Sunday, March 16, 2014

Placemaking and social entrepreneurship in Dubai

Creative Place making is an aspect of making places that uses art and culture in order to promote community engagement in urban space programs - connecting its different social groups and revitalize it . So, in this post, I want to take you into my journey to discover how creative Place making is unraveling through grass roots community initiatives and most importantly how it gives a quick sketch of social entrepreneurship in Dubai .

The journey will take three stops; the archives, the screening of a movie and the presentation of an artist.
First, The Archives has been an endeavour carried out by two entrepreneurship enthusiasts who wanted to provide for young artists ,entrepreneurs and the wider community a space to network, work and present and specially read about art . They chose a rundown facility in SAFA Park and transform it into this thriving hub. The space became a gate to a wider array of spaces -be it reading a book about Moroccan architecture, working on your computer on a new poster for an event somewhere or attending the events that this blog is describing.The capability of the space to open up mentally, emotionally and spatially is echoed by its transparent architecture where culture (symbolised by books) is the tangible aspect within light . Safa Park fifth and fourth gate became redefined from gates to the park to gates to this space of art,culture or even just reflection.
Second, I was invited by Rana Askoul – founder of changing Pink to attend the screening of Girls rising movie at the Archives Dubai. The invitation touched different spots in my consciousness; it was about education for girls, run by a local based women empowerment platform in a space designed and managed by entrepreneurs. This event epitomizes for me creative Place making through grass roots activities in many aspects through using ''The archives'' open architectural space in order to insert a community awareness event.
Changing pink launched by Rana Askoul is an ambitious initiative on empowering women in the corporate environment .It has dedicated an online interface on connecting established female role models in UAE community with the budding young female entering the market ;even the space of the internet becomes a medium to further expand our reach.As an entrepreneur, it aroused my curiosity the linkages this platform has established with internationally recognized charity institutions through the holistic view it has presented on our engagement on women’s day – Read , watch, empower, write. This multi-dimensional view on how a social event shared globally can be tackled locally is of interest to many entrepreneurs who works on an idea inspired by a local problem and reaches a point where the solution touches the Globe. This takes me to the third aspect- art,movies and social causes.
The screening of girls rising in a women day in a park was run within The silence and the peace one finds in a natural setting ;This brought more emphasis to the individual struggles of each of the girls who appeared in the movies; a struggle for a basic need – Education within environment hot by hunger, war,racism,poverty,ignorance. The movies as an art form dedicated to a human cause was interesting for it has dedicated for each of the girls, a female writer who can present her story and an actor who would give her a voice; the human tones of the voices and the mis -en-relief of the writers enveloped the still space of the archives and impressed points of awareness .Again, write, read and talk becomes an artistic experience blending within the settings of the archives. That experience at that moment, for me , was the optimal hands on personal understanding of what creative Placemaking is – Art ,Community, well being and humanity connected with a point in space and time and transcending the local space (archives)and the local time (Dubai ) to embrace all of us as humans living on earth .
I also attended Sustainability and capacity building presentation by internationally acclaimed artist Samar jodha brought by Promise Of A Generation -a platform for discussion and action which facilitates a candid exchange of ideas, experiences and concerns in order to fulfill the promise of a generation to improve our world.I was expecting the presentation of multiple black and white photographs depicting the lives of the threatened local communities in India. As I walked towards the archives, I saw a glimpse of a container photo on the screen. Samar has chosen to show us in a space-time experience his installations. So, he took us through three short movies- Bhopal installation, Outpost and express and aspire. Samar is an entrepreneur like us and his expression is based on the mediums of photography and films to raise awareness on the issues of intrusive development and conservation. The movies carried in them a silence broken by acute sounds as if the sounds are ways to wake us up; he always chose the sounds of the environment he wanted to take us through. In Bhopal, it was the sounds of the chemical alarms, in Outpost, it was the sounds of drops of rain on the metallic structures of the community he was portraying and in Express and aspires, and it was the sounds of the children. Sounds here became a medium to connecting us to the places he is actively involved in sustaining them through his installations. His other medium was metal ;whether printing on them or sculpting them, the forms in which metals was used to portray the human condition made us as human to be aware of the immensity of pain one feels when his own community is threatened. That is what an entrepreneur would want at the end; using a medium of presentation-visuals, movies, 3D models, prototype, reports even blogs- to take people through his thinking process into the human dimension that unites all of us and then working actively to sculpt and transform this medium as if it becomes the concept similarly to what Steve Jobs did with his IPAD - it is the thin and simple design that embodies the simple and user friendly interface of its systems.
In these three expressions of entrepreneurship, I found out that what we define as social entrepreneurs are colleagues, friends and fellow artists who are trying to raise us above our local differences into the realm of the human that we all share .In that scope, Social entrepreneurship uses creative Placemaking strategies to transport us from the local point of space to the global space of flows .Its ability to transport us depends also on the attributes of the space that we are in. Without the existence of ''the archives'' , I would not be writing this blog and without social entrepreneurs , you would not be interested in reading how as humans ,we entrepreneurs from all walks of life and industries , are all connected ……

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Housing developments in the U.A.E ; a place maker perspective

Sustainability is based on a triangulated relationship between three dimensions- economic, social and environmental.

