Urban Studies Research Reports

11th Biennial Consultation on Urban Ministry, University of Pretoria, August 2016

Associate Professor of Anthropology, Aseel Sawalha, and MA student Nzingha Crusoe participated in the 2016 Urban Consultation's #WeMustRise Festival in Tshwane, South Africa. The Biennial was led by the Institute for Urban Ministry, and jointly hosted by Tshwane Leadership Foundation, PEN, Echo Youth Development, the Department of Spirituality, Missiology and Church History at UNISA and the Centre for Contextual Ministry at the University of Pretoria.

Urban Studies Visits The Kliptown Youth Center in Soweto

by Nzingha Crusoe

While in South Africa this August, members of the Urban Studies program had the opportunity to tour the township of Kliptown in the city of Soweto. The hours spent in the township were astonishing in multitude ways. When we first drove into the neighborhood I was surprised to see life amidst extreme poverty. I’ve had the opportunity to study slum neighborhoods in classes such as “Informal Cities” and “Global Cities” but having the opportunity to experience the conditions of which I’ve studied, really had a lasting impact. Although with our eyes the first thing we were able to notice was the lack of infrastructural development and poverty, once we got out of the car and interacted with the people of Kliptown we instantly felt a sense of community and felt a hopeful spirit amongst its residents.

Walking through the neighborhood we saw people listening to music and playing card games, we saw children cleaning themselves with the communal water pipe, we saw men barbecuing, we even saw women washing and hanging their clothes out to dry. Although in my studies I have learned to identify the living conditions and way of life in this kind of environment as informal, while experiencing this township, it did not seem informal at all; the residents were very resourceful in how they inhabited their space and relied upon each other.

An essential and vibrant component of the Kliptown neighborhood were the youth. There were kids everywhere partaking in various activities. Although they did not have access to wifi, you could see kids playing games on cellular devices and listening to music. There were kids running and playing with a futbol, and there were kids washing the dirt from their feet at the communal water pipe. In the middle of the township was the Kliptown Youth Center. As soon as we arrived, there were youth who immediately noticed the Fordham University sweatshirt Thando, one of our hosts, was wearing and rushed to us. They were familiar with the work the Ububtu program has done at the center, and associated our presence with the service Fordham’s undergraduates’ has done there.

The first person I met there was a young girl named Happiness. She was eager to take photos with me and hear all about my time in her country. She was also very interested in my culture, wanting to play with my necklace and hold my purse. In addition to meeting some of the children who make use of the center we got a chance to tour the facility and the resources they have. There, we were able to tour the computer lab, the library and even play a short game of soccer with some of the young residents. Although we were only at the center for a short period of time and the youth had never met us before this day, it was obvious our presence meant a lot to them. I had the opportunity, of speaking with two thirteen year old girls who instantly wanted to know more about me, where I live, what I study, and most importantly when I was coming back to visit them.

Of my fourteen days spent in South Africa, this was by far the most impactful day. Visiting this small township opened my eyes to the reality of the urban issues I have studied in this Master’s Program. Once I am finished with my master’s research, I hope to get the opportunity to return to South Africa and begin doing research in Soweto. Some of the things I wish to accomplish when returning to Soweto will include 1) volunteering in an impoverished neighborhood and building relationships with community members 2) Observing how community members organize 3) Observing the use of food, water, and electricity and how those are mechanisms for establishing social capital and building community 4) Youth development: volunteer at the kliptown youth center and observe the daily lives of youth in slum neighborhoods.

Technical University, Berlin Germany, Center for Metropolitan Studies, June 2016

MA students Rico Blando, Matiss Steinerts, and Adam Stoller, led by program director Annika Hinze, and hosted by the Center for Metropolitan Studies, TU Berlin, explore the social and political urban landscapes of Berlin and New York.

