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.

Delhi street

Webinar: Uneven Impact of Covid-19 - Neighbourhood Experiences in South Africa, India and Philippines

Webinar: Uneven Impact of Covid-19 - Neighbourhood Experiences in South Africa, India and the Philippines

  • Thursday 3 June, 2021

  • 15:00-16:30 (British Summer Time)

This webinar is being hosted as part University of Glasgow’s Urban Studies Seminar Series: Urban Research and the Covid-19 Era.

Register your attendance via Eventbrite.


Almost no corner of the globe has escaped the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, but these impacts have not been felt equally. Research has shown that our ability to respond to Covid-19 is influenced by social and economic status, suggesting that where and how we live matters. Nowhere is this more acute than cities and towns in the developing countries.

Researchers at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) are studying cities from the inside out examining the sustainability of different neighbourhoods right across the city.

In this webinar, three SHLC researchers from Cape Town, India and the Philippines will present their work investigating how Covid-19 impacted different neighbourhoods and communities across the city. They will address the following questions:

  • What are the defining characteristics of neighbourhood distribution in the city?
  • How has Covid-19 impacted different neighbourhoods and have these impacts aggravated pre-existing spatial disparities?
  • What actions can we take to address the different needs of urban residents in different neighbourhoods?

The presentation will be followed by question and answers.


This seminar will be chaired and introduced by Professor Keith Kintrea, Deputy Director of SHLC, University of Glasgow.

SHLC at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society Conference

SHLC at the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society Conference

  • April 25 - May 2, 2021

We are very pleased to announce that the SHLC team are taking 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.

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

(Mon, April 26, 4:00 to 5:30pm BST, Zoom Room, 126)

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.

(Thu, April 29, 6:00 to 7:30pm BST, Zoom Room, 134)

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.


  • Planning for SDG4 at the city level: Learning from experiences. Candy Lugaz and Chloé Chimier, International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) UNESCO
  • Kigali toward achieving SDG4. Progress and Challenges in Education Planning. Léon MUGABE and Vincent Manirakiza, University of Rwanda
  • Educational planning in cities: Building a monitoring and evaluation framework for lifelong learning. 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

People Make a City: Towards More Inclusive Urban Planning

This article was written by Charrlotte Adelina and Diane Archer and originally published by SEI. The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

How can inclusive community planning help make urban areas more livable? SEI is partnering with local people in the city of Udon Thani in northeast Thailand to find creative ways to improve the urban environment.

Green spaces and walkable urban pathways are important for residents’ physical and mental health, as well as having ecological benefits, and can also help to reach goals for sustainable and healthy urban lifestyles. However, it is a big challenge to conserve green spaces in Udon Thani because of competing demands on land and finance. Bringing participatory approaches into urban planning can help prioritize key issues that can make cities more livable.

Credit: SEI Asia

Walking, in particular, has been shown to have positive impacts on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of urban residents. Walking encourages a healthy lifestyle, provides recreational opportunities, and helps residents identify with their neighbourhoods, while also promoting low-carbon modes of moving around the city. But in most Asian cities, walking spaces are poorly maintained or sometimes even non-existent.

Credit: SEI Asia
Credit: SEI Asia

To create greater potential for active transport in urban settings, we asked Udon Thani’s residents about their experience of walking around the nieghbourhood and what challenges they face when doing so, and asked them for suggestions on what would improve their walking habits.

We used two interactive methods – photovoice and mental mapping – to understand the enablers and barriers to walking.  Our photovoice walks with the elderly in the city of Udon Thani showed us how these challenges can impact their decision to use their motorbike or walk.

Credit: SEI Asia

Some participants engaged in a mental mapping exercise, where they drew their route from home to a green space based on their memory, marking important landmarks and sites.

The photovoice and mental mapping exercises revealed that residents were concerned about safety and cleanliness at the nearby lake park, and the risks posed by cyclists riding on the walking path. Other conditions such as a lack of pedestrian crossings, rains, dust from the roads during the hot season, and smoke from grilled chicken stalls, also affected their decisions on when and where to walk.

Credit: SEI Asia

Cars speeding along roads without pavements, or low-hanging cables close to the pavements may turn a simple walk into a dangerous activity. Such concerns are especially important for the mobility of the elderly.

“A main obstacle for walking from my house to the canal is the water pipes which are on the footpath. They need to put them underground.”

— Udon Thani resident

Credit: SEI Asia

Encroachment on pavements for parking or other commercial and residential uses is not uncommon.

The exercises revealed that shady, safe, green spaces, and unobstructed pedestrian footpaths were highly important for the mental relaxation and well-being of residents.

