The ‘Parques Biblioteca’: the Colombian way to achieving social development and cohesion

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

They are urban complexes formed by buildings of modern architecture, with large surrounding spaces for public use, green, pedestrian and decorative. These public spaces give the urban complex the name of Park. The central building or axis of the complex is equipped with a library with high-tech computing equipment in broadband, justifying the name of the Library, and hence the compound expression “Library Park”. According to the municipal administration of the city of Medellín, “The Library Parks are Cultural Centers for social development that encourage citizen meetings, educational and recreational activities, the construction of groups, the approach to new challenges in digital culture. And they are also spaces for the provision of cultural services that allow the cultural creation and strengthening of existing neighborhood organizations. ” (wiki)

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia, Colombia, and the mastermind behind the impressive edifices (…) Today (2014), he continues to push for educational opportunities across Antioquia (…) he discussed his current project to build 80 library parks in his home department (…) Building dignity and providing quality education for those in some of the department’s poorest communities has been a driving force behind Fajardo’s decision to build the library parks in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Santo Domingo and La Ladera and in towns like Anorí, which was overrun by guerillas for 50 years (…) Improving education in Medellín and Antioquia has also mobilized people living in these once-disadvantaged neighborhoods to study and dream of new opportunities.

Excerpts from Sarah McClure ‘s article: COLOMBIA: Building on Education, full article available here
The trees of inequality, violence, and illegality share a single root.
Image courtesy of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, available here

Resisting Heathrow’s Expansion through Dwelling

Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson, image available here

Resistance against the expansion of Heathrow Airport has been led largely by an off-grid, eco-utopian community (…) the protesters originally occupied the site of derelict plant nursery in 2010 (…) The principal living space has been created from a greenhouse dating from the time of the plant nursery, one of many that once populated the neighborhood and whose passing was lamented in the mural opposite the post office (…) Some of the dwellings within the enclosure take the form of tree houses (…) whereby beams are secured to trees in such a way that the rope does not cut into the trunk; as the trunk swells with moisture, the ropes slacken to accommodate the process. This ancient practice is indicative of a wider and reciprocal duty of care that exists between tree and protester (…) dwelling as an internal psychological state that can produce oppositional political effects (…) Here dwelling is not about oppositional action; it is about the inhabitation of a site in order to produce a quasi-autonomous sphere in which the politics of its occupants are performed (…) The consideration given to scale, quality, and the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge that is being cultivated at Grow Heathrow (…) The process of becoming a permanent camp resident is protracted, requiring a series of trial periods; a tent provides the flexibility and portability to make possible these short-term commitments.

Nicholas Ferguson, Dwelling as Resistance, Places Journal, full article available here

Participatory Budgeting

Image available here

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

Porto Alegre, the coordinative model of a smart city

Image available here

(Olivio) Dutra (Workers’ Party) was elected mayor of Porto Alegre with 34% of the votes (…) Dutra’s term as mayor of Porto Alegre, starting in 1989 and ending in 1992, was the first of four consecutive terms of the Workers’ Party in the city, totaling 16 years of administration (…) Porto Alegre became a sort of display cabinet for the party in the rest of Brazil: A place where it experimented successful and innovative initiatives such as participatory budgeting (…) participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre (…) According to Fedozzi and Costa, this system has been recognized as a successful experience of interaction between people and the official administrative spheres in public administration and, as such, has gained a broad impact on the political scene nationally and internationally, being interpreted as a strategy for the establishment of an active citizenship in Brazil.

Wiki & Wiki

The process began in loose neighbor assemblies (…) access was open (…) the data were organized so that they could be debated (…) Conflicts between neighborhoods were dealt with by elected reps (…) The system flourished for 20 years but was later squashed down by top down power (…) it began to loose coherence (…) vast waves of migrants were not integrated (…) with the advent of big data, smartphone etc, it is now possible again to coordinate participation at a megacity scale (…) a system including organized, debatable data, online chatrooms that assemble views and feedback is now running in over 250 Brazilian cities (…) use of technology helps people choose (…) people have to get engaged in the data, interpreting it (hermeneutic) and acting on it (…) the coordinative city is democratic whereas the prescriptive is authoritarian

Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 164-165
Porto Alegre – RS, 11.05.2011 Temática de Habitação, Organização da Cidade, Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental. Local: Teatro Dante Barone – Assembléia Legislativa Foto: Ivo Gonçalves/PMPA, Image available here

Songdo, the prescriptive model of a smart city

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Built on a polder of 600 hectares reclaimed from the Yellow Sea  (…) The idea was to create a genuine ‘business centre in North-East Asia’, attracting investment from all over the world and offering an unrivalled quality of living which would serve as a model to be exported (…) Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance: 500 cameras ensure total grid coverage to regulate the traffic or detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of a sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ management centre in one of the towers in Songdo (…) As to the environmental aspect, the town, whose name means ‘Pine Island’, is built on a coastal strip which used to be known for the wealth of its ornithology, and includes 32% of green space as compared with 21% in Seoul (…) Sterile and soul-less, the city looks different from Korean cities. There are no poor people, no street vendors, no old people

Le Monde, full article available here

(Songdo) originally conceived as a weapon fighting trade wars (…) to entice multinationals to set up Asian operations with lower taxes and less regulation (…) big tech was added to make the city more attractive (…) technologically mediated/regulated environment (…) control center (cock pit) has an array of giant screens showing what is happening to the city’s air quality; electricity usage; traffic flows; etc (…) the control center makes the interpretation of what any of this information means (…) the whole city operates at the behest of the big data assemblages (…) (Songdo) it embodies a prescriptive model of smart city, a city in the sense of a luxury good (…) it is not smart at all: it operates in a stupefying way

Excerpt from Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 159-163
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Baby Cages (?!)

