Kicking off: so why blog?
I feel that we (my fellow authors and I) are currently sitting at an interesting juncture, somewhere between practice and academia, between the urban, the built environment, and the worlds of disaster response, recovery and resilience.
With feet in different fields and a head in multiple places, I find myself constantly attempting to create and understand linkages and draw learnings from across and between these (often too separated) communities of knowledge and practice. For me therefore this blog aims to open up a space at that point of multiple intersection, a platform for exchange, learning, reflection and debate.
My main area of interest is around urban response and recovery and the role of urban planning within this. My research focuses on looking not just at working in the urban, but at working with the scale of the city. From the humanitarian perspective much has been said about needing to better understand urban systems and how cities work, so how do we go about improving this? How do humanitarians engage with the scale of the city? And what is the role of urban planning within this?
As my research and thinking develops I will use my blog posts to bring out thoughts along these themes, both throughout my dissertation and beyond.
I think your ideas, and others represented on this site, are interesting and thought-provoking. You suggest you’re sitting at a juncture between academia and practice etc. which of course is always the case when it comes to attempting to embrace and understand the complexity of the urban environment. And anyone (or any blog post) that looks to expand comprehension of the underlying processes and structures underpinning urbanisation becomes a constituent of that complexity. To utilise a rather overused term, the urban is a palimpsest. I therefore wonder if you consider History of the urban environment and in particular historical evidence of how urban inhabitants coped and adapted to the inherent risks of rapid urbanization informs your studies.
Thanks for your comments and questions Gary. The short answer is that yes – understanding the history of the urban environment, of the forces and relationships that have shaped it and how people have adapted and coped with rapid urbanisation is extremely important for informing humanitarian response and recovery, and for building resilience. There are of course many challenges relating to this, but I think this is something that many of us try to be very conscious of in our work and research.
In terms of understanding different approaches of how rapid urbanisation has been addressed by different actors for example, there has been a fair amount written on the need for the humanitarian shelter sector to have a much better understanding of how housing and construction sectors (both formal and informal) functioned pre-crisis in order to better inform shelter and reconstruction strategies and programming. The same could be said of other sectors, of service provision, and of understanding how people cope with small scale hazards, as many approaches can be adapted and built upon.
Also, within this is the need to better understand attitudes, for example if working with influxes of displaced people to an urban area then it’s important to understand what past attitudes and responses of host communities and local authorities have been towards past migrants.
As an aside – in Haiti I was surprised by how on occasion, if you asked an international NGO worker how long they had been there they might reply “since the beginning” – meaning since right after the earthquake. While this is perhaps just a relatively harmless turn of phrase, (and without wanting to be too pedantic) I do think that it is potentially quite revealing of a mindset of seeing a disaster as the beginning point, and therefore risks not seeing enough of what came before it.