Berlin June 2016: With Fordham

by Adam Stoler

Day 1 Sun June 5 Arrival

Upon arriving having biked over from her parents' home, about an hour away; very Berlin! We finalize plans, including the unpredictable changes necessitated by scheduling. Then, it's off for a beer and dinner, and lots of spirited and fascinating talk. We manage to avoid much of the overhyped American election ballyhoo and touch upon a wide range of topics. But beforehand:

A walk through Savigny Platz leads to an interesting juxtaposition: (right)

(Matis, our consistent class questioner of capitalism's intentions, winds up in front of authentic, graphic German political graffiti.)

Professor Hinze had mentioned that Berlin has a lot of Italian restaurants, and the historical reasons why. Italians came as guest workers in the late 1940s and stayed on opening up their own restaurants after working in others. The ethnic diversity exploration begins.

The area we are staying in is primarily residential, and seems to be upper middle class or equal. Yet after a quick walk to get a water last night, the number of homeless apparently of all varieties was impressive. Zoo station, historical of course, appears to be a de facto run of the mill suburban train station, on the order of NY's Penn Station. The tolerance of the large homeless population by either residents and/or the local borough government is surprising; certainly worth exploring.

So we end day one. Tomorrow, a walkthrough multi-cultural Kreuzberg by students of the Technical University. This topic dovetails with my intended research thesis i.e. the immigration and movement of different ethnic groups through the Bronx 1880-present/Interfacing with burial patterns @ Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery. So, it looks as if we will be able to connect urban discoveries in Kreuzberg to the Bronx.

This connection is a key focus of the trip for me. What is difficult to draw a comparison to are burial patterns. My research topic: Immigrant Assimilation in the Bronx as Reflected in Burial Patterns at Woodlawn Cemetery is difficult to discuss for many, as the topic entails discussion of death and mortality. This is not an easy topic to broach under the best of circumstances. The other drawback encountered in relating the specific research topic to the trip is the location of cemeteries and their burial patterns.

My interest in this topic is unique. Having learned from class discussions in URST 5000, I might have suggested a visit to a local historical cemetery, but that scenario is problematic from several points of view:

  1. Historical in Europe and historical in the US are words with widely divergent meaning. years old. In Europe 150 years old is often considered part of the modern era. Historical in the US can and often does describe places like Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, which is 150 years old. In Europe 150 years ago would often be described as the “modern era.”

  2. Secondly, Immigrant burial patterns, such as those seen in Woodlawn Cemetery, become topics for research once both the critical mass of non-German residents in Berlin reaches a level whereby generations start burying their loved ones locally.
    In Woodlawn this apparently took 1-2 generations; in Berlin, it would have to be studied. But there was little evidence that the largest non-German immigrant groups, Turks, had yet reached that point. (?)

  3. The role of the non-sectarian cemetery in Berlin and more widely in Germany, would have to be studied to help the analysis.

The 3 problem areas are but a few of the challenges that would likely not be resolved in a 2 day visit. However, patterns and effects of immigration on Berlin neighborhoods can be studied, and were, as indicated later in this blog.

In addition, I've added a section with informal anecdotal studies I have made at Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, a municipal, and thus non-sectarian cemetery. Observations from that trip, taken in December 2015, are for comparison purposes only.

Day 2: Monday June 6

My research focuses on the acculturation of immigrants to the Bronx, NY, and how that transformed historic Woodlawn Cemetery, a major Bronx landmark. So a walk through Kreuzberg seemed absolutely appropriate. We were not disappointed (sign above in German)

One of the major foci of this fascinating neighborhood is Kreuzberg Center, with its’ name appropriately spelled out in German in the photo @ right. Yet on the other side of this rather large multipurpose building, the second shot alludes to the large first wave of immigrants who settled in this area in the 1960’s: Turkish ‘guest workers’. Kreuzberg Zentrum is appropriately spelled out in Turkish.

Yet, not all is what it appears to be…..

Our 2 exceptionally knowledgeable and delightfully informative student guides , Miriam and Charlotte, duly inform us that the Turkish first wave has currently yielded to a second wave, that is more subtle in its physical manifestations on the landscape. These are immigrants from a number of Arabic speaking countries that share broad religious affiliation with the Turkish community (as both are Muslim), yet little else, e.g. language, historical culture, even reasons for emigration from home countries to Berlin. (Right: Our fun, fabulous and fearless leaders.)

