Helping Residents in the Global South Rebuild and Strengthen Their Communities

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Communities in the Global South face unique challenges to managing growth, redevelopment, and economic restructuring.

Faculty in the College of Design are working with residents of these communities to enhance the well-being of the residents. They will discuss their work at a College of Design Research Forum on November 8.

They are working to help communities in the Global South to strengthen climate change resilience, design and build community centers, support economic development, and house the urban poor, said Michael Elliott, an associate professor in the Schools of City and Regional Planning and of Public Policy.

The work allows the residents to invest in their communities in better ways, ways that protect their future more effectively.

The faculty members are working in India, Africa, and Latin America (with a focus on Puerto Rico).

Their projects are in communities facing pressing problems and each is done in consultation with, and the engagement of, the residents of the communities.

The faculty each came about their work in different ways.

While teaching in India, Elliott worked with Mahila Housing Trust to expand their housing programs to incorporate climate change resilience. A student in City and Regional Planning with deep roots in Puerto Rico was essential to initiating the work of Catherine Ross and Alberto Fuentes. Daniel Baerlecken has worked extensively with design/build models of community building in Africa.

Working With Communities in India

Elliott’s work in India is just one example of the efforts being done.

He works with Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), a 20-year-old organization that grew out of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA).

MHT works primarily with women residents of informal settlements to improve living conditions within their communities. These are settlements built without permits, on land the residents might not own or to which they have questionable tenure rights.

MHT helps women, who are often martinalized in community decision making, to work effectively together to resolve pressing problems.

Close, constructive relationships with local partners are essential to community work in the Global South. Elliott and MHT, for example, have knowledge, skills, and relationships that are complimentary and synergistic.

"MHT has a long history of working in slums. They know the people, language, culture and challenges," he said. "I work with staff, building their skills around issues of climate change, resilience, research, and organizational development."

He notes that MHT's working model is that staff from MHT go into the identified communities and work with the people -- mostly women and sometimes adolescent girls -- to organize residents into community action groups.

This includes support for community organizing, building leadership skills, strengthening the capacity of the communities to assess and understand the conditions they face, linking the action groups to citywide organizations of residents from similar communities, and linking both the individual communities and the citywide organizations to city agencies and other stakeholders who could partner to resolve communith needs.

Countries Hit by Climate Change

Elliott says cities in countries such as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, are among the ones being hit hardest by climate change.

Cities create their own heat island, raising temperatures significantly greater than is caused by climate change alone. Moreover, because slums are often on marginal land and the buildings offer little protection from outside, these informal communities face the greatest climate change risks.

Elliott points out the four biggest risks to people in these informal settlements:

Heat Stress: Temperatures in many parts of India can exceed 108 degrees F during May, significantly higher than a  human body at 98.6. Indoor temperatures can be even higher. People's health are adversely affected by those high temperatures. The type of buildings and landscape can make a difference.

Flooding: Climate change is increasing the variability of storms, thereby increasing the chances of flooding. The project focuses not on flooding from rising rivers, but rather from local stormwater management. Poor drainage and strong rains can bring flooding in communities. Houses are flooded and everything inside gets soaked and possessions are lost.

Vector-based diseases: Climate change is promoting the spreas of mosquitos and water-borne disease. Local communities can significantly alter these patterns.

Management of water systems: Clean water is necessary for drinking, cooking, hygiene and sanitation. Communities can organize to enhance their access to potable water.

Elliott said for him, success will mean that partner organizations will develop the internal capacity to manage complex projects on their own.

Other Forum Paraticipants

Joining Elliott at the forum are:

Alberto Fuentes, an assistant professor in the Schools of City and Regional Planning and of International Affairs; Catherine Ross, a professor in the School of City and Regional Planning, and director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, and Daniel Baerlecken, an associate professor in the School of Architecture.

Ross and Fuentes will outline a new prototype for conducting studio courses. The spring 2019 studio, “Puerto Rico – Disaster Mitigation and Recovery,” funded by the American Planning Association in partnership with the Graduate School of Planning at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, is Phase I of a studio series and exchange program focused on disaster mitigation and recovery in Puerto Rico post Hurricane María.

Ross’ previous research focused on collection and analysis of data documenting the impact of natural disasters on critical civil infrastructures and lifelines. Recent research on natural hazards and lifelines have been linked to health partnering with researchers at Tongji University. Fuentes studies processes of economic development and industrial change in Latin America, emphasizing the role of state-business relations.

Baerlecken’s work generally takes place in countries in Africa, often working both government officials and residents.

He has conducted studios in multiple countries in Africa; he often works with clients around designing community important buildings, such as community centers.

About the Forums

The College of Design Research forums are intended to allow the College community and our friends across the campus to experience the design- and technology-focused research at Georgia Tech. From music technology to product design; from assistive technology to healthcare; from architecture to city planning, we explore the many ways technology can solve critical problems for the way we live.

The next forum will be January 24, 2019, from 11a-12p in the John & Joyce Caddell Building in the Flex space.



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