Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Claire's CapAsia Experience

Growing up, I wanted to be an artist, an oceanographer, and even an astrophysicist. It turned out, though, that these were brief phases, as I painted glamorous images of each profession and ultimately discovered that my interests did not quite align with any of them. I finally decided on architecture, at Ball State University, where I quickly learned that my interests and passions were most closely aligned with planning and development. Planning, I realized, could allow me to work with critical urban issues such as poverty and housing, while still including design.

My first two years in the planning studio were both marvelous and disappointing. I was captivated by the complexity of the city and the forces that determine the development, growth, and shape of all urban existence. The problem, though, was that the scope of many studio projects often touched surface issues only. It was finally after my first economics course that I began to understand the complexity of the city and the dynamic systems that are much more influential than any plans I had designed. I soon declared a second major in economics, encountering tools and themes that illuminated my studio projects and explained growth and development patterns in cities. Most important, in order for me to become a visionary leader who could view a community comprehensively, I knew that I would need to understand both the science and analysis of economics as well as the social and urban considerations of planning.

Such ideals finally became real for me when I left Indiana for a semester in Southeast Asia and soon found myself in Chharanagar, a vibrant neighborhood on the fringe of Ahmedabad, India. Although I had spent a week on a service trip in Haiti, this was my first long-term experience in a developing nation. With my fellow students I entered the oppressed, though hopeful, community in order to understand the goals and priorities of the people, and utilize my skills as a future planner to collaboratively help them achieve their community goals. Because typical research methods were not available, I had to draw upon the primary resource available to me: the people. I spent my afternoons exploring Chharanagar, talking to mothers on porches, sipping tea with families inside the cool homes, taking notes about everyday life, sketching structures, and manually constructing a map of the community. Through such interaction, I discovered countless details, from caste oppression to a remarkable pursuit of justice through the medium of theatre that cannot be drawn on a map or displayed by numbers.

As I studied Chharanagar, I also carried out an independent study in urban economics. The course changed the entire way that I viewed both economics and planning, enabling me to see the relationship between the two. When I looked back at my past community development projects, I saw that the proposals lacked depth, feasibility, and people as the top priority. The lens through which I viewed my world shifted drastically, and I refocused my undergraduate thesis on low-income affordable housing to reflect these new insights.

Before I even had a chance to fully digest my experience in Ahmedabad, I was living on the edge of Kathmandu with Timila, an architecture student at Nepal Engineering College, and her lively and hospitable family. For two weeks, I was incorporated into nearly every aspect of their lives. I walked to and from school every day with Timila, took part in the family’s celebration of Holi, the festival of colors, and came home to a nightly meal of dal bhat. Although my stay with Timila was the most challenging part of the trip, it was ultimately the most rewarding and enjoyable as I was immersed in the vibrant, everyday life of a young Nepalese woman my age.

After four months in Southeast Asia, my entire viewpoint had been shaken, electrified, and entirely revolutionized. With an incredible passion for the synthesis of economics and urban planning, a substantially expanded worldview, and a far greater understanding of the planning process, I was quite far from the romantic planner that I had once been. Today my goal is to bridge the gap between social urban planning and economic development as a leader in a not-for-profit organization or in government, through a redevelopment authority. I hope to use economic and data-driven methods, in conjunction with community engagement, to regenerate declining urban areas and revitalize local economies. Ultimately, I want to be a planner and economist who makes effective decisions to improve the urban fabric and the quality of life within it.

Claire Thomison
CapAsia VI Participant

Sunday, October 09, 2011

An Intersection of Personal Journeys

As the CapAsia VI participants met new people, moved through new cultures, and observed new spatial practices in south Asia, the larger CapAsia program explored new territory as well; i.e., regarding planning, design, and learning. Along with providing a service to the community, the participants questioned their own roles as a planner or architect, student, and citizen. They asked some basic questions: How can we solve their problems when we can’t even solve our own? Do we have to tell them what they need and need to do? Do we have to make a plan? What if they don’t need one? It is possible for a planner to change a community without changing him/herself? Perhaps, Gandhi’s idea of “be the change you want to see in the world” helped them dig a bit deeper. Can we take part in people’s processes? Can we be a catalyst to achieving their life goals? Could a small change help?