Baby cages , image available here

(…) these were actual mesh cages suspended from apartment windows, much like a window-unit air conditioner would be today (…) it was believed that babies who are exposed to daylight during the afternoon hours slept better than those who were not (…) Invented in the United States in 1922, baby cages really took off in London in the 1930s and allowed for city-dwelling moms to offer their young ones a bit of fresh air when heading down to the local park just wasn’t an option (…) The cages became popular in London in the 1930s among apartment dwellers without access to backyards (…) Once installed, a caretaker could simply place their tot inside the wire basket and go about tending the home

Excerpts available here and here

Social Cartography

Leonardo da Vinci, Town plan of Imola (first ever use of planar view instead of perspective), image available here

Social Maps Definition/History: maps whose purpose is to represent specific aspects of society at a given time and place, (usually statistical data put on a map)/ they emphasize the power of space in shaping society over time/ in its earliest incarnation, the social map was concerned with epidemic disease, particularly cholera/ later in the nineteenth century the perceived problem of mass migration to the growing cities led to the application of segregation as a political device to separate disparate populations/ the use of mapping as a tool of social investigation reached its peak with the emergence of a science of social investigation in the 1880s/ maps shifted from having a symbolic power to having a descriptive (arguably scientific) power/ they used dots and circles or cloropleth maps of different shades/ these helped hypothesize on the actual causes of diseases or crime and poverty/ London was forefront to cartographic innovation due to mass urbanization and the need to manage a diverse, densely crowded population

Maps are social constructions, whose integrity as scientific objects is limited to how precise they are when taking account of their scale and similar measurable parameters. As soon as decisions start to be made on selection of data and the way in which those data are to be presented on maps, the social and political context in which they were created will start to influence how they are read. Once this fact is recognized, one can get beyond the traditional criticism of maps and start to consider what they are in reality: objects laden with meaning, which reflect the context of their creation. Yet maps continue to be incredibly useful for capturing data as well as for providing a starting point for analyzing those data statistically.

Inherent weaknesses: stat errors/ positioning can affect how the world is viewed/ they are influenced by the social and political context they are created in/ their study in rapidly changing populations impose a false appearance of stability/ as records it is essential to take into account the historical time they were created in/ iconographic: color can carry powerful moral connotations, it can also be used for propaganda/ by drawing boundaries around people other from themselves, European powers defined the separation of the center from the periphery/ the complex use of space belies the normal approach to interpreting segregated social space, which tends to focus on the residential location of a minority group, overlooking their opportunities for movement across the city, throughout the day and the week/ not all spatial arrangements are a direct reflection of the societies: more complex societies are normally comprised of a structured non-correspondence

Notes and excerpt from Laura Vaughan’s: “Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography,” UCL Press, 2018

Nehru Place Informal IT Market, New Delhi

Image available here along with an excerpt of Richard Sennett’s book, Building and Dwelling: Ethics of the City, Penguin Books, 2019

Although intended to be a commercial center with a market that would serve the surrounding residential areas, the development as it came up fifty years ago became a complex consisting essentially of a series of small office units. The two levels of shops in the arcades around the central courts contained few retail outlets, and were mostly occupied by offices and banks. Over the last fifteen years the situation began to change with the influx of shops dealing with computers, cell phones, and all kinds of digital accessories. Today Nehru Place is the country’s largest computer hardware market. This has helped to bring about a qualitative change in the area, including the presence of a number of restaurants. Gradually every single available space at the lower levels, including small pockets of space along lift access corridors, and basement areas, have been taken over by small scale commercial units.

Full article available here

Ville vs Cite

French language_ville: the overall city/ cite: it designated a particular place (the character of life in the neighborhood), cite can refer a kind of consciousness. The distinction is old, however, it helps clarify the difference between the built environment (English phrase for ville) and how people dwell in it.

Cite: Engels 1840, The Condition of the working-class in England in 1844, based on his testimony of scenes of daily life in Manchester. He noticed aspects of the life in the streets that did not fit the new language of class like Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert whose characters are crashed in the city. Urban life is unsettled (all that is solid melts into air), modernity consists of the transient, as in Bauman’s term “liquid modernity.” There is also however, a need to balance between change and stability, ” distill the eternal from the transitory.” Only a precise analysis of details will make the cite comprehensible to the the urban dweller; the mental space of complexity consists of analyzing small bits of reality.

