Jaime Cardinal Sin Village, Santa Ana, Manila, Philippines. Credit: Gail Wilson, University of Glasgow

Making ‘CeNS’ of Filipino Neighbourhoods

A new research centre dedicated to the science of neighbourhood studies has been launched by SHLC’s partners in the Philippines.

The Centre for Neighbourhood Studies – CeNS – is an independent, non-government, non-profit organisation aimed at understanding, developing and promoting smarter and more sustainable neighbourhoods.

Inspired by our ‘mother’ Centre, the GCRF-funded ‘Centre Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’, ‘CeNS’ focuses on enhancing research and development, capacity building, and professional services to support the sustainable transformation of Filipino neighbourhoods.

Mark Gamboa, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of CeNS, said:

“With the neighbourhoods as our key focus, CeNS began with the aim of bridging the gap between communities and higher levels of government.  Our approach is based  on the synergistic relationships we have developed with our SHLC partners, academia, the national government, the local government units, and most importantly, the neighbourhoods and the families who live there. We look forward to collaborating with our communities and strengthening their capacity to ensure their neighbourhoods are resilient and sustainable pockets of development in the Philippines.”
Mark, the Vice-President and COO of CeNS, discusses the institution's initiatives for the coming year. Credit: CeNS
Mark, the Vice-President and COO of CeNS, discusses the institution's initiatives for the coming year. Credit: CeNS

CeNS  launched on 21 February during the SHLC International Partners Meeting in the Philippines, and held its first Strategic Planning Workshop at the beginning of March where community members were invited to contribute to crafting the guiding principles that will serve as the core of the organisation. By bringing their focus down to the neighbourhood, the members vision supports: “Inclusive, resilient, and sustainable neighbourhoods of healthy and learning people who have equitable access to quality basic services, adequate economic opportunities, appropriate infrastructure, and who nurture a balanced ecology, a sense of community, and partnerships for development.”

 

The Centre is now looking forward to an international conference slated for November of this year and developing ‘Kapitbahayan Partnerships’ to help create stronger linkages between ‘barangays’ – the most basic government unit in the country – and the neighbourhoods within them. The team at CeNS are also working hard on creating a ‘collabAYANIHAN Observatory’, which is a crowd-sourced repository of visual, audio, and spatial data of neighbourhoods, as well as supporting an ‘Immersive Pocket Planning’ project that will help support neighbourhoods to craft local urban plans via virtual reality-enabled development planning.

Professor Ya Ping Wang, Director of SHLC, said:

“I am really excited to see the launch of ‘CeNS’. It is a testament to our approach at SHLC which, I hope, will see a longer-term impact of focusing on neighbourhoods to achieve sustainable cities in the Philippines. On a recent research visit to the Philippines, we saw with our own eyes the importance of local governance in the ‘barangays’, so I am particularly pleased to see that CeNS will focus on indigenous knowledge of neighbourhoods and the communities and families that live there. I wish the team at CeNS the best of luck and look forward to collaborating!”
Charlie, a CeNS Board Member, draws his team's idea of a utopian neighbourhood. Credit: CeNS
Charlie, a CeNS Board Member, draws his team's idea of a utopian neighbourhood. Credit: CeNS

How to Refresh South Africa’s Jaded Democracy

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

Many of South Africa’s troubles reflect a widening gap between state and society. On the one hand, the government is struggling to cope with multiplying social crises — gender-based violence, youth unemployment, gangsterism, taxi conflict, xenophobic attacks and land occupations. On the other, citizens are increasingly disillusioned and distrustful of government institutions and services as a result of poor management, corruption, patronage politics and nepotism.

The conventional solutions are sectoral and driven from the centre — new master plans, regulatory regimes, compliance frameworks and formula-driven social programmes — as if there is a legislative fix to social breakdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa advocates high-level social compacts between powerful sectional interests to negotiate compromises and concessions.

The potential to make progress by deepening democracy and reinvigorating civil society has been neglected. On a recent research visit to the Philippines we discovered a social innovation that may offer lessons for South Africa by strengthening grassroots citizen engagement and reconnecting state and society.

Credit: Gail Wilson, University of Glasgow

The Philippines model

The Philippines is not widely seen as a role model for development. In fact, the country’s authoritarian and illiberal political regimes are associated with high levels of poverty, inequality and instability. However, these conditions have spawned a system of neighbourhood government — the barangays — that has helped communities to come together and to hold their own against unsympathetic political elites.

