Planning as a profession and course of study : A floundering Planner’s Perspective

The planning as a profession in India is synonymous with either party/event planning or smart cities, nothing more, nothing less. Only a few know what planning as a profession and course of study is in India. And when one does, the picture has varied shapes and colours for those who are either a part of this professional or academia pool and for those outside this pool.

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Image from – https://jokohok.info/navi/o/city-quotes/ [accessed on June 13, 2018]

For the usual Indian pupil graduating from 10th grade and entering the last two years of secondary school, the remainder of their education is usually about deciding what they want to do after graduation, which for some, narrowly means the kind of job they want to pay their bills. More often than not, the choice has been between medicine or engineering, with past decades witnessing a change and significant proportion of students now opting for business studies, law, economics, arts and humanities, but only a few opting for the architecture stream. One would hardly find anyone who knows about planning as a field of study and wants to pursue it after finishing school.

For 98 per cent students you come across in the first year of planning studies, you come to realise you are not alone when you say: I am pursuing planning because I could not get into architecture. Yes, it is a sad truth. If one wants to study within India, a student finishing high school and seeking entry into a college has to go through entrance examinations. Architecture and planning have a common test, which includes NATA (http://www.nata.in/) and AIEEE (https://jeemain.nic.in/webinfo/Public/Home.aspx). Each has a different list of colleges it provides entrance to. In some sense, AIEEE has the list of better graded and ranked schools in India, including the National Institute of Technology, the School of Planning and Architecture, etc. But clearing the exam is not enough. Based on your score, you are given an All India Rank which ultimately determines where you will land up for the next 4 to 5 years.

These 4 to 5 years are not what you expect, as is said by every teenager who graduates school with great hopes of becoming an adult and entering college life. Some might fall in love with the college and field they enter, while others might curse every day.  Some will also actually end up working in a different field after under-graduation- like business studies, law, interior design; basically any field that has better future prospects than planning.  But one thing is common for all: your biological cycle and sleeping and eating patterns become dysfunctional. You get accustomed to 3-4 hours of sleep for weeks on end and sometimes wonder why you didn’t opt for medicine (in my case at least, as I left medicine to pursue architecture, but ended up studying planning at undergraduate level and started loving it from the second year onward).

All personal experiences and perceptions apart, planning is not a last resort to think of. True, in India planning is still under-recognised and even mistaken for events planning or simply smart cities, in light of the political impetus on smart cities in past 4 years. It is difficult to find good jobs in planning and if you do, they usually do not pay well. You earn less than an engineer or medical resident or a lawyer or for that matter many other liberal professions. Even after your master’s you might end up earning the same amount that you were getting after your bachelor degree. So, yes it is disheartening at times.

Recently, many graduate planners have been switched fields to business studies or pursuing a master’s abroad. For many years I did not understand the appeal of the latter. Earning an MBA is sure to get you into a higher pay band, but why spend lots of money and relocate abroad to apply to a master’s programme, earn a student visa, work a few years and then return home, or re-apply for visa to work further. The answer that I am able to articulate so far is: better recognition and a whole lot more opportunities, especially for young planners.

A student with average grades and work experience that graduates from a planning school in Europe, Australia or the United States of America, has much better chances to not just earn better but learn more from practical job experiences than a top-notch student graduating from one of the best colleges in India. The former have access to tremendous variety of conferences, lectures, entrepreneurs who are working in the field and would be happy to support and guide you. While in India, more often than not, you will find your friends competing against you. It is not ranting, but a fact. The limited availability of decent jobs, especially for a women planner, plays a critical role.

But yes, if you do love planning and everything that has to do with it, you have to think beyond that and explore opportunities for yourself. The road may be tougher than the rest, but if you are willing to take a step, the end result can be fulfilling or not, that’s debatable based on personal experiences (which I would like to learn of from my colleagues around the world).

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Posted in Dissemination, outreach, communication, Planning, city, and society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How culture played a role in an environmental campaign

Guest author: Kedar Uttam

This post presents an initiative that was undertaken by a civil society movement in Mangalore (South India) to fill the gap of cultural impact assessment which most environmental campaigns in that region miss out.  

It is a decade since my hometown, Mangalore (in South India) celebrated a photo exhibition named “Nilae” (meaning: habitat) that was probably the first of its kind in the region. This photo exhibition was arranged in July of 2008 as part of an environmental campaign organised by a civil society called the (Coastal Karnataka) People’s Development Forum. The photo exhibition documented the identified cultural impacts of the (then proposed) Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) project phase II. People’s Development Forum described this event as “an exhibition of photographs from the area earmarked for the MSEZ, including the places of Tuluva[i] cultural and religious significance that will perhaps soon be history”. The establishment of special economic zones (SEZ) in India have led to forced acquisition of land and the displacement of previous owners and farming communities. Resistance to SEZs has been primarily from directly affected communities and civil society organisations [1].

