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    Insurgent urbanization in Rua Marconi, São Paulo

    By Alexandre Apsan Frediani, on 22 September 2014

    As part of the action-research programme ‘Insurgent Regeneration’, the DPU’s Alex Frediani spent some time over the summer working with the team of the ‘Insurgent Urbanization’ module at the Universidade Federal do ABC in São Paulo, Brazil. The research was a real success, engaging with inhabitants occupying a vacant building in the city centre of São Paulo led by a housing social movement called ‘Movimento de Moradia Para Todos’ (MMPT). The research involved speaking to and working closely with residents and organisers of the movement. The final activity of the research was the Café da Manhã na Rua Marconi (Breakfast in Marconi Street) – an event that appropriated the public space of the street as a meeting place for community and encounters between strangers.

    Watch a timelapsed video of this activity below.

    The module was run in collaboration with Ricardo Moretti and Chico Comaru (Universidade Federal do ABC) and Beatrice De Carli (University of Sheffield). Further outputs will soon follow, with a short pamphlet and journal articles already planned. For more information, and to follow the progress of the project, please visit the Insurgent Regeneration microsite via the DPU website.

    A photographic exploration of urban issues: The DPU Photography Project explained

    By David Hoffmann, on 18 August 2014

    The DPU Photo project 2014

    Like many students in the Development Planning Unit, I realized that this year’s field trip would be a great opportunity to take pictures. However, I felt I wanted to do more than just going on a solitary mission to capture whatever crossed my path. I decided to launch a project that pushes the photographer to reflect during the process of taking pictures and that gives coherence in the way work is seized and presented.

    The final concept took shape as I spoke about my intentions to fellow students. We decided to create a photo-blog with a collection of pictures taken by students in Peru, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania where we would be conducting research as part of our respective MSc programs. As a collective we then agreed on 9 different photographic themes that would work as our creative lens. The final blog works as a mosaic of moments and motives that will hopefully capture the viewers’ attention. The project is entirely voluntary and student run, and all pictures were taken between April and May 2014.

    We believe that the appeal of the project resides in the diversity of photographic styles of students, the varying interpretations of the selected topics and the diverse locations and experiences that DPU students were exposed to. We hope that it is conducive of real insight into people’s work and day-to-day experiences, allowing viewers to emotionally engage with different realities as depicted in the pictures and giving food for thought.

    For us photographers, the project was a great opportunity to use our skills with a concrete purpose in mind, and also resulted in the creation of a temporary platform to experiment and explore the potential of photography. The project was a challenge, yet it allowed us to make the most of the experience and we are now happy to be able to share our vision with fellow students, alumni and curious minds alike.

    The selection of pictures below has a photojournalistic quality to them and triggers reflection, as they seized some of the tensions that we witnessed in the field. There is a story behind each picture, as told by the photographers.


    ‘Contrasts’  Dar es Salaam, Tanzania © Jorge Ortiz 2014 MSc Urban Development Planning

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania © Jorge Ortiz 2014
    MSc Urban Development Planning

    ‘This picture was taken from the third floor of the hotel in which we stayed during our work as UDP students in Dar es Salaam. With this panorama surrounding us, it was not necessary going to slums to have a taste of how inequality expresses itself in urban contexts. It was actually not completely comfortable (in ethical terms) to swim there after a day of work with the communities, where people were completely open to talk with us about their inaccessibility to certain environmental goods, like potable water. In my opinion, the fieldtrip to Tanzania was helpful for getting or strengthening that ethical fiber that any development professional should have.’ – Jorge Ortiz


    'Estamos en el aire' ('We live in the air') Jose Carlos Mariategui, Lima, Peru © Loan Diep 2014 MSc Environment and Sustainable Development

    ‘Estamos en el aire’ (‘We live in the air’)
    Jose Carlos Mariategui, Lima, Peru © Loan Diep 2014
    MSc Environment and Sustainable Development

    ‘Lima’s rapid urbanisation, fragmented planning and conflictual land issues have led the city to expand beyond its territorial boundaries. An increasing amount of the population is now occupying the slopes of the Andes Mountains surrounding Lima, where exposure to disasters is considerable, and upon which mobility is particularly limited. This picture has been taken in Jose Carlos Mariátegui, Lima’s largest and poorest municipal district. When approached, people living in the area state: ‘we live in the air’. Beyond a simple reference to the high altitude in which the informal settlement is located, it also metaphorically reflects on the marginalising impact of Lima’s development plans on a vulnerable segment of the population.’ – Loan Diep


    ‘Breaking the rigidity of the grid’ Cambodia © Joana Dabaj 2014  MSc Building & Urban Design in Development

    ‘Breaking the rigidity of the grid’
    Cambodia © Joana Dabaj 2014
    MSc Building & Urban Design in Development

