A view towards town, Kigali, Rwanda

Will the Covid-19 impact on public life and public space be transformational?

This article was originally published by The New Times. The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

With increasing entry of vaccines into the continent and consistent adherence to health protocols, it looks possible to start imagining a post-Covid world.

Clearly the restrictions on the use of public space and physical distancing have been key policy measures to reduce transmission of Covid-19.

The stay home directives, lockdowns and cessation of movements made us witness unprecedented absence of public life and activities in public space in cities across the world.

Yes, the aim is protecting public health during the pandemic, but in the post-pandemic world, will we be able to consider going back to public space after the pandemic, will we be able to enjoy public life like before? Will be able to hug as many people as we used to hug before Covid?

A recent study has shown that in 2020, more than half of the world’s population stayed home with restricted movements in public. Schools, children playgrounds, parks and streets remained empty and quiet while everyone stayed at home. Obviously, the experiences in different cities are as varied as the number of cities are.

A view towards town, Kigali, Rwanda
A view towards town, Kigali, Rwanda

To what extent have we lost our sting of having to meet friends, hug them and share a laugh or a drink with them in public space? Are we really going to manage to come back to the old vibrant, social and lively public life before Covid-19? While sure that our relationship with other people and public space may never be the same again, one would wonder how long the changes in the vibrancy of public life or use of public space will last.

Over the last 12 months or so, we have had to develop new social behavior and keep a constant reminder in our minds at all times, while in public, resist that urge to hug a friend we haven’t seen in a while, avoid moving closer to other people and keep them a meter away, wear our masks correctly which also makes chatting difficult, and wash hands or sanitize at the entry of every public place of which we will be reminded by the youth volunteers lest we forget. Will these new social behaviors condition us to remain anti-social? Will they fade away? Will they be ephemeral?

Will our emotional connection with other people (especially non-family) change and to what extend? Will our emotional connections to places such as markets change as well? Will we not prefer to keep ordering for supplies from the comfort of our homes other than go to the market.

Are our balconies and small neighbourhood streets going to become our new public spaces? Will we forget the social life benefits we used to enjoy from visiting playgrounds, markets and parks?

More optimistically, will the Covid-19 pandemic teach us new lessons on how to live better in our cities? Or rethinking better ways to design and develop our cities? Will it teach us the importance of making only mandatory trips and living local (using commercial areas, health and education facilities within our neighbourhoods)? Will the pandemic teach architects, urban designers and urban planners how to design better cities and neighbourhoods?

Whereas the post-Covid world is still blurred and the conversations are still green, all these questions, ideas and conjectures might actually change our relationships with public life and public space for the better of humanity.

It is said “you can only predict things after they have happened”. Nevertheless, these reflections on how the post-Covid era will bring with it, what public life and public space will be like once Covid has become a thing of the past, and once the restrictions on use of public space or regulations on social distancing have been completely lifted, once we are able to attend parties and weddings and hug all our friends and accomplices, all.

Are we living through a profound transition? Are these only evolutionary changes or will they remain cumulative or will they just have transpired in the pandemic moment, hence can gradually pass? Will we still remain stuck in the life we have gotten used to, for a year now – the ‘new normal’, or will the pandemic merely refine our public life practices and allow us to be able to make adjustments back and forth and coin a more sustainable way of public life around other people and public space.

It remains unclear if the impact of Covid-19 on public life and public space will be as profound as they are in many other aspects of life. Therefore, dilemma still remains in unpacking how long the current social impacts will be felt and the degree to which they will be transformational. The immediacy of the stormy pandemic cannot allow us to see through the clouds as yet.

Noapara Storytelling Workshops. Credit: Jinia Nowrin

SHLC Funds 19 Projects in 15 Countries to Support Sustainable Urban Development

The SHLC Capacity Development Acceleration Fund (CDAF) is helping to strengthen capacity and knowledge to address urban, health and education challenges in fast-growing developing country cities. Backing 19 projects in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the fund is supporting urban research in neighbourhoods across the world.

Projects are wide ranging and include a mixture of disciplines, methodologies and tools from participatory mapping and community-led workshops to using virtual reality as a research tool to support urban planning. For example, one team in Bangladesh are using GIS-based analysis of remote sensing data to understand the rate of land and water body change caused by rapid urbanisation. Another team in Colombia are facilitating political and economic inclusion for informal workers through participatory policy engagement activities.

Many projects are led by early-career researchers which means that the skills, knowledge and experience they are developing will help strengthen and sustain research capacity within their local context.

Professor Mike Osborne, Capacity Strengthening Lead for the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods commented:

Small locally-led projects like these are integral to addressing the challenges of urbanisation in cities worldwide. We have been really impressed with the quality and progress of each project, particularly given the challenging circumstances being faced right now with the emergence and spread of COVID-19. The projects funded by CDAF are already producing important results and some have even moved on to follow-on projects based on their findings. I am very pleased to see that our funding is supporting and sustaining locally-led research capacity.”

