Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh
Principal Investigator:

Dr. Hanna Ruszczyk, Department of Geography and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR), Durham University, U.K.


International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) – Independent University Bangladesh (Dr. Mohammad Feisal Rahman);

School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (Dr Alexandra Halligey)


Until very recently, most urban research in Bangladesh has focused on the mega city of Dhaka and its informal settlements. The ‘Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh’ Project explored what makes Noapara and Mongla liveable from the perspectives of residents, officials and stakeholders in an interdisciplinary manner through the use of storytelling workshops, live theatre performances, production of two videos and blogs, photography exhibits and academic articles. Insights from the project were shared with local, national policy makers and international academic audiences.

Noapara River Crossing.
Noapara River Crossing. Credit: Hanna Ruszczyk


The objective of the ‘Liveability’ Project was to explore and investigate two under-researched yet fast-growing cities (Noapara and Mongla) from the perspectives of residents, officials and stakeholders utilising interdisciplinary methods including two storytelling workshops, 201 surveys, photo stories, 40 semi-structured interviews and three focus group discussions in order to understand their interpretations of ‘liveability’.

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

This proposal was based on developmental needs as articulated by the network members based on the reality of the DAC listed countries of Bangladesh and South Africa. Bangladesh is a least developed country and South Africa is an upper middle-income country. The proposal’s focus was SDG 11: Sustainable Cities.  Bangladesh is extremely climate vulnerable and is frequently battered by natural hazards. It is experiencing varying degrees of extreme poverty, insecurity and vulnerability as a result of complex environmental, social, cultural and demographic changes. Rapid urbanisation is taking place within the country and until recently, research and policy attention has primarily focused on the capital or mega cities. There is little research on regional cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants and this is where residents of the global South live including in Bangladesh.

The ‘Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh’ Project engaged with residents and development actors in two regional cities (Mongla and Noapora) to understand what liveability means for residents. This knowledge was shared with the Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB) on a national level with the goal of creating improved space for dialogue in cities, enhancing research and institutional capacities on different scales, and creating an opportunity for research and collaboration within and between Bangladesh, South Africa and the UK. Results were also shared at the Gobeshona international conference held in Dhaka in January 2020 with a focus on learning from Bangladesh.

This project was essential to exploring what residents think of their neighbourhoods and their cities. These regional cities are poorly planned and lack support from the national level as well as from international aid projects.

This ‘Liveability’ project was demand driven from Bangladesh. Dr. Saleemul Huq, the Director of ICCCAD, has a vision to create and support migrant friendly, climate change resilient regional cities in Bangladesh. This ‘Liveability’ project was an initial step to realise this vision.


The story telling workshops and street theatre performances were led by Dr Halligey, drawing on her research on daily life in Johannesburg. The public presentation of these performances elicited responses from the general public, giving more critical dialogue on inhabitants’ perceptions of liveability in their cities. A five-minute film was made about this process, which has received a very positive response.

The two qualitative dissemination reports on Mongla and Noapara, the videos and photograph exhibits were shared with local and national policy makers through two local dissemination events and one national dissemination event in March 2020. This gave a more direct representation of residents’ own ‘voices’, raised awareness and created dialogue among academics, NGOs and government actors on a local, national and international level.

This project also enhanced the capacity of the three Early Career Researchers (ECR) (Ruszczyk, Rahman and Halligey) to think through the relationship between humanities and social science research in urban contexts. Relationships were strengthened and furthered into a follow-on project (Ruszczyk and Rahman). This collaboration has allowed ECRs to experiment and advocate for methods that can bring about positive change in overlooked cities throughout the world.

In the long term, the team believes this project is leading to:

  1. Small, daily actions of individuals and collectives of residents and their local government leaders to engage to improve the liveability of their city.
  2. Ways in which collective action can be taken to make demands of local and state policy makers and administrators to improve city conditions.

Project Outputs

The following activities / outputs have been completed:

  • Collection of data for Noapara and Mongla (statistical data, maps, 100 household surveys per city, 10 household interviews per city, four focus group discussions per city, 10 stakeholder interviews per city).
  • Analysis of data and drafting of 2 reports in both English and Bengali.
  • Story telling workshops in each city.
  • Production of videos and photographs for each city.
  • Organisation of half day meeting with local authorities and other key stakeholders in each city.
  • Organisation of exhibitions of the videos and photographs in Noapara and Mongla.
  • Organisation of national level dissemination event.
National sharing of learning about liveability

MAB and ICCCAD shared through their network and through the two local, one national dissemination event and one international dissemination event.