My hometown, Mangalore, located on the South West Coast of India is a lush green belt of land between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. A study conducted by Ramachandra, T.V. and colleagues [2] in one of the villages, where land was planned to be acquired for the MSEZ project, recorded 187 species of plants, 59 butterflies, 11 odonates, six amphibians, three reptiles, 55 birds, seven species of mammals in a short duration of two days in certain selected localities.

Phase I of the MSEZ project had displaced more than 1500 families spread around four villages. Ian Cook from the Central European University and his colleagues based in Mangalore called it the “multiple displacements of MSEZ” [3]. They analysed the different types of displacement, such as social, economic and cultural, caused by the land acquisition process of MSEZ.

The environmental impact assessment study conducted by the “consultant-proponent nexus” [4] lacked detailed investigations covering the cultural impacts of the project [2]. An assessment of cultural impacts must include the impacts on “linkages which the local populace has with ecological components” [4] whereby such linkages form a part of their culture and contribute to the livelihood.

My discussion with the photographer of the exhibition, who is also the member of People’s Development Forum, provided some insights on the rationale of this innovative concept of documenting the identified cultural impacts. He revealed that most of the internationally funded non-governmental organisations in the region focused only on ecological issues in their environmental movements, thereby disregarding the cultural loss embedded within the predicted environmental impacts. So People’s Development Forum decided to view the entire problem not merely from ecological and economic angles but also from a cultural perspective. This viewpoint resonated with what Kagan and co-authors [5] have recently observed in their study. They highlight that culture still plays a minimal role in both sustainability science and mainstream political discourses and that “culture” is not specified as a significant arena of action on the policy level. The identified set of issues and challenges are often based on “green” themes.

Collage Nilae Exhibition resized

Selection of photos exhibited at “Nilae”, the photo exhibition that raised awareness about the cultural impacts of the Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) phase II. Photo credits: Udaya Ullal.

Another member of the People’s Development Forum mentioned that as most city dwellers were indifferent to the issue of displacement induced human sufferings in MSEZ, the photo exhibition was conceived to tell the larger community outside the SEZ area about their cultural loss and the collective loss of Tuluvas as a distinct cultural community. Furthermore, one of the goals was to make communities in the affected villages feel proud about what they already have.

None of the members of People’s Development Forum were impact assessment experts per se, but they possessed that cultural value-based thinking, which is often missing in the Indian environmental assessment practice. Cultural values encompass attributes traditionally considered to be cultural (stories and sense of history in the landscape), and as well as natural attributes that are valued culturally [6].

Two years after this exhibition, at an annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment, I stumbled on a poster developed by Szilvacsku Zsolt which called for assessments focusing on “the core value of vitality of living being” to be incorporated in impact assessment practices [7]. The photo exhibition in Mangalore took one small step towards respecting the value and vitality of living systems in the MSEZ affected areas. Paddy fields, cattle herd, traditional houses, a temple and grazing lands were all treated to be components of cultural significance and as forms of vitality.

Moreover, the exhibition was a creation of the concerned citizens of Mangalore and the communities of MSEZ affected villages. It captured the attention of the public and of certain key influential actors and triggered the cultural consciousness that subsequently fuelled the environmental campaign against the land acquisition of MSEZ project. In a certain sense, the cultural focus in this environmental campaign had represented the “conservative” nature of the communities’ movement against the MSEZ land acquisition and their displacement, or in Guha’s words, “refusing to exchange a world they know, and are in partial control over, for an uncertain and insecure future” [8].

The cultural photo exhibition complemented the strong environmental advocacy that was under way in the campaign. The photo exhibition was a part of the campaign’s strategy. Although Phase I of the MSEZ project had acquired around 1757 acres (approximately 711ha) of land comprising of four villages between the years 2004 and 2007 [9], the government notification order to acquire land for Phase II (2000 acres or approximately 809 ha) was eventually withdrawn in July 2011 following the vigorous environmental campaign.

[i] Associated with Tulu speaking communities, based in places such as Mangalore and Udupi and around in the South West Coast of India.

References

[1] Rawat VB, MB Bhushan and S Surepally. 2011. The Impact of Special Economic Zones in India:  A Caste Study of Polepally SEZ. Paper presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing 6-8 April 2011.

[2] Ramachandra, T V, K V Gururaja, H Bhat, S Ali, et al. 2007. Biodiversity Inventory in and around Tenka Yekkaru Grama Panchayat, Mangalore Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District, Karnataka, Bangalore: Indian Institute of Science.

[3] Cook I, R Bhatta, V Dinker. 2013. The Multiple Displacements of Mangalore Special Economic Zone. Economic and Political Weekly, vol XLVIII no 33.

[4] Rajaram T, A Das. 2011. Screening for EIA in India: Enhancing effectiveness through ecological carrying capacity approach, Journal of Environmental Management,Volume 92, Issue 1,

[5] Kagan S, A Hauerwaas, V Holz, P Wedler. 2017 . Culture in sustainable urban development: Practices and policies for spaces of possibility and institutional innovations, City, Culture and Society. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ccs.2017.09.005

[6] Stephenson, J . 2008. The Cultural Values Model: An integrated approach to values in landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning 84, 127–139

[7]  Zsolt S. 2010. Challenge of value based impact assessments in transitioning to sustainability. Poster presented at the Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment in 2010, Geneva. Corvinus University of Budapest, Department of Landscape Planning and Regional Development.

