Lessons of DIY Urbanism in a Syrian Refugee Camp
Governments are so accustomed to dictating their will, through coercion if necessary, that they find it unimaginable that people might willingly – and with creativity and enthusiasm – self-organize themselves to take care of urgent needs. So pause a moment to behold the remarkable Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan. This settlement of 85,000 displaced Syrians is showing how even desperate, resource-poor people can show enormous creativity and self-organization, and turn their "camp" into a "city."
In many respects, Zaatari bears an uncanny resemblance to the DIY dynamics of the Burning Man encampment in the Nevada desert – an annual gathering that attracts more than 65,000 people for a week. Both eschew "government" in favor of self-organized governance. Both confer opportunities and responsibilities and individuals, and facilitate bottom-up initiatives through lightweight infrastructures.
As the New York Times reported on July 4, the Zaatari camp has “neighborhoods, gentrification, a growing economy and, under the circumstances, something approaching normalcy, though every refugee longs to return home. There is even a travel agency that will provide a pickup service at the airport, and pizza delivery, with an address system for the refugees that camp officials are scrambling to copy.” Times’ urbanist/architecture critic Michel Kimmelman declares that “Zaatari’s evolution points more broadly to a whole new way of thinking about one of the most pressing crises on the planet.”
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