SUMMARY: The Informal Urban Communities Initiative (IUCI) integrates design activism, education and interdisciplinary research in the slums of Lima. It deploys innovative approaches to slum-upgrading that marry participatory design with adaptive, decentralized infrastructure. Current projects focus on fog collection as an alternative water resource for agriculture, green space and ecological restoration.
PROBLEM SPACE: Accelerated urbanization, profound social inequity, environmental degradation, water scarcity and food insecurity are inextricably linked, defining issues of our era. In the next 30 years, virtually all of the world population growth will take place in developing cities. In Lima, Peru more than 3 million people live in slums. They lack access to water, sanitation, adequate housing, public green space and nutritious food. Within several decades, Andean glaciers that supply much of the city’s water will melt as a result of climate change. Lima’s already insufficient water networks will likely run dry. Changing temperatures and precipitation in Peru’s agricultural regions will decrease agricultural productivity, increase urban food insecurity, undermine rural livelihoods and contribute to increasing urbanization. Rapid informal urban growth will exacerbate water shortages and further degrading the region’s few remaining ecologically intact landscapes. The IUCI is based in Lomas de Zapallal (LdZ), a slum with 27,000 residents in northern Lima. LdZ receives 10-15mm of rain per year and has very little green space. Many residents lack reliable water supplies. Although water is scarce, a blanket of fog covers LdZ for 7-9 months of the year. It has potential as an untapped water resource.
SOLUTION: The IUCI consists of two primary activities; interdisciplinary design activism studios at the University of Washington and on-site programs in LdZ. During studios, students conduct virtual meetings with community members, learn about the conditions of LdZ and explore ecologically intelligent approaches to urban infrastructure and multifunctional site design. On-site activities draw upon ideas generated during studios and focus on two locations in LdZ; the PitÌÁgoras School and the Eliseo Collazos (EC) neighborhood. While on site (4-12 weeks/year), faculty, students and professionals employ an innovative emergent/convergent approach to design. They work in close collaboration with community members to articulate a vision for their future and design and implement small-scale interventions that contribute to and converge with this vision as it evolves over time. They document project processes, products and impacts so as to improve upon them and facilitate their dissemination and replication. Projects completed at the PitÌÁgoras School include a classroom and primary and secondary school parks, plazas and walkways. Projects completed in EC include a pilot fog collection project and 29 household gardens. Current efforts are focused on the design and construction of a full scale fog collection system, a public park, urban agriculture, and ecological restoration in EC.
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