Participants and their selected art works with Mr Kabir sitting in the middle. Credit: Shilpi Roy

Creative Art Workshop: Appreciating ‘Ugly Beauty’ to Support Critical Thinking and Creativity in Future Urban Research

In this blog, SHLC’s research team in Bangladesh showcase their experience from a creative art workshop led by Mr Sahid Kabir, one of Bangladesh’s most renowned artists, and examine how a creative approach can support urban research and planning.

Contemporary ideologies and practices of city planning and urban development are primarily grounded in a scientific construct that embraces rationality, order, structure, and organisation.

Amid regular promotion of scientific rationality, planners often get carried away with logic, structure, and mathematical precision. This kind of approach may inhibit creative thinking and restrict urban planning research from appreciating what lies beyond rationality, be it an organically grown settlement or a hustling and bustling local market.


In the eyes of rational and scientific thinkers, the inner beauty of so-called ‘ugly’ remains less appreciated as part of the definition of ‘beauty’ and well-planned settlements, and often these kinds of places are dismissed as informal, unplanned, flimsy and congested settlements.

Eminent artist Mr. Kabir explaining his infamous painting ‘The slum queen’. Credit: Shilpi Roy
Eminent artist Mr. Kabir explaining his infamous painting ‘The slum queen’. Credit: Shilpi Roy

Appreciating beauty of everyday objects to support critical thinking


Beauty surrounds us everywhere in the everyday natural and human-made environment and should be better observed and interpreted through critical thinking as part of our urban research. Art appreciates many unnoticed objects ordinarily considered to be waste, filthy, or rotten. Kathleen Ryan creates sculptures of mouldy fruits and Vincent Van Gogh drew a painting of a pair of old and used boots. These examples show us that creative and critical thinking can help us appreciate the beauty of ignored and rejected objects. Science and art can often break the taboo of conventional rationality and go beyond the ordinary scientific lens. Thus, planners’ engagement in art, painting and sculpture can help them to think beyond their conventional philosophical lens. 

Participant appreciating ‘ugly beauty’ in their art works during the workshop. Credit: Irfan Shakil
Participant appreciating ‘ugly beauty’ in their art works during the workshop. Credit: Irfan Shakil

Encouraging creativity in urban planning

We organised a recent creative art engagement event at Khulna University, Bangladesh to engage academics, artists, and young planners. The event was designed to introduce the idea of ‘ugly beauty’ and influence the creative thinking of planners for future urban research. The team hopes similar events will be included as a part of the urban planning undergraduate curriculum at Khulna University as well as impact activities with school children.

The team invited one of the most renowned artists in Bangladesh, Mr Sahid Kabir, who is renowned for his work on urban issues. Kabir’s long career in Bangladesh and Spain involved many experiments with ‘ugly beauty’. His most famous work sought inspiration from dying rivers and brickfields in peri-urban areas, slums, poverty, poor health opportunities, and objects we often ignore. His use of bright and vivid colours, foreign materials in paintings and perspective of looking at subjects are unorthodox yet highly creative.

At the beginning of the event, Professor Tanjil Sowgat briefly introduced basic concepts of graphics, compositions, and colour schemes and their link to the day-to-day work and thoughts of planners. Kabir then introduced some world-class artworks and discussed the subject matter,  application of art elements and principles in his own famous work. He highlighted how thinking beyond rationality and thinking about visual composition contributed to his art.

In the second part of the event, he worked with the team to create small pieces of artworks that appreciated objects that are ordinarily ignored like rotten fruits, old plates, old pots, and diseased flowers. With lessons on different drawing techniques, Mr Kabir and Mr Mahamudul Hasan, also a painter, helped the SHLC team members think creatively and create artwork.

At the end of the event, all the SHLC members revealed new directions for their critical thinking. Mr Rehan highlighted that:

‘‘ I work on maps almost every day but never understood how colour composition matter. For example, I knew little about the role of the split complementary colour scheme in good composition’’.

Participants and their selected art works with Mr Kabir sitting in the middle. Credit: Shilpi Roy
Participants and their selected art works with Mr Kabir sitting in the middle. Credit: Shilpi Roy

Maria, a research assistant at SHLC-BD team, was happy to learn new techniques and methods of artwork, and at the same time, she felt:

‘‘We often ignore and undermine organic and natural built environment. Nevertheless, if we think critically and think beyond common rationality, there are many aspects that we can appreciate about spontaneous and organic growth. Today’s event will surely influence my thinking and make me think and observe planning issues from an unconventional yet critical perspective’’.

Irfan Shakil said:

“As the project manager, I am responsible for designing popular dissemination material. This event showed me a new path regarding how I can make our documents more attractive by making them aesthetically beautiful’’.

Mr Kabir’s work on the beauty of rotten fruits and old tin plate. Credit: Irfan Shakil
Mr Kabir’s work on the beauty of rotten fruits and old tin plate. Credit: Irfan Shakil

Three students – Oishy, Mugdha and Tanmoy – from the Urban and Rural Planning Discipline also attended the workshop. They were all keen learners and felt that such lectures should be included within the current undergraduate curriculum to better orient planners in creative thinking.


Dr Shilpi Roy – one of SHLC’s Co-Investigator – was excited about the potential of the event and hopes that similar engagement events with art and artists would benefit urban planners and help shift their philosophical approach.

