Jonathan Kirby

Jonathan Kirby

Muncie, IN, US


Social Justice During Disaster Relief

With the ever increasing occurrences of natural disturbances capable of producing catastrophic damages to coastal areas, it is becoming imperative to review the methods in which disaster relief housing is handled in terms of social justice. In a period saturated with capitalism and hidden agendas, it is critical to understand how the disaster responses affect the indigenous people through the extensive issue of displacement-being forced or obliged to leave a specific place of habitual residence. Too often, the opportunities that a disaster generates from the viewpoint of a politician, a foreign developer, or even a business person can be so enticing that the fundamental and ethical needs of the victims are overshadowed. Utilizing case studies of organizations providing relief housing in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 including the Tulane City Center, Common Ground Relief, Make It Right, and Jericho Road provided an insight into how the issue of displacement was handled and what issues of social justice were encountered during the relief efforts.

Durations of displacement vary from event to event and the injustice burdened upon the victims falls on a spectrum of social justice that is not just black and white. By understanding the cultural and social issues present in a specific site, a design can begin to combat the basic world view of western civilization exhibited in the current relief responses. No longer can a “universally-applicable” design be accepted as a means to serve all people. Instead, a response which utilizes the seven universal design principles allows a temporary shelter to easily transition into a permanent residence in line with the user’s needs.

This project initiated a conversation on how detrimental such a basic belief, that of the legitimacy of imposing living “standards” on vulnerable people, is to social justice. In addition, this design project provided a means to instill a new world view, one that promotes the fundamental and ethical needs of victims of catastrophic disasters.

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Status: School Project
Location: New Orleans, LA, US