July 19, 2011

#Dadaab Research and Information, #Somalia #Refugees, and #Architecture


Events within the Dadaab refugee camps have reached a fever-pitch in the last few weeks.  Or more accurately, there has been a surge of interest in the Dadaab camps, as circumstances have always been dire. I have lately received many emails from those interested in working at the camps, designing solutions, or basic requests for information.  

At the moment I am traveling and have limited access to a computer so I apologize for the delayed responses.  However this week I added a new page The Humanitarian Space, specifically compiling some resources and information about Dadaab.  The resources are drawn from my own work or is work on which I am quite familiar and can answer questions.

In the next few days I will provide a more thorough background on recent events,  information about refugee camp design, and answer some of the most recent questions.  

#Stuxnet Lessons for Urban Planning 2 of 2


In the previous post I gave a brief overview of how Stuxnet worked and discussed some of the perils Urban Planners face within complex conditions, notably within conflict.  Below is a closer look at how Stuxnet can apply to urban planning.

Stuxnet and Urban Planning 
1. Stuxnet was designed and operated reflexively, rather than strategically.  Its code was structured like a Russian doll, with one layer contained with in another, and so on.   Configured as such, it had the ability to continually unload an additional set of internal tools when the situate presented itself.  Yet when the conditions were not present, the structural integrity remained intact. 
  • Too often development plans are developed and executed while overly reliant on contingent variables to maintain their integrity. If Part A occurs properly, Part B will go into effect... yet if Part A doesn't happen, the project is at risk of failure.  This is partly the fault of the discipline of Urban Planning and its tradition of  creating"Master Plans," long term projections into the future with a constant effort to fine tune socio-economic conditions in space.  Yet as the conditions constantly change and the implementation of Part A will have unforeseen effects elsewhere in the urban space, master plans are rarely equipped to meet the changing demands of the urban environment and are doomed to fail.  

2. Stuxnet not only penetrated multiple systems, it provided opportunities to change in response to those systems.  The code maintained a series of entry points in the event that the present layer of the 'russian doll' doesn't quite fit the conditions.
  • Markets do not exist in an equilibrium, neither do the less tangible social forces, therefore it is essential that plans are designed and implemented as fluid enterprises.  Rather than craft a plan that is project-oriented, consider how projects function as a larger process, and thus changes and tweaks are determined in terms of maintaining momentum with the process, not within the operations of a single project.  In other words, to craft a successful small project, consider it at a regional scale. Evaluation of the project and suggestions to change  are best designed in terms of regional necessity, not at the smaller scale of 'project success.'

3. The systems exploited by Stuxnet varied in Code (as operating systems) and as networks (peer-to-peer, hardware based, intranets, closed and open systems).  It jumped between code and network style, adapting to not only new terrain, but new communication protocol.

  • Planners in conflict need to visualize human settlements as  4-dimensional and not as static compositions.  The traditional overhead map will only provide a fraction of the information necessary.  If the problem is defined by conflict between two social groups, situate these groups in a space, and visualize their interactions within that space over periods of time.  The environment will inform the actions of those groups.  Over time the environment and the groups will influence each other and thus create a new set of conditions. The problem will again change once an intervention is introduced.  
  • This doesn't exclusively apply to conflict cities.  If one were to count the bus stops on a street then count their occupancy at different times of day, and each day of the week, a succinct pattern would emerge.  Introducing a new transportation option would change this pattern.  Yet before a new option can be introduced, such as alternative transport, additional buses, or an alternative route, the pattern must be first determined in terms of space and time and a variety of research methods may be used to acquire this information.

4. Spend less time attempting to building sectors and invest more time into the linkages.  Embedded within Stuxnet were three different layers of code to exploit three different situations.  It used the connections between Windows OS to Siemens and then to PLC.  Its primary set of tools took action at the final stage.
  • Likewise the function and productivity of any sector is only as strong as the transition point from one sector to another.  Rather than devoting hours to the study of transportation and a separate study on economic markets, condense efforts to understand how markets flow and interact based on available transit corridors.  

