Refugees And City Planning, An Unlikely Urbanist Opportunity

The global refugee crisis forces us to rethink city planning and housing, with more focus on assuring people's rights and needs. A chance to actually wind up with more human cities.

Refugees And City Planning, An Unlikely Urbanist Opportunity
Fernando Murillo*


BUENOS AIRES â€" In a world affected by climate change, violent conflicts and forced migration, architecture and city planning have a role, and a duty, to help forge a more peaceful community life. This has been a record year for human migration, with 57 million people displaced from their homes, well beyond the 24 million displaced during World War II. Startling images of people traveling in desperate conditions could prompt us to reconsider the basics of planning, this time with a particular focus on basic humanitarian values.

Migratory crises are imposing changes on different societies and leaving visible tracks, both in cities where refugees are heading and in those they abandon. Their adopted cities will one day have to be rebuilt, and to that end, some of the projects I have worked on are yielding fundamental information about the emerging concept of "humanitarian" planning and construction.

Finding answers to the problems and opportunities created by displaced populations requires the use of particular criteria in rebuilding communities. In addition to appropriate migratory norms intended to protect human rights â€" instead of those exploiting cheap labor â€" city planning is obliged to come up with models to facilitate peaceful coexistence and collective progress based on cultural interaction. That is a way of creating new communities.

In Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, forced migrations have led to projects that seek not just to address basic housing needs but also to create ties aiding the social and territorial inclusion of the displaced.

Argentina provides a paradoxical example here, with its history of inclusion of European migrants and exclusion of native peoples. While the former group created districts where they could ascend socially, the latter were isolated in reservations. The situation is far from rectified, as native communities are still displaced by the expansion of farming lands. From their reservations, they are now moving to shantytowns or housing projects in provincial capitals. Without a doubt, we planners have a longstanding debt toward these communities and have yet to create housing solutions that satisfy their needs and respect their culture.

The Compass, a methodology developed at Buenos Aires University's architecture department, proposes to link housing professionals, residents and district officials to swiftly diagnose key problems in a given area. That becomes a basis for planning and building proposals whose results are later assessed on the basis of how well basic rights were satisfied.

What we all want

The lack of sewer systems or drinking water are both serious problems and represent opportunities for local self-organization. If we want to incorporate humanitarian norms into cities broadly built around the idea of increasing property values, we must include evidence of housing plans that safeguard the rights of all citizens.

The methodology, applied in several Argentine cities, allowed them to identify the lack of social organization and the extent to which public works and regulations complemented each other. In the cities of Luján, Escobar and Salta, identifying districts with fewer sanitation services that are exposed to repeated flooding prompted a revision of urban land-use regulations. It included new priorities such as protecting wetlands, minimizing closed neighborhoods and promoting social housing models that stimulated communal self-organization and easier access to land.

In Cochabamba, Bolivia, a participatory assessment forged housing policies that use "rotating" funds (communal or pooled funds providing loans to community members) and mutual aid, which began to generate a low-cost housing market. In Suacha, Colombia, large numbers of displaced people had created highly deficient housing conditions. The "communal" response created green spaces as a "mosaic-style" strategy to blend communities together.

Darfur in eastern Sudan provides a good example of how using soil-cement blocks, instead of fire-baked bricks from forest trees, helped curb deforestation and desertification, which was already underway with the movement of more than two million people across a fragile landscape.

Often inspired by existing cultural practices, such projects contribute to healing following situations of extreme trauma, and begin a new cycle of learning, socialization and development.

Even in severe cases like Gaza, housing projects for refugees in the form of three-story buildings destined for one family group, surrounded by semi-public spaces, are eloquent illustrations of concepts that seek to ensure people's rights.

These innovative plans actually recover older practices of building a house on a family plot, making optimal use of limited space, combining high-density living with improved social relationships and including some form of commerce on the ground floor. They also avoid construction of complexes that fail to meet the needs of the displaced, or informal, low-density housing that ultimately proves costly in terms of infrastructure needs and generating conflict.

The massive global refugee problem is an opportunity to humanize our cities and territories. Projects promoting communal ties and self-organization are key in forging new communities. City planners will discover useful rules that communities develop to allow peaceful coexistence. Community-minded ideas become construction projects and norms that help entrench human rights. It is a chance to create a more communal culture that can face social and climatic changes in a way that is both peaceful and efficient.

*Fernando Murillo is an architect with a PhD in urban planning.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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