An inclusive city is one in which all the inhabitants and their needs are valued on an equal basis. It is a place where the people whether wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated, able-bodied or dysfunctional; also regardless of race, age, religion, origin, political preferences or sexual orientation, have a representative voice in the governing process of the town or city. They might be involved in the planning and budgeting of their city and also have equal access, to include among other things affordable premises or community services at reasonable prices.
Inclusive cities – cities that socially include all groups from within their populations – tend to be wealthier than others. This is due to involving the widest possible circle of people and by including production and manufacturing processes, through the pooling of their resources, talents and also by utilizing other networks and opportunities. By avoiding the marginalization of any groups, they are made fairer. They ensure the provision of better access to social, economic, scientific and cultural development paths. By recognizing the immense power of the interaction they depend on, they then ensure that the network of connections and relationships are as broad and comprehensive as possible. Thanks to this, they can maintain their wealth together with their creative power and climb to the zenith of their potential.
Below we present 8 urban, residential projects from around the world, which serve their inhabitants, and by being properly developed and nurtured, can bring benefits to the cities’ future generations.
The Social Bite village began to be established in 2016 near Edinburgh, for people who were suffering from homelessness. Its founders were guided by the idea that in order to cut through destructive cycle of behavior, three things needed to be provided for those in poverty: a place of residence, structural support in the sphere of both psychological and emotional problems and paid work. The initiators of the Social Bite Village, were given land from Edinburgh’s city council and acquired for the project a designer and artisan combined in one person, Jonathan Avery of Linlithgow. He prepared a prototype for future housing. Thus in the village there were built: 10 double “Nest Houses” (each two-room, built from ready-made structural elements and costing up to 30,000 pounds), a building for staff, a central meeting place, which also served for cooking and eating meals; a vegetable garden; a chicken farm and a furniture workshop. The village also has an obligatory intensive, weekly schedule, covering a wide range of leisure activities: – from yoga, running and cycling; to a cooking club and DJ sessions. Members of the community numbering a maximum of 20 people can live in the village for up to 12-18 months. During this time, they should participate in community life, learn new skills and engage in work and some voluntary practices. After this period, they will receive support in finding both permanent accommodation and employment, so that they can return to the society of which they were a part. The idea for forming such a scheme to solve homeless people’s problems, was based on many conversations with such people, in particular residents of bed & breakfast establishments (for the homeless), who said that current solutions were not a platform for them to escape from homelessness. This village is a scalable project that can be recreated in other parts of the world.
In 2013 in Seoul – a city regarded as one of the world’s most innovative, a giant red ear was constructed, this was designed by the artist Yang-Soo. It serves the residents as a channel of communication with the town hall’s employees. Anyone who wants his opinion to be heard can approach it and speak into the great ear. The sound is then recorded and broadcast throughout the citizens’ affairs bureau, via the city hall’s speakers and special sensors, then record how many officials listen to a particular message after it is played-back. Such a solution provides citizens not only with the feeling of being heard and understood, but also of being allowed to speak out on matters concerning the city. The high level of intimacy provided by this form of expression, ensures inclusion to more introverted or timid citizens, embracing their voices for general discussions on important issues.
The Mae Tao chalets which were designed by Agora Architects in Thailand in 2014, in the village of Mae Sor, its located just a few kilometers from the border with Burma: – a country that has been entangled in civil war since the 1940s. They were a response to the needs caused by the massive influx of refugees that had been arriving in large numbers to Thailand. The night shelters which resemble huge, 25-person tents, are made from 70% recycled wood and other cheap and locally available materials. The durability of these gabled structures, which use wooden frames covered with bamboo and thatched roofing and have been planned to last for approximately 2 years. When necessary, Mae Tao huts are easy to dismantle and re-assemble in a new place (which enables resale of the wood used for their construction, at about 80% of the cost). About 800 immigrants live in them, who are then transferred to one of the neighboring schools. The financing of the project’s initial phase, was done by the Luxembourg Embassy in Bangkok. This allowed for construction of the first five dormitory buildings. The first one, with an area of 75 m2, was set up in only 4 weeks and cost just 1,300 pounds sterling.
One stop shop
The Lisbon project “One stop shop” (CNAI): – a comprehensive service for immigrants, was begun 15 years ago (under the INTI program: – integration of third-country nationals) by the European Commission and coordinated by the High Commission for Migration. CNAI connects 30 key services for newcomers (and also other residents of the city) under one roof. In the “One stop shop” you can arrange a number of issues, mainly official ones – ranging from those related to social insurance, through to obtaining a health cover card, to housing issues or those related to Internet access. Employees from various ministries and public administration institutions are involved in providing services at this point, they are supported by members of non-governmental organizations, translators and also mediators. These “One stop shops” are located in city centers, open on weekdays up until 20:00 and also on Saturdays – they currently operate in Lisbon, Oporto and Faro. The concept of the one-stop shops has provided inspiration for similar solutions abroad and has become the basis for creating a handbook, dedicated to the implementation of other such initiatives. In Helsinki, a digital version of the “One stop shop” was created, which can partially support the physical sites and may over time replace them; thus allowing for a reduction of unnecessary costs.