[8] Guha, R .2010. How much should a person consume? Thinking through the environment. Hachette India and Black Kite, Delhi.

[9] Dhakal. S. A Report of People’s Audit of SEZ Karnataka. Tata Institute of Social Sciences

Biography

Kedar profile pic 150pix width

Kedar loves to loiter in the university. He is a sustainability researcher and teacher. His research interests include environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, cultural impact assessment, and green and sustainable public procurement. He has also monitored and evaluated development projects funded under the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)- Small Grants Programme (SGP). He has a PhD from KTH Sweden in the field of environmental assessment and management.

Posted in Beyond planning, Conflict, development, Heritage and Planning, Sustainability and resilience, Territory, landscape, land, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

YA conference summary & selective list of upcoming planning conferences

One of the last major spatial planning events was the 12th AESOP Young Academics conference, held at the University of Groningen 26-29 March 2018. Following last year’s YA conference (focusing on planning and entrepreneurship), this year’s conference was entitled “Navigating Change: Planning for societal and spatial transformation”).  This year, 53 participants came from more than 30 universities in Europe and the USA. You can read a concise conference summary by Steven Forrest, one of six PhD researchers who constituted the organising committee. Stay put for an upcoming conference report which will provide more detail about the outputs of the conference.

If you are interested in public participation and local democracy, a noteworthy event that almost went unnoticed for many is the international Improving Democracy conference hosted by the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities (SKL), held 17-18 May in Stockholm, which featured a wide range of international experts. You can find all contributions to the conference here.

The next major event is of course the AESOP Congress in Gothenburg 10-14 July, held at Chalmers University of Technology, with the theme “Making Space for Hope”.

The rest of this post is a selection of upcoming research and/or practitioner conferences that could be of interest to you, most of which still accept abstract submissions. Many of these have been posted on the YA Facebook page.  They are classified by region (Europe vs Global) and by date.

If you would like to share events that can still be attended, do leave a comment below the post.

European

Many international conferences in Europe can be found on the following pages of the World Urban Planning magazine, the Regional Studies Association and CitizenLab (see below under “Global”). Here are some individual conferences held in Europe.

UK

East-West Arc: Delivering the Future Symposium  will take place at the University of Westminster, London, on 19 June 2018, of particular interest to planners, architects and civil engineers in the south of England.

The annual RTPI Convention (Royal Town Planning Institute) will take place in London on 21 June 2018. Attendance can be expensive for young academics and practitioners, unless your organisation can sponsor you.

The City (Re)Shaped will be held at the University of Leeds on 11-12 Sept 2018 , with a 29 June 2018 deadline for abstracts.

The annual RGS-IBG international conference (Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers) will be held at Cardiff University 28-31 August 2018. Although abstract submission has closed, the event is worth attending, with plenty of research being highly relevant to spatial planning.

Germany

Growing Bad? will focus on the Regional Sub-Urban Housing Challenge, held at RWTH Aachen University, Germany, 6-7 September 2018. Aachen is close enough to anyone living in the Netherlands and Belgium too.

Resilient Cities 2019, the Global Forum of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), will be held in Bonn on 26-28 June 2018.

Netherlands

The 1st Annual Meeting of the Cycling Research Board will take place at the University of Amsterdam on 14-16 Nov 2018, deadline for submission is 15 June 2018.

The African Perspectives Conference BK will be held at TU Delft, Netherlands, 25-27 March 2019. See also below.

Greece

Smart Greens 2019 will be held in Heraklion, Crete, 3-5 May 2019. Quite techy and engineering-minded, but also very relevant to the more spatial-planning-minded among us.

Spain

Urban Transitions 2018: “Integrating urban and transport planning, environment and health for healthier urban living” will be held in Barcelona on 25-27 November 2018. Abstract submission until 8 June 2018.

The 11th International Forum on Urbanism Conference: “Reframing Urban Resilience Implementation: aligning Sustainability and Resilience” will be held in Barcelona on 10-12 Dec 2018, and in Jakarta in March 2019.

Global (i.e. not just European)

The Regional Studies Association routinely hosts many conferences and seminars across the world. Check out the RSA network as well.

Here is a list of relevant world planning conferences, on the website of the online magazine World Urban Planning.

And here is a list of upcoming Smart City events for 2018, delivered to you by the Brussels-based planning consultancy CitizenLab.

Africa/Netherlands

The African Perspectives Conference BK will be held at TU Delft, Netherlands, 25-27 March 2019. It is a venue for sharing “African Perspectives on Design, Planning and Construction: Research and practice for inclusive, fair and sustainable urbanisation.” It is hosted by Planners for Democracy and African Perspectives +12. Although held in the Netherlands, it deserves due mention here.

