Small Interventions for Good

In the last six months I moved from a large Asian city to a small town in upstate New York, quit my job at a large university and now work for a much smaller organization, a coffee shop. I also became a wife. My passion for understanding urbanization though has not been completely abandon. Now that I am not focusing my working hours on large-scale urban policy issues I seem to notice and appreciate many smaller urban interventions in my daily life more than ever before.

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As an employee of a third place instead of merely studying third places I have not only come to appreciate amazing coffee but also the details of each coffee shop that allow it to truly contribute to its community. From planters beautifying the neighborhood, to strategically placed outdoor tables on a sunny day, to walls for local artist to share their work, even down to looking forward to the changing artwork on our chalkboards outside, each of these aspects of a cafe helps to build community. Many urban planners note the importance of “café-culture” and sidewalk cafes as contributing to the public life of cities, but its certainly a more hands on experience helping to maintain these details as my work now instead of just documenting them as a researcher (See Jan Gehl’s related research on pedestrianization and cafes in Melbourne here).

Although my contribution to urban planning as a field may now feel smaller than it was in my previous job, I am excited to see the immediate influence of the details surrounding our cafes that shape our larger community. I am reminded also that it is not how large or influential my work is that matters, but having a heart behind it that is willingly to serve others. Be it a daily dose of caffeine to graduate students or writing a research paper trying to shape urban policies, each action contributes to the common good of a community.

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As this next stage in my life continues to be filled with changes and many unknowns I keep challenging myself to appreciate the little things which make my city home and also to recognize more little things that I can do to contribute to my community. Today this may mean providing a hot cup of coffee and welcoming environment for people to exchange ideas inside, away from the chill of an autumn day. Tomorrow these interventions may take another form. In the mean time though I hope these thoughts challenge others to look for small ways they can also contribute to their cities.

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Originally posted on Cyclopology:

“…She was told never to touch a bicycle. Her parents feared she would lose her virginity.”

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Cycling around Dar es Salaam it doesn’t take long to notice a stark gender gap when it comes to who rides a bicycle. I’ve occasionally seen women sitting side-saddle on the back end of bikes pedaled by men, but so far very few ladies powering bikes themselves (an exception: disabled women cranking three-wheeled handcycles). Being an expatriate I’m an alien in Tanzania anyway, and while I’m no boor when it comes to cultural appropriateness while outside of my own country, I just can’t bend to gender norms that make it unacceptable…

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City Beautiful: Scenes from a Sunset Run on the Swahili Coast

Though I do technically run, I don’t consider myself a “runner.” I never really enjoyed it and my short, stumpy body isn’t remotely built for it either (anyone that reads my posts will be familiar with my love of the bicycle, however). Living in Dar es Salaam of all places is slowly changing that – even though there aren’t what you would call “sidewalks” or “parks” to really facilitate physical activity, my runs along the narrow and at times harrowing streets on the Indian Ocean have been at once hilarious, beautiful, uplifting and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Ocean Road near my office in the city center is virtually undeveloped, and a precious open space that is lively and active as the sun sets – teenage guys play soccer, partners do calisthenics and running drills in the sand, loners shadow box, people sit on the eroding sea wall and watch the waves, ladies and gentlemen sell coconuts and ice cream. It’s not just the beautiful scenery that makes running less painful – it’s the people too. The coconut vendors cheer me on with chats of “Mazoezi, sista!” (“Exercise, sister!”), “Yes! Yes!”, and “Safi sana!” (“Very fresh!”). Passers-by also dole out big smiles and thumb’s ups that are just bursting with encouragement – perhaps these little gestures are meant to keep a little runner going who looks positively bedraggled, beet red and broken down. But in the moment I will allow myself to feel like one of those tall, lithe, cheetah-people that run marathons in like five minutes, as I plod along the beach basking in its lovely friendliness.

Below are a few scenes snapped while pretending to check my running time on my phone. It’s high tide and the sun was setting. Enjoy.

~Amy

Nightly football game:

Contemplation 1:

Kids playing in the waves and hamming it up:

Contemplation 2:

Tree, precariously close to eroding into the ocean but hanging in there:

All photos by author, and appear as they were taken. That is to say, un-Instagramed.

Negotiating the Right to Stay: A Community-Led Process in Old Fadama

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**Cross-posted from the Shack/Slum Dwellers International blog**

The air in Accra is humid and full of dust. After spending days inside heavily air-conditioned conference centers and nearby hotels, you start to forget the realities of city life.  Luckily, I got a reminder.

I spent my last day in Accra in the centrally located settlement of Old Fadama. Old Fadama is an informal settlement occupying 31.3 hectares of land along the Odaw River and Korle Lagoon in central Accra. Established in 1981, its population of roughly 80,000 inhabitants is made up of traders and migrants from across Ghana as well as other neighboring West African countries.

The community has resisted threats of eviction for nearly a decade through use of tools such as enumerations, mapping and lengthy negotiations with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA).  Most recently, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GAFUP) and the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA) have been in negotiation with the AMA around the clearing of structures from land around the Korle Lagoon in preparation for a large-scale de-silting project, funded by the Netherlands Government. Korle Lagoon has experienced decades of pollution serving as the main runoff for the entire city of Accra and its shores as dumping ground for much the city’s solid waste.

Initially, the AMA requested that 100 feet of land be cleared to make way for the project. GAFUP and OFADA members estimated that clearance of 100 feet would mean demolition of nearly 3,000 structures and eviction for roughly 7,000 inhabitants. They quickly entered into negotiations, proposing that the amount of land be reduced to 50 feet. Immediately, the community went to work enumerating the 50-foot area. Reducing the amount of cleared land to 50 feet meant a reduction to 1,192 residential and commercial structures and 3,000 people. Still not ideal, but certainly a marked difference.

