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Portland hosts the West Coast Premier of "Design With the Other 90%: CITIES"

With just a few simple materials, a community can map boundaries and see how they fit within the larger city. Photo courtesy "Design With the Other 90%: CITIES"
With just a few simple materials, a community can map boundaries and see how they fit within the larger city. Photo courtesy "Design With the Other 90%: CITIES"

Of the world’s 7 billion people, 1 billion now live in urban slums. Faced with uncertain land security, limited access to basic services like sanitation and clean water, and crowded living conditions, urban migrants need creative solutions to complex problems.

Portland will host the West Coast premiere of “Design With the Other 90%: CITIES," an exhibit that focuses on innovative responses to the challenges created by growing informal settlements in urban environments. The exhibit offers 60 ways to improve the lives of people living in urban slums. Recently on view at the United Nations in New York and now split between the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft and Mercy Corps' headquarters, the exhibit explores the intricate connections among urban planning and design, education, social entrepreneurship, climate change, sanitation and water, migration, public health and affordable housing in informal communities. Exhibits at Mercy Corps will look at accessing resources, building prosperity and mapping information.

BioCentres, multi-story bio-latrines in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya, use anaerobic digestion to transform human waste into fertilizer and methane-based gas for cooking and heating water. Built from locally sourced technology, materials and unskilled labor, BioCentres convert human waste on-site, eliminating the need for additional plumbing. The systems generate biogas and liquid fertilizer that communities can sell. The "Access" exhibit will feature solutions that improve access to water, sanitation, food, electricity, health, transportation and education.

In India, where over 25 percent of the urban population lives below the poverty line, connects employers and hopeful employees to find and fill jobs. Informal workers, such as housekeepers, drivers and clerks, can find desirable employers through their mobile phones using SMS texts or USSD (a menu-driven mobile application). These workers then receive daily SMS updates about jobs in their area for the equivalent of two cents a day. The “Prosper" exhibit displays inventive ways to help create work opportunities in informal communities.

Informal settlements often don't show up on official maps or in census rolls. In Cantagallo, a slum in Lima, Peru, a "grassroots mapping" tool shows residents exactly how their communities fit together. The inventor, Jeff Warren, used a digital camera with continuous mode shooting, which can be lofted by a kite, balloon or inflated trash bag and snap aerial images. Residents own the resulting images and maps, which they can use to support land-title claims or to aid in infrastructure upgrading efforts. For the first time, local inhabitants can see their settlement from overhead, giving them new insight into the relationship of their community with the surrounding city.

This exhibit explores questions about how communities work with their environments, create new infrastructure and respond to challenges with innovations. With an unprecedented rate of urban growth projected over the next 20 years, primarily in the global south, the exhibit confronts how informal settlements are progressing, and provides ideas other cities can replicate.

“Design With the Other 90%: CITIES” is curated by Cynthia E. Smith of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The presenting sponsor is The Lemelson Foundation.

RELATED: How to find the world's best urban designs: An interview with curator Cynthia Smith

The exhibit opens Friday, August 17, 2012 and remains on view through January 5, 2013. There is no charge for the half of the exhibit on display at the Mercy Corps Action Center. The Museum of Contemporary Craft charges a $4 entrance fee for its half of the exhibit. Smith will deliver a 45-minute lecture about the exhibit at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the MoCC.


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