The event initially aimed to enhance the capacity of SHLC’s Bangladeshi research team. However, in the end, the event also provided new directions regarding the future curriculum for planning education, the unseen connections between planning and arts and the potential of art engagement as an impact activity in influencing future urban thinking.

Epac Primary school, Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Flickr

Learning Cities in Development and Sustainable Recovery: International experiences

Learning Cities in Development and Sustainable Recovery: International experiences

The SHLC research team contributed to a week of online activities organised by the University of Derby, to celebrate research that is supported by the Global Challenges Research Funding and addresses Global Sustainable Development Goals.

Shilpi Roy, Mike Osborne, Vincent Manirakiza and Pierre Claver together with Sebutege Ange (Mayor of Huye) all made contributions to a workshop entitled, Learning Cities in development and sustainable recovery: International experiences and the Derby Learning City Campaign chaired by Peter Dewhurst, Director of Strategic Projects, University of Derby.

A summary of the speakers’ contributions follows. Download presentations via the links below.

  • Pauline Anderson OBE, Derby City Council – Service Director – The Derby Learning City campaign
  • Judith James, former Head of Strategic Regional Collaboration, Swansea University,  Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow and PASCAL Learning Cities Network (LCN) theme leader, and Dr Shilpi Roy, Associate Professor of Urban and Rural Planning Discipline at Khulna University, Bangladesh and SHLC Co-I – Learning, Inclusion and Skills
  • Professor Mike Osborne, Director of the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning, Co-director of the PASCAL Observatory on Place Management, Social Capital and Lifelong Learning and SHLC Co-I – Learning Cities: Moving the lifelong learning conversation forward
  • Rwandan Learning Cities Network contributors: Sebutege Ange, Mayor of Huye; Pierre Claver, University of Rwanda (Sebutege) and Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda (Kigali), SHLC Co-Is

Sufia Kamal National Public Library, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Shutterstock, Sal Galib

Local Challenges, Global Imperatives: Cities at the Forefront to Achieve SDG 4 – Panel Session at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference

Local challenges, global imperatives: Cities at the forefront to achieve SDG 4 – a panel session at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference

UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) together with members of the Centre for Sustainable Healthy Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods presented a Formal Panel Session at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference on 29 April 2021.

A summary of that panel’s deliberations follows. Download presentations via the links below.


The topic of the panel was ‘Local challenges, global imperatives: Cities at the forefront to achieve SDG 4′, and was informed by work of each organisations at urban level.

An important context for the presentations is that as the world is going through the COVID-19 pandemic, cities are at the forefront of coping with an education crisis that has affected over 60 percent of the global student population (United Nations, 2020 and UNESCO, 2020). In today’s increasingly decentralized education systems, cities, through their local elected authorities, are playing a growing role in the implementation of national and local education policies, in partnership with Ministries of Education and other local actors, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 within their territory. Cities have a social responsibility to their citizens to provide them with equitable and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities. Such is their anticipated contribution to the 2030 Agenda, put forward in SDG 11 calling for ‘sustainable cities and communities’, that the OECD has queried whether cities are ‘the new countries’ (OECD, 2016: 61).

Through their unique position, cities are able to connect multiple state and non-state actors that comprise the local education community, including education staff, parents, pupils, civil society, and public and private institutions. Cities provide a holistic approach to education, complementing formal education through the provision of extra-curricular activities and non-formal education in collaboration with state and non-state actors. Furthermore, cities are the locations where the interdependence between education and other development sectors such as culture, sports, health, welfare or urbanism, is most emphasized. Cities are thus in a position to articulate the voices of the different stakeholders on their territory to co-design education strategies that are relevant to local needs.

With more than 66 percent of the world population expected to be living in urban areas by 2050, cities however face increasingly complex and multi-sectoral challenges to meet their social commitments. The most pressing issues affecting city-level educational planning include global migration, the expansion of the youth population, and the rapid growth of slums, which collectively and individually reinforces the demand for education and lifelong learning opportunities. Cities work in complex and rapidly-changing contexts, as highlighted by the ongoing health crisis. In most countries around the world, cities must articulate national imperatives with local challenges, with little support and guidance from national authorities. Disparities within their own territories increase. Local resources are shrinking, in particular for public services such as education, while the imperative to develop local education strategies that meet the needs of the overall education population and of specific groups, becomes stronger.

The development of education strategies by cities, relying on sound planning and management tools and processes, is essential for cities to ensure equitable access to and provision of quality education for all their citizens. When articulated with other development sectors, education planning can lay down the foundations for intersectoral collaboration and integrated planning, which constitute a prerequisite to provide a collective and coordinated answer to the complex challenges raised by our world. However, while available research and debates around cities focus on their overall contributions to sustainable development, and on urban planning, there is a dearth of analysis on how cities efficiently plan for education.

Based on the results of qualitative and quantitative research projects conducted in diverse geographical areas and socioeconomic contexts, and from the experiences of cities, this panel presented strategies to guide cities to successfully plan for SDG 4. The panel focused on cities that have made education a priority for their territory, and that have developed holistic, innovative and successful strategies to guarantee access to quality education for all children and youth. Specific attention was given to the city’s education strategy and its planning cycle, as well as the ecosystem of actors and sectors involved in educational planning and management at the city level.