ICCCAD published two dissemination briefs on its website about Mongla and Noapara.

ICCCAD wrote an opinion piece for the daily newspaper Dhaka Tribune.


The two story telling videos (and photographs) were shared not only in Noapara and Mongla but also in Dhaka. The videos were integrated into ICCCAD’s, Durham University’s, SHLC and Dr Ruszczyk’s personal websites.

 ‘What I learnt through Liveability’ (2020)

‘Liveable Regional Cities of Bangladesh’(2020)


Ruszczyk H.A. Halligey A, Ahmed I and colleagues (2020) Photography exhibit from Regional Liveable Cities in Bangladesh Project


‘What I learnt about the concept of liveability’ (2020)

‘Learning about Liveable Regional Cities’ (2020),

“I (don’t) want to live here! Exploring perceptions of liveability in Bangladesh” (2020)

Academic sharing to PhD students and academic colleagues internationally

Dr. Ruszczyk organised a 2 and half hour seminar about the project in July 2021. Dr Rahman, Dr Huq and Mr Ahmed spoke.

SHLC organised an event on 16 June 2020 in which Dr Ruszczyk, Dr Rahman, Dr Halligey and Mr Ahmed spoke.

Academic paper published

Hallingey, A., Ahmed, I., Rahman M.F., Ruszczyk H.A. and Sudha, S. ‘Ethics as Negotiated and Emergent in a Study of Liveability in Small Cities’, Sentio Journal – Special Issue on Ethics of Research Project Life Cycle, 91-93.

Future Activities

Two follow-on projects were initiated because of the knowledge gained from this project.

Project 1

COVID -19 Rapid Response project funded by Durham University involving telephone interviews with residents in Mongla and Noapara during May – June 2020. This resulted in:


Rahman, F. and Ruszczyk, H.A. (2020), “Coronavirus – how lockdown exposed food insecurity in a small Bangladeshi city”, THE CONVERSATION, 16 July 2020,

A Podcast

Ruszczyk HA and Khan M (2020) ‘COVID19, Food security and mutual aid’ COVIDCALLS podcast hosted by Scott Knowles, Episode 138.

An academic paper

Ruszczyk H.A., Rahman M.F., Bracken L.J., and Sudha, S. (2021) Contextualising COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on food security in two small cities of Bangladesh, Environment and Urbanization, 33(1) 239-254, OPEN ACCESS

A book chapter

Rahman M.F. and Ruszczyk H.A. ( 2021) The Pandemic and Food Insecurity in Small Cities of the Global South: A Case Study of Noapara in Bangladesh, In: Doucet B., van Melik R. and Filion P., (eds) Global Reflections on COVID-19 and Urban Inequalities, Volume 1: Community and Society, Policy Press

Project 2

ICCCAD and IHRR colleagues designed and organised an online short course exploring urban resilience and liveability from November 2020 to January 2021.

Course participants included a combination of early-career professionals working on urban issues in Bangladesh, researchers and also graduate as well as senior-undergraduate students. The course covered three topics:

  1. theoretical framings of urban resilience and urban liveability;
  2. utilising interdisciplinary approaches to understand a city’s liveability and resilience; and
  3. urban resilience and vulnerability from the local perspective.

As part of this course, participants took part in a group activity and designed a small-scale project related to urban resilience and liveability in secondary coastal cities of Bangladesh. Drawing on course materials, this activity was designed to enhance the participants’ skills in developing successful project proposals.

The five teams presented their proposals to a team of judges representing ICCCAD, Durham University and the University of Glasgow SHLC project. The top three proposals were each awarded £1,500 funding to carry out their project in 2021, COVID19 permitting.

Participants in a story telling workshop in Mongla explore drinking water supply infrastructure.
Participants in a story telling workshop in Mongla explore drinking water supply infrastructure. Credit: Jinia Nowrin

Capacity Strengthening

This project was based on developmental needs as articulated by Dr. Rahman (from ICCCAD). The ‘Liveability’ project built capacity by:

  • Offering team members an opportunity to share skills – Dr Halligey, arts-based methodologies, Dr Ruszczyk and Dr Rahman, social science-based methodologies.
  • Establishing South-South connections between the University of Witwatersrand and the Independent University Bangladesh (where ICCCAD is based), thus expanding opportunities for South-South collaboration.
  • Building Bangladeshi knowledge base that can inform policy makers on local and national level in the short and long term.

The project team trained students from Khulna University on how to conduct surveys, and collaborated with students from Dhaka on photography and videography.