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    Street Messages and Creative Placemaking

    By Claire Tunnacliffe, on 17 November 2015

    “Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage”

    Robert MacFarlane, a Road of One’s Own

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London


    In July 2015, I received a grant from the Academy of Urbanism to explore street messages and creative placemaking within rapidly changing urban spaces. Broadly, my research has explored the encounter with artistic interventions within the urban environment and how they interact with our everyday lives. Within this project more specifically I wanted to go to the encounter of urban street art in four neighbourhoods of London which were all going through processes of change: Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch. This sought to do three things:


    1. Collect images to refer back to and see if themes would become apparent,
    2. Create a working definition of creative place making in terms of street art, and,
    3. Understand where street art fits into narratives of rapidly changing spaces.


    What is urban street art and/or street messages?

    I was about half way through the project that I stopped referring to the art I was encountering in the street as urban street art, but as street messages. I was rather confusingly for others, and myself, either interchangeably using the words or just saying street messages.

    Street art is, basically, art in the street.

    But, the reason why I decide to move away from calling it street art is because it did not encompass everything I began to encounter in the street. I wanted it to include, yes, what we understand as street art, but also graffiti (from the italian graffiare, to scratch), tagging (writing one’s name or symbol), feel good stuff, retorts, hactivism (to distort the original meaning of something, like road signs, to create new meaning), calligraffiti, portrait pieces, community murals, inspirational quotes, etc.

    I’m personally, drawn to seeking out what seems to be the more impulsive act of grabbing a pen or a spray can and writing on the walls or surfaces. It comes from an individualistic desire but connects to others because it comes from a personal place, connecting empathically.

    I guess the difference I am trying to make here is that there were some encounters with street art or street messages that can be immediately understood. You do not have to go away and do some research to understand what that particular piece is trying to do, and you do not need to be in the street art or graffiti world to understand it. I understand it because the message is clear, and I connect to it as a person.

    Providing context to the images changes how we engage with it, and therefore how we respond to it. This came up during various points of the project. Because the project was taking place in the street and at the point of encounter with urban street art, I could not assume that people who pass by it go or would go home to research. I wanted to understand their view of the art as they saw and understood it in the very real here and now.


    What about the process?

    Walking & Filming

    Over the months of July & August I set out on a series of walks with different people. I don’t know how you experience the city, but I’ve walked a lot across it. Walking is something that I think in a place like London that is so busy and stressful and where we all lead these very full lives, slowing down is not something that comes quite as naturally anymore. So part of what I wanted to do to understand different areas was to go out there and get a bit – well – lost. And it was in that process of unknowing, the destination, the people we would meet, the conversations that we would have, without having an agenda, which proved to be very exciting. By slowing down, we were able to tap into the pulse of the place, and at the same time open ourselves up to encounter.

    During the course of the project I was lucky to meet Jayni Gudka, a filmmaker who wanted to do a short film around the experience of the project. Creating a film was never something I thought of doing, but is a really lovely way to showcase what and how the project was undertaken.


    Neighbourhoods & Talking to People.

    London is a constantly changing city, but Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch were interesting in the way street art was framed in each context – part of it’s identity, sometimes to raise awareness, part of regeneration projects, and sometimes to argue the appropriation and use of space. When I was doing my background research on the areas, all had the word gentrification as part of their descriptions, and I wanted to explore how street art and messages fit within those processes.

    It was during these walks that I had young urbanists, urban planners, academics, artists, photographers, a filmmaker, strangers, coerced friends, an accountant, an art psychotherapist, a wide range of people that responded to the call out for walkers. I was never lonely on my walks. This response I think is indicative of how many people connected to the project aims.

    Photography & Mapping.

    I wanted to incorporate an element of mapping into the process. While walking in an area, I would take pictures and locate these images onto a map. By creating a virtual map that could be referred to, I wanted to see what themes would immediately jump out.

    There were several problematics with this though. Firstly, I realised that I was taking pictures very much from my lived experience, what was making ME stop and making ME think and making ME want to take a picture – it could have been a different interpretation by someone else. Lesson learnt, I need to involve more people at this stage. Secondly, these pictures are not exhaustive and I have simply taken into account a tiny percentage of what’s out there.