Noapara Storytelling Workshops. Credit: Jinia Nowrin
Noapara Storytelling Workshops. Credit: Jinia Nowrin

The following is a list of CDAF-funded projects:

  • The Studio ‘IV’ Module – Kigali, Rwanda. (University of Rwanda)
  • Planning for Post-Conflict Cities: VR for Urban Planning and Research Towards Building Back a Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Marawi City. (UPMDR Management Consultancy, Philippines)
  • Capacity Building Workshop for Early Career Researchers on Issues and Challenges of Urban Sector (National Institute of Urban Research, India)
  • Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh (Durham University, UK International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Bangladesh, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa)
  • CoUP: Connecting the Urban and Peri-urban: A Transformative Policy Framework for Inclusive and Resilient Urban Development in India (Anglia Ruskin University, UK and Indian Institute of Technology)
  • Power of Partnership: Voices of Residents and City Planners as Sources of Innovation for Sustainable Urban Governance (University of Exeter, UK)
  • Age Friendly Cities in the Andean Region– Implementing and Monitoring the Protocol of Vancouver (Isalud University, Argentina and Help Age International)
  • Strengthening Neighbourhood Level Research Capacities for Sustainable Communities in Fast Growing Nigerian cities. (University of Lagos, Nigeria)
  • Between Rural and Urban: Research – Action, in the Peripheries of the Municipality of El Alto de La Paz, Bolivia. (Universidad Mayor de San Andres, Bolivia)
  • Green Infrastructure for Health Promotion within Informal Neighbourhoods in Lagos and Akure, Nigeria. (Federal University of Technology, Nigeria and University of Lagos, Nigeria)
  • Towards More Inclusive Urban Planning in Udon Thani (Thailand) and Nakuru (Kenya). (Stockholm Environment Institute Asia)
  • Transformation of Agricultural Land and Waterbodies in Rapidly Urbanising Bangladesh: Recognising the Extent of Sustainability Concerns. (Chinese Academy of Sciences and Khulna University, Bangladesh)
  • How to Improve Understanding of Sustainable and Healthy Neighbourhoods through Youth Participation in Kisenyi Slum, Kampala, Uganda (Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth Study). (Makerere University School of Public Health, Uganda)
  • City Occupied: A Neighbourhood Framework Based Comparison of Informal Land Occupations in Bogota, Cape Town and Sao Paulo. (University of Cape Town, South Africa, Human Sciences research Council, South Africa, University of Manchester, UK)
  • Healthy Cities for Adolescents: A Participatory Research in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India. (Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), India)
  • Capacity-Strengthening Workshop for Future Research Leaders in Urban Water Governance in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and University of Glasgow, UK)
  • Raising Voices through Design Charrette: Contextualization of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Terminals and Intermediate Bus Stops Stations by Neighborhood Context and Needs (University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
  • Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia (Universidad Icesi, Cali, Colombia)
  • Local Challenges, Global Imperatives: Cities at the Forefront to Achieve Education 2030

Education and technology skills, Bangladesh. Credit: DFID/Ricci Coughlan

The ‘Good’ Place: Why Neighbourhoods Can Support a Revitalised Education Sector and Drive Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities

International Day of Education celebrates the critical role that inclusive, equitable, and quality education and learning play in breaking the cycle of poverty, achieving equality, building lasting peace, and contributing to sustainable development. As UNESCO says: Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.

Yet, many children and young people are denied this right: as many as 258 million do not attend school and 617 million cannot read and do basic math. As COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing inequalities in education and beyond, and is expected to affect the education for generations to come, this year’s theme for the Day is “Recover and Revitalise Education for the COVID-19 Generation.” As UNESCO explains, now is the time to step up “collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery.”

To celebrate International Day of Education, we asked our colleagues to reflect on the importance of education especially in supporting the drive towards sustainable cities and communities. Here is what our colleagues from Rwanda, South Africa, and Scotland have shared with us.

Education helps to more easily adapt to and innovate in the ever-changing world

“Availing stronger education systems and infrastructure in cities stimulate innovation, creativity and establishment of new ways to cope with new living conditions with minimal impact. In the ever-changing life environment of cities, only stronger education systems can instill a shift in mindset and awareness by forming the next generation of environmentally and socially conscious leaders who can help to mitigate the consequences of hazard linked with rapid urbanization.” Dr Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda, Rwanda

“Education is a critical service for all city dwellers, of all ages, and at all stages in life. The onset of rapidly changing technology, the changing workplace, the imperative of switching employment, residential and other aspects of how we live under pandemics, all require both innate intelligence and education, whether formal, informal, or via educational institution, trade union, co-operative or any other form.” Prof David Everatt, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Education is critical for social cohesion

“… education is important for social trust and cohesion, especially in this age of rising inequality, discontent and the pandemic. Education helps people to go beyond their narrow horizons and short-term selfish interests to recognize their shared destiny and to strengthen the sense of common purpose in an increasingly connected world. In other words, education helps people to understand that we’re all in this together, so that caring for each other is in everyone’s best interests. This is especially important during the current twin health and economic crisis.” Prof. Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Education helps to address and redress injustices

