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Power and Politics: A reflection on political settlement

Michael Walls11 April 2016

To many – perhaps more today than in some generations past – ‘politics’ is a dirty word. Yet the political permeates our social lives on the most personal of levels as well as more generally. And the twin sibling of politics is power; specifically it’s exercise and pursuit. Perhaps the thing that most upsets many of us about ‘politics’ is what we perceive as the naked or covert use of power for personal betterment. But there’s a complication there. As much as we tend to presume that unbalanced power is a bad thing, the reality is that the stability of human societies through history and around the globe rests on just such imbalances. And personal interest occupies an uneasy yet always central motivator in the exercise of that power. In some ways, it is hard to even conceive of power in terms other than in some unbalanced sense. After all, if one person possesses the ability to compel someone else to do something, then that represents an imbalance in itself. There’d be no compulsion if the person compelled didn’t accept the authority of the other. Which highlights the difficult balance we need to try and find as human societies if we are to balance some sense of social justice with the sort of systemic efficacy we must aspire to if our states are to be run with reasonable efficiency.

Political leaders sign an agreement on voter registration, Hargeisa

Political leaders sign an agreement on voter registration, Hargeisa

The idea of the ‘political settlement’ that lies behind this project encourages examination of the nature of those balances in the political realm.

But we can also think of power in different ways. The sense of power as an imbalance in which one person can compel another, which I’ve just described, is what Andrea Cornwall and John Gaventa called ‘power over’. But we also sometimes think of power in different terms. For example, the power to do something is usually more about the capacity we have to act, and we sometimes also talk about ‘inner’ strength; the power we gain from within ourselves. Not quite the same as the capacity to do something because it refers more to strength of character or resolve, but that can connect with capacity as well. There is also a sense of power that labour unions, amongst others, have often used: the power of unity or solidarity. The power we gain by working together with others of like mind.

Focus group meeting in Laas Aanood

Focus group meeting in Laas Aanood

The ‘Political Settlement in Somaliland‘ research project is designed to dig deeper into some of the attitudes that women and men have to each other’s political engagement, and to find out more about how those attitudes are reflected in the ‘political settlement’ that underpins what has become an enduring peace in Somaliland. In so doing, we will be thinking hard about how different kinds of power are exercised by women and men in Somaliland: both in the negotiations, debates and decisions that form the political settlement, and in the actions people take or have taken in an effort to influence those decisions.

It is axiomatic that one of the most persistently asymmetrical balances of power is where it relates to the roles of men and women in a society. A growing body of research has focused on Somali state-building, and particularly on Somaliland, and there have been a number of studies on gender roles in that context. We are aiming to explore the ideas at the intersection of those concerns by trying to understand more about the assumptions and positions that shape social relations for men and women. That links strongly to a number of specific areas, including violence against women and girls, which seems to have worsened even while stability has been consolidated.

We are still in the relatively early days of the research, and are currently collecting primary data. There’ll be numerous updates of one sort or another. Keep an eye on the research microsite for new material.

drawing water for camels from a well, Sanaag

Drawing water for camels from a well, Sanaag


Dr. Michael Walls is a Senior Lecturer at UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) and Course Director for the MSc in Development Administration and Planning. He has twelve years’ experience in senior management in the private sector and lectures in ‘market-led approaches to development’. For some thirteen years he has focused on the Somali Horn of Africa, and most particularly on the evolving political settlements in Somaliland and Puntland. He is currently leading a research project focused on developing a gendered perspective on Somaliland’s political settlement. As well as undertaking research on state formation and political representation, he has been a part of the coordination team for international election observations to Somaliland elections in 2005, 2010 and 2012 and is currently observing the 2016 Voter Registration process. 

The Ties That (un)Bind: Affect and Organisation in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Protests, 2014

ucfugca11 December 2015

In this post, I discuss the preliminary results of my ongoing research on the 2014 mass protests in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). Overall, I am interested in the production and articulation of these spaces of rebellion by considering their ‘affective atmospheres’, which means that I am curious about the effects that affect have in the production of socio-spatial relations. In particular, I look at rage, anger, but especially hope as a way to understand how spaces of “togetherness” came to be created during the protests in a country where both “being together” and “occupying public spaces” represent major political and social issues in their own right.

1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

When the protests started in Tuzla, in February 2014 international media and journalists wrote extensively about hope and anger as unifying forces leading toward a potential future of peaceful coexistence among divided communities, and thus hinting at the power of these affects to create new spaces of political engagement. According to such accounts, people temporarily overcame established patterns of hatred for the “ethnic other” due to an affective displacement created by the much stronger hatred they shared for the corrupt political class. Although this is a simplistic and problematic view, particularly the erroneous – though widespread – assumption that territorial segregation and social divisions are the result of citizens’ ‘eternal hatred’ of ‘the other’ (rather than the result of specific political and economic conflicts among a range of national and international actors) it is nevertheless true that the atmosphere of political, economic and social instability that permeates the country facilitates a sense of disengagement and fear that are not conducive to revolt but rather invite conditions of stasis as a means of preservation or survival (see my article on the struggles of youth activists in Mostar here). And yet, the protests brought about a new sense of hope and euphoria that made it possible to take the risk of being together against the government’s inability to take care of its citizens’ needs and aspirations. Crucially, this movement toward togetherness materialised in public spaces – squares, streets, and parks – that saw the reclaiming of these spaces as a place of community, rather than politically imposed division.