In particular, presentations shed light on the following issues:

  • The educational planning cycle at the city level, focusing on the main strengths and assets, but also the challenges that cities face in this process;
  • The relationships between educational planning and urban planning at the city level;
  • Processes and challenges linked to monitoring and evaluation of cities’ education strategies.

The ultimate objective of the panel was to foster knowledge sharing and critical thinking with members of the research community and partners on the key role played by cities in planning for SDG4. It provided an opportunity to take a step back in a rapidly changing and complex context, to reflect on the most relevant approaches for cities to plan for sustainable and inclusive quality education for their youngest citizens, children and youth.

The Chair of the Panel was Michaela Martin, IIEP Research and Development team leader.

Leon Mugabe presents at CIES 2021. Credit: SHLC


Planning for SDG4 at the city level: Learning from experiences. Candy Lugaz, IIEP-UNESCO

In a 21st century characterized by quick changing contexts and unprecedented cross-sectoral crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, planning is a useful and powerful tool to anticipate and prepare for future scenarios. The existence ‘of rational, systematic analysis to the process of educational development’ (Coombs, 1970: 14) is crucial to cope with the evolution of our complex societies. Educational planning lays the foundation for any education system to guarantee the access of all children and youth to education quality, and to build sustainable and peaceful societies.

It is the social responsibility of decision-makers at all levels, be they State or non-State actors, to drive such a change, based on sound planning tools. National governments are ethically, politically and technically committed to their citizens to contribute to the SDGs. Ministries of education have an imperative to design a road map to achieve SDG4 in their countries. Cities, through their local governments, have become their key partners at local level in achieving that goal, as highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis (United Nations, 2020).

Cities plan for the sustainable development of their territory. Involved in a daily relationship with their citizens, they are responsible for designing for the youngest opportunities to grow, learn and flourish. Cities design contextualized education plans to answer the main challenges of their territory and to build on their main strengths.

Planning for education at city level bears specificities in terms of processes, tools, and strategic areas. Relying on a strong proximity with their citizens, cities have the ability to unite all actors of the education community, including school staff, children, parents, civil society, local public administration and private companies. Designing the overall city’s development plan, they connect together sectors such as education, health, urbanism, welfare or culture. Because education intrinsically deals with socio-economic matters, it has the potential to lay the foundations for integrated planning (UNESCO, 2016; Persaud, 2016).

However, despite such a significant experience, from which inspiring lessons can be drawn for educational planning in general, there is a dearth of comparative and global studies on how cities plan for education. This presentation aimed at sharing the lessons learnt from research conducted in cities around the world in planning for education, based on two main activities implemented in 2018-2020: i) a quantitative survey carried out with the Global Network of Learning Cities, and its cluster on educational planning and management, and UIL; and ii) qualitative research conducted in four cities in France. While the cities studied vary according to their size, geographical contexts and socio-economic backgrounds, they share similarities in their contextualized approach to educational planning. The presentation discussed in particular the content of cities education strategies and the experiences of cities in designing, implementing and monitoring education plans, with specific attention given to co-designing processes and intersectoral collaboration.

Kigali toward achieving SDG4. Progress and Challenges in Education Planning. Léon Mugabe and Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda

Kigali in Rwanda is one of the 14 cities under study within Centre for Sustainable Healthy Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods, and undergoing a remarkable urban modernization process observed from infrastructure development, economic opportunities and service delivery. At the same time, it is facing the challenge of rapid and uncontrolled urbanization. City planners and managers struggle to respond to the increasing demands of urban growth. In the education sector, despite some notable improvements, overall realization of desired targets to respond to achieve equitable education for all have not been met. This presentation analysed the urban and education planning framework of Kigali, and its projections and achievements in the last ten years. This was depicted from five education indicators including levels of education attainment,  literacy rates, computer literacy, learning facilities and gender equality and inclusion. The presentation also highlighted  existing problems related to student/teacher ratios and the disparity in terms of quality education between public and private schools. The research presented drew upon secondary data, mainly from the national census of 2012 and the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, commonly known as EICVs, conducted in 2010/2011, 2013/2014 and 2016/2017 by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

Educational planning in cities: Building a monitoring and evaluation framework for lifelong learning. Alex Howells, UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

This presentation addressed the complex task of establishing a monitoring and evaluation framework for lifelong learning in cities. Beginning with an overview of lifelong learning as a broad, all-encompassing concept, the presentation touched on some endeavours to monitor and evaluate lifelong learning at the national and international level. Emphasis then shifted to the local level, specifically the implementation of lifelong learning through the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) and the ways in which educational planning feeds into the monitoring and evaluation of lifelong learning in cities. This was followed by an insight into the UNESCO GNLC’s ‘Key Features of Learning Cities’ as a general monitoring and evaluation framework for lifelong learning in cities, a discussion around its advantages and areas for improvement, and a look at how some members of the GNLC have used these key features as a basis when developing their own sets of indicators. Finally, the presentation raised some key questions for the further development of monitoring and evaluation frameworks for lifelong learning in cities.


Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning and Director of Research, School of Education, University of Glasgow responded to the presentations.

