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

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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

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(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

La MéMé experience of participatory design

Image available here

Students protest the classical pastiche designs made for the Medical School (1968) at the University of Louvain/ University agrees to the formation of a student committee/ Students produce a counterproposal by Lucien Kroll who had no ties to the University/ Kroll organises collaborators and students into teams and turns design into an assemblage of disparate political fractions/ Work is done in his studio at a distance from the institution to ensure freedom/ Collaboration becomes “a kind of architectural method acting” accepting every outcome even if it defies prevailing arch conventions (de Graaf)/ Kroll, when denied the participation of le Roy, his preferred gardener, also engages the adjacent community into participating in the landscape component/ For two years this is an harmonious collaboration/ However, University representatives who visit the site oppose the outcome and the budget increase and fire Kroll/ Kroll exposes the contractor for high pricing but is then accused of vandalising the building site during his open call to the neighbouring community/ The building is highly criticised as a “failed experiment” and “less than a sum of its parts” (de Graaf)/ Petitions for the building’s demolition are opposed by massive support (Excerpts from Reinier de Graaf’s book: Four Walls and a Roof)

In a DOMUS article dated back in 2010, Kroll is presented as “icon of democratic architecture”:

Communication through architecture is an eminently political act, Kroll maintains: the architect is the catalyst of a creative process and social dynamic, in respect to which they make their knowledge available for the translation of interpersonal relationships into a suitable space (…) architects must step out of themselves and put themselves in the shoes of future residents.

Full article available here
Image available here

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

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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.

The ‘abrazo’ (embrace) ideology

https://www.cinetecamadrid.com/programacion/experimenta-distrito

“Experimenta Distrito” launched by Media Lab-Prado is a programme involving citizens in neighbourhood workshops hosted in the spaces of La Nave, libraries, social and cultural centres (site in spanish only: https://www.experimentadistrito.net/ )

This is one of the many initiatives taken by the mayor of Madrid in promoting the city as a warm and welcoming place as he described them in DOMUS and his interview with Manuela Carmena.

La Nave: Located in Villaverde, a district on the outskirts of Madrid, La Nave Böetticher was once a lift factory owned by the Böetticher company. An industrial building from the 1940’s refurbished for use as a public facility by Madrid City Council, and inaugurated in 2016. La Nave is dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation and hosts a great number of activities and events related to the promotion of new technologies, technical dissemination, training, and employability. Characterized by a central open-plan space covered by a large barrel vault and a skylight, the refurbishment preserved certain historical elements as decoration and added vertical latticework inspired by the colors of fiber optics to the concrete façade. Its main areas are the Pavilion, the Tower, the Classrooms, the Auditorium, and the Containers. The building has thermo-solar and geothermal energy; it collects rainwater for watering, and it features a roof garden. The roof offers a panoramic view of the Villaverde neighborhood. (http://www.lanavemadrid.com/ )