Fisherman boats in front of Kivukoni fish market, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Shutterstock, Igor Grochev

Land Pattern of Highly Urbanizing Cities: Change in Built-up Area, Population Density and Spatial Development of the Sprawling Dar es Salaam City


Msuya I, Moshi I, Levira F. Land Pattern of Highly Urbanizing Cities: Change in Built-up Area, Population Density and Spatial Development of the Sprawling Dar es Salaam City. Environment and Urbanization ASIA. March 2021. DOI: 10.1177/0975425321998036


Dar es Salaam is one of the most diverse cities in Tanzania in terms of its physical, social, economic, environmental and spatial features. This diversity has contributed to differences in built-up area, population density, as well as the pace of spatial development across different parts of the city.

This study aims to examine the relationship between physical built-up area changes in Dar es Salaam, population density change and spatial development using remote sensing images and census data.

The study finds that the city population has grown tremendously, with peri-urban wards in particular having experienced positive growth. Dar es Salam’s built-up area change and urban sprawl emerging at the city’s edges distinctly follows the pattern of demographic change. This is accompanied by substantial compact growth in the inner parts of the city. A number of factors such as transport, residential development, migration, high natural growth rates, public policies and land speculation are found to have contributed to these changes.

Overall, the study aims to aid planning authorities in effectively responding to the rapid spatial development taking place in the city, for which a holistic approach that combines an understanding of physical and demographic changes is needed. By investigating the changing patterns in land use within this highly urbanizing city, it aims to generate insights into urban development control machineries and identify their underlying dynamics.

Street scene with labourers waiting to start work. Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Shutterstock, Jennifer Sophie

Urban Growth and Land Use/Land Cover Changes in the Post-Genocide Period, Kigali, Rwanda


Nduwayezu G, Manirakiza V, Mugabe L, Malonza JM. Urban Growth and Land Use/Land Cover Changes in the Post-Genocide Period, Kigali, Rwanda. Environment and Urbanization ASIA. March 2021. DOI: 10.1177/0975425321997971


Kigali is a rapidly growing city, as exemplified by the phenomenal increase of its inhabitants from 358,200 in 1996 to 1,630,657 in 2017. Nevertheless, there is a paucity of detailed analytical information about the processes and factors driving unprecedented urban growth in the period following the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi (1994) and its impact on the natural environment. This article, therefore, analyses the growth of the city of Kigali with respect to its post-genocide spatial and demographic dimensions.

The methodology involves a quantification of urban growth over the period of the last 30 years using remote-sensing imagery coupled with demographic data drawn from different sources.

The analysis of land cover trends shows how significant the pressure of urban expansion has been on the natural environment, with a 14 per cent decrease in open land between 1999 and 2018. Spatially, the average annual growth rate was almost 10.24 per cent during the same period.

This growth is associated with the building of a large number of institutions, schools and industries. Moreover, the increase in low-income residents led to the construction of bungalows expanding on large suburbs and the development of new sub-centres in the periphery instead of high-rise apartments.

Inequality and Urban Density: Socio-economic Drivers of Uneven Densification in Cape Town


Scheba A, Turok I, Visagie J. Inequality and Urban Density: Socio-economic Drivers of Uneven Densification in Cape Town. Environment and Urbanization ASIA. March 2021. DOI: 10.1177/0975425321998026


Global policies promote urban compaction to achieve sustainable development. This article highlights the limits of analysing densification at the city scale and advocates for a more granular approach.

The case study of Cape Town shows how overall consolidation has been mainly driven by poor households crowding into already dense neighbourhoods on the urban periphery. This has aggravated historic segregation and intensified urban management challenges. Meanwhile, formal private sector driven densification strengthens the social and economic vibrancy of affluent neighbourhoods.

This article argues that uneven residential patterns reflect deep-seated social inequalities that are amplified through labour and property markets.

Satellite data also illustrates how Cape Town’s built-up area has changed between 1998 and 2019. Based on geo-spatial analyses, the article suggests that taking these drivers seriously is crucial to promoting a denser and more equitable urban form.