Asia

The 11th International Forum on Urbanism Conference held in Barcelona, Spain, will also be held in Jakarta in March 2019 (see website link for more details, posted in due time)

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Picture credit: Infinite, by AurelioZen on Flickr, Non-Commercial CC License Attribution 

Please leave a comment below if you would like to share upcoming events.

 

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, Beyond planning, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Events reports, Planning, city, and society, Sustainability and resilience, Territory, landscape, land, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Territorial Stigmatization during an Urban Regeneration Project: The Example of Tarlabasi

In the last decades, the rise in the real estate sector has become the main factor of urbanization in the ‘developing world’ (Lees et al., 2015). In the global South experience, massive urban redevelopment and regeneration projects can exceed the neighbourhood scale, creating big spaces of gentrification and gentrification-led displacement (see Shin and Kim, 2015; Ribeiro, 2013; Goldman, 2011). In this post, I look at urban regeneration projects that result in gentrification, through the lens of ‘stigma’, specifically the Tarlabasi Renewal Project. I use stigma in the same way as Goffman (1963) and Wacquant (2007) as ‘discrediting differentness’ by a person of another one through face-to-face and daily interactions. To use this understanding for examining a neighbourhood I use the concept of ‘territorial stigmatization’ (see Wacquant, 2007; 2008; 2010) as a way for the state – as a symbol of power – to make its own representations and spread them through the general public. I pay particular attention to the power of the state in the Turkish context in the last 15 years or so. The current ruling party, which has been in power since 2002, has become more and more authoritarian with many scholars expressing concerns (Tugal; 2016a). It is not easy for those marginal groups (who are invariably non-Turkish) impacted by territorial stigmatization in Istanbul to resist given the increasing censorship of opposing voices.

Urban regeneration as a term is used for the Turkish term of ‘kentsel dönüşüm’ which is – as pointed out by Cavusoglu and Strutz (2014: 135) – a term that is used by the Justice and Development Party (JDP) ‘as a buzzword for a wealth of urban renewal, urban regeneration, urban transformation and urban development projects’. As an urbanist, I use the term urban regeneration and renewal in this context as a threat to the wellbeing of the urban poor and a tool to increase social segregation and displacement in the inner city.

The use of stigma in Tarlabasi emerged as the criminalization of the inhabitants. These inhabitants were often portrayed as ‘invaders’ and this was used to justify the project since, it was claimed, these residents did not have the right to live there in the first place. These kinds of statements ignored the fact that most of the people living in the neighbourhood were Kurdish people who had been forced to migrate to Tarlabasi because of the military conflict in the east of Turkey. One of the promises of the project is to eliminate crime from the area, and since the current residents are presented as the main reason for the high crime rate, their evictions are justified. During my research in Tarlabasi, the government officials and people from construction firms were asked what should be done about the crime rate. The main answer was that after the project was completed and new people started moving in, the crime rate would automatically decrease.

Criminalization continued with the use of news media to manipulate the public opinion. Some of the news headlines included: “Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three years. Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess and we are healing her. Tarlabasi will be a safe place.” (see 11 May 2012, Sabah; 16 June, 2012, Haberturk; 3 July 2012, Sabah; 17 August 2012, Star; 26 August, 2012, Vatan; 31 December 2012, Yeni Safak). Denigrating Tarlabasi residents as drug dealers, sex workers, thieves, and undesirable conditioned the public reaction to the project. Thus, public opinion has been formed in such a way that the injustices that inhabitants have experienced during the project have been ignored.

One of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association (an association founded to resist the unfair treatment of the inhabitants of Tarlabasi by the inhabitants of Tarlabasi) explained how Tarlabasi was represented in the press perfectly:

……We observed how the whole of the press played the three monkeys [he means the three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil]. We realized all the news about us and Tarlabasi were just lies and did not represent reality at all. Let me tell you an interesting story. In the project area, out of the 269 buildings, 6 of them were derelict and ruined. Star TV, Sabah and ATV [mainstream Turkish media channels] showed those 6 houses for months to show Tarlabasi. They said this was Tarlabasi and they showed those 6 houses……. Press just showed those 6 houses to whole of Istanbul and the whole of the country as if those 6 derelict buildings were Tarlabasi was ever was (Aybek, 2018: 177).

The stigma imposed on the inhabitants of Tarlabasi, which is described above, shows the everyday struggles of gentrification-led displacement, capital-led destruction, and transformation of social space through creating a narrative about a group of people by the state. Criminalizing the inhabitants means the state can evict residents more easily and without public resistance. Once the urban renewal project is implemented and all the current inhabitants are displaced, it becomes possible to present a tension-free gentrified area to the new comers. The kind of segregation brought about by these projects will cause problems in the future, because the local state not only deepened the differences between social classes by displacing all the poor inhabitants, but also created feelings of resentment among working class residents in reaction to exaggerated accusations of criminality and degradation.

