A trail of somewhat random emails led to my participation in the Community Architects Network International Workshop in Metro Manila.
The week long workshop gathered participants -mostly practitioners and students working at the intersection of architecture, urban studies, and development- to assist informal settler communities in their struggle for liveable and affordable housing. Participants were split between two sites in Metro Manila: Muntinlupa and Intramuros. Alongside residents, we participants learned various techniques for documenting, analysing, and communicating the spatial, social, cultural, and material characteristics of inner-city settlements that are vital to asserting housing rights.
Image 1. A countermapping activity that uses community perspectives to (in)validate maps produced by "experts".
The relocation of informal resettlements to improve quality of habitation requires complex technical expertise. However, acknowledging of the importance of technical skills may overshadow the broader issues of inequality and social justice. Relocation efforts that ignore these overarching issues will likely disrupt the socio-spatial and economic networks that are critical to the lives of the urban poor who are, in turn, vital to the survival and flourishing of cities.
The Community Architects Network believes in putting the poor -the people who have the most knowledge about their problems- at the center of planning and designing settlements. The focus is on the self-organisation of the poor. Experts and institutions are there to assist the poor in articulating and materialising their visions of a liveable future. The Network also encourages sharing of oral histories, problems, data, and between urban poor groups so they can collaborate and inspire solutions for each other.
Image 2. Photos of my group's stint in a settlement in Muntinlupa. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.
I shared my own knowledge of quantitative research to our group of Muntinlupa-based urban poor leaders and built environment practitioners. We processed hundreds of survey forms capturing data about the use of housing materials in our assigned site. It's been a while since I've done this - I am very much a qualitative researcher. Good to know that I haven't forgotten my basic survey analysis skills!
Image 3: Our group hard at work processing hundreds of survey forms about informal housing materials at our host's home in Muntinlupa. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.
All in all, the International Workshop was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to connect with collaborators in materialising hopes for just cities to thrive and in pursuing new directions for research about the built environment. A trail of emails goes a long way!