Aligning housing policies with spatial transformation and economic development objectives offer possibilities for change.

Aerial view of informal settlements of the Cape Flats, Cape Town, South Africa. Shutterstock - Andrea Willmore

Neighbourhood Inequality and Division Undermining Drive for Sustainable Cities

This blog was written by Ya Ping Wang and Keith Kintrea [i].

World Cities Day 2020 aims to celebrate communities in cities as essential building blocks of positive economic, social and environmental change.

Its call for action is for communities to be integrated into policymaking and for a different kind of city to be co-created with urban managers. This call comes in an extraordinary year in which communities in neighbourhoods across the globe have been forced to develop their own responses to COVID-19, including its health risks but also its wrecking of livelihoods and food supply chains.

But new research from the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods in 14 cities in Africa and Asia [ii] shows that trends in urban development are leading to cities that are socially and spatially fractured and provide a shaky basis on which any turn towards communities can be built.

The call of UN Habitat’s 2016 Urban Agenda for planning as a basis for more equitable and sustainable cities appears to have gone largely unheeded. Although most cities boast they have a master plan, neighbourhood planning is rare and almost always benefits only the rich and the emerging middle class.

Over the last 10 or 15 years most cities in the study have experienced large scale population growth – as much as 100% in the case of Dar Es Salaam – driven by rural and (sometimes) international migration. This is especially so for large cities and national capitals, even if the recent rate of growth has slowed. Population growth has been accompanied by rapid spatial transformation. Already dense inner cities have become ever more greatly densified, as existing neighbourhoods have become more crowded, taller new buildings constructed and green spaces and water bodies built over. In our study, Dhaka and Manila city represent the most extreme densification. Dhaka reached  32,000 people per square kilometre in 2015 and Manila City 71,000, probably the most densely populated city in the world.

SHLC research also shows that cities have sprawled out towards and beyond their boundaries, with the fastest growing African cities doubling in area.

Densities are also increasing on the urban periphery in most cases. But these new residential areas are usually informal settlements without any meaningful planning. Their communities are often poorly served – or not served at all – by basic infrastructure such as water, sewerage and electricity, and they are usually distanced from health and education services and from jobs, which cluster in central areas. In some cities, fast expansion of informal settlements means that the proportion of housing considered to be adequate by local norms has been falling, even as the economy grows.

There are exceptions to these trends. In all cities a small proportion of new development caters for privileged groups. This includes commercial development of condominiums and gated enclaves, as well as areas of suburban type detached houses. The benefits of professional urban planning – or at least of building regulation – is enjoyed predominately by the rich and emerging middle class whose neighbourhoods have basic site designing, road access and infrastructure provision. The other main exception are the study’s Chinese cities where most new residential areas are regulated and poor old town areas and urban villages are in the process of compulsory redevelopment.

In most cities in the research, neighbourhoods used to be divided by race, ethnicity and religion, and in South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg) and India (Delhi and Madurai) by institutionalised discrimination though apartheid or caste. Migrant origin and, in China, hukou status, were further sources of division. But across the 14 cities, to different degrees, these divisions are being replaced or at least blended by social class through housing market sorting.

So, in Dhaka, although there remain religious and occupational clusters, its new neighbourhoods are by far the most diverse in Bangladesh. However, the poor and even the middle class are shut out of well-regulated central neighbourhoods, and slum neighbourhoods sit side by side with wealthy areas. In South Africa, Johannesburg continues to show the shape of apartheid demarcation. Yet tropes about race and space are being modified by class mobility, evident in clusters across the city. Urban transformation is driven by service provision and travel connections as emergent key markers of spatial inequality.

Increasing inequality and division in cities will not lead to sustainability.

The communities that UN-Habitat urges should be engaged in city-making have so far been pushed into crowded informal settlements and slums or out to the city margins far from jobs and services. As the experience of COVID-19 again shows, major shocks have disproportionate negative impacts on poor urban neighbourhoods. Cities need to address the causes and consequences of urban neighbourhood and spatial division; pro-poor urban planning should become the reality rather than just a slogan.

