Pietro Calogero studied urban geography at UC Berkeley, completing his B.A. in 1988. Immediately following graduation he accompanied his classmate to Haiti, to try to understand global inequalities. He happened to be in Port-au-Prince when General Namphy overthrew the elected President, Manigat. The combination of political instability, extreme social inequality, and extreme poverty in Haiti has made Pietro permanently sensitive to the relationship between these three social conditions.
Pietro continued to study cities through the Masters programs in Architecture (emphasis on urban design and housing) and City and Regional Planning (emphasis on urban design) at Berkeley, completing both degrees in 1994. For one thesis he studied the Civic Center in San Francisco. For his second thesis he studied the Chaco Culture in (what is now) New Mexico and Arizona. This culture is a striking example of the independent emergence of an urban society in North America, 450 years before Columbus.
He then worked professionally for ten years, mostly in urban design and then low-income housing design. From October 1998 to August 2002, Pietro oversaw the final design, engineering, permitting, and and construction of 193 units of public housing in San Francisco.
Central Asia has long held Pietro’s interest, because of the extreme historic richness of cultures that are under-studied. In 1992 he visited Uzbekistan for a month to explore the possibility of conducting dissertation field research there. However, even six months after the fall of the Soviet Union it was clear that the government of Uzbekistan would remain restrictive and authoritative, making research infeasible.
In 2003, Pietro was able visit Afghanistan through the connections of friends he had known since the late 1980s. Not only did he get to study Kabul, but to study it on behalf of the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing of the Islamic Republic. In 2007 he returned to Kabul to conduct dissertation field research, and taught urban planning at Kabul University during that time on behalf of the World Bank Institute and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Pietro completed his Doctorate in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley in 2011.
As in Haiti, politics and geopolitics contribute to the extreme poverty and vulnerability of most Afghans. This even affects urban planning, the types of aid that are provided for urban development, and the design of policies relating to cities. For outsiders involved in Kabul–including Afghan expatriates, aid workers, diplomats, military personnel and security contractors–one of the core misconceptions I observed was an assumption that Afghans are not modern. Here, a philosophical question intersects very bluntly with the politics of aid, development, and rights. In my dissertation research, therefore, I spend a considerable amount of time arguing that Afghans are modern by describing the history of governing, planning, and modernizing the city of Kabul, especially after 1919.
There is another philosophical question that crashes uncomfortably into current events in Kabul: managing the risk of high-income foreigners at the expense of low-income local Afghans. To protect the foreigners–including NGO staff working with refugees and highly vulnerable populations–there are a whole series of practices of urban segregation that split the city into two worlds. Occupants of each world know little about each other; and this mutual isolation is not caused by differences in language (foreigners rarely learn Dari and almost never learn Pashto, but Afghans learn Urdu, Hindi, English, French, Spanish, and occasionally Italian). This segregation is extremely unpopular with both Afghans and the people inside the security envelopes; but in practice, neither has the power to overcome this foreign institutional concern about risk.
Kabul is a taste of the urbanizing world we live in: it is like many of the mid-sized cities in Asia and Africa where more than 1 billion people will settle in the next thirty years. Those cities, and the politics of their development, are embedded in current geopolitics. How will this process of urbanization be managed? How will it be planned? Those are some of the most compelling questions of urbanization, and social justice, that I see in the world today.