2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

I have spent the first two months of my fellowship travelling across BiH to interview activists and actors of civil society who were involved in the 2014 protests. I listened to them re-enacting the confrontations in the street, discussing the challenges of coordinating large numbers of people in the plenums, and their personal and collective struggles to imagine how the future of BiH could be radically different from its problematic present. For this post, I will focus on the importance of reflecting on how “becoming hopeful” moved bodies and created spaces for political encounters.

According my respondents, it was hope that brought people in the streets because hope allowed them to believe that change was possible. The protesting bodies, becoming hopeful, became also a visible presence in the city: impossible to ignore and hard to silence. And it was this very process of becoming hopeful and invading the streets to protest that is in itself an extraordinary event. As one interviewee in Sarajevo explained to me:

“here we have been deprived of the luxury of being political… I mean it’s a luxury because you need to work, to take care of your kids, you struggle all the time and you have no energy for struggle more for politics…”

Yet becoming hopeful is also a reason for disappointment, discontent and for the creation of fractures within the movement. As another respondent reported, it was the fact that people put too much hope in what this grassroots movement could do that, when it ended without a revolution, new disappointment and anger arise.

3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

I believe that there is great potential of looking at hope to account for and explore grassroots protests, how they come into being, how they become movements for creating new spaces of togetherness, but also divisions and fractures; to create and sustain, but also destroy infrastructures of togetherness. Hope begins from encounters and it brings about the question of how new possibilities can be born from these encounters, which involve multiple processes of mediation, negotiation, explanation. And yet, these sites of hope, such as the protests in Bosnia, are the potential signposts that an alternative exists. As Helena Flam argues, we should pay attention to the ways in which protest movements attempt to re-socialise people through (subversive) emotions in order to show that to be angry and to voice concerns is fair and legitimate.


Giulia Carabelli joined the Centre for Advanced Studies – South East Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka in October 2015. This is an international research centre that seeks to support, guide, and encourage early career scholars to produce critical and innovative works on topics related to the region of South-Eastern Europe. Prior to joining CAS SEE, Giulia worked in the Development Planning Unit as the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development Graduate Teaching Assistant.

 

Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City – 20 years on

ucfumdi4 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.

 

Mapping Everyday and Episodic Risks

ucfurcl1 December 2015

The cLIMA sin Riesgo research project in Lima, Peru, adopts participatory mapping as a means to gather quantitative and qualitative information to capture varying degrees of natural and man-made conditions of vulnerability that affect women and men living in the center and in the periphery of the city. The process is designed to open up dialogue between various stakeholders, with the aim of informing the design of interventions that prevent and reduce risks.

To better understand the everyday risks that inhabitants of the two case study sites are exposed to, we spatialise our inquiry capturing how these risks are distributed and where they accumulate in space (Figure 1). This is a necessary step in identifying how, and where, risk traps need to be disrupted. Preliminary findings suggest that actions taken in one place to mitigate risk may, in effect, externalise the risk to other locations. Hence mapping to make visible the interdependencies that constitute and shape a given territory becomes a vital step in our enquiry, particularly as we seek to devise solutions for an integrated, and co-produced planning.

Figure 1. Drone image of Barrios Altos used to identify residential plots, cultural heritage buildings and other uses such as storage, which is defacing the historic centre. Photo: Rita Lambert

Figure 1. Drone image of Barrios Altos used to identify residential plots, cultural heritage buildings and other uses such as storage, which is defacing the historic centre. Photo: Rita Lambert

This notion of interdependencies materialise at different scales in both Barrios Altos (BA) and José Carlos Mariátegui (JCM). Therefore the analysis is undertaken at various scales. In BA, some of the quintas (multi familiar residential plots) that have private ownership, also present a weakened social organisation.  The quinta, which used to function as an identifiable unit, with common areas and the shared goal amongst residents to improve these areas collectively, now works as a group of individual structures.  The impact of such changes is noted as some households undertake improvement works and in doing so, move away from the traditional one storey structure made of adobe, replacing it with multi-storey brick and concrete buildings. As the structural integrity of the buildings are weakened due to the disparate materials used, the residents are differentially exposed to risk. Besides the increased physical risks that such practices bring, the weakened collective action and organisation also increases the vulnerability of residents to land trafficking activities.

Figure 2. Surveying team in action in BA. Photo Rita Lambert

Figure 2. Surveying team in action in BA. Photo Rita Lambert

Moving out of the quinta and analysing the scale of the manzana (block), it is possible to capture the increasing threats which are claiming the Historic Centre. Land speculation is leading to the slow eviction of  many vulnerable tenants. Moreover, the cancerous growth of storage facilities, also increases the likelihood of fires with the storage of highly flammable materials. If a quinta is adjacent to any of these conditions, it is also more vulnerable, as different land use types interact to increase risk.