5. Identify target indicators within those linkages, but these indicators  must also be 4-dimensional.
  • To continue the above example, a rapid observation of wheel thickness among vehicles will tell you the condition of roads, the distance between production and supply points, the amount of wealth generated within processes of exchange and the frequency of exchange. The better the conditions of all circumstances, the thinner, lighter, and newer the tires on bicycles and cars.   This single indicator can inform the health of sector linkages and simultaneously communicate the health of individual sectors.  It should be noted that the indicator itself may actually serve as an ideal point of intervention.

6  Stuxnet simultaneosly spread through multiple networks so that points of failure were inconsequential. While the mechanisms of the intervention may be complex, the linkages need not be.    If an intervention is crafted upon a continuous series of dependent variables, it will not succeed.  If an intervention directly impacts multi-sectoral linkages and multiple locations at different points in time, it will have a higher probability of success.  It may require fine tuning in some locations or at some points in time, but such changes need only be subtle and responsive.

The greatest difficulty of behind planning an urban intervention while utilizing the Stuxnet approach is the challenge of measuring the impact of the plan.  Stuxnet was designed to relay information back to some website databases, yet working in a community does not provide the same immediate information supply. Rather one can only measure the impact of the project by assessing the actual problem at hand, such as fluctuations in conflict, market stabilization, transportation flows, and the production of goods.  The problem emerges when specifying causality, specifically connecting the value of the project to the mitigation of the urban problem.   Certainly it can be done, but it will require creative thinking.  After all, if one simply continues to add more layers of indicators, markers, measurements, links, etc. to the production cycle, the project will lose its streamlined sophistication and  become too self-burdened to operate efficiently.

July 14, 2011

#Stuxnet lessons for Urban Planning in Conflict. 1 of 2


In July 2010, the Stuxnet computer worm surfaced as a powerful destructive force that targeted specific industrial systems.  While most computer attacks are constructed to exploit the weaknesses of Microsoft systems, Stuxnet is unique because it functioned on 3 different layers.  It used Windows OS in the intial stage and then  transfered to another operating system, Siemens WinCC or PCS7. After installing itself on WinCC, it then installed itself on a PLC device (Programmable Logic Controller).  PLC's are basically small computers designed to operate industrial equipment and generally do not receive commands through a network.  Although all the details of Stuxnet are not determined, it is clear that it sought PLC's with the intent to control frequency converters and thus modify the speed of mechanical motors. Stuxnet also relayed false information to monitoring devices so that everything appeared to function as normal.  Upon discovery many feared that Stuxnet had the potential to bring global industry to a halt

Impending doom is never appreciated, yet in the case of Stuxnet, it was also quite unlikely. Remarkably, Stuxnet only affects machines with particular characteristics and that do specific tasks and there are few industries in the world that contain such characteristics.  It is believed that Stuxnet was created by a western government to undermine Iranian attempts to create nuclear materials for combat purposes.  Some suspect Israel, others the United States, yet the designer of of the virus is completely indeterminable.  

What is apparent however, is that the creator had expansive resources, a specific objective, and was faced with significant limitations.  If destruction or at least the tampering with Iran's nuclear facilities was the intended objective, the designer had to create an streamlined yet sophisticated tool to modify the mechanics of uranium enrichment.  Most importantly, this enrichment system is not accessible online, and attack had to be introduced at the periphery and then distributed through continued USB use and internal networks.  The virus likely reached its final objective, considering Iran began having difficulty in May 2009 with operational centrifuges (IFPM Report, 17).  Stuxnet was only noticed a full year later.  Roughly 1/5 of their centrifuges were destroyed.

