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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

CAN Co-Creation: Reflection

LuisaMiranda Morel5 September 2016

In July 2016, the 4th Community Architects Network (CAN) Regional Workshop brought together community action practitioners from countries all over South East Asia. The first day was spent in Bangkok, Thailand, introducing the participants to the work done and challenges faced by CAN members in Thailand, China and India. The following five days were spent in groups – each focusing on a different sector of city development, for example the transport group, which I was part of – doing fieldwork alongside local communities in Chumsang City of Nakornsawan Province, Thailand.

 

Today is just about listening

 

“Today is just about listening,” we were told. That was how we started our fieldwork on the 16th of July. Focusing our attention on understanding the local communities of Chumsang, listening to their ideas, concerns and how they wished their city to be in the future. This was a challenge, particularly as most of us had spent the first two days of the workshop meeting and exchanging with many different people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. So by the time we arrived in Chumsang, my mind was already full of questions and ideas. I was excited and a little rushed to quickly understand the context of Chumsang, considering we had very few days to do so and then to, somehow, ‘co-create’ something.

 

Co-Creation was the theme of the workshop. It was described in the introductory programme as the “co-creation and design between man and nature through a process of understanding and respect”. Understood in this way, co-creation was very representative of the dynamics and needs of Chumsang. Like other similarly sized cities in Thailand, Chumsang faces many concerns related to its natural resources and landscapes, the loss of its cultural traditions, the changing dynamics of migration in its young and old populations and as a result the increasing day to day challenges in making the city livable, sustainable and lively.

Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

Following this theme, the workshop in general had a loose structure that allowed space for conversations to evolve, take different directions and reveal those elements that were not immediately obvious about the city and its people. At first this way of working felt uncertain, unfamiliar and risky but as we were immersed in to the fieldwork, the friendly people and the excitement of it all, it became easier to go with the flow and allow our ideas and projects to develop in a very organic way.

 

Our behinds were burning but our faces were bright

 

As the transport and cycling group, we happily spent a lot of time on our bicycles, visiting the city and using any excuse to get on the saddle. By the end of the first day, it was harder to walk straight and our faces were quite pink from the sun, but it was through these rides around the city that we found inspiration to work. We even wrote a song!

One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

Within the transport group, I felt very connected to my colleagues, not only by being part of CAN, which encouraged us to work together but also through our other interests, in my case cycling. In other cases, photography, culture, music, heritage and ecology brought people together to share ideas on making the city. These elements, represented through our different interests and hobbies, are also an important part of what makes cities vibrant and CAN Co-Create seemed to build on this synergy very well. It took a wholesome perspective toward community architecture and in this case, for the first time, at the scale of the city. I think this was one of its greatest strengths.

Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

In this way, the opportunity that CAN workshops bring about by generating attention, bringing in professionals and practitioners from many contexts to work with local communities and catalyze change not only focused on one arm of city development but many. We established groups that addressed housing, mobility, politics, environment, culture, health and one that emphasized the connectivity and cohesion between these different elements at the level of the city. The workshop also became an opportunity for the mayor to come face to face with the energy of the city’s people, their desires and motivations and to engage in direct conversation with them about their different ideas for the future of Chumsang.

 

At the same time, this transversal approach also brought many communities to work together. We worked with two cycling groups, a group of elderly, the old market community, young school children, communities that were to be relocated and communities that had already been housed. Initially, it seemed that these different groups had their own motivations for participating in the workshop. However, at the end of each day, as we reviewed our progress and our findings, the work gradually demonstrated how intricately connected these different motivations and processes really were.

Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

 

Although some groups progressed quicker than others during the five days of fieldwork, reviewing, changing and even starting over a couple of times; the level of involvement from community groups in the presentation of the outcomes, on the last day, was moving. It showed that these processes of participation intrigued people and invited them to feel part of something greater.

 

So although lengthy and sometimes frustrating, the time it took to build, validate and present ideas with communities, seemed to generate a collective sense of a ‘Community of Chumsang’. In a way, the notion of ‘co-creation’ really materialized through this challenging and timely process. Toward the end of the workshop, I increasingly noticed that people built on these connections and worked with them, moving around the room, between different groups, sharing information and presenting ideas in sync with each other.

Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

Sharing is where everything starts

 

There were many things about the CAN workshop that motivated me but it is what happens after the workshops, which I find the most significant. How the transformative process that CAN workshops initiate, by bringing so many minds together in one place, can ripple out into a series of waves of transformation in other places; How those of us who attend the CAN workshop can carry our experiences and through them, diffuse the energy of CAN into existing and new networks. After the workshop I was left with this intrigue, excited to see what happens next.

 

The workshop produced Facebook groups [CAN Co-Create Chumsaeng City & Unsung Stories of Chumsaeng); brought cycling movements together to carry out a collective ride throughout the city with the support of the police; created brochures to promote tourism, made a song and proposed many other small achievable projects that the local communities could carry on after the workshop. I see these outcomes as small actions and tools that are practical and achievable in the short term but which have the potential to keep co-creation running by “people’s process”, as we like to say, in the long-run. If people follow up and use them.

 

Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

A month later, I am visiting some of the CAN members in Vietnam. They have been great hosts, showing me around and teaching me about the beautiful city of Hanoi.

 

“Sharing is where everything starts” says Houng, one of my hosts and also a CAN member. Being back in conversations about community practices reminds me of my intrigue, what happens after the workshop? How does the transformative process of CAN Co-Create continue?

 

Still excited from the experience, I’ve noticed some signs that suggest the transformative process is still running. The actions that we took and the ‘web’ of tools that we began to create seem to have given the ‘network’ a potential to catalyze this process. Believing it all the more as I listen, discuss and exchange with people who, despite having returned to their busy lives, are still talking about visiting Chumsang again, strengthening the CAN network in Vietnam and even about extending the scope of the existing one.

 

 

[Video]

CAN Co-Create Workshop Teaser Video – Final Video will be published in October

 


Luisa is an alumni of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently she is working in Manila, Philippines as a beneficiary of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme.

Industrial development and business-civic leadership in Nigeria

Naji PMakarem5 July 2016

Why is unemployment and poverty rising in Nigeria, despite over a decade of robust economic growth? According to new research from, Naji P. Makarem, the organized private sector (OPS) has the opportunity to leverage its clout and political influence for urban governance. To do so however, it must strengthen its urban organizational capacity and shift its political attention beyond pure-efficiency to broader conceptions of functional urban agglomerations. A failure to do so risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

 

Since its independence in 1960 Nigeria has been struggling to industrialize and diversify its economy away from low-productivity agricultural employment and dependence on Oil & Gas export revenues.  It has adopted numerous government strategies from import substitution to market liberalization; yet the economy continues to be highly dependent on oil reserves and imports of food and consumer goods from abroad.

 

It is estimated that 70% of households are currently living on less than $2 a day and a similar proportion is employed in the informal economy. Impressive GDP growth and considerable diversification into new sectors such as ICT, Real Estate and Professional, Scientific and Technical services over the past decade have failed to translate into sufficient employment generation, with unemployment rising significantly over the period to well above 20 percent according to government figures.

 

Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010 Source: NBS data.

Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010
Source: NBS data.

 

Jobless growth over the past decade can be attributed to two aspects of Nigeria’s industrial structure: About a third of the growth in output since 1990 has been driven by Oil & Gas, ICT and Real Estate, which together employ a mere 1.4% of formal sector workers. These are highly productive sectors with considerable impact on employment within the cities where they are concentrated, such as Lagos, but they do not generate sufficient employment to absorb Nigeria’s growing labour market.

 

Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010 Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010
Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

 

On the other hand, manufacturing, which suffers from low productivity even compared to countries within the same development club, such as Kenya, India and South Africa, has contributed a mere 5% to GDP growth since 1990. Today Nigerians import the vast majority of the products they consume. They also import the machinery and high value inputs of the few products which they do produce, such as foam, steel pipes and pharmaceutical products. If Nigerians produced more and imported less (or developed favourable terms of trade) more of the money going into tills and ending up in the pockets of investors, entrepreneurs and workers abroad could be going to Nigerian workers, investors, entrepreneurs and the government. Tradable industries in general, and the manufacturing sector in particular, offer Nigerians the opportunity of generating employment, income and public revenues, which are all necessary for poverty reduction.