    ‘The picture represents a little girl standing in front of her house and simply eating some dried berries… a simple act. The grid behind her is a sort of a fence constructed by the family in order to protect their house. The family has appropriated several materials in order to build their “home”: bamboo, wood, corrugated metal sheet… as part of an informal settlement, the issue of privacy is always critical, one can easily break this tessellated surface, pass his hand through it or look behind it so what did it serve other than delimiting a space?’ – Joana Dabaj


    'A horse with no name' Mekelle, Ethiopia © David Hoffmann  MSc Urban Economic Development

    ‘A horse with no name’
    Mekelle, Ethiopia © David Hoffmann
    MSc Urban Economic Development

    ‘Some people say that Black and White photography is good at capturing the soul of an image. As it is, colours tend to distract the viewer from shapes, textures and raw emotions that it might contain. There is little soul left in this ill horse, however… it was abandoned in the middle of the city by its owner, where it is more likely to be run over by an inattentive driver than being saved by a caring soul. The skeleton of a building in the backdrop completes the picture, and reminds us of the fragility of the urban environment, where hope and despair cohabite.’ – David Hoffmann


    Dream, Fly? Seek a way out of traffic lines!  Dar es Salaam, Tanzania © Asimina Paraskevopoulou 2014 MSc  in Urban Development Planning

    ‘Dream, Fly? Seek a way out of traffic lines!’
    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania © Asimina Paraskevopoulou 2014
    MSc in Urban Development Planning

    ‘An image out of focus: shot just with a stretch of the arm outside the window. A need to get some fresh air while spending 3 ½ hours inside an air-conditioned mini-bus was the reason for a split opening of my side window. The view at that point: vehicles stuck in traffic lines due to flooding on the streets of Dar es Salaam. During rush hour and when the tropic clouds pour the city with rain the transportation system paralyzes. Commuting in the city of Dar is always an adventure: dala-dala buses, private taxis, public transportation, whichever the vehicle the ride is going to be probably a frustrating experience. And even though infrastructure improvements are planned and already under construction, with the BRT system being at the center of attention, it seems that the advertisement’s quote in the background “DREAM, FLY, SAVE” is the ‘only’ solution!’ – Asimina Paraskevopoulou

    View images from the DPU Student Photography Project on Flickr or read more on the DPU website.


    DPU60 Day 3 – resources, justice, intersectionality and learning in urban development

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 4 July 2014

    DPU60 Conference Participants at the British Medical Association in London - over 200 people attended the conference in total

    DPU60 Conference Participants at the British Medical Association in London – over 200 people attended the conference in total

    The third and final day of the DPU60 conference offered up plenty of food for thought through discussions on environmental management in cities, intersectionality and identity and learning and knowledge production in planning. This was then supported by a fantastic summary of many of the key arguments heard over the three days by Caren Levy in the closing session. We conclude the conference with many many thoughts to reflect upon into the future both as individuals and as a collective.

    John Twigg speaker at Session 6: Re-imagining socio-environmental trajectories of change

    John Twigg speaker at Session 6: Re-imagining socio-environmental trajectories of change

    Re-imagining socio-environmental trajectories of change: Radical practices and approaches to environmental planning and governance

    Environmental issues had been mentioned in the previous two days, but not discussed explicitly. Day three of the conference tackled some of these matters in great detail. Mark Swilling got things going by asking ‘what are the resource requirements of urbanisation?’ If 52% of the built environment thought to be needed by 2050 has yet to be created, what does this mean for the way we resource our cities? One approach might be to minimise damage through technological and smart-city approaches, but Mark advocated a more systematic reconstitution of human-environment relations and the web of life. Lyla Mehta focused her presentation on the urban periphery. She sees this as a particularly charged space into which cities are expanding but where services, rights and citizenship are not always well defined. We therefore arrive at a state where distinctions could be made between the political society and civil society as this ‘unequal citizenship’ forces many urban inhabitants to opt-out of the formal system.

    The focus of John Twigg’s talk was on whether Disaster Risk Reduction, which itself emerged from the margins to the mainstream within a decade, might now be becoming unfashionable as the present discourse has become dominated by the concept of resilience. This is seen as providing a more holistic understanding of vulnerability reduction, but he wonders if this shift in emphasis is an academic or discursive shift, and if DRR might still have a lasting impact in guiding policy and practice. In her comments, discussant Adriana Allen remarked on the gap between environmental theory and thinking on environmental planning and management. She asked do cities exist outside of nature? And therefore what role is there for planning, encouraging us to think towards how planning can be reimagined around a more radical stance. Yet what kind of barriers do environmentally pragmatic approaches, adopted in many policies, pose to this?

    Session 7 was on Gender, intersectionality and socially just futures

    Session 7 was on Gender, intersectionality and socially just futures

    Gender, intersectionality and socially just futures: Planning in an era of social polarisation

    A stimulating session began with Sarah White’s presentation on how intersectionality can inform wellbeing. She discussed both the different and common challenges facing these discourses and suggested that in both cases the ‘real world’ focus is appealing, but as such there are challenges in articulating this complexity in practice. Gautam Bhan delivered a personal account thinking about queer politics and inclusive planning drawing on his experiences in India. He described how he couldn’t imagine the sorts of solidarities we have today back in 2001, but warned that a city that cannot make space for difference cannot effectively accommodate the diversity of its urban citizens.