    As the walks came to a close and I now wanted to understand the outcomes of it, I organised a workshop to answer some of the aims I had initially set out with. It was also really important involve others in this process, as I wanted to dilute my interpretation of things from my own experience – and a wide range of people were invited to take part. As a group we set about figuring out themes. This involved using the same map you can see over there, and placing images that were taken on the walks around it. By first separating them into neighbourhoods, and then into categories, themes began to emerge.


    What happened?

    Over the course of the walks, and during a workshop that took place back in September, themes started to become apparent. Such as:

    1.     Against the system/Critiques of Technology.
    2.     Instructions & Street Philosophy.
    3.     Aesthetic – images that possibly needed more of a context and background to them to undertand.
    4.     Animals/Nature.
    5.     Gentrification.
    6.     Love.

    But what do these themes mean in the context of these neighbourhoods?



    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London


    Brixton is a bustling area, a transportation and market hub. It’s very diverse. It’s also rapidly changing. Earlier this year, network rail began evicting some 30 local independent businesses from within the arches running along Atlantic Road and Station Road, some of which have been in the area for around 40 years. Together with the market, they constitute what is largely considered the heart of Brixton.

    The Save the Arches petition began as a response to that, and part of it was also a movement started by local street artist PINS. Initially contacted by a local business to paint their shutters in response to the eviction, PINS then contacted some of his artist friends, spoke to other businesses, and organised more shutters to be painted, helping to raise awareness of the situation. This image is now iconic of the struggle happening in Brixton.

    Walking around Brixton was a lot of fun and we met and spoke to many people. The importance of community – through the Save Brixton Arches Campaign shutters, but also to the responses around them – the writings I miss my Brixton, F*%& your new flats, and others – were indicative of feelings around the changes taking place in the area.

    We met Phil, Amara & Aleksi from Small World Urbanism, an organisation that uses gardening and art with a community focus. On the day we were walking they were painting bees and planting on beehive place – this small oasis of plants and animals in an urban environment felt like a haven, particularly against the new Brixton Pop structure. Lining the walls were also portraits by James Pearson, an Australian artist who had done the portraits of characters of this particular stretch. We met a few of them, particularly John who spent a long time telling us about growing up in Brixton, the businesses lining the road. There was a great energy about the place, people stopping and chatting and adding their own thoughts to the changes in Brixton.


    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

    I don’t really know Peckham. Before the walks, I’d been there once or twice over the last couple of years. Coming out of the station, you’re fed out of small tunnels and into a bustling high street of stalls piled high with yam and cassava, fishmongers and butchers, and music blasting in the street. Peckham is one of the most diverse communities in London, which also plays home to many of its best art schools. It is an area that’s undergone changes in the last few years, with the influx of cafes, wine bars, niche shops and artists studios. One of my favourite pieces that we came across during those walks was a David de Brito (São Paolo) painting that originally read “I love Peckham” and where someone had come by and written over it – I hate the new Peckham.

    Just off Rye Lane, walking past vegetable stalls, you come into a parking area with lots of cars, a restaurant, and a lot of graffiti, tags and street art. We also spoke to a man in his fifty’s sitting on a chair. I asked him about the street art and graffiti. He says he started it all. One day a girl came and did it, took a couple of pictures, but the next day he got there and someone had written all over it. He rang her up and she said that was just the way of the street – open to response, to be defaced, to be altered to be hated or loved. I think this touches on how street art, graffiti occupies such a different space in our visual culture. With advertising we aren’t allowed to respond, if we do it is vandalism, but with street art and messages you can. It becomes a really fluid space for dialogue, even if it’s just to swear.



    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London


    Brockley was an interesting walk as it was so different from Brixton & Peckham. It didn’t have the same activity, hustle and bustle, there were less people milling around, it had a much more suburban feel to it. As an area it deserved more walks at various times during the week. It didn’t quite work as a space to just go and see what happens.

