Dhaka. Credit: MD FAYSAL AHMED

Side Event World Urban Forum: Understanding Cities from the Inside Out

Side Event World Urban Forum: Understanding Cities from the Inside Out - Sustainability of Neighbourhoods in Asia and Africa

  • Monday 10 February 2020

  • 12:30 - 13:30

  • Hall 3, Room 15, World Urban Forum, Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center

SHLC’s Side Event at the UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum aims to provoke fresh insight into understanding urban sustainability at the neighbourhood level in fast-growing cities.

SHLC’s international research team will showcase initial findings exploring neighbourhood sustainability from 14 case study cities across Africa and Asia to help inform our understanding of sustainable urban development and ensure neighbourhoods are an inclusive, safe, and resilient place to live.

Presentations will be followed by a Q&A with the panel and networking session where there will be an opportunity to explore a small photography exhibition showcasing images taken during neighbourhood fieldwork.

Speakers and Panel 

  • Professor Ya Ping Wang – University of Glasgow (Moderator)
  • Dr Shilpi Roy – Khulna University, Bangladesh (Speaker)
  • Dr Francis Levira – Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania (Speaker)
  • Professor Debolina Kundu – National Institute of Urban Affairs, India (Moderator)
  • Dr Jaideep Gupte – Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (Panelist)
  • Professor Cliff Hague – Heriot-Watt University and Cockburn Association (Panelist)
  • Remy Sietchiping – UN Habitat (Panelist)
  • Andre Muller – Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), Germany (Panelist)

Background

Globalisation and rapid urban growth means neighbourhoods across Asian and African cities are more dynamic than ever. Assuring sustainability in our neighborhoods plays an important role in delivering sustainable cities and communities. But the pressing demand for a healthy and inclusive living environment, quality learning opportunities, a thriving local economy and active participation in local governance have been major policy challenges in Asian and African cities.

To address these challenges it is crucial that good local practices and stories are shared to offer an insight into the understanding of sustainable neighbourhoods.

Event hosts, the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC), is an international collaborative research centre supported by UK Research and Innovation and is currently conducting comparative studies of urbanisation and the formation and differentiation of neighbourhoods in 14 cities across Africa and Asia. During this side event, the SHLC international research team will showcase the status of neighbourhood sustainability and its associated forces in case study cities to hep inform our understanding of sustainable urban development.


‘Off the boat’ fresh fish and the fish monger, Nilkhet, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Picturing Dhaka: Bustling Streets, Famous Street Food and Rubbish Playgrounds

In this picture blog, Irfan Shakil, Tanjil Sowgat and S. M. Tafsirul Islam explore the streets of Dhaka. They come across busy streets, challenging transport and traditional street food. 

All pictures and captions by the SHLC research team at Khulna University.  All views are the author’s own and not attributed to SHLC.

People, buses, rickshaws, bikes and cars, Mirpur 10, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.
People, buses, rickshaws, bikes and cars, Mirpur 10, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Bustling Dhaka is awake until very late at night. Despite heavy traffic and miserable walking conditions, life goes on. The roads host different modes and uses in Dhaka. Everyone is trying their best to make a claim of their right.

A road without footpaths, an unsafe walk and everyday route to school, Thatari Bazar, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University
A road without footpaths, an unsafe walk and everyday route to school, Thatari Bazar, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Smaller roads can be equally unsafe. This road without footpaths is an everyday route to school for some pupils. At the same time, inadequate buses force commuters to find alternative public transport options.

Haggling women in the vegetable market in Kurail Slum Area, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.
Haggling women in the vegetable market in Kurail Slum Area, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

In another part of town, women attend a vegetable market to shop for their families. Famously known as ‘ brides market’, this market also has female shop keepers. While men are away for work, women come out and do business in their own neighborhoods. Unlike many other markets, people can buy a single piece of onion or green chilli if they wanted to. Nothing is wasted in these communities and everyone is busy doing something to make lives affordable.

‘Off the boat’ fresh fish and the fish monger, Nilkhet, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.
‘Off the boat’ fresh fish and the fish monger, Nilkhet, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Further South, Riverine Bangladesh has plenty of fish to offer to its citizen. Dinner without fish is almost impossible. However, people who sell these fishes travel a distance to do their business. They find it difficult to stay in the heart of the city and rent a place in poorly serviced slums. Many of these people hardly have fish as their regular diet.

'Imarti' the famous street food of old Dhaka, Thatari Bazar. Credit: Khulna University.
'Imarti' the famous street food of old Dhaka, Thatari Bazar. Credit: Khulna University.

Not too far away, a street food stall sells “Imarti”, a tradition that has lived on for over 400 years of city life in Dhaka. Made from flour and sugar syrup, this unique ‘sweet’ is a part of special occasions in the local culture and people also have them in the evening as snacks. Younger generations often refuse Imarti for its high concentration of sugar and unhygienic cooking process. Yet, elders say that they ran recall their ‘childhood’ memories when they have Imarti and will never stop eating it.

Unplanned residence and uncollected waste: the cost of urbanisation in Karail Slum, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.
Unplanned residence and uncollected waste: the cost of urbanisation in Karail Slum, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Slums of Dhaka have limited and sometimes polluted open space but that cannot keep children away from their joyful playtime. With rapidly decreasing open spaces, children are forced to play wherever they find and empty space. However, these open sites are dangerous disposal sites of disease spreading wastes including medical wastes.

