Throwntogetherness in Dhaka: rethinking urban planning

This article was originally published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Online in ‘City’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.


Rapid spatial growth and rural-urban migration in Dhaka have influenced the dynamic evolution of the city’s unplanned and old neighbourhoods. Despite development control and planning regulations, following the diverse needs of the residents, most neighbourhoods evolve through organic transformation and restructuring of space. This photo essay argues that the ‘throwntogetherness’ of the citizens in these neighbourhoods results from cohesion, mutual support, and affordability priorities. In contrast, the pursuit of ordered and regimented urban space in the city denies the fluid transformation that has led to high value planned residential areas and condominiums, predominantly to provide exclusive urban services to those who can afford them. However, such placemaking creates fragmentation and encourages hostility and ‘thrownapartness’. This essay contends that the planned production of space in this city should recognise the value of diversity, fluidity and openness and move away from exclusive and rigid space making.

Sowgat, T. and Roy, S. (2022). Throwntogetherness in Dhaka: rethinking urban planning. City. 

Colonial legacies and contemporary urban planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh

This article was originally published by Routledge Taylor & Francis in ‘Planning Perspectives’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.


Effective urban planning is said to be crucial for ensuring liveable, equitable and viable urban areas progress towards sustainability. This study combines a review of the relevant literature, key informant interviews and field observations to explore contemporary planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We problematize ineffective urban planning practice in Dhaka as a prime expression and reproduction of colonial planning, which manifests itself through institutional bureaucracy and centralization, technocracy, and ad hoc planning. We argue that these imprints have rendered planning institutions weak and fostered dependency on imported ideologies and practices. The situation, we further argue, not only stifles local planning creativity but also makes the planning profession unattractive. Apart from limited local innovations and political aspirations for meeting global development targets, urban planning and city management have followed a reductionist approach under neoliberalism. With little to no social resonance, attempts at creating ordered spaces are, instead, contributing to increased spatial fragmentation and segregation, informality, and widespread urban poverty. To promote urban sustainability, this paper urges the contextualization of colonial ideologies and practices against the social, political and economic realities of urban Bangladesh.

Baffoe, G. and Roy, S. (2022). Colonial legacies and contemporary urban planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Planning Perspectives.

Participants during interactive session on Monitoring and Evaluation of Urban Development Programmes. Credit: NIUA

Capacity Building Workshop for Early Career Researchers on Issues and Challenges of the Urban Sector in India

Overview of Capacity Development Acceleration Fund project

Capacity Building Workshop for Early Career Researchers on Issues and Challenges of the Urban Sector in India
Principal Investigator:

Prof. Debolina Kundu, National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, India


Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India


India is striving to recast its urban landscape to make cities sustainable, inclusive and at the same time investment friendly. The new urban transformation strategies of India are guided by the twin objectives of meeting the challenges of urbanisation and at the same time ensuring that the benefits of urban development ‘leaves no one behind’. In this context, it becomes important for the new generation of urban researchers to develop a clear macro perspective of urbanisation and its multi-faceted manifestation so that future strategies and decisions could address urban challenges in a holistic and sustainable manner.

The National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) in partnership with the Centre for Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University organised a one-week capacity building programme (workshop) for early career researchers. The workshop helped young researchers to have first-hand experience and knowledge about the urban sector and its growing multidimensional challenges. The workshop also aimed to strengthen the capacity of researchers to undertake evidence-based urban research; to use data analytics and research to influence urban planning, policy and practice and promote project proposal formulation and management skills.

NIUA invited distinguished scholars, academicians and practitioners to guide early career researchers. The design of the programme was a mix of classroom sessions, lectures, case studies, field visits and hands-on-training.

Participants at a Capacity Building Workshop for Early Career Researchers


The main aim of the programme, “to build on the existing understanding of the urban sector and to bridge the knowledge gap of the early career researchers” was achieved.