 

Nigeria’s 55 year struggle to boost its tradable industry is hampered by the country’s chronic ‘low-efficiency’ trap. Consider the following thought experiment to illustrate: take a successful exporting firm in China and place it and its managers and employees in Nigeria. It would not operate anywhere near as efficiently. Here’s why: In Nigeria the same firm would struggle to find serviced industrial land, having to build or fix its own slip roads, dig its own bore hole to access water, build its own sewers system, run its operations on costly diesel generators and hope the land it acquired is not claimed by somebody else, it would have to contend with often negotiated and opaque duplicity of taxes, inconsistent government regulations, a user-unfriendly bureaucracy, competition from counterfeit products produced locally or that enter the market illegally through poorly regulated international borders, an unreliable judiciary, poor quality roads connecting cities across the country with multiple check-points for informal bribes, slow clearing of imported intermediate goods at ports, tariffs on imported inputs which are not locally available, the risk of arbitrary increases in import tariffs for dubious reasons, double-digit interest rates and precarious access to finance and foreign exchange (Although this month, June 2016, the government floated the exchange rate).

 

These dysfunctional aspects of the business climate are well known and well researched by the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ reports which in 2016 ranks Nigeria 169 out of 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business. They are substantiated by our 77 interviews with business and civic leaders in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt, as part of DPU research for a DFID-funded project called Urbanization Research Nigeria (URN).

 

Yet the dysfunctionality of Nigeria’s economic development context runs much deeper than these ‘efficiency-related’ aspects of its urban and national contexts. Economic development theory highlights agglomeration economies, the home market effect (local demand) and productivity drivers as engines of industrial development and productivity growth, the essential conditions for income growth and quality jobs. Efficiency, while extremely important especially in contexts of cost-based competition, is just one of many development drivers urban regions and countries produce, and which firms draw on to compete.

 

The question is how can Nigeria break out of its chronic ‘low-efficiency trap’? While conventional wisdom would point to the need for good governance, this is not very useful advice in and of its own (it’s too obvious). Our research takes a different approach. Drawing from economic sociology, we argue that business-civic leadership has the potential of influencing policy and governance. Moreover, the perceptions and world views of the business community and business civic leadership can shape the formal institutions that govern them (see Figure 1). So we investigate the degree to which the private sector in Nigeria is organized, and the scope of their political attention.

 

Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

 

Our research found the Nigerian business community, from small to large firms across different industries, to be highly organized. The peak business association which has been gaining power and influence since independence is the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria – MAN. The political attention of the organized private sector (OPS) focuses almost exclusively on efficiency-related aspects of the business climate. However, they overlook aspects of the urban context related to agglomeration economies and non-efficiency related productivity drivers; both indispensable features of functional cities for people and businesses.

 

These overlooked urban features include access to affordable, secure and serviced housing which are essential for human capital development; public transport which is indispensable for worker access to work places; education and skills development which are essential for human capital development and innovation; public R&D in related industries to support knowledge creation; firm- and industry-level support strategies for facilitating coordination and knowledge sharing; public space and cultural amenities to enable interaction, identity formation and innovation; and initiatives designed to bridge fragmented communities and develop appropriate and widely shared perceptions and world views in pursuit of social capital.

A failure to focus political attention on investing in functional cities risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

 

 

This is a Blog about a recently submitted URN report to DFID. It will be publicly disseminated soon.


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

 

From theory to practice: Real life social policy for development

MariaHuerta Urias19 February 2016

When I was undergoing my masters degree in Social Development Practice at the DPU, I was consistently amazed by the insight that development gurus provided when discussing and critiquing the design of public policy for development. As a student, reading about government policy was comfortable because you could deconstruct, isolate variables and analyze government performance by focusing on issues regarding diversity, identity, and the importance of planned intervention. We usually come to the easy conclusion that it is (sometimes) inefficient, separated from the reality of those in poverty, swamped with bureaucratic nonsense and overall unable to perform correctly. However, we usually look at this from a distance and perhaps we lack insight into how public policy is designed and the complexities of its execution.

 

In January I joined the national Ministry for Social Development in Mexico City, as a senior advisor for the under secretary. This is by far the most challenging professional opportunity I´ve had and is one that requires lots of work, dedication and most importantly, patience. Why? Because there are many things to be considered before any work is actually done. It’s attempting to reach the most people in poverty, with the most cost-efficient programmes, whilst balancing a complex political agenda….AND at the same time, attempting to put into practice all the knowledge gained from other development experiences and from my brand new masters award. It sounds tricky right? Well, it is.

IMG_6858

So far, this is what I have learned.

Lesson one: In Mexico, public social policy is understood as the norms, institutions, programs and resources that are designed to improve livelihoods. It is meant to be a tool for the promotion and protection of basic social rights, but in reality it translates into each government undertaking a set of compromises that match the current political agenda.