[i] Ya Ping Wang is Professor of Urban Futures and Director of SHLC. Keith Kintrea is Professor of Urban Studies and Housing and Deputy Director of SHLC.

[ii]  This month the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) at the University of Glasgow published 14 new reports on African and Asian cities, which are the product of research on their internal structure and neighbourhood dynamics.

The cities are Delhi and Madurai in India, Dhaka and Khulna in Bangladesh, Manila City and Batangas City in the Philippines, Chongqing and Datong in China, Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Dar Es Salaam and Dodoma in Tanzania and Kigali and Huye in Rwanda.

The reports are authored by members of SHLC based at  the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa;  Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania; Khulna University, Bangladesh;  Nankai University, PR China; the National Institute of Urban Affairs, India; the  University of Rwanda; the University of the Philippines Diliman; and  University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Prof. Tanjil Sowgat presenting the SHLC research findings at Khulna City Corporation. Credit: Khulna University

Meeting the Mayors of Dhaka and Khulna: New Hopes for Pragmatic Research

This blog was written Tanjil Sowgat and Shilpi Roy from Khulna University. The views expressed in this blog are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

From the beginning of our research, SHLC’s research team in Bangladesh has been committed to engaging key policymakers to inform their decision-making.

When our recent findings on Dhaka and Khulna started to demonstrate new insights, we knew it was important to share our recommendations with the key policymakers of our two case study cities in Bangladesh. We met the three city management authorities of these two cities, namely Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Khulna City Corporation (KCC).

Engaging Bangladeshi policymakers

Getting access to policymakers is not easy for researchers in Bangladesh. The country depends mostly on ‘consultancy’ driven research with individual paid consultants informing policies amid the limited research capacity of the city authorities. Policymakers feel a disconnect of knowledge sharing between academia and city management authorities, as they feel research studies advocate academic jargon demonstrating an unhelpful gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world problems. In contrast, the real-world situation seeks solutions that are not always research-informed. Policymakers often are sceptical about the applicability of research findings in a pragmatic context.

Despite this usual disconnect, the Bangladesh team received an outstanding response from all the city mayors. They met with us alongside a team of high-profile officials, which included the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Town Planner, Chief Engineer, Health Officer, Assistant Town Planners and other relevant officers. They wanted to hear what we had found and how we think the city should respond. During the meeting, our two advisors: Hon’able Vice-Chancellor of Khulna University, Professor Dr Mohammad Fayek Uzzaman and S. M. Mehedi Ahsan, were present.

Prof. Tanjil Sowgat presenting the SHLC research findings at Khulna City Corporation. Credit: Khulna University
Prof. Tanjil Sowgat presenting the SHLC research findings at Khulna City Corporation. Credit: Khulna University

Neighbourhood matters: telling policymakers why a response to rapid urbanisation is key

We shared our research findings at the city and neighbourhood level and told the city officials that big cities are becoming exhausted by new migrants without a national urban policy. Rapid urbanisation at the city periphery is also becoming an emerging threat because this growth prompts haphazard growth and filthy living conditions in the spawling areas. We called on the City Mayors to focus on strategies to guide the development process in the peri-urban areas.

We also showed how the inner-city areas are transforming day by day.  We discussed how development control could help safeguard rapidly decreasing water bodies and vegetation in inner cities and city outskirts. Our neighbourhood findings emphasised growing socio-spatial division in the city and the resulting imbalance in development because of the lack of provision for neighbourhood specific planning interventions.

To showcase what these findings mean in real-world situations, we focused on the results from our case study neighbourhoods to tease out the current urban sustainability challenges such as segregation, disproportionately distributed urban services, land use planning challenges and urban management gaps.

Our recommendations for Dhaka and Khulna highlighted that the problem of uncontrolled mass in-migration and the resulting pressure on existing services could not be addressed if migration could not be diverted to other cities. We also called for neighbourhood level planning to tackle inequality and unbalanced migration.