I would like to conclude this post with a statement of one of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association summarizing the diversity and richness of the community in Tarlabasi that was not ever published in the mainstream press:

Our houses were 200 metres away from Istiklal Street. We were all over all those shops, stores and restaurants one sees on Istiklal Street. We were the ones picking up trash, cooking the meals, musicians who were playing the instruments and singing the songs and snatching purses. We were the ones doing everything in that area [Istiklal Street, Tarlabasi and most of Beyoglu] and getting by day to day money…… we created a culture of our own. When you see those clotheslines from one house to another, across the street and thinking to yourself “these people are just too much”, what it really represented was: One day I’m drying my clothes and next day my neighbour is [he means solidarity in Tarlabasi]…… We discussed life while drying those clothes and around those clotheslines such as “My husband is out of work”, “I cannot give money to my kids”, “I could not pay the rent his month” (Aybek, 2018: 175).

 

This post is part of a paper that focuses on the renovation and regeneration projects, as well as the gentrification concept with regard to a set of urban policies that have particularly enriched the holders of capital in the historic neighbourhoods of Istanbul. I analyse this process of gentrification through structure and agency, and the latter examines conflict and how this may play out. There are two levels of structure involved: (i) international (world-wide) and (ii) the Turkish case.

Biography

Aysegul Can received her PhD from University of Sheffield, Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She is currently an independent researcher focusing on urban regeneration, gentrification-led displacement and affordable housing.

yaprofil

References

Aybek, E., (2018). An interview about the Tarlabasi Renewal Project in Tarlabasi. Istanbul: Chamber of Architects

Cavusoglu, E. and Strutz, J., (2014). Producing force and consent: Urban transformation and corporatism in Turkey. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(2), 134-148

Goffman E., (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster

Goldman M., (2011). Speculative urbanism and the making of the next world city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(3): 555–581

Haberturk, (16 June 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three and a half years’.

Lees, L., H.B. Shin, and E. Lopes-Morales. (2015). eds. Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement. Bristol: Policy Press

Ribeiro, Q., (2013). Transformacoes na Ordem urbana das Metropoles Brasileiras: 1980/2010. Hipoteses e estrategia teorico – metodologica para estudo comparative. Observatorio das Metropoles

Sabah Newspaper, (11 May 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be complete in three years’.

Sabah Newspaper, (3 July 2012). ‘Half of Beyoglu will be transformed.’

Shin, H.B. and Kim, S-H. (2015). The developmental state, speculative urbanization and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul. Urban Studies, 53(3): 540-559

Star Newspaper, (17 August 2012). ‘Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess. We are healing her.’

Tugal, C., (2016a). In Turkey, the regime slides from soft to hard totalitarianism, Open Democracy , 17 February 2016

Vatan Newspaper, (26 August, 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will create a domino effect’.

Wacquant L., (2007). Territorial stigmatization in the age of advanced marginality. Thesis Eleven 91 (1) 66–77

Wacquant L., (2008). Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wacquant L., (2010). Designing urban seclusion in the 21st century. Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal 43 165–178

Yeni Safak Newspaper, (31 December 2012). ‘ A safe environment will be created in Tarlabasi.’

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Social Enterprise, made in France – helping people and planet?

Spatial planning, at its best, can facilitate sustainable development. Planning policies, however, are no silver bullet for the implementation of sustainable development goals. Where spatial planning might sometimes fall short of leveraging solutions on the ground, the emerging trend of social enterprise can provide much-needed bottom-up solutions to complex socio-economic and environmental problems. Social entreprise: helping to save people and planet? A snapshot of French social enterprises. 

Give me five Agostino Iacurci on ArtVibes

“Give me five!”: social enterprises help to reconnect people by addressing social, economic, health and environmental issues. Art credit: street art by Agostino Iacurci, photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/congfengchen/14058553807, Creative Commons license 2.0 Attribution.

Social enterprise is an emerging trend across the world. Social Enterprise UK (“the leading global authority on social enterprise”), describes social enterprises as: “Businesses that are changing the world for the better…  Social enterprises are in our communities and on our high streets – from coffee shops and cinemas, to pubs and leisure centres, banks and bus companies. By selling goods and services in the open market, social enterprises create employment and reinvest their profits back into their business or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, provide training and employment opportunities for those furthest from the market, support communities and help the environment” [emphasis added].

In short, social enterprises seek innovative solutions in nearly all sectors of society, tackling such diverse issues as mental health and education to food and ecological consumables. Social enterprise may bring ethical focus on leveraging particular products/services, as well as in the manner in which they do so (e.g. they might function as cooperatives). This said, because there are many different forms of social enterprises, it is virtually impossible to provide a definitive or authoritative definition that captures the diversity and complexity of the trend. Nonetheless, a key defining factor might well be that long-term financial viability may often be more difficult to achieve than for commercial enterprises.

France, like many other countries, has its fair share of economic, social and environmental issues to deal with. Here is a glimpse of the kinds of social enterprises that are mushrooming across the country and try to square the circle of sustainable development. They are classified by theme.

Intergenerational ties

We may not be getting wiser, but we are definitely getting older. Aging populations now affect both post-industrial and developing countries. At the same time, both younger and older people suffer from isolation. To help remedy this situation, a number of French social enterprises are helping to recreate intergenerational ties, for example through one-to-one teaching and food.

