, October 2013

In very different ways, illegal and legal street art play a role in the shaping of public spaces; an interplay for confrontation, awareness, beautification, response, anger, activity. It is this activity, which allows people to participate and take responsibility for their public spaces. There is a dualistic role between the counter-culture and anti-capitalist retorts of illegal pieces as there is a desire and need for legal wall spaces, carefully chosen to brighten and breath life into others.

This is not an either/or. The beauty of what is called urban street art today, will be called something different tomorrow, but the act of taking to the street and inscribing on the walls is nothing new.

London, June 2013

London, June 2013

What we should hold onto are the messages; the powerful voices which interlace personal with political, social, and environmental, which momentarily occupy the space on the walls and between the streets as well as living on beyond, once documented online. I would tread carefully in describing urban street art as a subculture, as it has been expunged by the mainstream attempts to monetise it.

Yet, there remain many artists who continue to use the streets, both illegally and legally, to speak about issues they hold important, some of whose notoriety is spread across the timelessness of the internet, and others who remain faceless scribbles.

All of whom, nevertheless, play a part of this artistic and social movement. I would more easily call myself a researcher and an urban planner before an artist, but I strongly believe that one of the greatest attributes of urban street art in creating social transformation is that it awakens a dormant creativity within us all, and with it, a refreshed curiosity in how we shape, create and impact our everyday.

So, the next time you Instagram that piece that caught your eye, ask yourself: what just woke up inside me?

Paris, September 2014

Paris, September 2014


Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development alumna. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is applying for a PhD to begin in 2015 on urban street art in West Africa and the effect of marking surfaces in public spaces, however her interests are rather more interdisciplinary, lying at the cross-sections of; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. 

She will be publishing a fuller version of the account above as a DPU working paper in the coming months entitled “The power of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences”.