An energised system of community-level governance could help to improve conditions in poorer settlements in South Africa. Some townships and informal neighbourhoods have street committees or other informal governance arrangements, but they lack the extent of state support, legal safeguards and legitimacy of the barangays. Better-organised communities with access to decision-makers and resources could release people’s agency and help them to cope with adversity.

Barangays have a long history in the Philippines. They were originally established as autonomous political units governing rural villages; and have since gone through various mutations during colonial and postcolonial periods.

After co-option and manipulation by autocratic regimes, democratic reforms in the early 1990s boosted the barangays and constituted them as the lowest of four tiers of government. Their purpose is to foster local democracy, make service delivery more responsive and ensure community engagement in civic affairs.

"The Philippines is not widely seen as a role model for development... conditions have spawned a system of neighbourhood government — the barangays — that has helped communities to come together and to hold their own against unsympathetic political elites."

The barangay system

There are more than 42 000 barangays in the Philippines, ranging in size from about 500 to 5 000 residents. Each one comprises a small group of elected leaders, supported by a larger group of appointed officials. Leadership elections are held every three years and public assemblies take place every six months to promote transparency and accountability to local citizens.

Compulsory reporting of plans and activities to municipal authorities promotes upward accountability.

Barangays also have some influence over wider municipal plans and programmes through a consultative forum or council created in each local authority jurisdiction.

Every barangay receives a resource allocation from the national government based on a transparent formula. About two-thirds of their budgets come from government transfers. The rest is raised from local sales taxes, service charges and fees, which confers useful autonomy.

The number of staff employed varies between about 20 and 100, depending on the size of the barangay. Furthermore, many of the workers are paid an allowance rather than a substantial salary, which means that they tend to be motivated by their commitment to the community rather than their remuneration.

Barangays give ordinary citizens a formal stake in decision-making and devolve power and resources from the centre to local neighbourhoods. Local democracy helps to harness the resourcefulness of residents and means that communities are better equipped to resist threats, such as eviction and resettlement.

Major responsibilities cover elementary healthcare, nutrition and welfare services, solid waste collection and recycling, everyday maintenance of local roads and water infrastructure, and basic recreational facilities and information services.

Residents come together to discuss local needs and priorities, and to make decisions about how the budget should be spent to fill gaps in existing service provision. Grassroots involvement conveys responsibility, fosters local ownership of public resources and encourages popular support and voluntary action.

During a recent study tour of nine neighbourhoods in Manila and Batangas City, we met many active citizens committed to supporting their neighbourhoods and enhancing their living environments. Members of the community give of their time to organise social events and to take part in “place-making” initiatives.

Refuse collection and recycling schemes are widespread, with the result that most streets and alleyways are free of litter. Every neighbourhood also seems to have some kind of basketball court, reflecting the national pastime.

Each barangay has its own offices offering support around the clock. These are hives of activity, where local residents and officials interact and exchange information. People share their concerns, build relationships and make plans for the future. They identify problems and provide support and protection for individuals and groups at risk of harm and antisocial behaviour.

These connections seem to strengthen the fabric of the community and enable it to deal with disasters and adapt to changing circumstances. In this way, the barangays provide a level of social organisation that can come in useful to challenge powerful interests or to channel the ideas and energy of local residents in constructive directions.

The formal legal status of the barangays gives recognition and respect to marginalised communities. The psychological benefits may be even more important than the material benefits. Low-income residents seem to understand that they are more like partners than subordinates, and that they have a chance to influence decision-making and hold service providers to account.

The validation of these communities by the standing of the barangays appears to instil a sense of dignity and belonging among local residents.

Credit: Jennifer McArthur, University of Glasgow

Barangays – a panacea for community engagement?

Of course, the barangays are no panacea. Despite the electoral safeguards and financial protections, the institution still seems to be open to manipulation and partisanship. Strong political families manage to co-opt the barangays in some places and to sustain traditional patronage networks at the expense of more democratic practices. In addition, the capacity of the barangays to tackle some of the serious problems in their neighbourhoods is constrained by their restricted staffing and resources.

They lack formal powers over land and the built environment to engineer physical improvements, and cannot solve the problems in their areas in isolation of broader policies and plans.

The governance failures in South Africa’s townships and informal settlements are all too apparent, reflected in frequent service breakdowns, payment boycotts, neglect of health and safety standards, and conflicts between backyarders, shack dwellers and homeowners. Municipalities are too remote from people’s everyday realities and often don’t seem to care for their wellbeing. The current system of ward committees is widely understood to be weak and ineffectual.