The main 7-week “Planning to Learn” component was conducted in Chhharanagar, one of the most discriminated communities in Ahmedabad, with the help of a leading school of planning in India: CEPT University. Instead of beginning with maps and data, the group began by getting to know people. Each of them drew a cognitive map, highlighting significant places, and got to know at least three people on the first day. While living in heritage house in Ahmedabad’s Old City, with the family who owned it, helped them immerse in the local culture and built environment, taking part in the kite festival brought them close to the Chhara community. The students settled into comfortable roles such as teaching English and map-making using electronic tools. Instead of stopping there, they expanded their comfort zones to learn from and about the community. Chloe Dotson began to teach English and in the process informed the other CapAsia students of the children’s world in Chharanagar; Tad Jameyfield led the conceiving and drawing of an immensely useful up-to-date map of the neighborhood.

Instead of beginning with plan-making, students began writing a real (positive) story about the Chharas (who are negatively represented ever since British authorities declared them as a criminal tribe), converting themselves into storytellers. Through continuous visits and many meetings, they all came to know most of the community members and their aspirations. They not only questioned the existing plan for urban renewal, but also made a presentation to the Ahmedabad Municipal Authority of possible development scenarios – ones more empathic to people's aspirations.

The 3-week “Building to Learn” component helped upgrade a community square in Duwakot, near Kathmandu, Nepal. It was used by a nearby private college as a parking lot for its school buses and others for similar purposes over a decade. When we visited the community, as the flimsy bamboo fence stated, the people have already begun to reclaim their public space. We simply enhanced the process, empowering the community. The project continued the same research/practice, but at a smaller scale, in collaboration with Nepal Engineering College. In both cases the CapAsia participants worked hand in hand with the community, meeting almost daily. The most intriguing, the people in Duwakot have now completely upgraded the square that we began, but in their own way. There is little trace of our work; they can be seen but beneath the newer developments, like archaeological remains that belong to a different era. Yet our work provided a foundation for the community to achieve what it wants and for us to leave our attachments to the physical behind so that we can enjoy the social outcome of our work. They are empowered; so are we.

They engaged the community and enabled its "development journeys." They learned small projects can go a long way and make a huge impact; even a simple plan of the settlement –appropriately done-- was a significant tool of empowerment. It taught us that planners and development specialists can indeed participate in (and even enhance) people’s processes (not only the other way around); don’t have to locate the subjects in a different time or a space other than our own; and small projects are more effective at the lived (human) scale.

Based on Gandhi’s proclamation, the Adivsai (Tribal) Academy confirmed that the village also has a future (not only the industrialized urban). Through their own work, the students began to see that communities may have multiple futures open in front of them. They experienced that quantitative analysis, computer programs, land use planning, and even planning in general are simply tools among others that can become useful or redundant for development. The usefulness of any tool needs to be evaluated in the context of the community, especially in regard to larger goals, convictions, cultural values, and people's journeys. The participants learned that if they really affect the community, the planner will also change and s/he will have more questions than answers. Planning is about communication and can benefit by thinking and reflection, i.e., transforming experience into knowledge.

As they traversed a new world and used planning and design to do so, the students learned about themselves and their own lives. In Chharanagar, they learned about the Chharas, the Budhan Theatre, customs, traditions, people, kids, but about themselves. They saw how hard people strive to make an honest and better living in a context of discrimination and learned about their own life journeys. They documented stories, made maps, plans, and represented Chharanagar to the Municipal Commissioner; along with these, they also renewed and/or made new plans for themselves. Living in the Old City of Ahmedabad, the kindness of the Chharas, and homestays in Kathmandu helped the students to better understand other people and themselves. When one student left the home for another on the third day, the whole family cried, and the student was stunned by how much the family had grown to care for him in a few days.

