Map: How the world’s countries compare on income inequality based on The Palma Ratio [via: Washington Post]

Bluer countries have better income equality. Redder countries are more unequal. Data: CGDev, DIIS (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Bluer countries have better income equality. Redder countries are more unequal. Data: CGDev, DIIS. (Max Fisher/The Washington Post)

The way we measure income inequality is changing. After years of relying on a complicated metric called the Gini coefficient, some economists argue that we should adopt the Palma ratio, which measures the gap between the rich and the poor in a society. My colleague Dylan Matthews explains how the Palma works and why it might be superior (more on that below).

In the map up top, I’ve illustrated the latest data on income inequality around the world, as measured by the Palma. The results are pretty revealing. Bluer countries have greater income equality, according to the metric, meaning that there’s less of a gap between the rich and the poor. Redder countries have more income inequality, meaning that there’s a wider gap. Purple countries are about in the middle — that includes the United States, which is the most unequal of any developed country measured.

The countries that come out looking best include, no surprise, the usual suspects of Northern Europe. Interestingly, Eastern Europe scores quite highly as well, as do some post-Soviet countries in Central Asia. Perhaps that’s a legacy of Soviet-era social programs meant to flatten class divides. But it’s also a reminder that, while economic equality is great, it’s not synonymous with a healthy economy. Some countries are economically equal because everyone is well-off, as in Denmark, and some because most everyone is equally poor.

The countries with the highest income inequality are, by far, those of Latin America and the southern tip of Africa. These countries have been seeing economic growth over the past few decades, but much of the wealth ends up funneling into the top stratospheres of society. This problem tends to be self-reinforcing: The rich are able to secure better education and political access, making it easier for them to stay rich and tougher for everyone else to get a share of the pie.

The United States doesn’t come out of this comparison looking great. It’s ranked 44th out of 86 countries, well below every other developed society measured. It’s one spot below Nigeria, which has some of the worst political corruption in the world and in 2012 saw nationwide protests over perceived income inequality. The United States’ Palma ratio ranks it just beneath Nigeria but above Russia and Turkey — all countries that have experienced heavy political unrest in recent years.

The data offer a reminder that the United States might enjoy greater economic equality than much of the world, but it is at the bottom end of the developed world. And the Palma ratio actually shows the United States in a more positive light than does the Gini coefficient, which ranks it even lower. To get a better sense of how the United States compares to the rest of the world, here’s a map that shows all other countries just relative to the United States. Blue countries are more equal than the United States, red countries are more unequal:

Blue countries have better income inequality than the U.S., red countries worse. Data: CGDev, DIIS (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Blue countries have better income inequality than the U.S., red countries worse. Data: CGDev, DIIS. (Max Fisher/The Washington Post)

Here’s the story with the Palma ratio, which gave us these data. Two economists with the Center for Global Development, Alex Cobham and Andy Sumner of King’s College London, make the case for the Palma in a recent paper. They explain that it’s much more elegant than the Gini coefficient and better suited at comparing the rich and the poor. The Palma simply compares the richest 10 percent of people with the poorest 40 percent. Their report provides the data mapped out above, supplemented with some numbers from the Danish Institute of International Studies.

If you want to know more about The Palma Ration, please check this paper:





Crossbenching – Interview with Markus Miessen [commonthejournal]

Konjunktur und Krise?, No 2

Federica Bueti: I would like to start from the very beginning, from a simple question that could help us to contextualize your practice. When and how did you become interested in participatory practices? And what interests you in a collaborative approach?

Markus Miessen: I spent three years between 1998 and 2000 in Glasgow after which I moved to Berlin for a year. This moment in Berlin at the tail-end of the 90’s was very interesting; when I moved to London in 2002 for further studies at the Architectural Association, my belief in the potential of architecture had almost diminished and I was hoping for it do be revitalized, which – thankfully – it did. In the late 90’s one could witness a very interesting phenomenon in Berlin, which was that many architectural practices had moved towards participatory approaches, and I was really sceptical of this. In retrospect, one realizes that many of these practises were the result of an economic crisis in architecture: practitioners simply needed to define and inhabit a niche, a margin of opportunity. However, it wasn’t exactly the case that they had originally set out to become social workers.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter.

When I finished my studies at the AA, I started a research-project called Did Someone Say Participate?, which I developed throughout my post-graduate work and later in a book, co-edited by Shumon Basar. In it, we attempted to give a non-romantic overview of what we thought of as interesting and challenging practices, which redefine the way in which we look at and understand the production of space today. What they all had in common was that they rethought the relationships between the participatory and their own role as independent actors, they set out to interrogate the often romantic and nostalgic participatory practices that are or were at play. Not in the sense of them inviting others to participate, but in the sense of immediate single-handed involvement, pro-active agency and authorship.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

This project provoked a series of projects and on-going inquiries in regard to the subject of participation and collaborative approaches in the fields of architecture, spatial practice and art, from a distance so to speak, from an outsider’s perspective. I am interested in the role of someone, who is not – by default – assuming the character or position of the good-doer, but a passer-by, an observer, who is attempting to understand a particular phenomenon, or cliché one might say – and then to act upon it without being entangled in its intra-politics. I tried this through projects such as The Violence of Participation, which was a project at the Lyon Biennial as well as a publication, ›The Nightmare of Participation‹, a more theoretical work, and ›Waking Up From The Nightmare of Participation‹, which presents a reflective anthology of texts by authors, who are critically dealing with and interrogating The Nightmare of Participation.

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

19 hours at the kiosk, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2012; commissioned by Valerie Smith; spatial design and programming by Studio Miessen. Photography by Eugster and Affolter

The text (NOP) was always thought of as a starting point, a trigger so to speak; to throw something in the ring in order to start a productive conversation around a particular subject. These projects were thought of as a set of different species of work around a single question. I am now working on a book called ›Crossbench Praxis‹, the actual propositional work, which essentially is the PhD I am working on at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths in London and which will both present a thesis towards an alternative type of praxis as well as a series of examples, which will act as case studies, work that I have produced as an architect. Since 2002, when I was still studying at the Architectural Association, I have been working through a sort of agency or platform called Studio Miessen, through which I have been collaborating with a very differentiated set of practitioners. The way that I tend to work is instead of pre-empting project-teams or working with a set structure in an office, I assemble working groups in order to approach every context with the necessary specificity.

Participation, collaborative practices, self-organized practices, autonomous, independent and community-based practices, are all terms used to describe working modalities in the cultural field. However, this seems to be the mantra of the moment, collaboration is somehow what and how we are expected to work in seemingly open neoliberal working environments. What I found interesting in your approach is that you try to destabilize the dominant consensual model of collaborative practices by introducing the figure of the uninvited outsider. How does this figure function in relation to the neoliberal demand for collaborative labour?

I think there are two things to recognize here: one is that we need to be very careful when considering participation and collaboration as practices per se. What does this really mean? There is often a slight romanticization involved, which goes hand in hand with a nostalgia that relates to and calls for the 1960s and 70s. My understanding of collaboration is neither one of auto-exploitation nor one, which exploits others. I think everyone is responsible for him- or herself. As a collaborator, you should always follow your own, opportunistic agenda. You can always say no. Only when people with different agendas meet there is actually a productive outcome, which produces new ideas or concepts. One has to set up professional frameworks and working mechanisms in order for this dynamic to eventually turn prolific.
To get back to your question regarding collaboration, what I would like to promote is a frictional and potentially dissensual production towards a common goal, which is in fact the whole point about collaboration in the first place: working with friendly enemies. In each project the force-field of actors needs to be redefined. Otherwise one should rather think about partners as pre-empted consensual colleagues to cooperate with over a longer period. The creation of the role of the Uninvited Outsider and Crossbench Practitioner is an attempt to propose a model in which participation is radically rethought: moving away from the romantic idea of all-inclusive democratic processes, where everyone is invited to the round-table to add one’s point, which – from my point of view – ultimately will lead to watered-down and weak consensus. I think we need to work towards the notion of the first-person-singular actor, an independent actor with a conscience. Collaboration can only work if there is something in it for everyone. But this does not mean that it needs to turn into uncritical and consensus-oriented cooperation.

