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Alex Fernandez

ESR12

Alex Fernandez is an early career researcher (PhD candidate) in comparative housing policy at the department of Management of the Built Environment, TU Delft. He is interested in a range of economic and social issues related to affordable housing provision, low-emissions housing and environmental transitions. He holds a Double Bachelor in History and Political Science from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (URJC), an MSc in City Design and Social Sciences from the London School of Economics (LSE), and is currently studying a part-time MSc in Economics at Birkbeck, University of London.

He has contributed to projects led by LSE Cities, ”Socio-Economic Value at the Elephant and Castle” and LSE London, “Barriers to acceptance of housing offers by families in temporary accommodation”, and on Innovation in Urban Policy, as well as interned at the Spanish Ministries of Public Works and Foreign Affairs. He has also worked as an analyst at various start-ups and at Peabody, one of London’s largest providers of social housing, where he researched the impact of housing and social care policies on social housing residents.

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December, 09, 2021

Comparative Analysis of Affordable and Sustainable Housing Policies in Europe (ESR12)

This project’s main research goal is to identify and compare policies for the affordable retrofit of Europe’s built environment. The analytical framework draws from various disciplines including economics, public policy, and complexity science. These disciplines provide the foundations to four research streams:

  1. Analysing of user costs and cash-flows implications for various housing retrofit policies within the Dutch national context. By comparing the economic implications of different policies across households and housing typologies, this line of inquiry seeks to identify the financial impacts over renters, owners, and landlords with varying income levels.
  2. Constructing an Agent-Based Model of the housing market. This model aims to capture the second and third-order effects that modifications to the housing stock can have over house prices and ultimately affordability. Here the focus will be on the potential distributional effects of housing retrofit.
  3. Adapting the preceding model to account for particularities across countries and urban areas. This model will include the economic and social contexts that condition policy outcomes across European housing systems.
  4. Exploring institutional and policy design across different public and private organisations. This mainly qualitative stream will critically analyse institutional arrangements that favour the adoption of affordable and sustainable housing policies. The point of contact with experts will be the RE-DWELL network, secondments, and case studies.

These four research streams are empirically and methodologically led, however, ESR12 also aspires to contribute to the theoretical underpinning of public policy analysis, housing economics, and critical social sciences. These disciplines, while dealing with the same research topics, have evolved through divergent perspectives; ESR12 seeks to strengthen the links between them. By bringing these perspectives together, this project intends to formulate realistic policy recommendations for the design of a fair transition to a low-emissions' built environment.

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Unmethodical foreplay

Posted on 05-10-2021

“Theories become clear and “reasonable” only after incoherent parts of them have been used for a long time. Such unreasonable, nonsensical, unmethodical foreplay thus turns out to be an unavoidable precondition of clarity and of empirical success”. (Feyerabend, 2010: 11)   Invaded by mass tourism, divided by social and economic inequalities, it is easy to forget that at one point, Lisbon was the San Francisco of Europe. In fact, the Portuguese were the first European traders to reach India and held the monopoly of trade with Japan during the 16th century. Indo-Portuguese art, such as the sculpture depicted on the left is a window into a prior phase of global exchanges, one motivated by discoveries, commercial expansion and European colonisation. Today, syncretic artistic expressions drawing from Hinduism and Catholicism allow historians to re-trace a complicated past.   However, what does this tell us of research on housing affordability and sustainability? This sculpture is an example of an earlier form of world complexity, readable, in this case, through art forms and religious dogmas. It is a concrete embodiment that confounds paradigms that place top-bottom, North-South, European vs other, critical-rational divisions over our current world. In short, it muddies the clear waters of preconceived frameworks that place Christianity in a White-European context.    It is in the muddy waters that theorising gains importance. To borrow from Feyerabend, we need to fight against the method, any method. In urban studies, preconceived ontologies, conceptualisations of the world, stifle research creating what Tonkiss (2011) calls Template Urbanism. The danger of template urbanism is becoming reified, a set of common tropes that act as places for encounter but simply fall flat when confronted with social realities.   Flows of ideas and commodities, the creation of intercontinental networks, and ever-increasing complexity were a reality in the regional world of the 18th century. In the 21st, visiting Lisbon, we’ve seen informal settlements in the “Global North”, the consequences of a fascist regime that, like its Spanish counterpart, created a country of homeowners, all of that even before neoliberalism went mainstream with Thatcher and Reagan. This doesn’t fit into the one framework. These phenomena demand engagement with theories and disciplines of their own, not a one-size-fits-all approach.   Maybe just on this particular point, both sides of the spectrum in urban research, critical researchers (Brenner et al., 2011) and urban data scientists (Kandt & Batty, 2021) see theorising as key in producing meaningful research. Empiricism in the urban environment is frown upon because of its naïveté, it refuses to engage with the messiness Feyerabend talks about. On the contrary, we ought to engage with messiness to find the theoretical tools allowing us to produce meaningful scientific outputs.    References Brenner, N., Madden, D. J., & Wachsmuth, D. (2011). "Assemblage urbanism and the challenges of critical urban theory." City, 15:2, 225-240 https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.568717 Kandt, J., & Batty, M. (2021). "cities, big data and urban policy: Towards urban analytics for the long run." Cities, 109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2020.102992 Tonkiss, F. (2011). "City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Template urbanism Four points about assemblage" in City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.  15(5), 584–588. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.60902