Busy life and risky tangled cables, Nawabpur Road, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.
Busy life and risky tangled cables, Nawabpur Road, Dhaka. Credit: Khulna University.

Tangled electric wires are risky and often end up in serious accidents, but people here learnt to ignore the risk and live with it. Informal arrangements for cable connections and illegal use of government electric poles keep the monthly cable tv costs as low as £2.


Water tanks, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, National Institute of Urban Affairs

Picturing Madurai: Smart Fruit Market, Local Craft Heritage and Water Shortages

In this picture blog, Dr Arvind Pandey explores living conditions, from housing to craft culture, in Madurai city, India. His explorations paint a vivid picture of the beautiful city alongside some of its pressing urban challenges.

All pictures by Dr Arvind Pandey, National Institute of Urban Affairs. All views are the author’s own and not attributed to SHLC.

Housing in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Housing in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

Living circumstances can vary greatly in Madurai. Agrani (top two pictures) is a planned gated colony in Madurai, which has a very clean and green environment. Unfortunately, only the rich and affluent class of the Indian cities can afford to live in neighbourhoods like this. Agrani gated colony has a planned layout divided in six sectors, comprising the apartments with one to three bedrooms, a hall, kitchen, bathroom and store room. There are also individual bungalows in this colony with four to six bedrooms, halls, kitchen, bathroom, and storeroom.  The apartments are home to the upper middle-class and the rich affluent class live in individual bungalows.

A total contrast senario is found in Arualdaspuram, a slum located on the bank of Vagai River in Madurai (bottom two pictures). The poor section of urban society live in this slum in temporary houses without any tenure security, and proper basic amenities. The slum dwellers live with consistent fear of eviction and relocation to the periphery of the city.  In last decade, the eviction and resettlement of slum dwellers to the periphery of the city is common phenonmenon in most of the Indian cities.

Water tankers and eToilets, a new lifeline of Indian cities, Anaiyur, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Water tankers and eToilets, a new lifeline of Indian cities, Anaiyur, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

Madurai city had several water ponds and lakes during the late 20th century and water supply did not used to be an issue for the city. But today, unfortunately, due to failure of urban planning, Indian cities are facing huge shortage of drinking water. Suburban areas of Madurai city are facing acute shortages due to city officials giving more importance to urban development over conservation of natural resources. But the city is trying to improve the health and hygiene situation, for example by installing eToilets under the Smart City Mission.

Urban Health Centres in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Urban Health Centres in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

There are more than 30 urban primary health centres (U-PHC) in Madurai, which provide health care facilities to the neighbourhoods. These health centres are equipped with modern diagnostic facilities, and patients receive free treatment, check-ups and medicines. These UPHCs provide 24*7 service, and play significant role in improving the health status of the residents in Madurai city. However, the lack of adequate human resource is one of the major challenges faced by U-PHC in the city.

Modern vs Traditional – the Smart City Fruit Market in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Modern vs Traditional – the Smart City Fruit Market in Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

The newly constructed fruit and vegetable market, which was built under the Smart City Mission, shows a contrast of traditional and modern fruits and vegetables market in Indian cities. The new makeover of the market has not changed the warmth of the sellers who welcome you with a beautiful smile.

Thali – the taste of South India, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Thali – the taste of South India, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

Indian cities are famous for their tasty food, which are made locally and have distinct and unique taste. The South Indian Thali contains several types of vegetables, sweets and curries along with steamed rice. All these items are served on banana leaves.

Meeanakshi Amman Temple and surrounding areas, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Meeanakshi Amman Temple and surrounding areas, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

At the core of Madurai city is the Meeanakshi Amman Temple. In the streets surrounding the temple is Agraharam. This land was given by the King to the priest community for religious purposes. Nowadays, this neighbourhood is a hub of small business activities.

Local Crafts: a symbol of local culture, Arualdaspuram, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA
Local Crafts: a symbol of local culture, Arualdaspuram, Madurai, India. Credit: Arvind Pandey, NIUA

This local craft shop in Arualdaspuram upholds important traditional heritage. In the era of globalisation, cities need to preserve these crafts, and promote the artisans who have preserved these crafts for centuries. There are few shops left in Madurai, which remember these invaluable handmade products.


Housing in Madanpur Khadar resettlement colony, India, Delhi. Credit: Gail Wilson

Delhi Health Crisis Linked to Urbanisation

This article is written by Ivan Turok and was originally published by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. All views are the author’s own and not attributable to SHLC.

India’s capital city, Delhi, often hits the headlines. The United Nations reckons it is expanding by 100 people an hour, or 3% a year, making it the world’s fastest-growing city. Delhi is expected to overtake Tokyo and become the world’s largest metropolis by 2028. On a recent research visit to the city, I discovered flaws in the government’s handling of this process. Delhi’s experience is a warning to many African countries experiencing rapid urbanisation.

Cities that don’t prepare for the population influx risk falling so far behind the curve that they become overwhelmed. It then becomes impossible to catch up with people’s needs for housing, transport, jobs and basic services.

For too long, Delhi has neglected the requirements of its poor communities for decent and dignified living conditions. A catalogue of chronic public health problems now faces local residents. Too many have been left behind while privileged groups benefit from government largesse.

