Disability and the Urban Homeless Population

As I have continued to work on my final capstone project, I have come across the intersection between PWD and the urban homeless population time and time again. This segment of the population touches on an important aspect of disability that we have not talked about in class that much- psychological disabilities.

Though it is hard to pinpoint the exact number of those who are homeless in America that are living with a mental illness, estimates range from around a quarter to a third. At a global level, around 2% of the world population is homeless. What is more clear is that these debilitating illnesses usually go untreated and perpetuate the cycle of homelessness and joblessness.

https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/fixing-the-system/features-and-news/2596-how-many-people-with-serious-mental-illness-are-homeless

Because these individuals are considered a part of the common cityscape, their suffering often goes unnoticed. As people consciously choose to ignore the plight of the homeless, they simultaneously want them to disappear without assistance from anyone else.

As cities grow, it is likely that the number of persons experiencing homelessness will rise as well. Cities exacerbate homelessness by raising the cost of housing and pushing those that can no longer afford to live in urban centers to the outskirts of society. Cities are not built for those with severe mental illnesses; they can be overwhelming, confusing and stressful.

At the same time, well-planned cities can provide access to public services such as health centers, employment training and shelters. Expecting homelessness to rise dramatically in the coming years, it is vital that municipal, state and federal governments take into account the needs of this population, especially considering that a large portion of them are living with a disability.

https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/cities-grow-so-do-numbers-homeless

Bridging the digital divide

As we look to a future where more and more people will be living in urban centers that need to be denser and more efficient, it is easy to forget about those that are currently living in rural areas that are falling behind development-wise. We can easily become distracted by the shiny new buildings and technology in cities while pushing the needs of those on the outside of cities to the background. In order to ensure that all people have equal access to and usage of information and opportunities, we must extend ICTs to those that have been left out of the rapid adoption of new technologies. These so-called “have-nots,” including persons with disabilities, are at risk of falling through the cracks and being more at risk of poverty, under-education, and unemployment, among others.

https://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/fallingthru.html

Development-wise, this means extending internet access and high-speed broadband networks to areas far outside urban centers and in places where access has been limited in the past. It means creating community spaces such as public libraries and recreation centers that provide open use to computers and online resources. This also involves extending efficient, affordable public transit to suburban and rural areas so that even those who do not live in cities have access to them and all the opportunities they provide.

For persons with disabilities, ICTs can mean the difference between having the choice to live the life they want or not being able to choose at all. ICTs give PWD the chance to have equal access to employment, education and recreation while also providing a range of options for participation in these activities. In short, ICTs are a vehicle that can be used to guarantee human rights for all people, but especially PWD.

As our lives become more and more integrated with ICTs, we have to make sure that all people have access to this changing world so that no one is left behind.

https://www.itu.int/net/wsis/implementation/2014/forum/inc/doc/outcome/362828V2E.pdf

How applicable are global frameworks to local issues?

After my presentation yesterday, I did a lot of thinking about how international frameworks are difficult to apply to local, municipal issues. These frameworks are usually broad and have no enforcement mechanisms. They are basically suggestions to countries and national governments for what they should or shouldn’t do.

Local governance is much different. Policies are specific, applied to certain segments of society, industry and the economy. They vary based on where they are located and what the people they affect need. International frameworks have little to no use in these cases because they are so non-specific and are not created to be used in a local context.

Although both of these governance levels are very different and are difficult to fit together, they do interact with each other in positive ways. Especially in regards to ensuring that PWD have their rights protected and advocated for, international conventions and agreements can serve as important starting points for the development of local policies. For example, the CRPD includes a comprehensive vision of governance, at any level, that provides for an anticipates the needs of PWD in a diverse range of settings that can be applied to different regions and governance structures.

So how do we bring these two very different governance mechanisms together? How to we bring the grand challenges at the international level to the local stage? The UN notes that the role of municipal governments in regards to international frameworks is implementation and enforcement. This is a vital part of the realization of international conventions like the CRPD because the UN and other global governance institutions are unable to put their policies into practice in local settings. Local governments enforce global treaties into their structure through adding them to their constitutions, bill of rights, or some other law. Another important role of local governments in the application of international frameworks is the monitoring of their effectiveness and implementation.

