Viewing entries tagged
new war

Formulations of Post-Conflict Reconstruction Beyond and Within

Aerial Image of MIT during WWII from Lamelson Center for Invention and Innovation
The world will always have war and poverty. There is also no moral justification for the nature of war or poverty to be as severe and punishing as can be found throughout much of the world. Diseases can be reduced, incomes can be increased, and war can be less violent. It would seem that simple and practical solutions - common sense - could solve many these problems. But I've found over the last 15 years or so, that common sense is often the point of failure. True innovation is irrational. Systematic methods can be designed to facilitate innovation, but the starting point is an entrenched understanding of the problem.

Today's wars do not end, are rarely state-to-state engagements, and technology has shifted the capability of the non-state actor, giving individuals power on par with the state. Yet if technology can empower individuals to create chaos and fight the state, then it can equally empower an individual with state capacities to create peace and opportunity. Where terrorists destroy the present tense, an individual - not a government can likewise create a new future tense. Stability-minded, entrepreneurial individuals are the antithesis of terrorism, not government employees.

Inspired by organizations like Independent Diplomat, I went down this road as an urban planner, and built a private business for governance. In this capacity I aided governments in Afghanistan, Kenya, and Somalia for several years in addition to advising multilateral institutions. Unlike many of my peers in the humanitarian and development industry, I never once provided a report as a project deliverable (this is no easy thing, given that the entire industry is obsessed with reports). Rather, I focussed on building concrete mechanisms and leveraged technology to perform necessary change within entrenched problems.

The interesting consequence wasn't so much within the success or failure of those mechanisms, but the way other institutions responded. The best known example is how the UN restructured its Somalia efforts to compete and then later appropriate my municipal-level urban technology center in Mogadishu.  Years later, that effort has faded away, but a key lesson remains intact: if you want to change the operations of ]global institutions, a faster method than advocacy or protesting is to beat them at their own game because they fear competition.

For awhile, I believed that I had gone as far as I could personally take this work in postwar reconstruction. Over the years, marriage, fatherhood, and the brutal realities of active war zones left me believing that I had dug in as deep as possible, and that it was perhaps time to look into the future and shift gears.  I set new targets far from the front lines, leading to doctoral studies and a deeper immersion into the technology. Making an honest departure from the domain of reconstruction was valuable as it exposed me to new ways of thinking and working in addition to the acquisition of other skills.

Yet today, I find myself working in governance in a refreshed capacity. As an innovation specialist for the US federal government, I essentially work as an entrepreneur in residence. In this capacity I am approached by, or reach out to, federal agencies with deeply rooted and complex problems in search for new vision, strategies, and tools. Much of this work has been connected with Veterans Affairs, and thus my work within the domain of post-war reconstruction continues.

When rebuilding a wartorn city, or considering the future reconstruction of a city presently in war, I have always thought primarily about the actors there - in that space - and those who grew up there but left. Consideration of conflicted and secure space were constant to the extent that it gave a name to this blog. But in the way that I work, space is merely a container for relationships between people, and in the case of Mogadishu, for example, the stakeholders were the Somalis and the AMISOM soldiers (among others on site).  Throughout all my years of working, I never once thought about how the lives of those AMISOM soldiers will continue to influence the stability of Somalia upon return home.  Post-war reconstruction is not the rebuilding of a place - it is a web of flickering interactions between people, perceptions, objects, places, and wounds.

Mapping the Stakeholders in Post-Conflict Reconstruction of Future Wars as a Field of Lightbulbs

Working with Veteran Affairs, I have found myself looking into the eyes of the same soldiers who were in Afghanistan during my years there.  We were there for different reasons, to do different jobs, and possibly with different goals.  We also had different kinds of relationships with the local population and lived in entirely different ways.  We made and lost friends. We think about Afghanistan everyday, and also, think about it very differently, but it always in our minds. From this I know that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars will shape American politics for generations, just as the Vietnam war was discussed in every US political debate into the early 2000s.

To consider the demands of every node in the complex and time-warping web of global conflict is not feasible as a design approach. But consistent with the methods I have applied to other complex problems, to consider the thematic and territorial overlaps does prove effective. For example, in the domain of mental health, the impacts of war via PTSD are well documented within America and other NATO states. It is, however, less discussed among resident populations of war-torn regions and only marginally (if ever) discussed in reference to displaced populations.

