Week 14 Transportation Hubs

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Throughout Cape Town there are multiple transport hubs that serves a large amount of people everyday. People from inside and outside the city depend on these transport hubs to commute to work, school, or other places in the city. Whether people use one of a combination of the train, mini bus taxi, MiCity bus, and/or golden arrow bus, these transport hubs are critical for having nearby access between trains and buses. People coming from the townships spend the most time commuting every day. Train carts are outdated and are seen unreliable by a large population of people living in Cape Town. Delays are a frequent problem, which is why people choose not to take the train in Cape Town.

Not all hubs have access to other parts of the city. In some places, people have to take a longer commute because there is no direct mini bus or bus access to a part of the city. For many low-income people they cannot get to their destinations directly so they have to transfer. They have no choice but to wait for the trains and buses because they have to get to the city to work and provide for themselves and families.

Safety is a major problem many of the hubs encounter on a regular basis. The main concern is theft. Traveling alone is not really recommended and especially when it begins getting dark out. Pickpocketing is common to happen. People are even stealing pieces of the train tracks and selling the metal to make some quick money. Depending on the location of the station, there is a difference in who is using the train at that area. Some neighborhoods are transforming and the stations are being updated more than other stations that have higher demands.

The station I got to observe was Bellville. I went inside and talked to people who worked for protective services to learn more about Bellville station. The trains have been around for more than fifty years and the Bellville station has been around for more than sixty years. The station has a capacity of eight hundred to one million people moving around every day. The surrounding area is residential and seventy percent of the people that live in Bellville use a train, bus, or taxi to get to work. When it comes to safety, eighty percent of the security at night in the station is private because it is cheaper than paying a staff worker. The biggest Metro_overcrowdproblem in the station is robbery and assault. The staff has meetings with police every morning at 8 am to decide on which areas at the station to be overlooking the most based on where people are being robbed at a higher rate. Security walks at the platforms to ensure the safety of passengers and prevent infrastructure theft. Security is also there to help out and they assist people at the station and at the taxi and bus rank when they are lost so they can get on the right one safely and on time.

Transit oriented development has to integrated into these central hubs for cities to effectively move people where they need to go. Public transportation has to work together and the buses and trains need to be invested in more. The infrastructure is outdated and it is time for cities to have faster and safer trains for people to reliably depend on public transportation. As an outcome, the more people who begin to use public transport will decrease some number of cars from the road and help alleviate traffic.

Week 14 School Problems in Cape Town

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During a social justice panel we got to learn about some of the problems that have been happening with the schools in Cape Town. Amanda is an attorney who works with the cape flats. She discussed about an initiative called Equal Education that started in 2008. It provides clinical and advocacy services. Equal Education focuses mainly in the western cape and fights for safe schools and better school infrastructure.

Many schools do not have the resources needed to provide an adequate education to its students. The lack in resources and supplies hinders what and how the students are learning. Twenty-two thousand schools or ninety percent do not have a computer lab. Three thousand five hundred and forty-four schools have no electricity supply and eleven percent of those schools have an unreliable water supply. In 2009, it was reported that only seven percent of schools have libraries. Students do not have enough resources to be in a learning environment even if they wish to learn. The books are outdated and the students do not have the access to read more books without a library inside the school.

The school system works in schools zones. Unfortunately, students are denied access to better schools because they live in a poor neighborhood. Many good students plea to go to a better school where they know they will get better educational opportunities, but their background limits them. The resources exist, but there is a limit in the resources when it comes to redistributing them in the city. The rich get all the resources and the poor get stuck with very few to no resources.

Schools are a way out of poverty for many young children living in poor neighborhoods. Students face barriers at a very young age that prevents them from getting the best education possible. They have no choice but to attend a school with very few resources and they get stuck where they lose interest in school and eventually start causing trouble. Schools in poor areas should be providing the opportunities to all its students that a school in a richer area is. Education is a right all children should be entitled regardless of where they live.

Week 13 Food Security in Cape Town

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In Cape Town many families, primarily low-income families, do not have access to nutritious food. I visited the Oranjejezicht City Farm, which is a small scenic farm in the middle-class suburb of Oranjezicht. Before the land was converted it belonged to a family and was a farmland. The municipality then purchased the land in 1948. It was then being misused and drug deals and homeless people were occupying the space. To decrease this type of usage, the city transformed the land into the Oranjezicht City Farm in late 2012 and early 2013.