In JCM, the interdependencies materialise on the slope. Risk is unevenly distributed with those higher up the slope having to pay more to mitigate risk and make the area habitable. However the occupation in the higher parts, as well as the opening up of roads by large scale land traffickers to capitalise in this area, also increases risk for the lower parts e.g rock falls etc. The latter also have to invest to cope with this risk. Hence mapping at the scale of settlements can make visible where risk mitigation strategies are taken and where risk is externalised to.

Figure 3. Undercutting of slope to create a habitable plot led, in this case, to the partial collapse of the foundation of an existing structure. Photo: Rita Lambert

Figure 3. Undercutting of slope to create a habitable plot led, in this case, to the partial collapse of the foundation of an existing structure. Photo: Rita Lambert

Having analysed how risk is mapped by various institutions in Lima, the project acknowledges the need to work at a finer scale. Many of the official maps homogenise risk painting large areas in red, whilst a more grainier and differentiated understanding of everyday risk is sought in this project. For this purpose, the base maps used also need to be at a level which show subdivisions in built structures. As the Cadastral Institute of Lima only provides the information at manzana or plot level, the SEDAPAL maps are hereby used as a base because  they show water connection in every household and thus capture subdivisions. Furthermore, in the process of data collection, high resolution drone images for each area are used in a process of manual mapping (Figure 1) undertaken in parallel to digital mapping using EpiCollect+, a free application on smartphones which enables the digitalisation of surveys as these are collected.

Figure 4. Inhabitants of JCM indentifying their plots and the limits of their settlements. Photo: Rita Lambert

Figure 4. Inhabitants of JCM indentifying their plots and the limits of their settlements. Photo: Rita Lambert

Departing from the need to map everyday risks at various scales, the project will undertake geo-referenced surveys in both areas at: 1) the household level, to assess the individual investments made to mitigate risk; and 2) at the quinta level in BA and the settlement level in JCM, to assess the collective investments.  The data collection takes a significant representative number: in BA, 30% of quintas in a manzana (40 manzanas in total are chosen, representing half of BA area) and in JCM, 30% of occupied plots for each of the 11 settlements under study. The participatory nature of the process involves capacity building in mapping, the integration of residents in data collection, and the co-design of the survey to include information that inhabitants deem important to them. This means that the method is also used to strengthen existing processes of change, particularly supporting social mobilisation and integrated planning. In BA, community leaders, accompany the fieldwork, sharing information and communicating with others in their neighborhood. This is a necessary step to promote collective action and resist unwanted changes. In JCM, on the other hand, identifying the various investments made over time in each settlement, and making visible the increased investments that need to be made to continue this form of urbanisation raises consciousness of the ripple effect created by atomised actions upon the territory.  This paves the way for an integrated planning between settlements but also more coordinated actions between inhabitants and state agencies.

For more information of the research project cLIMA sin Riesgo please visit the site: http://www.climasinriesgo.net/

You can also access some of the outputs released so far in the following links:

Newsletter No 1, June 2015 “Reframing Urban Risks”

Policy Brief: No 1, June 2015 “Urban Risk: In search of new perspectives”

Video Interview with Principal Investigator of cLima sin Riesgo, Adriana Allen, about the importance of amplifying knowledge of everyday and episodic risks and the objectives of the project

 


Rita Lambert is a teaching fellow at the Development Planning Unit, UCL, where she is primarily engaged in the planning and delivery of the practice module of the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development.

Originally from Ethiopia, she undertook her university studies in Edinburgh and London. She graduated from the Architectural Association in London, where she later taught for 4 years in the final years of the Diploma in Architecture.  In 2009, she studied in the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development, at the Development Planning Unit , UCL.

Her particular interest lies in mapping, as a tool which can be adopted by ordinary citizens to navigate institutional barriers and expand the room for manoeuvre towards environmentally just urbanisation.

Street Messages and Creative Placemaking

ucfucmt17 November 2015

“Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage”

Robert MacFarlane, a Road of One’s Own

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

 

In July 2015, I received a grant from the Academy of Urbanism to explore street messages and creative placemaking within rapidly changing urban spaces. Broadly, my research has explored the encounter with artistic interventions within the urban environment and how they interact with our everyday lives. Within this project more specifically I wanted to go to the encounter of urban street art in four neighbourhoods of London which were all going through processes of change: Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch. This sought to do three things:

 

  1. Collect images to refer back to and see if themes would become apparent,
  2. Create a working definition of creative place making in terms of street art, and,
  3. Understand where street art fits into narratives of rapidly changing spaces.

 

What is urban street art and/or street messages?

I was about half way through the project that I stopped referring to the art I was encountering in the street as urban street art, but as street messages. I was rather confusingly for others, and myself, either interchangeably using the words or just saying street messages.

Street art is, basically, art in the street.