“But it clearly matters most for the youth. In South Africa, we have developed an index of marginalization, which combines multiple indicators to try and understand the interior life of young people (it is now also applied to adults). The index includes ‘objective’ indicators – housing type, whether employed or not, and so on – and subjective indicators, including alienation, extreme racial views, deep mistrust of others, lack of engagement with any broader social issues, anomie, and so on. When the marginalization results are analysed using correspondence analysis, it is evident that the most marginalized young – and old – people in Johannesburg (and society more broadly) are those with no formal education at all. As education levels rise, so marginalization recedes.” Prof David Everatt, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Education helps to equip us with knowledge and skills to …
… contribute to economic development

“Education is fundamental to sustainable cities in so many ways. … an educated workforce is important for the prosperity of individuals and the wider city economy. Educated people are generally more productive and earn higher salaries. They enable businesses to thrive and to adapt to changing economic conditions, including coping with disasters such as Covid-19 and adopting new technologies.” Prof. Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

… make informed decisions for the wellbeing of their cities

“… those better educated people are better able to engage with and contribute to their city and feel that the city cares for them (or at least offers them appropriate services). Sustainable cities rely ultimately on a well-educated population who can make informed decisions; and who are not beset by psycho-social issues that stop their full engagement with the society around them; and who are least likely to be willing or able to contribute to their city, or even their neighbours.” Prof David Everatt, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Education supports positive civic engagement

“… an educated citizenry is important to hold city governments to account. Education gives people the knowledge and wherewithal to be active citizens – asking tough questions of decision-makers and not tolerating misinformation and mismanagement. So, education is good for the health of local democracy and improves the quality of civic leadership.” Prof. Ivan Turok, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Education is a solution to health issues and numerous other urban challenges

“Learning, health, inclusion, living productive lives and sustainable development are intimately connected, and require localised initiatives and joined up policy initiatives that recognise the particular characteristics of places. Healthy children are more likely to perform well at school and adults with high levels of educational attainment are more likely to find high quality employment. In turn ‘Good Places’ (with positive social, economic, cultural and physical environments) lead to better health. ‘Good places’ contain healthy people, who are more likely to enter learning, gain qualifications and become employed. Furthermore, they will then become more civically-minded and engaged citizens.” Prof Mike Osborne, University of Glasgow

The sustainable solution to health issues like Covid-19, together with other challenges of the cities including ever-increasing populations, crowded settlements, migration, unemployment, criminality to name a few is education.” Dr Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda

and …

Education is the key to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

“Quality education develops capacities for dignity, self-respect, economic self-reliance, and active citizenship. It also is a critical foundation for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as education reduces poverty (Goal 1), improves health (Goal 3), increases gender equality (Goal 5), boosts economy (Goal 8), reduces inequality (Goal 10), builds peace and prosperity (Goal 16), and equips us with knowledge and skills to protect the natural environment (Goals 13, 14, 15).” Dr Yulia Nesterova, University of Glasgow

But… Not everyone in cities has access to quality education to benefit from the opportunities and advantages it offers.

“Education’s contribution to the development of sustainable cities is much more than just the aggregation of the advantages to the individual residents. But its capacity to contribute to more sustainable cities depends on how its benefits are created and distributed. We know that quality schooling is not distributed evenly in cities, with better schools generally situated in wealthier neighbourhoods. This contributes to divisions and perpetuates cycles of inequality.  Schools in wealthier neighbourhoods have the spatial advantage of being in the catchment areas of families with greater financial, cultural and social capital, with better-educated parents preparing children for school through material resources and an understanding of the pathways to better education and the success if brings. These parents are also well-placed to contribute materially to the school, and they know how to hold schools accountable and drive them to help already advantaged children achieve.  Teachers who have a choice about where to teach may prefer to work in this kind of environment.  These successful schools then attract wealthy parents to those neighbourhoods, drive up house prices, and so on. Without interventions at the policy and neighbourhood levels, the opposite can happen in poorer neighbourhoods.”

“There are exceptions to this general rule. We need to learn more about those exceptions and how to create and normalise them.  We need policies that support this.  School league tables and parental choice are the neoliberal solution – but these add not only to the inequalities noted above, they add to the perennial traffic problem in many cities, as parents commute their children to better schools outside their neighbourhoods.  We also need residents of all kinds of neighbourhoods to take a keen interest in their local schools.” Prof Michele Schweisfurth, University of Glasgow.

How can quality education and lifelong learning support and drive sustainable neighbourhoods?

“… the improvement of life chances in cities are vital, and reflective of the need to maximise the positive elements of urban spaces as well as combat the challenges of rapid and accelerating urbanisation: poverty, crime, environmental risks, poor health and inequitable access to learning.  An important vehicle for urban development is ‘learning city/region’, places within which stakeholders across sectors of education, businesses, the public sector, cultural organisations and NGOs co-operate to create cohesive and inclusive learning frameworks for all citizens to enable educational progression. However, we must remember that inside the learning city/region there is heterogeneity, and our educational interventions need to be nuanced at fine levels of geography, and ensure that they are reflective of the needs and demands of citizens. This suggests the importance of neighbourhood and the bottom-up co-construction of research-informed initiatives working with those who live there, and for their benefit.  This is a likely route to sustainable actions.” Prof Mike Osborne,  University of Glasgow

“Some radical but not unheard-of or impossible policies include:

– Teacher education programme selection processes which foreground social commitment, and teacher education curricula that focus on community development as well as raising ‘standards’ in the ‘basics’

– More sophisticated ‘value-added’ analyses which embrace difficult-to-measure outcomes from school learning including learning for environmental and social sustainability.