    Julian Walker went specifically into political representation at the local level, using the example of neighbourhood planning associations in Kisumu, Kenya. These associations ensure representatives are from a number of categories, but he suggested that such labelling can reinforce stigma, also questioning who is absent in such formations. He observed that methodologies, such as the DPU’s Gender in Policy and Planning approach, do exist to better integrate diversity into planning conversations. Maxine Molyneux, the discussant, identified working through intersectionality to bring about justice and recognition as a common theme among the speakers and discussed asked how we might go about incorporating our learning from practice back into theory.

    A series of interviews with former DPU staff were screened throughout the event.

    A series of interviews with former DPU staff were screened throughout the event.

    Positioning planning learning in an urbanizing world: The challenge of practitioner formation and the co-production of knowledge

    An overarching theme of the session was that learning happen in a number of different places and ways: the classroom, the studio, the community, and the personal and lived experiences embodied within each of us. Vanessa Watson presented the thinking behind a planning programme between the Association of African Planning Schools and Slum/Shack Dwellers International. The studios attempt to break down some of the perceived deficiencies in African planning education, which is too focused on teaching students how to work within national planning legislations. They therefore open up planners to different ways of thinking through the co-production of knowledge with SDI affiliate organisations. Vanessa sees the emphasis of this knowledge co-production as being on building relationships, empowering local groups and mutual learning by doing.

    Jo Beall looked at the relationships between cities and higher education institutions. In setting herself the question ‘why are universities important to cities?’ she offered up the contributions to culture and society, and to regional knowledge economies among her responses. But reversing the question, to ask ‘why are cities important to universities?’ created different reflections. Specifically she suggested that these city-university relationships are stronger in the global south, whereas evidence shows that higher education in the north has a greater focus on working towards national economic growth.

    Bisha Sanyal introduced us to the SPURS programme in MIT, which is a one year non-degree programme aimed at mid-career professional from emerging economies. He reflected that many ‘difficult conversations’ between participants from different geographies happen in such programmes as a means of understanding difference, and broadening our own horizons.

    Discussant Alexandre Frediani raised several key points: in practice we see a pedagogy of contestation, not of negotiation in many contexts, and we need to consider the role of universities in engaging with this. How do we manage our public engagement as academic research, especially when it encounters these dynamics? He praised the studios approach, but questioned whether its time-bound nature constituted a weakness as students’ engagement is very brief. A lot of the impacts of such interventions depend on the end product and the types of processes that these pedagogical approaches are embedded within.

    Session 7 provoked a lively discussion on intersectionality

    Session 7 provoked a lively discussion on intersectionality


    Caren Levy took on the enormous task of summarising the main talking points of the conference, which she delivered eloquently and comprehensively. She emphasised among many things that dialogue is important and events like this are fantastic opportunities in bringing together a community of practitioners – but that we also need advocacy. Alan Penn and Julio Davila closed the session.

    The summaries in these blog posts provide only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the discussions that have taken place – podcasts from each of the sessions will be made available via our website later in the summer.

    Visit our website for the latest news about the DPU and outputs from the DPU60 Conference.



    DPU60 Day 2 – Informality, contestation, pragmatism and the urban imperative.

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 3 July 2014

    The DPU welcomed Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat, and Micahel Arthur, UCL Provost to a session that also featured DPU Visiting Professor David Satterthwaite. The session was chaired by Julio D. Davila.

    The DPU welcomed Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat, and Micahel Arthur, UCL Provost to a session that also featured DPU Visiting Professor David Satterthwaite. The session was chaired by Julio D. Davila.

    Day two of the conference provoked a series of interesting talking points, among which were: informality as a way of contesting the city; calls for counter-narratives to prevalent practices in urban design; the need to separate a one-project approach from a more integrated and systematic approach to city planning; the differential merits of applying overly pragmatic approaches to planning and urban development discourses; and why we need to think of cities as urban planners and not simply as as development experts if we are to enact real change at the local level beyond the SDGs in 2015.

    Today's sessions saw lively discussions and audience participation throughout

    Today’s sessions saw lively discussions and audience participation throughout

    Approaches to urban equality and informality in the cities of the global south

    The opening session of day two focused on issues of urban equality and informality in the global south. With a focus on different regions, speakers discussed urban circumstances in Egypt, India and Ecuador. An overarching theme of the session was in reconstituting the relationship between people and the city in different ways. This was reflected in Omar Nagati’s talk which discussed the changing nature of the public spaces appropriated by street vendors, and how activists have contested and reoccupied certain parts of the city in Cairo.

