Boston Report: designing for, and talking about, urban disasters.

by Anya Brickman Raredon

Last week there was talk about disasters and resilience up and down the MBTA Redline – from Harvard University’s Design for Urban Disaster Conference to UMass Boston’s Conference on Disaster Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Sustainable Reconstruction, and MIT’s Sustainability Summit in between. I, along with some of my colleagues here at AHI had the opportunity to attend and present at both the Harvard and UMass events.

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Announcement for AHI UMass Session

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Posters at the Harvard GSD conference.

Our week of conferencing started at Harvard with three days of panels and discussion focused on how designers and humanitarians could work together in disaster response and better understand each other’s professional skill sets.  With over 140 attendees, there were a lot of perspectives and a lot of information to absorb over the course of three days, but several themes emerged and were highlighted in each day’s plenary sessions.  Some of these which I think bear further consideration include:

– How can humanitarians and architects better understand each other’s professional processes, and get away from seeing the other as being “too slow” (in the case of architects), and “too reactive” (in the case of humanitarians)?

– How come discussions of resilience don’t take power structures into account?  And what are the resulting implications of this?

– Has the well-developed humanitarian compliance system stopped organizations from being able to learn from feedback?

– Is humanitarian response (whether design based, or otherwise) evidence and context driven? How can we work towards this as a goal?

AHI also led one session at each conference focused on raising the question of whether we can continue to think of large-scale post-disaster resettlements as temporary (refugee or internally displaced persons camps) or whether it is time to acknowledge that many of these situations are in fact urban conditions that become permanent and should perhaps be thought of as ‘instant cities’.

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Moderating a 45-minute discussion on “Shelter Camp or Instant City?”  at Harvard University

For the UMass session, AHI also invited Chris Ward (Deputy Director of USAID/Haiti’s Infrastructure Office) to speak on specific cases of camp-to-settlement transformations in post-earthquake Haiti, and David Sanderson (Oxford Brookes University, and one of the organizers of the Harvard conference) to offer his perspective on how this idea fit within current humanitarian practices.

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The panels inspired dynamic discussions, raising issues of: land tenure, politics, definitions of ‘urban’, and the different realities of protracted displacement situations based on their causes. We are looking forward to continuing this conversation at the InterAction Forum on June 12th in Washington, D.C.  We will also be writing more on the topic both here and in AHI Innovations over the coming months.

In the meantime, see David Smith’s presentation here, and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Ben Krause (J/P Haitian Relief Organization) offering commentary during the UMass session.

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Chris Ward (USAID/Haiti), David Smith (AHI), and David Sanderson (Oxford Brookes University) discussing a question during the 2-hour UMass session.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Boston Report: designing for, and talking about, urban disasters.

  1. Pingback: What we’re reading: Refugee Cities | Affordable Housing Institute – Global Blog

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