How might we help Jordan refugees integrate with the local community?
Investigate the root cause of spatial segmentation and social-economic divide experienced by Jordan refugees and design a civic infrastructure that turns refugee problems into opportunities for social cohesion and urban integration.
Date: January 2018 (1 Month)
Team: 2 Designers + 1 Design Researcher (my role)
About the Competition
“Place and Displacement: Integrating Refugee Population within Cities” is one of the largest design and policy competitions in the world, launched by Ideation Worldwide (IDeA). Visit the competition website.
Deliver a solution that addresses the economic and social vulnerabilities refugees face in the urban environment and provides creative ways that expand access, participation, and interaction between refugees and their local communities in Amman, Jordan.
what i did
As the design researcher in the team, I conducted in-depth research on the refugee issue, coordinated stakeholder outreach, led user studies, and reviewed policy reports and urban design literature. We aimed to develop a solution that solves the issue with design thinking, while leveraging the local resources and partnership opportunities to achieve long-term strategy success.
Initially, we realized that it would be difficult to reach actual refugees in Amman from Toronto, so we aimed to approach local NGO managers and urban integration specialists instead to gain a better understanding of the refugee problem. We reached out to various NGO managers, refugee camp directors, urban planning professors and urban designers who have participated in the urban planning of Amman to validate our insights and findings.
We had an in person interview with Professor Luna Khirfan from University of Waterloo and she pointed out that although we consider urban refugees as our key stakeholder, in order to solve the root issue, it is critical to address problems of greater scope, especially the underlying issues of the spatial and social-economic class distinction in Amman between the rich and the poor. The Programs and Admin Manager at Collateral Repair Project, one of the most influential refugees aid NGOs in Amman, indicated that the greatest challenge for CRP is accessing the most underserved community members in East Amman. Since most new beneficiaries hear about them through word of mouth, it is difficult for refugees without any primary or secondary connections to be aware of the services CRP offers. Inspired by Lily’s information, our solution will not only serve as a transportation system, but also clear signs in the city that indicates the first point of contact for any assistance.
Insight 1: there is spatial and socio-economic class divide between East and West Amman
Our team conducted preliminary research through looking at various causes of the refugee problem in Amman. We first found that 80% of refugees live in the city, rather than living in the concentrated aid camps. Thus, we decided to focus on the "urban refugees", those who scattered across the city and remained "invisible" from the public attention. Furthermore, Amman is divided into two distinct economic and cultural districts: East and West Amman. Once a distinction of geography, the two districts now represent a social-economic divide between the wealthier, upper class Jordan and displaced families residing in the west and the relatively poorer, lower class Jordanians and marginalized refugees residing in the east.
Insight 2: lack of urban infrastructure and mobility is the root cause
From 2009 to 2017, the city’s population has grown from about 2.6 million to more than 4 million, driven by immigrants and refugees, who come primarily from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Sudan. 32% of household lack access to a private vehicle, while the current urban infrastructure in Amman is less than optimal, suffering from chronic congestions. Overall, transportation cost accounts for 25-30% of household income for both the lower and the middle class, where the spatial and class distinctions are further aggregated by physical disconnection.
Insight 3: narrow down our focus to "urban refugees" instead of "camp refugees"
The concentration of marginalized refugees in East Amman affects their access to sustainable income, economic opportunities, and public services, leading them largely “invisible”. In addition, due to traditional mode of aids, marginalized refugees are provided with monthly stipends from international organizations, which induces conflicts between the poor refugees and poor Jordanians in East Amman for housing resources. This east / west division exacerbates social and economic segmentation in Amman, which leads to greater income inequality and reduced social cohesion. The two districts have a large gap in their access to water services, education, healthcare, employment opportunities, and civic infrastructure.
Define and Re-frame the Problem
Although we consider marginalized refugees as our key stakeholder, in order to solve the root issue, it is critical to address problems of a greater scope, especially the underlying issues of the spatial and social-economic class divide between the rich and the poor. Thus, we propose a distributed urban infrastructure system connected by public rapid transit line to address two core needs of urban refugees: spatial segmentation and social-economic divide.
Strategy and Solution
Our project proposes a bus rapid transit system with a series of programmed stations scattered along the routes. Besides its inherent purpose to providing an affordable and efficient mode of mobility, bus routes now act as socio-cultural corridors that dissolve the spatial boundary between the East and West and link two polarized communities together. The project identifies the overlooked land on conventional BRT routes as civic opportunities. Every LINK! BRT station become a punctual intervention and serve as functional commons and sites of exchange to the surrounding communities. In addition, they are connected with a network of transit lines to become meta-intervention at the urban level, which has the potential to generate a cultural shift.
This project identifies a catalogue of potential programs to be featured in BRT stations, including workshop, fab lab, community cafe, art gallery, urban farm, recreational facilities, employment services, and etc. Each LINK! station will feature a distinct melange of programs, determined by site-specific research and analysis. Moreover, these stations will feature collaborative programs to provide valuable spaces that are desperately needed by community and refugee organizations to host workshops or training sessions for refugees, migrants, and local communities.
By looking at the refugee crisis not as a problem existing in vacuum, leveraging the BRT system as a civic infrastructure, and leveraging on existing resources, this proposal introduces an infrastructural investment with lasting impacts and an ecosystem of organizations and relationships that has the potential to establish opportunities not just for refugees, but all members of the community. The design integrates refugee populations and the local communities together by resolving the underlying urban spatial divide between west and east, and the socio-economic divide between the affluent and the marginalized.
Ideation & Evaluation
We connected with the Programs and Admin Manager at Collateral Repair Project in Amman, author of the article “More than a master plan: Amman 2025”, a Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at Columbia GSAPP, Geographer and PhD at World Bank, and the Policy Officer at Stichting Vluchteling, an International Rescue Committee, to gain helpful feedbacks to improve our strategy design.
Professor Beauregard, author of the article “More than a master plan: Amman 2025” and a Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at Columbia GSAPP, pointed out the potential complex political issue with the implementation of the strategy plan. He suggested that “all planning faces the challenge of developing political support” and we require enough “controls and incentives that will encourage investments and government agencies to coordinate with the plan”. Therefore, it is important to incorporate governmental partnership to leverage greater political support for our design.
We also had a Skype interviewed with Emily Lewis, the Livelihoods Coordinator at Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Amman. Emily mentioned that east Amman’s lack of clear mapping and inefficient public transportation system prevent urban refugees to improve their opportunities for livelihood. She suggested us to also consider how we could have citizens to adapt to the idea of multi-functional bus stops and identify clear user scenarios for the urban infrastructure.
A civic infrastructure that turns refugee problems into opportunities for social cohesion and urban integration.