PANEL 1 – Knowledges, Practices, Mobilization

  • Nadine Bekdache, “Narrating, Monitoring and Visioning: Towards Inclusive Housing in Beirut”

The housing landscape in Beirut is best characterized by spreading gentrification where long-term dwellings are transformed to temporary accommodation and entertainment venues; by city-wide waves of eviction, demolition and vacant new constructions; and byan increase of informal housing conditions operating outside legal contracts and often presenting inadequate living conditions. The situation was exacerbated when a new law was passed in 2014 to abolish 74 years of rent control, in the absence of any holistic housing policy, and resulting in a vast number of evictions across the city. The 2014 law effectively drew the outline of an exclusive city, forcefully emptied from its most vulnerable dwellers by 2020, a city where housing has become commodified and real-estate financialized. While raising the question of what can be done on the policy level to counter displacement and challenge the hegemonic urban development model, Public Works Studio led a research project linked to several interventions/initiatives. The research departed from a thorough collaborative investigation of housing trajectories, landscapes, and vulnerabilities in 7 neighborhoods in the city of Beirut, alongside a historiography for urban growth. The neighborhood scale as a unit of analysis offered data that was indeed missing, but more importantly, allowed the formulation of alternative representations, strategies, and politics for inclusive housing in the city. The presentation will reflect on several aspects related to the research-action methodology, including representation and dissemination methods, mapping and visioning practices, and community engagement. In doing so, it will discuss two main initiatives/interventions: the Housing Monitor and Think Housing competition.

  • Diana Bell Sancho, “Urban Land Reform: Re-Imagining urban land rights and municipal land administration”

The intensification of urban displacement post the 2007-08 financial crisis has brought critical attention to how it is intrinsically tied to the deepened commodification of housing and land. In response, organizations on the front lines of the housing rights movement have articulated interventions which, writ large, have centered on pointed housing and land policy measures.Renewed attention to community land trusts, speculation taxes, community control of vacant land are examples of political solutions that have been proposed. Along with tenant protection and affordable housing demands, these have advanced important anti-displacement platforms. They also point to a broader question: what does the contemporary crisis of urban displacement indicate of the need for an integral examination of municipal land administration? In considering how urban scholarship and planning practice is engaging with anti-displacement struggles, this presentation posits that attention to pro-poor land reform and the frameworks it presents for considering territorial rights can provide valuable lessons. Historically, land reform efforts have been part of transformative and revolutionary political projects, particularly in the Global South. It has encompassed legislation that seeks to directly redistribute ownership of and rights to land as a means to benefit the poor and raise their power. In doing so, it has centered on examining inequitable land concentration, the social function of land and state role in redistribution. Taking the advances and failures of different land reform experiences, this discussion will ask: what would it mean to co-theorize comprehensive land reform in contemporary urban conditions, from an anti-displacement perspective?

  • Erin McElroy, “The Ethics and Data of Mapping Displacement: On the Work of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project”

In this talk, Erin will focus upon how the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) uses, creates, and theorizes eviction data. The AEMP formed in the height of the San Francisco Bay Area’s “Tech Boom 2.0.” During this time, entanglements of techno capitalism, and real estate speculation brushed upon against ongoing histories of racial dispossession, inciting heightened eviction rates. The AEMP emerged to provide analytics, media, and documentation that could be used by local housing justice organizations and activists in their fights against gentrification. Prioritizing producing knowledge with rather that for those most impacted by gentrification, the project has since grown in region, method, and scope.At the moment, the AEMP is in the midst of producing its first atlas,Counterpoints: A Bay Area Atlas for Resisting Displacement, which will be published by PM Press in 2020. Erin will discuss challenges that the AEMP has experienced as it continues to grow,particularly during a moment in which practices of producing eviction data and maps have become more mainstream, sometimes put in friction with data colonial praxes. How can we keep eviction research tethered to local struggles and reflective of on-the-ground analytics?