Professor Osborne began by suggesting that urban initiatives tend more often than not tend to side-line education in planning processes, and that there certainly is little recognition of the need to plan across different service portfolios. He spoke wearing several ‘hats’, as a Co-I within SHLC and as the Director in Europe of the PASCAL Observatory. He noted that the guiding themes for the PASCAL Observatory for almost two decades had been the need to take a place-based approach to learning, and reflected on four important issues that the observatory had focused on: the making and management of place; The promoting of Social Capital and socially inclusive policies and practices; the development of Learning Regions and Cities; the development of the role of Higher Education Institutions(HEIs)

Focusing on place management in particular he referred to coordinated efforts undertaken by the “shareholders” within a geographic region.  By collaboratively linking local assets – built, cultural, financial, human, natural, political, and social – shareholders can improve life in their cities and geographic regions.  Cities and multi-jurisdictional regions drive the new economy, and so it is important to think, act, learn, and measure in ways related to the context in which we all want to flourish. Regions that are socially inclusive have more inputs – and can generate more complex activities – for creating balanced development. Cities and regions that encourage boundary spanning collaboration are more sustainable and are better at competing in the global economy. Internally collaborative cities and regions facilitate lifelong learning and promote knowledge sharing. Both formal and informal learning are essential drivers of innovation. The development of the role of Higher Education Institutions(HEIs) in fostering inclusive learning cities and economic and social innovation is particularly important.

He noted that the three presentations spoke to the agenda that PASCAL had established. Candy Lugaz from IIEP had focussed on his initial observations that there is a dearth of comparative studies on a global level that focus on how cities effectively plan for education. Further she had emphasised the importance to look at not only at those with formal responsibilities for education, but at other actors. He added that it is also important to view schools as part of a wider urban eco-system of education.

He further argued that how this is done in the context of other aspects of urban planning is even more rare, and that Candy had made well-informed points about inter-sectoral collaboration. Education as a service is part of a much wider set of services, but there is little planning that crosses sectors. He suggested that Scotland might provide a good model in this respect since there is legislation for community planning that includes a range of providers. Another good model that he had encountered had been the setting up of a city department that explicitly links services together in Melbourne.

He also highlighted Candy’s observations about the importance of mixed methods research – they ‘what’ and the ‘why’, and the links that she has made to the idea of social capital development by stressing the importance of exchange between cities through a ‘community of practice’.

Léon Mugabe and Vincent Manirakiza presented the case of Kigali. The expansion of both the population of Kigali and its geographical spread is very important and implies considerable heterogeneity across the city. Vincent had illustrated this at the beginning of his presentation with the case of urban and rural schools. Mike pointed out that from this presentation we are reminded to always remember that cities are not homogeneous, and we need an understanding that intersecting issues  affect liveability in cities, These will vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. More generally the work of SHLC in Kigali is illustrative of the important link between education, health and sustainability not simply in cities as a whole, but in neighbourhoods.

In relation to Alex Howell’s presentation on learning cities. Mike pointed out that the indicators for a learning city are multi-faceted and include dimensions that cross many sectors and include measures related to health, environment, culture, infrastructure and much more. He concurred that monitoring and evaluation around key indicators that cross these sectors is important, but that one of the key tasks is to operationalise these indicators more extensively, and welcome the fact that UIL is revisiting its metrics. He pointed out that all speakers have pointed to the importance of measurement, and whilst we all intuitively know that COVID-19 has potentially had an enormous effect on learning, most of that discussion has been focussed on schools. However, it is just as likely that there have been effects, both positive and negative, on post-compulsory education. He suggested that we need to capture what these effects have been. To do that we need good measurement tools, and these need to be both macro and micro indicators. Most focus in the literature had been on on macro measures, but we also need to consider at individual level what changes are occurring in learning. What interventions create lifelong learners and what characterises such a learner? He had some thoughts on this issue and some different and possibly more efficient ways of gathering data other rather than surveys, including Big Data approaches as used within the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow.


Coombs, P. (1970). What is educational planning? Paris: IIEP-UNESCO.

OECD. (2016). Trends Shaping Education 2016. Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from:

Persaud, A. (2016). « Integrated Planning for Education and Development ». Article commandé pour le Rapport mondial de suivi sur l’éducation 2016, L’éducation pour les peuples et la planète : Créer des avenirs durables pour tous. Retrieved from:

UNESCO. (2016). Education for people and planet. Creating sustainable futures for all. Global Education Monitoring Report 2016. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from:

UNESCO. (2020). COVID-19: Learning Cities on the front line. Retrieved from:

United Nations. (2020). Policy Brief: COVID-19 in an Urban World. Retrieved from:

Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India. Credit: S. Ram Aravind

Our Health, Our Voice: Preliminary Findings of Mobile-Based Participatory Survey with Adolescents in Gurugram, India

This new report shares the preliminary findings of Mobile-Based Participatory Survey with Adolescents in Gurugram, India.

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 faces enormous challenges towards realising 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 does one generate evidence into priority areas of public policy that will ensure holistic development of adolescents, especially those belonging to marginalised communities? Drawing upon PRIA’s prior experience of engaging with youth, the research 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, a thriving satellite city of New Delhi in India, the research seeks to generate evidence on the health conditions of adolescents – seen from their eyes, and raising their voice on those health concerns that they are most vulnerable to. How do they seek and use health-related information? Which public health policies and program interventions do they think promote ‘adolescent friendly’ health.