Kreuzberg, the focus of our walk, like many urban center is simultaneously experiencing both gentrification and ethnic diversification. As a presently economically attractive urban center in the developed world, scenes like those to the right are appearing more frequently:

The restaurants on the right at first seem out of place; after all Koreans and Mexicans are not known to be large immigrant groups to Berlin. Perhaps though, a little reframing is in order:

Both types of food are relatively inexpensive to the emerging new Kreuzberg settlers:
the young people that are leading the wave of gentrification.

After our guides bid adieu, Annika directed the balance of the day’s walk towards a late 20th century history’s historical overview: essentially aiming to help us better understand the context of a divided city and the aftermath of unification. Below we are visiting Berlin’s East Side Gallery:

This is one of the last remaining parts of the old Berlin Wall that is still standing. In addition to a jovial round of black humor (right: “escape. escape…!”) we explored much of the economic urban development surrounding this space with its’ impact on current residents and the relationship, to historical context. 

The rest of today we managed to make our way tiredly back to our hotel but not before we all had enjoyed the most Berlin of all foods in a walking dinner: the donar kebab, and a beer of course. Very German, very Berlin.

Berlin Between Rational and Emotional: Study Trip

by Matiss Steinerts

“In front of me, on the desk where I write, I’ve assembled a bunch of instruments useful in measuring the environment [..] a tape measure, a yardstick, a stopwatch, a watch, a goniometer and an arm protractor, a clinometer[..]. Some of them, like the pedometer, no longer work, but still I hold on to them. Others, like a couple of the questionnaires, never worked at all, but even these I am loath to throw away. [..] There’s another instrument in this room, and I am it.” (Wood 2010)

This June three students of MA program in Urban Studies from Fordham University – Rico, Adam and me – Matiss accompanied by professor Annika Hinze – visited Berlin in order to broaden our knowledge and give insight to our research topics from German perspective. Berlin is a great city. It is made culturally rich by the history of hedonistic 20, totalitarian fascist past, trauma of being divided and hopes for better future of post-unification era. It is the most emotional city in German world of ordnung and rationale. It attracts many creative people from all across the Europe – young artists from Finland find Berlin more appealing than Helsinki, urban professionals from Iberian Peninsula look for better future and global jobs, even young Jewish professionals from Israel find Berlin more attractive because of its cheap prices and global spirit. Berlin is creative. Berlin is liberal! Berlin is welcoming!

Urban creativity has a long history that is hard to summarize in a brief paragraph. However, I want to describe the ages-long interaction between rational and emotional city. I believe, that it is a source of urban creativity and it feeds the creative urban class. Rational and emotional has long been a classical struggle over the history of western urban and cultural thought. Greek and Roman rational urbanism, military camp style orthogonally planned cities and belief in pure thought was substituted by medieval mesh of old town street labyrinth, that culminated in gothic uplifting and emotional epiphany of cathedral. Rene Descartes put it back in place by clearly stating the borders of scientific thought and also establishing clear division between rational and irrational, body and soul thus contributing in triggering enlightenment (Descartes 1968. [1637]). Enlightenment took over rational thought from Romans and Greeks, however, the emotional approach to urbanism was not over at all. It was revived in 18th – 19th century Romanticism and subsequent Neo-gothic aesthetics and urban ideas of Arts and Crafts movement about returning to medieval and miniature living structures based its works on works of Ruskin and Moore. Industrial revolution, uncontrolled urbanization and development of wealthy industrialist class gave world a counter punch of rationality. Industrial production of urban space was challenged by French flaneur – wealthy bourgeois writers, philosophers and artists who went into the wilderness of the city in order to return to humanity. In the first half of 19th century they defined urban exploration as a field of gaining unlimited creativity (White 2008). Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City was one of the urban answers to industrial city. Benefits of country living combined with urban services and accessibility gave rise to modern suburban development. On the other end of spectrum modernism with prefabricated apartments, large-scale blocks of flats and functionalism took over the world after the WWII. Rational use of limited resources was the main guideline for development of devastated Europe. Soon after that French Situationists under Guy Debord realized how boring, limited and uncreative life has become in those box like conditions (Wood 2010). They created method to break free of urban oppression, something George Simmel called blasé (Simmel 1950) and this method was called psycho-geography. Debord and his fellows used programmed drifting or derive in urban areas in order to distract themselves from routine of everyday. City for them became a matrix of creativity – a canvas for performing life that is unique and filled with adventures. Can the method of derive be used in modern city to discover both its creativity and create new urban art?