  • Stefano Portelli, “Repensar Bonpastor: A Competition of Ideas for a Neighborhood Under Demolition in Barcelona”

In 2009, together with a group of activists involved in the protest against the demolition of Bon Pastor’s neighborhood in Barcelona, I participated to the organization and management of an international competition of ideas meant to help “rethink” the urban renewal plan. I will briefly explain the case of Bon Pastor, where 784 old one-story houses have been almost completely demolished by Barcelona’s city council since 2007, then expose how we chose the tool of a competition of ideas to try influence local authorities towards a less destructive and more respectful urban planning. The project was self-managed, self-financed, elaborated in local housing squats and occupied social centers, and supported by a global network of residents against evictions, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI). Meanwhile, bulldozers were demolishing the first houses, and riot police squads evicting the first residents.We received over 140 proposals from planners, architects, artists, anthropologists, and other experts from all over the world, all of them involving a conservative, participative, and zero-eviction paradigm. University departments, scientific journals, and research institutes inside and outside Barcelona sympathized and cooperated with the initiative and its diffusion. This proves the existence of widespread support for collective planning among professionals and scholars, as well as their willingness to engage publicly in activism for housing and against evictions. However, the reactions of local authorities and media were very cold. A strongly entrenched chain of patronage and command connected the ruling authorities with the neighborhood’s residents, even if some of them actively supported the initiative; the discourse of development and modernization through demolition and resettlement proved highly impermeable to change, even if sought outside the classic strategies of urban activism. I propose a reflection on the effectiveness of the tool we tested in Bon Pastor, the competition of ideas, in order to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses previously of its application to urban renewal plans in other contexts.

PANEL 2 – Contest, Participation, Commons

  • Abir Saksouk, “Play in the Camp: Narratives of Resilience and Reflections on Inclusion”

Over the past years, Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have become overly congested and living conditions have steadily deteriorated. The strategy of militarization within which camps have been addressed in Lebanon has also limited access to spaces of socialization, impacting livelihoods and networks. In this context -due to their age and lack of social power -youth is the largest and the most disadvantaged social group in camps. Aside from the obvious need to challenge confinement and legal constraints on the Palestinian community in Lebanon, is it possible to conceive of necessary spaces that would respond to some of the challenges posed by youth groups in the camp? In fact, low-income dwellers of the Lebanese capital have long put their imagination to work by transforming derelict spaces into informal playgrounds where the community gathers in what they’ve turned into public space. In Mar Elias camp, the youth has been using the adjacent privately-owned empty plot as their football field for the past two decades. 20 youngsters raised some money, leveled the ground, and convinced a blacksmith from the camp to make and install crossbars. For a long time, the field was used to host tournaments and community events, and it acted as a recreational site for families and kids. This presentation reflects on the making of such spaces in Beirut, highlights the issues faced by the youth in Mar Elias, and presents the process in which Public Works Studio has engaged with residents to revive, defend, and enhance social spaces that are in constant threat. In confronting market forces and a private property regime, acquiring such spaces is a daily exercise of resistance: youths commit numerous acts of transgression and efforts to sustain them. Yet the result does not come without challenges: who is allowed access? what practices are acceptable? who manages? These questions along with others have been tackled, to eventually highlight the agency of the youth and provide potential paths for impacting contemporary forms of managing urban space. Throughout, we  weave a narrative of resilience in Beirut by celebrating the multiple dreams of the most marginal youth groups and their survival strategies in laying claims over the city.

  • Alexander Shopov, “The Oral Histories of Istanbul in the Struggle for the City’s Historic Produce Gardens”

