In Times of Integrative Transformation – An Interview with Alumni Rossana Poblet

By October 19, 2019 Alumni interviews, Blog

This academic year, we welcome back former student Rossana Poblet as guest professor. She will be leading the workshop ‘Integrated nature-based solutions for post-disaster recovery through public space design’ that will take our students to Piura, Peru, for their field trip.

In our latest alumni interview, we catch up with Rossana, who completed our master in 2011 and now works as an urban-environmental consultant and social entrepreneur in Berlin. Here she tells us about her broad professional experiences both on a local and international scale, and how architecture professionals working in the urban-rural context can support current worldwide movements demanding social, environmental and climate justice.

Name: Rossana Poblet Alegre
Nationality: Peruvian
Year of Graduation from Program: 2009-2011
Internship placement: Institute for Landscape Planning and Ecology, University of Stuttgart
Current Occupation: Various including: Guest Lecturer in different programs: Urban Management Master Program – TU Berlin/ MSc. Sustainable Emergency Architecture & MSc. City Resilience Design and Management, UIC Barcelona/ MSc. International Cooperation in Urban Development, TU Darmstadt/ Urbanism I & II Bachelor Architecture Program, Universidad de Piura/ Environmental Master Program, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina-UNALM/ Master on Environment and Sustainability, DPU-UCL / Urban Development Master Program, TU Berlin Campus El Gouna, Egypt; GIZ-CIM Consultant; Social Entrepreneur espacio abierto eSP.A. | RPA Planing+DesignCollaborator in findQ UG & Digital Diva Deluxe, Berlin;  Phd Candidate at the University of Stuttgart; Interest in history and archaeology, especially in archaeological treasures from the Americas in Germany Location: Berlin/Lima
Area of interest/specialty: (In)formal urban development, strategic urban planning, good governance, ecological green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, water sensitive urban planning and design, energy transition, urban-rural linkages, water-energy-and food productions’ [Nexus], risk reduction, resilience, collective actions and participative processes
Professional goal: Support local actors for successful implementation of strategic planning and design projects considering multi-stakeholders’ participation, co-learning, co-production and indigenous knowledge.

What have you done since graduating from our program?

My professional story does not start with the Mundus Urbano Master (2009-2011), but this 2-year master program was indeed an important step in my life and career.

During my early career (1997-2009) I worked with local initiatives like Polis Group in Lima, the Commission for Formalisation of (In-)formal Property (COFOPRI); the Peruvian Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation (MVCS), the Lima Metropolitan Planning Institute (IMP), the Development Action Group (DAG) in South Africa, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and also collaborated with international networks focusing on participative planning and design, land administration and property rights, water and sanitation, social housing, public-open space and risk reduction in post-conflict areas in Peru, South Africa and Kosovo.

After graduation from the Master program in 2011, I worked on international apply-research academic projects linkingtheory and practice and different processes in the so-called Global North & Global South. Furthermore, I collaborated on the project Integrated urban planning and design tools for a water scarce city – The Lima Ecological Infrastructure Strategy – LEIS at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Landscape Planning and Ecology (ILPÖ) that included the integration of water management, urban green open spaces and people’s processes. The project was part of the Sustainable Water and Wastewater Management in Urban Growth Centres Coping with Climate Change – Concepts for Lima Metropolitana (Peru) Lima Water ‘LiWa’ Project funded by the German government as part of the Future Megacities Program.

I also developed, managed and implemented the LiWa-LEIS pilot project called “Wastewater Treatment Park: Children’s Park”, inaugurated in 2014 as integrative nature based-solution in the La Florida II barrio in Chuquitanta, Lima North, Peru, the second most populated district in the city with more than half million inhabitants and lacking basic services for the new migrant population. The project was selected as part of the “Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practices Examples” edited and published by UNU-Flores.

Afterwards I worked as a researcher on the project Disrupting urban ‘risk traps’: bridging finance and knowledge for climate resilient infrastructural planning in Lima, at the University College London (UCL). The project focused on everyday risk conditions, risk traps, and socio-environmental and economic injustice experienced by vulnerable and disadvantaged communities living in the centre and periphery of metropolitan Lima. The project is based on previous DPU studies confirming the parallel processes in different metropolitan cities where gentrification and expansion occurs in connection. The project Disrupting Urban Risk Traps Project in Lima has just been selected as “one of the top 100 stories of disruptive discoveries from UCL” and will be exhibited at the #MadeAtUCL festival on 5th October in London. Although I am glad of this achievement, I do not agree with the colonial world “discoveries” used in the #MadeAtUCL festival. I think international academia needs to reflect about how to “decolonize” research methods and outputs , especially considering many local people are working since long in those topics.

Construction of Wastewater treatment park: “Children’s Park”, in La Florida II barrio, Lima North

Tell us a bit about your current job.

As consultant, I collaborate on different programs and projects, and also participate in design competitions. I have extensive experience in international urban development and sustainable solutions considering local and international agendas. In addition, I have contributed to the Research and Academia Partner Constituent Group (RAPCG) and to the Women’s Partner Constituent Group (WPCG) as part of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) of the Habitat III supporting the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.

After the time of the Brexit referendum my contractual commitment at DPU ended, and I was very glad to return to the EU after the unhealthy political discussion I observed in the UK. Now I live in Germany in one of my favourite cities, Berlin. Here I work as an urban-environmental consultant and social entrepreneur. In 2017 I collaborated with the Urban Planning Institute-SI-International Urban Planning Department at the University of Stuttgart organising the international conference and workshop “Collective Actions and Resilience in Emerging City-Regions”.