Where does the model of the crossbencher stem from?

What I am refering to when I talk about Crossbench Practice is a specific role that I am developing, which works towards an independent and pro-active individual without political mandate, who retains an autonomy of thought, proposition, and production. This role entails that in a given context one neither belongs to nor alligns with a specific party or set of stakeholders, but can openly act without having to respond to a pre-supposed set of protocols or consensual arrangements. Especially in the context of the recent culture crisis in the Netherlands the role of the crossbencher – as they call the independent politician in the über-conservative British House of Lords – becomes increasingly relevant. I am hijacking this role from this conservative setting in order to (mis)use it as an analogy: it proposes a way of acting, in other words a practice, which operates on the basis of alternative and self-governing political parameters. Crossbench Practice aims to open up a fresh debate, not as a theory, but a way of acting politically.

I think what we need today is a new vocabulary to describe our practices. I recently watched a documentary on Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back‹ and in one scene he complained about that fact Times magazine defined him a Folk Singer, but he wouldn’t consider himself a folk singer. In this sense, there is a fundamental problem of how to define a practice without forcing it to fit a limiting definition or consensual model. Is there any way to define participatory practices differently? What terms do you propose to describe your practice? How would you position yourself in the general field of the discourse around the definition of participatory practices?

I think you are absolutely right; it all comes down to the question of one’s role, and the way in which this role becomes productive from the point of view of praxis. Historically, architecture, as a profession, is very interesting in this regard. During the Renaissance the architect was thought of and taught to be a polymath. In reverse, what we are witnessing today is that architects tend to be, both by education and personal choice, highly skilled and super-specific experts, who are very good at catering for one particular item within the complexity of construction, but are often not equipped with the gear that it needs in order to understand and act upon the complex cultural specifics around a particular project. Someone else can easily replace them; and that makes them expendable. They become office robots. It really reminds me of the great recent movie The Expendables, starring essentially the whole bunch of getting-aged action-superstars, from Sylvester Stallone to Bruce Willis, Arnie and Dolph Lundgren to name a few. This stuff simply does not fly any longer.
I am not so much interested in thinking about what genuine participatory practice may be or entail. From my point of view we have in fact been trying to theorize it too much over the past two decades. What we instead need to do is to force ourselves into contexts into which we have previously not been invited, redefine our position, and demonstrate that we can deal with the cultural complexity that surrounds contemporary spatial production. To rethink participation, I would like to introduce the German word ›Einmischung‹(intruder) to our conversation. Germany’s former minister for foreign affairs, Joschka Fischer, poses an interesting example in this regard. He is essentially a self-educated thinker, who first became active during Frankfurt’s 1969 student revolution in which he played a pivotal role as a non-student. He then, later, decided against armed resistance and became one of the founding members of the German Green Party and their first minister. Under the Labour/Green government led by chancellor Schröder at the tail-end of the 1990s Fischer became minister for foreign affairs. He is really the only person I can think of, who fully physicalized and turned into praxis Gramsci’s notion of the long march through the institutions. Absurdly he was the one that was for a long time the focal point of critique within the German Green Party and the Labour Party, which is quite telling I think. As we know, the Left is best at auto-critique and not so productive in terms of coming up with turning into practice counter-proposals. Although one can of course criticize particularities about his decision-making in the past, Fischer can and should be understood as an interesting case, someone who has been interested in the framework of democratic structures, but not for the sake of the structure itself, but in order to generate and stir change. This also means that the party in which one is a member is only a means to place oneself in the larger formal-political structure, which is the parliament. I do not believe that Fischer was ever very interested in intra-party politics and consensus. In this way, he could be compared to a crossbencher, although he is not, at least not from the point of being a fully independent actor.

Fair point and difficult task. To think about structure, not for the sake of the structure, but in order to generate and stir changes, how does this translate into your practice?

To start to answer this means to start to think about, rethink and interrogate the role of the architect and the role that architecture with a big »A« can and should assume in society today. In order to ask what is new knowledge in architecture today, one must ask or rather define what architecture means in the first place. Over the last two decades the role of the architect, at least viewed from a critical perspective, has been interrogated and developed substantially. The question of what does one consider to contribute to the production of space is one that circulates around the potential effects on space and how those effects and affects are and can be generated, amended and influenced – and who are the people and practices in charge of those proliferating changes. Architecture with a big »A« can only assume relevance again once it assumes responsibility: responsibility in terms of negotiating, mediating and enabling relationships and conflicts that individuals and groups, whether public or private, can perform within space. Anyone interested in a subject of societal relevance will by default realize that any reality is based on complexity. »A«rchitecture deals with precisely this complexity: socially, and therefore politically, and spatially. Where critical and collaborative research, first-person singular participation (i.e. »I contribute«), and individual dedication towards an ethical position question the modalities of practice, new sets of knowledge are being generated. This is the way in which I hope to practice. Sometimes this works more successful than at other times. Some of my projects are dealing with a-physical frameworks, such as a consulting project I ran for the last two years for the Dutch art organization SKOR, together with Andrea Phillips. Here, the main question was how, as an external observer, you could help to redesign the organizational and content-related »software« of an institution.

Miessen_Institution Building_Goerlich

Institution Building; edited by Nikolaus Hirsch, Phillip Misselwitz, Markus Miessen, Matthias Görlich; Sternberg Press,2009; photography by Matthias Görlich

In other words: how can you alter the way in which the institution functions on a day-to-day basis, what is its goal, what kind of programme to they produce, how do they speak to different sets of audiences? Together with Nikolaus Hirsch, Phillip Misselwitz and Matthias Görlich I worked on a project for the European Kunsthalle (Cologne) called Spaces of Production. The project conceptualized, tested, and practically applied a spatial strategy for the European Kunsthalle. The investigation did not result from purely theoretical or conceptual considerations, but was the result of the activities incorporated into the European Kunsthalle’s founding phases’ two-year work practice from 2005 to 2007. Our spatial strategy for the European Kunsthalle was the direct result of applied research – an iterative investigation informed by resonances between theory and practice.

Miessen_Manifesta Backbench

Backbench, Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain, 2010. Spatial design by nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson). Photography by Pablo Ferao.

In the past I have also worked on several architectural-scale projects for institutions such as Performa Biennial in New York, an archive and film-set for Manifesta in Murcia, an interior for Archive Kabinett, a Berlin-based discursive forum and bookshop. These three projects were done in collaboration with my former partners at nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson).

Miessen_Winter School

Winter School Middle East, nomadic, currently based in Kuwait; founded and directed by Markus Miessen, co-director Zahra Ali Baba;

At the moment I am working on projects with the Witte de With in Rotterdam, Powerplant in Toronto, an office space in New York, the Winter School Middle East (Kuwait), an NGO in Los Angeles, a public forum in Gwangju, and the development of a rural art centre in the greater Frankfurt area.


Gwangju Biennial On Site, a community Hub for content production, 2011. A project by nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson). Photography by JomgOh Kim.

But my practice also concerns teaching, writing, editing, sometimes curating. However, I would still introduce myself as an architect. Teaching and writing is very important for me. The constant exchange stimulates thinking in all sorts of directions. Also that one is constantly being exposed to different backgrounds and nationalities that sometimes just laugh at one’s own suggestions is very healthy.

The concept of participation and the term crisis seems to be equally present in current discussion about cultural politics. It seems that the two concepts are closely linked, they complement each other as indispensable parts within contemporary political rhetorics: crisis is the problem, participation the therapy. Do you think that collaborative practices can help to solve‹ or to survive the crisis? How do collaborative practices work in a time of crisis and how does a crisis play itself out within the space of a collaborative practice?

