Kill the bill!


Thousands of people were out on the streets of London Sunday to protest the horrific housing bill which is currently being rushed through parliament (article in the Independent here). As an outsider to the UK nearly three years ago I was initially struck by the institution of social housing which seemed much more vast and ingrained than in other contexts that I knew. Then I began to understand the many ways in which social housing (or council housing as it is known–referring to the local council in charge of each  administrative area) in the UK is being steadily undermined. Namely, existing social housing is being sold off for private renting, no new social housing is being built, and discussions now center around “affordable” housing which falls on the whim of private developers to provide, which they usually don’t, and which is allowed to be up to 80% of the market rent. Now, this bill really seems like the nail in the coffin of social housing in the UK, rendering housing even less accessible to both council tenants and private renters. I don’t even understand how such a bill, that caters entirely to ensuring private developers make as much money as possible, has managed to pass so quickly through parliament (detailed explanations of the UK legislative system are most welcome).

The #KilltheHousingBill campaign has produced a great video explaining the housing bill.

Last week the Radical Housing Network also produced a spoof newspaper of the Evening Standard–they call it the ‘Standard Evening’, which was distributed at tube stops all over London. The paper, which detailed what London would be like many years in the future if this housing bill passes, can be accessed online here.

cartoonIf you live in the UK, please sign the petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-housing-bill

Let’s kill this bill!

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Architecture of Violence – Eyal Weizman

I saw this documentary as part of the 2014 London Palestine Film Festival, followed by a talk with Eyal Weizman, the plucky architect who narrates the film. I learned a lot from his book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, for its critical overview of the slow, mundane, pre-meditated way that the occupation of Palestine has been orchestrated over time. The brief documentary, directed by Ana Naomi de Sousa, addresses and visualizes the more striking elements of the book. For example, Israel’s use of “Jerusalem stone” in building housing units in the settlements surrounding Jerusalem, to evoke the old city center of the iconic city. The architect knows these buildings are mostly made of concrete, the outside layer merely a facade. (An added tidbit from the book is that this stone is actually mined and manufactured in the West Bank.) The film explores how “Architecture is used by architects…as a weapon.”

Dar es Salaam: the “informal” city

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I recently had the immense privilege of visiting East Africa for the first time. It was a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for two weeks as part of my MSc program to work with local community groups in a collaborative research process.

1-blog - darWith a population of about 5 million, Dar es Salaam is the largest city and commercial center of Tanzania. As a port city it holds special historical significance in the development of East Africa, not least because it was used by colonizers to extract resources from the continent. Under German and then British control before becoming independent, remnants from each era are visible throughout the city. There is also a large Indian influence, and many Indian families have lived in Dar es Salaam for over a century. One of my favorite moments was squishing into the back of a tiny precarious bajaji (tuk-tuk taxi) with three other people on a sunny day, and speeding down the road while the driver blasted music in Hindi.

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Who is it for? A critical reflection on power in “social urbanism” and planning

I wrote this reflection for a course that looked at Medellin as a case study through which to examine the concept of “social urbanism.” It was the first more design-focused class that I have taken and it was new for me to be working with brilliant designers and architects who made up the bulk of the class. Challenging but also illuminating, as I hope this reflection demonstrates.

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This course launched from the idea that “social urbanism,” or rather, design and architecture with a social conscience, is increasingly gaining in popularity in urban areas around the world. One very visible example of this is the city of Medellin, Colombia, where a transportation project of a metro and above ground cable-car system was set up to connect the city center to the marginalized informal areas that sprawl up the city’s steep hillsides. One such area is Comuna 8, one of Medellin’s 16 sectors that is home to about 136,000 people who are predominantly low-income and many of whom lack formal land titles (Terms of Reference, 2013).

medellin mapPlanned urban interventions in Comuna 8, Medellin

Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and for a long time held a high-profile reputation for violence and drug activity. But with intensive public investment in infrastructure and urban renewal, encompassing transport as well as facilities such as libraries and learning centers, Medellin was largely able to change its global brand from city of violence to city of innovation and hope. However, there is little indication that these interventions have succeeded in addressing the widespread poverty and inequality that remain deeply entrenched. This raises the question of how much “social urbanism” can really answer to the needs of the people it purports to help. The following is an overview and analysis of some of the main concepts in the course, based on group project work, readings, and my own doodles and thought processes.

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Continue reading “Who is it for? A critical reflection on power in “social urbanism” and planning”

Battlefield terms such as strongpoint, advance, penetration, encirclement, envelopment, surveillance, control and supply lines migrated from the military to the civilian sphere… In the hands of Sharon, his followers and colleagues, architecture and planning were presented as a continuation of war by other means. The civilianization of military terms was to lead in turn to the militarization of all other spheres of life. War was only over because it was now everywhere.

Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, 2008.