A week of thinking about how we live: from the skyscrapers of Kuwait, to green housing in Guatemala to the world's slums

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It has been a busy week at the Payson Center. We began the week with two outstanding lectures. The first, entitled Losing and Restoring a Right to the City: Kuwait's Urban Development Between 1950 and 2014 was delivered by Dr. Farah Al-Nakib, Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Center for Gulf Studies at the American University of Kuwait. Dr. Al-Nakib gave a probing analysis of the effects of socio-spatial segregation in Kuwait City over the past decades, reminding us of the many aspects of development practice. That is, she focused our attention on the fact that development is not merely a matter of economic change, but involves questions of planning and inclusive infrastructure development.

The next day we had another spectacular and thought-provoking presentation. This one, entitled, Social Equity Matters, and Greener Houses Can Help: A Story from Guatemala and co-sponsored with the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research and the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Program, was given by Tono Aguilar. Tono, a Guatemalan social entrepreneur educated at Harvard in astrophysics, is becoming something of a friend of Payson. Two years ago he was here to speak about his first social entrepreneurial venture, the LED solar electricity provider Questsol — now a successful start up in his home country. Tono is now taking Quetsol’s premise — to offer sustainable, green technologies at a price equal to or lower than the existing technologies to people at the base of the economic pyramid — to a new level. His new venture, which he presented on Tuesday, is called CASSA. In Spanish, the name stands for “self-sufficient construction incorporated” — and of course plays on the Spanish word for house (with a single “s”.) CASSA is dedicated to providing sustainable, low-cost housing that provides green energy and services like potable water and sewage treatment to those at the base of the pyramid. It is a terrifically ambitious and exciting project and will soon start a crowd-funding effort to draw international attention. Tono is clearly on the next wave of sustainable construction for the poor and we wish him all the best.

For my part, I spent much of the week lecturing at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville. On Thursday, I lectured at UTK’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy (named in honor of the longtime Tennessee US Senator) on “Our Bandit Future: Slums, Shantytowns and Climate Change”, where I argued that climate change adaptation planning must find a way to incorporate the voice of the world’s poor — a majority of whom now lively in urbanized areas. It was a robust and interesting discussion.

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