– Above all, all sectors in the urban space, including, for example, health and urban planning, need to work collaboratively with the education sector toward these common goals for urban sustainability. This sounds banal, but all too often they are operating in parallel universes.” Prof Michele Schweisfurth, University of Glasgow.

Students in Primary Seven at Zanaki Primary School, Tanzania. Credit: Sarah Farhat / World Bank

Webinar: Urban and Place-Based Learning

Webinar: Urban and Place-Based Learning

This webinar featured leading-edge research investigating relationships between place and educational disadvantage, both in the Glasgow City Region and in cities in the Global South. It considered research from the following projects.

This webinar was part of a series of events coordinated by the University of Glasgow’s School of Education celebrating social justice research in education.

Missed the event? Click on the image below to watch a recording.

Key points from presentations

Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods
  • In her role of as Education lead and Co-I, Professor Michele Schweisfurth presented the work of the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC), a large-scale funded by UKRI within the Global Challenges Research Fund. She highlighted its twin functions of capacity strengthening and undertaking inter-disciplinary research working with researchers in seven global south countries and in 14 cities. She explained why interdisciplinary is important in the studies of urban sustainability and provided a number of examples of specific issues and research questions pertaining to education in this context. (Presentation: SHLC)
Strengthening Urban Engagement of Universities in Asia and Africa (SUEUAA)
  • Dr Muir Houston, Co-I within the British Academy funded GCRF project, Strengthening Urban Engagement of Universities in Asia and Africa (SUEUAA) presented an account of the work of that project as it related to cities and infrastructure. He focused on the different ways in which universities engaged with their urban communities, and how they contribute to developing sustainable cities in the context of the major social, cultural, environmental and economic challenges facing the global south. He described the various methods used in the study undertaken in six global south countries and focused on the main themes of the project: migration; environment; economy; health; and policy. (Presentation: SUEUAA)
Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland (CNS)
  • Dr Alison Drever, CNS Director and Dr Sarah Ward, Research Associate in CNS researchers in Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland spoke to the work of this project funded by the Scottish Government as well as public and private, and which is working in high poverty neighbourhoods to improve outcomes for children and young people. They described the themes and work strands of the project with a particular emphasis on the role of children’s own voices in decision-making. The uniqueness of the CNS model lies in dialogue, the use of creative arts and games, its multi-dimensional approach, its scalability and its focus on a youth-led well-being framework and action plan. They also described the work of CNS in the context of the impact of COVID-19 on families, children and young people in Glasgow, and concluded with a brief account of the impacts of the work. (Presentation: CNS)
Urban Big Data Centre
  • Professor Catherine Lido, Associate Director and Dr Phil Mason, Research Fellow in the Urban Big Data Centre funded by the ESRC, spoke about the workstream of the centre that uses big and novel data to meet social challenges related to educational disadvantage and place. Following an overview of the objectives of this strand of work, they outlined this work as it pertained to secondary, vocational and higher education, and to learning cities. They described a particular piece of work, the Integrated Multimedia City Data (iMCD) Project, and its use of novel methodologies, such as travel diaries, GPS, lifelogging cameras and social media capture. They continued with an example of follow-on work with families in the field of lifewide literacies, and an example of rapid-response work related to COVID-19 undertaken by a PhD student, Barry Black. (Presentation: UBDC)

Walk safely or safe walking, Azizur Rahman Road, Khulna, Bangladesh. Credit: Nafisa Anjum.

What Makes Your Neighbourhood Sustainable? Lessons from a Virtual Photography Exhibition

Rapid urban growth is one of the most important global challenges affecting all countries across the globe.

By 2030, the United Nations estimates that 60.4% of the world’s population will live in cities. One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals promotes sustainable cities and communities as a way to address urbanisation. But what does sustainability look like at the local level in neighbourhoods and how is it shaping everyday life in urban communities?

In a recent virtual exhibition ‘Neighbourhood Matters’, which we organised as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2020, we discovered that sustainability has very different meanings to different people, depending on their own unique stories and experiences.

As part of this exhibition, we asked urban residents in our partner countries to share photos they took themselves from their own neighbourhood to give a glimpse into what a sustainable urban community and neighbourhood means to them.

From the 35 entries we received from over 14 different cities and we asked our social media followers to choose top ten entries.  The ten selected photographs were presented at the virtual exhibition where the photographers shared with us their own views on sustainability in their local neighbourhoods. Scroll to the bottom to see the winning photographs.

Urbanisation and Urban Neighbourhoods

The photographers shared diverse and unique perspectives of urban sustainability. It was really interesting to see the similarities, and differences, between their own lived experience and academic perspectives on urbanisation and urban issues.

While the definition of urban (and urbanisation) varies from one country to another, for scholars, urbanisation is about the concentration of people. Currently, over 50% of world population live in urban areas, which is expected to rise over 60% by 2050.  As a result of urbanisation people shift their economic activities, from agricultural to industrial/manufacturing and service sector. Urban population tends to have more opportunities for work, studies, and leisure and have a higher living standard.