The one-week (6 days) workshop focused on:

  • Facilitating the development of a new generation of multi-disciplinary urban researchers;
  • Strengthening the knowledge and skills in theory and practice, research methodologies and data analysis in the urban sectors;
  • Strengthening innovative quantitative and qualitative research skills, methods, and data systems to study urbanisation;
  • Strengthening the capacity to undertake evidence based urban research and influence policy and practice;
  • Developing the skills of logical framework and monitoring and evaluation of projects;
  • Enhancing soft skills such as negotiations, conflict management and presentation techniques.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

India is an ODA recipient country and falls under the category of lower middle income countries and territories. The workshop was designed specifically for participants from India.

The urban missions such as Smart cities, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Housing for All, Swatch Bharat Mission, National Urban Livelihood Mission were launched to recast the urban landscape of the country and to make it more inclusive. While these missions have ambitious objectives, in practice, the success of these missions will depend on the cities’ capacities, financial prowess, and preparedness to implement them. The urban sector not only requires specialised knowledge but also cross-sectoral learning to tackle new and emerging challenges in managing the cities.

Continuous skill building and development of research to undertake evidence-based research and influence policy and programme implementation is an absolute necessity for bringing about the requisite changes. The workshop facilitated the same by having sessions on learning from past experiences and bringing in new and improved methods of research. The workshop had sessions on all major urban development programmes (current and previous). It also familiarised the participants on trends and patterns of urbanisation along with New Urban Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals and National Urban Policy Framework.


The overall outcome of the workshop was to directly address the major objectives of the Core SHLC project i.e strengthening research capacity among urban researchers, practitioners (government and UN officials) and policy makers in public and private sectors based in developing countries.

The project team received 69 applications from which 34 participants were shortlisted. A final 32 participants successfully completed the 6-day workshop and were awarded a completion certificate.

Upon completion of the workshop, participants were asked to submit a concept paper, which they would like to develop as a full–fledged research article. 24 participants submitted the concept paper and a final 3 were selected. The selected three participants were provided with mentorship for six months. The three research papers were reviewed internally and externally and now have been submitted for publication in suitable journals. See Outputs section for details of selected papers.

Workshop Outcomes:
  1. Increased research capacity of 32 early career urban researchers (completed/pursuing PhD)

At the end of the programme the researchers developed a better understanding of the issues and challenges of dynamic urban sector. This was evaluated by self-assessment and also by assessing revisions to participants’ pre- and post-workshop concepts notes, where marked improvements were noted.

  1. Development of relationships with key academicians and practitioners who came to take sessions during the workshop. E.g. A few participants are now directly interacting with the experts and taking guidance in their area of research.
  2. The systematic and varied programme design of the workshop which included lectures, training, field visits, mentoring, collaboration and publications was beneficial to all participants of the workshop.
  3. The research fellows at NIUA also attended the sessions of their respective interest. They also benefitted from the multi-disciplinary exchanges which enhanced their own capacities, knowledge and academic networks. They gained from exposure to new concepts and ideas.

Project Outputs

Research papers from participant mentorship:

  1. Pramanik, S., Areendran, G., Punia, M. & Sahoo, S. 2021. Spatio-temporal pattern of urban eco-environmental quality of Indian megacities using geo-spatial techniques. Geocarto International, 1-24. DOI: 10.1080/10106049.2021.1903578
  2. Contemporary Contradictions and Contestations in Varanasi City: Moving from old Heritage City to Smart City .
  3. Frontier, City and Empire: Understanding City Formation in India’s North East

SHLC News story: Grow, Sow, Reap’: Training India’s Future Urban Leaders

Future Activities

As a result of this successful workshop, NIUA received requests to organise such events at a regional level in India. MANIT Bhopal also approached the SHLC India team to organise similar events in Bhopal city. However, due to the lock-down, these activities have not yet been organised.

Capacity Strengthening

The main target group of the workshop was early career researchers mainly those pursuing Ph.D. During the workshop, they enhanced their skills from the specialised knowledge and experience of the experts. The cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary learning enabled them to develop knowledge from beyond their area of research.

