Design for Urban Disaster

With unprecedented rates of urban growth, especially in Africa and Asia, people in towns and cities are more vulnerable to natural disasters than ever before.

Combining lectures, case studies, group work and simulation, this course explores the theory and practice of crafting and implementing humanitarian approaches that build resilience to natural disasters affecting urban areas and improve response. With a focus on poorer countries, the course examines creative strategies and techniques that improve the ability of urban populations to withstand and recover from disasters, and the role of the urban disaster professional.

This course therefore asks the question, ‘what makes for an effective urban practitioner?’ given the fast evolving field of urban disaster prevention and response.

The course is in two parts. Part one, challenges and assumptions (weeks 1-5) reviews and critiques current practice in humanitarian response and prevention. It sets the scene by examining the new ‘gamechanger’ of rapid urban growth, which increases the vulnerability of poorer people such as squatters and slum dwellers. Week two asks ‘whose reality counts?’ and presents an approach to people-centred understandings in designing interventions. Weeks three and four explore theories and models used within humanitarian aid, including the currently popular approach of resilience, while week five examines current thinking in governance.

Part two, tools and approaches (weeks 7-13) presents, examines and critiques key tools used in humanitarian aid, including: participatory assessment techniques; action planning and logical framework (logframe) analysis. New thinking in social media and cash based approaches is explored, and key themes examined include accountability (who do you design for?) and evaluation (how do you know you’ve done a good job?).

Between parts one and two, in week six, students will engage in a role play simulation of an urban disaster, where the aim is to explore the roles of key decision makers.

Coursework will include a group project wherein students design an urban disaster intervention, which may be relating to prevention or response, or both. The intervention will use some ort all of the design tools introduced in part two of the course. Presentations will take place in the final week.