Meet the 2018 Loeb Fellows: Surella Segu

Meet the 2018 Loeb Fellows: Surella Segu


Hi. I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me and
having this opportunity. Thank you, John and
Sally and the committee. I am incredibly, here again,
I was here in last November. And right after, and
today is a different mood, because last time it was
right after the election day. So it was a rough time. I want to talk
about today, I mean, since we don’t have
much time, I just want to say that I’m an
architect and urban designer. I went to Columbia
for my master’s. I stayed in New York for years. And then I went back. I was there with my partner
who is actually here, Armando Hashimoto. And we build together
a private office in architecture and
urbanism and we’ve just been doing like a
different type of work from design exhibition to houses
in institutions, interiors, and also like urban
design projects. And we’ve also been
really close to academia. We’ve been teaching
for 11 years. And we are always
interested in trying to push further the way that
teaching is done in Mexico. And this is right what I would
like to talk about today. Because in 2013, I was invited
to be part of the Infonavit, to work in Infonavit, which is
a National Institute for Housing Workers Fund. I’m going to give a little
bit of context really quick, because I don’t have time,
and then just explain what I was doing there. Mexico, it’s around 735,
well, you can see the numbers. And for those that
you don’t know, Mexico is right
below the States. And we’ve been, geographically,
and we’ve been lately in the agenda since
last November, I think, a little bit before,
in the American agenda. And this is like the
way the population is, to have a rough idea of
how this is organized. And then, Infonavit of it is
the largest mortgage lender in the world, based on
the size of his portfolio and its origination level. 70% of all mortgage loans in the
country comes from Infonavit. One of every four
Mexican families live in one of these houses. But also, just for
you to know 70%, of the housing is informal. So Infonavit works
with the formal houses. So this is the 70% of that, 70%. And this is just for
like the financing people if we have some here. And then on average,
for the last decade, Infonavit is giving
5,000 credits a year. Infonavit began in the 70s
with really good project being a market creator in both
constructing and financing houses. And I mean, just showing this
picture because it is amazing that they even have professional
housing lake that they design. It’s not a natural
lake, so they really put a lot of money and
design into this project. But during the
90s, Infonavit stop constructing because
Infonavit was incapable of producing all
the houses that were in need and transforming to a
social mortgage lender. And the quality of the
houses began to change. During the last decade,
fighting the housing deficit, it was the developers who were
in charge of the construction process in a massive way. So I’m sure that you’ve seen
a lot of these landscapes. And this is very
common in the outskirts of the cities in Mexico and
in Latin America, of course. In 2013, with the change of the
presidential administration, and this is a year though
I was invited to work for Infonavit as an employee. Employee, yeah. They were trying to do
a shift on the way– the production houses where
they were doing before. And they were trying
to focus on improving the quality of
life of the people who live in these houses. But it’s really– somebody told
me at Infonavit that Infonavit is this huge transatlantic– that if you were to turn
to change the road– you need to push one centimeter,
and then at the end of 10 years maybe it will change. So it’s really a tough work. According with INEGI, which
is the National Geostatistic Institute, there are five
million uninhabited dwellings in Mexico, and we have a
deficit of 9 million houses in the country. This is what happen
after in the last decade, we have a lot of
abandoned houses. And I’m showing this– here before, I said
that this is only 3% of the total loan of the
portfolio that is abandoned. So for– I understand
that for financial people, this is normal. This is the way that– actually it’s a good number. But since I was invited to deal
with it, this is mainly what– when I arrived at
Infonavit, they showed me and they said,
well, we have to do something about this situation. And there is people
living there. So even if it’s 3%, there
are thousands of people living in these conditions. So what I tried to do, I was in
charge of the urban development area that was created– for me, basically– I mean, I
was there to create the area. And in this huge
institution where architects and urban
designers were not working there since
the 70s and 80s, it was a big challenge for me. I tried to work in two
different lines of action. One, trying to solve the most
everyday political times. You have to give results
on a daily basis. And in another way
understanding that social issues and urban design issues
take a lot of time. So I divided, in a way, into
analysis and strategy, and also the programs on
the project that we have to implement right away. And I was really
interested in this part that said that I was trying
to create a feedback circle, because I had that
opportunity at Infonavit. Which is I think it’s really– I don’t know if to say unique,
but it’s really something that you can try to do research,
and then test it in the field, and then go back and
rethink your research. I’m showing these– I’m sure
that in this institution just to show some books is nothing. But in Mexico and in a financial
institution to show that we really set up a way to do
formal research in the field. And also with a
book that could– we can deliver and
show and share, is something really
important in this context. So we create– also we create
housing deterioration index in order to be able to measure
things and try to prove that the– to check if the interventions
that we were doing were working or not. Because before, nobody
was checking or taking into account the process. These are some of