The non-profit project working in the garden is called OZCF (Oranjezicht City Farm). They celebrate local food, culture and community through urban farming. The location is stunning, on one side is a beautiful view of Table Mountain and on the opposite end is a view of the dock and the ocean. They barely have three years since they started, but they sell the small amount that they grow to the community at the waterfront on Sundays. The organization wants to expand and be able to provide more fresh food services to the bigger Cape Town community.

The garden emphasized the importance of people growing their own food. Genetically modified fruits are not healthy for the body. The body needs nutritious fruit and it is better when people learn from where their food is coming from. Farmer Mark is the main farmer of the field and he shared his insight on the connection people automatically have to nature. Farming is a skill many people in cities do not learn. Nature itself is peaceful and communities need spaces like public gardens. People from the community maintain the plants and they get to share a space that builds a stronger sense of community.

Next to the garden is a primary school. The organization wants to work and collaboration with the school to educate the students about farming. The school would then extend with the garden and it will give the school direct access. Students will work in the garden and help expand and maintain the garden. Not only does the garden serve a function for the community, but also it has a larger purpose where it can benefit future generations.

Green urban spaces are important to add into communities. Public gardens can revitalize unused land in low-income neighborhood and bring people together. Also, the community will have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Farming is needed in the city and people should be knowledgeable when it comes to growing their own food. Communities will benefit greatly in the long run and they will have access to fresh food at public spaces. Communities will become stronger and people will take agency in what they grow and eat.

Week 6. India Comes to a Close. Heading Off to Brazil.

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From the moment we stepped out of the airport in Ahmedabad, India, the city offered up a sensory overload. Cows, monkeys and the occasional elephant in the street, the smell of burning trash, and the hustle-bustle traffic on the ride to our hotel formed our first impression of the place where we would spend the next five weeks. 

While in Ahmedabad we have engaged with the concept of caste through our class lectures, on site visits, and in conversations with the many Ahmedabadis we have met along the way.

We read extensive literature on the Indian caste system as part of our coursework. In our Culture and Society (C&S) lectures with our travelling faculty, Carmen Medeiros, we learned that the caste system is far more complicated than any textbook would allow us to see. It is a hierarchical societal organization system based on occupation. The more that your work involves using your hands – the dirtier and more physical it is, the lower on the caste system you are. It divides the population into four labor oriented groups; with the most “pure” at the top and most “polluted” at the bottom. Then there is a group that falls almost outside of the hierarchy – the bottom of the bottom – the ones called “Untouchables” because higher castes are literally unable to touch these people.

In our C&S discussions we reflected that caste is almost racialized. It is seen as part of your biology. It is hereditary—the work your parents’ do will most likely be the work you do. The difficulty of breaking away from this inequality that been institutionalized for over 3,000 years overwhelmed us.

In our Politics and Development class with our travelling faculty, Juan Arbona, and in both formal and informal lectures from our brilliant country coordinators, Sonal and Persis, we further explored this issue. We learned that India’s grand Constitution states that no individual should be discriminated based on caste and makes the practice of “Untouchability” forbidden.

We learned that Dalits experienced caste discrimination in rural villages and migrated to Ahmedabad, in search of employment and a better life. Many workers found upon arriving to the city that because of their minimal education level, the only work they could do was clean. And so they became sanitation workers employed by the city to sweep streets, collect trash from door to door, and maintain manholes.

According to the sanitation employees we spoke with, they received minimal protective gear and tools for cleaning, and are only temporal subcontracted workers with minimal workers’ rights. According to a city solid waste management official, sanitation workers are provided with protective gear and tools, yet workers choose not to use the gear. We also spoke with street vendors and construction workers who encounter the same issues. 

Our experience has been polarizing as we have studied the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project in our Urban Planning and Sustainable Development class (UP&SE) with Juan. We got the chance to talk to the people involved with the project such as urban planners and developers. As well as the people affected by the project such as slum dwellers nearby the river and vendors who have been selling for 600 years on the riverfront. The lower caste people are being relocated outside the city and their land is being reclaimed to build new residential apartments and hotels. The slum dwellers are being relocated into areas that lack resources like clean water and schools. The people working have a difficult time as they are farther away from their jobs and now have commute for longer when before they were within walking distance.