There is a long-term national development effort that can be traced all the way back to the 1910 Revolution and to the recognition of social rights in the Constitution of 1917. For years, the social agenda has been woven into the very fabric of government institutions in this country, but it is constantly changing, shifting priorities and strategies depending on the political arrangement. The implications of this are that once a particular government ends, a new administration starts all over again. New priorities, new strategies. There is no continuity in this “long-term development effort” except for a few successful exceptions which are worth mentioning on a different entry.

Lesson two; “Cost-efficient and viable programmes that reach the most people living under the poverty line”… Cost-effective is not a sexy concept in the world of social development. We analyze and deconstruct loads of other more profound concepts, like power dynamics or citizenship. In practice however, while all of these profound concepts are essential, cost-efficiency becomes a priority to public policy. I learned this recently when I had to define with a group of experts where to open 200 community dinners for women and children that lack access to nutritious food. So I work for hours putting together all the social variables that ought to be considered, from the figure of mothers as caregivers and how that ought to change and include other roles, to the complexity of food chains and power relations. I sit down to discuss this strategy and the main issue is, where can we reach the most people with the most cost-effective operation. No need to say more.

Lesson three; in a public institution, everything is urgent, it needs to be done as soon as possible. So when cost-effectiveness meets viability, then that´s it. The policy gets designed and it operates under those two principles. More profound, long term considerations are harder to incorporate, not because they are considered less important, but because there is a utilitarian formula at place. Reach the most people, other aspects will eventually be introduced. I learned this whilst performing an evaluation of a Woman’s Centre in one of the poorest areas in the country. I had exactly 4 hours to conduct an evaluation of the social impact of this place and report back. My evaluation would determine important things at a higher level. 4 hours. Is it cost-effective, is it reaching the targeted population, is it viable to keep? Of course I had a file with a vast number of considerations that I learned in the Practice module of my Masters degree, but only got to use very few of them.

Lesson four; however difficult it its to incorporate the knowledge from my previous experiences and from my master degree, I recognise the privileged position I´m in. To work in these issues is to be able to impact thousands of people who live in the most poverty stricken areas in the country. What a great responsibility right? So this is why I started my entry by saying patience is the most important lesson. By having patience I will hopefully learn how to play this game, how to match the political agenda with the life agenda of those we work with, not for. How to match what is cost-effective with what is profound and sustainable. Of course, having been in this job for less than two months, any ideas and suggestions on how to do this would be greatly appreciated!

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

DaljeetKaur15 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Odd and Even Scheme in Delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drivers of Change

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

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

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


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

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

Maria PSagredo Aylwin12 January 2016

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

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

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

Plaza Yungay

Plaza Yungay

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

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

2. Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

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

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

Community museum mural

Community museum mural

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Evolving Cuba. The Need for a Planned Transition.

AnaDe La Parra Rovelo31 December 2015

It was the end of November. Only four days had passed since I went back to Mexico after finishing my studies at the DPU. I found myself in Havana, enjoying the outdoors without having to wear a coat. I was excited because I had been invited to present the main topic of my MSc dissertation in a local Congress organised by the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) targeted to 160 public servants, representing the country’s main “territories”.

Martí pointing at the US Embassy in Havana

Martí pointing at the US Embassy in Havana

I was proud to be portrayed as one of the four key speakers at the Congress among three members of the Havana University Faculty. My research topic was about the need to regulate infrastructure services to find a balance between a free-market economy and a communist system. The objective was to explore the need for direct regulation in order to redefine social justice “beyond a distributive understanding”, and expand “people’s capabilities”. All this is contextualised in the recent changes in Cuba, which will encourage greater governmental transparency and economic openness to global investors. The main topic of my lecture was to explain the importance of having available data and information to be able to address people’s main concerns and include their perspective in government policies. I used the same case study as I did in my dissertation: a mobility strategy for Havana. Little did I know that my conference was going to be the only lecture related to infrastructure. I was taken by surprise when I realised that the rest of the conferences were devoted to the Internet.

