Tag Archives: AHI

Photo Report: Three Days in Ulaanbaatar

By: Anya Brickman Raredon

AHI has been working with the World Bank and Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to develop an affordable housing strategy for the rapidly growing city.  In late-August, David Smith, our CEO and Founder, and I took a three-and-a-half day trip to present the results.  Fortunately we got a little bit of time away from our meetings to see the city and visit a ger area neighborhood – their term for the informal settlements. What follows is a bit of a photo tour with some interspersed musings.

Located in a high valley at the intersection of two rivers, Ulaanbaatar has some of the worst air pollution in the world, in part due to coal heating in the winters. According to the city masterplan, both rivers have protected buffer zones along their banks, although new apartment construction is edging very close on the south side of the valley.  10534525_10100612341304914_7619381653213947338_n936681_10100612341349824_5668957290735238999_n

Downtown Ulaanbaatar is a striking collection of soviet style apartment blocks, yurts, and modern glass towers all sitting right next to each other. There’s even an amusement park in the middle of downtown.10569050_10100606082482644_1606306620005765474_n                 10593150_10100612341424674_2564284688276477326_n  10629839_10100612341629264_7146385909691851264_n                  10474839_10100606076444744_4868540471071979280_n  10610547_10100612341150224_5811294750562497487_n

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What We’re Researching: the Instant City

By Joyce Lee, Harvard Graduate School of Design Community Service Fellow

For the past ten weeks, I had the good fortune of working with AHI as a summer fellow researching post-disaster, post-conflict settlements around the globe –or as we at AHI like to call it, instant cities. For the purposes of our research, we define instant cities as spaces that result from mass, rapid migration from disruptive circumstances. These spaces have a sizable population with food, shelter, water, and other living needs but limited or no supportive physical infrastructure. In turn, this situation creates many humanitarian, economic, operational, and environmental challenges. As an urban planning student with a background in architecture, this subject piques my interest because the confluence of these challenges unfolds at an accelerated rate. And I mean very accelerated. Think: building-and-providing-for-200,000-people-or the-equivalent-of-a-third-of-Boston-in-two-weeks-accelerated (which was the actual case for Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan).

I presume many relief practitioners are drawn to this field of work because of, among many other reasons, the tabula rasa condition of new camps, I certainly was. But in reality, there is no blank slate. Resource-scare site conditions, clashing neighboring host communities, and unclear land titles are all already present at the start of the camp. Yet, many of the camps reviewed this summer do not publicly document these issues unless they become problematic. Are there ways that host countries could be more proactive instead of reactive in this field? Are there possible economic synergies that could take place to make the camp residents and host communities feel more productive? Should states bordering contentious territories prepare refugee contingency plans in advance? This research raised a lot of questions and we started to identify gaps in our knowledge of instant cities. Thus far, our findings are still preliminary, but it is clear that this subject is understudied.

Jalozai Refugee camp in Pakistan

Aerial of Jalozai Refugee Camp in Pakistan. What happens when the camp “closes” and all the aid agencies leave?

Azraq is among the first refugee camps to include a grocery store. Aid agencies hope that this would foster a sense of normalcy.

Azraq, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, is among the first refugee camps to provide a supermarket for its residents  instead of cooked meals. Aid agencies hope that this would foster a sense of normalcy and dignity.

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How to get a Master’s in Affordable Housing?

By: Janaki Kibe, Project Manager

I live in Boston, Massachusetts, part of a larger metropolitan area that is home to over eight universities, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts, Northeastern, Brandeis, and University of Massachusetts – Boston. Despite the plethora of academic types and abundance of obscure course titles (i.e. “Alien Worlds” – yes a real course offered at Boston University), I haven’t found a school yet that offers a Masters in Affordable Housing. (And yes, I have looked).mad_scientist

Yet, with my inherent Tiger Mother DNA and the endless enthusiasm of my mad-scientist boss, David Smith, my colleagues and I have been stealthily crafting our own unofficial Master’s in Affordable Housing.

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After much anticipation—I know you were anticipating it—I am ready to unveil the curriculum.

Course 1: SUP-665 Real Estate Finance and Development Fundamentals

Harvard Graduate School of Design or Harvard Kennedy School

Professor: Ed MarchantHarvard_gsd

Ed Marchant, an enthusiastic practitioner (read: actually worked in the field!) and real estate teacher extraordinaire, is a wonderful person to introduce you to the world of real estate development, and really, aren’t we all in need of such a person? In Marchant’s class, which is offered in the fall, you’ll build your own pro formas, calculate IRRs and NPVs, and understand how discount rates impact your returns. The class is a mix of students who have worked in real estate and finance and then the rest of us, who are pretty much akin to blank stares, I mean slates. While the first few weeks of the course may be overwhelming—Marchant has a tendency to surprise students with a slew of rapid-fire questions “What is the IRR? What happens when vacancy rates increase by 2%? What does 40B say?”—there will be a eureka moment when things fall into place and you realize, “Geez! This is amazing!”. And that’s when the fun starts. I definitely recommend this course for anyone who has an inkling that they are interested in real estate and wants to understand what the heck people mean when they say NPV!

Course 2: SUP-666 Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing Development, Finance, and Management

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Professor: Ed Marchant

In the Spring, you can follow up on your newly developed real estate skills by taking Marchant’s Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing course, which is offered at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). In addition to learning a heck of a lot about subsidies and financing for affordable housing development in the US, students also have the opportunity to participate in an affordable housing development competition. In our small office in Boston, four of us participated in this competition over the last four years—and three placed a prestigious second in the competition. One claims that she was fourth place (note: they only give awards for the top three places). The competition is great. You form a student team comprised of architects, planners, MBAs, and the occasional policy folk, are paired with an actual Community Development Corporation, and are given the task of creating a development proposal for a specific site in the Greater Boston metropolitan area. The proposals must be architecturally and economically feasible and desirable. For most of us students, it was the first time that we were working on “real” projects and the opportunity to deal with real world constraints rather than theoretical ones was appealing.