As students, we were challenged to see the agency within the poor conditions that many people face in India. Juan, told us, “You see, American students have the tendency of feeling bad, of traveling abroad and victimizing people abroad.” Not this time. Juan challenged us to think deeply and see agency even in one of the most marginalized groups in India.

Our time in India has come to a close and now we prepare for new experiences and challenges in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We will carry on what we have  learned in Ahmedabad and see how the issues in South America’s biggest city compares and contrasts.

Week 6. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project: Perspectives from Real Estate Developers and Displaced People

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The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is currently in the early stages, but the goal is for it to contribute to Ahmedabad’s global recognition as a riverfront city. Since other cities have used their riverfronts as a means of financial development, Ahmedabad similarly aims to use its riverfront to bring the city a renewed identity. The Sabarmati River, with its location between the East and West, is perfectly positioned to boost commercial and real estate development.

The Riverfront is intended to be a public space. Since the project is relatively young, attempts to clean up and beautify the river have begun and new trees and benches have been placed along the riverfront.  Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is in charge of the local development and was handed the project by the Gujarat government. AMC has agreed to make 86% of the land for public use and 14% for commercial use. The land rights are not being completely sold to developers; instead a deal was made that maintains the project fully public. Developers are able to build on the land and have rights to the land for ninety-nine years and then they have to renew the contracts. The bidding process will be managed by the AMC, but there is no exact time frame on when that process will begin. Speculations have been rising that the bidding prices will be starting as soon as the end of February or early March. There has not been much development yet, so there is less competition for the land. The land will be bought cheaply by the developers who will in turn expect a huge profit margin for the development that will be done. Real estate developers are anticipated to build luxurious high rise residential apartments, hotels, and malls along the riverfront. Part of the agreement with the 14% commercial space is that the commercial property will fund the entire development project in the long run. The upcoming development will attract people to visit the riverfront and create a more vibrant atmosphere. Tourism will rise and people from all around the world can visit and enjoy a leisurely walk on the Sabarmati Riverfront. Once built, this new commercial district will create a profit opportunity for the developers. The developers are involved with this project so that the real estate capital can make this public and urban river rejuvenation project possible.

 

While Alex met with real estate developers, Eli met with a community of displaced people. Before the Riverfront came to be, thousands of families housed in slums lived in the area. When the project was proposed, there was no resettlement and rehabilitation plan in place for them. Later, it was decided that they would live on the same land in apartment buildings but this plan was scrapped when developers realized that the land was too profitable to use to resettle families. Thus, they were displaced to the periphery of the city. This displacement was not considerate of their preferences at all. Families’ entire lives were uprooted; adults had to change occupations because of the distance from city center and children had to change schools or drop out. Additionally, entire communities were dismantled. Families that had previously depended on support networks comprised of other families were separated from those and instead forced to live on the same floor and in the same building as people they did not know at all. Moreover, moving from “horizontal slums” to “vertical slums” was a big adjustment for this community. Because they were not accustomed to living in apartment buildings, many families threw their garbage out of windows. Issues such as these caused NGOs to step in to teach displaced people about community building and solid waste management. However, acclimation has been challenging to the point that over thirty percent of families have moved back to slums near the Riverfront Development Project in order to return to the familiar. Once there, they join those who had not been moved due to lack of documentation proving their residence in the slums before 2002. When asked how they would have changed the process of resettlement, they answered that they would have preferred to have been moved together with their neighbors instead of randomly. Whether in horizontal or vertical slums, the undeniable fact is that these people’s needs were ignored by the project developers and the government and continue to be put on the backburner.

For Eli, it was shocking to see how thousands of people’s lives were uprooted in such a haphazard way for the sake of “beautification” and “global recognition.” What is most sad is that the Riverfront is barely frequented by Amdavadis. She hopes that the displaced people of the Riverfront area will not be forgotten and will continue to receive support from NGOs trying to make a difference and providing a voice to the voiceless.