But, the reason why I decide to move away from calling it street art is because it did not encompass everything I began to encounter in the street. I wanted it to include, yes, what we understand as street art, but also graffiti (from the italian graffiare, to scratch), tagging (writing one’s name or symbol), feel good stuff, retorts, hactivism (to distort the original meaning of something, like road signs, to create new meaning), calligraffiti, portrait pieces, community murals, inspirational quotes, etc.

I’m personally, drawn to seeking out what seems to be the more impulsive act of grabbing a pen or a spray can and writing on the walls or surfaces. It comes from an individualistic desire but connects to others because it comes from a personal place, connecting empathically.

I guess the difference I am trying to make here is that there were some encounters with street art or street messages that can be immediately understood. You do not have to go away and do some research to understand what that particular piece is trying to do, and you do not need to be in the street art or graffiti world to understand it. I understand it because the message is clear, and I connect to it as a person.

Providing context to the images changes how we engage with it, and therefore how we respond to it. This came up during various points of the project. Because the project was taking place in the street and at the point of encounter with urban street art, I could not assume that people who pass by it go or would go home to research. I wanted to understand their view of the art as they saw and understood it in the very real here and now.

 

What about the process?

Walking & Filming

Over the months of July & August I set out on a series of walks with different people. I don’t know how you experience the city, but I’ve walked a lot across it. Walking is something that I think in a place like London that is so busy and stressful and where we all lead these very full lives, slowing down is not something that comes quite as naturally anymore. So part of what I wanted to do to understand different areas was to go out there and get a bit – well – lost. And it was in that process of unknowing, the destination, the people we would meet, the conversations that we would have, without having an agenda, which proved to be very exciting. By slowing down, we were able to tap into the pulse of the place, and at the same time open ourselves up to encounter.

During the course of the project I was lucky to meet Jayni Gudka, a filmmaker who wanted to do a short film around the experience of the project. Creating a film was never something I thought of doing, but is a really lovely way to showcase what and how the project was undertaken.

 

Neighbourhoods & Talking to People.

London is a constantly changing city, but Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch were interesting in the way street art was framed in each context – part of it’s identity, sometimes to raise awareness, part of regeneration projects, and sometimes to argue the appropriation and use of space. When I was doing my background research on the areas, all had the word gentrification as part of their descriptions, and I wanted to explore how street art and messages fit within those processes.

It was during these walks that I had young urbanists, urban planners, academics, artists, photographers, a filmmaker, strangers, coerced friends, an accountant, an art psychotherapist, a wide range of people that responded to the call out for walkers. I was never lonely on my walks. This response I think is indicative of how many people connected to the project aims.

Photography & Mapping.

I wanted to incorporate an element of mapping into the process. While walking in an area, I would take pictures and locate these images onto a map. By creating a virtual map that could be referred to, I wanted to see what themes would immediately jump out.

There were several problematics with this though. Firstly, I realised that I was taking pictures very much from my lived experience, what was making ME stop and making ME think and making ME want to take a picture – it could have been a different interpretation by someone else. Lesson learnt, I need to involve more people at this stage. Secondly, these pictures are not exhaustive and I have simply taken into account a tiny percentage of what’s out there.

Workshop

As the walks came to a close and I now wanted to understand the outcomes of it, I organised a workshop to answer some of the aims I had initially set out with. It was also really important involve others in this process, as I wanted to dilute my interpretation of things from my own experience – and a wide range of people were invited to take part. As a group we set about figuring out themes. This involved using the same map you can see over there, and placing images that were taken on the walks around it. By first separating them into neighbourhoods, and then into categories, themes began to emerge.

 

What happened?

Over the course of the walks, and during a workshop that took place back in September, themes started to become apparent. Such as:

  1.     Against the system/Critiques of Technology.
  2.     Instructions & Street Philosophy.
  3.     Aesthetic – images that possibly needed more of a context and background to them to undertand.
  4.     Animals/Nature.
  5.     Gentrification.
  6.     Love.

But what do these themes mean in the context of these neighbourhoods?

 

BRIXTON

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

 

Brixton is a bustling area, a transportation and market hub. It’s very diverse. It’s also rapidly changing. Earlier this year, network rail began evicting some 30 local independent businesses from within the arches running along Atlantic Road and Station Road, some of which have been in the area for around 40 years. Together with the market, they constitute what is largely considered the heart of Brixton.

The Save the Arches petition began as a response to that, and part of it was also a movement started by local street artist PINS. Initially contacted by a local business to paint their shutters in response to the eviction, PINS then contacted some of his artist friends, spoke to other businesses, and organised more shutters to be painted, helping to raise awareness of the situation. This image is now iconic of the struggle happening in Brixton.

Walking around Brixton was a lot of fun and we met and spoke to many people. The importance of community – through the Save Brixton Arches Campaign shutters, but also to the responses around them – the writings I miss my Brixton, F*%& your new flats, and others – were indicative of feelings around the changes taking place in the area.

