THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION

BANGKOK  

With its sparkling skyscrapers and sprawling slums, Bangkok is a city caught between worlds. It’s a place where upscale neighborhoods are connected by a Skytrain system that breezes past informal settlements filled with tin-roofed shanties. And even as Bangkok evolves into one of Southeast Asia’s most important global business hubs, a large portion of its workers still make their living in the city’s informal economy. As part of the Rockefeller Foundation's Informal City Dialogues, Still Life Projects was commissioned to create a series of documentaries telling that story. 

 

GHANA

While smaller than many other developing cities, Accra nonetheless consists of formidable informal settlements that act as cogs in major global economic systems. The city is one of the world’s leading destinations for electronic waste, much of it imported from the U.S. and Europe. Computers, TVs and cell phones are collected and stripped in Old Fadama, a large slum near the city center. With approximately 80,000 residents living on 77 acres of land, Old Fadama is commonly referred to by its ignoble nickname, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” due to its perceived crime and licentiousness.

 

BALTIMORE 

Baltimore is adapting to the new economic realities of the 21st century. In 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced an initiative to attract 10,000 families to the city, and affirmed that immigrants would be one of the main demographics targeted. Baltimore’s economy, once heavily reliant on life-long careers held in large companies, now lends itself to the kind of local-level entrepreneurship that immigrants excel at. Now, for the first time in half a century, Baltimore’s population is rising once again, and the city’s physical location seems less important to its success than ever, as its newest residents expand its boundaries across the world.

 

BANGKOK

In 2011, an historic flood devastated Bangkok. Hundreds died, and tens of billions of dollars were lost in economic damages. During and after the disaster, the combined efforts of thousands of residents formed the foundation of the city’s response. But while groups of citizens working in concert were able to deploy boats and organize shelters, one thing they couldn’t do on their own was distribute real-time data about the disaster. For that, they would need technology: a homegrown system that’s cheap, durable, and takes advantage of the city’s informal networks, perhaps its greatest strength in times of crisis.

 

BOULDER

Boulder has a long history of innovation in sustainability and climate change. It was the first community to tax itself for the preservation of open space, the first to implement mandatory green building requirement, and the first to establish a carbon tax. But resilience and adaptation remain real challenges Boulder is wrestling with as the Colorado community recovers from historic flooding — just three years after experiencing the state’s most financially destructive wildfire in history. These experiences have taught Boulder that “bouncing back” isn’t enough — they need a plan to “bounce forward.”

 

CAMBODIA

Two decades ago, the capital city of Cambodia had virtually no water system to speak of. Few households received running water, pipes were leaky and corruption was rampant. With a change in leadership in 1993, the city’s water department set out to do what no one thought possible: build a municipal water system that would be the envy of the world. Today, not only is Phnom Penh’s water system efficient, it’s resilient, able to bounce back quickly from shocks big and small.

 

VIETNAM

Virtually every year, the typhoons tear through the city of Da Nang, Vietnam. And virtually every year, neighborhoods, especially poor ones, are left in shambles. This perennial destruction of housing is one of the main factors keeping people here in poverty — to create a more stable life, you need a home that will stand strong in a storm. Four years ago, the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) launched a program to construct affordable storm-resistant housing in Da Nang. Built to keep residents safe during typhoons, it just might shore up their lives year-round.