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.
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.
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?
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.
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.