I think your point about participation being understood and used as some form of therapy is brilliant. Modes of participation have, in terms of state politics, but also on smaller, less formal scales, most recently been used as a kind of placebo. Just look at the United Kingdom or The Netherlands. What was once thought of as a pro-active mode of individual engagement has been cleverly revamped as a populist tool to regain a larger consensus, even if agendas do not add up or meet. However, there is the question of what we are really talking about when we talk about crisis? Are we talking about a content crisis or an economic one, which then leaves us with infrastructural changes that have an effect and affect on the cultural landscape? I think there is a danger of calling everything a state of crisis today. This is similar to the danger of refereeing to the notion of urgency. If we only ever deal with the urgent we may in fact forget the important. Collaborative approaches can on the one hand be sustainable while on the other they can produce and foster specificity, which would otherwise be very difficult to achieve.

You have recently been appointed Professor for Critical Spatial Practice‹ at the Städelschule in Frankfurt and on many different occasions you have expressed the need to define spatial practice in terms of a »critical modality«. Could you elaborate on this concept?


Architecture + Critical Spatial Practice, annual newsprints, edited by Markus Miessen, design by Matthias Görlich, Städelschule Frankfurt, 2012/2013,

What I am doing in Frankfurt is to set up a framework through which one can critically think, learn, and pose questions about and around the production of space; not only in terms of a theoretical construct, but also in regard to specific spatial problematics. The most important question in architecture, to me at least, seems to be: how can we, as practitioners, manage to be involved in some of the most pressing societal issues and questions. I think the way to do this is not to get too bogged down on the nitty-gritty of the building or construction processes, but to understand the cornerstones of spatial design and to be able to curate the very complex cultural territory and its processes, the many different stakeholders, interest groups, benefactors, sufferers et cetera. This is where the role of the Outsider comes in as a very productive character. The problem of course is that it is a very thin line: you are either a morally responsible individual with a conscience or a fucked-up autocrat with neoliberal intentions – there is not really too much space that one could inhabit in-between those two polar conditions. What is fantastic at the Städelschule is that it offers me the possibility to open up the process of investigation across different student communities, from architecture, but also from the different art studios directed by Douglas Gordon, Simon Starling, Tobias Rehberger, Willem de Roij or Isabelle Graw, to name a few. Students are coming to my studio with very differentiated personal agendas, which makes it a real pleasure to teach there. It is not about communicating hard skills, but to carefully sensitize the group as to how one can act in space: how one’s individual practice can alter existing and produce new spatial conditions, be they of urban, architectural, or 1:1 scale.

In »the Production of Space« Lefebvre argues that »a Spatial Practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance.« Lefebvre seems to suggest that to engage with space in a critical mode is a matter of competence and performance. Do you agree?

Absolutely! Competence not in the sense of being authorized to do so, but in the sense of being sensitized and being able to understand the forces and variables that have an effect on the production of space. Not every problem favours a physical solution. There is the legendary quote by Cedric Price that he was once having a client-conversation with a couple, who approached him to build a house for them. His response was that what they really needed was a divorce.

Markus Miessen is an architect, consultant and writer. The initiator of the Participation quadrilogy, his work revolves around questions of critical spatial practice, institution building, and spatial politics. His practice, Studio Miessen, is currently working on projects for an with Bergen Assembly, Performa Biennial, Witte de With, Kosovo National Gallery, Weltkulturen Museum, and the artist Hito Steyerl. Their largest project to date is a strategic framework and new Kunsthalle building for a former NATO military site in Germany. In 2008, Miessen founded the Winter School Middle East. He is currently a professor for Critical Spatial Practice at the Städelschule, Frankfurt, and guest professor at HEAD Geneva as well as USC Los Angeles”


Philosophy of the Possible or Utopianism in the 21st Century Urbanism

By Anna Koledova

‘If I could wish for something, I would wish for neither wealth nor power, but the passion of possibility; I would wish only for an eye which eternally young, eternally burns with longing to see possibility’.

(Søren Kierkegaard, 1849)


Historically, the search for a model of a good city has been a quest, equivalent to the search of a precious object or knowledge of a venerated narrative (Hall, 2002). Due to a significant contextual influence of actual difficulties of the city, those of economics, sociology and politics, it is problematic to assume that such models existed unaltered through time and space. Yet, paradoxically, as Amin states (2006, p. 1010) the history of practical efforts to enhance the experience of city’s inhabitants ‘has also been influenced by universalistic imaginaries of the good life, with cities placed at the very heart of the various projections on offer’.

It is important to remember that a good city debate is by all means a debate about utopia or ‘no place’, which in turn always implies an ideological dimension of looking at and of portraying the city form. Thus, city planners such as Howard, Haussmann, Le Corbusier, were pushing radicalism in addressing the evils of Victorian cities. Utopian vision of modernist planners, often underpinned by shire environmental determinism and associated with the belief that society was not riven by contradictions, argued that a good, clean city could make a better society  (Fishman, 1982, Beauregard, 1996, Hall, 2002). Such urban imaginations, however, proved to be problematic when realising ideas into brick and mortar. London, Paris, Barcelona, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia have all undergone significant urban interventions and transformations, which left cities as symbolic, highly expressive of power and status places, yet depressingly incapable to serve all wider social purposes (Hall, 2002).

Today, it can be argued, planning practitioners conceive their duty more modestly. Fainstain (1997) believes that the concept of visionary leaders imposing their perspectives on the urban populace is in disrepute, whereas the notion of an identifiable model of a good city meets skepticism. Hence, the aim of creating a good city over the last decades ‘has been content with theorising itself unencumbered by the economic and political realities of the global capitalist system and has been self-referential within a singularly contained mainstream ideology’ (Banerjee and Sideris, 2011, 57). Along this line, Amin (2006) suggests that utopia has lost its gist, appeal and organising force, as meanings of the good city shift to immediate, temporary, private and hedonistic projects.

There has been an extensive academic debate on the topic of utopian thought and its role in the creation of modern day urban landscapes. The 20th century in particular saw many negative depictions of the good city, including Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. On the contrary, academics like D.Harvey, H. Lefebvre, J. Jacobs, L. Sandercock, D. Pinder and others believe, although there can be no one good or neutral city like those imagined in the past and driven by totalitarian practices, ideals of processes and objectives can determine fair and flexible practice in generating urban change. Drawing on the example of London and two of its urban narratives, this essay discusses whether utopia as a process in contrast to utopia as standardized urbanism can be seen as a germane approach to raising questions about cities and their development.

Got an idea? Got IKEA.

Urban development of London and its East End has been under considerations of politicians, academics and city’s populace over the last few years. Olympic Games of 2012 have definitely assisted in pulling the trigger in the process of this urban change, especially for the Stratford area. Millions of pounds have been invested into several large-scale interventions dedicated to expansion and renewal of local transport infrastructure, public realm, housing stock etc. The case of Strand East or IKEA city, urban planning project launched by Swedish home-furniture giants, is of the particular interest to this paper.

The idea of the project, said the head of the LandProp (a real estate subsidiary of the Inter Ikea Group) is to bring a very Scandinavian model of urban design and ‘managed living’ to turn the ‘post-industrial wasteland surrounded by goods-shipping canals and highway ramps’ into a flourishing neighbourhood titled Strand East (the, 2012). This IKEA city will boast ‘480,000 square feet of office space, yoga studios, a crèche, a Marriott hotel and shops’ all these on the 26 acres of land acquired by Landprop in 2009 (independent,, 2012). By the plan, 1,200 residential units are very much family size as well as price orientated, cars will be kept off interior streets in the underground parking garage, leaving only bus lanes and accessible pedestrian walkways cutting across neighbourhood, which will also enjoy numerous squares and public spaces. ‘The whole thing is designed to create the sense of felicity and discovery you get when wandering around a historic European neighbourhood’ (, 2012).

anna 1

(, 2012)

anna 2


Although, it seems like a better urban design than most of the centrally planned neighbourhoods that have infected British cities for the last 60 years, the IKEA city does pose some questions as a modern-day urban planning project. Firstly, the IKEA Empire encompasses more than 300 furniture stores in 27 different countries. Swedish brand’s furniture designs are known and appreciated by various consumer groups mainly for three outstanding features: pleasant appearance, simple to assemble and bargain price. When interviewed, developers of the IKEA city repeatedly state:

‘this place will not be an Ikea. There will not be Poäng armchairs adorning the living rooms and Billy bookcases covering the walls. The houses will not require Allen keys to assemble. Meatballs in lingonberry sauce will not be served at the restaurants’.

