by the people, for the people

Success in upgrading slums led by the people who live there:

The Baan Mankong Community Upgrading Program was launched by the Thai government in January 2003, as part of its efforts to address the housing problems of the country’s poorest urban citizens. The program channels government funds, in the form of extremely flexible infrastructure subsidies and soft housing and land loans, directly to poor communities, which collectively plan and carry out improvements to their housing, environment, basic services and tenure security, using budgets which they manage themselves. Instead of delivering housing units to individual poor families or bringing in a few standardized infrastructural improvements, the Baan Mankong Program (which means “Secure housing” in Thai) puts Thailand’s slum communities (and their community networks) at the center of a process of developing long-term, comprehensive solutions to problems of land and housing in Thai cities. Under this unconventional program, which is being implemented by the Community Organizations Development Institute (a public organization under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security), poor communities develop their upgrading plans in close collaboration with their local governments, professionals, universities and NGOs.


Besides new houses and infrastructure in the community, the canal is also getting a face lift and a brand-new, tree-lined, 6-meter lane along its edge, built partly on the swampy edges where houses used to perch, and partly on land reclaimed by the District Authorities in the canal. This new canal-side walkway will provide access to the communities along the canal and enable fire-trucks to enter the slum in an emergency. Though it will be open to motorbikes and cycles, the community people see this walkway as an important pedestrian amenity, providing space for children to play, people to visit and vending carts to sell their food and wares.

Download the pdf (2.5mb) here (via the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights).

The world’s 10 best commutes

photo by AP

Of course Metro Manila is not on the list - but it would be good to look to these cities for inspiration. And, hey, Mumbai, Chennai and Dakkar are on the list. There's hope because "dense cities perform particularly well ."


The speed of transit not only benefits commuters; it contributes to a city's economic competitiveness. Outsourcing capitals like Chennai, which are heavily reliant on attracting informational technology companies, do well on our list due to the city's high investment rate in projects like the IT highway, and its MSRT mass transit rail system.

"Ease of urban mobility is a prerequisite for business to reach supplies and customers," says Maria Krautzberger, permanent secretary of the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development. "Cities cannot secure their position in global networks otherwise."

Something for our policy makers and business leaders to think about.


on my reading list

Sorry folks. New job, new city and new baby (Luna Emilia -born Oct. 13, 2008) have been very demanding so have not had time to post or to answer comments.

In lieu of more nuanced thinking, I throw at you books and events I have been reading or have attended lately.


An utterly original exploration of the world of human waste that will surprise, outrage—and entertain

Produced behind closed doors, disposed of discreetly, and hidden by euphemism, bodily waste is something common to all and as natural as breathing, yet we prefer not to talk about it. But we should—even those of us who take care of our business in pristine, sanitary conditions. For it’s not only in developing countries that human waste is a major public health threat: population growth is taxing even the most advanced sewage systems, and the disease spread by waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in America, 1.95 million people have no access to an indoor toilet. Yet the subject remains unmentionable.

The Big Necessity takes aim at the taboo, revealing everything that matters about how people do—and don’t—deal with their own waste. Moving from the deep underground sewers of Paris, London, and New York—an infrastructure disaster waiting to happen—to an Indian slum where ten toilets are shared by 60,000 people, Rose George stops along the way to explore the potential saviors: China’s five million biogas digesters, which produce energy from waste; the heroes of third world sanitation movements; the inventor of the humble Car Loo; and the U.S. Army’s personal lasers used by soldiers to zap their feces in the field.

With razor-sharp wit and crusading urgency, mixing levity with gravity, Rose George has turned the subject we like to avoid into a cause with the most serious of consequences.

One in every ten people lived in urban areas a century ago. Now, for the first time ever, most people live in cities. By 2050, the United Nations projects, almost three-quarters of the world's population will call urban areas home. The majority of this growth is centered in struggling, developing countries of the Global South, but cities in developed (or Global North) countries face increasingly complex challenges as well.

Around the world, unplanned urban expansion is multiplying slums, overburdening housing, transportation and infrastructure systems, stifling economic growth, and leaving millions vulnerable to new environmental and health threats.

To help manage and plan for this accelerating urbanization, the Rockefeller Foundation convened an exceptional group of urbanists--leading policy makers and government officials, finance experts, urban researchers, members of civil society organizations, and other innovators--for a Global Urban Summit at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. This book shares their diverse perspectives, creative approaches, and urgent agenda for harnessing the vast opportunities of urbanization for a better world.

Just as God used words both to create the world and to give us commandments, we too use words for many different purposes. In fact, we use the same language to talk to each other and to talk to God. Can our everyday speech, then, be just as important as the words and prayers we hear from the pulpit? Eugene Peterson unequivocally says "Yes!"

Tell It Slant explores how Jesus used language - he was earthy, not abstract; metaphorical, not dogmatic. His was not a direct language of information or instruction but an indirect, oblique language requiring a participating imagination - "slant" language. In order to witness and teach accurately in Jesus' name, then, it is important for us to use language the way he did.

Peterson's Tell It Slant promises to deepen our understanding of Jesus' words, strengthen our awareness of language as a gift of God, and nurture our efforts to make all of our speech convey a blessing to others.


This ground-breaking symposium has been organized to address the role of urban design in the face of one of the most profound and important challenges facing global society: the need to re-imagine and rethink how cities are designed and organized in a future without the plentiful and abundant oil upon which prosperous urban economies have been built.

The event marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1958 University of Pennsylvania/Rockefeller Foundation “Conference on Urban Design Criticism,” whose participants included Jane Jacobs, Louis Kahn, Kevin Lynch, Ian McHarg, Lewis Mumford, and I.M. Pei. That historic conference helped shape the new field of urban design in the 20th Century. Now, we hope you will participate in this critical exploration of new directions for 21st Century urban design.

The program speaks to the depth and diversity of the challenge with sessions on innovations in the way cities are conceived, adapted, designed, developed, and managed in a post-carbon world. The conference will conclude with a manifesto on educating the next generation of urban designers and how best to equip them for the road ahead.

Rebuilding and Renewing America: Infrastructure Choices in the Great Lakes Megaregion

Freight congestion, aging bridges, insufficient mass transit, brownouts, soaring energy costs, flooding, and polluted waters - all news in recent years, and all partially the results of continued strain on our nation's infrastructure. At the same time, the need for an economic stimulus is greater than ever. The presidential election in November 2008 gives us a fresh opportunity to set a new agenda for infrastructure investment in the Great Lakes megaregion to revive the flagging economy and to compete globally.

Longer letter later.

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