Tag Archives: Instant City

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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What we’re reading: Refugee Cities

By Anya Brickman Raredon, Global Associate

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page article by Michael Kimmelman about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, naming it as a “Do-It-Yourself City”.  Here at AHI, we’ve spent part of the spring and summer speaking at conferences and raising a related set of questions to humanitarians and global housing finance experts:

What is the nature of long-term humanitarian settlements? Can we continue to see refugee camps as “camps” or are they actually “instant cities”?

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Four years after the earthquake this IDP camp is now a thriving community. Port-au-Prince, Haiti 2014. Photos by author.

UNHCR recently reported that the number of refugees wordwide exceeds 50 million.  This number is only likely to increase as cities and countries face increasing instability and environmental risk, making the question of where refugees live and what the conditions of those places are an ever more pressing question.  Furthermore, when entire cities are displaced, the demographics of refugee populations cut across economic lines, and new 2013-11-08 15.05.39settlements (camps) include tradesmen, entrepreneurs, educators, and a whole range of professionals – challenging our preconceptions of camps filled with the poor, unskilled, and helpless.
Individuals, even when displaced from their homes, will shape the spaces in which they live – whether that be through planting vegetables in pots by their door, hooking up their tent to electricity, or working with their neighbors to pave the road and reduce dust.

As the NYT article points out in the case of Zaatari, “There is even a travel agency that will provide pick-up service at the airport, and pizza delivery, with an address system for refugees that camp officials are scrambling to copy.”

This sure sounds like the beginning of a city to me.  So how do we shift humanitarian thinking, actions, and systems to acknowledge this reality and redirect the expenditures of supporting these settlements into investments in long-term development which can benefit both the current refugee families and the surrounding host communities? How do we shift the paradigm from seeing refugees as ‘beneficiaries’, and instead view them as proactive and able to contribute to the environments in which they live?

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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.

 

 

 

What we’re reading: Number of People Displaced by Violence Highest in 20 Years, Agency Says

According to The New York Times, the number of people displaced from their homes by violence is the highest it’s been in 20 years. This is largely a result of the crisis in Syria, where close to 10,000 people are forced to leave their homes because of violence every day.

“….More than 33 million people were displaced within their countries as a result of conflict by the start of this year, said Jan Egeland, the head of the council and a former humanitarian affairs chief for the United Nations. The pace of displacement is accelerating, he added, with more than eight million people newly displaced in 2013, an increase of 1.6 million from the previous year. Nearly half of them were in Syria, which remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world.

More than three-quarters of those displaced in 2013 were in just five countries. Alongside Syria and Nigeria, these included Central African Republic; the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, after 15 years of various insurgencies, a million people were forced to flee violence last year; and Sudan, where close to half a million fled new waves of violence in a decade-old conflict…..”

Read the full article here.