    Sheela Patel particularly talked about informality and how to incorporate exiting ‘informal’ practices into formal regulatory frameworks. Emphasising the importance of a strategic approach to planning that addresses long term goals, not by simply resolving immediate concerns in a step-by-step process, Diego Carrion talked us through several infrastructure projects at different scales in Quite, Ecuador. Discussant Pushpa Arabindoo stressed the importance of forging better links between pedagogy and practice especially when theorising an understanding of informality – something very central to the vision of the DPU.

    The DPU60 Reflections Working Paper series was launched to coincide with the conference. These papers have been written by former DPU staff and can be download from our website.

    The DPU60 Reflections Working Paper series was launched to coincide with the conference. These papers have been written by former DPU staff and can be download from our website.

    Participation and contested practices in urban design and planning: Rights, needs and urban imaginaries

    A fascinating discussion about urban design followed in Session 3 that ranged from very grounded case studies to more theoretical articulations of urban design as a disciplinary practice. Soomsook Boonyabacha advocated people-led development solutions at the city-wide scale as an alternative to simply isolated urban projects. She drew on her experience with ACHR and CODI to suggest how this could be done, but she sees a need for new financial mechanisms to support these alternatives. Focusing on a specific city case study, Jane Weru presented the challenges faced by many urban dwellers in Kenya in fighting against land speculation and the dominance of wealthy landholders, but also the inflexibility of the statutory legal system.

    ‘Practicing Dissensus’ was the title of Camillo Boano’s presentation. He spoke of the need to rediscover the potential of urban design, which has been ‘capitulated to the developer’ in many circumstances. Jane Rendell, the discussant for the session echoed Camillo’s calls for subversive urban practices and counter-narratives, where dialogue at these points of disagreement can foster productive outcomes. The plenary discussion continued to unpack these issues, and particularly ‘unlearning’ as a means of breaking away from the dominant discourses that define the boundaries that need to be crossed.

    An exhibition of work from currently DPU PhD students is on display throughout the event.

    An exhibition of work from currently DPU PhD students is on display throughout the event.

    Forging New Relationships in Governance and Planning: State, Market and Society in a Post-Economic Crisis World

    A common theme from speakers in Session 4 was that urban projects cannot be thought of one by one, but must be packaged or conceived in relation to one-another. Antonio Estache opened the session with an analysis of lessons from Public Private Partnerships. With infrastructure demands still huge and urbanisation rates higher than they were 25 years ago, he suggested that PPPs have not done as well as many expected, and that greater realism is required in fitting PPPs in with urban strategies. Peter Brand drew comparisons between Bogota and Medellin, contrasting Bogota as a socially just and multicultural city, versus Medellin as a spectacle city – a government export project. The critique of Medellin suggested that as such it shows off poverty, rather than necessarily addressing it in a holistic way. He finished by asking if, as planners, we standing on the glossy surface of capitalism, or the foundations of ethical and social concerns.

    Lawrie Robertson presented the challenge of the ‘strategic planning equation’: meeting the rising social aspirations of urban residents. He sees three present themes in urban development, from the perspective of city managers: to ‘grow faster’ in order to remain internationally competitive; to ‘spend now’ through the involvement of private sector in development; and ‘localise’ through the decentralisation of responsibilities. He finished with a call for us to seek out pragmatic and effective solutions, which echoed the other speakers. This was picked up by discussant Mike Raco, who sees the term as devoid of substance as it claims to remove ideology and politics from the equation. He went on to question where social movements and the democratic voice fit into this call for pragmatism in urban governance, asking ‘do you have to be a technical expert to be political?’

    Somsook Boonyabancha speaks in the second session of the day, on Scaling up demand-led housing processes: The challenges of institutionalising city-wide development

    Somsook Boonyabancha speaks in the second session of the day.

    Urban Development and Development Assistance

    In the final presentation of the day Dr Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat, looked ahead to Habitat III. He identifies the event as coming at a critical time: post-SDGs; responding to the latest conversations on climate change; and to the continuing challenges posed by urbanisation. It will therefore be the role of the Habitat conference to discuss how to incorporate this broader thinking in cities at the local level. Part of the agenda is UN Habitat’s proposal for National Urban Policies and related Local Urban Policies.

    David Satterthwaite followed, asking how can we make aid work better for the poor? He bemoaned the fact that fewer international agencies and development banks have urban sections than 30 or 40 years ago, in spite of the widely understood importance of combating urban poverty. If ‘the urban’ features prominently on the post-2015 agenda, he sees this as representing a sea change. This would have important knock on effects for local governance working with urban poor groups in the co-production of knowledge and service delivery in support of better city planning. He stressed that at present this remains an ‘if’.

    David Satterthwaite addressing the audience

    David Satterthwaite addressing the audience

    The discussion continues tomorrow!

    For bios of all of the speakers taking part in the conference, please visit:

    You can read more about the conference via our website

    DPU60 Day 1 – A Future for Development Planning: Thinking Across Boundaries

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 3 July 2014

    The DPU60 Conference kicked up in front of an expectant audience

    The DPU60 Conference kicked off in front of an expectant audience

    The DPU’s 60th Anniversary has begun! The conversation quickly got going yesterday evening, laying down some of the key challenges we are going to confront over the next two days in thinking about, and across boundaries in development planning.