The research team were quick to tweak the methods to suit the needs and interests of participants, for example, by allowing visually challenged participants to describe a mental map. Our activities helped elderly participants easily recollect site-specific challenges and experiences of walking in their neighbourhood.

Credit: SEI Asia

The photovoice and mental mapping activities yielded rich location-specific and evidence-based suggestions to improve walkability at the neighbourhood level. Researchers delivered these insights in a policy workshop with local decision-makers from relevant departments within the municipality. The municipality showed great interest in incorporating community-driven inputs in their upcoming interventions for improving walkability in Udon Thani.

Credit: SEI Asia
Credit: SEI Asia

 This photo story was produced from community workshops in Udon Thani, with funding from the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities (SHLC) and the SEI City Health and Wellbeing (CHeW) Initiative.

Credits to the SEI Asia Communications team for the photos.

The project was led by Dr. Diane Archer from Stockholm Environment Institute Asia.

This research project ‘Towards More Inclusive Urban Planning in Udon Thani (Thailand) and Nakuru (Kenya)’ 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.

Private health facility on the fringes of Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ramjee Bhandari, University of Glasgow

Addressing health inequalities: why neighbourhoods should be front and centre of building a fairer world

This blog was written Dr Rajmee Bhandari from the University of Glasgow. The views expressed in this blog are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

The emergence and spread of Covid-19 all across the globe has meant that more than ever, we have realised the importance of the context and place we live in.

We have become more appreciative of accessible and adaptive physical and social features of our local neighbourhood. Liveability and sustainability of our neighbourhoods and cities determine our health and wellbeing and lately, with the impacts of Covid-19 felt throughout every community, this has received significant attention. Our work at SHLC is exploring how sustainability can be achieved at a neighbourhood level.

A year ago, a colleague and I argued how a bottom-up approach (neighbourhoods to local governments and above) is crucial in the race to manage the fast-spreading pandemic. As the virus has embedded, COVID-19 has highlighted the limitations we have in our system and has also brought to the surface the resilience built up from the neighbourhoods and communities that have helped us to keep going.

Most importantly, this pandemic has exposed how inequalities in health happens in cycles. The impact is disproportionate and those living in vulnerable circumstances are bearing most of the disease and associated socio-economic burden. It is clear to see, as the World Health Organization emphasises, “our world is an unequal one.

This year’s World Health Day focuses on a campaign to build a fairer and healthier world. The constitution of the World Health Organization enforces health as the basic and fundamental right of every human being, which is to be experienced without distinctions in any form. The envisioned fairer and healthier world is achieved only when there is equity in accessing the services and equality in the outcome. Inequalities in health is a global issue and not just for resource-constrained countries. COVID-19 has further highlighted this gap, which is mostly attributable to wider socio-environmental conditions where people are born and/or spend their time – what is most commonly referred to as ‘the social determinants. Cities host more than half of the global population and during this pandemic, the health of our urban population is bearing a detrimental impact.

Private health facility on the fringes of Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ramjee Bhandari, University of Glasgow
Private health facility on the fringes of Kigali, Rwanda. Credit: Ramjee Bhandari, University of Glasgow

Determinants of urban health

The determinants of urban health are multi-sectoral and multi-level in nature. The role of sectors other than health, which integrate, overlap and coordinate are crucial in shaping the health outcomes in our changing urban context (see Figure 1). A supportive social environment, healthy physical attributes and responsible politics all interact together to create healthy cities. While the importance of these social and environmental determinants of health is now uncontested, the rapid and often unplanned urbanisation in developing country cities has strained the ability of governments to build healthy and liveable neighbourhoods.

Figure 1. The syndemic of COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the social determinants of health (Bambra et. al., 2020)
Figure 1. The syndemic of COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the social determinants of health (Bambra et. al., 2020)

Unfair neighbourhoods

While cities bring opportunities for better health, they also bring many challenges if they are unplanned or unregulated. It is essential to recognise the social differences in our cities and to act to mitigate these differences in fair and just approaches. Compared to rural or non-urban areas, cities tend to have more health and social services. There is, however, a marked inequity in access and take-up of these services. In health sectors, the introduction of the private sector/market has resulted in wider availability of healthcare services, but the cost associated with it creates inequality and excludes certain populations who do not have the resources to access it.

These services are often placed near high-income neighbourhoods, providing significantly less benefit to those who cannot afford to pay. For example, in Khulna city in Bangladesh, the ratio of public, private and nongovernmental organisation (NGO) health facilities in Purba Sonadanga (a planned high-income neighbourhood) is 14:79:7 versus a ratio in Lobonchora (a low-income organically established neighbourhood) of 0:75:25. Though a diversity of service providers has increased available options, in developing country settings, the private providers are often poor and not adequately regulated.