    Here, the walks actually followed the Brockley Street Art Festival that took place earlier in the summer. These paintings are legal, having sought the OK of the local council to paint on walls and hoardings. The catalyst for the festival was actually because just outside Brockley Station a Bob Marley Mural was removed to build new flats. The community was upset as it had been around for forty years. So, it set out to recreate it and then some.

    The festival itself aimed to improve the appearance of the Brockley Corridor and its surrounding neighbourhood through a showcase of murals by local, national, and international artists. I was personally really interested in some writing on hoardings, actually on the outside of this new building going up which has three white women shopping for cacti (who knew it was a thing?) and someone has taken a pen and responded with “the mortgages are like so affordable” but also “Brockley is on the down turn, like the rest of UK”.

    I did speak to a few people, and everyone found them quite beautiful. But it remained at that. So, Brockley primarily seemed more aesthetic in its use of street art, but also had some retort in the form of these scribblings on hoardings. I left feeling like Brockley was at the beginning of certain change.


    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

    Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

    Shoreditch needs no introduction. Because it’s such a vibrant space for street art, I initially didn’t want to go there as I thought that whatever ‘messages’ I was hoping for wouldn’t be there – too consumeristic, I thought. Intrinsically, this is the space that revealed the most pieces against the system. During the final walk in Shoreditch, the term “post-gentrification” was used, and it came up again in the workshop. Though there are several problematics with using phrases like this, I believe it helped to understand that a change has occurred so fundamentally that it now did not look like anything it once was.

    As the last area to go walking in, it was easier to look back on the four neighbourhoods as different moments in a process of change. The themes revealed a narrative around changing spaces, and in Brockley-Brixton-Peckham & Shoreditch street art becomes embroiled in processes of change.

    The other neighbourhoods seemed to fit into different stages of change with Brixton, Peckham, Brockley and Shoreditch all sitting on some spectrum of change, and with urban street art framing some of the narratives of that change. I think something to tease out of this project is to focus more on what those phases would be.

    What is Creative Placemaking?

    I became aware that I hadn’t really given a definition of what this means. That’s predominantly because throughout the project, I’ve been trying to define it. I obviously had some notions of what it did mean to me, but again in the same way with just going for a walk, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t try to shove my preconceived idea of what it had to mean without interacting with it in the first place.

    It was during the workshop that we began deconstruct and then reconstruct each word. What this meant was that when we recombined them they revealed new understandings. So for example, creative place making also became: innovative environment building, or; chance transcient curating, or; ephemeral attachment consciousness.

    In a nutshell, this is what Creative Placemaking has come to mean to me: the act of creating something that connects you to a physical space for a moment. In that moment, that space is yours and forms your identity.

    Is there a single definition? Absolutely not. I believe that Creative Placemaking can be very different things depending on intent of the maker – Indeed, I would argue that creative place making can only be experienced by the maker. Is it a working definition? Yes. Creative place making, is also not a process with an end point, but the constant transforming, defining and re-defining, and curating of public spaces. Street art and street messages exist in an interesting space. By straddling legal and illegal divides, by being driven by different needs – community, individualistic, ego, aesthetic – it is a very active process.

    Finally, I believe that street art creates narratives, allowing us to understand changing spaces. In order to understand a community, we should look at its walls.



    Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development Alumni. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture exploring street messages in West African urbanism. However, her interests are interdisciplinary; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. Her project Street Messages & Creative Place Making was funded by the Academy of Urbanism Young Urbanist Small Grants Scheme.


    Business-civic leadership’s urban social responsibility

    By Naji P Makarem, on 29 October 2015

    Mainstream economics attributes economic performance to factor endowments; the characteristics of a national or regional economy expected to impact future output growth and wages. These can be understood as Lego pieces of various colours and shapes needed to produce lucrative products and services. According to this view of the world, the Lego set endowed to cities determines economic performance: Yellow blocks of human capital might be limited to lower educated two-pronged blocks in one region, and higher-educated 5-pronged blocks in another (usually proxied as educational attainment), can explain past or determine future growth and incomes. Factor endowments typically used in growth regressions include population size, the cost of housing, ethnic composition, the industrial structure (often proxied by the share of manufacturing and FIRE industries – Finance, Insurance & Real-estate), innovation (often proxied by patents per capita) and of course educational attainment. Carefully designed econometric models can explain and predict economic outcomes fairly well, given initial factor endowments. They only do so however ‘on average’, evident by persistently high residuals and numerous outliers.