Honorable VC of Khulna University shares SHLC reports with Mayor of KCC and DSCC. Credit: Khulna University
Honorable VC of Khulna University shares SHLC reports with Mayor of KCC and DSCC. Credit: Khulna University

Supporting evidence-based urban policy

The Mayors appreciated our findings and said our research hinted at many practical challenges and offered policymakers new directions. Each wanted to include our study findings in their upcoming plans particularly around concerns of sprawling, lack of neighbourhood level planning, and the need for national urban policies.

The Honourable Mayor of Khulna City Corporation notably endorsed our findings on the city’s future growth areas. He said that he would revise the proposal for the extension of the KCC boundary following our suggestions.

The Honourable Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation felt that more research is needed to support Dhaka’s future planning. He acknowledged the importance of co-sharing of knowledge and wanted to conduct joint studies, including collective action research between DSCC and SHLC to tackle the waterlogging and drainage issues in the city.

The honourable Mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation sought future studies on slum improvement, reclaiming water bodies, and strategies to reclaim the footpaths and encroached roads. He instructed his colleagues to arrange more sharing events and joint studies.

All three mayors showed keen interest to sign ‘MoUs’ (Memoranda of Understanding) between Khulna University and the city corporations to continuing benefiting from academic research. At the same time, they promised support for our future field and impact activities. Honourable VC of Khulna University agreed on the need for MoUs and pledged to take the necessary steps.

City Mayors of Dhaka and SHLC team during their meetings. Credit: Khulna University
City Mayors of Dhaka and SHLC team during their meetings. Credit: Khulna University

The three events were initially planned to engage city corporations to inform policy-making. However, the events successfully added more values as the mayors acknowledged the need for urban research in delivering sustainable cities and neighbourhoods. Their promise for MoUs and interests in joint studies gave new hope to the SHLC team.

Collaborative studies will offer new directions for the sustainable urbanisation of Khulna and Dhaka. SHLC’s Bangladesh team was encouraged to see how our research made an impression on crucial urban policymakers. We feel that similar sharing events would significantly contribute to both cities’ policy-making. The goodwill, dedication, and insightful thoughts of the city authorities gave new hope for continued pragmatic academic-public authority collaboration.

Cities of dragons and elephants – Urbanization and urban development in China and India


Ahmad, S.  (2021) Cities of dragons and elephants – Urbanization and urban development in China and India. Regional Studies,  doi: 10.1080/00343404.2021.1879488

Key messages

China and India, the most populous countries in the world, accommodate over one-third of the global population. Both countries have a similar level of rural population (23% of the population lives in rural grid cells), but the majority of Indians live in urban centres (54% versus China’s 41%) rather than urban clusters (India’s 24% versus China’s 37%) as per the degree of urbanization (European Commission, 2015). Given the similarities and differences, particularly at development stage and trajectory, China and India can learn from each other to achieve sustainable development outcomes.

By understanding why and where to urbanize in the context of China and India, this edited volume makes a timely contribution to urbanization and urban development debates. This book is divided into nine parts after an introductory chapter: (I) Urbanization and Rural Development; (II) Urban System; (III) Migration; (IV) Land and Housing; (V) Capital Flow and FDI; (VI) Infrastructure; (VII) Human Capital; (VIII) Congestion and Pollution; and (IX) Poverty and Inequality in Urbanization. Each part consists of two or three chapters (a total of 21 chapters) and deals with Chinese and Indian urban issues separately, rather than comparatively.

The key message from this book is that China’s and India’s urbanization are in the form of megacities that face the challenge of liveability and equality within and across cities. Based on robust empirical analyses, this study makes four policy recommendations to achieve efficacy, equity and sustainability:

  1. ensuring the efficiency of factor markets by removing the institutional barrier to migration in China and integrating labour markets by reducing language and cultural differences across regions in India;
  2. instrumenting central–local fiscal transfer to equitable public services and quality of life;
  3. ensuring the optimal exploitation of management and technology to build liveable and equitable cities (e.g., large-scale efficient urban transits, e-governance and green technologies); and
  4. setting up accountable and efficient governments for urban management and development.