Les Talent d’Alphonse connects retired people who want to share their skills and knowledge with young people. One-to-one and small-group tuition is available for a range of practical skills, including languages, music and photography, charged at 15 euros per hour. Mostly clustered around Paris and Lille, the digital platform may well expand to other French cities, given the impressively wide media coverage which they have received.

Paupiette builds on the idea that young people deserve to have a proper lunch cooked by individuals who could well be their own grandparents, and that grandparents should enjoy the company of young people who could well be their own grandchildren. The French culture of food as a social experience helping, Paupiette is fresh out of the social entreprise oven in Bordeaux. The idea deserves to be developed further and exported.

Upcycling – turning waste into gold

Did you know that a third of all food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted? Here are more detailed eye-opening facts and stats about food waste from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO.

Based in Paris, Les Alchimistes collects food waste from restaurants and food stores to make compost – which really entails re-creating value from a resource that would otherwise end up in a landfill. They use a simple yet innovative composting technology that does not emit any foul smell, noise or visual disturbance. The compost is then used by urban farmers and gardeners.

Commown’s vision is to convert digital tech to long-term sustainability by promoting long-lasting products and avoiding planned obsolescence. Functioning as a cooperative, Commown encourages owners of digital devices to lease them to others, with the entreprise providing maintenance service, thereby creating income and reuse of devices that would otherwise be discarded and are still often dismantled in subprime social and environmental conditions. Although not impacting the actual design of devices as yet, they aim to help push the digital industry toward the adoption of “Fair” devices (e.g. the fully ethical Fairphone), based on a co-ownership model.

MéGo ! recycles cigarette butts into plastic elements that can be assembled into furniture. It aims to operate as a national waste collection programme, and provides fit-for-purpose ash tray elements or even street fixtures for organisations wishing to be active parts of the collection programme. It would almost make smoking environmentally friendly…

Not a social entreprise per se, the association Carton Plein reuses removal cardboards and provide modest, low-carbon removal services by giving jobs to unemployed people from various backgrounds. All removals are loaded onto low-tech but highly efficient bicycle trailers and pulled by bicycle power and plenty of elbow grease (or knee grease to be more accurate). Their complete service thereby helps combat socio-economic exclusion as well as air pollution and premature wastage or recycling. Could the model become a social entreprise business model?

Emmaüs is a famous charity and community that recruits jobless individuals from all backgrounds through a widespread network of second-hand stores. Their new digital platform, Label Emmaüs, puts that network online. Nothing fancy, but it does is enable a charity with a clear social purpose to compete with the likes of eBay, and functions as a kind of Argos for second-hand, vintage items. As not all the items in their specialised second-hand shops get to be sold, the platform enables the quicker distribution and sale of their stock, thereby taking the second-hand charity “enterprise” to a higher level. Vintage items range from furniture and interior decoration to fashion, books and multimedia.

Urban farming

Topager is a small company that designs and delivers urban rooftop farms and gardens, founded in 2013, enabling to produce food as well as contribute to alleviate environmental pollution. In the words of co-founder Nicolas Bel in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, economic productivity can be found even among the most unlikely urban denizens: “For me, an earthworm is a kind of micro-factory that digs tunnels and produces fertiliser”. He adds: “An intern once told me that I viewed ecosystems as machines. He was quite right.” Check out their impressive portfolio, including their submission for the 2024 Olympic village in Paris.

Using vacant urban space

Branding itself as a “cooperative for temporary urbanism”, Plateau Urbain transforms the concept of squatting vacant buildings into a cooperative provider of temporary spaces for various uses, particularly artistic and cultural events. Fully legit, the cooperative provides its expertise to local councils, architects and property owners who want to make use of vacant properties. They have been active in several French cities.

Start-up coaching for social entrepreneurs

Even those who train social entrepreneurs to define and launch their businesses could be seen as social entrepreneurs. Here are a few start-ups that help others create their own social enterprise start-ups…

Hearty enterprises – restoring faith in business values?

In sum, it seems that consumerist capitalism does not necessarily have to consume us all on the stake of social and ecological collapse. People and planet are tightly connected, and need to be addressed together. Perhaps social enterprise can help steer relentless capital accumulation and creative destruction toward a brighter, more equitable and less predatory future. Michael Porter, professor at the Harvard Business School and founder of multiple non-profits, argues boldly that business can best solve social problems not the public or third sectors alone. Social businesses, funded by microcredit schemes such as the ones kick-started by Muhammad Yunus, have also enabled entrepreneurs in developing countries to take off. Business models grounded on a circular economy perspective also have better chances of generating wealth by addressing acute environmental needs. Social enterprises have the potential to bring the heart back into business, much beyond the veneer of corporate social responsibility. Let us hope that social and environmental stewardship becomes the next norm in the world of economic ventures, so that changing our communities for the better will no longer require going against the grain.

