The only “park” in the neighborhood is home to the winter struggle and the weekly soup line, both run by the local labor union. The white building in the middle was stormed by workers in the winter '73-'74. The red building at right is a traditional “doya” and the size of the rooms can be guessed usually the rule of thumb: one window per room. The only “park” in the neighborhood is home to the winter struggle and the weekly soup line, both run by the local labor union. The white building in the middle was stormed by workers in the winter '73-'74. The red building at right is a traditional “doya” and the size of the rooms can be guessed usually the rule of thumb: one window per room. © INBAR, 2014

While you might not expect a country like Japan to have slums, there are a half dozen neighborhoods around the country that are often considered to be the Japanese equivalent. I know this because I used to live in one.

In Japanese, these are known as “doya,” a reversal of the word for accommodation, “yado,” as these are anything but accommodating. The single occupancy 50 sq. ft. rooms with AC might seem luxurious compared to what we usually think of as slums. However, let us not forget that in India, slums are defined as “residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation.” The origin of the Japanese word is literally the Indian definition.

Located less than a mile away from the port of Yokohama, Japan's second largest city, Kotobuki-cho is long home to the dock workers, and the name is synonymous with day labor. It is also home to the “winter struggle,” a two-week long event where community members bond together to build shelter for the homeless in the coldest time of year. There is medical assistance, and over a thousand meals a day are served, both of which are free. In order to have an open flame in a public space in Japan, the event must be registered as disaster safety training.

The origin of the event, however, speaks to a much more holistic idea of disaster safety. During the 1970s oil shock, international shipping hit record lows. This community of dock workers, quickly realizing that without work they would starve to death, was being completely ignored by Japan's period of extreme economic growth. As winter approached, they stormed the neighborhood municipal offices, and barricaded themselves in. They lived in the offices until government intervened in the job market, as well as proposed changes to national welfare laws.

Yokohama was flattened during World War Two, and the occupation pushed the rebuilding process back much longer than other parts of the country. When construction was finally allowed, things went up very quickly. Too quickly, in fact. While most of the original 1950's concrete buildings in the neighborhood have long since been torn down, the ones that went up in the 1970's are no less seismically safe by today's standards. These dwellings can again be defined as “unfit for habitation.”

What I fear, after having lived in a such a place, is that in our quest to stop climate change, we will set out goals at the easy and superficial. Yes, our trade policies need reevaluating, but climate justice is far larger than just saying we are going to stop importing. It is looking at how to adequately house, feed, and represent the people who lose their jobs when the ports close. In the same manner, preventing slum development is more than rebuilding the same single-occupancy buildings with seismic engineering. We have to address the issues that drive people into poverty. Poverty is an ethical issue, and inequality must be faced with justice.

The term “climate change” appears 21 times in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and while “justice” doesn't show up at all, it does make explicit reference to poverty and inequality, two issues inseparable from a discussion on climate justice, the addressing of climate change as an ethical problem.

Living and working in Kotobuki-cho taught me incredible things, things that couldn't be learned from architecture schools or construction sites, and public policies don't even touch the tip of the iceberg. I loved living there, and the community made me feel much more at home than places I had lived much longer. However, after several years, I decided it was my time to share what I had learned, and moved half-way around the world to teach.

Much like Japan, Senegal relies heavily on imports. Many of the fruits and vegetables found in Dakar are imported, and all of the wood used on my construction sites was, too. Having been involved in locally sourcing wood, and more importantly, linking poor communities like Kotobuki-cho with the revitalization of rural areas, I set out to do the same in Senegal.

Most of the wood that we purchased for training young carpenters comes from Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, or the Congo. This wood, at 500 USD a cubic meter, is the same price as in a developed country. For most Senegalese this is prohibitively expensive.

With the help of people at the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, I was able to locate a lumber yard in Dakar that was supposed to be selling local wood. When I inquired, however, I met resistance.

“I'm looking for Senegalese wood.”
“Senegal doesn't have any trees.”
“Senegal is 45% percent forest and has the largest remaining portion of old growth forest of any African nation.”
“Well, Senegal wants to protect these and that is why they don't have any wood.”
“Actually I just met with people at the Ministry who said that they approve over a 1000 tons a year to be cut. They told me I could get it here.”
“We can't get it.”
“I saw their spreadsheet. You are reported as having purchased over 100 tons.”
“Why do you ask so many questions? I'm very busy.”

After being left alone in the office, I went to walk the lot. One of the workers there pointed to four short pillars lying on the ground in the corner. “Those are the only local wood we have,” he told me. Their price? Roughly 140 USD a cubic meter, or less than a third of the imported wood. Profit margins appear to be the only reason behind importing heavy objects that the Senegalese already have long distances.

“Protecting the forests” was making some rich people much richer, and preventing poor laborers from joining into the economic growth. One small scale forester even explained to me that problems with regrowing forest in Africa can be fixed by simply putting up a fence to prevent grazing cattle from eating the sprouts.

Japan, which is 70% wooded, also started importing wood after the start of the Korean War. Looking for an ally in the East, The United States offered huge trade subsidies, which make imported wood in Japan actually cheaper than local wood, even to this day. In Japan, it is currently more expensive to build a house out of trees on your own property than it is to build the exact same house with wood from halfway around the world. These policies led to the mismanagement of Japanese forests, which now face landslides, animal migration, and are contaminating watersheds.