This participatory research is a collaborative process with adolescents, the local university, care-givers, grassroots health workers, city (municipal) officials, and policy makers. On the demand side are the adolescents and their care givers (parents), and on the supply side is the health system – the National Health Mission (NHM), and the flagship Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), under which Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHC) are to be set up.

The research uses a series of participatory tools – transect walk, mobile-based participatory survey, Focus Group Discussions and multi-stakeholder dialogues – involving adolescent boys and girls in all stages of the research process to understand their healthcare-seeking behaviour, the accessibility to health services, and the extent of utilisation of AFHCs. Their inputs have helped shape the questions in the survey questionnaire, analysis of the data is shared in meetings with them and the community, their insights are central in the group discussions that generate community demand for health services, and their interactions with government officials and health workers in multi-stakeholder dialogues will help find a way forward for action that results in improving adolescent-friendly health services.

This report presents the preliminary findings from the survey questionnaire that was administered to 330 adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years, of which 141 (42%) were boys and 189 (58%) were girls. Questions related to their awareness on sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, menstrual hygiene, health-related problems such as drug and substance abuse, and health-seeking behaviour. Data on other indirect indicators that affect health, such as sanitation, water supply, and living conditions in their houses, was also collected. The survey was conducted in five informal settlements (Sikanderpur, Ghata, Harijan Basti, Chakkarpur and Nathupur) in Gurugram in February 2021.

This research project ‘Healthy Cities for Adolescents: Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India’ was funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund. SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

Discussing neighbourhoods at the SHLC capacity-stengthening workshop.

Effective Project Support for International Research Collaboration: Key Considerations

This new working paper shares lessons learnt during the development and implementation of large-scale international and interdisciplinary research collaborations.

There is growing recognition of the importance of international research partnerships in addressing some of the greatest challenges of our times. With the increasingly complex and fast-changing nature of many development challenges, such collaborations are seen as potential vehicles to deliver solutions and innovation. International partnerships enable researchers to share their knowledge and combine their expertise to address complex problems that are increasingly cross-disciplinary in nature. Furthermore, collaboration allows researchers to access much-needed resources, especially funding, to develop innovative interventions. But vital within such collaborations are those supporting the researchers in professional services and administrative roles.

This paper reflects on how project support activities contribute to the overall success and impact of multidisciplinary international research partnerships. It draws on a survey of 14 project managers implementing activities that form part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Growing Research Capability call launched in 2016 by the Research Councils UK (RCUK) now known as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The paper was written by project managers from three GCRF projects: Agricultural and Food System Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising Policy (AFRICAP); Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods; and Building Research Capacity for sustainable water and food security In drylands of sub-saharan Africa (BRECcIA). The work also benefited from the support of the Rapid Response Fund, which comes from the University of Leeds Strategic Development Fund.

Two young school girls in uniform on their way home after class. Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Sarine Arslanian

Listen Up! Introducing SHLC’s First Podcast: Educational Histories and the Politics of Education

Tune in to SHLC’s first podcast and go on a journey across the world as you listen to school stories from our project colleagues who grew up at different times in different cities across Africa and Asia.

Reflecting on how rapid urbanisation and the move to cities impact learning educational opportunities, this first podcast asks: does it matter where and when you go to school? Quite simply, of course it does.

In a series of interviews, our host – Michele Schweisfurth – investigates the relationship between politics and schooling.  The interviewees who share their personal stories are all part of SHLC’s international team of researchers:

  • Ya Ping Wang – our project leader from the University of Glasgow reflects on his experiences of schooling during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976)
  • Ivan Turokfrom the Human Sciences Research Council in Cape Town, shares memories of the latter part of the apartheid period in South Africa (1948-1994) much of which he spent in exile with his activist parents
  • Caryn Abrahamsfrom the University of Witwatersrand recounts stories from the end of the same regime, when her Indian school community prepared for the transition to de-segregation
  • Irene Moshiwith the Ifakara Health Institute discusses how the legacy of Julius Nyerere (President of Tanzania1965-1985) has lived on and was still influencing schooling years later
  • Amin Kamete – from the University of Glasgow recounts his experiences before and after the transition in 1980 when Southern Rhodesia officially became the Independent Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Tanjil Sowgatfrom the University of Khulna in Bangladesh shares his experiences of military schools during multiple political transitions.

This first episode is part of a series of three podcasts focusing on education.  Each will explore how where and when people go to school profoundly shapes their childhood experiences, and potentially impacts on their life choices and chances.

Interested to hear more stories? Sign-up to SHLC’s newsletter and follow us on Twitter to make sure you are first to know about the next episode.

This podcast was produced by Gail Wilson, with contributions from Rhona Brown, Yulia Nesterova, Shilpi Roy, Andreas Scheba, Graeme Young and Francis Levira.

Sellers of fruits and vegetables in the Kimironko market. Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Shutterstock, Oscar Espinosa

Panel at DSA conference: Power, marginalization and inclusion in the governance of urban informal economies

Panel at DSA conference: Power, marginalization and inclusion in the governance of urban informal economies

  • Friday 2 July, 2021

  • 10:00-11:45 and 14:15-16:00 (UTC+1)

This panel session at the 2021 Development Studies Association Conference, convened by Graeme Young, will explore how informal economies in cities in the Global South are governed; how different forms of governance might reinforce or transform power structures, exacerbate or address marginalization and impede or promote inclusive development; and what inclusive governance might entail.

