Saturday, September 15, 2012

Challenges of Humanitarian Work in Urban Settings, Reviewed by David Hoicka

Ten Observations on the Challenges of Humanitarian Work in Urban Settings
By Elizabeth Ferris, Co-Director, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

About 3.3 billion people live in urban areas, and about a third live in informal settlements and slums which increase their vulnerability to crises. It is likely that future humanitarian operations will increasingly be carried out in cities. How can humanitarian actors provide physical protection when local police forces are either non-responsive or lack capacity or both? The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, UNHCR, and other international agencies have sought to develop new strategies and policies in this area.

Elizabeth Ferris writes 10 fascinating observations on the way this may affect humanitarian approaches to protection in urban settings, in her article “Ten Observations on the Challenges of Humanitarian Work in Urban Settings”. These 10 points are summarized as follows:

1. Urban areas exhibit visible and often extreme disparities in income and wealth. Rich and poor live side-by-side in some places, in polarized communities. 

2. Urban areas are physically congested places. Land is at a premium and wealthy people tend to live in the most geographically safe and pleasant parts of the city while poorer communities live on land that is less safe.

3. Urban areas are violent places. The majority of urban residents are victims of crime over a five year period.  Most victims are poor, and most crimes are committed by poor young men.  The fact that there may be parts of cities where even armed police find it difficult to work has implications for humanitarian workers trying to assist people in emergency situations.

4. The actors in urban settings are diverse. There are multiple levels of government with different responsibilities to be engaged to carry out humanitarian work. Also there are usually diverse and ranges of non-state actors in urban settings, including business interests, gangs and highly developed and active civil society organizations.

5. Urban populations tend to be more mobile. People move within cities, and between cities. Rural-urban migration has been studied; less so intra-urban displacement. These moves make it difficult for humanitarian agencies to reliably estimate the numbers and develop appropriate programs.

6. Urban populations are more politically active than rural. Historically governments have always worried more about urban populations—their potential for protests, strikes and political activities.

7. Determining beneficiaries for humanitarian programs is difficult in cities. people left their homes for the settlements in the hope of receiving assistance or ‘commuted’ back and forth between settlements and other accommodations.

8. There are difficulties marking the boundaries between humanitarian and development assistance in urban areas. No humanitarian agency is well-equipped (or has the mandate) to deal with the needs of the “urban poor.”

9. Finding solutions for those displaced or affected by emergencies involves a unique set of challenges and complications. For example, meeting needs of those who rented accommodations or squatted on land owned by others is almost always an issue in urban settings.

10. Humanitarian actors tend to see conflict situations and natural disasters as two distinct phenomena. But the two seem to be converging in cities.  Marginal areas are often the territories of criminals, urban gangs, traffickers and traditional insurgent groups. The ‘no-go’ areas of cities may be most vulnerable to natural hazards, creating difficulties for humanitarian actors in accessing disaster-affected communities.

I recommend you read Elizabeth Ferris article in full, linked above, for her thoughtful analyses of security issues providing humanitarian aid in urban areas.

Reviewed by David Hoicka

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Directions in Urban Public Housing - Review by David Hoicka

New Directions in Urban Public Housing

Careful and thoughtful study of public housing history, issues and strategies

New Directions in Urban Public Housing
David P. Varady, Wolfgang F.E. Preiser, and Francis P. Russell, Editors.

Publisher: Rutgers
ISBN-10: 0882851608
ISBN-13: 978-0882851600

This is a thoughtful and useful book containing 12 chapters in 287 pages written by top notch experts in the housing field, whose views are timely, carefully stated with great detail and historical perspective.

First, the book provides a careful and thorough review of public housing history, showing how we got where we are, and why. Second, the book reviews important social issues for public housing, including resident empowerment, and what happens when different groups are mixed together such as elderly and dysfunctional youth. Third, the book reviews public housing design issues in detail with examples. Fourth is a detailed discussion of public housing revitalization, and a thoughtful discussion of alternative strategies for public housing success. Fifth proposes numerous policy directions for moving forward.

This book is an essential part of the library of public housing and social housing practitioners, who are concerned with achieving the best possible results in affordable housing for lower income families in today’s society.

The contents of New Directions in Urban Public Housing are the following:

A. Historical perspectives
1. Alexander von Hoffman, ‘High ambitions: the past and future of American low-income housing policy’
2. Peter Marcuse, ‘Mainstreaming public housing: a proposal for a comprehensive approach to housing policy’

B. Social issues
3. William Peterman, ‘The meanings of resident empowerment: why just about everybody thinks it’s a good idea, and what it has to do with resident management’
4. Leonard F. Heumann, ‘Assisted living in public housing: a case study of mixing frail elderly and younger persons with chronic mental illness and substance abuse histories’

C. Design issues
5. Karen A. Franck, ‘Changing values in US public housing policy and design’
6. David M. Schnee, ‘An evaluation of Robert Pitts Plaza: a post-occupancy evaluation of new public housing in San Francisco’

D. Comprehensive approaches to public housing revitalization
7. Gayle Epp, ‘Emerging strategies for revitalizing public housing communities’
8. Lawrence J. Vale, ‘Public housing redevelopment: seven kinds of success’

E. Future directions
9. Richard Best, ‘Successes, failures, and prospects for public housing policy in the United Kingdom’
10. Mary K. Nenno, ‘New directions for federally assisted housing: an agenda for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’
11. Irving Welfeld, ‘Gatreaux: baby steps to opportunity’

F. Epilogue
12. James G. Stockard, Jr., ‘Public housing – the next sixty years?’

By David Hoicka