Individual tours

As a part of Fordham’s student trip to Berlin an individual tour by each student was designed according to our academic and cultural interests. Rico Blando took the group to an ecological food restaurant and facilitated the discussion of social responsibility for greener living. Apparently, Berlin tends to get greener and ecologically safer place than it used to be in mid-century and German attitude to energy saving policies in national level are advancing way further than many other Western World countries. It makes NYC look dirty noisy and polluted place. I want to compare his part of the study trip as dedication to rational and intellectual realm.

Adam Stoler provided the group with the trip to one of the edge neighborhoods of Berlin Marzahn – former Soviet multi story social housing area – a sleeping district with limited functional diversity. A sparkling discussion was held about urban conditions on both sides of former Iron Curtain. I could provide my experience from perspective of Eastern Block, professor Hinze provided her point of view from her life in Western berlin on the border between East and West, Adam gave his view from radical Western perspective living in NYC and Rico Blando could contribute as neutral unconnected and fresh sight to diverse issues of Urban conditions with his background in Philippines. Adam’s tour was oriented to experience and feel the atmosphere of aggressive modernist district with single function, but diverse discussion made it rational and academic. This trip could be seen as being on the edge in this discourse of emotional vs rational.

I provided my tour around most touristic site of Berlin – Checkpoint Charlie. By using set of Situationist and Psycho-geographer exercises he provoked his academic colleagues into touching their comfort zones and rediscover the well-known part of the city from more emotional and sensual perspective. The route was organized by following randomly chosen markers – “Walk south 5 min”, “Walk only on green lights next 3 corners”, “Follow the person in red clothes for 3 minutes” etc. Meanwhile each participant had a specific task to concentrate their attention on – sounds, smells, colors or narratives of the city. Once in a while a special exercise was randomly chosen to do from previously prepared small notes - “Do something slightly odd, get out of your comfort zone!”, “Make a contact with someone on street by asking personal question! Get a story from them!”, “Write a poem from words seen on street!” or “Draw the map of the nearest intersection!” In this way we set asides our cameras and started to use our actual eye-phones. We concentrated on manifestations of the city through senses, actual stories and interpretations. Our bodies became the tools to measure the city space. The permission to behave and act different than every day let us to understand the size of street in comparison with our own body instead of abstract feet. We observed the power of prohibitions that are established by paint on street as different signs or by usual behavioral codes.

It’s is not forbidden to do gymnastics on the street, it is just not very much practiced. By doing so we expanded the functionality of the street and made it more than just a transit zone. By reading street signs, posters and shop windows as poetry we gave creative voice to a rational and often boring functionally displayed information. By drawing a plan of a street intersection, we let ourselves to explore it in a more bodily way that is aware of our limits. It means that we gave particular significance to lines drawn and symbols used. We coded the world according to our perception and provided a physical output. What other times remains subconscious or bodily experienced now was also expressed in a meaningful way. Each of us gathered a story from an actual living individual around the Checkpoint Charlie. Interaction with people is necessary to perceive the space as space itself is nothing but a decoration for dramas of our lives. Only interaction with people can provide actual insight in what is going on there. Thus besides touristic ideologically charged information we had to encounter people who are using, living and changing their city.

