CITY SERVICE: A New Initiative From Terreform
City Service is an informal cooperative of urban specialists—coordinated by Terreform—who joined together to facilitate the rapid creation of new cities. We have united not simply in response to the exponential urbanization of the planet— with the addition of over a million people to our cities each week—but more specifically to address the crisis of the shocking number (over 15,000,000) of political and economic refugees gathered in hopeless camps; many which are administered by the United Nations. Camps exceeding populations of 100,000 are not uncommon although the average size is more often in the range of 10–20,000 people.
While a significant number of camps—and we think, for example of Palestinian in Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank—have effectively become permanent, our concern is to address those in which the idea of the “temporary” is maintained. This optimistic, if generally deleterious, conceit informs both the character and organization of the camps, and their operation is predicated on the idea of resettlement or return and, as a result, on an urbanism of short duration, on tents and huts, on minimal sanitary and other infrastructure, on unemployment and “bare life” without prospects or enrichment.
City Service will provide another model: permanence. We look to help overcome a pattern in which people are housed in a succession of extremely temporary, mid-term, and semipermanent versions of the provisional; none of which offer genuine proprietorship or participation in a communal life with an expansive horizon. We approach this task sanguine about the real prospects of perhaps the majority of refugees, the fact that the circumstances they fled and the lives the led are not recoverable. While we celebrate the countries and cultures that open their arms to this desperate flow, we believe that the register of alternatives must also include the possibility of immediate resettlement in real towns that offer prospects and hope. The logic of this strategy is surely reinforced by the fact that many refugee colonies are located across the political boundaries of adjacent countries, driven by needless wars and tribal conflicts, by economic disparities engendered by failed governments and the cruel distribution of resources, or by a range of natural catastrophes. In physical, cultural, and environmental terms, these new habitats are often places like home.
Our goal is to provide ideas and expertise to help mobilize the human resources of refugee populations, to make productive use of the environments in which they find themselves, and to marshal contributions from both relevant governments and NGOs and from private enterprises that directly produce the resources necessary to build and sustain the physical city. Because our core working group is comprised of professionals with connections to manufacturers of toilets, pipes and conduits, photovoltaics, agricultural machinery, roofing, cement, steel webbing, and other building materials and services—including construction—we believe that we can organize the rapid delivery of a working city at a useful scale.
Our team includes agronomists, urban economic and development specialists, infrastructure engineers, architects, landscape architects, educators, anthropologists, political organizers and those with many other backgrounds. We are all prepared to work with local groups and governing authorities to integrate services they are able to supply in tandem with what we can provide. Make no mistake: we do not come as colonizers but as emergency workers who hope to offer not just tents and latrines but a functioning and permanent city that will be run, elaborated, and diversified by its inhabitants, who we hope to help support not as refugees but as citizens. Our model is to offer ourselves to the localities on whose behalf we will work as an instant—and highly professional—planning and development agency. The aim of City Service is not a universal solution to the question of displacement—or disenfranchisement or poverty—but the design and implementation of specific solutions in particular conditions, one at a time.
We are now organizing ourselves to create a “model” city for approximately 25,000 people. We do this to cement the operation of the team, to develop a prototype plan, to formulate strategies of cooperation, and to actually build a first town. We’re provisionally focused on a site in Haiti—the tiny village of Anse-a-Pietres—that has recently become home for a very large colony of refugees expelled from the Dominican Republic. Indeed, it sits directly across the border from the more substantial Dominican town of Pedernales—which has a similar population to the town we propose and the capacity to share certain services (Pedernales has an airport) should relations between the two countries be re-normalized. Anse-a-Pietres is now a population without a town and it is urgent that it be given shelter, hope, and a future. Our first goal is to create the infrastructure of survival, to initiate agriculture and fisheries, to start schools and clinics, to get a construction industry going and to train the local workforce, to begin a football league, even to start planning to attract tourists to the white sand beach that lines the Caribbean shore.