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Housing in India and government attitude towards it

Housing is an important aspect of city development. Population growth in a city is mainly attributed to two main reasons: migration from different areas in search of jobs and natural growth (birth rates exceeding death rates). However, the pace of housing provision, particularly by government agencies, is never able to keep up with the pace of population increase. Also, the National Urban Housing and Habitat policy-2007, which emphasizes “Affordable housing for All”, aims at ‘Forging strong partnerships between public, private and cooperative sectors for accelerated growth in the Housing Sector and sustainable development of habitat’. At the end of the day, it’s all about Roti, Kapdaa aur Makaan.

The Constitution of India recognises housing as a basic necessity and provision of housing facilities has been one of the main concerns of our planners and policy-makers down the years of our successive Five-year plans. However, the Right to shelter or housing is not a fundamental right (The Fundamental Rights are defined as basic human freedoms which every Indian citizen has the right to enjoy for a proper and harmonious development of personality. These rights universally apply to all citizens, irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, colour or gender. Source: Part III- Fundamental rights- Constitution of India) in India. However, to understand the concept of housing, we first need to understand “what is a house?”. Although there are numerous definitions of the term provided by different scholars and institutions, the Census of India defines the term ‘house’ as: every dwelling with a separate main entrance. However, a house may also be defined as a shelter or building or structure that is a dwelling or place for habitation by human beings. The term includes many kinds of dwellings ranging from rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes to high-rise apartment buildings. Whatever may the kind be, a house provides basic shelter to the human beings. In this age of ever increasing human wants, it is necessary that the basic need for shelter is fulfilled first.

Housing in India is as diverse as its population. Broadly, it can be categorised into urban housing and rural housing, in the manner it is addressed by plethora of government interventions. Issues and challenges vary for each category and so does the attitude of the policy makers and institutions intervening in provision of this basic human right.

Urban housing in India has undergone a change in terminology and emphasis since Independence in 1947. Post- Independence, urban housing concerned with provision of a plot of land by the Land and Development Agency for the influx of refugees from Pakistan and divided Punjab and surrounding areas. By 1956, slums had become focal, and to tackle the issue of rising slums, site and services scheme was initiated at the centre, along with legal tender to notify certain areas as slums, in accordance to Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956. Slums, however, continue to be one of the significant challenges for the urban housing sector in India. With the expansion of cities in extent and population size, government is either not able to cater to the demand of affordable housing, or not able to meet the need of it in terms of design of physical units. For example, many a times, government at the centre and state provide housing units for the economically weaker sections of the society, but instead of shifting to the allotted unit, the allottee sells the unit to a real estate agent (who uses it for commercial purpose or rental property) and moves back to the earlier spot of slum settlement, while in few cases, settle in a slum at a new crevice of the city fabric. Another instance worth mentioning is case of the famous Kathputli colony in Delhi, where government along with a private developer in public-private partnership mode (PPP) has been able to cater to the demand of affordable housing units in multi-storeyed towers, but unable to meet the need of physical space which enables the community of puppeteers, musicians, dancers, etc to perform their art.

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Picture of ongoing demonstrations by basti of Kathputli, Delhi against the government project of relocation and rehabilitation (Picture by Author. 2015) – After years of agitations and conflicts, the entire basti has been cleared off to make way for new ‘formal’ development

In case of rural housing, issues differ. Rural housing in India is often associated with farming (for example, agricultural labourers working on other farms), self-constructed houses, or in some instances housing units constructed by a local mason, unlike a professional civil engineer or architect of a city dwelling unit. The Government has taken two sets of interventions with regards to rural housing in India – one, provision of homestead sites for rural poor who qualify in the list of below poverty line. A homestead site was provided under the provisions of Indira Awaas Yojana, wherein a homestead comprised of adequate land for construction of dwelling unit as well as subsistence farming and animal rearing. Second, training of rural masons to resilient housing.

Lately, housing issues and challenges in India have become a political priority and gone beyond the usual emphasis on demand supply gap fulfilment to include the issues of electrification, clean fuel, sanitation and disaster resilience, with limited emphasis on the latter.

Providing housing is not the ultimate goal, rather being able to live in it, move and stand in the dwelling unit without overcrowding and equipped with basic services of sanitation and water shall be the ultimate goal (adequate housing).  Hence, the aim of ‘Affordable housing for all’ shall be modified with “Adequate and Affordable housing for all” with detailed guidelines as to what shall be considered adequate.

 

 

 

Editor – Ian Babelon

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Planning for green and sustainable public procurement in the construction sector

Guest author: Kedar Uttam

A reflection on how green and sustainable public procurement must be steered in the construction sector. My aim is to understand how the construction sector can take responsibility for nature and society affected by its purchasing decisions.

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Green and sustainable public procurement for a more sustainable construction sector in Nordic countries. Picture credits – Above: Tawhid. Below: author.

Green public procurement is a process whereby public authorities aim to reduce the environmental impacts caused by the purchase of products and services. It is expanding towards inclusion of social considerations and being termed as sustainable public procurement. The Construction sector is identified as one of the priority sectors for the implementation of green and sustainable public procurement given the sector’s vast consumption of natural resources and energy.