The mentorship which was provided to the three selected participants helped them to improve their skills in academic research including their PhD theses. Their topics of research for PhD are as follows:

  • Deconstructing the ‘Right To The City’: Differential Peripheral Spaces In Kolkata, West Bengal, India
  • Cities in the Making: Understanding Hinterland Urbanism of the Brahmaputra Valley since, 1826
  • City size matters! Does small and medium-sized cities are more environment-friendly? An empirical study in India

The SHLC India team also benefitted from multi-disciplinary exchanges which enhanced their own capacities, knowledge and academic networks. They gained from exposure to new concepts and ideas. The SHLC team members who were largely from the economics and geography background with good understanding of primary and secondary data base, gained knowledge about urban planning, governance and financing urban development.

The programme created a strong partnership between the participating institutes and universities. The SHLC team members are now guided by the faculty members of JNU whenever they are stuck at any statistical techniques/method. The partnership may result in developing further research collaboration in future.

The programme benefitted from NIUA’s linkages with scholars, policy makers and practitioners who could share their experience with the researchers.

Capacity-strengthening workshop, Delhi, India.

Webinar Series - Capacity Development of Researchers in Africa, Asia and Latin America – Reports from the Field

Webinar Series -

Capacity Development of Researchers in Africa, Asia and Latin America - Reports from the Field

Webinar 1 – Thursday, 31 March 2022, 1400-1600 (BST) (1300-1500 GMT)

Webinar 2 – Thursday, 7 April 2022 1400-1600 (BST) (1300-1500 GMT)

Webinar 3 – Thursday, 5 May 2022 1400-1600 (BST) (1300-1500 GMT)

The GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) is an international consortium of nine research partners aiming to strengthen capacity to address urban, health and education challenges in neighbourhoods across fast-growing cities in Africa and Asia. It has been funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

As part of SHLC’s commitment to extend its work to the capacity strengthening of researchers in the global south, we developed the Capacity Development Acceleration Fund (CDAF). This scheme has supported a visiting research fellowship programme, as well as pilot research, knowledge mobilisation and research management projects, to help tackle urban, health and education challenges in neighbourhoods across fast-growing cities in developing countries.

We are now very pleased to be able to announce a series of three webinars in which the 19 projects that we funded will report on their work. In each of these webinars our CDAF projects from Africa, Asia and Latin America will make short presentations of their work, followed by input by a respondent, and questions from those who attend.

We offer the following programme: CDAF Webinar Flyer

Register here

Futurum Article

How can urban planners and architects reduce inequality in cities?

In a recent article published by Futurum, the works and activities of the Centre of Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods are highlighted, together with insights from two of our international partners – Dr Josephine Malonza, University of Rwanda and Dr Shilpi Roy, Khulna University.

Read the full article here.

This article was produced by Futurum, a magazine and online platform aimed at inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and SHAPE (social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy). For more information and teaching and careers resources, visit

Dhaka's urban issues: Creative insights from Art Scholars

This blog was written by Tanjil Sowgat and Shilpi Roy

Art and craft works are deeply rooted in Bangladesh’s culture and society. Different motifs in religious, residential, and public buildings have represented the image, thinking and ideologies of people and society in the Indian subcontinent. Artists and their intellectual thinking have played a significant role in the changing of Bangladesh. For example, during the independence war of Bangladesh posters and banners inspired the common people. Infamous sketches from Jainul Abedin captured the sinister faces and sufferings of Urban Dhaka during the great Bengal famine. Sir Charles D’Oyly’s paintings also contributed significantly to capturing life in Dhaka between 1814 and 1823. His works are still cited in many works of literature while briefing the urban transformation of Dhaka (Figure 1). Thus, if artists bring urban issues of Dhaka in their works and installations, those will on one hand, document the current crisis of Dhaka, while on the other, influence philosophical thinking and intellectual inputs for a sustainable Dhaka.