For sectors other than health, there are similar issues of accessibility, affordability and usability. Education is another key social determinant impacting urban health that also has issues of structural inequity and quality to contend with.

We often see cities within cities, with distinctive urban conglomerates of planned and informal/unplanned/organic areas found side by side. While planned neighbourhoods have access to better urban services, informal settlements often lack the provision of basic amenities. The proximity of features such as a public open space is often associated with where you live, if you live in a deprived neighbourhood, these spaces are less likely to be accessible to you and you are less likely to use them. Urban residents living in deprived communities are more at risk of being impacted by events such as the current pandemic or other economic shocks. Building a safer city thus requires having a safety net to protect the vulnerable groups.

Public sport facility in Batangas City, the Philippines. Credit: Ramjee Bhandari, University of Glasgow
Public sport facility in Batangas City, the Philippines. Credit: Ramjee Bhandari, University of Glasgow

Way forward

To address urban health inequalities and end discriminatory practices, a coordinated approach is required. A proper alignment of population distribution and amenities, health services along with others, necessary for neighbourhoods is possible with proper planning. The role of governments and stakeholders at all levels are key to the protection of basic human rights in health and creation of a better environment where everyone can enjoy the best possible health outcomes.

Considering the impacts all sectors have on health, it is imperative to recognise health in all policies. As cities start to recover from Covid-19, there is also an urgency to rectify the systemic health gap this pandemic has brought to the surface. Without further hesitation, we need to move faster to create healthy and equitable neighbourhoods by realising that the health of its citizens is the most important asset any city can have.

Kigali, Rwanda. A wide view looking down on the city centre with Pension Plaza in the foreground. Credit: Shutterstock, Jennifer Sophie.

Celebrating a revamped Kigali car free zone: Imbuga city walk

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

This week, we woke up to big news that the long awaited ‘Imbuga City Walk’ project on Kigali’s car free zone, as we know it, has come to fruition. The street will be transformed into ‘a recreational and green space’, whose implementation is on the move and expected to be complete within three months.

The news further detailed the project components as: pedestrian and cycling friendly pavements; green corridor landscaping; kiosks for food court and other items; exhibition zone; and kids’ playground. Several support facilities will also be in place such as; street benches and free WiFi; city lounge and arcade; pedestrian-friendly street lamps and public toilets. What more can we ask?

On 15th September 2015, I started making opinion column contributions in this newspaper, having been inspired by the then active debate on the events and aspirations on the car free zone.

I recall celebrating the move the City of Kigali had made in setting precedent on the war against the ‘asphalt and concrete jungle’ that has been attacking cities from all ends in this era of rapid urbanization.

Kigali, Rwanda. A wide view looking down on the city centre with Pension Plaza in the foreground. Credit: Shutterstock, Jennifer Sophie.
Kigali, Rwanda. A wide view looking down on the city centre with Pension Plaza in the foreground. Credit: Shutterstock, Jennifer Sophie.

At the time, I was only beginning my doctoral studies, on the topic of public space, disturbed by the fact that many cities especially in the global south have shown only marginal expansions in their public open space, despite the overwhelming expansion of the built environment.

Kigali’s intention to host her first ever car free zone at that point in time was indeed a terrific inspiration, as it served as a living testimony that cities can, after all, pay attention to their quality of urban life in unique ways, opening up possibilities in which streets could become successful social spaces.

Many other streets in Kigali remain ubiquitous with car use and hence why the idea of a car free zone, with pedestrians deserving a higher priority that vehicles that have growingly dominated the space, becomes an exciting one.

Over the last five years, we have had several pieces written on the topic of Kigali’s car free zone, published in this paper or elsewhere, and most of them have been sharing the concern that the street remained dead over a longer period of time, than expected.

The opinions, based on the optimism of the zone, have been good and healthy, as they kept a constant reminder to the city urban planners to fast track the process but we may not be having a lot of pace now to complain and rant about the absence of life and vibrancy on the street. The city has finally moved forward to nail it and basically we have been given three months, while the city completes the project, to start planning our activities on the Imbuga City Walk, obviously in respect to existing health protocols.

Considering that for the last 12 months we have largely been spending time in our homes or neighbourhoods, with travel restrictions in place and calls for social distancing as a way to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, this news is both timely and relevant to us all.

But just what will make the Imbuga city walk work?

The first conversation is around the concern of empty street. To ensure that the street does not remain ‘dead’ as we have critiqued it to have been, it will need people and activities. You and I will need to make intentional decisions to show up and be present there.