We met Phil, Amara & Aleksi from Small World Urbanism, an organisation that uses gardening and art with a community focus. On the day we were walking they were painting bees and planting on beehive place – this small oasis of plants and animals in an urban environment felt like a haven, particularly against the new Brixton Pop structure. Lining the walls were also portraits by James Pearson, an Australian artist who had done the portraits of characters of this particular stretch. We met a few of them, particularly John who spent a long time telling us about growing up in Brixton, the businesses lining the road. There was a great energy about the place, people stopping and chatting and adding their own thoughts to the changes in Brixton.

PECKHAM

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

I don’t really know Peckham. Before the walks, I’d been there once or twice over the last couple of years. Coming out of the station, you’re fed out of small tunnels and into a bustling high street of stalls piled high with yam and cassava, fishmongers and butchers, and music blasting in the street. Peckham is one of the most diverse communities in London, which also plays home to many of its best art schools. It is an area that’s undergone changes in the last few years, with the influx of cafes, wine bars, niche shops and artists studios. One of my favourite pieces that we came across during those walks was a David de Brito (São Paolo) painting that originally read “I love Peckham” and where someone had come by and written over it – I hate the new Peckham.

Just off Rye Lane, walking past vegetable stalls, you come into a parking area with lots of cars, a restaurant, and a lot of graffiti, tags and street art. We also spoke to a man in his fifty’s sitting on a chair. I asked him about the street art and graffiti. He says he started it all. One day a girl came and did it, took a couple of pictures, but the next day he got there and someone had written all over it. He rang her up and she said that was just the way of the street – open to response, to be defaced, to be altered to be hated or loved. I think this touches on how street art, graffiti occupies such a different space in our visual culture. With advertising we aren’t allowed to respond, if we do it is vandalism, but with street art and messages you can. It becomes a really fluid space for dialogue, even if it’s just to swear.

 

BROCKLEY

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

 

Brockley was an interesting walk as it was so different from Brixton & Peckham. It didn’t have the same activity, hustle and bustle, there were less people milling around, it had a much more suburban feel to it. As an area it deserved more walks at various times during the week. It didn’t quite work as a space to just go and see what happens.

Here, the walks actually followed the Brockley Street Art Festival that took place earlier in the summer. These paintings are legal, having sought the OK of the local council to paint on walls and hoardings. The catalyst for the festival was actually because just outside Brockley Station a Bob Marley Mural was removed to build new flats. The community was upset as it had been around for forty years. So, it set out to recreate it and then some.

The festival itself aimed to improve the appearance of the Brockley Corridor and its surrounding neighbourhood through a showcase of murals by local, national, and international artists. I was personally really interested in some writing on hoardings, actually on the outside of this new building going up which has three white women shopping for cacti (who knew it was a thing?) and someone has taken a pen and responded with “the mortgages are like so affordable” but also “Brockley is on the down turn, like the rest of UK”.

I did speak to a few people, and everyone found them quite beautiful. But it remained at that. So, Brockley primarily seemed more aesthetic in its use of street art, but also had some retort in the form of these scribblings on hoardings. I left feeling like Brockley was at the beginning of certain change.

SHOREDITCH

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Shoreditch needs no introduction. Because it’s such a vibrant space for street art, I initially didn’t want to go there as I thought that whatever ‘messages’ I was hoping for wouldn’t be there – too consumeristic, I thought. Intrinsically, this is the space that revealed the most pieces against the system. During the final walk in Shoreditch, the term “post-gentrification” was used, and it came up again in the workshop. Though there are several problematics with using phrases like this, I believe it helped to understand that a change has occurred so fundamentally that it now did not look like anything it once was.

As the last area to go walking in, it was easier to look back on the four neighbourhoods as different moments in a process of change. The themes revealed a narrative around changing spaces, and in Brockley-Brixton-Peckham & Shoreditch street art becomes embroiled in processes of change.

The other neighbourhoods seemed to fit into different stages of change with Brixton, Peckham, Brockley and Shoreditch all sitting on some spectrum of change, and with urban street art framing some of the narratives of that change. I think something to tease out of this project is to focus more on what those phases would be.

What is Creative Placemaking?

I became aware that I hadn’t really given a definition of what this means. That’s predominantly because throughout the project, I’ve been trying to define it. I obviously had some notions of what it did mean to me, but again in the same way with just going for a walk, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t try to shove my preconceived idea of what it had to mean without interacting with it in the first place.

It was during the workshop that we began deconstruct and then reconstruct each word. What this meant was that when we recombined them they revealed new understandings. So for example, creative place making also became: innovative environment building, or; chance transcient curating, or; ephemeral attachment consciousness.

In a nutshell, this is what Creative Placemaking has come to mean to me: the act of creating something that connects you to a physical space for a moment. In that moment, that space is yours and forms your identity.

Is there a single definition? Absolutely not. I believe that Creative Placemaking can be very different things depending on intent of the maker – Indeed, I would argue that creative place making can only be experienced by the maker. Is it a working definition? Yes. Creative place making, is also not a process with an end point, but the constant transforming, defining and re-defining, and curating of public spaces. Street art and street messages exist in an interesting space. By straddling legal and illegal divides, by being driven by different needs – community, individualistic, ego, aesthetic – it is a very active process.