The first Japan national building code was set into law the same year that the Korean War began. While the exact relation between the two points is obscured, it is clear that foreign and non-traditional building materials are preferred. The Korean War is often considered to be a kick off point to Japan's post World War Two economic growth, and it shouldn't be surprising then to find that several major cement corporations were on the post-war economic think tank.

Construction in developing countries is often dangerously fast and unplanned. Anywhere in Dakar you can see construction on housing that has been stopped because the owner ran out of money. When they get more they will surely keep building, but in the months it might take, the unfinished pillars are exposed to the elements (sea breeze is particularly dangerous to concrete structures,) and the steel reinforcing is visibly rusting. Only through thorough planning and construction can dwellings be considered truly habitable.

The Sendai Framework for Action states explicitly in the preamble that “the consequences of poverty and inequality, climate change and variability, [and] unplanned and rapid urbanization,” are “underlying disaster risk drivers”.

Sustainable building materials have a higher initial cost of construction, but work out to be much cheaper after several years. Local building materials also come with several other added benefits. Describing a number of hotel fires in the 1970's, the Japanese architect Kiyosi Seike writes in his The Art of Japanese Joinery, “...here we have an obvious paradox: because of wood construction twenty-two buildings were destroyed, instead of a single ferroconcrete structure, and yet because of wood construction there were no causalities.” This isn't specific to the materials, however, and we must not stop thinking about the workers.

Of the over 5400 people who were killed in the Great Hanshin earthquake, over 90 percent of them were crushed to death by collapsing buildings. Master of Sukiya carpentry (the Kyoto school), Kinoshita Kouichi, calls it close to a man-made disaster. His four reasons for this are “designers being unfamiliar with trees, cursory municipal employees, irresponsible carpenters just trying to earn a living, and finally, there isn't a single person out there who is racking their brains about the structural research [of traditional architectures].”

This is not specific to Japan or Senegal. If we want to look at what sustainable development really means, we must address those left behind in developed countries to prevent similar situations happening in the rest of the world. Climate justice is far more than stopping global warming because it disproportionately affects the poor or minorities in times of stress. It is far more than mitigating the damages done to those peoples in times of shock. Climate justice is about mitigating and adapting to climate change in a way that creates a society without poverty or inequality.

Bhutan Completes CFC project

Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Bhutanese Forest Rangers receive training on bamboo construction in Tsirang District, Bhutan Bhutanese Forest Rangers receive training on bamboo construction in Tsirang District, Bhutan © INBAR, 2014

On April 25, 2014, more than 30 national stakeholders from the forestry, civil society and private sectors came together to take stock on recent developments in Bhutan’s bamboo sector as part of a wrap-up workshop for the Common Fund for Commodities-funded project ‘Bamboo for Sustainable Construction and Development in Bhutan: A Pilot Project.’

The wrap-up workshop comes just three years after Bhutan joined INBAR as a member country, during which time the country has taken important steps towards developing its own formal bamboo sector by successfully introducing new technologies for treating and constructing with bamboo with INBAR’s support.

Please find below the link to the complete article on the INBAR web site

Find below the link to the first newsletter of the OIKONET project, co-financed by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union.

The objective of OIKONET is to create a platform of collaboration to study contemporary housing from a multidisciplinary and global perspective by encompassing the multiple dimensions which condition the forms of dwelling in today’s societies: architectural, urban, environmental, economic, cultural and social.

OIKONET will intertwine three areas of activity:

1. Research on housing studies from a multidisciplinary and global approach;
2. Participatory actions to engage communities in the definition, solution and evaluation of housing problems; and
3. Pedagogical activities which bring together different stakeholders, learning environments and disciplines.

Thirty-four organizations in Europe and around the world participate in the three year of project, including universities, research organizations, local administrations, professional, and social organizations.

The project activities started in October 2013 and will last three years. We hope that these activities are of your interest and, eventually, to count on your participation in some of them.

World Urban Forum 7

Thursday, 08 May 2014

WUF 7. Global Network for Sustainable Housing: Introducing Key Global Tools to Scale up Green Buildings and Affordable Housing Solutions in a Sustainable Context

Medellin, Colombia. 8th April 2014. 2:00-4:00 pm

The Global Network for Sustainable Housing (GNSH) networking event at the World Urban Forum in Medellin Colombia brought together global practitioners and policy makers working with green and sustainable housing in different parts of the world. Some of the key partners of the GNSH, CRAterre, Habitat for Humanity, INBAR, University of Cambridge and UN-Habitat, presented their tools for green affordable housing and sustainable urban development.

Truck at the soil extraction point. The soil will be used to make the mud bricks that are the primary material for the interior and exterior walls of the house. Truck at the soil extraction point. The soil will be used to make the mud bricks that are the primary material for the interior and exterior walls of the house. © UN Habitat

Here are the first photos from the project site of a pilot house being built through UN-Habitat and CRAterre in Kibati in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The design for the house uses local materials including un-stabilized soil blocks, timber and lava stone and is a part of an initiative to provide post-conflict housing to recently returned residents of the town.

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