Then, I founded espacio abierto eSP.A. | RPA Planing+Design and aim to collaborate in social entrepreneurial projects in multidisciplinary and multicultural environments. Also, I support other social entrepreneurial initiatives in Berlin, like “findQ UG and Digital Diva Deluxe, focusing on women’s self-development. And I am GIZ-CIM Expert as part of the Centre for International Migration and Development Program in Germany.

As CIM-GIZ expert, I have contributed at academic and policies level in the definition of urban strategies and policies considering cities adaptation to water risk events, like droughts or flush-floods, produced by climatic events like El ENSO (El Niño/La Niña) and exacerbated by climate change.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of your job or of working in development in general?

We are facing exciting times of transformations at global level. Social movements composed by citizens from all ages and social groups, all over the world, are organising themselves and claiming to be heard and demanding social, environmental and climate justice. I think this is a special moment where we urban-rural thinkers can learn to support these transformations by creating innovative proposals and more inclusive processes which also consider political agendas. This is necessary because our ideas need to concretise through policies in order to be implemented.

We are facing enormous challenges caused by unsustainable processes pursuing what the world calls “development”. Paradoxically, it seems like our way of developments is actually increasing risks. Therefore, we should first rethink what “development” means nowadays, and link that to risk reduction and resilience strategies. It is known that not all “developed” places are “resilient”, as we saw during Hurricane Katrina. At same time another Hurricane, Dorian, showed us that climatic events do not distinct between rich and poor. We must be creative and consider the local context, knowledge and aspirations, but also what our planet needs. Sometimes that would mean to go back to forgotten or neglected indigenous knowledge – lost by subsequent models that were supposed to bring us economic development, but that are not sustainable at all.

On a practical level, within international urban development I see how projects are given to enthusiastic junior professionals without enough experience, but more collaborative spaces are needed. Therefore, I think we should create “intergenerational and multidisciplinary bridges” to connect knowledge and holistic processes.

Fieldtrip to the Delta de Llobregat as part of the “Ecological Infrastructure & water resilience strategies” course for our Master program

In what ways did the master program influence your professional life? 

The Mundus Urbano Master requested an internship as part of its 2-year program. Therefore, during my time at UICBarcelona, I got in contact with the Lima Water Project General Coordinator, Dr. Manfred Schuetze, at the Institut für Automation und Kommunikation (ifa) in Magdeburg, Germany. He reviewed my application and put me in contact with the Institute of Landscape Planning and Ecology (ILPÖ) of the University of Stuttgart and after an interview with Prof. Antje Stokman, I was accepted to work as intern in Stuttgart in the winter of 2011. That is how I got in contact with the research project linking international multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder professionals focusing on integration of landscape planning and efficient water and wastewater management through the Lima Ecological Infrastructure Strategy – LEIS”.

This year you are taking our students to Piura in Peru, which was affected by heavy flooding in 2017. Many people lost their homes. Can you tell us a bit about the current situation there and your involvement in ongoing projects?

In March 2017 ‘El Niño Costero’ – based on El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – caused intense rains, floods and disasters, mainly due to lack of planning,  along all of the Peruvian coast and especially in Piura, where the river again flooded the city. One of the most affected areas was El Pedregal. Many people lost their homes, and basic services were affected. Three years later, the population of this area is still waiting for their housing and infrastructure problems to be resolved. A plan by the central government of Perú and the Municipality of Piura is currently in work, and public funds have been allocated by the “Reconstrucción con Cambios” authority, dealing with the reconstruction at national level.

During 2018, I was invited as guest Lecturer at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM). As part of this position, I developed a “knowledge exchange program” to transfer and adapt the Lima Ecological Infraestructure Strategy-LEIS outcomes to other regions with similar context and challenges. This proposal was supported by GIZ-CIM and helped to link the UNALM and UDEP knowledge and to support planning and design studios in UDEP. My work focuses on introducing integrative strategies in  urban planning courses. During that collaboration we developed a research UrbanLab along the urban Piura River. The results supported also the case study of the Course Module “Ecological Infrastructure & water resilience strategies” that I facilitated last year for the Master of Sustainable Emergency Architecture in Barcelona.

What will our students be working on during their field trip?

We have been asked by our local partner, the Universidad de Piura (UDEP), to contribute to the reconstruction plan at macro and micro level, with strategies for the improvement and design of open spaces and children play areas. Therefore, we will develop the workshop with the help of staff and students of the local university, local government, civil society and the own community. The objective is to develop a pilot project in a specific open space area, one in which a temporary children play area was installed after the disaster. Through this work, the students will be supporting the “Parque de la Memoria” design and construction process in a participative way. They will identify potentials and opportunities with regard to nature-based solutions considering the local context, geographical, climatic and topographical conditions. One important aspect will be to recover indigenous knowledge such as the sustainable use of local materials, and also learn to understand the social network and how collective actions for resilience can be supported in urban-rural environments.

Last but not least, what advice would you give to our students or anyone interested in a similar career path?

Be creative and honest and always keep the ETHICS in the profession. Last but not least: “learn to share and not to compete”.

 

All images courtesy of Rossana Poblet

MSc. Arq. Rossana Poblet Alegre, Architect and Urban Planner and Consultant for Urban Development, Planning, Design and Management, e-mail: rossana.poblet@gmail.com, https://rossanapoblet.wixsite.com/mysite

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