At the conclusion of the Planning to Learn project, Catherine Reynolds wrote:
"To a class of ordinary students, this is a community of extraordinary people who perform a noble mission daily simply to secure a future for their way of life. Among the many lessons that the Chharas have taught us we shall never forget that a human is a human regardless of their last name, where they may live and what their past has become. All people have a right to a future and that is exactly what the Chharas are gaining with every child, hope and dream."

The students also met with great people such as development specialist and current Prime Minister of Nepal, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai; the 2010 CNN Hero Anuradha Koirala who created an organization (Maiti Nepal) to prevent the trafficking of women; and Dr. Ganesh Devy who left his professorship to empower tribal groups in India.

The team included students from Rutgers University,IUPUI and of course, Ball State. Once again, the program was supported by a Fullbright-Hays grant of $80,510 (for the third consecutive time), from the US Department of Education (DOE). The group was assisted by two faculty members, Dr. Jeff Brackett and Dr. Maria Williams-Hawkins, who helped to expose students to local Hindu practices and temples and social media, respectively.

Building on their CapAsia experience, Claire Thomison applied for a Marshall Scholarship to undertake a Master’s at University College, London, and Jeffrey Lauer for a Fulbright award to investigate the spatial dimensions of the Gandhian idea “the village has a future.” Adopting similar research methods for her thesis research, Sanjeewani Habarakada immersed herself in the World Heritage Site of Galle in Sri Lanka, for two months, studying how people create their own spaces under the radar of the authorities’ plan to restore it to the Dutch colonial era. Two very bright students from Sri Lanka and Italy have applied to the planning program at Ball State after experience the work of CapAsia.

The students will make a presentation of their experience on Wednesday, October 19 at 4pm in AB 100.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

CapAsia VI: Jan-Mar 2010

Ball State University is offering its next South Asia field study semester, CapAsia VI, in Spring 2011.

CapAsia is a unique field semester with national and international reputation, and we have it at CAP. It provides an extraordinary opportunity to experience the socially, culturally, and historically different South Asia, and to develop a critical understanding of the participants' own cultures and environments. It is a truly interdisciplinary program that cuts across all fields in CAP and will draw on relevant methods and knowledge in social sciences and humanities. CapAsia participants truly immerse in South Asian cultures, learn by doing collaborative projects with leading universities in the region. In addition to their South Asia cultures and why they build the way they do, you will also learn about your own environments and culture, and a bit of the future of the world that is in the making.

The program is open to juniors, seniors, and graduate students from any university with an interest in social and cultural aspects of urban spaces and built environments.

We will spend 11 weeks in south Asia and the program consists of two main projects. We will conduct the 7-week "Planning to Learn" project in India and a 3-week "Building to Learn" component in Nepal. We will stopover in two cities on our way in and out of South Asia; tentatively these will be in Istanbul (Turkey) and Hanoi (Vietnam). We will fix the exact locations as we develop the theme for 2010. For information on the last CapAsia, see: http://www.capasia.net/

The trip is the cheapest offered at Ball State. The program fee is about $6,300; if we receive the Fulbright-Hays grant which we received for CapAsia IV and V, the fee may go down to about $3,300. This will cover all long-distance travel and lodging costs and the cost of living in South Asia is very minimal; you can survive with about $500. In addition, you will have to pay tuition at the off-campus rate (almost equivalent to in-state tuition). You are eligible to use most scholarships and financial aid. If you plan ahead, you might not need accommodation in Muncie (or wherever you reside) for spring 2011.

We begin processing applications on February 15, 2010. As you may have to academic, financial, and other arrangements, feel free to communicate with us at anytime at CapAsia@gmail.com.

Nihal Perera, PhD, Director
Wes Janz, PhD, Co-Director

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lindsay's Fulbright Plans

The idea for my Fulbright project came from the time I spent in India with CapAsia IV in 2005. Although we didn’t go to Chandigarh on the trip, in our readings we talked about Corbusier and his theories of dehistoricization and defamiliarization with regards to his plan for Chandigarh. I found it really interesting that he disregarded the culture and history of the country. From my few weeks in India, I realized how complex the culture and society are and how important they are there; it was hard for me to believe that a European would come disregarding culture and attempt a plan for a place like India!