The healing from trauma is complicated, and there are many who never fully recover or find effective remedies to move forward in their lives. Yet initiatives that have brought soldiers in contact with the places where they served, to build new memories and relationships with long harmful experiences, have been found to effective to some.  For others, there is a need to cut all ties, to relocate, and build new lives elsewhere. No matter how you approach it, healing becomes geographic as much as a psychological process.

To advance the state of postwar reconstruction, there is a necessity to go beyond security, architecture, and socio-economics. Like most design problems, there is an obvious need to factor such variables across time and space. But now I realize the necessity to reconsider our definitions of war in terms of how we conceive of stakeholders and stakeholder needs. This is not a static domain. New individuals and entities will emerge and disappear over time as will their contributions to the problems and the solutions. We cannot end war but we can formulate our present understanding of its ramifications so as to position a better tomorrow.

Reading #Conflict in the Urban Terrain of Kismayo, #Somalia


Recent reports from Somalia have described a helicopter attack on al-Shabaab fighters near Kismayo.  Originally reporting the death of two fighters, it now appears that 15 died in the missile attack.  Kismayo is an al-Shabaab stronghold where a great deal of fighting has taken place. 

A quick look at the city on Google Images reveals a large section of the city blackened by explosions and fires.  The pattern of scorched buildings is consistent with the major transportation corridors highlighted in red. As the conflict in Somalia is highly mobile and fast moving, gains are established by taking hold of the roadways, thereby assuming control of the neighborhoods pinned between roads.

If one isolates the individual locations of attack, a subtle collection of patterns emerge.  The largest areas of combat often take place at transportation intersections.  This provides  the largest variety of logistical and operational  input/outputs, such as improved range of vision and horizontal expansion of battle space.

Yet further analysis also reveals two primary bands of conflict.  Both bands are curvilenear, suggesting 2-3 primary points of entry for troops.  The band on the left, situated on city limits, shows on large point of conflict followed by a series of smaller points.  Either the conflict began at a fever pitch and tapered off, or it built to a climax in the first band.

As the conflict continued and forces swept into the city, the second band emerged. They traveled most likely from the lower corridor which contains clear horizontal roadways and is less entangled in the labyrinth of smaller, internal side-streets.  Al Shabaab would have likely traveled northward, continuing to take advantage of major transportation arteries and as the land came under their control, the intensity of conflict would subside.

Architecture, Conflict, and Urban Planning Publications


In the last few days, as I've finished writing my upcoming piece on the Architecture of Conflict and Militarization in Somalia, it occurred to me that more attention needs to be brought to some of the books published on this subject.  Scholarship within this domain is still in its infancy, however, there are a few works that merit special attention, either for their groundbreaking  investigation or their brilliant analysis.  Below are the three I've most recently read, although the list is far from comprehensive.

Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation
Eyal Weizman 2007

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Adrian Parr, author of Hijacking Sustainability, and I am very glad to have followed her advice.  Hollow Land has become my favorite book in several years, as Weizman masterfully illustrates how the military history of Israel has been channeled through urban planning and architecture for territorial expansion and the oppression of the Palestinian people.  Well research and artfully written, Weizman traces the use of new settlements, zoning laws, inequitable developments in infrastructure, and architectural design as mechanisms of control.


Stephen Graham 2010

Graham traces the development of the city as a conflict zone, identifying trends of surveillance and militarization within the urban fabric.  Overall, this book has rather 'high-tech' demeanor, something akin to the aesthetic of Blade Runner.  Written in a straightforward, academic manner, Graham efficiently illuminates the integration of terrorism, militancy, and security within the urban and economic geography of the contemporary world.




Robert Bevan 2007

Although war always creates collateral damage to the environment, Bevan argues that contemporary warfare has increasingly targeted Architecture as a means to defeat the enemy.  With a great deal of focus on events in Yugoslavia and the actions of totalitarian regimes within China and Afghanistan, Beven identifies the role of Architecture and its destruction within the social consciousness.  He further investigates  the inherent processes of destruction within modern efforts to reconstruct the post-conflict landscape.




Violence Taking Place: The architecture of the Kosovo Conflict
Andrew Hersher 2010
Hersher has worked for the UN Tribunals in Kosovo, examining the manner in which architecture was explicitly appropriated, destroyed, and utilized as a tool of war and power.  I've only recently picked up this book and haven't gotten too far into yet, but already, I can say it is highly recommended.