Armed with their enumeration data, GAFUP and OFADA met with city authorities at the AMA and succeded in negotiating for their proposed 50-foot area instead of original 100 feet, reducing the number of people affected significantly.

The next step was a community led demolition and realignment of structures on right of access identified and negotiated jointly between the residents and the City Authorities. Members of GAFUP and OFADA led this process, first meeting with community members to explain the demolition and relocation process.

A federation member in Old Fadama

Getting the wider community on board has been key to the success of the process. I spoke with a woman whose structure is waiting to be demolished. She has been a member of GAFUP since 2008. However, she says she doesn’t know where she will go when her structure is demolished – that she will simply have to find a piece of vacant land and erect her structure there. Sadly, this means she will likely have to live on the edges of Old Fadama, where the dirt paths are riddled with rubbish and the harmattan hits harder against the shack walls.

Despite these inevitable hardships characteristic of any relocation, resettlement of displaced peoples to other locations within Old Fadama is a success story in and of itself. Most tales of relocation involve displacement to many kilometers outside of the city, far from social ties, employment, and opportunity. Thanks to the successful negotiations of GAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue Ghana, this is not the case in Old Fadama.

In our discussions with GAFUP and OFADA, it became clear that a waste management plan will be crucial to the success of the imminent de-silting project in order to prevent continued pollution of the lagoon. This is a key time for GAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue to put their negotiation skills to use. Waste remains a major issue in greater Accra, and the creation of a community-led waste management program for Old Fadama could serve as a key tool for income generation, community upgrading and negotiation with local authorities around the community’s capacity to engage in the upgrading process.

Farouk Braimah, director of the Ghanaian support NGO People’s Dialogue, stresses, “This whole exercise promises huge benefits and leverages. We anticipate capitalizing on this exercise to strengthen our hitherto weak relationship with the city authorities of Accra and to feed into [other projects] in Accra and Ashaiman.”

Bearing witness to the reality and determination of this community, alongside some of its key leaders, was certainly an experience no conference could compete with.

- Ariana

For more photographs of Old Fadama, check out SDI’s albums on Flickr and Facebook

Follow SDI on Twitter @sdinet

A Sunday Drive in Zanzibar

After landing in Zanzibar for a brief work trip and confirming that it was indeed an actual place, the first thing I noticed was a refreshing lack of traffic compared to Dar es Salaam. The next thing I noticed was that the tree-lined streets are traveled by many more bikes and motorcycles than automobiles. Then, within five minutes of leaving the airport, we passed by the scene of a motorcycle accident.

Zanzibar’s population is growing at a worrisome pace – Stone Town, the main city, is a crumbly but beautiful remnant of Zanzibar’s Arabian nights history, but outside of the historic area you see the sprawling unplanned settlements common to expanding cities on the mainland. While the government is challenged to keep up basic services as the population grows, an effort to improve road conditions is apparent and most of the main ones are in pretty good shape. But the combination of population growth, more cars and smooth roads is leading to a tragic record on road safety even the President himself recently addressed.

Being a short visit to several villages around the northern part of the island, I didn’t have a chance to do any cycling myself but did spend some quality time from the back of our van watching and photographing the road late on a Sunday afternoon on our way back to Stone Town. As the sun started to set the roads were active but not so much with car traffic – most people were cyclists or walking. This particular road was in good shape and I was told had been recently tarmacked, but given the overwhelming majority using it for non-motorized transportation it surely didn’t seem that this was given much consideration in the design for its upgrading.

While overtaking a truck piled high with freshly-cut sugar cane, you get a peek that everyone up ahead is on foot or a bike, stretching across both lanes. There is a shoulder but it’s quite narrow considering the number of people using it.

Again, open road ahead, many people on the move but not too many with motors.

The next few photos are taken from my window as we zoomed past in the van. The pace of cycling is an easy one – mostly old Chinese steel-frame bikes, sturdy and good for hauling stuff, but not built for speed. People (mostly men) rode with bundles of firewood, veggies, and sacks of charcoal (and women) on the back. This contrasted with sparse but aggressive traffic, mostly trucks, daladalas, and boxy vans like ours. The images below look peaceful and pastoral, and the scene really was – but keep in mind I’m observing it from a vehicle going 50-60 mph.

I wasn’t able to find any decent data on how many people bike, walk and drive in Zanzibar, but it was clear that a lot of people bike, and they’re pedaling on smooth but aggressive roads. I also don’t know much yet on the details of the Decade of Action for Road Safety that kicked off this year (sponsored by the U.N. and WHO), but it’s timely and making a very needed connection between transportation and public health. I’m hoping that it includes not just traffic enforcement and awareness for drivers, but is also pushing for engineers and transport planners to taking a good look at who actually uses roads when investing to improve them – and that “improvement” means “safer” along with “faster”.

~Amy

This is cross-posted from my new blog on cycling in Tanzania, Cyclopology. All photos by author.

Dar Dispatch

It has been a regrettably long time since contributing much to this blog, but at least it’s for a pretty good reason. After graduating in May and going through the all-consuming job search process, I ended up packing up my life in New York and moving to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to work as a consultant on climate change planning and other environmental issues. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, and aside from the usual challenges of moving to a new place (How do I get to work? Where’s the nearest bodega? You seriously mean I have to pay my rent with a giant pile of cash??), so far I’ve found Dar to be a beautiful, crumbling, cosmopolitan, exciting city. And it’s hot.

Applying a planner’s eye to Dar es Salaam, the “harbor or peace”, the fastest-growing city in East Africa, will be my main topic of conversation for the next couple of years. If you’re ever in the neighborhood or have any interesting news, please do drop me a line at amy.faust@gmail.com.

~Amy

Photo credit: Flickr user caribbeanfreephoto