We believe that, if properly mobilized, we can produce initial plans in a matter of months and begin building as soon as harmonious engagement with local stakeholders is assured. Of course, this will depend on negotiating a series of economic and political obstacles—the organization of a parallel operational infrastructure of Haitians—but we have, collectively, enough experience designing cities, systems, and buildings from scratch (in Haiti, among other places) to know that our part of the process can happen fast.
And this is the reason for City Service: we seek first to rapidly provide shelter, livelihood, and amenity for a population that is simply bereft. But our larger objective—which we hope to duplicate again and again—is to demonstrate a possibility: bypassing the indefinite squalor and indignity of the refugee camp by affirming the right to a permanent home and livelihood in place.
city service: our partners
MASS Design Group is a nonprofit architecture studio with offices in Boston, MA and in Kigali, Rwanda. Since 2008, MASS has worked to create a new practice of architecture that promotes dignity, opportunity and health. They have built projects with under-resourced communities across sub-Saharan Africa, and in Haiti and in the United States, and advocated for an impact-centric model of design. their dedicated research team is developing a rigorous framework to evaluate social and economic indicators of architecture. And in the regions in which they work, they train designers in an effort to build the next generation of impact-focused architects.
"We Believe Architecture Can Change Lives." Architecture is not neutral; it either helps or hurts. As they have seen from rural Rwanda to the slums of Port-au-Prince, and in economically disenfranchised cities and communities in the US, the built environment is accountable for social injustices but can also serve as a critical lever to improve the communities it serves. MASS believes that all architecture has a mission, and in their projects they identify the potential for innovative and dignified design to improve delivery outcomes (in health, education, and other sectors). Their practice hinges on thorough community engagement at every phase of design and construction, to identify unique constraints and opportunities; they leverage local labor, material innovation and techniques to catalyze economic opportunity and train artisans in new skills. They call this process the Lo-Fab [local fabrication] movement, and continuously advocate for this critical and proactive practice.
LEVEL Infrastructure is a multi-disciplinary infrastructure design and planning firm based in New York City. Their work addresses basic infrastructure needs in rapidly urbanizing cities in developing countries to build sustainable, resilient communities. They approach transportation planning, water and wastewater planning, energy supply, and solid waste management from a collaborative and cross-discipinary mindset. They look for solutions that solve multiple problems and provide multiple benefits. Their work is based on engaging communities early on and continuously through the design and implementation process to ensure their proposals address the needs of the people they serve.
ARCHIVE Global is an international nonprofit organization that uses one basic right – housing – to deliver one basic need – health. Their mission is to promote safe, healthy housing and living environments as the keystone for reducing preventable disease in socio-economically vulnerable communities around the world. Working at the intersection of architecture, international development and public health, they design, test and deliver low-tech, cost-effective housing improvements that directly impact health outcomes at the household and community scale. They pair their design and construction activities with community health and hygiene workshops, skills-based training for local labor and technicians, multi-media awareness campaigns, and engagement with local governments, allowing them to promote the vital link between housing and health and to influence joint health and housing policy-making at the national level.
With a portfolio of projects in Haiti, Cameroon, Gabon, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Bangladesh, and the United States, their work contributes to breaking down the vicious cycle of persistent, cyclic poverty. This impact can be measured by reductions in school absenteeism, improvements in academic performance and human capital development, increased home-value and access to credit, and new opportunities for income-generation at the local level.
Jonathan Kirschenfeld Architect PC is internationally recognized for design excellence over a wide range of environmentally and socially-sustainable projects. The firm has exceptionally strong credentials in the areas of supportive housing, childcare centers, recreation and performance facilities, and provides comprehensive design services to not-for-profit and public sector clients, institutions, and private clients. Mr. Kirschenfeld, the firm's principal, was the recipient of the inaugural 2014 HH Richardson Award for Public Architecture given by the NY State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In addition, the firm's supportive housing work was recognized by the NYC Chapter of the American Institute of Architects with the 2013 Andrew J. Thomas "Pioneer in Housing" Award. Previously, Mr. Kirschenfield lead a collaborative to propose four new hybrid-housing buildings on the Grand Concourse. The work was cited by the NYC Department of City Planning as an inspiration for Mayor Bloomberg’s adAPT Micro-unit competition.