Nevertheless, all those wanna be’s Strand East’s residents will be offered three possible types of interior design for their new apartment along with vouchers for IKEA stores. In this respect, it can be argued, although IKEA might dominate the way people furnish their homes, it can be problematic when the brand comes to design the whole district. While interior design is private-urban design should remain a strong public component that claims to have an unalienated collective right to make the city (Harvey 2000, 2012; Jacobs 1989; Sorkin 1991; Soja 2000). Also, the concept of a ‘sense of place’ as characteristic of a good city often emerges from an experiential appreciation of the uniqueness and distinctive feeling of a particular place, one connected to history, culture and locality (Hall, 2002) something that even the best creative minds behind IKEA city project can hardly provide.

Secondly, the IKEA city is not only a private urban development project but also an all-rental private neighbourhood, which is run and overseen by a company that will supposedly impose an artificial order of selecting those who gets to become a resident as well as limit and control the rights of the community to adapt the neighbourhood according to their needs. This brings us back to the critic of the utopian urbanism that in Pinder’s (2000) opinion, while opens up possibility of improvement in what is known, simultaneously attacks the dynamic of change to a single outcome. At a larger scale according to Amin (2006), today, place urbanization is labeled with homogenization, referring to ‘the imprint of globalization that duplicates urban experiences in different places.

Thus, while utopic representation remains within dominant values and ideologies it still fails to offer a mode of critique, ‘it takes status of myth or collective fantasy’  (Marin, 1990) and creates a plausible environment for conjoining of technologic creativity, commodity culture and endless capital accumulation (Harvey, 2000). It can be suggested that the IKEA city project, which is by all means a nowadays utopian urbanism might on the first sight constitute a model of a good city. However, it still lacks a vision of urban and social future of East London as those who will practically fill it with meaning can imagine it; it counteracts the cynicism of urban form and attend purely utilitarian or materialistic regime (Liscombe, 2006). Harvey (2000, p.406) describes it as ‘politics of contempt and neglect’ that is moving nowadays planning.

Warehouse Culture. Hackney Wick, Fish Island case.

To the West of the Olympics’ Site is located the area of Hackney Wick, Fish Island. In the beginning of the 20th century HWFI was a hub for diverse industrial activity including food processing, importing and processing of raw materials and engineering works. During the war, part of HWFI suffered severe bomb damage, which led to extensive residential housing clearance and further development as predominantly industrial zone (, 2012). The latter, defines much of HWFI character today with a mix of industrial buildings, ‘ranging from two and three-storey brick warehouses and factories dating from the 19th century, to more recent post-war buildings of up to 6-9 storeys, including factories, mix-use buildings, storage and distribution units’ (FIAAP, Tower Hamlets, 2012). Currently, residential population is very small (approximately 800 people) party due to the industrial character but also because planning policies have restricted residential development except a limited number of live/work blocks. The existing residents are relatively young with 40% aged between 25-49. (FIAAP, Tower Hamlets,2012).

What about HWFI that is of the essence for this particular paper is the radically different mode of development that has brought about seemingly successful urban change in this area. Although, lacking planning in its conventional manifestation and led by a pioneer community of young creative practitioners, local urban living in simple terms is based on ‘recycling’ of already existing structures no longer suitable for modern requirements. Individuals are taking advantage and re-using fragments of former factories and industrial warehouses as living-working spaces designing them exclusively up to their taste, needs and lifestyles. Research undertaken by the London Development Agency (LDA) identified over 600 live/work studios and small businesses across Hackney Wick and Fish Island area; occupiers include designers, media practitioners, artists, galleries and a variety of supporting businesses from printers to financial consultants (FIAAP, Tower Hamlets, 2012). Also, a number of buildings are transformed into multifunctional cultural platforms accommodating church services, community festivals, licensed music events and theatre performances what invites people from the neighbouring areas and from other parts of London into HWFI.

anna 3

(, 2011)

anna 4

(, 2011)

A few years of existence and bottom up growth have gained HWFI district a substantial level of attention within official planning institutions and received practical support from economically powerful development agencies. Thus, in 2010, Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) has published a report identifying that although HWFI is showing a high potential to become a successful creative hub in this far off part of East London its growth is presented as dependent on a set of basic and then more advanced ‘hygiene factors’ ranging from intermediate public realm (connectivity and porosity of the area) to improvements to on going affordability and security of tenure for creative businesses (LTGDC, 2010).

A model of HWFI’s creative neighbourhood was not so much as a goal of urban development (initially at least) has been generated by pluralistic imaginations and practices of its residents. Academics such as Jane Jacobs 1989, Michael Sorkin 1991, Edward Soja 2000 and Leonie Sandercock 2003, supported such alternative interpretation of a Good City, one that can grow out of local climate, custom and culture, one that is discovered instead of imposed condition of civic life. The ability to envision a transformative potential of the physical landscape of HWFI and its future has interrogated the status quo of modern-day urban living and efforts of town planning. The greatest lesson one needs to learn from utopian thought in creating cities of the 21st century, as suggested by a number of academics and this particular paper is the on-going questioning of our assumptions about urban futures.

Philosophy of the possible.

Calvino (1979, cited in Pinder 2002, 232) urged, ’cities like dreams are made of desires and fears’. In fact, the discourse of how the cities are imaged and how these imaginations come about in reality is crucial for understanding how cities are thought, conceived and lived. Hence, what is happening in modern day urbanism according to Harvey (2000), is that much of the creative urban thinking concentrates on how to escape from urban ills and from the so-called conditions of ‘otherness’ in order to protect those with money, whilst the capacity to imagine and conceptualise social transformation and different urban futures is itself thrown in doubt. Jane Jacobs, also castigated planners for attempt to impose an artificial order, as if ‘a city is a recalcitrant child who must be forced to obey those who think they know better’ (cited in Alexious, 2006, 5).

In course of this paper we have looked at the urban narratives of IKEA city and HWFI creative district in dialog. It is clear that both of narratives have a particular utopian dimension to them, although epicentres of analysis vary. Ikea city project offers us a model of a good neighbourhood as it is portrayed and in this case literally pre fabricated by a private development agency. Despite the intentions of developers to include considerations of the significance of history of the area, its local identity, environmental concerns and issues of affordability in the master planning it is done in a fixed way like there is one defined solution to a problem. It can be argued, that IKEA city just as almost any other example of modern urbanism takes form of an utopian degeneration, a project that does not radiate a transformative move but takes the status of a myth, of a collective fantasy (Pinder, 2000). Such projects of spectacular architectural entertainment and fantasy spaces that are ordered secured and controlled, as Harvey (2000, 168) points to in his sharp criticism are substances of ‘developers utopia’.

Therefore, in the times when urban experiences and representations have been colonised by private concerns – progressive utopia, one that has more to do with becoming rather than with achieving and being, is scarcely in demand (Scherpe, 1992). Utopia in this case should be understood as a social project concerned with living together and celebrating difference in the urban landscape, where the agency of the possibility to portray city in a desired way is distributed in a more equal manner among various stockholders inhabiting this city. To put it simple, planning practices should consider modes of social interchange that recognise difference and resist suppression by one other group (Jane Jacob, 1989; Sandercock, 2003; Liscombe, 2004). For Healey (2003, 110) planners should evaluate planning practices according to normative concepts of the just city. Although, it is argued, concepts of the ‘good’ and the ‘just’ are themselves constructed in a dialog of knowledge and power, the processes of articulating values and the manner in which these might become embedded in established discourses and practices of urbanism are important. In addition, process should not be understood merely as an ultimate outcome, but equally have process results.