Neighbourhood governments that are democratically elected and formally constituted could help to revitalise community dynamics and inject essential resources into the places that need them most. They could help to galvanise disaffected groups and steer their frustrations into positive action.

Above all, more cohesive and empowered communities could play an important role in refreshing the country’s jaded democracy and holding other spheres of government to account.

"Of course, the barangays are no panacea. Despite the electoral safeguards and financial protections, the institution still seems to be open to manipulation and partisanship. "


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

Rural-urban studies: A macro analyses of the scholarship terrain

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

This article was originally published by ELSEVIER in the journal ‘Habitat International’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.

Abstract

The interconnections between rural and urban areas have been a major topic of discussion among scholars and policy makers for decades. While both rural and urban areas depend on each other for critical services, rural areas, especially in the developing countries, are often under-represented in policy and essential service provisions. Though widely studied from different perspectives across the globe, the academic landscape of rural-urban nexus is poorly characterized.

This study aims to characterize the field, employing bibliometric analysis. Bibliometric is applied because it allows obtaining useful quantitative overview of the evolution of an academic field. The study aims to address six important questions:

  1. How has scholarship evolved over the past three decades in this subfield of rural-urban studies?
  2. Which countries are at the forefront of knowledge production in the subfield?
  3. What are the leading productive institutions in the world?
  4. Where are scholars publishing their works?
  5. Who are the leading authors in the field?
  6. Are there any major areas where scholars have been focusing on over the last three decades?

Results show that rural-urban scholarship has grown exponentially over the studied period (1990–2018). The United States has been a major single player in publication records, productive authors, international collaboration and institutional contribution.

Further, research in the domain of rural-urban nexus can be categorized into six major clusters; 1. socioeconomic inequalities, 2. livelihood, 3. migration, 4. consumption and poverty, 5. biodiversity and conservation, and 6. connectivity and integration.

Given the dearth of contribution in the developing world, the study argued that the subfield of rural-urban scholarship is largely under the hegemony of global north scholars. Potential research areas and study weaknesses are discussed.

Baffoe, G. (2020). Rural-urban studies: A macro analyses of the scholarship terrain. Habitat International, 98, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.habitatint.2020.102156 


High density housing in an informal settlement, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow

Understanding the Concept of Neighbourhood in Kigali City, Rwanda

High density housing in an informal settlement, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published by MDPI publications in the journal ‘Sustainability’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.

Abstract

Though the relevance of the concept of neighbourhood in both research and policy oriented circles is unquestionable, the concept remains contested and fluid, making its operationalisation a daunting task, particularly in practice. This study explores how the concept of neighbourhood has been operationalised in Kigali city and how the neighbourhood boundaries and typologies are defined. The paper dwells on the review of relevant literature, interviews with 25 practitioners and field observations.

It is argued that neighbourhood conceptualisation in Kigali is both theory – it bears the common aspects of neighbourhood definitions – and practice driven, reflecting modernity and context. On the one hand, modernity suggests the desire of planning authorities to follow contemporary planning practices. Context, on the other hand, reflects the desire to tailor local policies to country specific challenges. While boundaries follow subjective, administrative and physical models, typologies tend to be overly physical, focusing mainly on housing structures.

The study identified three conventional neighbourhood typologies planned, informal and mixed types. Given the predominance of informal and mixed neighbourhoods, this study further argues that such areas form the ‘bedroom’ and ‘transit point’ for most lower and middle-class workers, in addition to serving as a ‘laboratory’ for testing various social interventions.

The study recommends a well-serviced mixed classification typology to foster a strong sense of belongingness.

Baffoe, G.; Malonza, J.; Manirakiza, V.; Mugabe, L. Understanding the Concept of Neighbourhood in Kigali City, Rwanda. Sustainability 2020, 12, 1555. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041555


Outside water tap in Madanpur Khadar Resettlement Colony, Delhi, India. Credit: Gail Wilson, University of Glasgow

Delhi’s Public Health Crisis and the Neglect of Urbanisation

Outside water tap in Madanpur Khadar Resettlement Colony, Delhi, India. Credit: Gail Wilson, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published by SAGE publications in ‘Local Economy: The Journal of the Local Economy Policy Unit’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.