AHI Staff win 2nd place at the Boston Affordable Housing Development Competition

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Photo update: Mongolia in June

By: Molly McGowan

It’s Friday, so I think photos are in order. Check out some city and country scenes from a recent AHI trip to Ulaanbaatar, where we are working with our local team to help the municipality of Ulaanbaatar develop an affordable housing strategy.

North-facing city view, taken from the Zaisan Memorial

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Ger area, north of city

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Development east of Zaisan Memorial (south of city center)

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Decorative ger outside of working retreat hotel

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Driving back from working retreat hotel

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Chinggis Khan statue

 

 

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.

 

 

 

AHI’s recent study tour to Anchorage and Chicago

As part of its efforts to develop an affordable housing strategy for Ulaanbaatar, AHI conducted a Study Tour to Anchorage, Alaska and Chicago, Illinois for a 10-person delegation of Mongolian municipal and ministerial government officials. Along the way, participants met with nine different organizations and learned how affordable housing is defined, developed, financed, maintained, and accessed in the United States; they also considered what policies and programs may be adaptable to Ulaanbaatar.

Check out a few group shots below!

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The Mongolian delegation meets the Mayor of Anchorage, Dan Sullivan

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The Mongolian delegation on top of Harvest Commons, a Heartland Housing development in Chicago

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Closing event

The race against winter in the slums of Ulaanbaatar

By: Noel Sampson, AHI Nicaragua Regional Analyst

“There are so many new rich people and there is no place for them to spend their money” said Rob, a French- American investor I met on the flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (UB). He told me he was building a new club and Irish pub – “the biggest in UB” he promised. I gave a dry smile.  The thought of yet another Irish pub is hard for me to get excited about because they all look the same to me. 

 

Hours later I discovered the city is already full of Irish pubs, crammed in amongst the office towers under a skyline cluttered with cranes. Up in the surrounding hills, beyond the cranes and city lights, the slums are populated by gers (traditional Mongolian tents) exhaling thick coal smoke. The khashaas (individual fenced plots) highlight the organic pattern of the informal urban fabric.

 

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Overview of Ulaanbaatar and its slums far in the back

 

More than 50% of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger-areas and around 47% of ger residents live in poverty. Ger-areas have limited infrastructure and services such as heating, water and sanitation. Residents use coal-fired stoves to survive extremely harsh winters with temperatures below -40°C. Domestic coal fires are the main cause for air pollution in Ulaanbaatar where individual households cannot afford to connect to the city’s power grid. Improving access to services would help to upgrade these areas and improve the quality of life.

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Ger-areas in the district of Selbe

 

A major cause of the growth of slums in Ulaanbaatar is immigration to the city related to dzud – a concurrent natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by particularly harsh winter with extremely low temperatures and heavy snow. The 2010 dzud affected an estimated 769,106 people (28% of total population) and has resulted in 8.4 million livestock deaths. Many were forced to move to the capital. Other causative factors for the increase of slums include high poverty levels in rural areas, the inexperience of local institutions in dealing with urban issues, natural population growth and the Free Mobility Law. This law, approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, grants every Mongolian the right to freely own a plot of land in the capital.

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View of one family Khashaa

 

The challenge in Ulaanbaatar is therefore a matter of land management and affordability of services and adequate housing. The extreme temperatures  and the spread  of slums make services difficult and expensive to implement. To address these issues, the most viable strategy is to densify ger-areas. Residents can not afford individual connections to services and grouping residents together could reduce the cost for such services.

 

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Lack of access to infrastructure and services are remarkable in Ger-areas

 

The question lies in how to implement such efforts, in particular how slum dwellers will participate in the development strategies of the city.  Another important challenge is how to create a financial flux that integrates private sector, residents and government. It is important to remark there is not small effort towards slum upgrading of ger-areas, any small improvement can create a flow-on effect on service provision to the surrounding slums that continue growing. Thus, opportunities for both residents and private sector, and the city’s development future lie in the provision of adequate housing and the improvement of ger-areas.

 

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Despite construction industry is booming, building season is just five months in a year due to the harsh winter

 

Perhaps, the creation of an entity to act as fair broker between private, residents and government can contribute to fill this gap. Under the support of a new created public-private entity residents could create community builders associations, or similar schemes of housing co-ops as an alternative for affordable housing construction. Residents can start a guided and progressive land pooling process, making land available for public facilities at the time they can have optimums living conditions. This process can allow to lease part of the land to the private sector and obtain in return the finance for the construction of housing buildings and improved urban spaces.

 

Moreover, the creation of such entity can address potential future concerns such as how to work out compensation systems, how to prevent land speculation and rise in land prices after the first residents gain access to services and, more importantly, how to guarantee that residents who take part in eventual slum upgrading strategies will get fair benefits for pooling or trading their land. Additionally, this entity can stimulate private sector investments in areas that have higher profitable potential such as the land along the primary roads.

 

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Formation of slums in the peri-urban areas of the city

 

As the opportunities rise in Ulaanbaatar, the private sector is ready to push forward with urban development, the national economy is booming due to rich mining resources, and the Mayor, Bat-Uul, has outlined a vision of creating urban corridors on the model of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the slums. Empowered residents stand to gain through improved housing and lives will be saved from the harsh Mongolian winter while contributing to the city’s economy. Perhaps Rob, my co-passenger from the flight in, would stand to benefit also by making a wiser choice and investing in the community.