Figure 1: Engraving of a marketplace in Dhaka from D'Oyly's Antiquities of Dacca first published c. 1814

SHLC is currently engaging with renowned and young artists of Bangladesh to understand their reaction to the urban problems and potentials of Dhaka and secondly to encourage artists to capture the current urban issues and opportunities of the city for future generations. As part of the engagement, a discussion series was held in which young artists (Kuntal Barai, Mojahid Musha, Anisuzzaman Farorue, Sunanda Rani Borman, Asim Chandra,) were invited to debate and learn from eminent artists (Sahid Kabir, Dhali Al Mamoon, Tayeba Begum Lipi, and Mahbubur Rahman), and to undertake critical thinking about the urban challenges in Dhaka (Figure 2). This blog highlights the key issues that emerged during the dialogues:

The urban problem in Dhaka is influenced by a complex set of issues beyond space. The social attitude of citizens, philosophical constructs of policy-making, economic context and ethnographic background significantly shape the urban problems of Dhaka. The artists feel there is a need to engage with the issues and that lenses of art need to capture these criticalities.

Figure 2: Artists and academics sharing their views during the discussion on urban Dhaka

  • Philosophically, intellectual thinking is often bounded within the construct of ‘colonial’ thoughts. Developmental and western biased thoughts affect our thinking process and deny the rhizomatic nature of urban problems in Dhaka. Post developmental ideology could help us rethink our context and the change-making within and outside urban development.
  • We tend to ignore ‘non-human’ species (birds, plants, animals) and their contributions to urban life. Animals, trees, and the natural environment are undervalued in the urban studies of Bangladesh. Human-built forms, big structures, western bias space making are affecting the current practice.
  • Chances of enlightenment fade away with limited non-interactive public space. Lack of urban space within and outside the buildings constrain flourishment of mental, physical, and psychological enlightenment of individuals and the society.
  • Practical urban problems found in the neighbourhoods include lack of solid waste management, lack of schools and healthcare, shortage of public space, lack of water supply and sanitation in poor areas etc.
  • Quality of space is often signposted and branded as good by following international vocabularies. For example, eco-resort, sustainable building, healthy city. Yet, the big words often fail to represent the name tag.
  • There is a western and modernist bias in certifying the quality of the built environment. For example, gridiron roads are considered reasonable and organically grown roads are bad. However, local context, temporality and culture must be acknowledged and considered before certifying the quality of a space.
  • Affluent areas are too regimented and ordered but completely ignore the local social and economic dynamics.
  • Our organic growth nature helps ease access to urban services within walking distance, encourages social cohesion in informal space, and allows flexibility.
  • People often violate building regulations or setback rules because of the lack of awareness about the benefits of setback rules. As part of the workshop, the artists captured words and terminologies that they thought were critical to describing the urban issues of Dhaka (see images). They highlighted: poor garbage management, lack of fresh air, rubble, traffic congestion, modernisation of space, lack of balance between nature and man-made environment, conflicting mind set of city image (some argued for modernisation of space while others advocated for organic image of the city), identity crisis of citizens who are thrown together, temporality of space, and right of non-human species.

Figure 3: Immediate response on art cards regarding keywords linked to urban Dhaka

The insights from the artists resonated with the rhizomatic urban issues beyond object focused technocentric thinking. The discussion brought forward the challenges of modernist universal standardisation of space, and a learning  that the natural environment and organic nature of growth are an integral part of urban Dhaka. The artists felt that Dhaka’s  issues need to be highlighted in the contemporary works so that strong messages regarding urban issues can be conveyed for a sustainable Dhaka. The artists are now co-developing the ideas into artworks including paintings, sculptures and other installations, which will be exhibited in March during an engagement event with citizens.

The engagement event resonates with the beauty of cross-disciplinary knowledge and idea-sharing. Research findings of the SHLC team have contributed to the knowledge, experience and idea development of the artists. At the same time, SHLC learns from beyond conventional academic thinking regarding city life. This event showcases how creative methods can contribute to learning and knowledge.

“Who loses? Who chooses?”: How non-state technical and vocational education and training are regulated in Africa and Asia

Yulia Nesterova and Queralt Capsada-Munsech

The new GEM report on non-state actors

To develop its 2021/22 report “Non-state actors in education: Who chooses? Who loses?”, UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) commissioned a wide range of papers from across the world, on all levels and types of education and training, and on all major non-state actors involved in educational provision. Ours was one of such background papers that contributed to drafting the part on technical, vocational, and adult education.