Abstract

India’s capital city Delhi is facing an unprecedented public health crisis that is not receiving sufficient government attention. Rapid urbanisation is part of the challenge. For too long public authorities have neglected the needs of its expanding poor communities for decent and dignified living conditions. Meanwhile, affluent groups benefit from various government privileges that seem difficult to justify. One way of disrupting the inertia is for civil society organisations to engage communities in building a compelling evidence base to hold decision-makers to account and demand social change.

Turok, I. (2020). Delhi’s public health crisis and the neglect of urbanisation. Local Economy35(1), 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269094220902448


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

Apply Now – Applications Open for Sustainable Cities Small Grants Fund

As we approach the UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum, SHLC launches next round of Capacity Development Acceleration Fund and Visiting Research Fellowship.

Globalisation and rapid urbanisation have created neighbourhoods that are more dynamic than ever. Assuring sustainability in our neighbourhoods plays an important role in delivering sustainable cities.

As we look forward to UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum, the Centre for Sustainable Healthy and Learning Cities (SHLC) is working to respond to urban challenges across fast-growing cities in Africa and Asia.

And, we want you to join us! Applications are now open for SHLC’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund and Visiting Research FellowshipApply before Thursday 30 April 2020.

What is the fund?

The SHLC small grants fund supports a visiting research fellowship programme, as well as pilot research, knowledge mobilisation and research management projects, to help tackle urban, health and education challenges in neighbourhoods across fast-growing cities in developing countries.

Who can apply?

The fund is open to individuals and organisations exploring and responding to urban, health and education challenges within cities across ODA (Official Development Assistance) eligible developing countries.

Applications lead by Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC) are particularly encouraged to apply.

What costs will be covered?

The fund is intended to support small-scale projects and activities such as a travel, transcription to support interviews and focus groups as well we venue hire and catering to support workshops and events. The fund does not cover staff costs, salary or studentships.

Our Capacity Development Acceleration Fund is supported by our project funding, which is delivered by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, therefore all activities must be ODA-eligible. Visit the OECD for more information about ODA eligible countries, including definition and coverage.

Apply now

Responding to urban challenges is not just about supporting sustainable cities, but can also be a vital interlocutor for delivering all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Apply to our fund, collaborate with us, and help us ensure that cities are sustainable for all.

Sign-up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date and find out more.


scene from the street theatre performance in Mongla, shows residents queueing at a hand pump to collect drinking water. Credit: Jinia Nowrin

POSTPONED - Seminar: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Liveability in Regional Cities in Bangladesh

POSTPONED - Seminar: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Liveability in Regional Cities in Bangladesh

  • POSTPONED - New date to be confirmed

UPDATE: Due to recent guidance regarding COVID-19, we have taken the decision to cancel our seminar ‘SHLC Seminar – An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Liveability in Regional Cities in Bangladesh’. We hope to re-schedule to a later date soon.
This seminar presents research findings from an interdisciplinary  project exploring ‘liveability’ in Mongla and Noapara in south-western Bangladesh. Speakers will showcase findings from storytelling workshops, photoessays, theatre performances, household surveys, interviews and more.
Speakers:
  • Hanna Ruszczyk, Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK
  • Istiakh Ahmed, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh
Abstract

Increasingly, small to medium-sized, regional cities (with less than 500,000 residents) of the global South are sites where rapid migration, climate change, insufficient infrastructure, and hazards are coming together to create a problematic reality not only for residents but also for government and policymakers.

The ‘Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh’ project, funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods at the University of Glasgow, is an interdisciplinary exploration of two regional coastal cities – Mongla and Noapara – in south-western Bangladesh from the perspectives of residents, officials and stakeholders.

The project utilised interdisciplinary methods including storytelling workshops, surveys, photo essays, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions in order to understand residents’ interpretations of ‘liveability’. The project team conducted:

  • 100 household surveys in each city with middle-class residents and with low income residents living in informal settlements
  • More than 40 semi-structured interviews with individual residents and local and national government officials and stakeholders.
  • Participatory theatre workshops with a small group of residents in each city, culminating in short street theatre performances, which were also documented in a video.

The study explored how residents in each cities perceive their neighbourhood and what are their priorities in making their city liveable. The concept of liveability and its components of livelihoods and food security, utilities and transport, health and natural environment, education, housing, central and local government, safety and security and lastly social and leisure provide rich and complex insights into the daily life of cities and what is needed to create liveable, regional cities.


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)
  • Tadashi Matsumoto – Head of Unit, Sustainable Development and Global Relations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (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.