Fidel talking about the importance of the internet

Fidel talking about the importance of the internet

Inside the rooms of the Palacio de las Convenciones, most of the speakers explained the main uses of the Internet and the convenience of integrating new software and mobile devices to be more productive at work. At first, their explanations were as basic as describing the main uses of Twitter and Facebook to the audience. My first impression was that it was all part of an agenda to insert a specific vision into the public servants; and in a way, it was. However, I started to pay attention to what the professors were really saying and the reactions from the audience and that is when I realised there was so much more. At one point, one female professor explained, “Humans created the Internet to expand their reality, the same way as Plato’s Theory of Ideas”. The audience then made affirmation noises as if everything was now crystal clear and needed no further explanation. I was thankful for my philosophy modules at University. Another professor made it clear that if they “did not tell their story to the world, the only version the people could learn was the one written by the other side”. Hence highlighting the urge to become active users of the web.

I slowly became aware of what was happening in this conference, the country was preparing selected public servants for a transition. A big one! To do so, they are executing a very clever strategy: they are not only taking into consideration the big changes they need to improve their urban mobility or to re-open Mariel, their biggest trading port. They are also taking a step back and considering all the other basic tools they need to succeed when these changes happen. This means introducing themselves to new technologies, software and the biggest modern tool of all, the Internet. It is an integral and multidimensional strategy for Cuba to take over the world instead of fearing the world will take over the island, and I think it is an interesting way to do it.

The venue.

The venue.

After the Congress finished, I went to the Havana University campus in Marianao, just outside Havana to meet an Architecture professor. Having in mind the described events, I felt confident about what was going to come out of this final meeting. I was not disappointed in that aspect. However, the cruelty of the country’s reality hit me when I got there. The Architecture faculty building was decayed, grey, and partially destroyed. As we climbed the stairs to the eighth floor, we had to dodge debris, rods and the risk of falling into the void as the cardboard that served as a wall on one side of the stairs explicitly announced. The professor explained to us that there were over 500 students in that building and that many students were not able to attend due to lack of means of transportation to what he refered to as “the remote” campus, situated 15 km from the City Centre.

The University

The University

After four days I went back to Mexico feeling exhausted, confused and at the same time extremely grateful to have played a part in this transition. I see a country excited with the prospect of change and new hope, built on national proudness of what they have been achieved and the plans they have sketched for the future. Changes are everywhere in this island, so hopefully with the right urban planning policies, cubans will be on the road to success in no time. I cannot wait to see what happens next.


Ana Maria de la Parra Rovelo has an MSc in Social Development Practice from The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. She has specialised inn social impact and infrastructure, especially on projects related to roads. Last June she launched the International Road Federation Young Professionals Programme where members from all over the world collaborate in joint academic research on topics related to mobility and roads. Ana Maria is now based in Mexico City where she is helping with the launch of The Bartlett Built Environment Club – Mexico City, while she works on projects in Cuba and Mexico.

The need for child-orientated play spaces in Addis Ababa

SallyDuncan21 December 2015

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is rapidly expanding and urbanising. Roads, new buildings, car parks and concrete take president and priority over child’s play and recreational space. Evidence, time and time again, has shown that common to all children is a propensity – a natural, innate drive and desire – to play. Children naturally spend most of the day playing if they can – improving their social, physical and cognitive development and wellbeing in the process. But the reality is that play is becoming a luxury for many urban children, while infants are not getting access to adequate and affordable day care which helps ensure they go to school ready and equipped to learn.

Facilitated by a new organisation called Out of The Box, over the next two months a simple yet effective pilot project involving local children, parents, artists and newly graduated Addis-based architects is underway to create a child-centred, community-managed space in the heart of city of Addis Ababa.

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

Urbanisation and the place of the child

 Ethiopia is undergoing unprecedented levels of social, economic and urban change. With a population of over 4 million, the rapid urbanisation of its capital city, Addis Ababa, brings increased danger for the child from traffic, pollution, and construction, combined with a decline of public space. Not only does the planning process tend to ignore the needs of the child, but the dramatic shift in housing from low-level forms to high-rise apartments, referred to as condominiums, adds further restrictions to the spaces in which the child is able to interact with his/her surroundings [1]. As across the global south, resource-poor local government is forced to make hard choices – investments in play and play space being seen as a luxury rather than a right, with the economic and social returns from investing in play rarely understood.

Importance of play, interactive learning, and the investment in young people’s spaces

Children are born with a natural hunger for experience, exploration, understanding and desire for passionate engagement with the physical and social world around them. Play is the process by which children achieve this intrinsic quest for learning, enjoyment and adventure[2], while the way in which children play, and what they play with, is determined by the physical and social environment they are brought up in[3]. Play, like childhood, is culturally relative: socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and race impact on the forms of play a child participates in[4].

