(Re)constructing the City: Integrating urban design into humanitarian response (Urban webinar #4)

20 Aug 2013
14:45 - 16:45, GMT

This webinar focused on integrating urban design into humanitarian response, with speakers from the Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience and Killing Architects. Topics explored included the benefits of urban planning for sector coordination, and a reflection on the current system. Please note there is no video for this webinar. The transcription for this webinar is available in related resources in the sidebar.   

Key points

Allison Killing

  • Urbanists and humanitarians have very different ways of looking at cities. By ‘urban’, urbanists mean the ‘built environment’ and humanitarians mean the social and demographic issues the ‘built environment’ entails. Urbanists focus on community, and urban planning is very political, while humanitarians focus on the individual and avoid the political.
  • Urban planning can be useful for the coordination of different sectors in the built environment. For example, WASH and transport are easier to coordinate with specialists communicating around a table and mapping systems.
  • The current system is upside down. Urban planners are often located in the wrong place in the organisation: instead of being put in smaller technical working groups they should be given large roles such as coordinating logistics. However, there is suspicion around ‘masterplanning’.

Kate Crawford

  • The tools urbanists use can change the way people convene, coordinate and communicate about the city.
  • We need to broaden our horizons and look at what other people are doing: not just INGOs but urban humanitarians and urban professionals already working in the city.
  • We are arguing for a spatial strategic conversation about intervention in the city, we want to talk about more nimble organisations that engage directly with platforms for communication.


Q&A Snapshot

Are there any tools, guidance or examples of where urban planners and humanitarians have successfully worked together before? 
KC: Working with local authorities should be a priority, and humanitarians could include in their analysis more focus on how a city’s history, politics and peoples have shaped its built environment, and vice versa.

What do urban planners need to do differently if humanitarians need to work more holistically to work with urban planners? 
AK: They could listen to participatory input more and allow a bottom-up perspective to come in alongside top-down.

KC: They should reconsider how coordination is organised and funded, for instance coordinating camp management in an urban setting divorces the agencies from the fabric of the city. Organisations need to provide a shared, spatial account of their actions, not just a list of where they are working, but what they are doing and where money is going.

Would the use of urban planners in mitigation preparation improve the ability for them to work in response?
AK: Ideally cities would have urban plans before disasters, but that’s not just having more designers and planners, but investing in more software & hardware and dealing with the delays in governments approving agency’s plans.