Irregular urban form Madanpur Khadar Delhi India. Credit: Ivan Turok
Irregular urban form Madanpur Khadar Delhi India. Credit: Ivan Turok

Citywide health problems

According to the World Health Organisation, Delhi has the worst air quality of any major city in the world. Air pollution wreaks havoc on human respiratory systems, damaging the lungs of half of all children in the city. The main cause is vehicle emissions, followed by dust from building sites, and the burning of household and factory waste (including rubber and plastic) and stubble in surrounding agricultural areas.

Traffic congestion is another serious problem, causing noise pollution (as drivers hooting incessantly) and frequent accidents involving pedestrians. Living in the city is stressful and corrodes mental health. The government appears to lack the resolve and capacity to do much about curbing these basic hazards.

Childhood stunting is widespread, caused by insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections. This is a symptom of multidimensional poverty, which persists despite India’s strong economic growth in recent years.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than a third (38%) of children under five suffer from impaired development, with lifelong effects on learning capacity, earnings and the risks of diabetes and hypertension.

Public health problems are acute in Delhi’s informal settlements, in which between 20% to 40% of the city’s population live. The poorest neighbourhoods lack vital public services and are vulnerable to demolition because they are unauthorised and there is pressure on the land from burgeoning real estate development.

Resettlement colony

We began with a walking tour of Madanpur Khadar, a “resettlement colony” of about 20 000 people in eastern Delhi. It was established in the early 2000s following forced evictions from squatter settlements in the core city. The Delhi Development Authority acquired the agricultural land, subdivided it into tiny plots of between 12m2 and 22m2, and leased them to the evicted families for a modest sum.

After being granted security of tenure, people have built their own homes incrementally and vertically, using bricks and mortar funded through meagre savings and renting out rooms to lodgers. The tallest structures now reach up to five or six storeys high, although some families still live crowded together in a single-storey room. The uneven building heights give the settlement an irregular and unfinished appearance.

Laying out a rectangular street grid at the outset has proved important in ensuring a functional built form and good internal connectivity. Many of the ground-floor units on the most accessible streets have been converted into small shops and premises for service providers. Other streets and alleyways are very narrow, restricting the amount of light and ventilation entering people’s homes, and undermining their health and wellness.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of investment in water and sanitation infrastructure. An open drainage channel runs in front of most buildings, but it is unhygienic and overflows when it rains. Hand pumps give residents access to ground water, but this is unsafe to drink so people have to buy potable water from street vendors. Public toilets are in short supply and are poorly maintained, so open defecation in surrounding areas remains common.

Centralised refuse collection is also neglected, so there is considerable fly tipping. Several open spaces were originally set aside by the municipality for future playgrounds or small public parks, but the lack of investment and poor maintenance mean there is still little greenery and they are treated as rubbish dumps or vacant ground on which cows, pigs and dogs roam freely.

Not surprisingly, diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and tuberculosis are widespread. A power station nearby exposes residents to fly ash and dust particles, which compound their health hazards. There have even been a few cases of dengue fever. Despite this inventory of problems, the government has not provided any primary health centres in the area.

Overall, the settlement is a step up from the makeshift places that many residents occupied before. The most positive features are the street grid, the solid dwellings and security of tenure for residents, although space standards are low, investment in the physical and social infrastructure is lacking and the location is inferior, given the absence of public transport and poor road connections.

"Overall, the settlement is a step up from the makeshift places that many residents occupied before. The most positive features are the street grid, the solid dwellings and security of tenure for residents, although space standards are low, investment in the physical and social infrastructure is lacking and the location is inferior, given the absence of public transport and poor road connections."

Hand pump Madanpur Khadar Delhi India. Credit: Ivan Turok
Hand pump Madanpur Khadar Delhi India. Credit: Ivan Turok

Privileged redevelopment

Our next excursion was a revelation in quite different ways. Kidwai Nagar is a desirable housing precinct covering an extensive area of almost 35 000 hectares. It is designed to accommodate government officials in a completely safe and stress-free living environment. The stark contrast with Madanpur Khadar shows what’s possible with sufficient commitment.

A run-down area comprising 2 330 housing units in crumbling two- to three-storey blocks was demolished a few years ago and is in the process of being redeveloped into an upmarket, walled complex. Altogether 4 750 flats are being built in 75 towers of up to 15 storeys, together with 100 000m2 of office space.

A government entity, the National Buildings Construction Corporation, is managing the project. Although the overall population density of the precinct is quite high, internal and external space standards are generous and the complex also includes a string of sophisticated environmental features, a health centre and several schools.

The scheme is very fortunate to have internal parks, play areas, lots of trees, wide paved streets and underground car parks. It even has its own sewage treatment works, waste disposal system and energy supply (solar panels). It is fairly self-contained and does not depend on inadequate, unreliable citywide systems.

The smallest flat is more than three times larger than the biggest home in Madanpur Khadar. And the largest apartment is 20 times bigger. These extravagant apartments each have three underground car parking spaces. In line with established norms and customs, the rents are heavily subsidised to benefit the fortunate civil servants.

Furthermore, the complex is more centrally located than the resettlement colony and much better connected to the rest of the city through the road network. Two adjacent underground metro stations are particularly valuable neighbourhood assets in light of the worsening gridlock on Delhi’s roads.

Overall, it seems unfair that a government initiative ultimately funded by the taxpayer is reinforcing social privilege. With these kinds of fringe benefits available, it is hardly surprising that jobs in the public sector are so strongly sought after.