    Professor Julio D. Davila, Director of the DPU, introduced the conference and chaired the session. He laid the gauntlet down to the conference participants by discussing Otto Koenigsberger and Patrick’s Wakely’s comments on ‘the job’ of the DPU and development practitioners. ‘The job’ is never complete, it simply changes, and therefore elaborating the different and changing boundaries we face in the present and future is paramount.

    Julio D Davila, Director of the DPU, opens the conference

    Professor Julio D Davila, Director of the DPU, opens the conference

    This first session featured speakers coming from the very different geographies of Asian, Africa and Latin America.

    Aromar Revi (Indian Institute of Human Settlements) reflected on the challenges of urbanisation in Asian cities, and particularly his recent visits to China. He concluded by presenting his thoughts on the development of the Sustainable Development Goals. These include the importance of seeing the intrinsic links between the rural and the urban but appreciating that an urban goal is absolutely necessary. He questioned why there are not separate infrastructure or industrialisation goals, and some of the tensions between universal and local indicators. The latter is an important consideration in light of ‘global planning’ and the local impacts of such decisions.

    Conference registration

    Over 200 people have registered to attend the DPU60 conference

    In his presentation on the ‘mosaic of urban planning’ in Tanzania, Wilbard Kombe (Ardhi University, Tanzania) dug into some of the reasons behind this fragmentation. He pointed out how Asian countries appear to show a correlation between urbanisation and economic growth, but that this is not true for Africa. In examining the drivers of these mosaics he focused on governance and regulation – one of the most salient point being that urban development and planning is simply not a local governance priority in many contexts, as he called for a new paradigm for planning in African cities.

    Participants received the booklet 'DPU's First 60 Years: A Short History' in their welcome packs. The booklet will be made available online later in the year

    Participants received the booklet ‘DPU’s First 60 Years: A Short History’ in their welcome packs. The booklet will be made available online later in the year

    The final presentation, by Enrique Ortiz (National School of Architecture, Mexico), observed a trend of citizens without cities, with reference to self-enclosure away from the city through gated communities; and cities without citizens – the millions of informal urban dwellers without rights. His concerns are that prevailing models of urban development see change as dangerous and maintaining the status quo as conducive to opportunity, whereas the reverse must be understood as the way forward. This led into a discussion on the right to the city as a fundamental human right and a normative framework for assessing this vision of a just city.

    Contributors to the first session and panel discussion were (from left to right): Wilbard Kombe, Aromar Revi, Sue Parnell and Enrique Ortiz, with Chair Julio D Davila

    Contributors to the first session and panel discussion were (from left to right): Wilbard Kombe, Aromar Revi, Sue Parnell and Enrique Ortiz, with Chair Julio D Davila

    Tying up some of the key issues raised, Sue Parnell (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, SA) brought our present imperative into sharp focus. We stand at a vital moment in discussing the future of cities and of planning, and this conference marks another step in invoking a process of intellectual leadership to confront ‘the urban challenge’.

    The importance of ‘place’ – An exploration with 16-18 year old students

    By Kamna Patel, on 22 May 2014

    Blog Authors: Liza Griffin and Kamna Patel

    The place in question is Kilburn in northwest London, and it’s a place that means a great deal to both of us. At different moments in our lives, Kilburn has been a place that we have called ‘home’. The ways in which we both interact with Kilburn are strongly influenced by the kinds of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and bars found there, the desirability and affordability of property, and rents which enable our network of friends and relatives to live in and around Kilburn, and the density of transport linkages that allow easy movement in, out and through the area. In all these influences we experience processes of globalisation and urbanisation at work. This idea was first discussed by geographer, Doreen Massey in her seminal paper on ‘a global sense of place’ (1991). This paper countered dominant narratives of globalisation which were around at the time, explaining that globalisation was not some disembodied juggernaut homogenising space as it spread across the globe, but a process actively made in real places and often via the agency of ‘local’ people in urban regions. Massey’s frame of reference in this important work was the Kilburn High Road.

    Students from St. Augustine’s High School, Kilburn

    Students from St. Augustine’s High School, Kilburn, who participated in the workshop.
    Photo: Liza Griffin.

    Kilburn, thought of as a place created by and simultaneously creating globalisation and urbanisation, contextualises and informs our relationship to place. Reflecting on this spurred us to think about how the processes of globalisation and urbanisation that create contemporary Kilburn are understood through other sets of eyes and how place is made through other bodies. Looking at literature on place-making and urban transformation in London we can see really thoughtful class-based and even race-based analyses (e.g. Butler and Hamnett, 2011), but what struck us was a consistently overlooked demographic: young people. We wanted to understand how young people in Kilburn made sense of the globalising and urbanising processes that were going on around them.