The project is ambitious and there is a lot of risks with the development. Alex thinks that the developers can over build and then the amount of attraction will not be met. The prices are not going to be affordable so the middle class has to be interested in the amenities being built. If the demand is not met, then the project will not be able to pay to be funded and the project can fail. The people make the project vibrant and therefore the developers have to think about what they will build and how many building will go up in a smart tactic.  

 

Week 3. Historical Heritage of Ahmedabad, India

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Ahmedabad is the largest city and former capital of the Indian state of Gujarat and was first established by Sultan Ahmed Shah, in 1411 A.D. About seven million people live in the city and the population is expected to grow to ten million by 2030 . Ahmedabad is located on the banks of the Sabarmati River. The river is located in the middle of the city and divides it into east and west regions. The British colonial period saw the expansion of the city to the western side, which houses educational institutes, modern buildings, multiplexes and a new business district. The eastern side is home to the Old City and is also where Ahmedabad’s famous textile industry was developed. Since the factories have been closing down in recent years, people are working any job they can find to support themselves and their families. While the majority of the population is Hindu, there are also Muslim and Jain communities. We have learned that tension exists between the Muslim and Hindu community, causing Muslims to be discriminated against and face a myriad of disadvantages. In 2002, a train in Godhra was set on fire and 58 Hindus were killed, triggering riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. An estimated 2,000 Muslims were killed and thus many Muslim families were dislocated to the western region.

We also learned that the caste system still affects Indian society to this day. At the top of the hierarchy are the Brahman. They are traditionally seen as godly people who have reached their status through actions in their past lives that have made them worthy. Below them are the Kshatriya, who are traditionally seen as the warriors. Then there there are the Vaishya, or businessmen and the Shudra, the serving class. The largest group, the Dalits, are not included in this pyramidal structure because they are seen as untouchables. In our site visits and through our guest lecturers, we have seen that the Dalits are truly the most disadvantaged group as a result of their caste status. They are the street sweepers, animal skinners and sanitation workers in Indian society. Although the government has affirmative action in place for people in the lowest caste, much of this money never reaches them.

As we continue to learn about Indian society and the city of Ahmedabad we hope to dig deeper into the repercussions of the city’s geographical divide, tensions between Hindus and Muslims and the caste system.

Alex Perez ’17 and Eli Valenzuela ’17

Week 2. Labor Issues in New York City

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Another dividing issue in New York City is labor. As in cities across the U.S., many groups in the five boroughs are involved in the Fight for 15, or the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15. Eli visited DRUM, an organization that advocates for low-wage South Asian immigrant workers and youth. With a membership of 3,000 – including 900 youth – representing countries that include Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal, DRUM has empowered workers through its campaigns and educational efforts. It has not only been involved in the Fight for 15 but has advocated for undocumented workers who make as little as $3-4 an hour. Although these workers are often scared to speak out for fear of deportation, DRUM has given them a place to unite and learn about their rights and resources. DRUM has also been involved in successful campaigns. When the NYC Police Department planned to map Muslim businesses, DRUM collaborated with other organizations to stop this destructive initiative. Shahina Parveen, a leader of DRUM, said: “When our own government, our own police, our own institutions, and our own media continue to engage in racial profiling or painting our communities as suspect, we cannot expect the results to be any different than these tragic cases of racial violence.” This effort, and others like it, are important because they defend the South Asian immigrant community in New York City from injustices.

Alex visited the Street Vendor Project. This non-profit organization assist street vendors with applying or renewing their license and educating them about their legal rights and responsibilities. They also hold meetings to plan collectively for any action they choose to make. There are more than 10,000 street vendors in New York City and about 2,000 joined the membership-based project in order to create a vendors’ movement for permanent change. Street vendors are being harassed by the police department and there is even a special unit just for police to stop unlicensed street vendors and arrest them. Many of these vendors are immigrants and people of color selling in the streets year round as their only source of income. The organization’s focus is to build some power for street vendors. In 2010, there was a big win for street vendors as minor fines, such as selling too close to the street, were lowered to a maximum of $250 after Mayor Bloomberg’s administration raised the fines to a maximum of $1,000 per ticket. Street vendors and the Street Vendor Project took it to city council and have been having multiple meetings with council members and community board members to protect the rights of street vendors. Private businesses and future development projects have no interest in having street vendors in their property and that has limited the space of where vendors can station themselves throughout the city.
As we begin our travels to Ahmedabad, India, we are interested to learn about the issues this city faces and how they compare to NYC.

Alex Perez ’17 and Elizabeth (Eli) Valenzuela ’17

Week 2. Affordable Housing Crisis in New York City

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This week’s focus is on housing in New York City. On Wednesday we visited the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, and discussed the issues surrounding the affordable housing crisis happening throughout the five boroughs. Zoning regulations are being changed and allowing high rise luxury building to be developed in low-income neighborhoods. Apartments are being renovated and rented out for triple the amount it used to be. Rent prices are skyrocketing and many residents are being forced to move out of their neighborhoods because they can no longer afford to live there. One problem is that many of the buildings that still offer affordable housing are aging and are usually not well maintained. NYCHA is beginning a new initiative called NextGen, through which they hope to implement strategies that improve their organization as well as their residents’ daily lives. Their tenant empowerment strategies are especially interesting. For example, they will work to connect residents to quality workforce opportunities by increasing its partnerships job placement programs and creating its own focused on teaching its residents new trades. Their goal is connect up to 4,000 residents to jobs annually by 2025.
After the NYCHA visit, the students split into smaller groups and visited organizations that advocate and help residents living in affordable housing units in different neighborhoods. We visited a non-profit organization in the southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Los Sures. This organization was founded in the 1970s when the housing market crashed. They advocate for and develop affordable housing in the neighborhood. They also educate residents concerning their rights as renters and assist them with issues they encounter. This has become especially important recently since more and more tenants are facing harassment from landlords. Our speaker Chelsea shared that landlords in Williamsburg have gone as far as to shut off tenants’ gas and electricity in order to intimidate them into leaving their building, only to renovate and hike up the price of their apartment soon after their departure. Los Sures empowers residents to unite through tenant associations and assists them in the process of taking their case to Housing Court through their partnership with the Brooklyn Legal Association.

Eli Valenzuela ’17 and Alex Perez ’17

Week 1. Cities in the 21st Century in NYC.

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We are Eli and Alex, juniors studying abroad through the International Honors Program: Cities in the 21st Century. As Urban Studies students, we chose this program because of its focus on the people, planning and politics of cities around the world, including New York, Ahmedabad, São Paulo and Cape Town. During our first week, we learned that one of the program’s core values is social justice. As we travel this semester, we will not only learn about the cities’ problems but also explore possible solutions. We will have multiple guest speakers throughout the program who will give us insight on the historical context and current issues of the cities. Finally, we will take four classes that will give us a well rounded view of each city as well as comparative lenses. They are: Urban Politics and Development, Culture and Society of World Cities, Contemporary Urban Issues, and Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments.

Throughout the semester we will have “Neighborhood Days.” We get paired up with different people in the group of thirty to explore a neighborhood and learn about its culture as well as the changes it has undergone over time. We also speak to an organization that works inside the community to get an understanding of what is going on. The next day, the groups present what they learned about their specific neighborhood. This past Thursday we had our first one here in New York City. Alex’s neighborhood was in Southwest Brooklyn along the waterfront where he observed the industrial development of New York and how that area is still being preserved as an industrial site. The residents in the neighborhood are predominantly working-class and depend on the industrial businesses as a source for jobs. The neighborhood is known for being a “walk to work” area because the industrial businesses hire local residents and assist them in getting jobs where they can gain skills that will help them in terms of mobility. Eli’s neighborhood was Port Richmond, Staten Island. While exploring this neighborhood, she and her group learned that it is predominantly populated by Mexican immigrants as well as African Americans. This could be gleaned from the businesses and services offered. They visited Make the Road, an organization that works with immigrant communities to achieve survival services such as adult literacy, citizenship and wage protection. There, they spoke to an Ecuadorian woman who had faced many hardships while living in the States but had found solace in the community she found in Staten Island. It was interesting to learn that the streets of Port Richmond were once lively but rumors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids kept many in their homes for fear of harassment and deportation. Learning about Port Richmond was interesting to Eli because as a New Yorker, she had always viewed Staten Island as a predominantly white and affluent borough but speaking to this neighborhood’s people and learning about its challenges made her see it in a new light.

Elizabeth (Eli) Valenzuela ’17 and Alex Perez ’17