These recommendations are made with reference to China and India, but are equally applicable to other emerging economies.

Does building development in Dhaka comply with land use zoning? An analysis using nighttime light and digital building heights


Rahman, M. M.Avtar, R., Ahmad, S., Inostroza, L.Misra, P.Kumar, P.Takeuchi, W.Surhan, A. and Saito, O. (2021) Does building development in Dhaka comply with land use zoning? An analysis using nighttime light and digital building heights. Sustainability Science doi: 10.1007/s11625-021-00923-0


Zoning is an important tool to regulate the use of land and to characterize built form over land, and thus to facilitate urban sustainability. Availability of reliable data is crucial for monitoring land use zoning, which contributes directly to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in general, and SDG Goal 11 for sustainable cities and communities in particular. However, obtaining this valuable information using traditional survey methods is both costly and time-consuming. Remote sensing technology overcomes these challenges and supports urban policymaking and planning processes.

This study unveils a novel approach to developing a cost-effective method for identifying building types using Sentinel-2A, Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)–based nighttime light (NTL) data, and TanDEM-X–based Digital Surface Model (DSM) data. A newly developed index for this study, the Normalized Difference Steel Structure Index (NDSSI), is useful for rapidly mapping industrial buildings with steel structures.

The implementation status of Dhaka’s existing land use plan was evaluated by analyzing the spatial distribution of different types of building uses. This study classifies residential, commercial, and industrial buildings within Dhaka using building height, and nighttime light emission. The experimental results reveal that about 67% of commercial and 51% of industrial buildings within the Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA) do not comply with the land use zoning by the Detailed Area Plan (DAP). It also reveals that approximately 10% of commercial buildings, 9% of industrial buildings, and 6% of residential buildings have encroached upon conservation zones (such as open space, flood-prone zones, water bodies, and proposed areas for future road extension).

A major constraint in the study was the low spatial resolution of the nighttime light dataset, which made it difficult to distinguish individual sources of light. Still, the methodological approaches proposed in this study are expected to promote reduced costs and efficacious decision-making in urban transformation and to help achieve SDG 11, especially in developing countries.

Woman works in a small shop, Ghana. Credit: Arne Hoel/The World Bank

Urban–rural linkages: effective solutions for achieving sustainable development in Ghana from an SDG interlinkage perspective


Baffoe, G., Zhou, X., Moinuddin, M. et al. Urban–rural linkages: effective solutions for achieving sustainable development in Ghana from an SDG interlinkage perspective. Sustain Sci (2021).


Urbanization and concomitant challenges pose a great threat to sustainable development. Urban and rural development interacts through the flows of people, materials, energy, goods, capital, and information. Without building sound urban–rural linkages, achieving development in one area could compromise it in another area. Achieving sustainable development needs customized policy prioritization and implementation in both urban and rural areas.

Much literature exists in the research field of urban–rural linkages, but little has been done via a comprehensive analysis from an interlinkage perspective in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Development Goal 11 on sustainable cities and several targets embedded under other Goals provides a good framework for analyzing the urban–rural linkages.

This paper contributes to this novel research perspective using Ghana as a case. The study applied an integrated approach by combining the results from a solution-scanning exercise with an SDG interlinkage analysis to identify the challenges and priority solutions and assess the synergies and trade-offs of the identified solutions. It extends the conventional solution-scanning approach by further assessing the synergies and trade-offs of the solutions from an SDG interlinkage perspective. It also enables a more practical SDG interlinkage analysis through the contributions from the multi-stakeholder consultations conducted in Ghana.

The analyses show that prioritizing gender inclusion (Goal 5) will positively affect many social and well-being outcomes, including poverty elimination (Goal 1), hunger reduction (Goal 2), health improvement (Goal 3) and access to quality education (Goal 4) and basic services, such as water (Goal 6). However, gender inclusion could have potential trade-offs in the agricultural sector (Goal 2) in the case that women who dominate agricultural value chains could move to work in other sectors. Lack of proper infrastructure (Goal 9), such as transport, will hinder wide gender inclusion.

