Back to Blog

People, Place, Planet: Inclusive Crisis Recovery Participant Blog

Posted on 27 March 2024

Written by:

Guest Author

By Mehul Banka

The Inclusive Crisis Recovery event hosted by The Glass-House prompted discussion on the challenges faced by the built environment sector, stirring playfully innovative ideas for combatting them. Participants were divided into 4 groups (practice, ecology, community, and education) and as part of the Practice Group, we discussed the importance of institutions in ensuring that crisis is dealt with inclusively. Glueing together seating zones in our civic pavilion model (pictured below), the group envisioned an institution that embodies principles of ease of access, clear processes, and accountability, among others as a key step in crisis recovery.

Model of a civic centre constructed by the Practice Group

The discussion reminded me of a movie I had watched recently – The End We Start From by Mahalia Belo. A young couple with a newborn looked to survive after London had been hit by catastrophic floods, destroying a good portion of the city. The film showed temporary shelters being set up and food trucks coming into the city outskirts but also showed families forced to break into other’s homes to demand a hot meal and a surprising breakdown in trust in fellow citizens within this context of deprivation. The connection between the movie and the discussion was clear: our institutions must establish a culture of inclusivity and mutual aid in their attempt to be resilient in moments of crisis. 

The UN Hyogo Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction bolsters this discussion. The Framework, setup for governments to strengthen disaster preparedness, was reviewed in 2013 for its successes and failures. One of the key observations from the assessment was that given the complex and increasing variety of risks, especially in cities, governments are finding it difficult to respond to them appropriately. Disaster risk reduction mainstreaming was brought up as a pivotal concept to combat this issue. This mainstreaming called for due considerations of disaster risks while planning general development strategies or shaping infrastructure so as to tie in daily operations with disaster reduction. The recommendations, which are left broad to be adapted to the specificity of government bodies, provide a useful lens to think about crisis resilient institutions. 

A participant at the event sharply stated that we have multiple crises taking place simultaneously including the climate crisis, housing affordability, water shortages and decisions on how to prioritise and tackle these problems cannot be easy. Mainstreaming risk reduction thus holds as a worthwhile pursuit for institutions to be prepared to respond to crises inclusively and efficiently. I have highlighted 2 well-documented examples of institutions that are instructive on how to bolster such preparedness.

Mutirão 50 came up as a new form of housing development in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza in the 1980s. Led by displaced and landless low-income citizens, the development set up a cooperative model of construction to fill in the gaps left by the State. Land, basic infrastructure, and some of the finances were provided by the municipal government, state government, and international groups, while the displaced citizens formed a collective of residents and took charge of the construction and management of the development. As the project progressed, the collective took decisions on using the development as a way to a long-term construction workforce, it negotiated cheap supplies and food for the group, allocated work based on individual ability, and established a method of land parcelling that provided sufficient common space in the development. Through this institutional setup residents leveraged strengths of the collective and could plan for future needs alongside their urgent housing demands. 

 Mutirão 50 participants involved in the construction process (Source: Rio On Watch²)

The Subak paddy fields in Bali, Indonesia also engender the ethos of risk reduction mainstreaming. Subaks are terraced paddy farms that are irrigated using a centuries old system of coordination between farmers. This physical and cultural landscape has received much praise for its ecological and social significance and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. Each Subak shares a common water source that is distributed amongst its various individual plots using a coordinated system that allows each field to be flooded completely for a few weeks, as is required by paddy, before the water is transferred and accumulated to the next field. This coordination technique is enforced through a clear organisational structure, socially embedded rituals, and traditional customary laws, allowing for crops to be grown through the year and in a variety of weather conditions.

Subak irrigation system (Source:

These institutional setups are not fool proof solutions to crisis prevention and recovery. Such bodies have been noted in the literature on community based organisations to create room for internal disputes to affect distributional outcomes. Further, they are indicative of market failures to provide for housing and water needs. Resource allocation towards basic services has to be a priority, yet good institutions can help make the services more resilient in the face of shortages.

The Mutirão and Subak systems echo the discussion at the Glass-House event and present strong cases for the capacity for institutions to deal with resource scarcity both inclusively and effectively. They embody systems of sharing risks and leveraging the collective so as to reduce the burden on the individual household and simultaneously encourage the build environment sector to explore organisational structures that step outside of traditional formats and are resilient in the face of crisis.

[1] UNISDR Report, 2013.

[2] Mutirão 50, 2023.

[3] Okura, Budiasa, Kato, 2022.

[4] World Heritage Convention, 2012.

About the Author

Mehul Banka

Mehul is a passionate advocate for cities that are vibrant and diverse and at the same time inclusive and sustainable. He recently completed a postgraduate degree from the Bartlett School of Planning where he focused on how environmental infrastructure and digital transformations are being leveraged to reshape cities. Having worked in a variety of sectors including research, teaching, community organising, town planning, and project management, Mehul strives to strengthen the sector’s multidisciplinary perspective and build his career as a planner.