The development community is moving slowly towards integrating the principles of environmental sustainability; Dubai has witnessed the increase of platinum LEED rated buildings and an increasing awareness of the importance of sustainability on a community level. Social sustainability is still lagging behind ; affordability of housing choices within Dubai is a main concern with the current rental hikes expected at 30% in 2014 .

Dubai Development industry is complex because the migration flows feeding its population growth is born out of the job market numbers. Currently , 277,000 jobs are expected to be created from 2013 -2021 with the spike expected during the preparation and operation of Dubai expo 2020. In a recent statement to, Deepak Jain, head of Strategic Consulting, MENA at Jones Lang LaSalle, states that whilst the current and the mid-term focus is more on mid- to high-end residential projects, the market fundamentals will result in developers launching affordable housing projects in the long term. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council had taken a bold step in July 2010 when it announced that at least 20% of new residential property in the UAE capital needs to be set aside for affordable housing, with rents for a studio to start from AED 25,200 per annum. The new rule was applicable to all developments larger than 75,000 square meters, but the regulations have not been implemented yet. The Jobs,  created mostly by the construction sector, means that the demand will be around for 200,000 units.

Affordability in Dubai is always a compromise between the amount of savings that could be sent to the home country and the intended lifestyle that the migrant would like to invest in. Therefore, I would tackle housing from the second aspect. How we encourage  middle income employers to invest in buying affordable housing units in Dubai instead of renting? I believe the answers lie in the lifestyle of the environment he will be living in which is usually an output of the interaction between the urban design firm, the architecture team and the developer team.

The first master planned development in Dubai intended for affordable housing was The Gardens next to Ibn Battuta mall . The Gardens is a community built in 2000 to provide affordable housing for the employees of Dubai expanding TECOM free zone. The Community was based on typical horizontal low rise buildings in an expansive open space network providing parks, children parks, sports facilities, malls to the residents. Subsequently, schools, hospitals were added. The affordability of the Gardens was due to the low cost of land, low cost of infrastructure developments(in 2000 of course).From a design perspective, the layout of the buildings , the organisation of the flats, the elevation materials produced a sustainable typology. From a sustainability perspective, its typology enabled companies to rent out complete buildings in order to provide housing for their employers. The clustering of building into a complex of three/buildings gave it a sense of community as children from the same complex tend to play in the spaces nearby. The layout of streets between main arterial , maundering collector and cul de sac local roads made it legible as roads hierarchy corresponded to the spatial configuration of urban spaces. The most positive aspect of the gardens is its extensive cycling and pedestrian network connecting the expansive development; the main cycling path spans kilometres without interruption of vehicular circulation. The sense of community is further strengthened through the existence of two major parks that connects the different residential neighborhood.

From an urban scale, Affordability is linked to Density .However, density here means the intensity of occupants per square foot and therefore it is about the urban block rather than plot level. Barcelona has achieved higher densities through the densification of the urban block rather than the densification of the plot itself. The urban block is completely built around a courtyard giving the possibility of double decking the circulation corridors .The densification of the urban block did not prevent Barcelona from heavily investing in public and open spaces that contributes to the social life of its residents. Densification of the urban block needs to be coupled with the provision of recreational facilities, parks, gardens and activation of the street level spaces through retails, libraries and medical uses in order to maintain the safety of the development. Motor City Fox hills apartments are a clear example on how street level activity can be coupled with high densities.

Coming from that dimension, Urban policies need to focus on the elements that would promote intensification of density  through monitoring the number of units per hectare as an additional measure of the development in the urban block and link communal facilities such as sports, retail and open spaces with the population densities .This measure gives a space for the developers and the designers to experiment with new typologies that would give them the densities required. We have experimented with this urban measure while I was part of the master development team in Dubailand, the  regional framework plan in Dubai . Linking land pricing, community facilities provision, population densities and units densities has provided a win win situation for both public and private sector.From the current real estate market trends, we have succeeded in bringing dense developments with new typologies that are closing the gaps in affordable housing while maintain the wellbeing of their residents in perspective.

Other measures tested in other markets include up-zoning on commercial development corridors on the basis of provision of affordable housing that could be potentially served in the future by public transportation lines and reliable bus routing system; the up-zoning can be coupled with public private partnerships for roads and infrastructure construction.