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Transmedia Storytelling: Activating Urban Learning for Slum Upgrading

CatalinaOrtiz9 May 2019

By Dr. Catalina Ortiz and Gynna Millan


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

For a Spanish version of this blog click here

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


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

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

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

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

Transmedia Storytelling for Learning

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

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

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

Going beyond the ‘best practice’

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

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

 

Working group discussions. Photo by Gynna Millan

COiNVITE: Building a strategic learning alliance

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter @COiNVITE, FB StorytellingUrbanLearning y en Instragram coinvite

 

Walkshop around Comuna 13. Photo by @Zootropico films.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Spaces of Longitudinal Learning and Institutional Reflexivity

RuchikaLall28 September 2018

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

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

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

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

Figure 1 : The changing skyline of the city of Colombo

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

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

Figure 2: Nawagampura

Figure 2: Muwadora Uyana

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

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

Figure 4: Multi-stakeholder Panel discussion at Moratuwa University

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

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Ruchika Lall

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Western Region Megapolis Master Plan