In the Early Modern period, bostans—highly productive commercial vegetable gardens—began spreading throughout Istanbul. These gardens, with their wells, water wheels, and geometrically arranged planting beds, became a major feature of the city’s landscape, economy, and culture. By the early eighteenth century, there were more than three hundred bostans just within the walled city alone, employing more than one thousand gardeners. In the mid-twentieth century, Istanbul’s bostans were depicted in major works of Turkish cinema, literature, and art. However, despite their historical importance, by the end of the twentieth century most of the gardens had been destroyed; today only a few remain, continually under threat from development. This presentation will discuss how the gardens became embedded in the civic identity of Istanbul even as they were being destroyed. Focusing on the struggle to protect the last remaining bostans that emerged in 2013, I will explore how this resistance drew from the central place of gardens in the city’s identity, including oral histories related to the bostans and Istanbul’s urban cultivars. Like no other city, Istanbul’s urban identity has been associated with agriculture. The ongoing struggle to preserve the bostans should be seen as a reaction to the loss of green space across the city, which attempts to redefine the bostan as a place of public engagement and social justice

  • Stavros Stavrides, “Discovering the Emancipatory Potentialities of Common Spaces: Learning from Athens”

Experiences of space commoning in contemporary metropolises create forms of shared public life that overspill the boundaries of existing public spaces.Common space produced through practices of urban commoning may give form to processes of cooperation which encourage encounters and offer opportunities of creative communication. If enclave spatiality corresponds to rules that enclose and “corrupt” commoning, threshold spatiality characterizes those common spaces that invite newcomers and are not identified with any self-enclosing community. Threshold spatiality corresponds to forms of self-management that permit the expansion of commoning circles.Opposed to public spaces which are used under the rules established by specific authorities, common spaces emerge as urban thresholds through practices that rediscover democracy as praxis. The sharing between equals and the opening of the circles of sharing towards “outsiders”necessarily implies creating forms and rules of urban social life that can profit from differences and encourage the participatory building of shared urban worlds. Drawing from examples related to the recent experiences of urban commoning in crisis ridden Athens(including neighborhood initiatives and self-managed refugee support centers), this presentation will attempt to show that emerging common spaces may shape potentialities of collective appropriation of the city-as-commons. It is through such experiences that community-building, considered as a process connected to the potentialities of social emancipation, may be re-problematized. Commonspaces, thus, may be rethought not as necessarily linked to a defined urban community but, rather as spaces of expanding commoning that potentially challenge the dominant “city of enclaves”.

  • Aylin Yildirin Tschoepe, “Participatory Imagin(eer)ing: Negotiating the Commons through Collective Visual Processes”

The Klybeck neighborhood has largely been dominated by Novartis and BASF, both of which intend to vacate large areas of their properties in northern Basel in the next couple of years. The companies have partnered with the City of Basel with the common goal of developing a future vision. One main objective is to create a sense of place in consideration of the particular location of the Klybeck area at the crossroads of three countries (France, Germany, and Switzerland). Another objective is to offer participatory processes for those affected by urban transformation as participation is a legally anchored part of the planning process in Basel. The legislation, however, leaves room for interpretation: the commons depend on those who define it.
The understanding of what participation means, what form it takes and under which condition individuals may or may not participate in urban decision-making processes varies between actor groups. Some have an emancipatory understanding of participation and offer context- and community-specific activities. They often also act as enablers not just for their own group but also for those who are so far excluded for various reasons (language capacity, etc). Other groups understand participation as a controlled process in terms of access and time: the format of events restricts participation to “experts” or is held in the form of a lecture by an expert. The challenge of participatory events is to involve the greatest possible variety of individuals affected by urban transformation. These are residents (with a high proportion of migrants), as well as people who are connected to the place for work reasons without living there (tradespeople, craftsmen). Because of the diversity of knowledges, agendas, and practices of negotiating over future urban visions, I am part of an interdisciplinary team (anthropology / design) that investigates and fosters strategies of visual communication and co-design in participatory imagin(eer)ing processes.
The co-design process of participatory images is an embodied, often non-verbal activity. Are such processes better suited to bring together participants of different political, social and cultural identities, with various knowledges, levels of experience and expertise, and expectations? What range of practices need to be considered and included to make the rules flexible and boundaries of participatory spaces permeable to include the greatest diversity of participants? The co-designed images become part of an archive/image pool that keeps circulating among actors and is engaged with in an iterative process. Through a diverse authorship of residents, activists, city planners, craftsmen, the resulting images are accepted and understood in various social worlds of different actors. They provoke and enable further communication and interaction, and become actors themselves in this process from which new spaces and practices of action emerge.