"It seems unfair that a government initiative funded by taxpayers is reinforcing social privilege. With these kinds of fringe benefits available, it is unsurprising that public sector jobs are so strongly sought after by Indian citizens."

Hope for the future

Our last visit was to an independent organisation that promotes popular involvement in knowledge creation. Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) believes that India is an overly hierarchical society with an excessively centralised government. Democratic engagement can make public policy more responsive and decision-makers more accountable.

Pria gives particular emphasis to young people (those under 25 comprise 50% of India’s population) and women (who tend to be excluded from decision-making, given the patriarchal nature of the society). There is a focus on essential public services, such as sanitation and healthcare, given their widespread neglect.

Pria’s work begins by collecting information and creating awareness of conditions on the ground. Engaging communities in building a sound evidence base creates legitimate and compelling demands for service improvement. Citizens learn about their rights and what they can reasonably expect the government to deliver. They are empowered by understanding that the problems they face are collective rather than individual.

Close involvement in monitoring local conditions also gives rise to constructive proposals for how things might be done differently. Informed citizens are better equipped to hold decision-makers to account. They are taken more seriously and are more likely to elicit a positive response from the authorities. In short, neighbourhoods can be turned from zones of poverty and exclusion into domains of mobilisation.

Given the extraordinary costs and complexity of organising centralised systems of waste disposal and sewage treatment in a city the size of Delhi, there are many opportunities to introduce devolved solutions at district or neighbourhood level.

By advocating local solutions to local problems, Pria promotes the creation of local jobs and incomes, while improving service provision in deprived communities. Decentralised, off-grid systems are also likely to be less expensive, more resilient and more environmentally sustainable than highly capital-intensive projects.

Summing up, visiting Delhi sparked mixed reactions — surprise at the stark poverty and institutionalised inequality, but also optimism stemming from insights into ways of disrupting the inertia and stimulating social change. Better resourced municipalities working hand-in-hand with local communities could do much to improve the basic conditions of life.

"Visiting Delhi sparked mixed reactions — surprise at the stark poverty and institutionalised inequality, but also optimism stemming from insights into ways of disrupting the inertia and stimulating social change. Better resourced municipalities working hand-in-hand with local communities could do much to improve the basic conditions of life."


Walking through Madanpur Khadar, New-Delhi, India. Credit: Gail Wilson

As Urban Inequality Deepens, It’s Time for a Reality Check

This article is written by Geci Karuri-Sebina and David Everatt was originally published by the Daily Maverick. All views are the author’s own and not attributable to SHLC.

Cities are the engine rooms of economic growth and wealth creation, and draw in millions across the globe who know that even if their lives will be hard, this will be coupled with some free basic services and some better options and personal choices, including who to vote for.

Durga Devi (not her real name) lives in Madanpur Khadar, a so-called resettlement colony in the south-east district of Delhi which is the product of thousands of slum dwellers being evicted from the city of Delhi in 2002 for the Commonwealth Games (the eviction was from the surroundings of Nehru Place to accommodate the development project of a metro station and a new market complex).

Fourteen years later, Durga Devi lives in a typical 12-yard (about 10m2) unit with her two remaining young adult sons, her daughter having married and moved out. In her humble abode are a cot bed, two-plate stove with a gas cylinder, modest shelving and altar, a massive air conditioning unit and a bright red mid-sized fridge with a small TV atop it. Durga Devi glumly informs us that she loves the fridge, which was donated to her, but that it doesn’t actually work. And the AC unit is off – presumably because it would take too much of her electricity to actually run it.

A typical dwelling in Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi. Credit - Geci Karuri-Sebina and David Everatt
A typical dwelling in Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi. Credit - Geci Karuri-Sebina and David Everatt

Madanpur Khadar residents like Durga Devi – who we met during our field trips in New Delhi in October 2019 as part of the Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) programme) – ought to be happy about new social reforms made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who earlier in 2019 announced Delhi government’s power subsidy scheme under which there is no charge for electricity consumption of up to 200 units. And indeed she’s probably benefiting from this to run the TV and charge a cellphone, but that’s about it. She still has to buy gas. She still has a fridge that won’t work.

This story is one that is as familiar in Johannesburg as it is in Delhi. Both are in highly unequal countries – with South Africa’s top 1% reportedly owning 70.9% of the nation’s wealth (World Bank 2018), while in India their 1% hold 73% of the wealth generated (Oxfam 2019). In both cases, the graph lines are going in the wrong directions with the gap continuing to widen. With Oxfam finding that approximately two-thirds of global billionaire wealth is produced from an economy of “inheritance, monopoly & cronyism, much can be presumed about a key source of the growing inequalities in the two countries.

Born out of a historic anti-corruption movement with strong social-democrat leanings, the AAP, which was just recently re-elected as the ruling party of Delhi, runs on crowdsourcing and is apparently the only Indian party that transparently reports its political financing. Their series of bold urban reforms includes the decision to make the use of public toilets free of charge and open for 24 hours in Delhi (where residents had to pay Rs.2/- each time for using the public toilets – a major reason behind open defecation in that area), and a current proposal for free metro bus travel for all Delhi women passengers – all decisions that are extremely popular among Delhi’s many poor urban dwellers. The complicated multi-level politics of the two contexts is another mutual complication. In India’s case, the country has seen the rise of a nationalist central government, while their national capital territory of Delhi was won in 2015 by a rather surprising landslide by Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which won the Delhi Assembly elections with a historic majority, obtaining 67 out of 70 assembly seats though it holds barely any national seats.