the programs that we were working on as a team. And that it was– there were developing
in that area. [spanish] is a
really fast program. It’s like– well, all of these
programs, they were really– [spanish] is a
really fast program. We do it in like two months. But its a way to begin having
the community interested in these issues. And then to try to do a
longer work project that its an urban renewal,
because normally what happens in
these settlements is that people just care
about their security, not even about their homes. And then the rest of the– environment is really–
its like land of nobody. That’s a– [spanish]. And at the end I have
this huge situation of trying to deal with
the abandoned houses. So the program in
the middle is more for to prevent for
getting houses abandoned, and the last one is what to
do with all these houses. And we did an assessment. We tried to also– we were convinced that the
community participation was fundamental. And we were trying to bring
community in all the processes that we were doing. These are some of the examples. And the thing with
this project is that the community has to
participate in the process. So they were painting with
the artist that we hired. And we also had help. We have the help of
community-based organizations that help us. Because we are just architects. And just to show you
some of the projects– the photos on the
left are going to be like what these settlements– these people are used to
having their public spaces. And the projects
that we invite also architects– really the
best architects in Mexico– to participate in this program. Because we are convinced
also that good design has to be implemented
in these places. So these are– these
people are used to have these type of parks,
and we tried to change that. The people at
Infonavit, they say, why people don’t care
about their spaces? Why people don’t care
about their houses? Well, I think it’s obvious. They don’t have
really a public space. They don’t have really
a good neighborhood. And this is one of
the projects that– one of the 36 areas that we
were researching in order to get to know the problem
of abandoned housing. And this is just more than 10%
of the houses are abandoned. The red dots are the
houses that are abandoned. So just living in between
is really a nightmare. This is Mexicali, which is
in the border to the state. It’s in the border
with Calexico. I don’t know if you know the
city, but it’s a small city. And this is the area
that we were studying. It’s really outskirts
of the city. We did these 36 [inaudible]
36 developments that we went survey– site survey, and also
talking to people. And we were around
it’s around 2,000– 500,000– 250,000 houses. And I going to skip this one,
but this is a general diagram– just to show you how we work,
we have in front of it and we hire– we were in partners with an NGO. Because we also discovered that
if we go with the community directly, it seems that people
doesn’t trust institutions anymore. It couldn’t work. So we work with these
NGOs and we also bring as many
stakeholders as possible to participate in the process. And this NGO was in the same– the whole time that we
were working in the site and since before also– because they are
like a white brand. I don’t know if you say
it like that in here. But they are really neutral,
and people trust them, and they can work really
well with the community. And we tried to bring governors,
mayors, private sector NGOs, and the neighborhood
associations. And there’s some–
we’re still thinking, what is the best way to do
the participation process? But we have this point
where we were really talking to each other
in terms of community. And while the architect
was going away way to develop the
project, the community were trying to build projects
in order to engage the community and in order to
strengthen the community. And we did a site analysis
together with the community. We did project prioritization
with the community. And we were sharing the project
with them the whole time. And at the end we have to
have an agreement, which is very important
for the municipality to keep working
with the community and for the community
to get a commitment. Because we are all so convinced
that the government can’t deal with these issues alone. We cannot just sit and expect
that the government is going to bring us everything. This is not going to happen. But we can help them to
have a real communication between the community
and the government. Since– I’m talking like
that because Infonavit is, in a way, an independent
institution– so in a way, we were not the state
in this process. It was like the major– and also because all
the regulations are made by the local authority. And we were kind of further
up, but not that further. And at the end, we did
also one important thing– I’m not at the end. OK, so I’m just going to
tell you that the lessons that we learn,
that the community participation throughout all the
process is really fundamental. The more the community is
involved in the process, greater will be the commitment. And to guarantee not just the
participation on the process, but the lasting– of the permanency of the project
itself [? during ?] time. [? and ?] architects
and urban designers, participation are fundamental
like bringing well-known– in terms of [? good ?]
architects and good designers. And also site-specific
projects is something that is fundamental. We cannot just replicate as
we’ve been doing in the past. Construction quality is
fundamental, and institutional leadership. And just the questions that I
have that I am bringing here for my year is that, can
we help in the process of empowering communities as
architects and urban designers? Can we include all these
other fundamental issues into our discussion, like
health, food, capacity building? For community capacity building
and also institutional capacity building like happens in Mexico. And if it’s possible in
terms of Infonavit measures, my programs impact
around 500,000 people. But I would like to
find a way to really have an impact on
five million people. Thank you.

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