The case of HWFI’s creative district discussed earlier serves an example of a collective action in attempt of transforming a derelict area into a new functional space through preservation of its existing physical landscape. The interplay of industrial past and the continuation of a creative productionist character of the area today reproduces its historical narrative and by doing so preserves local identity so much important for the sustainability of an urban landscape. Along this lines, when thinking about architecture, urbanization and utopia Yona Friedman (2007,203) stated that city’s architecture is a continues process with no terminal phase where details are of a special importance for the daily life. However one cannot always plan details and that for every domain. ‘We plan too much. Reality is in state of equilibrium.’ In this way, he believes that architecture should not be rooted, as we are incapable of predicting how it is going to be used, its evolution.

The vision of possibility of the industrial ruins points to the anticipatory moment in thinking about conventional urban living of its inhabitants. Such an alternative way of envisioning a model for a good city has trigged a reaction within conventional development agencies; it has attracted their minds in a way what could be done further to help HWFI to thrive into a creative hub of East London. As suggested by Sandercock (2003), working towards more creative and sustaining cities, we need some new models of planning system, which expands the language of planning beyond instrumental rationality and the system world; one that speaks about negotiating, hope, organizing fear, mediating memory and daring to break rules as well as developing the habits of critical and analytical mind.

There is a certain danger in longing for one model of a good city because it will be constrained by the frames of a moment in time and its context. Nevertheless, conceptualizing utopianism as transformative in its intentions one which accepts the contestation and anticipation in the production of space as in need of acknowledgement rather than something to be hidden plays a significant role in the questions about cities and what they might become (Sandercock, 1998, Pinder, 2002).



Visualizing a Walkable City [polis]

polis: Visualizing a Walkable City.

by Eduardo Ares

A public square in Pontevedra, Spain. Source: Turespaña

The city of Pontevedra in northwest Spain has become a leader in walker-friendly urban policy over the past 15 years. In light of its relative anonymity and population of 83,000, one might find it difficult to imagine the traffic congestion that prompted this transformation. However, as the capital of its province, county and municipality, Pontevedra attracted enough automobile commuters each day to overwhelm its antiquated streets.

Instead of razing old buildings and constructing bigger roads, the city council began taking proactive measures to reduce traffic. They widened sidewalks, established a free bike-lending service, installed speed bumps and set a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour throughout the city. They even banned motorized transport in sections of Pontevedra. Walking zones now extend from the historic center to streets and squares in newer neighborhoods. Although the driving ban initially faced resistance, it is now broadly supported and has become an essential part of the city’s identity as an attractive place to live.

Pontevedra’s Metrominuto Map. Source: Pontevedra City Council

To further improve walkability, Pontevedra’s city council produced a map that visualizes the distances and travel times between key places on foot at an average speed of five kilometers per hour. Known as Metrominuto, the map has color-coded lines that resemble those of a subway guide. The pink line from Peregrina Square shows that it takes about 14 minutes to walk from there to the train and bus stations. Free parking areas are marked to encourage visitors to leave their cars outside the city center. According to the map, someone who parks in the free lot near the police station can get to Peregrina Square in less than eight minutes via Santiago Bridge. Metrominuto reminds residents and visitors that many automobile trips can be made in a more convenient, environmentally friendly and healthy way by walking.

A banner listing distances and travel times from the Metrominuto Map. Source: Eduardo Ares

The Metrominuto initiative recently won an award from Intermodes, the organizers of an international transport convention for the European Congress, who explained: “Metrominuto is an idea that can be easily transposed in cities that have 80,000 inhabitants (or less), of which there are more in Europe than there are very large conurbations.” Pontevedra’s urban restructuring program has also earned accolades from the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities and the Spanish Directorate General of Traffic.

Pontevedra’s walker-oriented initiatives raise questions as to how they came into being and how they’ve influenced living conditions in the city. Researching these questions should tell us whether Intermodes’ recommendation is warranted, offering insights into the potential for similar initiatives in other cities around the world.

Eduardo Ares is a doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain.

40 maps that explain the world

40 maps that explain the world

A quite useful tool to understand the international development and history through maps. Feel free to question the information.

Via Washington Post

Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. So when we saw a post sweeping the Web titled “40 maps they didn’t teach you in school,” one of which happens to be a WorldViews original, I thought we might be able to contribute our own collection. Some of these are pretty nerdy, but I think they’re no less fascinating and easily understandable. A majority are original to this blog (see our full maps coverage here), with others from a variety of sources. I’ve included a link for further reading on close to every one.

1. A political map of the world, circa 200 A.D.

Click to enlarge. (Imgur)

Click to enlarge. (Imgur)

What’s more amazing: how much things have changed over the last 1,800 years, a major chunk of the civilizational history of humanity, or how many of this map’s divisions are still with us today?

2. Where people are the most and least welcoming to foreigners

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: World Economic Forum. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

This might be useful in planning your next vacation, although there are some big surprises in the results.

3. The world’s major writing systems

Click to enlarge. (Wikimedia Commons)

Click to enlarge. (Wikimedia Commons)

This map is a reminder that the world’s divisions and commonalities go much deeper than national borders. It also helps to tell the stories of a few major events that still shape the globe, the echoes of which you can see in almost every map on this page:European colonialism, the Arabic-speaking Islamic conquests of the 7th century, the Russian expansions of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the (still-ongoing!) unifications of India and China.

4. The best and worst places to be born

Click to enlarge. Data source: Economist intelligence unit. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Economist intelligence unit. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Here’s how they decided which countries are best to born in and what this map tells us about the world.

5. World map of major religions

Click to enlarge (Pew)

Click to enlarge (Pew)

Read here about how Christianity came to dominate so much of the globe and what that means today. Read below for more on the Islamic world.

6. The countries where people are the most and least emotional

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

People in yellow countries are the least likely to report having emotional experiences of any kind, positive or negative. Purple countries are where people report experiencing the most feelings. If you’re surprised to see that the United States is among the world’s most emotional countries (but far from No. 1) or want to learn why some regions are so unemotional, you can read all about it here.

7. A European missionary’s map of Africa, circa 1908

Click to enlarge (David Rumsey's historic map collection)

Click to enlarge (David Rumsey’s historic map collection)

I have this one hanging over my desk in part because of its appeal as a historic document (the borders are tellingly rough) but also as a reminder of the colonial legacy in Africa, which European powers divided up a century ago with little respect for how actual Africans wanted to be grouped. Those arbitrary borders are still with us today, in part because African leaders agreed not to dispute them when they won independence. The borders contribute significantly to conflict and unrest on the continent because there are so many diverse communities forced together.

8. Where people are the most and least racially tolerant

Click to enlarge. Data source: World Values Survey (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: World Values Survey (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

People in blue countries are more likely to say that they would be OK with living next door to someone of a different race. People in red countries are less likely. The mapsuggests some big and potentially surprising lessons for how race is treated around the world. But it’s an imperfect (and controversial) metric, so do read these five insights from an ethnic conflict specialist on the map and what it tells us.

9. The world’s most and least ethnically diverse countries

Click to enlarge. Data source: Harvard Institute for Economic Research (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Harvard Institute for Economic Research (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

This shows the world’s most diverse countries, its most homogenous and, if you look closely, a whole lot more.

10. Where people feel the most and least loved

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Red countries are where people feel the most loved; blue countries are where they feel the least loved. Here’s the story behind those sadder, bluer spots on the map.

