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Thesis – Civil society, post-politics, public engagement.

The end of my Masters course is soon arriving, and I am now undertaking my thesis research. My research will focus on the role of civil society groups in facilitating public participation in policy making in the post-political city. The thesis will draw on three main strands of existing academic debate: 

  1. The post-political city — Swyngedouw, Rancière
  2. Civil society — Gramsci, Gellner
  3. (The tyranny of) Public participation, democracy

To situate it in the real world, I will examine the public consultation process for the draft London Plan as my main case study, revealing the relationship between state and civil society through three built environment organisations. 

At the moment I am planning my data collection processes, will keep posting updates here.

 

 

 

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London Plan 2018 – what’s next?

(A delayed update: My short piece about the draft London Plan’s urban greening strategy has been published on the CIBSE journal in February.)

Next steps:

Although the consultation period is now over, I am still studying the London Plan for my Master’s thesis. My main interests surround public participation, ‘democratic’ policy making, and the role of civil society. If you have submitted a response to the draft London Plan consultation (either as an individual or as part of an organisation/ company/ institution), I would very much like to hear from you. I am especially interested in community-led organisations and professional industry groups. Please leave me a comment on the post here, or get in touch with me via Twitter, email or LinkedIn. 

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London Plan 2018

Currently having the pleasure to study the draft London Plan for CIBSE. More updates to follow but this is a snippet of a short article I wrote for the next issue of the CIBSE Journal

“The draft London Plan sees more stringent guidelines for some issues, but generally lacks clarity for most. The separation of ‘green infrastructure’ and ‘sustainable infrastructure’ hints at a somewhat blinkered approach to environmental issues that require integrated and strategic planning. At the moment, it is not apparent how the wider benefits of green infrastructure are being accounted for in relation to the city’s well-being, and more importantly overall sustainability.”

If you want to contribute to the next London Plan, don’t forget to put up a response before 2nd March, 2018!

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Human

 Human Flow (2017) 

Human Flow (2017) 

However arbitrary or significant the 31st of December is to you, it seems fitting nonetheless to do a bit of reflection. For me, 2017 has been a year of change, of new experiences, and of new knowledge. 2017 makes me think of the world we live in, how volatile, but how resilient. At the same time, I am more aware of how little I know, how small I am.

Yesterday I went to see Human Flow by Ai Wei Wei, a documentary about the refugee crisis and mass migration that is taking place in all corners of the world. Couple of things that shocked me:

  1.  The scale of the crisis. The number of people being displaced because of war, various forms of persecution, and climate change is unprecedented. 
  2. Not okay for animals but okay for humans? There is a scene where a displaced tiger appears stranded in one of the refugee camps. Like many others, this camp was dilapidated, unhygienic, and over crowded. Authorities deemed this place unsuitable and unhealthy for the tiger, and it was swiftly removed from the camp after gaining permission from multiple government departments.
  3. Why are people still migrating? Why does the root problem still exist? More reflection, less snap decisions. More thought and consideration is needed. 
  4. They are just like us. It is important to remind ourselves that a lot of these refugees used to be middle-class city dwellers with the most up-to-date technology and high education qualifications. Imagine what it would be like if you get thrown into a situation where you had to camp outdoors indefinitely, trek unforgiving landscapes because your country was being bombed, and despite all that, still face constant rejection that makes you question humanity itself?
  5. Climate change is making places on earth literally unliveable. People are having to abandon their all to move somewhere they can survive. Climate change is real and we need to acknowledge that

 

2017 has taught me what it takes to treat another like a human. It also taught me the importance of self-reflection. Why are things the way they are? Why am I thinking or feeling the way I am? What can I do about it? Why does it keep happening?

In 2018, I hope we learn to listen more and speak less. I hope we find more similarities amongst us than differences. Lastly, I hope more people, including myself, can be part of the solution, not the problem.

 

Happy new year.

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Saving the rainforest one tree at a time

“We are building a social movement to reverse rainforest deforestation by crowdsourcing an ‘Army of Davids’ from the 125 million farmers living in the rainforests of Central America.” AltForest: Rainforest Microfarm Accelerator.

I was sitting amongst architects, designers, ecologists, journalists, with a pink drink in my hand, and a screen in front of me which said: Think like A Rainforest. The room had been buzzing with people squeezing past each other in the tight open space, politely saying, “excuse me”, to get to someone from the opposite corner of the space. After brief exchanges with a well-traveled teacher and a Brazilian physiotherapist, the presentation began. 

Mike Hands, the ecologist and founder of AltForest and the Inga Foundation, introduced us to his years of research on the tropical rainforest, which eventually lead him to Costa Rica and Honduras for trials. An impassioned scholar, he relentlessly questioned previous research done on slash and burn farming, a destructive practice which leaves soil sterile and unusable for farming. His attention was drawn particularly to the application of phosphate in order to regenerate or stimulate soil and plant growth. It was his discovery of the use of rock phosphate that started his incredible journey till now. Disregarding warning and doubtful findings from his predecessors, he put his faith in the Inga tree, an indigenous species of the rainforest. With rock phosphate, he planted the Inga in alleys, creating space in between each alley for other crops to grow – cash crops or food crops. These crops benefit from being under the shade of the Inga, and the nutrients its fallen leaves give out as they decay. The fall leaves also form a layer of mulch which protects the other crops from extreme weather and nutrient leaching. 

Long story short, Mike’s research and farming techniques have successfully transformed the lives of 40 families so far in South America. Not only are the farmers now able to grow their own food, have firewood for warmth and fuel, they can also start to live in sustainable symbiosis with the rainforest once again thriving around them. 

The panel discussion which followed the presentation was quick and sharp, raising questions regarding scaleability, risks, investment models, and management structure. There were a few dubious figures provided by the team which suggest that they simply haven’t got enough data to generate a believable, let alone an accurate forecast of their future performance. They simply need more funding to expand and carry out more trials in other continents to develop the Inga-equivalent farming technique over there.

In the end, I was left with a lot more knowledge of the tropical rainforest, but many more questions as well. AltForest is an example of success bred from local knowledge paired with Mike’s passion and expertise. However, to sustain such an operation would require international support and government-implemented state infrastructure. 

In the meantime, more of us need to be aware of the Rainforest Microfarm Accelerator, and even more need to start working with the planet, not against it. Appreciate what we have, and strive to protect it with all we’ve got. 

(For anyone who is interested in similar ingenious solutions that tackle climate change, this book was recommended by a panelist, and I’m looking forward to reading it.)

 

 AltForest - Rainforest Microfarm Accelerator

AltForest – Rainforest Microfarm Accelerator

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