South African city dwellers are also used to bold promises of anti-corruption, racially nationalist promises, with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – an avowedly Marxist-Leninist-Fanonist party – using slogans such as “Our land, Our Jobs”. “Ours” can be defined in many ways by different people, and the post-election period was scant on jobs or land being delivered, but did witness yet another outbreak of xenophobic violence against “foreigners”, black Africans who had seemingly taken “our” jobs and land. The EFF is an informal coalition partner running the country’s largest and wealthiest city, Johannesburg, and certainly is in a position to deliver – at city level – on some of its (national) election promises.

"Madanpur Khadar residents... who we met during our field trips in New Delhi... ought to be happy about new social reforms made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who earlier in 2019 announced Delhi government’s power subsidy scheme under which there is no charge for electricity consumption of up to 200 units. And indeed [residents are] probably benefiting from this to run the TV and charge a cellphone, but that’s about it. [They] still have to buy gas. [They] still have a fridge that won’t work...This story is one that is as familiar in Johannesburg as it is in Delhi."

Open space in Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, that is used for dumping and open defecation. Credit - Geci Karuri-Sebina and David Everatt
Open space in Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, that is used for dumping and open defecation. Credit - Geci Karuri-Sebina and David Everatt

As we were thinking about cities and urban neighbourhoods, and facing the advent of yet another World Cities Day which is gaining increasing attention, a question that arose for us was what these two pictures – of a life (Durga Devi’s) and a statistic (inequality) – mean from a political economy perspective?

Cities provide voters with a plurality of choice (often absent in rural areas). They are the engine rooms of economic growth and wealth creation, and draw in millions across the globe who know that even if their lives will be hard – small rooms (if lucky enough to get a formal dwelling), a fight for work, high transport and food costs, etc – this will be coupled with some free basic services and some better options when it comes to schooling their children, accessing healthcare, as well as personal choices, including who to vote for, most obviously.

The cynical response is that populist parties offer just enough to lift the urban poor out of abject poverty, but not enough to allow them to exit poverty, and thus “capture” their votes. This is not about party loyalty or branding, but voting with the stomach. Some electricity is better than none, as is some free water, goes the argument. A free government-provided house is another, for those lucky enough to get one.

In South Africa, the argument in 1994 was that meeting these basic needs was both sufficient to restore the peoples’ dignity so destroyed under apartheid, and in both India and South Africa, the social goods are meant to allow people to enter the market. After seven years occupying an RDP house, for example, South Africans can sell it and use the capital as they wish… but seven years is an awfully long wait when there are no jobs and costs keep rising. In India, a small amount of free electricity is no doubt “a good thing” – but when the connections are shaky and the daily ration enough to charge a cellphone with larger, economically useful assets (fridges, freezers, cookers) beyond their reach, “entering the market” is a pipe dream.

So in both cases, these promises, and the basic needs they claim to meet, are the bare minimum; enough to convince the urban poor to vote for this or that set of politicians, but not enough to lift the poor out of poverty. Rather, it creates a cohort of voting fodder who will vote for something rather than nothing, for some concrete benefits rather than ideals or freedoms – but are increasingly cynical about the efficacy of democracy. This notion of “vote banking” has long been used to describe this kind of slum-level patronage politics in places like India and Kenya, and is as applicable as the notion that cities require an underclass of cheap labour for the middle and upper classes to maintain their lifestyles.

However, in South Africa, the urban poor, in this instance true of the poor generally – are least likely to register to vote, and least likely to vote if registered, while the middle classes – the “haves” – use the ballot box to reward or punish politicians. Giving poor urban dwellers some electricity matters, of course – but they need to be able to access it; to afford more; and to be able to put it to social and economic use. Staring at a dead fridge will not allow Durga Devi to store goods for herself or others, or set up a stall selling fresh or frozen goods. Rather, it sits taking up space in her tiny room, mocking the dreams it obviously represented.

The World Cities Day slogan on 31 October this year is “Better City, Better Life.” As we celebrate this ideal, there are questions we ought to be asking ourselves from this comparative perspective: Do we really have the will to change the lives of the poor, or do we need them to provide both a market for goods and a reserve army of cheap labour and votes? How do we go beyond our slogans of smart cities, caring cities, healthy cities, etc, and turn these into lived, sustainable realities for the poor? Or, frankly, are we quite comfortable with deepening inequality where the middle classes get what they need and have the connections and influence to use the ballot box, while the poor are left as voting fodder for populists to promise a changed life… but not changed to the point where the poor exit poverty, and begin to exercise their own political agency on the basis of some resources, some education, and some market power?

We wish a Better City, and indeed a Better Life, to you all.

"The World Cities Day slogan on 31 October this year is “Better City, Better Life.” As we celebrate this ideal, there are questions we ought to be asking ourselves from this comparative perspective: Do we really have the will to change the lives of the poor, or do we need them to provide both a market for goods and a reserve army of cheap labour and votes? How do we go beyond our slogans of smart cities, caring cities, healthy cities, etc, and turn these into lived, sustainable realities for the poor?"


Delhi - City Spread and New Neighbourhoods

This article was originally published by Cliff Hague on his own personal blog. All views are the author’s own and not attributable to SHLC.