    On March 17-18 we held a two day workshop with 20 A-level students from St. Augustine’s High School, Kilburn; the workshop was titled ‘Exploring Urbanisation and Globalisation in Place: A study of Kilburn’ supported by UCL’s widening participation scheme. Over the two sessions we worked with the students to examine these related concepts not only as abstract ideas, but also as very real processes that affect and help to create places. We looked at how Kilburn has become urbanised over time and how it not only reflects globalisation, but also helps to reproduce it. We encouraged the students to think about how they are not simply the passive consumers of ‘global culture’ but how they are active participants in the time-space compression of the globe through their activity on social media or in sending remunerations to relatives abroad. We explored how global commodities for sale on the Kilburn High Road were packaged to appeal to local idiosyncrasies. We examined the ways that local and global are enmeshed at the city scale. And we asked the students to reflect upon the divergent interpretations of these important words, global and local, which feature in their A Level textbooks, asking what purpose difference definitions might serve and for whom.

    At the end of the workshop students were asked to identify and evaluate urbanisation and globalisation in relation to their locale: that is, amidst lively discussion, students explained that they discerned the effects of globalisation in their own school: the ethnic make-up of classmates had changed dramatically over their years there, reflecting changes to residential demographics in the area and affecting friendship groups. Residential spaces were also dramatically changing with the construction of new estates targeting middle income earners lured by the appeal of living in zone 2 London. St. Augustine’s student Eden Steenkamp thoughtfully reflected upon how Kilburn’s growing appeal has increased land prices in the region and that this “was a worry”.

    Eden’s thoughtful assessment of London’s property market is matched by her reflection on how contemporary processes of urbanisation and gentrification in Kilburn affect everyday life and behaviour. She writes, “If people look different, then they are treated differently… For instance you either eat in a boutique café to show how sophisticated you are or at one of the many Chicken Cottages, like the average Londoner”. Eden sees herself as an “average Londoner” and through her eyes and body we are afforded an insight into how she understands and makes sense of Kilburn and her relationship to that place. And through her engagement in the workshop she was able to connect up some of the academic narratives of uneven development we discussed in class with examples of real injustice she saw around her.

    For us, the themes of place and positionality underlie the workshop. It was insightful to explore the perspectives of these young people on how they make meaning and create place, and to contrast those views with our own relationships to that same place. It raises a broader and interesting question that carries through to our own research: does place matter in research? That is, what does it mean if researchers are personally vested in a place that is also the subject of their research? And does it matter if they are not? Can we meaningfully conduct nuanced social science in places that we do not have some lived experience of? Sadly we do not have answers, but through our engagement with these bright and brilliant young people we have a deeper understanding of the importance of the question.

    The workshop was organised and run by Kamna Patel, Co-director of the MSc Development Administration and Planning, and Liza Griffin, Co-director of the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL.

    • Butler, T. and Hamnett, C (2011) Ethnicity, Class and Aspiration: Understanding London’s New East End, Bristol: Policy Press
    • Massey, D (1991) A Global Sense of Place. Marxism Today 38.

    The old settler, the newcomer, the tourist, and the corrupt

    By Adriana E Allen, on 7 May 2014

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    Back in the early 1990s, the first settlements on the slopes were formed through collective occupations (or invasiones in Spanish), followed over the years by further waves of occupation further up the hills. Such invasiones are in fact the main mechanism by which the collectives of the poor have accessed land in Lima for many decades. At points in history this process was not only tolerated by the state but even encouraged and supported through what is known as the planned occupations that built most of the areas occupied nowadays by the popular sectors of the population. However, unlike the earlier collective occupations, the periphery of Lima is currently expanding through a complex web of practices that constantly reconfigure the actual border of the city. Some of these practices are still driven through collective organisation as a means to reclaim the right to the city, others through what is often locally described as ‘informal speculation’.

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    During one of the field visits, one of the first settlers in the area explains who is driving the occupation of the slopes, how and why.

    “This area is the outcome of four groups: the old settler, the newcomer, the tourist and the corrupt. The former are people like me… those who came to the area almost two decades ago in search of a place to live. The newcomers are those in need who keep on coming to the area because they have no alternative options elsewhere in the city. The tourists are people from the lower part of San Juan de Lurigancho and other parts of metropolitan Lima, who come to see how things go, hoping to grab a piece of land which could be turned into a plot either for their children, or to be sold to others. They come and go, and often give up before their dream materialises, this is why we call them the tourists.”

    Last but not least, the ‘corrupt’ describes the land traffickers, those who speculate at scale, opening roads and carving the hills in search of profits through practices that range from negotiation with existing settlers all the way to intimidation and coercion.

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    Photo by Adriana Allen

    These four groups – the old settler, the newcomer, the tourist and the corrupt – operate in the same territory but with very different rationales, motives and expectations. While some are just deploying individual and collective coping practices to claim a place within the city, others deploy different forms of speculation ranging from the individual expectation of capturing a small surplus by carving further plots on the slopes, to that driven by organised networks of land traffickers driving the expansion of the city in the interstices of the legal and the illegal, the formal and the informal. These practices are however often homogeneised from the outside, feeding into narratives that render the current occupation of the slopes as a form of illegal informality.