Finally, I believe that street art creates narratives, allowing us to understand changing spaces. In order to understand a community, we should look at its walls.

 


 

Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development Alumni. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture exploring street messages in West African urbanism. However, her interests are interdisciplinary; 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. Her project Street Messages & Creative Place Making was funded by the Academy of Urbanism Young Urbanist Small Grants Scheme.

 

Experimental modes of urban design research: BUDD in Cambodia

ucfuast2 June 2015

The BUDD Fieldtrip engages with urban challenges in informal settlements in Cambodia by experimenting a different mode of design research. A mode that is embedded, relational, and therefore also active, reflexive and certainly collective. Embedded refers to the learning and knowledge production which is seen as a process integrally related to the practices and lived experiences of people in specific contexts. The work on the field starts from the understanding of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers. Participants focus on how people shape and reshape space and how their specific forms of life shape and produce the everyday.

As it is an immersion in life, the research is also necessarily relational – recognising that knowledge production and learning are defined within relative positions, and in conversation with existing discourses, social and material processes.

Active refers to a practice that is engaged with material conditions and social and political complexities, while reflexive acknowledges the contexts in which the research is produced and challenges hegemonic outcomes.

It is precisely in the apparent contradiction between active and reflexive that an ongoing balancing act between withdrawing from taking action and engagement takes place. Withdrawing from taking action implies a humble, flexible and reflexive approach against the risk, inherent to design, to get trapped into solution-delivery, and prescriptive and exogenous plans.

What follows is a visual account of the process to which BUDD students are exposed to and contribute to shape during and after the fieldtrip. It makes sense of the word collective, as the essential attribute of the above mentioned design research. The work developed during the fieldtrip is two times collective: in recognising that space is collectively produced by multiple subjectivities and therefore in pursuing the production of knowledge as a common endeavour.

Embedded in the present text there are some students’ notes developed during the fieldtrip and posted in the BUDD blog as part of the reflexive praxis of the course.

Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

In Cambodia BUDD students were divided across three sites, working with Community Architects Network (CAN-Cambodia), CDF (Community Development Fund), GDH (General Department of Housing) representatives and Khmer university students. The fieldwork unfolds similarly in the different sites following a modus operandi that is now consolidated.

During the first days, after being introduced to the community members and leaders and have met local governmental officials, participants indulge in observing, surveying, mapping and interviewing, to grasp an understanding of the context, in its physical and social construction. Collective activities aimed at gathering information, identifying issues and developing proposals follow one another filling a very dense agenda.

They are also aimed at mobilising the community, reinforcing the cohesion when present, and building a relation with the materiality of the living environment. For instance, collective mapping of boundaries, landmarks and households; enumeration; focus groups; participatory exercises – such as the ‘dream house’ and ‘dream community’ exercise; design workshops as the ‘re-blocking workshop’; and even more playful activities as the ‘talking jacket’ and the ‘participatory massage’.

  Image: The 'dream house' exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

Image: The ‘dream house’ exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

“Housing is conceived from inside to outside scaled by the households through the scale of the body, its shapes, its dimensions. The house is understood far away from stereotypes repeated as a stamp, seeking an average family or an ideal life standard acquirable as commodity. The exercise challenged concepts repeated and taught in Universities as a mantra: The house is clearly not “a machine for living in”. The body, the people and their social relations are in the centre.

Before the exercise, we were afraid to invite the community to dream a house far from what was possible to achieve by them in the reality. We discussed about the risk of the exercise in the creation of false expectations. However, during the activity, we discovered once again that people knowledge is linked with the reality and experience. The outcomes of the exercise were projects feasible to be built in the future.

Projecting the dream house was an exercise of reality, affordability and hope. The dream house is not a luxury mansion impossible to build, maintain or inhabit. People dream, but with open eyes : small steps, flexible projects, and reality. All the houses, created with individualities, were proposing improvements and new realities. ” (Cristian Robertson De Ferrari, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

  Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

After the initial observation, survey, mapping and participatory activities, the group of students start working along with community members to jointly envision and materialise a proposal to be presented to the local authority, either at the municipal or district level. It is of crucial importance that the presentation is led by the community. This is in fact a unique opportunity for them to share their story and upgrading aspirations.

“Together with university students, ministry representatives, CAN Community Architect Netwwork, CDF Community Development Fund, we facilitated community to open communication with local authorities. We could have called it an ‘urban forum’, where the community became visible and openly spoke out their proposal to government.

Their agency to act and bring something on the table was important to build trust and recognition as equal partner for government in shaping the environment. Collective agency, then, means everyone who presence in the forum understand their capacity to act, listen, and speak for themselves. Knowledge was produced both about space and positionality. We spoke in different language, but actually our meaning was mutual.” (Sri Suryani, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia's transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.  Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.  Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia’s transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.
Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.
Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

Proposals, interventions and strategies developed with the community are refined during the last days of the fieldtrip and presented to the vice governor in Phnom Penh. This is a further opportunity to exchange the learning and outcomes; it is also aimed at making visible the presence of such enormous capital in the communities, the ‘people technology’. Capitalising on the site work, back in London, BUDD students share once again their outcomes in a final presentation that concludes the Cambodia fieldtrip project.

Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

Contemporary urban challenges call for a deeper reorientation of design research. The BUDD mode – embedded, collective, relational, active and reflexive – aims to do so. Immersed in the tradition of action learning of the DPU, these pedagogical dimensions foster a constitutive role for urban education in addressing urban exclusion and inequality, and global disparities in the production of knowledge and space.


Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13.

MSc DAP field trip and the tragedy in Kathmandu

ucfukpa4 May 2015

"Nepal relief location map" by Uwe Dedering - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Nepal relief location map” by Uwe Dedering – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If the world today were as it was a little over one week ago, 35 students on the Development Administration and Planning MSc programme would be boarding a plane to Kathmandu for our annual overseas field trip. That they are not warrants relief and great sadness; relief at not being caught up in the tragedy of a powerful earthquake, and great sadness at the scale of loss in Kathmandu.

Since news of the earthquake came on Saturday 26 April, the figures of people who have died, are lost or have been forced to leave their homes, is steadily rising. Images of ancient places students were to visit as part of a city orientation, are images of rubble and dust. When tragic events happen in distant places it can be difficult to translate every statistic in a death toll to a real person and every crumbled building to a home.

For our Nepali friends and field trip partners life has changed in an instant. As phone lines and internet connections slowly come back online a sense of relief returns; email messages confirm they are alive and unhurt.

The messages also reveal people slowly coming to terms with the challenges before them. Some predict it will take at least a month after the shocks subside for a semblance of normalcy to return to the country. In the meantime, they and their families are sleeping outside and cautiously visiting homes and offices to check on damage, gather supplies and plan for what happens next.

All of our field trip partners are engaged in the development sector either as scholars or practitioners. For them, a priority equal to securing their heath is returning to work to assist some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Kathmandu, people who are disproportionately affected by the consequences of an earthquake.

In the process of cancelling our trip and reinforcing our distance from tragedy, we are inspired and humbled by the commitment of our friends and partners in coping with the inescapable realities of this calamity.

To support relief efforts in Nepal, donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) are very welcome: http://www.dec.org.uk/


Dr Kamna Patel is a lecturer at the DPU, where she co-directs the MSc programme in Development Administration and Planning.

Urban street trading: tailored thinking for the Global South

ucfulor17 April 2015

On the 25th of March we ran a one-day seminar on street trading in the cities in the Global South. Prominent researchers from different parts of the world mixed with young PhDs to share their research and reflections on the topic.

During the reception after the seminar one of the speakers remarked: ‘I feel people in this room are talking on the same language and sharing similar questions; an exciting feeling’.

I really sympathised with that comment: to connect disconnected research and people was one of the key motivations behind the event. In fact, street trading as a tool to understand cities is currently disconnected from major debates, despite their widespread presence in cities in the Global South.

Street trading_web

The seminar looked at street trading on two levels: On a practical level about the difficulties encountered with regards to implementing city policies; and another more theoretical level using street trading as a conceptual tool to understand (and challenge understandings) of cities, and city-making processes.

The conceptual problem of street trading

The exercise really started long before the seminar, when we had to choose a title that accurately framed the subject and our objectives. I first proposed the title ‘Street traders and the cities in the Global South’.

This was quickly changed to specify ‘street trading’ as we acknowledged that the commercial system (traders, organisations, marketplaces, local and transnational commercial connections) is far more complex than only street traders, which only considers people and not wider spatial, political and economic contexts.

Looking for a more appealing title, Yves Cabannes and I proposed ‘Street trading: the privatisation of public space’.

However, we realised that that we were getting trapped by the very same conceptual-box that we were trying to escape and challenge: the modern paradigm of cities.

In fact, the definition of ‘public space’ and ‘privatisation’ fail to adequately explain how streets in the Global South work. In this context, the appropriation of the streets and open spaces by street traders, without formal permission from the municipality, is already a current, and to a certain extent, legitimate practice. In other words, to have informal street trading in the streets is normal.

Our discussion on the title illustrates a conceptual problem with street trading: as researchers, we lack theoretical frameworks that fit properly to explain how cities and streets work and the conditions that make them suitable places for street trading. After this discussion we settled on the title Street trading in the Global South: Practical and theoretical challenges.

Informality is never black and white

Among the different discussions held during the seminar, I have chosen three that show how the current theoretical frameworks fail to address street trading.

The first of these discussions was on the concept of informality. It was quickly agreed by participants that while this concept seems to propose a black and white understanding of the phenomenon, the reality that we observe is actually somewhere in-between – different shades of gray.

Is this concept useful to understand how street trading works? Are the street traders doing wrong by operating outside the law, or rather have cities been unable to offer them a dignified role in the city-making process?

Contested urban spaces and city-making

The second discussion related with the claims of vendors to urban space and the legal systems that regulate the activity. Traders have been facing evictions in many locations and some of them start mobilisations to protect their places on the streets. Most of these evictions occur when groups of the urban elite, supported by city authorities, ‘clean’ the streets to re-appropriate spaces used by them in the past such as the city centres.