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    There are two problems with this approach: First, regions and countries can change the composition of their Lego sets through unpredictable governance mechanisms that create characteristics which the market fails to create, such as by investing in education, infrastructure, changing migration policies and zoning laws. Second, there are much smaller Lego pieces excluded from the analysis, in the form of people, ideas, assets, experience, organisations and capabilities, which can be combined and recombined in a multitude of different ways. The industrial structure of two regions with seemingly comparable initial factor endowments at a given time can evolve and branch out into very different activities, despite initially comparable Lego sets. Their systems of governance can focus on different issues and tackle challenges very differently (as institutional economists and political scientists would argue), and they can combine and recombine smaller Lego pieces in very different ways. Both of these important dynamics are exogenous to econometric models, thus persistently large residuals and outliers in growth regressions.


    Our in-depth historical case studies of the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions expose the limitations of the growth accounting and other mainstream economic approaches to explaining economic development. We found that given two seemingly very similar Lego sets back in 1970, and you might be surprised by the incredible similarity on so many fronts, the two regions developed their so-called factor endowments and combined their people, ideas, assets organizations and capabilities very differently: The ability of their regional governance systems to respond to major regional challenges and opportunities, through cross-jurisdictional coordination, diverged significantly around 1950; the perceptions and world-views of their business and political leadership vis-à-vis their regional economy and its role in a globalizing world with serious environmental challenges differed starkly since at least as far back as the 1980s; differences in their corporate practices with regards to attitudes towards failure, entrepreneurship, spin-offs and out-sourcing were starkly different; their civil movements organized and responded very differently to social and environmental concerns throughout the 1900s; and their high-end corporate social structures diverged significantly between 1980 and 2010.

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    The Bay Area’s social, relational and political contexts created fertile-ground, as our co-author Taner Osman would put it, for break-through technological innovations, start-ups, spin-offs and initiatives by robust actors to flourish. We show that even though these were abundantly planted in both regions, they had greater regional spillovers in the Bay Area, giving rise to an eco-system of world-leading firms and clusters. In LA however comparable events had negligent spillovers beyond the boundaries of large and highly successful vertically-integrated corporations, or the confines of the Hollywood entertainment complex. The culture and relational structure of the San Francisco region, evident in its long civic and political history and in its recent high-end corporate social structure, allowed the region to develop its Lego pieces and to combine and re-combine its smaller Lego blocks in response to economic, technological and environmental challenges and opportunities. Through this recombinatory process the industrial structure developed new innovative firms, products and services in response to the changing economic reality, carving new lucrative industrial pathways for innovators, investors and entrepreneurs. It is through this process that the industrial structure of the Bay Area evolved, branching out into new unchartered and highly lucrative industrial terrains, producing tremendous high-waged employment in the region. As a result, the Bay Area ‘won’ the New Economy, whereas the LA region missed it, for now. This has had important implications to social mobility, personal incomes and public expenditures in the two regions.


    Back in 1970 a person with a job in LA would have earned a very similar wage to his or her comparable counterpart in the Bay Area (same level of education, recent immigrants or not, and in the same industry and occupation); today there is a staggering difference in their wages across all these comparable groups, with the average person in LA earning 30% less than in the Bay Area. And this was achieved with comparable levels of population growth, openness to immigration and levels of inequality. The Bay Area produced its Lego blocks and combined and recombined its smaller blocks better in response to the challenges and opportunities brought about by technological change, globalization and the emergent New Economy.