While international frameworks are sometimes hard to pare down into tangible goals for municipal and local governments, they play a vital role in providing the baseline on which these governments should base their tailored policies and laws off of. International frameworks are also helpful in that they are flexible enough to serve as building blocks for a vast range of areas instead of being rigidly contained in a small area of specific rules that must be adhered to.

https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/comp101.htm

https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/monitoring-of-the-implementation-of-the-convention.html

Urban climate resiliency for all

The Dhaka Declaration was completed in May, 2018, and with it, the term “Nothing About Us Without Us” was coined. This Declaration was the first of its kind in terms of being entirely focused on persons with disabilities and the role they play in disaster risk reduction and management. This term encompasses PWD feelings of being excluded from previous frameworks and conventions that directly impacted them. It also fits perfectly within the main goal of Dhaka which is, “recognizing the inherent dignity, equal and inalienable rights of all human beings, to experience non-discrimination, protection, full accessibility and effective participation in decision-making processes, equalization of opportunities, individual autonomy and independence of PWD.”

http://dkconf18.modmr.gov.bd/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Dhaka-Declaration-2018.pdf

Dhaka emphasized the importance of linking disability-inclusive disaster risk management with the SGDs on the understanding that inclusion builds the resilience of whole societies, safeguards development gains, and minimizes disaster losses. Urban planning is a monumental part of this document, at all governance levels: local, national and global. SDG11 is particularly important here as it connects sustainable, accessible and resilient urban development.

The entire concept of a city space being more resilient when it includes all people rests on the idea that diverse communities are able to better weather the storms (pun intended) and crises that hit them. When a city is able to safely and equitably accommodate PWD, evacuation routes are effective for everyone, the physical environment is better suited to shelter and protect people, transportation routes are clearer, and public offices are open to new ideas and participation from all kinds of people. In short, Dhaka emphasizes a people-centered approach to disaster risk management and reduction on all levels; one that ensures the meaningful participation, inclusion and leadership of PWD.

In order to make all areas, but especially urban centers, more resilient in the face of increasing intense weather events due to climate change, diversity and inclusion needs to be the center focus of urban planners. Urban areas need to be multi-use and open to everyone to allow for the effective functioning of all types of businesses, social and cultural activities with the ability to bounce-back after crises.

https://www.resilientcity.org/index.cfm?id=11928

Sustainable, inclusive cities: a grand challenge

When I was considering how to begin my capstone proposal, I didn’t know where to start. Envisioning a process for writing a framework that countries can follow to develop sustainable, accessible and inclusive cities seemed like a great idea when I began this class, but now, as the prospect of actually creating this thing is daunting. I decided to make a “mind map” (something that my professors had us do when I was abroad) to clear my mind and put some ideas on paper. What I ended up with was a spider-like diagram that was barely legible, containing only some of the parts that an inclusive sustainable city needs. My page was full, but I could still see things that were missing: what about the governance feedback loops? Should I spaces for community gardens? Will there be room for new businesses and entrepreneurs to make a living in the city? It struck me then that, although I had considered that urban planning for inclusivity and sustainability was a challenge, I had not considered how much of a grand challenge this would be.

When we’re talking about sustainable urban planning, the normal aspects of “green” living come to mind: parks, street trees, rooftop gardens, etc. When discussing inclusive planning, other details of the urban landscape pop up: ample ramps, elevators in all buildings and public transit stops, cross walks that vibrate and tell you when to cross the street. The problem is that these two things are seldom thought of in tandem. Sustainability and inclusivity are often placed in two separate camps and addressed by separate groups of people.

If we conceptualize the main problem as population growth and climate change, which are also interconnected, grand challenges, it is easier to see how both inclusivity and sustainability need to be integrated. As population growth continues, more and more people will live in cities; cities that need to be denser and well-built. Building well means accounting for everyone’s needs and ensuring that all urban dwellers have the ability to choose what kind of life they want to lead. In the context of climate change, cities need to be resilient and built to withstand more frequent and intense weather events, and an integral part of this resiliency is making sure that people have access to necessities like healthcare, healthy food, transportation, and education.