Register your attendance via the DSA conference website.


Unsettling development demands an engagement with questions of power, marginalization and possibilities for inclusion. This panel will explore these by focusing on the governance of urban informal economies in the Global South.

Presenters will be encouraged to address one or more of the following questions:

  1. How can interdisciplinary approaches to the governance of informality provide critical insights into its evolution, its dynamics and possibilities for change?
  2. How are the forms of exclusion that exist in the informal economy connected to power dynamics and other forms of marginalization surrounding class, gender, racial/ethnic identity, religion, migration, age and/or (dis)ability? How does governance reinforce, seek to address or neglect these dynamics and forms of marginalization?
  3. What can the governance of informality reveal about state power; strategies of political control; forms of political competition, contestation and negotiation; representation; and the role of institutions in development?
  4. What roles can different actors, including associations, unions, cooperatives, civil society groups and other organizations, play in governance and/or promoting inclusion?
  5. How does informal economic activity facilitate, restrict or otherwise interact with strategies of accumulation and dispossession? How are these strategies connected to governance?
  6. How does the governance of informal economies change during periods of crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and what implications does this have for individuals who engage in informal economic activity?
  7. What would the inclusive governance of informal economies entail in theory and practice, either in specific contexts or more generally? How could this be realized?

There are two panel sessions with different papers being presented. See timings below.

Accepted papers – panel session I (Friday 2 July, 10:00-11:45 (UTC+1)):
  • The politics and partisan patronage of Harare’s designated markets.
  • Understanding women’s roles in hybrid governance in informal contexts: Vendors perspective from Awagasi market in Papua New Guinea
  • Ethnography of urban governance from below: A case study of COVID 19 response of a slum in Bangladesh
Accepted papers – panel session II (Friday 2 July, 14:15-16:00 (UTC+1)):
  • Power Dynamics and the Marginalization of Displaced Households: A Case of Urban Infrastructure Project of Metro Line.
  • Who decides? Rural households and migration decisions in India
  • Economic exclusion and Precariousness of Lives during COVID: the case of Domestic Workers in Bangladesh
  • Understanding the Governance of Informal Economies: The Importance of Class

Adolescent Health in Gurugram: Mobile-Based Survey Findings

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.

Adolescents face the largest burden of sexually transmitted infections and non-communicable diseases, all over the world. However, the burden is disproportionately borne by those living in low- and middle-income countries.

One of the major reasons for health concerns among adolescents is the low rate of utilisation of healthcare systems. Poor levels of awareness, both about diseases and health services, act as a barrier to responsible health-seeking behavior. In this blog, Ram Aravind, Research Associate at PRIA, looks deeper into urban adolescent health through the findings of a survey, conducted in informal settlements in Gurugram, as part of a larger participatory research study. Even though certain health indicators show promising improvement, the journey to holistic development and closing the gap in health-seeking is still many miles away. A bottoms-up health policy developed from the perspective of adolescents would serve to cement the glaring gaps in health-service delivery.

A review of research studies conducted on adolescent health in the past decade indicates that adolescence is often overlooked in health policy and urban planning. The lack of sufficient evidence on adolescents’ needs and aspirations to inform public policy could be attributed to their minimal participation in the process of planning and a lack of awareness surrounding adolescent health. It was essential to understand urban adolescent health from their perspective and to understand the implications of social determinants on their well-being.

Does education have a positive impact on the health of an adolescent?

If not the doctor, whom do youth prefer to turn to when they need to consult on sexual health?

Are the current health policies adequate to address health needs of India’s 245 million adolescents?

Conducting the mobile survey. Credit: S. Ram Aravind

study conducted by PRIA, with adolescents in urban informal settlements in Gurugram, sheds light on the prevailing situation of health, health-seeking behavior and healthcare preferences of the youth living in under-resourced settings. The majority of the adolescents had identified their mothers, female school teachers, and peers as preferred sources of information on matters related to sexual and reproductive health. The medical doctor and the frontline health workers ranked much lower in preference. Is this indicative of poor outreach of the health system or are other social factors influencing adolescent health-seeking behavior?

The health system’s low level of engagement with the adolescents was evident from the poor knowledge of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). A staggering 89% of the adolescents were unable to identify even one symptom of STI. The poor outreach of the health systems notwithstanding, this gap in knowledge could also be linked to hesitancy and stigma attached to engaging with the topic in families or in schools. Around half of the participants rated their ability to initiate discussion on issues related to sex with their parents as ‘very difficult’, even though preference still leaned towards the mother, who is the primary care-giver and the most accessible. The survey findings also highlight a glaring gap in health communication with regard to nutrition and sexual health needs. While nine in ten adolescents reported not having attended any training session on nutrition-related issues, a similar deficit with regard to sexual and reproductive health communication was also observed.

Training from external sources aside, the survey findings attest to the ability of the educated individual to exercise responsible health practices. The majority of the surveyed adolescents were educated and hence better placed to implement, for example, improved menstrual hygiene management. 91% of the adolescent girls reported using branded or locally-made sanitary napkins, with awareness of hygienic modes of disposal of menstrual waste. However, social taboos and restrictions continued to be imposed on girls during their periods. Even though culturally-sanctioned norms were enforced, parental support in enabling menstrual hygiene for their daughters was indeed an indication of change, especially in low- and middle-income countries where mortality due to poor menstrual hygiene management is high. Menstrual hygiene is one part of adolescent health; they are yet to engage on other topics like contraception, pregnancy, abortion, and HIV, suggests the survey.