Stuxnet, Urban Planning and Conflict Stabilization
Urban interventions confront a variety of constraints and limitations, such as limited budgets, poor communication and disruption among social groups, and lack of capacity for implementation.  At all times, urban planning also has to straddle the void between top-down 'expert' interests and the will of the 'bottom-up' community.  No matter the situation, Urban Planners nearly always use the same problem solving strategies.  Planners consistently rely upon a Logical Framework Approach or combine this with Participatory Action strategies.  These strategies are typically sufficient, yet there are many times in which the obstacles are too large or the network of contributing factors is too complex.

I recall an architect who constructed IDP shelters in Somalia. She said that she "didn't bother asking people what they need or want because it is a waste of time, she just gave them the best solution" and when I asked about that solution, the area was first bulldozed of all surviving vegetation, drawn into a grid and an Australian engineer introduced a concept for mud brick houses.  Local acts of violence escalated shortly after as no one had shade from the hot desert sun and small fights between frustrated youth grew into tribal combat. When the houses went up everyone was relieved until families began to die from collapsing structures. Of course the architect wasn't around to witness the consequences of her decisions as she had already moved on to other projects.  Clearly, the most direct and expert-oriented solution is not necessarily the best solution.

Looking at Stuxnet, I see a product that imitates a perfectly constructed urban planning intervention. Severely constrained by technology, geography, and security, destruction at the Nantez nuclear production plant required a clever, unorthodox design and  streamlined  precision.  The designers had to work as a team to mobilize dispersed resources, to consolidate those resources in a fashion that could penetrate a complex network and accomplish a specific objective with re-percussive impact.  Although Stuxnet was introduced at a single point, the fluidity of its design allowed simultaneous access to multiple communication networks, applying to those that fit the targeted criteria and skipping others. At its end point, it made only minor tweaks to an already existing process, barely noticeable to the population yet large scale in consequence.  How can Urban Planning function in a similar manner? Planning interventions within conflict could greatly benefit from the lessons of Stuxnet.  

July 13, 2011

#Somalia: Hot, Dry and Dangerous


The last few days in Somalia have been like any other - hot, dry, and dangerous.   The aggressive drought has displaced thousands, crowding the Dadaab camps and bringing the ongoing humanitarian crisis to an unprecedented level.  At the same time, it is clear that the US government is slowly focusing more attention on the region, recognizing the increasing threat that this nation poses to international stability.  Here is a quick overview of current conditions.

Drought (red) concentrated in South
The drought has continued to devastate Somalia to such an extent that al Shabaab has even welcomed aid agencies to return to the region.  While agencies such as WFP are mobilizing, it doesn't appear that everyone got the message, as some Shabaab fighters have continued to capture aid workers.  The question remains if Shabaab will continue to have the significant power to administer the region, as head commander Ahmed Abdi Godane discussed problems the group is facing on a Shabaab friendly radio station.

The current dry spell is far worse than previous years, such as th early 1990s, as there is no longer any alternative infrastructure to absorb the catastrophe.  Although the western regions have seen a little rainfall, the Juba valley remains dry. While international agencies scramble for access, the TFG finds it has too little resources to make an impact, evidenced by TFG soldiers offering their own paychecks over to afflictedfamilies. While over 350,000 displaced people seek protection in the Dadaab refugee camps, the population will likely continue to increase as nearly 75% of the nations harvest is expected to fail.

US Intervention
CIA conducting interrogations in Somalia.  As shown within a recent congressional hearing, the US Government believes to officially recognize the  strengthening  regional links between Somali militants and al Qaeda and the devastation of the nation is globally permeating.  he CIA have been increasing their presence and interventions in the region, most recently training TFG soldiers in counterterrorism strategies and intelligence collection.  Many of the interrogation practices are supposedly undertaken in an airplane hanger adjacent to the airport and in the basement of the TFG's National Security Administration.  The NSA basement has a long history of abuse and torture, infamously known as godka, the hole, while under the rain of dictator Siyad Barre.  

Al Shabaab
Moderate pro-government militant group Ahulu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) has elected a new leader, Sheikh Aydarus Sheikh Ahmed Siid Warsame, and vowed to fight against al-Shabaab in Gedo region.  The former leader was killed in an ambush by Shabaab fighters. 

