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Developmental disparities and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia

CamilaCocina Varas12 December 2017

As part of the DPU summerLab workshop series, the workshop “Inhabiting Edges” took place in Nicosia, Cyprus, during September 2017. The workshop was led by Camila Cociña and Ricardo Martén (DPU) and Silvia Covarino (Girne American University), and aimed to explore and critically understand the history and politics of Cyprus’ borders, navigating the complexities of the last divided capital city in Europe. In this series of two blogs, Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon -participants of the workshop- reflect on subjective realities, developmental disparities, and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia.

 

By Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon

“Nicosia is a city where you cross not only into a different country but into a different time zone.” 1

In this second post, we comment on Cyprus’ geostrategic position and its partition, appropriating of the metaphorical language used by the interviewees. Using the “rock and air” allegories, we frame our observations of disparities in development levels on each side of the buffer zone.

Both sides of Ledras Street crossing

 

On the one hand, south Cyprus can be understood as a “rock” in its solid, consolidated position on the international stage, benefiting from direct access to the European Union and a reliable network of financial support. There are better-developed physical and institutional infrastructures in the south, from public transport and organised rubbish collection, to the presence of international banks, companies and organisations. Additionally, the south can be contextualised as being strongly affected by the ‘telluric’ forces of capitalism. Patent signs of gentrification can be seen, where hip areas shed their local shops in favour of commercially branded streets, tagged with reproaching graffiti and street art.

In the south, another consequence of rapid development is the large influx of economic migrants predominantly from Southeast Asia. Thus, new, vibrant migrant communities such as Filipinos, live side-by-side with long-established minorities such as Maronite, Armenians, etc. They occupy mostly run-down, city centre areas where accommodation is cheaper.

The north on the other hand, can be seen as “air” since its existence as an independent state is not internationally recognised but by neighbouring Turkey. Thus, the future of the “occupied area”, circa 36.2% of the island, is ‘up in the air’, in a limbo. Furthermore, the north is under international embargo, in a vacuum of investment in infrastructure, with the exception of direct financial aid from Turkey and localised cash injections from independent, foreign investors in tourism.

North Cyprus experiences similar development processes to the south, albeit at a slower pace. Its commercial streets are still lined with local shops, except for Turkish companies. The street markets selling clothing and sportswear counterfeits are a reflection of the same commercial trends gripping the south, where people emulate patterns of ‘western affluence’ to display status. Similarly, the large presence of economic migrants is noticeable, although in the north these are predominantly Turkish, unskilled seasonal labourers, housed in neglected, inner-city areas.

The differentiating phenomenon registered in the ‘rarefied’ north, extending an economic lifeline and changing the demographic profile of the area, is the proliferation of foreign, Higher Education institutions, which vie to attract international students from the Middle East and African countries. The student, transient presence however, is said to nearly double the city’s population, putting extra pressure on services and ailing infrastructures.

These two parallel realities are becoming more disparate, with the south developing rapidly and losing its uniqueness faster. The country seems to be at a crucial moment – if it continues growing apart at this rate, the discrepancy in development levels will be hard to match, and true unification, whether a desired political project, may not be a possible outcome for decades.

Commercial streets on both sides of the border.

 

“If you ask me, more hipsters – that is what we need” 2

Returning to the level of the city, another common trend in the revitalisation of rundown areas observed in Nicosia is culture-led urban regeneration. This strategy has gained momentum since the advancement of Richard Florida’s “creative city” theory and the publication of numerous studies highlighting art’s contribution to urban success, social change, people’s sense of belonging and economic growth. Since this model has proven problematic in a variety of contexts, it must also be addressed in the case of Nicosia, where the agents of transformation were mostly young artists engaging with bottom-up urban interventions.

Artistic interventions on both sides of Nicosia.

 

During interviews, architects and city planners described the ‘soft seeds’ of artistic intervention, mentioning initiatives such as the street-art festival. They highlighted the intrinsic relationship between art and the city – often, in deteriorating urban spaces artists see themselves as ‘shamans’ fixing problems with collaborative and participatory art. In Nicosia, the notion of the “last divided city in Europe” is a source of inspiration to prolific artists, as evidenced by ubiquitous graffiti, uncommissioned murals and installations. Moreover, these artistic manifestations are potent political statements – the record of personal and collective narratives, otherwise unacknowledged, and a direct reflection of issues dominating social imaginaries. Unfortunately, there is a danger to art being identified as something to be consumed and commodified. Then, bottom-up, hipster-led city activation can be adopted by developers and municipalities and turned into top-down, culture-led urban renewal projects.

Over the years, criticism of the transformation of art into cultural capital, a tool of symbolic economy or a mean for marketing and branding, has shown that investment in art rarely trickles down or triggers the wheels of economy as expected. In fact, it is more likely for veteran residents to become the main victims of these strategies, which escalate gentrification, prompt social exclusion and displacement. In sum, it is necessary to interrogate the role of art in attracting investment; whose art; how much art; and what kind of development is being promoted.

In conclusion, this split island country is embedded in a broader context; needing international recognition, substantial and sustained investment from external actors. As such, it has to be understood in the interplay between political zones of influence and corresponding financing streams, where the strength (or fragility) of foreign allegiances can produce great disparities in development levels. We leave Cyprus, wondering how could regeneration processes, often initiated by the creativity of local actors and later propelled by external forces, allow for dissonant voices in contested spaces to be heard but not co-opted for political or economic gains.

 

  1.  Mayor of North Nicosia, Mehmet Harmancı, addressing participants of the SummerLab.
  2. Young female, freelance architect.

 

Bethania Soriano is an independent researcher based in London, particularly focused on the politics of contested spaces – the ways in which people negotiate the environments they inhabit, adapting, reclaiming and ultimately shaping space by virtue of their everyday practices. She studies areas with long-established ‘geographies of difference’, in contexts of conflict transformation, and where minorities strive for spatial justice and social inclusion.

Bethania trained as an Architect and Urban Designer in Southern Brazil and holds an MSc in City Design and Social Science with distinction, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Sharon Yavo Yalon is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, based in Haifa. Her research enfolds the linkage between art and urbanism and the manner in which local identity, spatial (in)justice and social (ex-in)clusion are forged or  deconstructed by artistic activity in cities. More specifically, she focuses on artistic interventions in contested cities and the ways in which they affect and are affected by urban segregation patterns and boundaries. Sharon is a practicing architect and artist, graduated summa cum laude BA and MSc in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion IIT.

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.