A diverse group of non-state actors – including commercially motivated (e.g., corporations), non-profit. (e.g., charities, NGOs, foundations), and hybrid (e.g., impact investing organisations) – has now become involved in and has influence on all aspects of formal education. This is not surprising as the state may not be able to deliver required education to all: public educational institutions may be scarce, may be of low quality, and/or may not meet the needs of children and communities they serve. Taking care of education of 350 million children across the world is just one example of the extent of non-state involvement; some others include developing textbooks, providing school transport and school meals, or offering skill training to youth and adults.

However, as the 2021/22 UNESCO GEM Report points out, there are a lot of concerns about quality, efficiency, innovation, equity, and inclusivity of services and programmes offered by these actors. Equity in financing, quality, governance, innovation, and policymaking is of particular concern, as the Report highlights.

State regulation of non-state actors thus becomes key to ensure no difference in quality and equity standards, information, incentives, monitoring, and accountability exist and that actors are supported the same way to, ultimately, build quality and inclusive education for all learners. The need to regulate non-state involvement in education was already outlined in the Abidjan Principles (adopted in 2019), that positioned state regulation of non-state actors as human rights obligations of states. Thus, the role of the report is to invite policymakers to question, re-think, and re-shape their relationships with non-state actors.

Our background paper on TVET and non-state actors

Read our paper National and subnational approaches to regulating non-state technical and vocational education and training: comparative insights from Asia and Africa in full here:  prepared by Dr Yulia Nesterova and Dr Queralt Capsada-Munsech

Our paper focuses on SHLC countries in Africa and Asia: Bangladesh, China, India, The Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania. In these countries, as in many others, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is viewed as one of the ways to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities in cities. After all, TVET equip learners with specialised skills and knowledge that can lead to skilled and decent employment. Yet, the public sector in SHLC countries would be struggling to meet the demand for TVET had it not been for non-state actors.

What we looked at in these countries was how non-state providers of TVET are regulated and governed by states to ensure quality and effective training, equity and inclusivity, and relevance to local labour markets. To answer this question, we analysed (1) key policies and legislation regarding TVET; (2) governing bodies and their responsibilities; (3) TVET actors and their responsibilities; (4) funding systems around TVET; (5) implementation, compliance, and accountability mechanisms; and (6) quality standards and assurance mechanisms.

Main findings

Here are some of the findings you can read more about in the report:

First, there is increased – and quite heavy – reliance on non-state providers to offer TVET opportunities in each country. However, the TVET system is centrally controlled by each state with limited opportunity for non-state actors to participate in governance and regulation of the TVET system.

Second, there are substantial gaps and overlaps in official documents that continue to limit efficacy and efficiency in the provision and regulation of TVET. The most glaring omission is the lack of (and even absence of) provisions and mechanisms for implementation of TVET.

Third, there is an issue with multiple government bodies at various levels competing for the same activities and responsibilities. In some instances, it is unclear who oversees each mandate and whose interests they serve.

Fourth is the lack of financial and technical support. Non-state providers tend to rely on self-funding for their activities as financial and technical support of non-state actors is limited. This particularly concerns and affects non-profit providers such as charities and NGOs that support marginalised learners but have no sustainable and reliable funding stream or support of capacity building.

On the positive side, TVET is increasingly integrated into the broader education systems, with TVET qualifications becoming part of national qualifications frameworks and quality assurance systems.

Policy recommendations

Based on our analysis and these findings, we provide a few recommendations that primarily concern with:

  • Streamlining of TVET regulations in each country to provide clear guidelines.
  • Simplifying governance structures of TVET and non-state TVET actors.
  • Offering incentives to non-state actors to improve and innovate and to ensure quality, equity, and effectiveness.
  • Strengthening non-state and non-profit provision of TVET through capacity development and better financing.
  • Encouraging and enhancing partnerships and cooperation among TVET state and non-state actors, especially to serve more disadvantaged areas and marginalised groups.
  • Placing more focus on supporting TVET in disadvantaged areas.