What kind of neighbourhoods characterise the rapidly growing cities of Asia and Africa, and how do they contribute to – or lead us away from – achieving the 2016-30 Sustainable Development Goals?

These fundamental questions underpin the Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities research project. I am writing this blog in New Delhi, where I have been chairing the Research Advisory Committee for the project.

Led by a team at University of Glasgow headed by Professor Ya Ping Wang, are partners from seven other countries. These are South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, India, Bangladesh, China and the Philippines. In each of these seven countries two cities are being studied – one that is large and one that is much smaller. This enables multiple comparisons to be made. The research is funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

I spent a day hearing presentations on progress so far, and a rich picture emerged. Remote sensing reveals just how dramatically these cities are growing. Over the past 20 years the built up area has extended enormously, eating up farms and forests and draining water courses, often without any effective planning to conserve the natural environment, let alone to anticipate the risks from the climate emergency.

In other situations where there are more constraints, significant intensification is occurring. This is the case, for example, in Cape Town, where the legacy of apartheid remains strongly imprinted in the socio-spatial structure of the city, but also in its relatively strong planning system. In the Cape Flats, the township area distant from the main centres of employment, the post-apartheid era has seen upgrading of essential services, but jobs remain frustratingly difficult to access for many poor people. Back-building of shacks in the spaces behind the township houses can bring in income from rentals, often to new migrants desperate to escape rural poverty and climate disasters elsewhere in Africa. In the old part of Manilla, where sites for building are very limited, the poor have found refuge along beaches, in an old cinema or in cemeteries.

"In some senses, none of this should be a surprise to readers of this blog. What matters is that these two extremes – planned gated neighbourhoods for high income groups and unplanned slum-led urbanisation for the poor – are the 21st century urban dynamic. The pressures they create impact on other types of neighbourhood within the city and on the rural-urban fringe."

At the other end of the income scale are the gated communities, which are the other significant type of neighbourhood that has emerged in the last quarter of a century. For example in Dar es Salaam there is Masaki, a planned low-density area, up market place to live. All-weather roads provide it with connectivity to other parts of the city. It has 6 health care facilities which are privately owned, most of them are hospitals; these are expensive for moderate middle and low income earners. Education facilities are also good.

In some senses, none of this should be a surprise to readers of this blog. What matters is that these two extremes – planned gated neighbourhoods for high income groups and unplanned slum-led urbanisation for the poor – are the 21st century urban dynamic. The pressures they create impact on other types of neighbourhood within the city and on the rural-urban fringe. They matter for equity, for social tensions, and for environmental sustainability. They raise the very fundamental question of just who is planning for? The presumed “public interest” ethos of planning looks bare if only the rich enjoy the benefits that planning of the built and natural environment can confer, and the premium this creates for land and property in market economies. How much longer can the planning profession divert its collective eyes from this stark reality. As we argued in the book Leading Change business as usual can no longer be an option in an urban world facing a climate crisis and widening gaps between the rich and the poor, not just between cities but within the same city.

Is planning a force for liberation and transformation or something that helps lock people into privilege and into poverty? How does planning – and other public policy sectors like health and education – address these urgent challenges strategically but also at the neighbourhood scale? Can progressive change be achieved by working with markets, or are market-based access to places and services a barrier that need to be challenged?

"... just who is planning for? The presumed “public interest” ethos of planning looks bare if only the rich enjoy the benefits that planning of the built and natural environment can confer, and the premium this creates for land and property in market economies. How much longer can the planning profession divert its collective eyes from this stark reality."


Mandanpur Khadar Resettlement Colony, Delhi, India. Credit: Cliff Hague.

Delhi - Colonial Planning, Slums and Gated Communities

This article was originally published by Cliff Hague on his own personal blog. All views are the author’s own and not attributable to SHLC.

Spending a few days in Delhi as part of the Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods project has given me insights into the way urbanisation is taking place in the city, and the implications this has for urbanisation more generally. 

Work done by researchers from the National Institute of Urban Affairs, the Indian partner in the project has helped my understanding, though all opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

From the Raj to Modi

Delhi has become one of the largest cities in the world with a population put at more than 16 millions. Its origins far predate the era of British colonialism. The walled old city remains at the core, while the Mughals, who ruled for three centuries, stamped an enduring mark on the built environment. However, my hotel is in New Delhi, the area planned on classic colonial lines under the British Raj. In 1911, the British decided to move the capital of India from Calcutta to a more central location. Famously, the plan for New Delhi by Lutyens and Baker created spaces for monumental neo-classical buildings within a highly geometrical street pattern of circles, radial connectors and grand vistas. The national institutions of modern, independent India stand proudly here today: the domed and colonnaded Viceroy’s House is now the official residence of the President. The colonial plan also provided for bungalows set in extensive grounds; today these are where Indian MPs and other high ranking people like judges live.

The New Delhi designed over a century ago remains intact. Notwithstanding a few high rise hotels, it is an area of trees and greenery, and by 21st century metropolitan standards low rise buildings; though traffic congestion exceeds anything imaginable in the early 20th century. The area must be one of the world’s major commercial development opportunity sites, but also it is home to the world’s most powerful potential NIMBYs!