The firm was behind the Floating Pool, a large-scale conversion and re-purposing of a cargo vessel. The 20,000 square foot facility is an example of the firm's commitment to sustainable design. The project has won numerous design awards, has been published internationally, and was chosen as 1 of 15 projects to be exhibited in the American Pavilion at the prestigious 2008 Venice Biennale. The firm is currently working with ARUP on the design of a new generation Floating Pool for the Brooklyn waterfront, and a mixed-use intergenerational affordable housing project for a black Baptist church in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Terrence Curry, SJ, AIA, is a registered architect, an educator, scholar and craftsman. He comes to this project with extensive international experience in community design methodology, participatory process, urban design, architecture design and design/build (construction and fabrication). His professional practice has included housing, community centers, schools, places of worship, and urban design. In 1994, he founded the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy, an award winning institute for community design and neighborhood development that has become a national model. He was a Harvard Loeb Fellow in 2001. And during his Fulbright Fellowship in 2004, he founded the Szent Jozsef Studio Kollegium at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Most recently, he was the professor of practice at Tsinghua University (2009-2016), where he taught design, design theory and tectonics; he concurrently served as the deputy director of the graduate program in English. Currently, Mr. Curry is a visiting scholar at the Delft University of Technology, where he is studying research related to the acquisition of design expertise and the role of aesthetic judgment in the design process. Mr. Curry is committed to discovering new ways that architecture practice and design can provide innovative solutions to social problems, and how it can contribute to a built environment that promotes the dignity of all people.
Denise Hoffman Brandt, RLA is Principal of Hoffman Brandt Projects, LLC and Director of Landscape Architecture, and Associate Professor in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. Her work focuses on landscape as ecological infrastructure—the social, cultural and environmental systems that generate urban form and sustain urban life. Her speculative planning project on the Dadaab camps in Kenya projected an alternative to barracks-style encampment that engaged the community in locally-specific landscape-based production to support asylum-seekers’ human rights while instituting sustainable ecological practices in the host country. The project was awarded by the Architectural Association in 2007 and published in “Relief Organism: Rethinking refugee encampment at Dadaab, Kenya” in The Right to Landscape: Contesting Landscape and Human Rights, edited by Egoz, Makhzoumi, and Pungetti (Ashgate Press). Hoffman Brandt’s research and practice have received numerous awards, including a 2009 New York Prize Fellowship from the Van Alen Institute and a 2010 EDRA/Metropolis Great Places Research award for City Sink, which re-conceived little-used public spaces in the New York metropolitan area as civic infrastructure for carbon storage (Oscar Riera Ojeda Press 2012).
Located in Washington, D.C., Marshall Moya Design is a multifaceted architecture and design studio producing award-winning projects in the commercial, institutional, civic, and cultural arenas. The firm provides architectural design services for developers, government agencies, non-profit groups, corporations and a variety of institutions. An innovative and collaborative group of architects, designers and brand strategists, team members enhance the spaces where people gather to work, learn, live and share. Michael Marshall originally founded the firm in 1989 as Michael Marshall Architecture, and in 2010 he formed a partnership with Paola Moya to establish what is now known as Marshall Moya Design.
Michael Sorkin Studio is a design practice devoted to both practical and theoretical at all scales with a special interest in the city. Founded in 1977 by urbanist, architecture critic, designer and author, Michael Sorkin, we are deeply committed to collaborative work that simultaneously advances equity, sustainability, and beauty. Our design experience includes hotels, office and commercial buildings and complexes, university campuses, housing, urban neighborhoods, transportation systems, waterfronts and parks. Based in New York city, we currently have projects in China, the Philippines, Turkey, Australia, and the United States. We maintain a satellite office in Xi’an, China and have recently won several major planning and urban design competitions for large-scale projects in Tangshan, Wuhan and Xi’an.
Michael Sorkin Studio is affiliated and supports Terreform, a non-profit urban research center engaged in visionary design, pro-bono community interventions and the dissemination of progressive urban research through its imprint, UR.