Urbanisation, however, also poses several challenges. For instance, 1-in-3 people in urban areas live in slums where deprivation is extreme. Poverty in urban areas beyond slums is also on the rise – in fact, poverty has migrated from rural to urban alongside the people who have migrated in hopes of a better living. This is in addition to the adverse effects rapid urbanisation is having on environmental sustainability.

Why Neighbourhoods Matter

When people migrate to the city, their destination matters and the makeup of the neighbourhood is crucial for urban sustainability. Neighbourhoods’ resources, opportunities within them, and their networks are important factors for neighbourhood resilience.

But not all neighbourhoods are the same. Some are hotspots of poverty and segregation. While some have all the opportunities, infrastructure, and resources required for their residents to prosper.

Neighbourhood’s Sustainability – Participants’ Perspectives

As part of our virtual photography exhibition for the 2020 ESRC Festival of Social Science we wanted to hear from residents themselves about why their neighbourhood offered a sustainable place to live, or not. Why photography? Quite simply photographs are a powerful tool that transmit messages and despite cultural and linguistic differences can help people connect to the message in a more emotional way. For our project, we asked the participants to reflect on one theme – what sustainability means to them in their urban neighbourhood?  We asked them to capture the moment as a photograph but also explain to a global audience why it represents sustainability.

The exhibition showed that indeed, sustainability means lots of different things: we received a wide variety of themes and topics. Still, there are some common themes across all the images, that include:

  • social features, such as the importance of public space, connection and interaction between residents,
  • economic opportunities such as the importance of economic vitality and wellbeing,
  • environmental issues, such as sustainable growth with low impact on the environment but also the need to ensure health and sanitation, and
  • cultural characteristics, for example, maintaining heritage and respecting ethnic and religious diversity.

​We also asked participants what ‘sustainability’ meant to them. Here you can see the words they used to describe ‘sustainability’ before the presentation of the images and after. It is interesting to see the shift from ‘longevity’, ‘social cohesion’, ‘community’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘resilience’ and ‘health’ to a stronger emphasis on ‘social cohesion’. What is also notable is that after the presentations, they chose such words as ‘happiness’, ‘adaptability’, ‘diversity’, and ‘continuity’ to describe sustainability. What it shows is that, unlike the academic and policy focus on economic or environmental sustainability, people associate sustainability and sustainable neighbourhoods with being happy, celebrating diversity, and just simply being able to rely on the continued existence of their community.

The audience chose three winning images (scroll to see)

  1. A mix-use neighbourhood (Vatara, Bangladesh), by Tahmina Sultana
  2. Pasig City mega market (the Philippines) by Rhay Daniel R. Racoma
  3. ‘Walk safely’ or ‘safe walking’ (Khulna, Bangladesh) by Nafisa Anjum
What is interesting about these three choices?

The very first image – and the first place – showcases a mix-use neighbourhood in Bangladesh that has a vibrant economic life and daily necessities can be found within walking distance. Interestingly, the second image also focuses on the neighbourhood’s economic activity, this time in the Philippines. The market depicted on the photo ensures economic vitality and sustainability of the neighbourhood and the city.

The third images emphasises the importance of a safe walking environment such as having well-maintained footpaths and roads. As the photographer noted, safe walking reduces anxiety among parents who may worry about their children being outside in unsafe environment, but also increases community pride and decreases pollution.

A neighbourhood with the gist of every social class, Vatara, Dhaka. Credit: Tahmina Sultana.
A neighbourhood with the gist of every social class, Vatara, Dhaka. Credit: Tahmina Sultana.
Pasig City Mega Market, Philippines. Credit: Rhay Daniel R. Racoma.
Pasig City Mega Market, Philippines. Credit: Rhay Daniel R. Racoma.
Walk safely or safe walking, Azizur Rahman Road, Khulna, Bangladesh. Credit: Nafisa Anjum.
Walk safely or safe walking, Azizur Rahman Road, Khulna, Bangladesh. Credit: Nafisa Anjum.

Listening to residents

These unique and personal reflections on neighbourhood sustainability told directly from urban residents are important to listen and respond to. Policymakers and city administrators should note these priorities, and indeed, these interventions are already well-considered both in the Sustainable Development Goals and UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda.

Whilst it is always challenging to implement interventions, strategies should allow for adequate allocation of space for walking and cycling, and put mechanisms in place to ensure local marketplaces and public spaces are vibrant, diverse, and meet the needs of neighbourhood residents right on their own doorstep.

Ambulance. China. Credit: Flickr, egorgrebnev.

Spatiotemporal access to emergency medical services in Wuhan, China: accounting for scene and transport time intervals


Luo, W., Yao, J., Mitchell, R. et al. Spatiotemporal access to emergency medical services in Wuhan, China: accounting for scene and transport time intervals. International Journal of Health Geographies. 19, 52 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12942-020-00249-7


Access as a primary indicator of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) efficiency has been widely studied over the last few decades. Most previous studies considered one-way trips, either getting ambulances to patients or transporting patients to hospitals. This research assesses spatiotemporal access to EMS at the shequ (the smallest administrative unit) level in Wuhan, China, attempting to fill a gap in literature by considering and comparing both trips in the evaluation of EMS access.