PANEL 3 – Self-construction and self-organization

  • S’bu Zikode, “Urban Shack Settlements as a Site of Struggle: Johannesburg”

We live in the most productive economy in human history with more than enough resources to feed, house and educate every human being. Every person can live with dignity. But these resources are not used to meet human needs on the basis of equality. Instead there is a widening gap between the wealthy minority and the impoverished majority who face violent dispossession. The current dominant economic system commodifies people and nature and often criminalizes impoverished people.In this paper I want to argue that in this crisis the urban shack settlements are an important siteof struggle. The world is now mostly urbanised and as people move to cities in search of opportunity pressures mount. City governments are becoming increasingly repressive. But in many places, such as South Africa, and many cities in Latin America, shack settlements are becoming important sites of struggle. Women are often the majority in these struggles and often take leadership roles. In South Africa Abahlali baseMjondolo is the largest popular movement to have emerged since the end of apartheid. Despite severe repression the movement has grown dramatically in recent years. Land occupations, road blockades, strategic use of the court and democratic mass organisation have become key tools for the movement to advance its agenda. Although the price of land continues to be paid in blood many victories have been won by popular organisation and mobilisation.

  • Welita Caetano, “The Front for Struggle for Housing in São Paulo”

São Paulo is the most populous city in Brazil, with about 12.1 million inhabitants. Approximately 1.2 million people live in precarious conditions. The housing deficit is 358 thousand homes, despite these numbers, in the last twenty years the state government has built only six thousand social housing in areas of the center and the expanded center.In the absence of public policies the solution is to occupy. The Front for Struggle for Housing (FLM), a movement in of which I am a militant, is one of the main articulations in the fight for the right to the city, organize days of struggle to denounce a public policy that is not being applied. The organization is comprised of 12 women who coordinate about 36 occupations and 126 grassroots groups throughout the city. I am one of these women, together we coordinate approximately 10 thousand families that live in occupations, besides the base groups.Twenty-four years ago, my family sought an occupation to live in, I was only 10 when we were welcomed by the movement. I have heard from my leaders that “the right to housing is a human right” and “if the State does not do it? Let us do it with our own hands.” Today I continue this human work, organizing low-income workers to fight for decent housing. I am also part of the municipal council of housing and promote articulation with the public power, with churches, volunteers and mainly with universities, indispensable partners in structuring these spaces.When we organize a new occupation, we dream about the life that will be possible there, an occupation is a territory of resistance of the workers, nobody leaves the same of this experience. These spaces become a home for children, men and women who are excluded from society. Do we build relationships of solidarity, respect and why not of love? An occupation is a constant construction site, where the homeless are formed and transform degraded spaces in their home. WHO DOES NOT FIGHT, IS DEAD!

  • Dominic Moulden, “Making the Just City”

ONE DC’s goals is to create a model for resident-led organizing and power building with working class Black people and others in the District of Columbia. Explore and discuss the tools for grassroots organizing in the 21st century, leadership development and political education such as ONE DC’s LEAP – Leadership Education for Action and Power, and tools for permanently low cost housing and strategies for “making cities” spaces for justice and equitable development.

  • Yaşar Adnan Adanalı, “Mapping, Walking, Documenting, Designing, and Building for Spatial Justice in Istanbul and Beyond”

Center for Spatial Justice (Turkish: Mekanda Adalet Derneği, Abbrev. MAD) is founded in Istanbul with the intention of living in fairer, more democratic, ecological urban and rural spaces; to produce cross-disciplinary work; to gather, accumulate and share knowledge that is innovative, qualified and public. Center brings together transnational knowledge and cross-disciplinary expertise with local communities, to help to (re-)produce spaces and practices of hope. This presentation will focus on various projects involving practices of mapping, walking, documenting, designing and building in Istanbul and beyond.