How might we...

In 1921, the former Mayor of Poplar (now Tower Hamlets), spent six weeks in prison for directly defying the London County Council. His offence: defending the equal taxation rights of his constituents in East London - at the time (and still today), the most deprived and unjustly taxed in the city. His name was George Lansbury.

Lansbury's name lives on through his granddaughter Angela and through the neighbourhood that bears it.

(Photo: LSE Library)

(Photo: LSE Library)

(Photo: British History Online)

(Photo: British History Online)

Could you imagine a politician today going to jail for something they believe in?
— Poplar resident

We're part of an ongoing conversation with those who live in and around Poplar for our A Sense of Place project.

Chrisp Street Market (the symbolic centre) stands at the precipice of regeneration, and at the forefront of what Lansbury fought so dearly to counter - a lack of concern for the most vulnerable. It's an apt forum for the London Festival of Architecture's 2017 theme, 'memory'.

As part of the festival, we hosted a range of individuals from researchers and architects to local residents and volunteer groups at Kafe 1788. Together we explored how to reduce the rate of eviction among residents of social housing, and how to build resiliency. The outputs from these co-design workshops were then added to an exhibition of our work in the Poplar Pavilion, designed and built by Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow, Alex Julyan

(Elicea Andrews Photography - additional event photos >>)


Responding to stories of those we've spoken with - their hopes and fears - we used activities driven by empathy to lead discussions about belonging and community. What does placemaking look like when everyone is included?

Groups addressed three questions:

  • How might we support residents to better understand their tenancy rights?

  • How might we more clearly communicate the pressing concerns and challenges of residents to social landlords?

  • How might we include the most vulnerable in placemaking activities?

In brainstorming answers to these questions, it soon became evident that building trust and respect between tenants and landlords is paramount, whether through 'gastrodiplomacy', 'local champions', 'persistent contact', 'face-to-face', 'personal advisors' or even a 'listening service'.

The groups also placed importance on existing skills, strengths and capacity of residents, where such assets can be shared and how to support residents create their own trusted networks.

'Space' and 'place' were embedded in every conversation.

At AzuKo, we believe that the process of coming together to express and share ideas is a worthwhile experience for all those involved. Feedback from our event showed just that. 

Participants told us:

  • Empathy is a necessary starting point for design

  • Insights driven by residents create meaningful solutions

  • There is value in learning from others' experience

  • Role play is a great tool to see the world from another's viewpoint

  • Participation, collaboration and diversity are key

LFA 2017 was a small sample of what happens when,

you see the likeness of people in other places to yourself in your place. It lights invariably the need for care toward other people, other creatures, in other places as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.
— Wendell Berry

It was another small step towards the ends that George Lansbury fought for nearly a century ago - dignity in design.

Find out more about our project, A Sense of Place >>


Author: N. Ardaiz

A very warm thank you to everyone who made our LFA 2017 event a success, including Alex Julyan (Wellcome Trust), Ao Leal video production, Elicea Andrews Photography, Justin Brown (Native North), Kafe 1788, Kineara, Ruth Baker and Francesca Tafi (Ryder).

Our community-driven approach

Over a quarter of Bangladesh's population now live in towns and cities. Rapid urbanisation, coupled with limited financial and physical capacity, has put significant strain on these areas.

To date, the Government of Bangladesh has mostly ignored the growth of informal settlements, or reacted by evicting squatters. New approaches to the urban context are needed.

Throughout the world, slums upgrading is often done through investments in neighbourhood improvement that result in de facto security of tenure for the urban poor. This in turn allows families to incrementally improve their shelter conditions, thereby improving human capital, and leading to synergies in savings, employment and poverty reduction, and gradually incorporating informal settlements into city development.
— Pro-poor slums integration / The World Bank

Global experiences show that slums upgrading requires strong engagement from urban poor communities for a number of reasons.

  1. Slums and informal settlements are dynamic and variable. No single solution is suitable for all situations. Engagement is essential to create locally relevant and contextually appropriate solutions.

  2. Government delivery and private sector engagement can crowd out the poor. A community-driven approach ensures that those involved in designing and implementing initiatives are also the beneficiaries.

  3. As governments are slow to address urban improvements for slums, community-driven approaches are often the only alternative.

Our current project will pilot a community-driven approach to improve living conditions in an urban slum of Bangladesh. This will be achieved by mobilising the community, supporting committee capacity building, facilitating access to banking facilities and improving infrastructure.

We're working with a group of 50 households in Jogen Babu Maath slum, in the northwest of the country. We've worked with the community since 2010, but now we're taking our engagement to the next level.


Author: J. Ashbridge

A place called home

Despite all the things that have taken me away from home, whether long trips, years at university or employment, I’ve always had the privilege of feeling I had a home. My parents have never moved, so I have only known one.

This is why I find it such a bewildering prospect that for a rapidly growing number of people across a large number of countries, the idea of enforced homelessness is a reality. The news over the past few months has been dominated by a seemingly overwhelming number of conflicts, with few prospects of achievable end goals or short-term resolution.

(Photo: UNHCR)

(Photo: UNHCR)

In war, civilians are heavily affected as urban areas provide a focus for assets to be appropriated or as civilians themselves are targeted. The result is massive scale population displacement and destruction of the built environment. Such populations may be disconnected from their homes for extensive periods of time, and even if / when they do return, it may be to an unrecognisable environment.

There have been great humanitarian efforts to provide temporary shelters of varying types to meet the needs of disaster relief. However the question arises as to whether it is possible to provide a ‘home’ in these situations. Considering this issue I believe we must address two questions:

What is a home?

In the UK perhaps the most obvious example of a transient population is students. Where they consider home could be represented by where they receive their post, and despite spending years residing in a single student property, for me this remained my parents house.

This exemplifies the key difference between a place I occupy - of which there have been many locations sheltered from the elements and of decent enough quality to feel content - and my ‘home’. My home is the fall back place; it’s the consistent. If I was faced with a crisis, it’s where I’d return and for the most part would be welcome. It’s the place where I store all those possessions that I’ve built up over the years; all those memories.

I’m not sure that a mobile temporary shelter could ever hope to provide these needs. In the favelas of Brazil for example, a key desire is to have a fixed place which can be improved over time, and this is likely for similar reasons.

So what is a home to you?  Is having a home important?

I believe it’s extremely important to have a place called ‘home’. It provides a sense of security and grounding for where I am. Although I don’t expect this applies to everyone and there are certainly those who prefer the opposite, I can only rationalise that this is a belief shared by the majority. 

Now the situations we’re encountering are already the worst case scenarios for thousands of people. Perhaps the focus of relief efforts lies elsewhere - but is it acceptable to allow generations to exist in a state of enforced homelessness; in a state of limbo?

Could relief organisations ever hope to provide ‘homes’ to displaced populations or is it something that can only be achieved after peace? I fear it is the latter but must continue to hope that we may be able to achieve in some way the former.


Author: M. Crowe