I set out interviewing consultants, experts, researchers, government officials from all the Nordic countries concerning their views on the future of green public procurement in the context of the construction sector. The method I used was Q methodology[i], which helped to reveal a range of understandings and accounts around the domain of green and sustainable procurement. Three accounts were identified.

They include A: analytical support for pro-environmental action in procurement, B: sustainability value-laden efforts and innovation for green and sustainable public procurement, and C: enabling organisations and partnerships to promote green and sustainable public procurement. In account A, the key concern is that environmental issues need to be prioritised in procurement decisions by providing more weight to environmental aspects in tendering process. This view also highlighted the importance of analytical methods and expertise in tools such as life cycle assessment to be better informed about criteria and alternatives. In terms of the future, account A relies on providing analytical support to develop criteria, thereby enabling significant weight for environmental aspects, and facilitating the necessary interactions to promote green procurement.

Account B is distinctive because of its critical views and core belief in sustainability values and innovation. From a supply chain perspective, this account argued that the difficulties faced in the traceability of raw materials are overrated. One of the participants mentioned that “the supplier should know where it [raw materials for the product] comes from; yes it takes time, but not impossible. They do pay money [..] you have traceability of money”.  This account sees the role of dialogue between contractors and contracting authorities to promote innovation. Account B suggested that there should be no strong distinction between environmental and functional objectives in a procurement process. It was claimed that this distinction might increase the tendency to prioritise one over the other.  In addition, account B exhibits interest in the claim that green and sustainable public procurement requirements should be established during the planning phase of the project.

Account C focused on organisation and partnerships. It emphasised the need to train and educate the procurement staff on a variety of concerns related to green and sustainable procurement. The training should aim at promoting awareness regarding various environmental and social issues to be covered in the procurement process and also the strategies required for implementing green and sustainable procurement. This account was strong on the idea that the procurement and environmental staff should communicate with each other. In addition, this account underscored the need for continuous improvement in procurer-contractor relationships. It stressed the importance of incentives to both large and small contractors for developing sustainable practices in a way that enhances their competitiveness. Moreover, this account indicated that the traditional procurement procedure does not allow the improvement in procurer-contractor relationships. These relationships are necessary to develop realistic solutions in green and sustainable public procurement that can contribute to sustainability. A participant expressing this viewpoint mentioned about the chances of contracting authorities “rewarding illusions” under the pretext of following green and sustainable public procurement. Thus, account C calls for more partnerships and dialogue to develop practical solutions in green and sustainable public procurement.

Sustainable public procurement in the context of the construction sector should not be merely seen from the perspective of promoting eco-efficiency (generating more economic value with minimal environmental impact). With the aid of sustainable public procurement, the construction sector should avoid the tendency to reject any responsibility for the activities involved in the extractive industries, mines and forests from where it draws its raw materials. But what is in it for the contracting authorities and contractors; what could motivate them to step into such an adventure? This needs reflection in the context of various policies relevant to green and sustainable public procurement.

For instance, one such policy includes the flagship initiative ‘resource-efficient Europe’ and its emphasis on ecosystem services and natural capital. Ecosystem services are the benefits human populations receive from ecosystems, which include ‘provisioning services’ such as food, water, timber; ‘regulating services’ that affect climate, floods, wastes and water quality; ‘cultural services’ that provide recreational, aesthetic benefits; and ‘supporting services’ such as photosynthesis[ii]. The ecosystems that provide the services are considered as natural capital[iii].  Given such emphasis on natural capital, it is important to evaluate green and sustainable public procurement activities in connection with natural capital and sustainability.

According to Voget-Kleschin[iv], a certain process or measure can qualify as contributing to sustainability if it strives to meet either direct or indirect claims for justice regarding natural capital or both, and does not violate the claims. If the construction sector truly intends to contribute to sustainability via green and sustainable public procurement, then it could be important to understand if and how far green and sustainable public procurement complies with direct or indirect claims for justice regarding natural capital. Direct claims require that all contemporary and future human beings should be able to live a decent human life. Indirect claims involve claims for the treatment of natural capital in a way that assures not to undermine contemporary and future humans’ ability to live a decent human life.

Footnotes

[i] Barry, J., Proops, J., 1999. Seeking sustainability discourses with Q Methodology. Ecol. Econ. 28 (3): 337–345.

[ii] MEA Millennium Ecosystem Assessment., 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington DC.

[iii] Costanza, R., 2012. The value of natural and social capital in our current full world and in a sustainable and desirable future, in Weinstein., M. P., Turner, R. E. (Eds.), Sustainability Science. Springer, New York, pp. 99–109

[iv] Voget-Kleschin, L., 2013. Large-scale land acquisition: Evaluating its environmental aspects against the background of strong sustainability. J. Agr. Environ. Ethics. 26 (6). 1105–1126.

Biography

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Kedar loves to loiter in the university. He is a sustainability researcher and teacher. His research interests include environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, cultural impact assessment, and green and sustainable public procurement. He has also monitored and evaluated development projects funded under the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)- Small Grants Programme (SGP). He has a PhD from KTH Sweden in the field of environmental assessment and management.

 

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