Migrant refugee camps seen as a city-building, architecture problem. Every so often Bruce Sterling finds this stuff and this is one of those things that spins off ideas.

In several places around the world, but especially in the Middle East and Europe we've got an ongoing migration problem as war or water or climate change or food shortages force people to move to say alive. Traditionally we treat this as a temporary crisis and set up temporary camps with tight controls. But these camps aren't really temporary with it being common for people to be stuck in them for 15 years or more. The people inside them start doing city building and building a camp society regardless of how we attempt to control it. So the big idea is to place the camps in places that need repopulation and encourage the refugees to use free enterprise to build a new city there. Examples might be the empty southern central Italy, and especially the empty new towns and building projects in Spain. But this also applies to places in Central Germany as well.

The question is how much infrastructure, law and order and control we have to provide to kick start the process. The infrastructure is not just food/water/housing. Modern migrants have cellphones so electricity/cellphone coverage/internet is important as well. Perhaps the Migrant City should be a temporary autonomous zone or free port. Does that mean an "Escape from New York" compound with high walls? There's the possibility of experiments in new forms of social organisation here. Then there's the jobs problem. The ideal locations for re-population are often empty because there's no work. That's certainly true of Italy/Spain but less so for Eastern Europe. If this is a permanent rather than temporary city then the occupants need to fairly quickly move to generating wealth not just consuming it. What happens to guaranteed basic income or benefits for the migrants? How quickly do they get citizenship of the regional, national and super-national sructures where it's located?

It's good to see architects being interested in this as part of a long tradition from Wren to Corbusier. Both on the macro and micro scale from city layout planning to IKEA flat pack housing. The camps may start as rigid lines of tents but the residents quickly start modifying it. Which then leads to Favela Chic and the kind of (semi)functional chaos of Sao Paolo or the townships of S Africa. Should this be encouraged or discouraged? ather than try and control it, perhaps it would be better to have an orientation point that hands out the essentials but then to let the city self organise.

Finally there's the problem of land ownership. The whole of the western world is now owned. To make this work a space has to be cleared, presumably by government, for the Migrant City to be placed in. Does that mean compensating the current owners of the land in some way? Or do they get to charge rent?

How does this vary round the world? From S to N America. Europe compared with Africa. China compared with Siberia.

And all that starts with a simple idea. Refugee Camps aren't temporary and they shouldn't be.


Via one of Bruce Sterling's tumblrs

btw. That photo really reminds me of the really big festivals like Glastonbury or Burning Man. Camps should include entertainment, art and music. And no, Glastonbury and Burning Man are not preparation for finding yourself as a refugee!

The IKEA refugee shelter is an inspiring story.


(apologies fr the daily mail link. ;) It's there for the 10,000 figure. )

The better shelter has made it to bOingbOing

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[ 15-Jan-16 7:39am ]