The introduction of coal mining in the 1940’s transformed the landscape and economy of As Pontes, Spain. Industrialisation created successive waves of economic and population booms, but when the mining slowed in the 1990s, the region experienced economic depression. Real and perceived social divisions and environmental abuses on the part of the mining company remained entrenched in people’s memories. This paper provides an overview of the factors that likely affected community acceptance of the new pit lake in As Pontes, Spain. Pit lakes are often attractive closure options for companies, and community opinion of pit lakes can influence pit end use. Community perceptions of the pit lake before, during, and after filling were assessed using case studies, interviews, and focus groups, and by tracking news events and analysing internet forums. The results broadly indicated high community acceptance of the pit lake by people residing in the town. However, interviews revealed that acceptance of the pit lake was influenced by previous experiences with the mining company; company employees and local politicians were more likely to be positive about the benefits of the lake, whereas those not directly affiliated with the lake (long-term residents, remote villagers, school teachers) were more likely to have a negative view of it. Thus, technical success is not the only factor that influences community acceptance of pit lakes and company closure plans. Unresolved social issues can also influence the way certain people perceive the new landscape, regardless of ecological and aesthetic impacts.
I just watched a documentary on Vajont dam disaster in National Geografhics. It was said that locals knew before the disaster that the mountain has suffered landslides in the past. Actually, the mountain was called “the walking mountain”. Nevertheless, the dam was build, in a context of postwar and needs of energy to fuel the economic growth experienced in the country between 1950 and 1960. A few lesson in relation to risk management and communication, non-knowledge and the role of social science in engineering projects (see the role of those specialized in collecting and understanding narratives and local stories): A socially robust construction process, i.e. the involvement of locals in the construction, would have gain relevant information that was unknown by scientists. Information that was present in the collective memory of the town. Hence, locals could have taken part in the knowledge production. Secondly, engineers involved in the construction knew that the the land had been sliding gradually throughout the two months before the disaster. They simply did not count with such a huge tsunami due to wrong estimation. They even knew that the landslide was going to take place sooner or later. Even though, they did not inform locals about this fact. Finally, the wave overpass the dam in 200 meters and destroy the whole valley. This event reminds that science faces, in many occasions, gaps of knowledge or the so called non-knowledge. As in this occasion, policymakers and scientist frequently communicate that decisions have to be based on reliable scientific knowledge and that the acknowledgement of uncertainties would “undermine the public´s confidence in scientific results” (Gross, 2010, p.2)
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/76140299″>Vajont Dam Disaster</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/framepool”>Framepool</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Just read this article and found so interesting ideas on how urban design impact society and what can be done to avoid increasing inequality. Here I just noted some additional thoughts. I am also thinking of how does it work in a wider scale, for instance, how regional infraestructures reinforce certain inequalities. The same with regard to environmental restoration projects.
Bearing how people socially construct space in the urban planning process:
“There is a need to redesign the designers, and to give them the tools and competencies to work within social constructs and spatial contexts that they are meant to serve. Designers spend much of their academic and professional training to build the spatial, technical, communication, and critical-thinking skills that are needed to do the difficult work of transforming spaces and places. They use their skills, often with good intentions and ‘best practices,’ toward results that may not align with what is needed or wanted in a given context.
Public space is something more than a good design, it is also about having social meaning
“Public spaces alone will not create the vitality and empathy we seek in and from our cities. Universally designing for everyone can create homogenized, soulless places that have all people in mind but have meaning or use for no one.”
Not only interdisciplinarity is needed in urban design but also public and socially diverse participation
“Projects in the public realm need to be informed not only from more disciplines but from more kinds of people. Artists, misfits, outsiders, elders, immigrants, people of color, and women have been leading community development efforts in unconventional ways, partly because they have not been invited to the table and also because their varied lived experiences offers something more or counter to the standard advanced for our civic commons, parks, plazas, and other urban public assets.
“The space between who is considered an expert and who is typically on the margins of conversations about public space needs to be collapsed. If that happens I think cities will feel, function, and be designed with multiple points of view, engendering spaces that promote social mixing and most importantly social equity.
Places to reinforce social capital, to make people come together to have open conversations
“For example, there are so many more private pools than there are public pools. There’s also the inability for us to maintain branch libraries, which are really community centers for a lot of neighborhoods. We need places that people come together to have open conversation about current issues. Immigrant communities are interesting to look at because this welcome-unwelcome feeling is very inherent to their experience in their city. It has nothing to do with design, necessarily, but design can reinforce that invitation.”
Heuersdorf was a village in the Leipzig lowlands, Saxony, Germany. The area of the village belongs to the city of Leipzig since 2004. After a long but ultimately futile resistance of the inhabitants since 1935 the village was evacuated and devastated. See bellow the description, taken from www.heuersdorf.de, illustrates the struggle:
The villagers were forced to accept financial assistance offered by MIBRAG to move from Heuersdorf, since they did not have the monetary resources for resisting the evacuation by legal means. For many years, younger adults refused such enticements to leave their homeland. They were raising families and wanted to preserve the village and its community values. However, any further refusal to give up their homes would now lead to forced eviction and unendurable financial losses. Contrary to the declared intention of the state government of Saxony to keep the village community intact, people from Heuersdorf have been resettled at more than a dozen different locations. The singular interest of MIBRAG over the years was directed at coercing individual families out of the village, eroding human bonds and heightening the insecurity of those inhabitants remaining
In 2007 the regional legislature approved plans to dig up the remaining town to get at some 50 million tons of lignite, or brown coal, to supply a nearby power station. Village authorities fought the plan for years but lost their appeal in Germany’s Constitutional Court in 2005. Most of Heuersdorf’s 320 residents were resettled, most of them farmers and/or retirees. In addition to individual compensation, one important fact deserve to be remarked. An important element of the local cultural heritage was also relocated: a 700-year-old Romanesque-style stone church. As part of the negotiations, the Mibrag mining company spent $4.2 million to move the church from their original location in Heuersdorf to the near town of Borna.
This operation represents a good example of engineering masterpiece, but also of cultural heritage conservation. It is also an example of how social cohesion is linked to such heritage. Any threat to this heritage is, therefore, a threat to the community itself:
Die große Reise einer kleinen Kirche; The long journey of a little church” (2007). Leipziger Universitätsverlag. Leipzig.
A Holy Journey: Church Moved to Make Way for Coal Mine. (2007, October 24). Spiegel. Retrieved August 24, 2015, from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/a-holy-journey-church-moved-to-make-way-for-coal-mine-a-513286.html
Conversation with Prof. Dr. Sigrun Kabisch, Head of the Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung (UFZ).
Heuersdorf. Geschichte und Abschied eines mitteldeutschen Dorfes. Pro Leipzig Verlag, Leipzig 2009, ISBN 978-3-936508-36-9