The assignments for CapAsia really helped me to think more in depth about these topics – did Corbusier’s theories really work in practice? Was he able to change the way people used the spaces he designed? Do any of these theories hold up in practice or do people negotiate their spaces and use them to fit their own needs, as Nihal spoke about on the trip? If this were the case, perhaps it didn’t matter so much that a European architect designed an Indian city.


These questions led me to my Fulbright proposal in which I will be comparing the planning of Chandigarh and Gandhinagar and how their citizens use space in each city. These two cities served as exercises in new city planning after India gained independence. The first city, Chandigarh, has had a lot of attention and study because of Le Corbusier’s work on its plans; it has been much criticized for being designed from a western viewpoint and failing to accommodate the needs of its Indian citizens. Gandhinagar, in contrast, has been studied very little and will make an interesting comparison since its designers should theoretically have known the culture and therefore taken it into account. So I will be comparing different spaces in each city and how people use these spaces. I am very excited to be continuing with these ideas that began on CapAsia and to be able to nine months exploring India more in depth!


Lindsay will spend the 2009-10 academic year in Ahmedabad, at CEPT University

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ten Years but Unique!

CapAsia began as a program for undergraduates in the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State. Since then, it has grown into an extraordinary opportunity for north American students to experience the socially, culturally, and historically different South Asia and learn about oneself.

It is a unique field study. Many universities in America have foreign field trips, study abroad programs, collaborative studios, foreign internships, service learning programs, volunteering efforts, student and faculty exchanges, visiting scholar programs, foreign consultancy projects, and field work especially for doctoral studies. Many of these are of excellent quality. CapAsia is built upon select components from traditional field trip, study abroad, exchange scholar, center abroad, field research, and collaborative program models. It provides a guided experience of south-Asian cultures through immersion organized around locally-specific projects carried out collaboratively with local students with the help of local experts and educators. It combines experiential learning through immersion with pedagogies of learning from people and guided construction of knowledge, experientially and analytically connecting the USA and the larger world. Yet it is directed at reflectively learning about participants themselves through learning about a different culture, supported by an environment --made up of preparatory meetings, places of activity and lodging, timing of events and visits, classes, and assignments-- built upon a network of south Asia researchers, educators, and professionals. It is a rigorous program with components before and after the field visit. This multifaceted teaching and learning strategy is transformative; the program is life-changing.

As planing educator Robert Home highlighted in 1999 itself, “Training American Planners & designers in the Third World is a Radically new idea.”

According to a Fulbright-Hays review in 2004:
“The [CapAsia] project provides creative focus that is built on integrating South Asian world views into participant’s education; the focus on “learning from” rather than “learning about” as well as on learning from doing projects with host country peers rather than doing projects for them is refreshingly honest about where knowledge resides; it also models and reinforces a respectful intercultural attitude and global stance that is sorely needed.”

It operates at the boundaries of teaching and learning as well as planning and design. For example, it questions the limits put on learning through learning objectives and asks: what if we learn something that we cannot plan for? Questioning the notion of getting people to participate in planners’ processes, CapAsia V participants explored the possibility of taking part in people’s processes. They attempted to enhance the people’s recovery process in five villages built for 2004-Indian-Ocean-tsunami-survivors in the Hambantota District in Sri Lanka.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

CapAsia V

Welcome to CapAsia blog!

It was so wonderful to bring the group together using a multitude of communication technology. It was great to see Kim and Heidi and to read Katrina and Bruce. Although the program is so down-to-earth (particularly in regard to its attempt to understand regular people and participate in their processes), I am convinced that CapAsia (in its current form) cannot function without this technology and the "Third World add-ons" to hi-technology. It was a great beginning our CapAsia V meetings.