Workshops

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Here’s why you should watch Real Estate TV Shows…

Posted on 28-07-2021

OK, I’ve got a confession to make: I am addicted to real estate reality TV. The plastic surgery and mansions in Selling Sunset make me live, but it is the prime Airbnb’s from The Worlds’ Most Amazing Vacation Rentals that I die for. I do understand that for many a scholar, these shows may seem too crude. Indeed, they are infused with obscene wealth, flashy cars, and dramatic airborne entrances. These sumptuously designed homes make Hudson Yards look like a Lacaton & Vassal retrofit but more importantly, they remind us what houses are about for a minority of powerful elites.   Having just finished The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, I can’t help but give some thought to the use of houses to display wealth and power, ultimately what are homes for when they are not for dwelling. Before giving free rein to criticising the eccentricities of the 1%, it must be recognised that homes for elites have always been about status. Morality aside, we wouldn’t have a Palazzo Pitti[1] if it wasn’t for Renaissance bankers, nor a Mauritshuis[2] without Dutch mercantilists (and slave plantations in Brazil).   What is it then that makes the contemporary equivalents of the 18th century French Châteaux much more perturbing? I believe the reason is to be found in the unequal distributions of wealth joining the inescapable reality of shared ultimate costs. Earlier examples of wealth extraction took place out of sight, through colonial exploitation, or somehow involved those exploited. That goes to say, even the industrial proletariat in Europe managed to access some of the fruits of their labour not without some struggle. For instance, Ludwig II of Bavaria, best portrayed by Visconti in the 1973 film Ludwig, used the construction of his Schlösser to patron local artists and created a flourishing artisan class. On the contrary, the yachts parked in London’s Saint Catherine’s docks, much like the mansions portrayed on my predilect passe-temps, only rob us, an increasingly impoverished majority, of our present and future.   If you can stomach The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, you’ll witness the severed wings of a Boeing 747 airlifted by a helicopter over Nevada’s desert only to become a “feminine ceiling” on a millionaire’s rural home. While the technical prowess is commendable and the so-called “femininity of the shape” hilariously sexist, the scene is overall off-putting. To me, this has not so much to do with the obvious disregard for money and mounting costs, things that I’m ultimately quite fond of in any aristocrat’s palazzo. My grievance dwells in the claims of sustainability and material upcycling that disregard the carbon embodied in the deranged operation of using a helicopter to build a roof.   The main issue here is that the long-term consequences of the lavish lifestyle of the few are already harming the many. One only needs to look at this month’s deadly flooding across Europe to apprehend this. In the time of quasi-astronaut millionaires, sustainability is only conceivable through wealth redistribution. In the meantime, if you feel like having a cheeky peek at the Swan’s song of the West, all the shows I’ve mentioned are available on Netflix.   [1] Florentine Palace, probably designed by Brunelleschi, and today home to the House of Medici's art collection. [2] Currently an art museum, it was built as a home to Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, governor of Dutch Brazil.

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