The contestation of urban space is an interesting angle to see how the city is made and for who. This perspective shows that street traders are not often seen as having a voice in the making of their own cities.

Urban streets are more than mere thoroughfares

We also discussed the need to move to a new paradigm of space that integrates the richness of the streets as vibrant places where many things happen throughout the day. In the past, streets were conceptualised mainly as a ‘road’, a space of transit, where separation of uses and users was optimal to fulfill this function.

This idea still predominates in the way we think about a street and the way city authorities expect it to work. Street trading hardly finds a space in this functionalist conception of space.

Street trading can only find a proper space in the cities if we start thinking about the streets as a different kind of ‘object’, one that understands the vitality, dynamism, polyvalence that streets in the Global South have.

Lastly, I want to thanks to all the participants for making this seminar an exciting space for exchange, and specially to Yves for the enriching discussions we had.


Lila Oriard has recently completed her PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Her doctorate explores street vending and its ability to produce space, through an examination of  the Tepito market in Mexico City downtown area.

Engaging youth in representations of place: more than just an open day

Liza Griffin5 February 2015

This post and the project exploring place in Kilburn has been undertaken in collaboration with Kamna Patel.

Students introduce their representations of their neighbourhood

Students introduce their representations of their neighbourhood

In the old days school level students saw universities as the most mysterious of places – where and what were they, what do they teach and how? They were rarely told anything much in answer – except that it was a very good idea to try and get in. But how did people know where to apply, and what subjects to choose? Little guidance was available.

Today, much has changed. It’s common for prospective university undergraduates, to attend ‘open days’ available throughout the year from all and sundry higher education establishments. At them, potential applicants can hear from academic staff what to expect if they go university, and learn briefly what different subjects have to offer.

All very useful, but now, academics from Development Planing Unit in University College London are going one step further. We are offering some school students the chance to become undergrads for a time and join us in a research project exploring urban citizenship and place-making.

This is what students at St Augustine’s School in Kilburn have recently done. We have collaborated with Helen Allsopp, their teacher, to run a series of workshops on a favourite theme amongst geographers and planners; a ‘sense of place’

First, the workshops explored the students’ own perception of Kilburn, where they live – what is it like for them, and how much have they noticed recent changes in the area. And they explored how the changes going on reflect the broader processes of globalisation that we are constantly hearing about (e.g. big new developments funded by foreign capital, soaring house prices fuelled by demand from people wanting to work in London, changing ethnic mixes, and so forth).

Explanations of the different methodologies used were displayed around the exhibition

Explanations of the different methodologies used were displayed around the exhibition

Then the students used techniques from the social sciences to analyse different portrayals, or ‘representations’ of Kilburn, coming from diverse sources such as websites, films, written texts in books, magazines, music, social media and so on.

Besides these workshops, the students conducted fieldwork in the area. There, intriguingly, they made maps of how people, including themselves, feel about different parts of Kilburn – identifying, for example, ‘spaces of fear’ where it might be dangerous to go at particular times of day or places where they feel more at home. In such exercises they applied different research methods (such as transects walks through their neighbourhood) as used by social scientists and Town Planners amongst others.

In all this, the students were getting much more than just an ‘open day’ afternoon. Theirs was an in-depth experience, sustained over time, of the kinds of things they might expect to be doing at university, including an up to date view of the sorts of research methods and analysis that planners and geographers might apply in their work. And here, the St Augustine’s students were actually sharing in such work.

IMG_3784

The workshops and fieldwork ran over several months, culminating in the students producing their own representations of Kilburn shown at a roving expedition running throughout 2015 – at UCL, at St Augustine’s and at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The exhibition’s centrepiece is a series of 3D maps of Kilburn produced by the students themselves. These are not a ‘conventional’, accurate-to-scale representations. Instead they incorporate their different perceptions of, and concerns and aspirations for this busy, dynamic and multi-faceted place.

The exhibition opened in January 2015, and at that opening visitors were guided through by some of the students themselves, explaining the maps and models, and recounting how they were produced. They also had to explain to the audience the practical usefulness of such cultural geography work, in developing peoples’ sensitivity to place and encouraging them to think about how they can help to shape places for themselves and help to give them meaning.

The latter was one of our main aims of the project. In our on going action research on this project we plan to reflect upon the extent to which the participating students, through their involvement, were provided with a sense of how they themselves might be able to shape their own urban environment and ask whether this contributed to a nascent sense of citizenship.

IMG_3805

The project is impressive – partly because of the impression which the students make on the visitors as they are guided round. Here is a group of enthusiastic, smart and articulate young people, with a dynamism that will undoubtedly make them an asset to whatever university they eventually choose if they seek to continue their studies. And hopefully they will have a flying start through their experience of doing some university level work with the academics who will teach them.

 

Liza Griffin is a Lecturer and Co-Director of the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Kamna Patel is a Lecturer and Co-Director of the MSc Development Administration and Planning. Both have lived in the Kilburn area.