In Amsterdam a new fully socially inclusive residential building called Silodam has become well known. This 10-floor multi-purpose block was built on the western section of the port in Amsterdam and was designed by the MVRDV architectural team. The building covers an area of 19,500 sq m, consisting of 157 apartments and offices, both commercial space and public space. It was built in 2003. The overriding goal of its erection, was the desire to confront several social problems, such as the growing cultural diversity and social stratification; which had resulted in the formation of enclaves of wealth and poverty, as well as a problem of social isolation among older people. For this reason whilst in the Silodam building apartments are assigned to be sold, there are also neighboring flats for communal use. The architects accumulated in one place an entire cross-section of flats and apartments for housing: – small studios and luxury apartments, apartments for families and for singles, the elderly and students, for people with varied interests and world-views. All the premises enjoy great views: – some of them over the harbor, others of the plaza, there are apartments with panoramic views and others with views on both sides, there are also maisonettes, etc. The building also provides common spaces that encourage the integration of residents. Silodam was a joint venture involving both the public and private sectors.
Already in the 1980s, Robert Ulrich discovered that the greenery observed by patients from their hospital beds, enabled them to recover more quickly. He established this, on the basis of a study carried out at one of Pennsylvania’s health care facilities. Since then, greenery has begun to be more consciously used in urban planning, as an important factor that ensures not only a feeling of inclusiveness to local residents; but also, for example, safety (beyond its undeniable aesthetic value). It has been proven that planting trees around busy arterial routes, slows down the speed of the traffic and also reduces temperatures in cities. These examples are cited by Kieran Toms from Create Streets: – a researcher and urban planner, during one of the meetings of the Social Innovation Community; which in 2017 was devoted to the construction of inclusive cities. In this way he showed that inclusiveness can also be provided through properly designed physical areas. It is worth taking into account that the seemingly simplest and most obvious urban solutions, which had proven to be effective over the years, were the green leafy areas.
In 2017, Airbnb, a firm which mainly operates by offering intermediary services in short-term accommodation for tourists; additionally launched a platform that provides temporary residences for refugees from all around the world. An internal humanitarian team dedicated to this project, is led by Cameron Sinclair, a designer, who has created an Internet platform called Open Homes. This enables users who have already registered as hosts, to offer rooms to refugees or displaced persons free of charge. Humanitarian and non-profit organizations can also provide offers through this platform, by finding short-term accommodation for those in need. With this solution, Airbnb hopes to provide temporary accommodation for 100,000 people over five years, without of course, charging for the accommodation. The company has three million registered owners of housing across the world, of whom as many as 6,000 at the start of the initiative, had already offered their rooms for the purposes of the Open Homes project. Due to the hosts sharing their own homes with refugees, people are enabled to realistically join in the fight against the global migration crisis, to take tangible action and so to establish real and lasting social assistance.
The Aconchego Program was begun in Porto in Portugal in 2004. It consists of accommodating students in the apartments of senior citizens. Thanks to such a solution, two seemingly distant social groups in the spheres of interests or lifestyles have the chance to find common ground and offer mutual help. The young people find it easier to find a flat, and the elders can overcome their overwhelming loneliness. An important aspect in the implementation of this project is the proper adjustment of the young and old people. This is served by a precisely structured questionnaire and a detailed preliminary interview devoted to the recognition of, among other things, the expectations of candidates, their likes and backgrounds. The apartments’ locations and their size are also taken into account. The ongoing relations and interactions between both the older and younger participants of the program, are also monitored by coordinators, who regularly visit the flats. Initially, a niche project that was initiated by two organizations: the Porto Social Foundation and the Academic Federation of Porto, has over time become a recognizable program that now also includes Lisbon and Coimbra. Over 150 people passed through it (seniors and students).
Integration seems to be a crucial social issue in a modern world torn by cultural and migration fueled conflicts, due to the dynamically changing demographic structure of contemporary populations.
It is usually assumed that inclusive urban planning is absolutely consistent with social innovation. Solutions implemented in cities open to involving all residents in common issues, are typically social innovations that aim to improve the quality of life and create new relationships and interactions based on this cooperation.
Although solving social problems related to exclusion is a task mainly for politicians and local authorities, it is equally important to transform systemic solutions into the reality of urban planning and architecture; so as to be as inclusive as possible. The most direct methods have been worked out a long time ago, which is shown by the above examples. Now, cities and metropolitan areas can draw their inspiration from them. The future will belong to inclusive cities.
Did you know about these housing social innovations for inclusive cities? Are you thinking about introducing your own social innovation initiative to help tackle social exclusion?
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