An integrated approach that considers both the synergies and trade-offs of relevant solutions is critical for effective policymaking, specifically in developing countries.

Researchers talking to young girl.

A Researcher's Diary: Is It Right To Defer Conversation About Sex Anymore?

This article was written by S. Ram Aravind and originally published by PRIA. The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

Every year, millions of adolescents die of preventable or treatable causes. When it comes to discussing sexual health, Indians are perceived to be notoriously reluctant. As the hesitancy to discuss important health issues of youth grows, the largest population of adolescents in the history of mankind face tremendous challenges to realizing their potential and contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Through using participatory research methods to explore adolescent health, Ram Aravind makes the point that it is possible to get the community talking about issues that matter. Postponing action, from the state, civil society and community, will delay progress and prove to be detrimental to nations looking to harness the power of demographic dividend.

Social metamorphosis has its roots strongly embedded in local culture. However, the social- cultural milieu has done little by way of improving sexual well-being for India’s 253 million adolescent boys and girls. Conversations around sex is still considered taboo and archaic practices and attitude deprive young women of dignity during their periods. As we dive further into our exploration of social and cultural factors that influence adolescent heath in urban informal settlements through ‘Our Health, Our Voice’ study, it is vital that spaces for healthy dialogues around sexual health be realized. After all, participatory research isn’t just ‘ordinary research’.

Researchers talking to young girl.
Researchers talking to young girl. Credit: S. Ram Aravind

Traditionally ascribed to ‘conservative’ rural settings, hesitation and stigma attached to discussing sex and sexuality, however, extends beyond the geographical boundaries of India’s villages. Our young urban population is at a crossroads of a digital revolution, which affords much more information and awareness on a wide range of topics than its preceding generation. The virtual world affords them anonymity and provides a ‘space’ to be heard, but as teens struggle to cope with the different pleasures of ‘urbanisation’ and hesitancy in the ‘physical world’ to engage in topics (mis)construed as ‘uncomfortable’, sometimes the critical topics of adolescent growth tend to be brushed under the carpet. A 2015 study by Population Council and Indian Institute of Population Studies (IIPS) had estimated that half of the pregnancies in India are unintended.

For a researcher in the process of exploring health-seeking behavior of young people from low-income urban households (including children of migrant workers), my first set of apprehensions revolved around the following questions:

How would the community take to questions regarding intimacy and sexual partners?

How would the parents react if their wards were to be questioned about sexually transmitted diseases?

How do we get the adolescents in the community to open up about other discreet harmful practices like tobacco consumption and drug abuse?

The purpose of conducting participatory research is to encourage the community to become ‘active participants’ in knowledge creation and not ‘passive recipients’ of knowledge. However, it cautions the researcher against forming pre-conceived notions about community behavior.

During the course of the participatory survey, along with the community and student researchers, I realised that adolescents were more than willing to let us into their lives and share intimate details about their health and well-being, as opposed to our initial clouded perceptions. They wanted to raise their voices and be heard. Their expression was powerful and, hence, they were better placed to articulate their needs, opinions, and aspirations.

Social science researchers need to treat study participants as ‘partners’ and not ‘subjects. Adopting the patronising attitude of an expert researcher looking to extract information would have backfired, and prevented the community from trusting our intentions. To tell the boys that ‘innocently’ teasing women constituted abuse and to tell the girls that menstruation shouldn’t constrict social participation among other things wouldn’t have been possible if the researcher hadn’t adopted a participatory approach.

At the end of the survey, I can indeed declare that the researchers have succeeded in initiating conversations—not just with the youth, but also with parents, teachers and other community leaders. Over the course of the study, as the community and researchers work towards achieving a common goal, a shared understanding of the reality of adolescents will pave the way for a smooth path. An active peer group in the community was an idea born out of our interactions. We would indeed want that such spaces be created and sustained!

A Researcher’s Diary: Is There Healthcare For Adolescents On The Margins?