Cissie Gool House Zine

Suraya Scheba and Andreas Scheba

For many urban residents, especially of the global south, city-life is precarious, necessitating practices of survival and resistance. The covid-19 pandemic has intensified this condition, with a massive impact for low-income, largely Black, families and communities in cities around the world, forcing many into make-shift practices, including land and building occupations.  These emerge to maintain a foothold in the city and in response to a system of dispossession. However, many live under threat of eviction, further exacerbating a global health and economic crisis.

Cissie Gool House Zine

This ‘zine’ is part of the ‘City Occupied’ research project, primarily funded by the Capacity Development Acceleration Fund (CDAF), accessed through the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). In the pages of this short ‘zine’ we focus on Cissie Gool House in Woodstock, Cape Town. Occupied in 2017 by ‘Reclaim the City’ (RTC), on the site of the old Woodstock Hospital, it is one of the few building occupations on well located land in the central city. In the pages of the zine, residents of Cissie Gool House share short, personal thoughts, including what led to them landing up in the occupation, what they feel it represents in Cape Town today, and their hopes for the future.

ASEFSU23 Background Papers published

The 23rd ASEF Summer University programme was an interdisciplinary Hackathon on “Liveable Cities for a Sustainable Future” for Asian and European young professionals and students. Consisting of 3 main programme elements, the Pre-hack Phase (11-29 October 2021): “Ideation, including Challenge definition, knowledge building and stakeholder engagement”, offered all participants training and workshops to deepen their understanding of the theme of Sustainable Cities and Urbanisation, as well as provide them with an outlook on Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

As part of the programme participants completed individual and group tasks, and were provided extra resources for self-paced learning using an e-learning platform, including a number of Background Papers on the topics that can be found at

SHLC was a major contributor to these papers with two papers from India by SHLC partner, Dr Debolina Kundu and a further paper from Bangladesh by SHLC partner, Dr Shilpi Roy:

Sustainable Urbanisation in India and Delhi: Challenges and Way Forward

Child Obesity and Urbanisation in India: An Overview with a Focus on Delhi

Sustainable Urbanisation in Bangladesh and Dhaka: Challenges and Way Forward

Cities and Education - Candy Lugaz reports on a collaboration between UNESCO IIEP and SHLC partners

Candy Lugaz reports on a collaboration between UNESCO IIEP and SHLC partners

The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)-UNESCO first explored how cities are becoming crucial stakeholders in pursuit of the sustainable development goal for equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all (SDG 4) in four French cities and has since put together recommendations on how to improve the role of cities in educational planning and management. This actionable research– Cities and Education 2030 – has now gone global, encompassing five cities on three continents. We are now collaborating with the  GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) at the University of Glasgow and the PASCAL Observatory’s Learning Cities Network

The new cities are Dhaka and Khulna (Bangladesh), Manila (Philippines), and Kigali (Rwanda), each cities who are part of SHLC and alongside Medellín (Colombia) involved in the PASCAL Network.

Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning, Director of PASCAL and co-Investigator within SHLC at the University of Glasgow, told IIEP how he encouraged their partners in Bangladesh, Rwanda, and the Philippines in SHLC to participate in the research because of their mutual understanding of education’s role in urban development and the need for robust quantitative and qualitative data.

Smart cities, healthy cities, sustainable cities – many of today’s urban centres are increasingly solution-driven, dynamic, and innovative as they address often-interlinked challenges, such as pollution, lack of green space, or overcrowding. “There are many adjectives put in front of cities,” says Osborne. But more often than not education is not seen as a primary aspect of urban development. However, this research should raise more awareness in these cities on the role of education – and learning more broadly – as the foundation of development, and urban development.”

More information on this programme of work is available here.

In a separate posting, Alexandra Agudelo Ruíz, Secretary of Education, for Medellín explains how this research will contribute to both local and global education goals.