Humanity is facing a global crisis fueled by human-impacted environmental conditions and reflected in the planetary expansion of urbanization processes worldwide. As a result, urban research, planning and design are called upon to play a relevant role in evaluating possible courses of action and ways out through imagination. The 20th N-AERUS conference, held in cooperation with the Habitat Unit as a digital event at the TU Berlin, sought answers to complex but indispensable questions under the guiding theme of “How to plan in a world of uncertainty?”.
Planning in the context of uncertainty means that actors in urban development and architecture are confronted with massive challenges while attempting to sustainably plan for them. Climate change is a poignant example, transforming the underlying environmental circumstances, thereby increasing related risks. Such uncertainties within the environment are exacerbated and compounded by poverty, political instability and other factors, comprising further significant obstacles to sustainable urban development. This is a matter of concern for cities across the world, especially where people’s access to resources is limited or even restricted – a situation that can be predominantly observed in the Global South.
How to plan for and with uncertainty? This was the topic of a conference initiated by Paola Alfaro-d’Alençon, steering committee member of N-AERUS and DFG Research Fellow at the Habitat Unit of the TU Berlin, Institute of Architecture. From February 4th to 6th practitioners, researchers and academics from Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and Europe were invited as participants and speakers. Among them were members of N-AERUS, the “Network-Association of European Researchers on Urbanization in the South”. The network deals with questions of planning in developing countries and the possible role institutions of higher learning, especially in Europe, can play to find adequate solutions.
“Forced eviction is seen to undermine the adaptive capacity to deal with stress and crisis.”
What did the presenters and speakers discover and propose? Ximena de la Barra (International Consultant) pointed out that those with access to financial resources don’t suffer from crisis, but instead, they profit. She concluded that without related accountability, democracy and its institutions are weakened in the process. Rene Hofmann (Cities Alliance) called for tenure security as a key to creating stability and counteracting uncertainties in cities. Especially forced eviction is seen to undermine the adaptive capacity to deal with stress and crisis.
“Rethinking current models and pedagogies related to how people make sense of urban space seem to be possible solutions.”
Loren Landau (Oxford Department of International Development and ACMS-University of Witwatersrand) asked how we can foster the right to the city and build a common future, if people are stuck in one place against their own will and unable to return home due to the pandemic.
Rethinking current models and pedagogies related to how people make sense of urban space seem to be possible solutions. Catalina Ortiz (Bartlett Development Unit, UCL) illustrated how co-production can serve to contest urban narratives, centered on a seemingly simple idea: cooking and places of cooking. Here, stories can function as learning devices that can be supported by digital architecture tools such as BIM.
Warren Smit (AURI Network) described poignantly how Capetown flood management specialists see flooding very differently. He emphasized that co-production offers a way to overcome such obstacles, e.g. by introducing long-term historical perspectives. He also stressed that co-production can support, yet not substitute public participation.
“Cities are the locus of crisis, yet also the places of coping with crisis through social infrastructure, planning and inter- and transdisciplinary learning.”
We asked the initiator, Paola Alfaro-d’Alençon about her views of the conference results: The international exchange between participants fostered a better understanding of the framework conditions in which uncertainties take place. In this context, vulnerabilities are seen to increase against the background of the privatization of public amenities. At the same time, this plays out differently according to cultures that have specific ways of dealing with natural resources. The conference also illustrated how cities are the locus of crisis, yet also the places of coping with crisis through social infrastructure, planning and inter- and transdisciplinary learning.
N-AERUS conference, TU Berlin
Click here to watch the conference.