The cumulative finding of adolescent health survey puts the spotlight on India’s flagship health scheme for adolescents, Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), and the exclusive health facility, Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHC). RKSK, which guarantees treatment, referral, and anonymity to young health-seekers, is a novel cost-effective intervention. Unfortunately, it has found few takers. A low level of awareness of such facilities among adolescents in Gurugram, as evidenced from the survey, lays bare the necessity to increase outreach among youth if such services are to reach the intended beneficiaries. The clinics, known as ‘Mitrata’ (meaning ‘friendship’ in Hindi), unfortunately exist estranged from the adolescent population.

As the survey findings seem to indicate, adolescent health is not a phenomenon to be seen in isolation, but as a phenomenon influenced by various social determinants and warrants understanding consistent with the ground reality. Adolescent health has increasingly been reported and analysed from the perspective of the ‘expert’ researcher and the arm-chair policy maker. Conventional bio-medical research from the Global North would reject any behavior from the community which doesn’t conform to established medical practices or literature as unscientific and indicative of poor health status. Increasingly, there are calls from researchers and civil society, especially based in the Global South, to re-think such a narrative and to report on health from the standpoint of the target population. With our study in Gurugram, we have attempted to do exactly that.

Adolescents designing their health policy and demanding reform from the State based on the survey findings that were validated by them; that is democracy in health.

The project was led by Participatory Research In Asia (PRIA).

This research project ‘Healthy Cities for Adolescents: Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India’ was funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund. SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

Sustainability paradox of the Peri-Urban Regions in India – Reflections on the case of Chennai

This article was written by Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Chris Maidment and Arindam Biswas and originally published by RSA. The views expressed in this article are of the writers and not attributable to SHLC.

In India’s neoliberal economic policies, cities are characterized as engines of growth which could attract national and global business, and investment that could contribute to the country’s economic growth as a whole (Mitra & Mehta, 2011). The rapid expansion of Indian cities and consequent urban sprawl creates interesting juxtapositions of urban and rural environments. This interface, often termed the ‘peri-urban’, has multiple definitions but which largely frame areas such as regions in transition.

Predominantly, the transition is from rural to urban, and characterized by fragmented development, inhabited by low-income populations and marginalized rural communities. At the peri-urban interface the three systems: social, economic, and environmental, constantly interact (Allen, 2003), with significant consequences for the spatial form of India’s future growth.

Whilst multiple studies argue that the peri-urban interface, and its marginalized inhabitants, need to be recognized as a key frontier in addressing the challenges of sustainable urbanization, these areas have largely been neglected in policy and practice. As a result, peri-urban areas suffer from multiple socio-economic and environmental challenges, including poor infrastructure, wide spatial disparities and poor access to amenities.

Several studies examine the diverse challenges and dynamics of peri-urban regions but very few address the critical role that these regions can, and must, play in the sustainable development of cities. Based on our findings from a yearlong study of peri-urban Chennai (capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, India), we argue that peri-urban regions, which are largely perceived and understood as a ‘challenge’ within planning and development discourses, can offer new lessons and opportunities for inclusive and sustainable development models.

Kulathur Village Chennai. Credit: Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Chris Maidment and Arindam Biswas

The sustainability challenges of peri-urban regions

Aligning with accepted definitions, studies of peri-urban areas in Indian cities have often used the lens of transition, largely focusing on their change from rural to urban and the significant changes in land-use associated with this. These transitions result from the interaction of diverse factors, including rural to urban migration (forced and voluntary), new development and investment initiatives (including land value speculation) and associated urban sprawl.

The underlying lack of planning and policy attention to the regulation of agricultural land use change can be traced to the deep-rooted colonial perspective on the urban-rural dichotomy that exists within development narratives. The consequent impact of the resulting land use changes is the loss of agricultural land, severely affecting the biodiversity and environmental conditions such as ground water level, micro-climates and soil conditions.

These changes have a multidimensional and multi-layered impact on the development and livelihoods of people. One of the least studied impacts of land use change is the emergence of speculative land markets and development in the peri-urban regions. The top-down approaches and initiatives of government create speculative land markets resulting in a huge influx of real estate developers and the urban elites, all competing to make a profit by getting their own parcel of land in a proposed development area (Vijayabasker & Babu, 2015).

Such top-down government initiatives can take decades to create physical settings with even minimal levels of infrastructure provision. Yet, what is most alarming is the immediate impact of such proposals on livelihoods of the marginalized rural communities who are left with no choice but to sell their agricultural land and migrate elsewhere. Consequently, speculative markets increase the gap between the rich and poor, further deepening existing social equalities in peri-urban regions. Simultaneously, it is arguable that these speculative developments create poor living conditions leading to health inequalities and reducing the overall resilience of the community and the environment.

Kovilambakkam Village Chennai Credit: Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Chris Maidment and Arindam Biswas

Opportunities for inclusive and just transitions

Peri-urban regions need a fresh approach to both addressing their challenges, and understanding their potential within planning, policy and design narratives in India. Tendencies to view them as marginalized zones have diverted attention from exploring their potential contribution to the sustainable development of cities, albeit careful attention needs to be paid to the version of sustainable development being operationalized and its prioritization of either environmental or socio-economic considerations.

