Urban Design & Planning for Climate Transformation, Intense Migration, & Rapid Urban Growth

We face a vulnerable future due to the accelerated intensity of natural and humanitarian disasters. The resultant scale of unprecedented migration has been coupled with a lack of infrastructures to accommodate the climatic displacement giving rise to new and more complex forms of vulnerability. While current estimates account for 250 million international migrants, predictions indicate that by 2050 this number will increase to 350 million of which 60% will have been displaced due to environmental factors. These climate crises accentuate inequalities as the most vulnerable groups resort to informal settlements in areas with the greatest exposure to effects of environmental hazards. In short, the landscape of informality will soon be a direct reflection of the effects of climate change and its intensified migration.

Latin America exemplifies this twofold transition as approximately one third of its urban dwellers live in informal settlements. The global scenario finds Latin-America and the Caribbean at a moment of extreme transitions. It is expected that in incoming years uneven urban growth of the region, climatic fragility, political conflict, and other migratory drivers will set up the stage for massive human displacement, which will translate into aspirational and forced migration at an unprecedented scale. A more vulnerable migration landscape will increase the demands for rapid response settlements, bringing a new set of challenges to destination cities.

Even though the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were agreed upon between countries, to ensure effectiveness of its ambitious climate targets, there is a need to accelerate the implementation of these global agenda at the scale of a city and include the climate adaptation of precarious settlements at its center. Realizing the agency of local governments over about one-third of the potential for urban climate change mitigation in the region, the class will develop recommendations to move towards the localization of NDCs in cities and improve capacities for multi-level climate governance at a local context. We will focus on the capacity of designers in dialogue with subnational governments and mayors to be agents of change and demonstrate that deeper greenhouse gas emission cuts and equitable resilience building are not only possible but achievable, by unfolding the full potential of design imagination and thereby inspiring the intergovernmental relations to improve in the governance and coordination and vertical integration of their ambitious goals.

If architecture, urban design, and planning do not come up with transitional strategies and find agile strategic responses, it is highly likely that precarious settlements will suffer deeply the effects of climate change and absorb a major part of the migrant influx. In the near future urban robustness will be increasingly related to the ability of cities to structure their systems as open, recombinant, and capable of withstanding varying levels of requirements through constant reconfigurations. In this seminar we will research about flexible solutions to temporary problems, imagining the physical form of cities in a more elastic condition, and discussing about reversible configurations that are able to articulate more sustainable forms of urban development. Indeed, when in the future, other deep transitions will also become prominent, a softer, weaker, and adjustable urban form will be the only fertile ground for conflict resolution. As part of the class, we will host prominent practitioners, regional policy leaders and influential intellectuals as guests to discuss strategies that governments, cities, and designers can apply in this imminent scenario. Assignments include leading and participating in discussion sessions and a final paper.