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Slums, the people living in them, and climate change

IMG_1584Over New Years I had the absolute pleasure of hanging out with José Lobo, an excellent host who loves good coffee with the same intensity that some people love and serve the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is also a genuine smarty pants who connects diverse academic disciplines with his passion for justice.

Over at Arizona State University in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, he keeps busy:

Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
Associate Research Professor, School of Sustainability
Faculty Associate, Department of Economics, W.P. Carey School of Business

Touring through the Arizona mountains with José Loba and his spouse, Gerda.

Touring through the Arizona mountains with José Loba and his spouse, Gerda.

During the days we hung out together and drank coffee, with our spouses listening on, Jose informed, amazed, inspired, and challenged me with his breadth of knowledge, his commitment to justice wok, and his gentleness towards people who think very differently from him. He is interested in connecting with people and in helping us think better and live better.

So I was not surprised to learn he is part of a project that looks at Neighborhoods, Slums, and Human Development. Over at the prestigious and innovative Santa Fe Institute, José and his colleagues are looking at how to make slums more resilient to climate change.

Freetown, Sierra Leone (credit: Santa Fe Institute)

Freetown, Sierra Leone (credit: Santa Fe Institute)

In our rapidly urbanizing world, access to sanitation, transportation, and other essential services remains a challenge for more than a billion people. In the world’s poorest and most vulnerable urban communities, finding new ways to meet these day-to-day human needs not only leads to sustainable development, it also fortifies them against the effects of climate-induced disasters.

This week, scientists from the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) and Arizona State University (ASU), together with Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 33 countries and hundreds of cities and towns worldwide, were selected to tackle a challenge put forth by OpenIDEO’s Amplify ProgramHow might urban slum communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change?

Mumbai Slums (photo credit: Geography Blogs)

Mumbai Slums (photo credit: Geography Blogs)

Part of the work has to do with “reblocking.” People need to have recognized addresses, so naming streets and literally creating streets and public spaces are essential steps that lead to bringing necessary services into communities and households.

What I love about José’s work is that it takes in many factors and looks at how they affect each other.

“There are social, economic, and spatial considerations in creating a street network in a neighborhood,” says Luís Bettencourt, a professor at SFI who leads the Institute’s Neighborhoods, Slums, and Human Development project together with Professor José Lobo at ASU’s School of Sustainability. “Unless you bring them all together in a single platform that everyone can use, it is very difficult to coordinate local communities, create good solutions, and collaborate with their local governments. Technology and design can now help us do this much better.”

Read the entire piece over at the Santa Fe Institute site. And as I write this I raise my cup of espresso (Cafe Bustelo prepared in my Bialetti stovetop moka pot) to José Lobo and his colleagues.



Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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