In September 2019 the Indian government announced its intention to redevelop a 3 km stretch, the Central Vista, from the President’s House to the iconic war memorial arch at India Gate. This “dream of President Modi” has attracted bids from six firms of consultants. It remains unclear which historic buildings will be demolished, while the declared intention is to bring together different government departments that are currently scattered.  As a taster of what might happen, the Minister responsible has stated that no tree will be cut down and “The green cover will be multiplied 10 times”. Widespread public consultation is also promised. The target is to get the redevelopment finished by 2022. This is one to watch in the coming months.

"The New Delhi designed over a century ago remains intact. Notwithstanding a few high rise hotels, it is an area of trees and greenery, and by 21st century metropolitan standards low rise buildings; though traffic congestion exceeds anything imaginable in the early 20th century."

A slum resettlement colony

Through the kind introduction by World Vision India, our international group was able to make a study visit to the one of the city’s Slum Resettlement Colonies. There are over 50 such neighbourhoods in Delhi, and around 10% of the city’s population live in them. Since the 1970s at least, there has been an active policy of eviction and relocation of people from areas of unauthorised informal housing.

Readers with long memories may recall that there was much criticism of this policy when slum areas were being cleared for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As far as I can understand the Delhi Develoment Authority (DDA), a central government agency, which is a major land owner with strong land assembly powers, makes a resettlement site available, often at the edge of the city. Sites are then developed within set standards for housing, roads, public space and some basic infrastructure. Initlal residents get a license in exchange for a fee, giving them what is in theory a kind of non-transferable leasehold, though in reality there is a market in such rights.

The Mandanpur Khadar Colony visited by the SHLC research team was developed on a site that had previously been an unauthorised informal settlement. So one set of slum dwellers were shifted to make way for a semi-formalised and planned district for evictees from slums. The part of the Colony that I walked through revealed that though some properties certainly started off as single storey, many were being extended vertically, as the picture shows: I saw a man laying bricks on his roof to add a second storey. Yards selling building materials such as cement are to be found near the shopping areas. Rather like in China’s urban villages, or in Cape Town’s back shacks, entrepreneurial residents or landlords have been able to create income flows from rents through densification. There is some provision of sewerage, but also open drains. Water supply is a problem: many properties have water tanks on the roof, connected to underground natural water supplies, but drinking water is purchased from hawkers with handcarts. Formal collecton and disposal of solid waste seems non-existent.

Ground level flats are also used as shops, and the streets are alive, not only with people (and cows) but with a plethora of small traders pushing their wares on carts. However, the location of the Colony is problematic: it is distant from major employment centres, and is unserved by mainstream public transport (though there are numerous private rickshaws and taxis). It is also close to a power station that augments the health risks from the poor air quality that engulfs the Indian capital. Lack of safe public transport particularly restricts the chances of women to access jobs elsewhere.

A women’s co-operative saving bank has shown how small scale, bottom-up initiaitives can succeed. Weekly deposits enable members to borrow at low interest rates when need or opportunity arises. We met a young woman who had been a school dropout but was now running a beautician business and a couple of small shops.

Mandanpur Khadar Resettlement Colony, Delhi, India. Credit: Cliff Hague.
Mandanpur Khadar Resettlement Colony, Delhi, India. Credit: Cliff Hague.

A smart, sustainable neighbourhood – restricted access

Finally we visited a major green building / smart  city technology mixed use scheme constructed by NBCC, a state enterprise. Over 20,000 people live in a gated community that was developed on a site that previously was used for much lower density housing for public servants.  Employment-linked housing for public sector workers is not uncommon in former British colonies. The Green View development boasts sophisticated sanitation systems and all kinds of digital technologies, with a central monitoring and control unit able to check out just about everything happening in the development, down to individual flats.  There are a couple of metro stations, one at either end of the development.

This high-end, planned urban hub is exclusively for public employees, with the allocation of flats and even parking spaces dependent on the grading of the job. Retirement means that you have to leave, just as the death of the resident employee results in the surviving non-employee members of the family also having to quit their home.

"The contrast with the state provided housing for those lucky enough to get a job in a public service body is stark. Putting into practice the language of green planning is fine, but that practice here in Delhi is also exclusionary."

Lessons

The City Beautiful ethos bequeathed by Lutyens and the British colonial planning system from the early 20th century remains imprinted on urban planning in Delhi. Evictions of poor people from their informal settlements is common, and justified by the idea of keeping the city clean.

While the inventiveness and entrepreneurialism of many of these people is admirable, typically they are relocated to sites that are far away from the places where they made their livelihoods. The contrast with the state provided housing for those lucky enough to get a job in a public service body is stark. Putting into practice the language of green planning is fine, but that practice here in Delhi is also exclusionary.

We need to ask who “sustainable urban development” is for. The British colonists planned green and leafy enclaves that distanced them from the poor: a similar 21st century model of spatial inequality is being created.


Housing in Delft township, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council

Picturing Cape Town’s Townships: Sandy Neighbourhoods, Neglected Space and Thriving Enterprise Hotspots

In this picture blog, Ivan Turok explores house building, community development and enterprise expansion in some of Cape Town’s townships.

These images will be showcased as part of the exhibition ‘Picture This – Living in the World’s Largest Cities’ at the Milk Café, a social enterprise in the Southside of Glasgow. 

All pictures and captions by Professor Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.  

Housing in Delft township, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council
Housing in Delft township, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council

Originally an inhospitable location offering cheap land on the outskirts of Cape Town, Delft township is gradually morphing into something more than a desolate dormitory settlement. Diverse forms of backyard and state-led housing are mushrooming, although the public infrastructure was not designed to cope with the surging population. Pavements and underground services are being built over to accommodate new structures, and public spaces are often neglected, which creates an eyesore and devalues the new investment. 

