At Frame Lab, Uwe Brückner advocates autonomy in digitally enhanced space

Seasoned scenographer, architect, and Atelier Brückner founder, Uwe Brückner gives a compelling talk at Frame Lab titled, Hybrid Space: Does the Digital Kill the Real?

a cat thing designs feline-related products using a minimal system made of modules

in the future, a cat thing aims to redefine the products we use with our pets daily, looking forward to bringing more style, attitude, quality and sustainability to our products.

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valtoron’s la impetuosa 1262 custom ducati diavel is a full metal motorcycle

valotron takes the ducati diavel motorcycle and cloaks it in handcrafted metal bodywork.

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the flatiron of flatbush, brooklyn’s next skyscraper

the bank building's newest neighbor is to be a couple; a pair of towers along with a comprehensive urban renewal project.

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Informal Settlers Get Into the Big Data Business

Mukuru, Kenya

This week, planners, policymakers and urban practitioners from across the world are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for World Urban Forum 9. This story is part of Next City’s coverage of the Forum. For more stories, visit our World Urban Forum 9 page here.

Dorice Bosibori can pinpoint the moment she became an activist. In 2012, her neighbors began waking to find eviction notices papered across their doors. Then followed a wave of evictions in Mukuru, the informal settlement where she lives in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. And, soon, her own home was at risk too. “When you get an eviction notice, people panic,” she says.

Bosibori joined with other community members—none of whom had land tenure—to fight the government’s plans to auction off the land from under them. After a lengthy and complicated legal process, they won the battle to stay in their homes. Since then, the 37-year-old has been closely involved with Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of community-based organizations across three continents, as part of her community’s efforts to advocate for their rights on a local, national and international level.

More than half of Nairobi lives in informal settlements like Mukuru, where families occupy small tin shacks that are tightly packed in alongside local businesses. Meanwhile, Nairobi’s population has more than doubled in the past decade to 3.5 million and is projected to exceed 14 million by 2050 (PDF).

For Bosibori, who spoke on Next City’s World Stage on Monday, one of the best way to push her community’s agenda with policymakers has been to take matters that were once the preserve of academics—specifically the collection of data on the demographics and population of Mukuru—into her own hands. “It took us to collect the data to inform the county government that this is the number of people who are living here, we have these services, we don’t have these services, and these are the services that don’t work,” she said.

Their work has had impact: in August last year, the Nairobi City County Government declared Muruku to be a Special Planning Area and stated that it would begin “a participatory process to develop a physical development plan.” It’s an ambitious undertaking, but for Bosibori and her neighbors, it’s a good start. “We expect now the county government to come and see what we dream Mukuru will look like,” she says.

SDI is promoting this approach across countries, and it has proved effective not only in Kenya but also in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana and India. The non-governmental organization launched a publication, “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” at World Urban Forum 9, to showcase the work people are doing in their own communities—and the results they are achieving. Again and again, women representing informal settlements at the conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, spoke of their newfound ability to negotiate on behalf of their communities with governments, all thanks to being able to back up their stories with hard data.

“If I am alone, I cannot go to the government. They cannot hear me,” says Joyce Lungu of SDI Zambia. “But when we go together, they can hear us.”

Ariana McPherson, the communications and advocacy officer for SDI, calls it a “pro-poor participatory tool for urban governance… that is transforming cities across Africa and Asia.” But she says that the collection of data is not only about using it to force the hand of governments so that development goals can be met. “Of course, that’s critical, but also through the process of mobilizing the community and doing the data collection, and getting people together, it also has an empowering effect—a unifying effect—that brings the community together to create the kind of change that’s needed.”


Spokane Hopes Tiny Homes and Cottages Will Spur Infill Density

Examples of how the new small or tiny homes could fit into Spokane's urban fabric. (Courtesy Nathan Gwinn/City of Spokane)

Spokane city council president Ben Stuckart wants more infill development in his city. Denser infill will be key, he says, to bolstering the tax base, improving affordability and creating mixed-income neighborhoods in the eastern Washington city, the state’s second largest. Late last month, the city council took a step towards that goal with the unanimous adoption of an ordinance that makes zoning changes and creates density bonuses for pocket residential development and cottage housing they hope will make infill more financially attractive to developers.

“We’re looking at where there were barriers to development,” says Spokane city planner Nathan Gwinn. “This could allow some sites, especially those of a difficult shape or with development constraints, to be developed where they might not have been before.”

Pocket residential developments and cottage housing are both development types that allow multiple smaller housing units to be built a single lot amidst traditional single family homes. Both were previously allowed in Spokane, but the changes tweak their design rules to make them easier to build.

PRDs can be built on lots as small as 8,700 square feet (.2 acres) and up to 1.5 acres. They allow small lots that would normally only have a single house to be subdivided. For example, an 8,700-square foot lot could have two houses. A 1.2-acre lot could have 11 small houses on it. The new ordinance allows PRDs in residential single family zones without the upzone previously needed.

Cottage house developments have four or more units built on a single lot with a shared common yard in the center. Cottage houses can have maximum footprint of 1,000 square feet, though they can be two stories for a total of 2,000 square feet. One of the key pieces of the ordinance is the cottage housing density bonus. Developers can now build 12 units per acre instead of 10, in residential single family zones. If the units are tiny homes—500 square feet or less—developers can build 14. For both PRDs and cottage housing, the ordinance removes a rule that such developments must have one owner, meaning developers can sell the units like single family homes. The developments don’t necessarily have to be built facing a public street. They can be accessed by private road, giving developers more flexibility on a given site.

Like many western cities, Spokane has very suburban, single-family housing development outside the city core. Unlike like some of the booming coastal cities, Spokane has lots of vacant lots within city limits—around 3,700, according to a recent survey.

“We have a spread-out city and have quite a few lots that haven’t been developed,” says Stuckart. “We’ve got to figure out how to make it easier for people to develop them.”

His hope is that by making it more financially feasible for developers to build denser infill housing, it will increase the housing stock, improve affordability and keep people from sprawling further into Spokane County. “We still have a very low median income compared to coastal cities. The only way we’re going to provide the level of service people expect from their government is by getting more people living in city limits or raising taxes—and nobody wants their taxes raised. The second thing is density and infill are just less taxing on your physical services—water, police, fire, roads. It’s always cheaper to provide those services inside the city.”

Spokane’s median home prices have risen steadily over the last few years. Vacancy rates hit a record low of 3.7 percent in 2016 and have only increased to about 4.6 percent since. The Washington Department of Commerce’s 2015 Housing Needs Assessment found that around 24,000 homeowners and 28,000 renters in Spokane are burdened by their housing costs.

Stuckart says the tiny house density bonus is meant primarily to serve nonprofit affordable housing developers who might now be able to build affordable housing villages of sorts. “I’d love to see tiny home compounds around all our business centers and all over the city.”

Cottage housing and PRDs are the first of several actions the council plans to take to encourage infill. Later this year, it will debate legislation to loosen setback requirements and amend floor area ratio standards.

The new cottage housing and PRD ordinance takes effect on March 8. Of course, the new rules don’t mandate infill, they simply make it more feasible. But Stuckart’s got his fingers crossed that change is coming.

“We were blessed with too much space for too long and that allowed us to have [zoning] rules that were very suburban in nature.”


natural hair movement celebrated in photo series by lily bertrand-webb

a feature considering the growth of the natural hair movement accompanies the photo series.

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