Protected: Embarking a Greener Future

by Rico Blando

In 2015, the United Nations conference on climate change held in Paris adopted a first-ever universal and legally binding global climate deal. This agreement urged cities to commit themselves to solving the world’s biggest challenge: protecting our planet from the threat of climate change. However, fulfilling this goal means increasing our synergies to invent, develop and launch brand new ideas that will help cities attain a greener future. Cities are central to this mission because they consume 75% of the world’s natural resources, 80% of the global energy supply and 75% of the global carbon emission.

In this article, I argue that Green cities of the future are cities that revolutionize current consumption culture, uses renewable sources of energy and have strong judicial capacity in protecting and implementing smart and green policies. For example, the High Line project in the City of New York was developed by converting sections of an out-of-use railroad trestle to a public landscape allowing grasses, perennials, shrubs, trees, and other micro creatures to live within the heart of Manhattan. This industrial relic turned to public park illuminates the idea that economic development and environmental coexistence is not an impervious task.

According to Beatley (2000) public and private decisions about cities growth, the types of transportation systems they employ, and the way they generate and supply energy and food are crucial in attaining a greener environment. Kellert et. al (2008) believes that by satisfying human urges to be in constant contact with nature increases the quality of urban life in the city. For instance, the city of Berlin endeavors to preserve green public spaces while utilizing a dense network of efficient technologies to sustain the local economy. More than 2, 500 public parks and gardens are built in Berlin and almost a fifth of the city is covered with green trees.

Through the generous support of Santander Fund and Urban Studies Program, I was given the opportunity to explore the city of Berlin. Masters students, Charlotte and Miriam of the Technical University of Berlin prepared a research intensive walk around the city. Personally, I gave special focus on understanding the green typology of Berlin being ranked as the 8th Greenest city in Europe based on the European Green City Index sponsored by Siemens in 2015.

Anatomy of a Green City

Today, humanity consumes 1.6 times of our planet’s natural resources. This figure suggests that a total of one year and six months is needed to regenerate the amount of resources the world consume. Berlin scores 4.7 Ecological Footprint (EF) per global hectare which is largely lower than New York City’s 14.2 EF. There are several reasons to this, one is population. Berlin has around 3. 3 million people in contrast to the 8.4 population of New York. Furthermore, there has been a huge industrial decline in the city of Berlin transforming the city into a tertiary based-economy where 95% of the industrial and business sectors are now built close to the S-Bhanring suburban railway (see Dustman et. al Journal of Economic Perspectives (2014)).

In a report published by the United States Department of Agriculture, Germany ranks second largest consumer of green products in the world next to the United States. In Berlin, a total of 8 billion dollars overall profit was recorded for organic food products which are almost about a third of the total organic food sales in the European Union. For example, the Bio Company reported 17.5% increase or €134 million overall sales in 2015. This company is selling a wide variety of organic products including eggs, tomatoes, apples, cereals, flour, milk alternatives, natural cosmetics, and etc.

The Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin/Kreuzberg is a mobile urban farm that locally produce herbs and vegetables. I was able to spoke to one of their landscape architects and learned a little bit about how they manage urban farming in Berlin and the challenges they face. Accordingly, one of the issues they encounter is “sustaining” the sustainability of the garden all throughout the year. Most of them who are working at Prinzessinnengarten are dependent on the sales they generate from the garden and the donations they receive from private entities. Hence, they have very limited amount of funds that will enable them to invest in green technology that supports the life of their garden.

There are two reasons why urbanites will buy green produce. First is higher income and second is higher education. But higher income does not automatically yield to greener consumption (Khan, 2006) and furthermore, consuming green products may not necessarily translate to living green (Pierre-Louis, 2012). According to Paul Hawken, when we step back and examine our system of consumption from sourcing, manufacturing, transporting and use, only one percent still takes us six months to regenerate what is lost. That is why the Prinzenssinnengarten is a unique vision of the future because everything they sell is produced from the garden itself. Urban farming is a revolutionary idea in cities where the entire ecosystem of food consumption are derived, utilized and recycled within the gardens by which restaurants and cafes operate.

Fordham's Urban Studies students participate in global discussions about urban issues with opportunities for international study and collaboration made possible by a generous grant from Santander Universities.