Obviously before the new design that is being implemented now, it was still difficult for the street to attract people and activities. There was not so much to do there, the zone, although absent of vehicles, was still not comfortable as it was without basic support facilities and amenities.

Now that there is a purposeful design in place, that is aiming to transform the zone into recreational and green space, one would expect that the addition of support facilities, improved accessibility, better linkages, safety and comfort, would make it substantially attractive leading to a more active and vibrant public space.

The second is around the businesses along the street. There has been concerns shared on the survival of businesses along the street, whose presence is of paramount important to the survival of the Imbuga city walk, but whose survival ought to be also supported by the public space.

This dialectic relationship is important since the street business will be affected by the street design changes. Hopefully, the case of a participatory design process, in which the business owners were involved in the conversations during both the design and implementation of the car free zone is expected to introduce business-friendly design elements that support both the social life as well as the economic life of the street.

Obviously business serve customers on their feet, not in their cars and hence the project increment in users of the Imbuga City Walk may as well bring in more customers to the adjacent businesses. The business on this zone have also been offered working service lanes parallel to the KN4 street and if they have survived the last 5 years of an empty street, they can only expect to do much better now.

The third is around equitable access. It is expected that the city walk will attract many more people than it has been doing in the last five years. Visitors will be drawn from the different economic levels and so a consideration in ensuring efficient bus transit from the various neighbourhoods in Kigali and other bus terminus, with efficient bus stops on either sides of the zone, would be very useful to the many visitors, especially the low-income citizen who rely on buses.

Bicycle lanes are already incorporated in the zone and this is expected to boost the already arising trend in cycling in Kigali.

The newly designed public space will be a container of multiple human activities, making it better capable of catering for our functional, social, and recreational needs in a more successful manner. This way, the Imbuga City Walk is expected to increasingly and positively associate with economic growth, better physical health of people and a stronger sense of community.

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

Healthy Cities for Adolescents: Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India

This participatory research project, which was funded by SHLC’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund, aims to improve adolescent health and to enhance their influence on adolescent health services in Gurugram, Haryana, India.

The project will incorporate the voices and perspectives of marginalised adolescents into the planning and designing of adolescent specific health policies and programmes in India.

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


Over the past decade, the Government of India has implemented several programmes to improve the quality of life within cities, particularly in relation to health and hygiene. Substantial growth in the number of urban poor in India has highlighted a gap in health inequalities within the population, mainly due to poor living conditions and limited access to good health services.

Adolescents constitute about a fifth of India’s population and as a group experience significant health challenges. Adolescence is a dynamic stage of human growth, marked by distinctive physical, psychological, cognitive and social changes that demand special attention in national development policies, programmes and plans.

The project has three main objectives:

  1. To enquire, from the perspective of marginalised adolescents, the health needs and health education necessary for transition into healthy adults.
  2. To examine existing government funded health policies and programmes for the adolescents; this includes identifying the right tools and techniques as well as the right triggers and incentives for engaging the adolescents in the planning, implementation and monitoring of adolescent specific health services.
  3. To offer practical proposals for national and state policy and programmes, based on existing successful models of engagement and knowledge exchange.

Project Outputs

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.

Implementing a Rapid Emergency Supplies Provision (RESP) Assistance to Design a Sustainable Solution for COVID-19 Impact Areas in the National Capital Region, Through a Public Private Collaboration

Online Workshop: Doing Knowledge Exchange During the COVID 19 Pandemic – What Lessons Have We learnt?

Online Workshop: Doing Knowledge Exchange During the COVID 19 Pandemic – What Lessons Have We learnt?


This online workshop Doing Knowledge Exchange during the COVID 19 pandemic – What lessons have we learnt? was hosted by the Low and Middle Income (LMIC) Research Network at the University of Glasgow.

The move towards online and digital platforms has led to innovative approaches to overcome barriers to the active participation of all project stakeholders. This workshop will provide an opportunity for researchers and research partners to share experiences and identify good practices. The discussion will be used as a basis for a guide setting out key challenges and effective knowledge exchange strategies for projects working in the Global South.

  • Prof Charles Nherera – University of Zimbabwe / UKRI International Panel Member (Zimbabwe)
  • Dr Raul Valdes-Cotera – Senior Programme Specialist and Programme Manager of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities/UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (Germany)
  • Prof Mario-Delos Reyes – International Co-Investigator for the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (Philippines)
  • Dr Anshuman Karol – Researcher at Participatory Research in Asia (India)
  • Dr Barbara Read – Reader in Gender and Social Inequalities, School of Education, University of Glasgow (United Kingdom)

Read and download the concept note for more details.

This workshop is targeted at researchers, project partners and doctoral students working in Low and Middle-Income Countries.