On one hand relatively low land prices can facilitate more sustainable urban growth, through strategic approaches to large scale housing and infrastructure development, in particular to provide excellent affordable housing for low income and middle income people. Carefully designed and targeted schemes can provide more equitable access to parks and public spaces and reduce health and wellbeing inequalities.

Conversely, the greater biodiversity of many peri-urban areas can be a great test bed for exploring urban agricultural innovations. With capacity building in skills such as innovative food production and marketing for rural communities, a different approach to peri-urban development could facilitate local economic growth by supporting farmers’ livelihoods whilst also maintaining ecological value.

A more situated understanding of peri-urban area as unique ‘places’, rather than simply as regions of transition and flow, directs our attention to understanding the lived experiences of these places; talking to residents, some of whom have occupied these areas for generations, some whom have voluntarily move into these areas to be far from the city. These new ways of understanding the periurban can also bring to light new opportunities planning and policy changes and interventions enabling a more symbiotic relationship between the urban and rural.

Urbanization processes in India have a strong socio-political dimension and any step towards addressing the challenges faced by peri-urban regions requires political willpower. However, bringing peri-urban regions to the forefront of the debate around sustainable development for just transitions is a crucial first step towards this.

Allen, A., 2003. Environmental planning and management of the peri-urban interface: perspectives on an emerging field. Environment and Urbanization 15, 135–148.
Mitra, A., Mehta, B., 2011. Cities as the Engine of Growth: Evidence from India. Journal of Urban Planning and Development 137, 171–183.
Vijayabasker, M., Babu, S., 2015. The Politics of Urban Mega-projects in India. Economic and Political Weekly 51, 7–8.

This research project ‘CoUP: Connecting the Urban and Peri-urban: A transformative policy framework for inclusive and resilient urban development in India’ was funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund. SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

SHLC at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society Conference

SHLC at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society Conference

The SHLC team took part in a paper presentation and formal panel session at the 65th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society: Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts.

Conference Background

The 2021 conference themeSocial Responsibility within Changing Contexts, focuses our attention on closely examining the work we do and how others in the field experience our work, in a changing environment with a growing variety of actors who may or may not share the same visions for the future.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, we see rapid changes in political, economic, environmental, cultural, and social spaces. Along with these changes is an increasing variety of actors, including non-state actors who are now more involved. These changes influence education globally and locally. This calls for revisiting the relationships among context, actors, visions, and action, and our own collective social responsibility.

Download presentations by clicking on the links below. Scroll to read more detail about each paper and panel presentation.

Paper Session: Exploring educational opportunities across neighbourhoods in urban centres: insights from Bangladesh, India, and Tanzania. 

Speakers: Yulia Nesterova, University of Glasgow and Michele Schweisfurth, University of Glasgow.


  • Historically, one of the reasons for rural-to-urban migration included the possibility to access better education services as a way out of poverty and rural labour and towards improved socio-economic prospects. Contemporary rates and styles of urbanisation, however, suggest that the benefits that access to urban educational opportunities used to offer may not continue to materialise for all in the Global South due to the growth of urban sprawl and slums, which puts more pressure on the already overburdened services, including education. The New Urban Agenda (UN-Habitat, 2017) thus emphasises the need to maximise the benefits and minimise the harms of rapid and poorly controlled urbanisation by investing in sustainable and inclusive opportunities for all, including (and especially) in education.
  • However, the lack of reliable and nuanced data on the distribution of opportunities, benefits, and harm within the urban population leads to policies operating at a very general level. This prevents moving towards systematic approaches to address inequalities in education that are customised to local realities and priorities.
  • This paper is a step towards addressing this gap as it focuses on understanding spatial inequalities and experiences in accessing formal education services. Mindful of the role of neighbourhoods in shaping opportunities and livelihoods and perpetuating inequalities, we studied and compared educational opportunities, facilities, and services in neighbourhoods of different income in Bangladesh, India, and Tanzania.
Formal Panel Session: Local challenges, global imperatives: Cities at the forefront to achieve SDG 4.

Panel Objectives

  • The ultimate objective of the panel is to foster knowledge sharing and critical thinking with members of the research community and partners on the key role played by cities in planning for SDG4. It will also provide an opportunity to take a step back in a quick changing and complex context, to reflect on the most relevant approaches for cities to plan for sustainable and inclusive quality education for their youngest citizens, children and youth.
  • Based on the results of qualitative and quantitative research projects conducted in diverse geographical areas and socioeconomic contexts, and from the experiences of cities, this panel precisely aims at discussing strategies to guide cities to successfully plan for SDG 4. The panel focuses on cities that have made education a priority for their territory, and that have developed holistic, innovative and successful strategies to guarantee – access to quality education for all children and youth.
  • Specific attention will be given to the city’s education strategy and its planning cycle, as well as the ecosystem of actors and sectors involved in educational planning and management at the city level.


  • Candy Lugaz and Chloé Chimier, International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) UNESCO
  • Léon MUGABE and Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda
  • Alex Howells, UNESCO Institute for lifelong learning (UIL)

Chair: Michaela Martin, International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) UNESCO

Discussant: Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning and Director of Research, School of Education, University of Glasgow