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Play is essential for the development of both individual identity and the creation of active and responsible membership of society. Play, according to the UN Convention of the Child is a human right, and research on play interventions, particularly during a child’s early years, show that the active participation in play-based activities results in significantly raising IQs, greater levels of education attainment, higher rates of employment, and increased wages in later life[5], whilst investing in playgrounds, sport and recreational spaces and youth centres plays a crucial role in the creation of strong and cohesive communities, directly enabling the child to feel respected and valued within their immediate community.

Bob Hughes, a pioneering adventure play worker in 1970s Britain, states: “Children will always be children and will always find a way to play”. This begs three important questions: 1. Is where children play safe? 2. What play facilities do governments, policy makers, city planners and communities provide for their children? 3. Does the child have any say in this provision?

Out of The Box Project

In 2012 I spent 3 month living in a housing condominium called Balderas. Constructed in 2008, it’s home to 1050 households and 6000 residents, one third of whom are under 16 years old. During this time I saw first hand how there was a distinct lack of designated early years day-care, play and youth space both in Balderas and across Ethiopia. Inspired by the children I met and the openness of the Resident Association to listen to my slightly “out of the box” ideas, we set about developing Out of The Box (OTB) with the aim of building an adventure playground, a children’s permaculture garden, and multipurpose youth and early years day-care centre at Balderas as a pilot for seeding similar developments in condominiums across Addis Ababa.

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Based on interactive children’s workshops and consultations with the Balderas Resident Association, newly graduated architects from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture (EiABC) are currently designing an original, culturally relevant, dynamic space for children to play, socialise and learn. Incorporating 5 key elements of early years learning and play (Physical, Cognitive, Sensory, Social, Imaginative), the playground aims to be inclusive of different ages, genders and abilities, and use local materials such as bamboo and recycled tyres, jerry cans and satellite dishes. In addition, the site will feature a 30 metre art wall featuring collaborative work from local Addis artists, art students and the children themselves. A children’s permaculture garden will ensure the space is green, vibrant and a celebration of the natural environment in this urban setting.

A second phase to the project will build a children’s centre for early years day-care, youth activities, plus library and café – all managed by Balderas Youth Board and community members.

The first phase of the pilot project will start at Balderas in early 2015. This will act as an example which OTB hopes to replicate in other condominiums in Addis and further afield, continuing to work in creative partnership with a diverse range of individuals and organisations based in both Addis and the UK – promoting the importance of play and the opportunity for every child to play within their immediate community, through both active community participation, cultural dialogue, and exchange.

For more information or ways to be become engaged visit www.outoftheboxpartnerships.com or contact Sally directly at sally@outoftheboxpartnerships.com

 

Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.

Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.

 

[1] Tiumelissan, A and Pankurst A (2013) Moving to Condominium Housing? Views about the Prospect among Caregivers and Children in Addis Ababa and Hawassa, Ethiopia, Young Lives Working Paper 106 [Online] Available from: http://www.younglives.org.uk/publications/WP/moving-to-condominium-housing/wp106-pankurst-moving-to-condominiums [Assessed 1st August 2015]

 

[2] Bartlett S, Hart R, Satterthwaite D, De La Barra X, Missair A (1999) Cities for Children – Children rights, Poverty and Urban Management, Earthscan Publication Ltd, London.

 

[3] Valsiner, J (1989) Human Development and Culture; The Social Nature of Personality and its Study, Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.

 

[4] Holloway S and Valentine G (2000) Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning, Routledge: London and New York

 

[5] Kellock P (2015) The Case for Play, Playground Ideas Report [Online] Available from: http://www.playgroundideas.org/wp-content/uploads/The-case-for-play-V5.pdf [Assessed 09th December 2015]


Sally Duncan has just completed an MSc in Social Development Practice from DPU. She is the CEO and Founder of Out of The Box and also works as a consultant for Oshun Partnerships. Formerly she worked for DFID, as well as for local NGOs in Ethiopia, India, South Africa and Madagascar. Sally is now living in Addis Ababa carrying out her dream to oversee the construction of the adventure playground and youth center in Balderas condominium where she used to live – she hopes this will be the first of many!

Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City – 20 years on

MarianaDias Simpson4 December 2015

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

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

Ibase, DPU, and youth volunteers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Business-civic leadership’s urban social responsibility

Naji PMakarem29 October 2015

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

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

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

 

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

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

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

 

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

 

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

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

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

 

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

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

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

 

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

 

 

 

References:

 

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

 

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