Retail in Delft township, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Retail in Delft township, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

The burgeoning population means that informal retail activity and consumer services are springing up along some of the main access roads in Delft.  

Informal street traders, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Informal street traders, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

No refrigeration is available for informal street traders, but that doesn’t prevent a healthy trade in chickens for Sunday lunch. 

Micro-enterprise in Philippi, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Micro-enterprise in Philippi, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

Not far away in Philippi, a more concerted effort has been made to create a business hive and support services for micro enterprises. Old shipping containers are good building materials because they are very secure. However, they lack ventilation and get very hot in the summer. 

Making decorative tiles in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Making decorative tiles in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

Further away in Mfuleni business support is skimpy and jobs are scarce, but these creative young men are making decorative tiles in a thriving informal enterprise.  

Seamstress at work in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Seamstress at work in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

Just down the road in premises provided by the municipality, an experienced seamstress is making and repairing garments for local customers. 

Makeshift shacks in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Makeshift shacks in Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

The quality of housing in Mfuleni is very poor, with most people living in makeshift shacks made of corrugated zinc sheets attached to wooden frames.

Housing pressures, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council
Housing pressures, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council

The housing pressures in Cape Town are so great that people have resorted to invading undeveloped private and public land because there is not enough space in existing informal settlements and backyard dwellings. These spontaneous land grabs are happening far from transport connections and in areas completely lacking in public services. It is a highly unsatisfactory way of building a city, but people are desperate and the authorities are generally powerless to prevent such invasions. 

Building houses on sand in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Building houses on sand in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

This area of Khayelitsha is being built on sand and offers a pretty inhospitable, windswept environment. Lacking all amenities like schools, clinics and shops required for decent living, it is not an conducive place to build a home.

Staking out your plot in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Staking out your plot in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

With no formal streets and neighbourhood boundaries, fences are an important way to stake out your own plot in Khayelitsha and prevent other people from intruding on your precious site.

Neighbourhood centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Neighbourhood centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

 A neighbourhood centre has been built by the municipality about a mile away in the middle of another informal settlement in Khayelitsha. It provides some community facilities in what would otherwise be a very barren landscape. These include a crèche, sports facilities, a market garden and residents can also attend occasional basic training courses. But it is not very well used and people’s needs are much more basic. They first and foremost need access to water, sanitation, electricity and refuse disposal.

Market garden in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.
Market garden in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council.

A market garden has been created at the Centre to teach local residents how to grow their own vegetables. But the sandy soil is not very conducive to growing food and slugs are a problem for growing all leafy vegetables.


New City Profiles: Profiling Cities of Global South for Sustainable Development

To celebrate World Habitat Day SHLC launch new city profiles as part of a special edition of Environment and Urbanization ASIA.

The United Nations estimates that more than 3 billion people will be added to the urban population by 2050. This scale of urbanisation can provide positive opportunities for economic growth and social change, but it is also creating unprecedented challenges.

The new journal articles, which can be viewed downloaded in the linked below, present an evolution of the concept of ‘neighbourhood’ as well as an overview of rapid urbanisation and its impact in a series of city profiles.

The city profiles, published in a Special Issue of Environment and Urbanization ASIA, explore previous, current and future challenges and suggest pathways to enhance the economic and social sustanability of fast-growing cities.

Throughout ‘Urban October‘ SHLC will be releasing new research, photo stories, blogs and more. Sign-up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date and find out more.


Vulnerability in informal settlements, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Irfan Shakil, Khulna University, Bangladesh.

Re-introducing SHLC: Who Are We, What Do We Do and Why?

Rapid urbanisation and increased migration in Africa and Asia have helped drive drive development and created jobs for millions who call the city their home. But fast-growing cities like Dhaka and Delhi also face growing poverty and inequality.  

The GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) is an international consortium of nine research partners aiming to strengthen capacity to address urban, health and education challenges in neighbourhoods across fast-growing cities in Africa and Asia.

For example, the urban population of the Philippines will make up 80% of its total population, posing serious challenges for the government to meet the needs of its citizens and provide adequate services for everyone.

Urban communities also face health and wellbeing challenges. In Tanzania, for example, life expectancy within the city is on average 2.7 years shorter than in rural areas and almost 11 years below the world average.

Cities can struggle to provide quality education to their urban populations. Out of India’s 170 million academically eligible population, only 47% attend any kind of educational institution.

To start addressing these problems, our research centre reviews important national urban, health and education policies as part of our city profile research reports.

We are also exploring different neighbourhoods to understand their dynamics and how they change over time. We are taking a closer look at ‘typical’ neighbourhoods. Household surveys, interviews and focus groups will help us to find out how these communities work and what makes a neighbourhood sustainable. All this rich data will be gathered to compare and contrast Asian and African cities.

We are hoping to create a strong network of urban researchers who support each other in creating world changing research. We want to strengthen to address urban, health and education challenges in fast-growing cities to improve neighbourhoods around the world.

Our partners work across Africa and Asia within the following countries: Bangladesh, China, India, Tanzania, the Philippines, Rwanda and South Africa.

Throughout ‘Urban October‘ SHLC will be releasing new research, photo stories, blogs and more. Sign-up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date and find out more.