Tag Archives: urban planning

Connecting the dots : Urban Resilience and Affordable housing

 By Eman Lasheen, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Affordable housing has always been looked upon as a supplementary service provided for a certain population. It is generally defined as housing that is appropriate for the needs of a range of very low to moderate income households and priced so that these households are also able to meet other basic living costs such as food, clothing, transport, medical care and education. As a rule of thumb, housing is usually considered affordable if it costs less than 30 percent of gross household income 1. The core value of investing in the provision of affordable housing is usually related to meeting a growing demand in the fastest, most efficient and inexpensive form, to alleviate socioeconomic burdens. Despite the importance of this highly materialistic perspective, it strikes me as quite lacking to account for higher, more complex interactions at the urban level, where positive impacts of affordability are manifested most profoundly. The connection between the availability of well designed affordable housing and the level of urban resilience is highlighted dramatically during times of crisis or unexpected change. The fact that people would find decent shelters during disasters or sudden shocks is not the only aspect of connection. It is the understanding of how urban communities are able to prioritize, plan and move forward that makes affordable housing a crucial aspect of urban resilience.

One major problem with resilience as an evolving field of research is the ambiguity around its components and intentions. Rooted in ecological sciences, the term has gained a lot of prominence within many other disciplines including engineering, social sciences and urbanism. It has been adapted within each of these disciplines to inform about a certain form of interaction. It remains however confusing to a great extent when it comes to urban sciences, where question such as : “resilience of what ? to what ” becomes a great source of trouble to practitioners and decision makers alike.

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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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Inequality in India’s Development Dreams

By: Stephanie Tam, AHI Volunteer, Canada

In unspoken agreement, individuals melted into a crowd and closed ranks at one end of the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade. A reverent murmur rippled across: “The Chief Minister is here”. The sky clouded over with raised hands hailing Narendra Modi, the state of Gujarat’s Chief Minister since 2001 and India’s Prime Minister-elect as of May 16th, 2014. A feverish undercurrent threatened to bubble to the surface with a few shouts ripping through the silence. Modi’s trademark all-white attire became blinding under the sunlight, and the crowd hushed with awe when he began to speak.

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Modi speaking on the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade during the National Festival, August 2012.

Labeled as India’s most loved and most loathed politician, Modi has polarized politics nationally in the few years that have elapsed since that afternoon on the Sabarmati. His supporters claim that his Gujarat model of development will launch the country into a new economic era, while his opponents accuse him of inciting the communal riots that slaughtered thousands of Muslims in 2001. Modi’s landslide election victory shows that his platform of secularized development prevailed over misgivings about his right-wing Hindu roots. However, it remains unclear what development means for the 14 million households living in identified slums across India[1].

Throughout Modi’s electoral campaign, development has meant improved built infrastructure and industrial expansion. Gujarat’s major urban centers boast well-paved roads, few electrical outages, and a flourishing upper class that enjoys air-conditioned malls and luxury cars[2]. Enacted in 2004, Gujarat’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) legislation has attracted foreign investors and industrial tycoons by doing away with taxes and offering up cheap land, thereby increasing wealth according to development measures that focus exclusively on market growth, i.e. GDP.

Development in terms of employment and consumption, on the other hand, reveals stagnation. Atul Sood et al. show through a series of studies that there is “poverty amidst prosperity”[3], revealing increased reliance upon contract workers and casual labourers, as well as overall wage growth that lags behind the all-India wage increase. This correlates to Gujarat’s slow growth in monthly per capita expenditures: with little increase in household profits, there is little capacity to spend. In short, industries are making a lot of money, but those profits are not benefiting the average worker.

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