    Both the groups working in Jose Carlos Mariátegui and Huaycán set up to explore the different processes that drive the urbanisation of the slopes, an understanding that holds crucial clues to seek transformative strategies capable of addressing the production and reproduction of socio-environmental injustices.

    Multiple Dimensions of Risk in Lima

    By Christopher Yap, on 4 May 2014

    Every year students from MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the Development Planning Unit embark on a fieldtrip to a country in the global South. Supported by prior research, the fieldwork synthesises hands-on experience with the skills, concepts, and theories of environmental justice for development.

    This year the research aims to understand the relations between water, risk and urban development in Lima, Peru, and how environmental injustices are produced and can be addressed, by exploring scenarios and strategies embedded in the wider socio-political, economic and ecological processes, with the potential for transformative change.

    Four case studies: Cantagallo, Barrios Altos, Jose Carlos Mariátegui and Huaycán were chosen with our local partners and offer unique readings of Lima.

    The first days of fieldwork have started to reveal the complex structural conditions producing and reproducing social-spatial inequalities and precarious living conditions for citizens of Barrios Altos and Cantagallo in the centre of Lima.

    A vacant plot in Cantagallo where the former residents accepted LAMSAC's offer of money to vacate the site immediately (c) Chris Yap

    A vacant plot in Cantagallo where the former residents accepted LAMSAC’s offer of money to vacate the site immediately (c) Chris Yap

    In Cantagallo, multiple groups, such as the indigenous Shipibo community, live in a high density settlement, directly on top of a former city dump-site. The entire district is marked for regeneration, and the community is engaged in long negotiations with the municipal authorities over their relocation. However the private company, LAMSAC, working in partnership with the municipality to manage the infrastructure megaproject, Via Parque Rimac, is also offering money to families to vacate their plots immediately. Some members of the community have already left their improvised properties, which were immediately demolished and the plots fenced off, to prevent others from taking their place.

    For every family that vacates their plot during talks with the municipal authorities, the negotiating position of the remaining families is weakened. Those families that remain face a multitude of socio-environmental risks; unhygienic living conditions and tenure insecurity the most apparent.

    In Barrios Altos, only a few hundred metres away from Cantagallo, residents face a different set of challenges and risks. The historic centre of Lima is characterised by its grand, dilapidated buildings. The current residents of the quintas - colonial-era buildings - some of which have lived in the area for generations and others that are new to the district, face daily risks from unstable, unsafe structures, land trafficking and forced displacement.


    Buildings at risk of collapse in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

    Buildings at risk of collapse in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

    The central location and cultural significance of the district and the quintas has attracted multiple actors with competing intentions for the area’s regeneration. Private sector developers and municipal agencies, such as ProLima, are being pushed to find new solutions for urban regeneration.

    The displacement or relocation of residents from the grand buildings is followed by the barricading of the room or building, just as the vacant plots are fenced off across the river in Cantagallo.

    A bricked-up former residence in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

    A bricked-up former residence in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

    Meanwhile, many local private developers are building illegally, without permits, behind the UNESCO-protected facades of the quintas. But whilst the municipal authorities are aware of the problem, they lack the capacity to prevent the developments.

    Of greater concern are the cases where private developers have forcibly evicted tenants, or cut water pipes to hasten the collapse of the already fragile buildings in order to acquire the land for development.

    The complex reality generated by multiple actors with different interests, capacities, resources and priorities, and multi dimensional realities of risk, are manifested differently in each of the two sites, yet the residents face comparable challenges. Over the next two weeks, students will explore the nature of risk in each of the sites, and the strategies that residents and other stakeholders are adopting to challenge inequitable urban development.

    A quinta where the water pipes were illegally cut, forcing the residents to leave and causing the structure to collapse. (c)  Chris Yap

    A quinta where the water pipes were illegally cut, forcing the residents to leave and causing the structure to collapse. (c) Chris Yap

    Fire in Valparaiso: It’s no coincidence that the poor were the worst affected

    By Maria Ossul Vermehren, on 24 April 2014

    Valparaiso Fires. Image: Reuters

    Valparaiso Fires. Image: Reuters

    A few days ago, Chile’s port city of Valparaiso witnessed one of the worst fires of their history. It began in a forest close to one of the hilltop communities, and was spread by a lethal combination of strong winds, flammable housing materials and the particular topography of the city (consisting of hills and valleys).  It has been declared a disaster zone and according to the authorities 2,900 homes have been destroyed and 11,000 people have been evacuated.

