June 23, 2016
by Carol Loewenson
Speakers of Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable UrbanizationCourtesy of Carol Loewenson
Speakers of Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable UrbanizationCourtesy of Carol Loewenson

On 05.18.16, AIANY 2016 President Carol Loewenson, FAIA, LEED AP, spoke in the United Nations ECOSOC Chamber at the conference “Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable Urbanization.” Here is an excerpt of her remarks.

Good afternoon. My name is Carol Loewenson. I am honored and humbled to be here to participate in this important discussion about refugees and migrants and, in particular, critical challenges related to sustainable urbanization.

I am a partner at Mitchell/Giurgola Architects in New York where I have worked for over 30 years. I am here today as President of AIA New York – the country’s oldest and largest chapter of the American Institute of Architects. As a professional organization, our New York chapter alone represents more than 5,500 members, which includes traditional and non-traditional practitioners, teachers, students, and affiliated professionals. We have 27 committees that function like think tanks on subjects ranging from urban design and risk and reconstruction, to healthcare and the environment. These committees work independently and collaboratively to share best practices and discuss pressing issues of the day. Specialists come to the Center for Architecture to speak on a regular basis. And likewise, we go out into the city’s communities and schools to engage, listen, and share our knowledge and problem-solving abilities.

As architects, we know that we cannot change the political and social factors that have led to mass migrations. But as architects we also know that we can and should step up and participate to make a difference. Architects are trained to be problem solvers. This starts by listening and understanding unique conditions. We learn about history and try to learn from the past. We learn to collaborate with others with specialized training that complements our own. That includes working with civil engineers, structural engineers, mechanical electrical and plumbing engineers, landscape architects, urban planners, communications, security, and a multitude of other specialists.

So while we know that we cannot change what has already happened, we can mobilize the community of architects – and the wide range of those whose collaborate in the creation of the built environment – because these upheavals affect everyone and are everyone’s problem.

As architects, we can look at organizational considerations – issues of scale, size, community, and identity. We can look at practical and social issues and develop real strategies for implementation. We can help set priorities, be aware of sensitivities, identify opportunities, and establish plans for implementation. The issues to be addressed are as broad as the range of practitioners in our field:  space, security, access, housing, education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Community, governance and employment are key factors to allow migrant communities to stabilize, establish roots, and heal. Again, architecture cannot solve these problems on its own, but it can help create the environment to allow a stable society to thrive.

In the past, the architectural community has stepped up in the face of aggression (9/11), natural disasters (Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina), and economic failure and exodus from communities (Detroit). Our code of ethics calls for it, and our training has prepared us for just this kind of challenge.

Today, I would like to take the first step forward towards collaborating with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization. As we consider the plight of permanent refugees, decades-old refugee camps, masses of forced exoduses in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia, we should be collectively focusing on how to maximize the livability and sustainability of the limited resources available to address these acute problems. Creating real homes, schools, hospitals, and other facilities is an extremely important part of solving these enormous problems. Using our collective experience, including the skills of professional architects, we together can provide the homeless and the displaced with homes, safety, shelter, hope, and opportunities. I look forward to being part of the dialog and part of that process.


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