Two spatiotemporal access measures are adopted here: the proximity-based travel time obtained from online map services and the enhanced two-step floating catchment area (E-2SFCA) which is a gravity-based model. First, the travel time is calculated for the two trips involved in one EMS journey: one is from the nearest EMS station to the scene (i.e. scene time interval (STI)) and the other is from the scene to the nearest hospital (i.e. transport time interval (TTI)). Then, the predicted travel time is incorporated into the E-2SFCA model to calculate the access measure considering the availability of the service provider as well as the population in need. For both access measures, the calculation is implemented for peak hours and off-peak hours.


Both methods showed a marked decrease in EMS access during peak traffic hours, and differences in spatial patterns of ambulance and hospital access. About 73.9% of shequs can receive an ambulance or get to the nearest hospital within 10 min during off-peak periods, and this proportion decreases to about 45.5% for peak periods. Most shequs with good ambulance access but poor hospital access are in the south of the study area. In general, the central areas have better ambulance, hospital and overall access than peripheral areas, particularly during off-peak periods.


In addition to the impact of peak traffic periods on EMS access, we found that good ambulance access does not necessarily guarantee good hospital access nor the overall access, and vice versa.

Informal housing and urban expansion in Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow

New Research: Exploring Diversity and Division in Urban Neighbourhoods

Urban development trends in fast-growing developing countries are leading to socially and spatially fractured cities, according to our latest urban neighbourhood research.

As more and more people continue to migrate to cities in search of better jobs, better learning opportunities and better living standards, how cities change and adapt in response to this burgeoning urban growth is a crucial component of supporting sustainable development.

In a suite of new research summaries, the international research team at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC), have explored urban expansion and patterns of neighbourhood distribution in 14 fast-growing cities across Africa and Asia.

Informal housing and urban expansion in Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow
Informal housing and urban expansion in Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ya Ping Wang, University of Glasgow

Despite different growth patterns what is common across most of the case study cities is benefits of urban planning intended to support this urban growth are not enjoyed by all, says SHLC’s Principal Investigator Professor Ya Ping Wang.

“Our research in 14 cities in Africa and Asia shows that trends in urban development are leading to cities that are socially and spatially fractured. 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.”

Understanding how the city is expanding is just one part of the story. Delving deeper into official statistics, such as the population census and using analytical techniques like k-means clustering to examine secondary data, the new suite of research summaries also investigates the internal structure and dynamics of different neighbourhoods across the city.

Disarray of urban functions in Joydebpur. © 2020 SHLC Bangladesh
Disarray of urban functions in Joydebpur. © 2020 SHLC Bangladesh

Reflecting on research results, SHLC’s Deputy Director, Professor Keith Kintrea says that understanding and responding to neighbourhood differentiations, and divisions, is crucial to supporting sustainable urban development:

“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 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.”

Students in Primary Seven at Zanaki Primary School, Tanzania. Credit: Sarah Farhat / World Bank

Is your neighbourhood your destiny? How the neighbourhood you live in determines your educational opportunities

This blog, written by Yulia Nesterova, explores quality education in urban settings and was originally published via UKFIET. The views in this article are those of the author and not attributable to SHLC.

A wealth of social and economic opportunities continue to attract people from rural areas to fast-growing cities, especially in Africa and Asia. By 2050, nearly 70 out of 100 people in the world will live in cities.

Cities have helped lift millions out of extreme poverty. They have improved livelihoods. But rapid and poorly controlled urbanisation has also brought tremendous challenges and increased risks. More people has led to worsening air pollution in some cases, and in the unsustainable use of resources like water in others. It has also overburdened infrastructure and services, making them inadequate.

What’s more, around a billion urban poor people live in informal settlements like slums, with this number estimated to skyrocket to three billion by 2025.

Access to better educational opportunities is one of the top reasons people migrate to urban areas. Since facilities are sometimes lacking in rural communities, cities feel like the simple solution. The place to find better-resourced schools that offer greater quality and effectiveness of education and provide a wider range of extracurricular activities to enhance and enrich the lives and opportunities of residents.

But not all people who live in cities benefit from quality education.

Students in Primary Seven at Zanaki Primary School, Tanzania. Credit: Sarah Farhat / World Bank
Students in Primary Seven at Zanaki Primary School, Tanzania. Credit: Sarah Farhat / World Bank

The opportunities and benefits – as well as the challenges and harms – that cities offer are not equally distributed.

In fact, the research done by our consortium, Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities that explores a range of important urban issues in over a dozen growing cities around Africa and Asia, shows that urban opportunity is often confined to people residing in high-income neighbourhoods. What is more, those in poorer neighbourhoods tend to be disproportionately affected by the consequences of systemic and structural inequalities, violence, insecurity and environmental risks.

In this sense, the neighbourhoods that people find themselves in become their destiny. Where they live determines what opportunities and support they can access… if any.

Slum dwellers provide an extreme example. The precarious places they call home have a massive impact on what they can expect to achieve in future. This is because deprivation is extreme and there is limited access to even the most basic infrastructure – be it housing, electricity, sanitation systems, clean water or transportation. By extension, access to education services and learning opportunities is limited as well.