    Immediately, eyes were drawn to the hills of the city – not to the touristic colourful houses that saw declared Valparaiso as heritage site by UNESCO on 2003 – but towards the grey invisible houses further up, those of the thousands families that live in informal settlements. Until recently, the high proportion of informal settlements in the city was unknown; Valparaiso has the second highest informal population of any city in the country [1]. This phenomenon has been named the ‘silent land invasion’ [2] due to its scarce visibility and relative low level of confrontation with political authority. Furthermore and unlike many other parts of the country, the inhabitants would like to stay put. This mainly relates to an opposition to the current housing policy that encourages relocation because of a history of land appropriation and informal building of houses in the hills.

    Location of Valparaiso and the informal settlements

    Location of Valparaiso and the informal settlements

    Zone of the fire showing the informal settlements affected (in red) by Ivan Poduje

    Zone of the fire showing the informal settlements affected (in red) by Ivan Poduje

    In the last few days, the main debate in the press has been about who was responsible for the fire (something that incidentally, has been a common problem in the history of the city). Emergency experts have pointed to the informal settlements; located in so-called ‘dangerous places’, blocking and polluting the hills and whose structural materials encouraged the spread of the fire. On a similar note, numerous articles and opinions have been written on how authorities have permitted irresponsible city planning , allowing ‘anyone’ to build ‘wherever’ they want to. Following the discussions, it seems hard to think that,given a viable alternative, someone would choose to live in a place with difficult mobility, scarce water and sewage, and high exposure to environmental risk.

    In a system where the poor are omitted from the decision making process and access to social rights are regulated largely by market values, it is evident that their ability to choose is constrained by a lack of economic resources and social exclusion. Furthermore, recent research on risk and vulnerability (both physical and social) state that natural disasters do not have an equal impact on the population, but affecting who are more vulnerable to a greater degree – a vulnerability that in turn is exacerbated by socio-economic conditions. This is evidenced by the high environmental risk in informal settlements in Chile; at least 2 out 3 are located in lands that present risk [3]. In the case of Valparaiso, they are located in areas with steep gradients, which are exposed to potential hazards such as landslides, floods and fire. Thus, the ‘option’ to live in the hills is double-sided in terms of vulnerability; on the one hand it allows to access jobs and services provided by the city,  but on the other it constitues severe physical risk.

    The aftermath of the fire. Image: 24 Horas

    The aftermath of the fire. Image: 24 Horas

    In summary, the fires of Valparaiso show – once more – why it is not a coincidence that the people most affected by the fire are always the same.  Hopefully, this will allow us to reflect upon the real choices that the urban poor have in terms of places to live and access to opportunities. This can therefore be better taken into account in the reconstruction proccess and not used as an excuse to segregate them even more. When a television interviewer asked one resident why she lived in the hills, her response was simple, ‘The poor can’t choose where we live’.

    [1] Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, 2013, Social Map of Informal Settlements.Serie VII Política Habitacional y Planificación: Santiago.

    [2] Vildósola (2011) Revistra Kutral UVM: Viña del Mar.

    [3] Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, 2013, Social Map of Informal Settlements.Serie VII Política Habitacional y Planificación: Santiago.

    View a video by Skyfilms, showing the areas affected by the fire


    Ignacia Ossul –

    PhD candidate DPU

    Former Director at TECHO in Valparaiso

    Highlights from WUF7 Day 1

    By Alexandre Apsan Frediani, on 8 April 2014

    Habitat International Coalition general assembly

    Monday April 7th was my first day at the 7th UN-Habitat World Urban Forum in Medellin. This is quite a special edition of WUF, as it is building up to the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III. But instead of heading to the conference centre, I ended up going to the Habitat International Coalition general assembly at the department of Architecture of the National University of Colombia. And it was totally worth it!

    The day started with reporting by representatives from representatives from different regions and working groups updating HIC members and participants of the various activities of the network. This included the launch of the impressive book called ‘La vivienda, entre el derecho y la mercancia: las formas de propiedad en América Latina’ (, which reflects on the model of housing production of Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mutua (FUCVAM) and its applicability in other Latin American countries.

    Then the various activities that HIC will take part inside and outside the World Urban Forum were introduced. The event closed with a discussion of future projects and alliances, which turned into a really interesting debate on the ‘social production of habitat’ and the need to continue documenting and learning from the activities of HIC members in this field.

    Habitat International Coalition general assembly, WUF7

    Apart from great discussions, HIC also produced a powerful document on its expectations of Habitat III. Among other things, the document highlights that ‘urbanization is not inevitable’, calling for ‘equitable, ethical and people-centered development planning’ which supports for ‘social production of habitat’ and recognizes the ‘social function of property, prioritizing commons and collective goods over private interests’. These are crucial issues to bring to the discussions around the Habitat III agenda, which show a clear and constructive mode of engagement of HIC in this process (some of these points are articulated in the following statement at the HIC website:

    Some of the other DPU highlight of this first day of WUF includes the televised one-hour panel discussion in which Julio Davila shared the floor with Architect Martín Pérez and scholar Fernando Viviescas.  They discussed the principles of a sustainable and equitable city using examples from Medellin, Singapore, Bangalore, Accra and Nairobi. The panel will be aired at Canal UNE you tube channel: