Posts Tagged ‘ primary research ’

GFRY Chile Trip

We returned today from a long, politically- and emotionally-charged week in Chile. The result appears to be a significantly reduced role for our initial partner and sponsor in Chile (Reconstruye) and an introduction to another group (Surmaule) for what has been reframed as an academic exercise. This is disappointing because there is so much we could do for them as designers.

Walk through almost any neighborhood in Talca and you see completely leveled buildings next to standing ones. Shacks called mediaguas spring up in patches like mushrooms after a storm. A year later, people are still living in these shacks that take up very little of their actual land. Walls of roofing steel, aluminum siding and any wood scraps cordon off sidewalks from property lines. Chains and double locks maintain the illusion of security. Visit a small collective. The pool overflows with muddy rain water. An inflated shark pool toy leans against the wall as a reminder of things before the earthquake. A toilet seat balanced on a bucket becomes an outhouse. Each day the someone steals water from a fire hydrant to sanitize the family. A little girl looks fragile and frightened. She pokes at the pile of dirt and rubble with a stick.

Some of us cried at the neighborhood meeting in Seminario before taking the tour. What we saw was a shocking reality. How could the Chilean government leave its people in these conditions? A major part of the problem are the laws which allow only one home per family and landowner. Those that had multiple homes or condo units were entitled to only one mediagua and one reconstructed home on the city outskirts in exchange for their more valuable centrally-located land. This left several classes homeless: renters who faced rising rent in the face of diminished supply, those who lived on land inherited but did not have the paperwork to prove it, and those who through other legal reasons such as separation without divorce were unable to file a “legitimate” claim. As a result, large buildings that once housed several families are reduced to two room shacks. For many, “cramped” is an understatement.

Reconstruye’s approach for integrated social housing seems humane albeit difficult to execute. They find landowners that give up the vertical space on their land in exchange for construction that other tenants finance. By building higher, a finite amount of land can accommodate more families within their respective neighborhoods.

Beyond the architectural concerns are the psychosocial concerns. The people of Talca feel betrayed by the federal government and its local appointees. Many voiced identical sentiments to what one woman in Paso Mayo said, “I’m never going to forget it (the earthquake). It’s a psychological trauma that will remain for many years. The only thing keeping me going is my brother and his business.” Children have been similarly affected. Some remain in a fight-or-flight state. “My 12 year old girl used to get good grades but now she’s fallen from a 6.1 to 4.5 in school. Each aftershock causes her to lose control. My other child, a toddler, everything scares her now.”

There is a playground in the city center, but outside of that area, there is little for children to do in their free time. Older children sit around talking in the green areas, but younger ones kick rocks and visitor guides for entertainment. After school, they are shipped home in yellow minivans (which are privately contracted by parents). Once home, there is little to do. Community centers are bare and provide only a roof and wobbly chairs for adults to talk about reconstruction efforts. The central park area is too far away for a child aged 5-8 to wander towards alone. In addition to the stresses of changing schools and making new friends, children retire to crowded realities in undivided rooms they must share with their parents and other siblings.

While I remain interested in the idea of a mobile playground, it seems that a lack of funding and the relabeling of our work as an academic exercise may change priorities. The need is there. We received positive feedback from almost everyone we spoke to about it. But Surmaule doesn’t want to raise the hopes of the people as other universities have without delivering tangible results. Bottom line: we need to regroup.

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The Search For Local Proxies to the Chilean Refugee Experience

I have begun searching for local access points to empathy and user-focus in redesigning the post-disaster experience. The list of suggestions for local proxies was rather short: embassies and the homeless community (with the notion that the homeless represent mini-disasters). What follows is a progress update.

The Haitian and Chilean consulates didn’t pan out leads to refugee groups or refugees. I found a place called CCIL (normally a homeless rehabilitation program) that housed Haitian refugees immediately after the 2010 earthquake, but their contact form and email are non-operational. I will try calling them later in the week to see if any of the refugees are still there and possibly available.

Today, I prepared food and served the homeless on Team B at Church of Our Saviour. While I enjoyed helping out and meeting some really nice people, I’m not sure if talking to the homeless is getting me closer to design ideation. I learned tips for homelessness: 1. The St. Paul Church (associated with De Paul University) has daily meal service except on Sundays, 2. The Night Ministries Bus goes around neighborhoods serving food and providing non-prescription medication along with a dose of ministry but lately it’s been overrun by “the selfish beggars who don’t care about anyone but themselves,” 3. A bunch of inmates were recently released and they settled under Wacker, making it unsafe.

Perhaps the most useful insight that I’ve gained from asking the homeless, “What do you carry with you to maintain a sense of home?” or, “What tangible possessions do you value most?” is that no one (n=3) actually answered with something tangible. Dave, who likes to build things and is having trouble rebuilding his life because of a bad back said that “community” was the most important because, “Everything else gets taken away from you so it loses meaning.” Sean, who used to be a carpenter and is convinced that he’s owed a lot of Social Security, said that “friends” were the most important. He has a sister who is an inspector “which is higher than a lieutenant” in the 18th ward that he “tries not to bother too much.” Le, who seemed genuinely happy, answered, “inner harmony and projecting a sense of inner peace to others.”

I can’t forget the image of a scrappy looking man bringing me a plate of spaghetti and chicken wings. He kept shoving it towards me, finally saying, “microondas,” which I remember to mean, “microwave” in Spanish so I heated his food. I am pretty sure he didn’t speak any English. Later, when we were serving seconds, he was stopped in line (because the server was getting him his first plate of everything) and someone wanted him to move over, which led to shoving. It was pretty clear that he didn’t understand what was going on and immediately felt threatened. I wish I remembered enough Spanish to have a conversation with him.

I’ll try this again in January.