11. A Russian professor thinks the U.S. will break up into these four countries

(Laris Karklis/Washington Post)

(Laris Karklis/Washington Post)

Professor Igor Panarin became a minor celebrity in Russia when he first unveiled his grim prediction for the future of the United States, which was widely covered by Russian state media and treated as credible. Panarin said the United States would break apart under internal strain and form four different countries, with only one wholly independent while the others fell under foreign influence or control. I’ve included it both for a taste of how the United States is sometimes perceived abroad and to give American readers a sense for what it can feel like to have the outside world get your country so wildly wrong.

12. Who loves and hates America

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

People in blue countries are more likely to view the United States favorably; people in red countries are more likely to view it unfavorably. The map has some big implications for America’s role in the world.

13. How the U.S. and China compare on global popularity

Blue countries view the U.S. more favorably than they do China; red countries are the reverse. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/The Washington Post)

Blue countries view the U.S. more favorably than they do China; red countries are the reverse. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/The Washington Post)

This map is actually mostly good news for the United States. Here’s why.

14. China’s disastrous passport

My annotation of a photo of China's new passport. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

My annotation of a photo of China’s new passport. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Sometimes maps can spark geopolitical events rather than just reflecting them, as China did when it issued new passports containing this map. Why the controversy? The areas I’ve highlighted in red are marked as Chinese on the map but actually are in dispute or are administered by other countries. This did not go over well.

15. Gay rights around the world

Click to enlarge (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click here for four big takeaways from this map.

16. Where people are the most and least tolerant of homosexuality

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

What this has to do with gay rights.

17. Languages and dialects of the Middle East and Central Asia

Click to enlarge. Each color represents a language group, with shades for each dialect. (The Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University)

Click to enlarge. Each color represents a language group, with shades for each dialect. (The Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University)

The first thing this map shows you is the remarkable diversity in one of the world’s oldest and most storied regions, from Iraq in the West all the way to China in the East and Russia in the North. There are a hundred other stories embedded in here: the expansion of Iran beyond just Persian-speaking peoples, the fracturing of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the really stunning diversity packed into the Caucasus, which includes the troubled Russian regions of Chechnya and Dagestan.

18. Where people smoke the most (and least) cigarettes per person

Annual per capita cigarette consumption rates. Data sources: World Lung Foundation and American Cancer Society. (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Annual per capita cigarette consumption rates. Data sources: World Lung Foundation and American Cancer Society. (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Read more here about Russia’s cigarette problem, which costs the country an estimated $48 billion every year, and about the other smoking trends seen in the map.

19. Economic inequality around the world

Higher gini coefficient scores indicate higher economic inequality. (Wikimedia Commons)

Higher gini coefficient scores indicate higher economic inequality. (Wikimedia Commons)

This map shows each country’s gini coefficient, which measures economic inequality. The red countries are the most unequal under the metric, and the green countries are the closest to nationwide economic equality. More here.

20. How the U.S. compares to the world on economic inequality

Click to enlarge. Blue countries are more equal than the U.S., red countries are more unequal. (Max Fisher)

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher)

Blue countries are more equal than the U.S., red countries are less equal. This map gives you a sense of just how severe economic inequality is in the United States; much higher than in any other developed country, and most developing countries as well.

21. Global crop yields are stagnating

One of four maps showing projected changes in major crop yields. (University of Michigan)

One of four maps showing projected changes in major crop yields. (University of Minnesota)

A University of Minnesota study recently published in the journal Nature found that a significant share of the world’s crop-growing regions are seeing growth stagnate, slow or even collapse. They published three other maps; see the others and why they think it’s so important to “sound the alert” here.

22. The best and worst countries to be a mother

Click to enlarge. Data source: Save the Children. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Save the Children. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

A international NGO designed a complex formula to indicate which countries are better or worse for mothers. Click here to see what their formula measures and to read about the study’s implications for mothers worldwide.

23. How al-Qaeda is changing

(The Washington Post)

(The Washington Post)

This map of core al-Qaeda and its affiliates tells the story of its recent decline, but it also reminds us of the group’s ability to continue branching out.

24. More than half of humanity lives inside this circle



It’s even more amazing when you see the numbers broken down.

25. Legal systems of the world

Legal systems of the world. Click to enlarge. (Wikimedia Commons)

Click to enlarge. (Wikimedia Commons)

One reason I find this map fascinating is it shows how British colonialism took the English “common law” legal system — once nearly unique in the world — and has now spread it across every continent. You can also see that religious law is unique to Islamic countries (although it didn’t use to be) and that customary law, once near-global, is now almost extinct.

26. How far Hamas’s rockets can reach into Israel

This helps drive home why Israel is so concerned about Hamas, the Gaza-based Islamist militant group, and in particular about its access to Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets. Those are the ones that can reach into the light-yellow region.

27. North Korea’s missile range

(Voice of America)

(Voice of America)

North Korea makes its missile program sound like a terrifying and immediate threat to the United States, but, as this map demonstrates, that rhetoric far exceeds actual capability.

28. Child poverty in the developed world

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNICEF. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNICEF. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

The United States ranks 34th out of the developed world’s 35 countries by child poverty rates, above only Romania. The United States doesn’t do much better on overall child well-being.

29. The cancer villages of China

Locations of communities where cancer rates have spiked recently. (Global Times via Weibo)

Locations of communities where cancer rates have spiked recently. (Global Times via Weibo)

China’s problem with “cancer villages,” or communities where cancer rates are spiking, thought to be due to rapidly worsening pollution, have become such a big problem that even Communist Party-run outlet Global Times felt compelled to share this map on Chinese social media.

30. What Europeans think about the European Union

Data source: Eurobarometer. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Data source: Eurobarometer. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Europe’s economic slump is no secret, but how people within the European Union feel about their big collective experiment can very widely. This map is a pretty telling indication of whom the E.U. has helped, whom it has hurt and who think they shouldn’t really count as European (read: the United Kingdom).

31. Meet the world’s 26 remaining monarchies

(Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey/Washington Post)

(Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey/Washington Post)

There are barely two dozen left, and only 11 of them are really still in charge, but they’ve all got a story to tell. Read a mini-bio of each one here.

32. The diversity of the Levant

Click to enlarge. Each color represents a language group, with shades for each dialect. (<a href=

This color-coded map shows the different ethnic groups of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. There’s an awful lot of history packed into this corner of the world — and maybe some of the deepest ethnic and religious animosities anywhere in the world.

33. The nuclear powers, after the Cold War

Click to enlarge. (International Law and Policy Institute)

Click to enlarge. (International Law and Policy Institute)

The Cold War may have ended, but its thousands of nuclear warheads are still around — and often still divided along the same lines. This map shows in blue the Russian “umbrella states,” which are formally under the protection of Russian nuclear weapons, and in orange the “umbrella states” protected by the U.S./NATO. The five other nuclear powers — Israel, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea — are in gray.

34. How people think their economies are doing

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Gallup (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

People in red countries are pessimistic about their country’s economy; people in blue countries are more optimistic. With a handful of exceptions (cough cough, China), economists seem to agree.

35. A partial map of geopolitical anomalies


Each of these red markers cheekily indicates some unusual or unique phenomenon — for example, Abkhazia, the “barely recognized puppet state” just between Russia and Georgia. (Read more on Abkhazia and other not-yet-real countries here.) My favorite may be the various overseas French territories, such as French Guyana, that are simply and accurately labeled “France.”

36. Where the atheists live

Click to enlarge. Data source: WIN/Gallup International poll. (Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: WIN/Gallup International poll. (Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey/Washington Post)

Plenty of godlessness in China, Japan and a few European countries, perhaps unsurprisingly. But there are lot more atheists in places like Saudi Arabia than you might think, despite the fact that it’s considered a serious crime.

37. What the Muslim world believes, part 1: democracy

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

The first of three maps from a comprehensive study on attitudes and views in the Muslim world (full breakdown of the report here) shows that most Muslims broadly support democracy, with a few telling exceptions.