In related news (ambushed convoys), it was confirmed that the helicopter attack near Kismayo was actually a drone attack upon an al-Shabaab convoy, targeting and killing on of the top leaders, Ibrahim al Afghani.

Below is a brief video from BBC.  The story is covers the general state of conditions but the footage is quite strong.  The beginning features a spectacular flyover of Dadaab.

July 10, 2011

II of II: Space, Informal Sector, and Central Place Theory


Location and land use have been long understood as key to functional economies, ever since the days of David Ricardo who described land as an inelastic factor in economic production.  Later, Christallar's Central Place Theory was able to advance the similar concepts, recognizing that market prices fluctuate according not only to demand, but also according to location and logistics, and therefore human settlements are spatially distributed according to the range of their products and the value (order) of exported goods.  Yet if Central Place Theory fully explained the 'why' and 'where' of human settlements, all cities, towns and villages would be distributed at equitable distances.  This is not possible because a collection of other factors determine the location and size of human settlements.  Although the list is not exhaustive, some of the most important factors are the following in no particular order:

1. Transportation and Communication Technology - varies by type of transport, carrying capacity of transport, speed (affected by density of traffic), and quality of transit/communication corridors.
Example: Although transportation and communication function differently, I would argue that both function toward the same mutual objective and that the value of productivity for one will inform the value of the other.  Access to paved highways, dirt roads, footpaths, water transport, airways, supply chains, phone networks, mail delivery, internet access are similar in economic and social gains.  The distinction is located not so much in their productivity, but rather the productivity over time.

2. Availability and supply of natural resources 
Example: What raw resources are available for food, repairing goods and automobiles, and construction such as water, lumber, pasture space and high yield soil ?

3. Availability and supply of processed resources
Example: What value-added resources are available for food, repairing goods and automobiles, and construction such as gasoline, steel, and pharmaceuticals ?

3. Concentration of social groups and cultural expectations for housing, land use, and production
Example: Rural households in India have traditionally subdivided land among the children of the family at adulthood, yet the continual subdivision eventually creates indeterminate zones of urbanization, leading to long stretches of 'urban-like' settlement along transit corridors between towns.  As the population rises the lines between rural and urban are less clear and the basis of settlement is rooted in sheer availability rather than utility/adaptability.

4. Location and efficiency of disposal systems for waste and excess resources
Example: Excrement, refuse, and drainage during rainy seasons through either structural intervention or permeability of soil.

5. Ratio of resources that contribute to security (scaled from regional such as defense capacities of natural terrain to family unit such as housing design) vs. hostility and expectations of outside threats.  
Example: Location of town at a mountaintop with farmland in the valley supports water flow to the crops but also creates a defensible position.

These factors interact in a give and take arrangement to facilitate the establishment and spatial determination of settlements.  For example, where ever two different systems of transportation intersect (such as river and an arterial road), one can always locate a settlement often occupied in proportion to the productivity of the transit routes.  Thus a city will always be located at intersection of a major highway and a large river while a small town will be found at the intersection of lesser used routes. Notably the significance of each of the above conditions are directly or indirectly economically determined.

Informal Sector and Urban Form
In the 1960's and 1970's the International Labor Organization promoted the concept of the informal economy so as to explain and measure the role of markets that are outside government regulation and institutional recognition.  Of course the term is rife with complication, considering the vast size and activity of these markets and the frequent confusion of informal activity with illegal.  Arguably, for most of the world's population, the informal marketplace is simply a matter of daily life and survival, and the workings of the formal economy are merely the actions of an inaccessible or poorly structured distant bureaucracies.  Due to the binary dissection of the global market, the immense overlap of formal and informal markets is poorly measured while the opportunities for valuation in local assets remains limited (such as through the failure of formal economies to recognize improved housing and settlement consolidation where no 'formal' terms of property ownership are established).  In many ways, the conception of markets as informal undermines the greater economy by failing to recognize the dynamism of productive, informal assets.