Designing cities to be both sustainable and inclusive means reorganizing and rebuilding them better, not bigger. Persons with disabilities have been left out of the sustainability conversation for too long, and we cannot continue along this path if we hope to address this grand challenge. Everyone has a part to play, everyone has a voice. This is a challenge we must address together.

https://wuf.unhabitat.org/

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg11

Spatially equal city design

The readings for this week emphasized the point that disability, along with being a socially and culturally constructed label, is affected by spatial relations. One is only considered disabled with respect to an environment, especially the way in which an environment conceptualizes and distributes space. This is an especially important phenomenon to consider when designing, inclusive cities.

https://www.academia.edu/299654/Enabling_Justice_Spatializing_Disability_In_the_Built_Environment

When we talk about creating sustainable cities, persons with disabilities are usually left out of the conversation. We design immaculate, aesthetically pleasing cities that incorporate the newest, fastest technology, all without considering the needs of those with disabilities. Take DC, for example. Comparatively, the new metro system is faster, cleaner, and more dependable than the one before it. The cars are larger in size with more comfortable seating and wider doors. But it is still just as difficult for a person who is using a wheelchair to navigate their way through the throngs of people crowding platforms and refusing to make room for them on the cars. Don’t even get me started on the horrible state of elevators at the metro stations themselves.

The components of a city- transportation, recreation, navigability, cultural life, and the built environment- need to be accessible in order to be sustainable. Until we get this inclusive city thing right, we will just have to keep rebuilding, going back to the drawing board until we stop ignoring the needs of others. This would be simply done by incorporating those we are designing the city for in municipal governments and offices, and by getting feedback from those that have grievances or ideas of how to rework an urban space.

Designing a city to be accessible and inclusive would not only make it more environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable as well. When we cultivate spaces for those that society has traditionally ignored, we bring them out of the woodwork and into urban cultural life. Cities are places where major life activities are carried out, and they define the circumstances under which people live. Life is a human right, and living life the way you want is a choice that all people are entitled to; everyone has a “right to the city,” so we need to design them that way.

http://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/NUA-English.pdf

World Bank as a “knowledge bank”

The World Bank has a long and integrated history with development. This institution started out as a lending agency, supporting post-war programs and countries that were able to convince the World Bank that their projects would make some sort of marked improvement on the world. Decisions on what received funding and what did not relied heavily on traditional data, such as economic reports, employment records, and health statistics. Project management was mostly delegated to organizations and institutions outside the World Bank, giving the project management a hands-off feel.

The World Bank has since shifted to assume the role of the dominant provider of development-related information on the global scale. Now relying more on secondary data sources which are the result of lengthy social processes and which are shaped by the biases of agents involved, the World Bank advises other lenders on which projects or aspects of development should be supported. The World Bank now aims to be the “first port of call for development expertise.”

Although some consider it to be helpful to have an authoritative global voice on development, the World Bank as a “knowledge bank” of development expertise is also loaded with Western biases, neoliberal assumptions, and rigid theories. The secondary data that the World Bank is doling out is chock-full of inaccurate reporting, underrepresentation, and misconceptions of qualitative measurements. Although this type of data is important to give a human face to information and to help give focus to development policy, it is critical to recognize the implicit opinions and beliefs that make this data impossible to be objective.

In terms of inclusive sustainable development, the monopoly on knowledge that the World Bank has also has problematic implications. Even if the World Bank supports the CRPD and other policies that advocate for persons with disabilities, the data that they are receiving may place them in the background or, even worse, forget about them entirely. Trying to complete a cross-country analysis with secondary data is also extremely difficult as the World Bank does not have a standardized comparative study of the data that is collected.

The World Bank also tends to focus only on the poorest countries (measured by GDP, GNP, or some other traditional neoliberal measure of development), leaving middle and even high-income countries where the poor, and persons with disabilities, still live at the mercy of their government. This is a major problem in places in the US where public infrastructure is not accessible to people with disabilities and basic human rights like healthcare and internet are not evenly distributed.

If we are truly to regard the World Bank as a trustworthy institution that conducts rigorous development research, we need to look critically at the type of data they are collecting and the biases that are implicit in its construction and development studies.

World Bank’s work on person’s with disabilities https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability

International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe, chapter 6 http://sk.sagepub.com/books/international-development-studies