Over the last three years, we have been studying ultra-poor parts of Bangladeshi and Tanzanian cities, where we’ve found the number of available and accessible schools to be inadequate.

What is available is restricted to the primary school level and is poorly resourced. There are not enough classrooms, qualified teachers, textbooks, toilets or clean water, let alone extracurricular activities.

While there are more schools of different levels in India’s slums, conditions are just as inadequate, and drop-out rates are as high as those in Bangladesh and Tanzania. Schools in poor urban settings in the other countries we work with – the Philippines, Rwanda and South Africa – seem to suffer from a range of common issues linked to staffing (not enough qualified teachers) and infrastructure (lack of water and sanitation facilities and properly equipped classrooms).

What is interesting is that unequal distribution of opportunities does not only affect people in the very poorest neighbourhoods.

In lower middle-income (and even some middle-income) neighbourhoods, the situation is better, but not by much. There might be a greater variety of schools and more of them, but this is not a given everywhere. And the issue becomes more complex when you look inside schools.

To be sure, there are some differences that come with being in a higher income bracket. We noted more availability of extracurricular activities in schools – ranging from sports to cultural. But issues like high drop-out rates, teenage pregnancies and challenges in accessing schools in better-equipped neighbourhoods due to the lack of walkable footpaths and transportation remained constant.

People living in these neighbourhoods still have lower literacy and school completion rates compared to higher-income areas, and, as a result, less opportunities for socio-economic advancement.

It does get better. Middle- and upper-middle income neighbourhoods have – save a few exceptions – good availability, coverage and quality of educational institutions. They offer not only primary and secondary schools, but also kindergartens, colleges, adult learning institutions and universities.

The problem is that these neighbourhoods have clusters of poverty and the people who find themselves living in these neighbourhoods are often quite isolated – ‘stuck’ in schools located in old, unsafe buildings and overcrowded classrooms.

When it comes to high-income areas, the situation is by far better than across the rest of the cities. Here you find renowned institutions, well-equipped and resourced schools, variety of extracurricular activities, well-educated parents, strong parent-school relationships and great ambitions on the part of the children.

As our Tanzanian part of the research shows, migration into high-income neighbourhoods is putting pressure on the available services that cannot develop as fast as people migrate. This shows that even better resourced neighbourhoods are not prepared for what urbanisation is bringing.

What is needed then is targeted research that explores educational opportunities at the level of neighbourhoods.

Localised data will help us develop interventions that address the effects of urban complexity and disparities. What is also important, as our work shows, is collaborating with local academic and non-academic partners. Partnerships with local governments, NGOs, schools and communities do not only ensure local buy-in, but do help to get research into policy and practice for a successful change.

Figure 2: Community mapping with residents. Credit: Arnisson Andre C Ortega

Counter-mapping for urban social justice: notes from the urban periphery in the Philippines

This guest blog, written by Assistant Professor Arnisson Andre C Ortega, features a community-engagement project in a peri-urban region north of Manila in the Philippines. The project uses counter-mapping to foreground the voices of marginalised farming and indigenous communities who face the scourge of government-initiated urban development projects. The views in this article are those of the author and not attributable to SHLC. The project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council as part University of Glasgow’s GCRF Small Grants Fund.

Urbanisation in the 21st century is occurring in urban fringes as vast tracts of land along city edges are converted and transformed into major urban developments.

Cities in the Global South are witnessing particularly dramatic transformations are putting the spotlight on critical issues of land dispossession, environmental degradation, and inequality underpin these changes. Marginalised communities are caught in these transformations, bearing the brunt of urban accumulation as they face threats of eviction.

Building a “smart” and “sustainable” city

In many Global South contexts, governments plan and develop new urban projects in an attempt to attract new investments into the country. In the Philippines, “new city” projects are big business involving an alliance of state and private sector actors, from real estate developers and landed elites to local businesses and multinational corporations. Like in other parts of the world, many of these “new city” projects in the Philippines gain popularity as they are seen to progress the nation’s competitive edge in the global market and provide much-needed jobs for the population.  But, the usual outcomes are far from ideal, as they typically involve corruption, insufficient decent-paying jobs, and land dispossession.

New Clark City is a prime example.  Located 120 kilometers north of the Metropolitan Manila, the project is promoted as the country’s first “smart, sustainable, and disaster-resilient city” and the viable solution to the urban congestion of Manila. Managed by the government agency, Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), the project plans to build “green” and “smart” designs and infrastructure that will champion sustainability, while attracting much-needed investors and generating jobs for thousands of residents. It will include several districts, from technology parks and central business districts to mixed-income housing and university campuses.

But like other “new city” projects in the Global South, New Clark City is poised to dispossess thousands of residents. The project covers a massive 9,450 hectares of land that straddles several towns and villages (Figure 1). Farming communities and indigenous groups have been opposing New Clark City, as they fear losing their land, livelihood, and culture. In the last few years, ground operations have been underway as farmlands, regardless of whether farmers were compensated or not, have been bulldozed while several villages have been enclosed. In the highland fringes, indigenous Aeta communities face the danger of displacement. To suppress resistance, militarisation of the area has intensified, as residents face harassment and intimidation from security forces.

Figure 1: Coverage of New Clark City
Figure 1: Coverage of New Clark City

What is counter-mapping?

