Archive for May, 2013

Community-Driven Development versus Community Outreach

May 17, 2013

Tuesday night we had our Colombia Project Director Dr. Santiago Giraldo speaking here in Palo Alto on “Education and Community at Ciudad Perdida”. The Global Heritage Fund (Join Here!) works to preserve the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world, and Ciudad Perdida is a prime example, abandoned in the 16th century after a thousand years of unique urban development, the site was left to the ravages of the jungle, looters and narcotraffickers. GHF worked with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History to help conserve these amazing structures of stone: huge circular platforms and embankments, connected by myriad stone stairways in a unique open urban system I described two months ago here.
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But Santiago on Tuesday night was focusing on education and community development efforts. As I am constantly pointing out to everyone who will listen, community development is not an “add-on” to heritage conservation. It HAS to be there or the conservation doesn’t work: local people are the ultimate stewards of every site, so it must work to their advantage (cultural, social, economic) or they won’t keep it around. It is not how much money you spend on a site, or even how clever you are about planning and conservation treatment. Sustainability requires stewardship, and that means the heritage site must be central to community development.
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The problem I often encounter is that many conservation professionals, in hearing that Global Heritage Fund prioritizes community development, will propose a series of community meetings and inputs for their archaeological or architectural project. They will propose conservation skills training, and often community tourism training. These are all good things, especially the ones that provide jobs. But they are only a sliver of what community development is.
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Much of what I see in proposals is community outreach. We explain how we are going to excavate or restore a site to the local population and make sure they are okay with it. That isn’t community development. As we learned last week in a great meeting with World Bank officials, the current terminology is community-driven development, and I think that is very helpful. We are not reaching out to explain or enlist the local community. We are asking for their needs, issues, hopes and dreams BEFORE we plan the project. They are a driving force in the development of the heritage site.
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This what Santiago does very well at Ciudad Perdida. He stops and talks to everyone about what they need, about what they think. And they know he is willing to change plans to support their needs. One of the items we shared at the Tuesday night event in Palo Alto was a teacher’s guide La Sierra Y Yo that uses the heritage site and surrounding national park as the basis for learning science, natural history, culture, history and more. GHF has also supported Guides to the wildlife of the area.
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We have helped develop sanitary systems that serve the eco-lodges where tourists stay, and more efficient wood-burning stoves for these same lodges. These aren’t just for the tourists: they help improve living conditions for locals who live and operate in the homestay lodges. The stoves also reduce the need for firewood – and the subsequent deforestation – by a third or more.
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Heritage conservation is a process, and that process includes community-driven development. The identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of sites is a process that incorporates a community’s needs and desires from the beginning: they help identify what aspects of a site are important to them and they help define the treatment of those sites. They also drive how the site can be developed for conservation work, for tourism, for retail, and indeed for the enhancement of the value of a PLACE.
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To accomplish this you need more than skills in architecture, archaeology or conservation: you need skills in working with stakeholders, identifying how heritage relates to their social and economic everyday, and planning a project with their input from the very beginning. GHF has always been proud of its planning capabilities, and we aim to enhance those capabilities in the future so that we live up to our motto: Saving heritage globally; changing lives locally.

Homeownership as Industrial Relic

May 10, 2013

This blog is of course inspired in part by living in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets where double-wides can cost a million dollars, but it is also situated in time, and as the blog in its eighth year is still called Time Tells, let us think about homeownership in time.

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The idea of homeownership and the financial mechanisms to achieve it were a key to the economics of the 20th century, when the growth of the middle class and a consumer economy became the lion’s share of GDP, especially in the States.  There are innumerable studies that also link homeownership to things like family and economic stability, rising real estate values, and other attributes of the growth of the middle class.  And the phenomenon has spread beyond the United States to other parts of the developing world, although never with the market saturation seen stateside.

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The roots of the obsession with homeownership and our economic dependence on it go back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, when, for the first time, we separated work from home on a grand scale and had to invent a whole new culture of domesticity (and unnaturally restricted gender roles) to support a new economic geography.  Men went to work and women stayed home.  This was a new thing, and a literature and an art had to develop to support this innovative cultural frontier.

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As the middle class came into existence and expanded, the importance of domestic architecture grew correspondingly.  It had to be tranquil, conducive to family, a respite from the smoky reality of factory and office.  Even the crowded urban tenements, constantly being reformed throughout the 19th century, kept adding elements of middle class respectability.  My Fair Lady may focus on the costumes, but that “middle-class respectability” was also about architecture interior and exterior.

 

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An old college friend with considerable financial expertise told me recently that it made no economic sense to buy a house in California. While he relented after years to domestic pressure (the cultural construct outlives the economic rationale) I took his words to heart. And I also thought about what Time Tells: homeownership means a fixed location, which makes sense for an industrial economy where you might comceivably have one job in one place for an entire career. It makes sense when fixed assets like factories remain in place. But in the fluid global knowledge economy of the 21st century the average worker must be trained for 20 years instead of 8 or 12. That same worker will need to be retrained 3 or 4 times over their lifetime and need to relocate 4 to 6 times.

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In SO many ways we are SO over the middle class of the 20th century so why on earth would we tie ourselves to a mortgage and a fixed location? Culture of course. It outlasts economic rationale. And of course the massive suite of U.S. Government support of homeownership, extending from a host of 1930s financing mechanisms (including the dramatic reduction of down payments from 50% of value) to the ongoing deductibility of mortgage interest has extended the economic benefits of homeownership well beyond the larger economic rationale. Will these subsidies shift in the coming years as we recognize the desirability of a more fluid workforce in a more fluid economy or will the pressures of political support (great to have voters fixed in place!) override the rationale? We shall see.

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All of this thinking about the (relatively recent) history of homeownership was inspired by a recent study by David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick, which argued that “areas with high levels of homeownership are more likely to stifle innovation and job creation.” Why? Labor mobility, discussed above, was a major factor. Zoning was also a factor, a much longer discussion we must save for another day. Silicon Valley – a crucible of innovation for two generations – is pretty far from Warwick, but its never-ending blast furnace of real estate values may well be the exception that proves the rule: the one place where home values defy history and continue to go up, fueled by the churn of knowledge workers. Or?

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