Ville-First generation urbanists: Haussmann, Cerda, Olmsted

Network-Paris | The accessible city: hygienic issues (plague), new drainage systems, boulevards to avert rebels and barricades (police state) that however served transportation and more positive social purposes and had a spectacle quality, new housing that serves as a vertical theatrical scenery, glazed facades of department stores. Design of the ville was more than utilitarian; indeed display displaced the ethical reckoning of life on the street. The Haussmannian city privileged space over place: the networked ville had diminished the cite.

Camille Pissarro: Boulevard Montmartre, image available here

Fabric-Barcelona | The equal city: once again hygienic issues, Cerda also wanted to address ethnicities and religions into a kind of cooperative socialism and produce conditions of equality between the residents. He used the additive grid, a system of equal-sized blocks with mixed housing (Dutch model) and green spaces distributed throughout the city. To accommodate turning vehicles Cerda cut off the edges of his blocks diagonally. That created an hospitable site where people could gather, space became place. His idea also embodied a danger: if one block begins to degrade, there is no reason other blocks, exactly similar in form, to succumb (monoculture).

4 6 2009 BARCELONA VISTA AEREA DEL EIXAMPLE FOTO XAVIER JUBIERRE, image available here

Artifice-New York (Central Park) | The sociable city: social value of nature in the city, Olmsted thought of parks as places where the races could mix; inclusion was more possible in an impersonal space of strangers than in the more intimate space of neighborhoods (from labor to leisure). Rural life was destroyed in favor of an integrated urban life, the park was far from central NY at the time. Modest gates were used to show that all were welcome, the landscape was totally artificial. As the city expanded, the park’s perimeter was filled with mansions for the wealthy: people inside it became less mixed. In CP nature suspends reality, artificial pleasure to promote social integration

Central Park 1870, image available here

References: all notes are excerpts from Richard Sennett’s book “Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City,” Penguin Books 2019

Recycling Spaces, Addis-Ababa

Image taken from here

Text taken from the site:

African cities have growth rates of up to 5%; this makes them the fastest growing cities in the world today. Extrapolations show that the urban population in Africa currently doubles every 10 to 15 years. Also Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is in transformation. Currently the home of approximately four million inhabitants, the city might triple its size within the next 30 years due to the increasing rural to urban migration, as well as natural growth. Already today, Addis Ababa suffers from a housing shortage of estimated 700.000 units. And, according to UN-Habitat, 80% of the existing dwellings are in ‘sub-standard, slum like’ conditions. Thus, in 2004, the government launched a large-scale mass housing program with the ambitious plan to erect 200.000 condominium units within 5 years. To date, 100.000 units were built during the last 7 years, out of which nearly 70,000 are handed over to end users so far. In 2011, the Addis Ababa City Administration announced to redevelop all ‘informal’ and ‘unplanned’ parts of the city until 2020.

Throughout the years, Addis Ababa, informally, developed a sophisticated recycling system in all parts of the city. “Kuré-Yalews” are roaming the streets in small neighborhoods, collecting anything that might still be useable from households. Sharing resources, they rent taxis collectively to transport their goods to Merkato’s “Minalesh Terra”, where different “workshops” immediately start to reuse and transform them. In the course of a few days, these items are returned into the cycle, being sold to the owners of small neighborhood shops as “new” products.

This recycling process is not only the source of income for many families in the city, it also keeps Addis Ababa clean to a certain extend. Most importantly, this cycle also appropriated space for recycling in the city throughout the years, which is now endangered by the current transformation of Ethiopia’s capitol.

The movie “Recycling Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space allocated to this recycling cycle in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the daily routine and experiences of one selected Kuré-Yalew, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of inhabitants in Addis Ababa. Interviews with the Kuré-Yalwes and experts give further insight into the topic.

Link to vimeo site
Video available here

Lessons on urban cooperation

Image available here

The other day I was watching a documentary (in Greek) on Berlin’s housing problem. According to the researchers up to 2010, Berlin was one of the European cities with the lowest average rent prizes. However, this condition was dramatically changed in the more recent years as private real estate companies made massive acquisitions of state-owned housing units and then doubled the rent. In fact, people appearing on the doc claimed that it has become impossible for the weaker social groups (refugees, single families, unemployed, students) to rent a descent house.

Today I ran into this great article in Places Magazine that described the successful efforts of a band of artists to turn the Haus der Statistik into affordable housing units. This group of artists had originally formed the Alliance of Threatened Berlin Studio Houses to protect people who could no longer afford their rent from evictions. Yet in the light of the continuous privatization they developed another endeavor; to turn Haus der Statistik, a derelict building near Alexanderplatz into a “gentrification-proof island” and turn it into affordable housing units; studio space for artists and communal space for the public. After several months of research and negotiations with all stakeholders they managed to become official partners in the consortium responsible for bringing their ideas to life.

What started as a mere protest has now become a exemplary public initiative based on people’s massive cooperation. Their systematic approach helped them to establish trust and defend their claims in a way that could work. Very inspiring indeed.