Nihal

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

CapAsia I & II/ PolyArk XIV & XV

Hope you are doing well. As you know, CapAsia IV students helped begin rebuilding a tsunami-hit village in Sri Lanka last year. CapAsia got huge publicity in a number of local, national, and international publications. See http://capasia.net/iv/stories.htm As participants of first south Asia field studies, PolyArk XIV and XV (also CapAsia I and II), you guys were the dreamers –in a good way-- of this field study. It is a unique field study that no one in the USA offers. Now many otheres follow your footsteps; Wes and I have kept that tradition going.

We did a nice double-session on CapAsia at the ACSP regional conference held at BSU. Eric Davenport, Lynette Boswell, Nishit Somaya, and Don Treese talked about their CapAsia experience. Faculty from UW Milwaukee and U of Michigan, as well the Provost and the Asst. Provost of BSU talked about CapAsia. There are many graduate students from India and Nepal in both architecture and planning.

Remember Angie Furore and Carryn Peirce (Sami) received thesis awards? Last year, Claudia Canepa of MIT, a CapAsia III participant, received a national award –Don Schon Award-- for her master’s thesis completed on a subject that she began investigating during CapAsia, in Delhi. Gardner Smith of CapAsia III received a Fulbright to go back to India. Lynette completed a master's at the University of Michigan and is now a Fellow of the Genesee Institute. Josh Deyer is applying for grad school at U Penn and Columbia. In order to share our experience I have created this blog. Enjoy the blog-space and keep everyone informed of what you are up to. Also get to know the younger CapAsians who are foloowing your footsteps.

Thank you

Nihal

CapAsia III

Hope you are doing well. As you know, CapAsia IV students helped begin rebuilding a tsunami-hit village in Sri Lanka last year. CapAsia got huge publicity in a number of local, national, and international publications. see http://capasia.net/iv/stories.htm

Very recently, I had the opportunity to see Jae Eun, the author of the CapAsia song and the one who is very good at drawing snakes. She is naming streets in Florida after CapAsia. One is named Columbu St., not Colombo St.

Last year, Claudia received a national award –Don Schon Award-- for her master’s thesis. Gardner received a Fulbright. Chad began his graduate studies. Tony Gupta moved to Chicago and Sarah to Florida. In order to share our experience I have created a blog.

Enjoy this blog-space and keep everyone informed of what you are up to.

Best
Nihal

CapAsia IV

Hope you are doing well. I was in Sri Lanka last January. All houses have been handed over to Kalametiya residents just before the one-year anniversary of the tsunami. Wes and I visited Kalametiya in August last year with a faculty member from the University of Oregon and a PhD students from UC Davis. Wes's studio just completed some designs for the community center (or the communal area) of Kalametiya. I met Utpal and the Belgians we saw in Ahmedabad in Colombo in January (2006). Mansee is studying at Cambridge (UK). Enjoy this blog-space and keep everyone informed of what you are doing.


Thanks
Nihal

Monday, February 13, 2006

A general blog for a new collection of CapAsia memories and updates on the lives and adventures of the students of CapAsia's past. As a participant of both CapAsia III and IV, I find small reminders of many experiences and wonder what my old CapAsia-mates are up to and where life has taken them.

America's great Northwest has captured my attention. I'm in Coos Bay, OR working with Americorps and University of Oregon in a program called RARE (Resource Assistance for Rural Environments). I am placed with ShoreBank Enterprise Pacific and am working with coastal farmers. We have formed a class to empower agricultural entrepreneurs with the skills create a successful business plan. I am putting together a workshop and a marketing guide to strengthen direct marketing in this region. I am also putting together a workshop on farm succession issues.

~Tony Noble

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Welcome to the CapAsia Blog!

Hi CapAsians,

Welcome to CapAsia blog!

After four CapAsias (beginning as PolyArk XIV), we now have quite a few past participants or alumni of the program. Hence, it is time to create a space for you to meet eachother and share informaiton. Please post any information that you would like to share with other CapAsians, those who went with you or on a separate visit. You may also post questions for others to respond. Let's begin this "discussion board."

Nihal

For the CapAsia website, visit http://www.CapAsia.net/
For the CapAsia V announcement, visit http://www.CapAsia.net/v/announcement.htm