This article was written by S. Ram Aravind and originally published by PRIA. The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

Placing adolescent health at the heart of urban planning, PRIA, University of Glasgow(UoG) and Gurugram University have come together to undertake Participatory Action Research with communities residing in urban informal settlements in Gurugram. In this six-part series that explores the relationship between cities and health, Ram Aravind, from PRIA, will take the readers through the process of conducting participatory research with adolescents and how collective action with stakeholders makes for an effective strategy for effecting change at the grassroots.

On the first day of fieldwork, I encountered a young girl who had migrated from Jharkhand to Gurugram, after the pandemic-induced lockdown restrictions were lifted. I observed her from a distance. She was engrossed in serious business on her mobile phone, unconcerned by the ‘gaze of research’. The digital revolution had made owning a mobile phone affordable. Adolescents, in Gurugram, had access to mobile phones and information from around the world was just a click away. Irony lay in the fact that their access to information about their health needs in itself was limited. One in five adolescents in Southern Asia is out of school, according to a paper by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS). Mere access to information on the internet was not empowering adolescents when it comes to their health. They still remain powerless, voiceless and neglected in a city and in its planning to provide health services.

Credit: S. Ram Aravind

Reaping the benefits of India’s demographic dividend will be central to India’s economic development, but the largest generation of young people in human history, face enormous challenges towards realizing their potential to contribute to the growth story. The Lancet Commission report titled, ‘Our Future’ had identified ‘adolescence’ as a “critical phase in life for achieving human potential” and concluded by recommending that only substantial investments in improving adolescent health and well-being would aid in India’s progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But how do we generate evidence into priority areas of public policy that would ensure holistic development of adolescents, especially those belonging to marginalized communities? Drawing upon PRIA’s prior experience of engaging with youth, the study titled ‘Our Health, Our Voice’ seeks to advance the use of participatory research methodology into the thematic area of adolescent health. Through active participation of adolescent boys and girls living in urban informal settlements in Gurugram, the evidence is expected to generate fresh insights into their lives from the perspective of urban migration.

For many, the name Gurugram (erstwhile Gurgaon) is synonymous with the entrepreneurial boom that has now gripped India. However, Gurugram is home not only for the well-heeled, but also people fighting it out in the fringes hoping to eke out bare minimum sustenance. In a pattern that is typical of rapid urbanization, a vertical expansion of Gurugram to accommodate the deluge of migrant workers had followed. The construction workers, drivers, domestic workers, gardeners, gate-keepers, and the ones labelled as ‘criminals’ and ‘delinquents’; you could possibly find them all here. Otherwise known as ‘urban informal settlements’, the term has its genesis in the economics of the city.

The development economists are guided by the philosophy ‘what gets measured gets done’. The existing literature on adolescent health is populated with studies that evaluate gaps in adolescent health service delivery or awareness among adolescents on various health issues. Studies that explored the phenomenon were few. There appears to be a dearth of studies on adolescent health that combines theory, practice and advocacy. As a methodological and thematic novice, I look forward to combining the three, to innovate on techniques and methods of action research and deepen our presence in working with India’s youth.

The practice of converting the numbers into tangible results on ground distinguishes the participatory research methodology from the more traditional methods of research. Further, the respondent or participant in the study is not kept distant from the research, in fact their stakes are much higher in Participatory Action Research. To engage in a process of research that gives agency to the community to have control over the factors that affect their lives! How exciting is that!

That would include sharing the results of a study with the respondents, interviewing the multiple stakeholders involved in health service delivery, working with local elected representatives, gaining perspectives on existing practices from parents, all the way extending into behavior change communication with the community that they live in.

Over the coming months, as the adolescents in the community transition from being respondents of questionnaires to owning their stake in the process that seeks to transform health service delivery through policy advocacy, the journey seems long and arduous, but transformative. For me as a researcher and hopefully, for them as an active participant. Their experiences, their stories — those will contribute to the discourse. And, beyond all the literature that I had reviewed, read and built my understanding of the research topic, it is an opportunity for me to learn how to research with the people, and not for them.