Location of Informal Settlements in Tirana Albania
Working both within and outside of formal frameworks, the informal sector modifies and determines urban form in a slightly different fashion than the rigid conception of Central Place theory would dictate. Historically, the wealthiest populations are located at the center of the settlement, where the most resources and logistical corridors overlap.  The concentration of wealth in the center promotes urban design and planning initiatives to maximize resources by creating a grid-like plan or some similar design.  The formalization of interior space consequently marginalizes spaces of production (preference is given to spaces of exchange, raising their value and consolidating the city center as a space of wealth) and the impoverished, leaving only the outskirts of the settlement for the poor along with industrial spaces and thus the phrase, "lives on the other side of the tracks." 

Bangalore Aerial View 
Bangalore Supply Corridors and Central Place Polygon
In other instances, usually when the concentration of wealth and division between social classes is not as severe, one could argue that informal activity could determine the regional establishment of settlements more akin to the demands of Christallar's assumptions as the informal economy is greatly determined by the principal of least effort.  Patterns in land use are going to be situated as closely together as possible to maximize resources at the lowest cost.  Thus clusters evolve, wherein similar businesses are all located in the same area and often adjacent to suppliers. 

As consequence of the clusters, even a single settlement that is seemingly chaotic can be quickly subdivided into land use types, supply lines, and in consequence, one can make inferences about the social composition of the neighborhood, such as local priorities and values. For example, the city of Bangalore is quickly deconstructed into something manageable.  Notably, the city is laid out as a collection of concentric polygons, not too far off from Christallar's hypothesis.

July 6, 2011

Part I of II: Central Place Theory and Informal Economies


In 1933 Walter Christaller made a ground breaking contribution to the understanding of economic geography with the founding of Central Place Theory.  This theory seeks to explain the spatial structure, scale, and quantity of urban settlements as an inter-connected system.   Determined by studying settlements in southern Germany, Christaller noted that many settlements of similar scale and composition were equidistant from one another.  While his model is founded upon a collection of unrealistic assumptions such as the expectation of markets to function in equilibrium and for transportation between cities to have equal costs, he nonetheless established some valid conclusions.

Christaller determined that each human settlement functions as a central location to provide services and goods from the core to its peripheral threshold.  The distance to that periphery will very for the quality of goods, where as common place items, items of the lower order such as common produce, have a smaller geographic sphere of influence and high order goods - gourmet items -  maintain value across greater distances.  At a certain point, the value of the item reaches a threshold, where it is no longer to the advantage of the consumer to spend time/money to travel the distance and acquire that item.  This  process is also observable within a previous post, wherein I discussed the presence of Coca-Cola as a socio-cultural and economic indicator.  The cost of Coke is high in the center of the city (because of the stronger markets) and as one travels into the hinterland the cost drops until a threshold is crossed and the price begins to escalate due to rarity.  In America or Europe, the threshold would overlap with another marketplace and the cost remains constant.  However in many developing countries, the market reaches its threshold and the product is simply no longer available.

Central Place Theory 4x
Although a product's area of influence is assumably circular from the point of origin, Christaller modified the model as the juxtaposition of circled regions would leave gaps with no service.  By adapting a hexagon, one is able to adjust the scale of the model, isolating single settlements and zooming out to identify how settlements of higher order (large cities such as Chicago, New York, London, Paris) are few and far between, interwoven and interdependent economic landscape. The distribution of markets and market centers reveals that each city center shares 1/3 the market of the adjacent market of equal scale (the K=3 principle); the market of the highest order dominates all adjacent markets, and this dominance promotes efficient transportation of goods by working from a central administrative hub (the K=4 and K=7 principles).

Yet how does this same concept apply to alternative human settlements?