38. What the Muslim world believes, part 2: religious conflict

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Significant shares of just about every large Muslim population worry about religious conflict (there is a widespread view in many Muslim-majority countries that the religion is under siege from the outside world). That share is more than half in four countries: Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Niger.

39. What the Muslim world believes, part 3: honor killings

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Pew. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Red indicates countries where most surveyed Muslims believe that “honor killings” — the practice of killing someone, typically a member of your own family, for having sex out of wedlock — are sometimes justified. Blue indicates countries where most surveyed Muslims believe it is never justified.

40. The world as seen from space, over a 12-month time-lapse

This NASA moving image, recorded by satellite over a full year as part of their Blue Marble Project, shows the ebb and flow of the seasons and vegetation. Both are absolutely crucial factors in every facet of human existence — so crucial we barely even think about them. It’s also a reminder that the Earth is, for all its political and social and religious divisions, still unified by the natural phenomena that make everything else possible.

Governmental role in reconstruction: A Comparison of post-earthquake in 1985 and 2010 in Chile

by Francisco Vergara


The context is a study of government actions in response to catastrophic earthquakes, particularly referring to reconstruction plans. The approach is based on a comparison between two seismic events in Chile: the first was on March 3rd,1985 during the dictatorship of the General Augusto Pinochet, and the second was on February 27th, 2010 during the last week of Michelle Bachelet’s government at the beginning of Sebastián Piñera’s administration. The aim is the role of the government as a manager of the postdisaster recovery process, focusing on the reconstruction strategies and policies adopted, primarily during the first year after the catastrophe, and interpret which are the political implications of these plans.

This essay tries to clarify if Chilean government has a policy for post disaster, or if the reaction is just in the hands of the current administration, which deals with the catastrophe in their own way. Furthermore, the study of these two cases, which occurred 25 years apart under two different governments with similar political goals, allows for critical analysis about the readiness of the state in order to respond effectively in case of an earthquake.

Chile is the most seismic country in the world (ECLAC, 2010) due mainly to its location along the “ring of fire” in the Pacific Ocean, an area of intense volcanic and earthquake activity. Every day of the year there is a seism topping 4.0 on the Richter scale in some place within Chile. The country is located on the boundary of the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. Consequently, there have been 13 earthquakes since 1971 with magnitude greater than 7.0 on the Richter scale, which qualifies as mega-seismic events. This phenomenon allows for interesting research to be conducted of the actions that the Chilean government has implemented in order to deal with this seismic condition.

It is interesting to examine how a neoliberal country in the global south faces these events. Since 1983, Chile uses the market to deal with the necessities of people, including social housing and essential infrastructure (MAYOL, A., 2012). The state shifted from being a developer of public buildings and social housing, to being a facilitator of projects to the private sector, detaching from its responsibilities a guarantee of quality. This change leads to an interesting analysis of the government role in dealing with catastrophic events. The predominance of the market as a producer of built environment was tested with these earthquakes. The capacity to respond and particularly the role of the government in the management of the private sector responsibility before a national crisis like a mega seismic event is of importance and critical to postdisaster policies.

This paper looks at this role through the scope of the two disasters and then reflects on how the Chilean government should deal with earthquakes in the future, in the view of preparation of fast and efficient response to catastrophes. This paper is not looking to analyse the specificity of each decision from each administration after the earthquakes, or criticise the technicality of the plans; the idea is a critical perspective about the attitude assumed and strategic actions developed by each government with similar contexts.

Facts and context about the earthquakes

The earthquake of March 3rd, 1985 had a magnitude of 7.8 Mw according to the Seismological Service of Chile. The epicentre was located on the coast approximately 20 km west of the town of Algarrobo. The quake lasted about 2 minutes. The regions most severely affected by the earthquake were O’higgins, Valparaiso, and the Metropolitan area of Santiago, covering a surface of 22.500 km2. According to Consolidate Report No. 1 dated September 2009, issued by the National Office of Emergencies (ONEMI), the death toll stands at 177. This report states that 142,498 houses were severely damaged and 75,724 destroyed. The loss in infrastructure was valued at about US$1.639 millions of dollars (ONEMI, 2009).

The earthquake of February 27th 2010 had a magnitude of 8.8 Mw according to the United States Geological Service. The epicentre was located on the coast, nearly 8 km to the west of Curanipe. This earthquake lasted about 160 seconds. The regions most severely affected by the earthquake were O’higgins, Valparaiso, the Metropolitan area of Santiago, Maule, Concepcion and the Araucanía, distributed across 98.100 km2. The Situation Report No. 6 dated March 2010, issued by the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), put the death toll at 507 with about 370,000 houses severely damaged, many of which were destroyed (ECLAC, 2010). The amount of loss in infrastructure was about US$24 billion. Both quakes were long in time length, and with a longer frequency time of the undulant movement, the destruction of built structures without proper design becomes hard to prevent.

Other relevant factors are the quality of the new buildings. Many damaged ones were built after than Directive 433 of 1966, which regulates construction to ensure quakes resistance up to the magnitude of 9.5 Richter. In addition, the neoliberalization of the production of infrastructure and buildings reduced the capacity of the government to supervise and ensure the accomplishment of that directive. This situation meant that several new buildings were not up to code and were also damaged during both earthquakes.

The media reaction permits one to understand the impact of these events in the life of the Chileans, particularly the central zone. In a centralized country like Chile, if some hazard strikes Santiago, the rest of the country starts to fail. The press notes of each event related scenarios of desolation and crisis, reflecting on the fragility of life in a country used to be hit by this type of undesired situations. In some way, that fragility expressed by the press should be discussed with the government strength and readiness. That is the moment where people need their leaders to demonstrate their integrity and strength.

In the media, Pinochet’s government talked about promises of reconstruction without an institutional framework or even a plan to support the speeches. He created ‘aldeas’ (small villages) with temporary shelters and slowly made the earthquake topic disappear from the media, in order to turn back to calm and resume the government. In contrast, the Piñera’s administration and the way how they dealt with the reconstruction appears almost every day in the media. The problem is that many of that information comes from official sources, which have a distortion of the reality of the people whose houses were destroyed. Therefore, what appears in the media have no direct relation with the life of the people in shelters, producing confusion and undermining the credibility of the government.

Titular de El Mercurio Sismo Grado 8 Muerte y Destruccion

Image 1: The main newspaper of Chile the day after the earthquake of 1985, in this cover page entitled: Death and Destruction. (FORAL, W., 2010)

LA tercera terremoto y tsunami enlutan a Chile en el Bicentenario

Image 2: The newspaper of Chile 2010 entitled in: Earthquake and Tsunami put in mourning Chile on the bicentenary year (FORAL, W., 2010)

Government reaction after the tragedy

It is true that an earthquake is a huge tragedy for a country, and ensuring the welfare of the victims suffering effects of the tragedies is necessary for the state. The institutions are obliged to manage this chaotic scenario, and must prove how prepared they are to act.

“The reconstructions are opportunities for institutional learning” (VALENZUELA, N., 2012). In this line, the role of the government to respond efficiently to the problems of the society faces an interesting test how to put into practice their post-disaster strategies. Considering that Chile is the most seismic country in the world, one would hope that the state has a pertinent action plan.

About opportunities to encourage the presence of the government with the people, there are examples of evident contradiction. “Pinochet ignored the significant of the damages caused by the seism of 1985, gave scarce help to affected and did not stimulate research about the causes that triggered the fail or total collapse of the structures” (LAWNER, M., 2011).

The truth is that, in 1985, the application of the seismic norm for the building was in the hands of the private actors, and not regulated by the government (Ley General de Urbanismo y Construcciones, 2012). That was the cause why several buildings built in the last 2 years collapsed during the quake. Even worse, the government did not analyse the origin of the problem. It was a group of scholars at the engineering Department of the Universidad de Chile who critically and technically analysed the causes and then upgraded the Directive 433, about seismic resistance structures, from their own initiative.