In an effort to foreground the struggles of farmers and indigenous peoples caught in urban transformation, the project, “Counter-mapping for Peri-Urban Social Justice,” was established bringing together scholars from the University of the Philippines and the University of Glasgow in partnership with community organisers and residents.

The project argues that urban sustainability has to attend to social justice concerns, especially marginalised communities caught in urban transformations, which researchers did by conducting a participatory study that uses a mixed-media counter-mapping methodology. Counter-mapping is a cartographic practice that unsettles dominant power relations and foregrounds the lived experiences and narratives of marginalised populations.

This project conducts counter-mapping through a community-engaged and mixed-methods approach, making use of various data collection techniques (see figure 2 below), like mental mapping, auto-photography, walking interviews, focus group discussions and drone video captures, to produce multiple map formats.

Against the glossy “official” maps of New Clark City, the project developed maps contesting these “official” narratives and spotlighting the struggles of affected communities.

Figure 2: Community mapping with residents. Credit: Arnisson Andre C Ortega
Figure 2: Community mapping with residents. Credit: Arnisson Andre C Ortega

Don’t bulldoze us: Counter-mapping reveals productive land and thriving communities

The official narrative promoting New Clark City claims that the land where the project will be built is “idle” and that there will be no indigenous community to be negatively affected by the project. But findings from the study reveal multiple communities are set to be effectively evicted to make way for the project. Residents identified important sites in their communities, from sacred grounds to valuable streams (Figure 3). What emerges from the counter-map is a rich landscape comprised of productive lands and thriving communities that have lived in the area for centuries.

Drone footages (see video below) show the drastic change in landscape in the area, whereby former rice fields and agricultural lands were bulldozed, and mountains were carved out for the construction of roads and other structures.

Figure 3: An indigenous resident points to the golf course where their spiritual mountain called Mount Kanuman was once situated
Figure 3: An indigenous resident points to the golf course where their spiritual mountain called Mount Kanuman was once situated

Residents recounted how there were little to no warnings of bulldozing activities. In one of the villages where the initial phase of the project was going to be constructed, houses and rice fields were flattened while security personnel regularly patrolled the area to ensure demolition and construction of structures. Some villagers were compelled to accept financial compensation, while others were not even paid a single cent. Despite the promises of new jobs, residents lament on their loss of livelihood and land. Plans for relocation were not discussed.

The indigenous peoples are worried that the construction of New Clark City will destroy their culture and land, especially that many of them do not see themselves working in this “new city.” Several sacred grounds and other important sites to indigenous residents have been destroyed and many are still under threat of demolition.

New Clark City prides itself as the Philippines’ green and disaster-resilient city. However, the project is being built on certain flood-prone zones (Figure 4). The construction of new structures, from highways to buildings, has already recontoured certain lands and as such, may potentially exacerbate flooding in some areas.

Figure 4: Map showing the flood-zone areas.
Figure 4: Map showing the flood-zone areas.

Promoting social justice to achieve urban sustainability

Amidst overwhelming calls for urban sustainability and resilience, urban projects like New Clark City capitalise on big business to convert land and concomitantly dispossess marginalised populations.  It’s particularly interesting to note that the construction of ‘green’ and ‘smart’ city projects, in the case of New Clark City, entails the destruction of actually green landscapes and the indigenous residents that inhabit them.

What needs to be underscored is urban social justice, as a critical component of sustainability, which champions the plight of marginalised populations who are caught in urban transformations. For two years, the study has produced numerous map outputs that foreground the campaigns of farming and indigenous communities in the area, from maps printed onto life-size tarpaulins or included in informational flyers for residents, to online maps in memes disseminated through social media. The project has also now expanded to become the Counter-mapping PH Network, which brought together more scholars, activists, artists, and community organisers in an effort to work and engage with various marginalized communities grappling with development aggression.

For more information about the Counter-mapping PH Network, visit the project’s website or follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: World Bank

Dar es Salaam: the unplanned urban sprawl threatening neighbourhood sustainability

This study analyses the internal structure of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to support better understanding of the physical changes, neighbourhood formation, population growth and distribution, and segregation in the city over time.

It explores the impact of these on health and education, and uses qualitative approaches to examine the balance of social, economic and environmental sustainability of neighbourhoods.

Key findings:
  • Dar es Salaam is the second fastest growing city in the world and the fifth largest city in Africa. Over the past 20 years, the city has experienced substantial increases in both built-up areas and population size.
  • The city is becoming densely populated. While the population is deconcentrating in and around the commercial business district (CBD), peripheral wards are seeing high population growth linked to both migration and a population shift from the CBD and its vicinity.
  • This population shift is being driven by improved transport infrastructure such as ring roads, the Bus Rapid Transit project, bridge construction and resettlement schemes from hazardous areas of the city.
  • Although the government is not involved to a high degree in acquiring land or planning and real estate development, it supports and monitors private firms that provide land survey services and regularisation of informal settlements.
  • However, government investments in infrastructure and the workforce are not keeping pace with the rates of population growth and urban expansion in Dar es Salaam. From the perspective of residents, this represents a critical gap that threatens neighbourhood sustainability.