Presumably other human settlements function in a similar manner.  The same geometric spatial pattern may emerge among administrative centers or military bases while an inversion of central place theory also highlights urban settlements of tactical significance within a military operation.   Administrative centers and economic hubs may take multiple forms, and it is no surprise that the changing of government regimes, political power, ethnic composition and market transitions often witness the imposition of new systems on top of the previous systems.  Classic examples may be found in ancient cities such as Jerusalem, Rome, and Cairo, however more immediate examples are easily found.  Of course the act is typically symbolic, to display the replacement of power and the dominance of the ruler.  However the process is just as often logistical, as these cities frequently maintain economic advantages.

Recently in Afghanistan, one can find a similar example as an al-Queada militant training camp now functions has a rural development hub, while the primary Counterinsurgency strategy of NATO and US Forces in the nation has consisted of establishing secure administrative centers for reconstruction and development.   In contrast, al-Queda linked militants in Yemen have targeted military bases throughout the south of country at nearly equidistant locations from one another.   Both NATO and the militants are ultimately attempting to do the same thing, but clearly different reasons.

As Central Place can provide insight into the economic sub-structure of a settlement, it also provides tools to illuminate gaps within service provision, governance, and economic markets.

What is unclear however, is the  the role of Central Place Theory within Informal Economies. As informal economies dominate the global south, and illicit economies often function in a parallel or overlapping nature to support militarization and criminal networks, it is unclear how these less measurable systems may comply or conflict with Central Place Theory.  Demand for weapons, drugs, and sex workers is subject to economic constraints, yet these goods are also traded by complex means, often taking great effort to avoid formal institutions and legal authorities.

Please return for Part II of Central Place Theory and the Urban Economy.

July 2, 2011

Planning and Conflict in #Dadaab Refugee Camp: Land Use Law, Zoning Regulations


Violence erupted at Dagahaley camp (aerial view above), in the Dadaab Refugee Camps this week.  Rioting was incited when Kenyan police attempted to demolish a Mosque and small businesses.   According to UNOCHA, "Rioting broke out when police sought to disperse a crowd that was protesting an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point. Teargas was used, and later live gunshot. Our information is that two refugees were killed and around a dozen injured."

The event raises several questions: for structures to be illegal, what sort of land use laws are in place within the camp? Who determines the legality of these structures?  How does the process work?

As it was Kenyan police attempting to demolish the site, we can assume that the Kenyan government serves as the enforcement body.  Other reports site that the demolition squad was acting on behalf of refugee aid agency that requested the demolition.  The same report cites the Director of Refugee Affairs as having requested the demolition, which is more likely since no aid agency is going to have the ability to use Kenyan Police.  Not to mention, aid agencies are the guest of the host nation, and do not have the ability to declare structures as "illegal" although the state may request the agency to curtail illegal processes.

A question comes to mind however, as the circumstance suggests some sort of zoning law and legal structure to oversee the regulation of land use within Dadaab.  There are planning processes undertaken by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugee Affairs, as bore-holes, market spaces, and housing blocks are planned within each refugee camp.  In addition, efforts have been taken to relocate many of the settled refugees who occupy low lying land are subject to flooding.  The town of Dadaab and the surrounding camps however do feature a publicly accessible centralized plan nor is there a specific planning office to manage such issues.

In the meanwhile, it is expected that Dadaab will reach a total population of 450,000 by the end of 2011.  Other cities with about the same population size are Cleveland Ohio, New Orleans Louisianna, and Dublin Ireland - yet those cities all have economic infrastructure, transportation, and clean water.  In the meanwhile, thousands of Somalis are stuck living outside the camps, subject to harsh conditions, no water, no food, and violence.  It has been reported that men are working in shifts to guard their families from hyena attacks.  One of the major problems is that the UN refugee registration center is several days journey from the camps, positioning refugees needlessly in the way of danger.

The host government maintains its grip on the land, as the camps are beyond capacity with 370,000 refugees in need of protection. In the meanwhile the extension camp IFO 2, constructed by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2007 remains mostly empty as the Kenyan Government refuses access to the camp and it remains nonoperational although several ngos are ready to implement services.