Compared to the weak reaction of Pinochet in 1985, the recently elected president Sebastian Piñera, understood the situation of the earthquake of 2010 as a highly valuable opportunity to show the capacity of his new government. With a political team formed by several collaborators of Pinochet in the 80s, it seems they learned from their experience in 1985. Under the promise of the reconstruction completion by 2014, they began to create public-private alliances to accelerate the process of temporary shelter delivery within the first 3 months after the disaster, and then the reconstruction of definitive houses within the next 4 years.

Unexpectedly, however, the popularity of Piñera decreased progressively during his first two years of government as well as his credibility. The promise of government excellence in its ability to finish the reconstruction in four years (as Piñera declared in public (CHARPENTIER, D., 2010)) raised the expectations of the people, which then in turn fell into restlessness because the definitive houses in many cases were just a promised and not delivered.

One point of comparison that reveals the way to proceed is the financial strategy of recovery plans. The Pinochet government based the 70% of the total invested funding of the reconstruction process on international donations with just 12% of government contribution (ONEMI, 2009). The reconstruction process in Piñera’s administration is funding 100% with government fiscal contribution (MINISTERIO DE DESARROLLO Y PROTECCION SOCIAL, 2010).

The principal difference in the financing decisions between one administration and the other is that Pinochet did not change any law. Even he did not created particular economic tools to deal with the reconstruction. Piñera, however, changed the tax rates on different products and activities, modified the Copper Reserved Law to get money from the mining exploitation, and created the Reconstruction Fund to receive donations and manage the costs of reconstruction.






USD 34.000.000


12 %

USD 50.000.000

Chilean Companies

18 %

USD 200.000.000

International Donations

70 %


USD 19.000.0000.000


100 %

Table 1: Funds to finance the reconstruction process. Based on ONEMI, 2009 and MINISTERIO DE DESARROLLO Y PROTECCION SOCIAL, 2010.

The aim of this essay is not to analyse the financial strategy of each government, but these are demonstrations of completely different post-disaster policies. They also indicate the contradicting roles in responsibility assumed by the different governments of Pinochet and Piñera. However, in both cases these strategies were temporary.

Perhaps the widest difference between one process and the other is in the planning of the post-disaster recovery. This topic is hard to compare because Piñera’s administration has an extensive plan of reconstruction addressing many issues to resolve, from technical analysis of the problems to a reformulation of the regulatory plans for each city. On the other hand, Pinochet’s administration only produced a list of priorities and aims without even a mention about the issues of housing. This issue was in private actors hands, and the government did not get involved in it, taking distance from the problem.

However, a common lack among the two processes of reconstruction, is that none considered the creation of a technical body able to coordinate different ministries in case of emergencies to replace the weak and questioned ONEMI (National Emergency Office). There is a lack of the institutional frameworks in Chile, considering the number of hazards that occur each year. Therefore, it is necessary to have an institutional mechanism of response.

Effects and consequences

With the earthquake of 1985, for the first time since 1929, several new buildings were destroyed. The state control over the building processes was abolished to facilitate the investment of private actors in the city. Consequently, the application of Directive 433 was just a criterion, which not all builders were considering. This lack of control was evident after the seismic event.

On the contrary, in the earthquake of 2010 most of the newer buildings had a better reaction, avoiding collapse saving many lives. Even, the collapse of the Alto Rio building in Concepción, cost the life of 8 people despite being full of families, resting that early Saturday morning.


Image 3: Alto Rio Building.

Before the earthquake of 2010 and after. (HUALCHASQUI, 2010)

Because Pinochet’s administration ignoring the impact of the earthquake, offering scarce help and assistance to victims, the people started to create organizations. These were far from the government and in many cases were hidden from the public institutions. This process was assisted by different NGOs whose aims were related to human rights. After years, and with the necessity of shelter, the Chileans were starting to reorganize socially in order to achieve their goals. Probably, the seed of the dictatorship’s defeat in 1988’s plebiscite was planted from the indifference of the government in the face of the people’s needs in crisis times. In particular, due to the lack of post-disaster relief, this was unexpected considering a military administration.

In this topic, the reaction of Piñera’s administration was completely different. It is noteworthy though that he had an advantage: the earthquake occurred 6 days before he assumed the presidency, which was a proper time to get to the head of the country with a contingency plan. The public-private alliance to manage the reconstruction and accelerate the arrival of help to people was fundamental. Just in few days, they proposed a Reconstruction Plan with short, middle and long-term measures. The reaction was quick, and due to chaos in the streets of the central cities of the country the plan received widespread political and social support.

Nevertheless, Piñera’s plan was still a reaction instead a policy of post-disaster actions. The measures in the matter of reconstruction in Chile depend on the current administration and not on a law or an established policy. It is not wrong to say that the reconstruction in Chile is the product of improvisation and the skills of each administration.

Data on the relationship between megaseism events, and political administrations, show that in the 20th century every time one of these destructive events occurred, the current political alliance in charge of the presidency lost the next election. The only exception was with the earthquake of Chillan in 1939, when Chilean president Pedro Aguirre Cerda created institutional changes in order to face the problem almost immediately after the earthquake. This made the people thinks that the government was prepared to handle a catastrophe (LAGOS, R., 2011). For this occasion, even the famous architect, Le Corbusier, offered a reconstruction plan to Chillan, which at the end was declined by the Aguirre Cerda’s administration, preferring a more local strategy (MIRANDA, R., 2010).

If the historical pattern continues along this tendency, it is logical to think on the possibility of a second period of administration headed by the right-wing parties close to Piñera’s government. This considering that despite some problems, mistakes and media confusion; the reconstruction has been correct within an improvisational framework, which the Chilean institutional system offers.


After reviewing the government reactions and decisions in the last two earthquakes in the central zone of Chile, there are some observations and findings about the processes of reconstruction useful in discussing possible policies and institutional frameworks.

Seems to be evident that the role of the Chilean government in the management of disasters is fundamental. This concern should be institutionalized through an agency with the political and technical power to handle disasters. That means that this institution must be able to make management calls and drive reactions whether to tsunamis, volcanic activity, floods, drought, quakes, etc. The ONEMI has shown evident incapacity to address solutions and always depends on the other ministries to make decisions. Nowadays this is just an informational bureau about the situations instead of planning resilient cities.

Furthermore, the government reaction should not depend of the current administration. The decisions and actions must be driven by technical knowledge and not by political convenience. The presence of a procedure to manage disasters and post-disaster situations is urgent. Improvisation should not be allowed in the most seismic country in the world.

The deregulation of the building processes, particularly referring to the private realm should be reviewed and improved. It should not be a possibility that the application of the structural norms is just in hands of the private sector and it is controlled by the same private sector. One of the only ways to lower the fatalities in cases of earthquakes to zero is by increasing the control measures in planning, designing and building, and developing research supported with government funds, in order to avoid biased processes of product-promotion or structural techniques. In a highly seismic country like Chile, the role of the planners, urban designers, architects, and structural engineers is fundamental in order to save lives.

It is clear that the technical skill of the government has been improved since 1985. At the end of this essay, the analysis of both cases is clear and it is demonstrated the incapacity of Pinochet’s government to deal with the crisis. On the other hand, after 25 years, the responses and post-disasters plans are still dependant on the current administration. There is no post-disaster policy. When a natural disaster occurs, the destiny of Chileans is in hands of the ability of each President to make decisions and act properly.

To summarize, the idea of reconstruction as opportunities for institutional learning must be looked also as opportunities to prove institutional effectiveness and readiness. If the political world and governments continue experimenting with people’s lives in order to learn how to react, improvising creative and quick solutions instead of depending on a qualified technical institution, with power to rule decisions in crisis moments, the only consequence of that will be an eternal process of post-disaster institutional chaos, instead a proper reaction.