    How does all this apply to developing countries and cities? I propose the following transposition of ideas and insights from our study of the Bay Area and Los Angeles: Business-civic leadership can play an important role in both shaping the perceptions and world views of the broader business community (employees, entrepreneurs and investors), and in mobilizing public and private resources in response to economic challenges and opportunities. Their world views can either be narrow and conservative in nature, focusing on cutting costs by weakening labour rights, reducing taxes and diminishing social and environmental regulations, fearfully perceiving technological change and globalization as a threat, or they can be progressive, perceiving technological change, social and environmental regulation and globalization as an opportunity. Moreover, their regional perspectives can either be narrow in nature, focusing their attention on aspects of their cities that directly impact their business operations, such as access to land, services, connective infrastructure and red-tape, all very important albeit partial aspects of a functional business climate, or broader in nature, incorporating the entire urban system in which they operate, recognizing and valuing the potential gains from a functional agglomeration.

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    A functional agglomeration generates agglomeration economies which are the advantages firms and people gain from propinquity. These are namely the advantages of sharing infrastructure costs, the convenience and efficiency of geographically proximate suppliers and customers, the matching of jobs with specific skills and therefore the probability of finding the right job, and the learning from social interaction and people moving between firms. That is the economic rationale behind current high rates of urbanization – cities essentially reduce the transactions costs of all these activities. Business communities with strong and broad regional identities recognize and value the whole breadth of agglomeration economies which the city offers them, and the potential for unlocking its full agglomeration potential.


    Progressive business leaders are aware of their interdependence with the region, and therefore they have a broad perspective of the business climate, which includes secure tenancies and the cost of housing, the quality and accessibility of education, congestion and accessible public transport, access to quality healthcare, sanitation, education and social safety nets for all citizens. Together these determine the quality of human capital, people’s access to employment, the quality of social interaction and the propensity for entrepreneurship and innovation, all integral to a functional urban agglomeration. Business-civic leadership in the Bay Area, as reflected in reports by the Bay Area Council and the Association of Bay Area Governments amongst others, have been concerned with broader regional issues such as the cost of housing, the environment and public transit over the past few decades. Progressive business people understand that their community is highly interdependent with the functionality of their urban system, and they mobilize public and private resources in response to urban challenges, with the aim of unleashing the agglomeration economies which they and their children will benefit from.

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    Picture taken by Naji P. Makarem in Los Angeles

    Economics and society interact in important and meaningful ways. This offers hope to people in urban economies who might otherwise feel locked-in to a path-dependent low-road trajectory of high unemployment, low wages, poor governance and weak public finance. It also raises community and business leaders to a broader sphere of regional social responsibility. How they think, organize and lead in response to regional challenges and opportunities is important: Their world views, social relations, association and leadership can have a profound impact on regional governance and organizational cultures and practices. As Douglas North argues, “[t]he dominant beliefs, that is, of those political and economic entrepreneurs in a position to make policies, over time result in the accretion of an elaborate structure of institutions, both formal rules and informal norms, that together determine economic and political performance” (North, 2003-p. 6).


    The broadening of world views that transcend narrow conservative self-interest has long been the subject of intense research in the fields of psychology and philosophy (Wilber, 1996). Our world views, cultures, organizations (Laloux, 2015) and political and economic systems co-evolve towards greater levels of complexity, interdependence, creativity, compassion and shared-knowledge, and are doing so at a faster rate than at any other time in human history. Business communities have the power and responsibility to facilitate our journey towards more inclusive, just, wealthy and sustainable societies.






    Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker.
    North, D. C. (2003). Understanding the process of economic change. In Forum Series on the Role of Institutions in Promoting Economic Growth: Forum (Vol. 7).


    Wilber, K. (2007). A brief history of everything. Shambhala Publications.






    Academic debate on urban challenges and development – collaborative consumption

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 16 October 2015

    Recently I presented a paper on degrowth as a solution towards sustainability by stressing the need to shift from being owners to just consumers at the Regional International Geographic Union (IGU) event in Moscow last August’15[1]. IGU is one of the world’s oldest international researchers’ associations which organised its first International Geographical Congress in 1871 and in 1922 established the union. Today its members hail from over 90 countries, united in support of geographical research and education. The programme is rooted in principles of diversity and interdisciplinary exchange. At this year’s event, around 1700 participants from around the world gathered in the Soviet capital for lectures, discussions, workshops and excursions. This year, IGU Moscow 2015, focused mainly on the following five main themes: urban environment, polar studies, climate change, global conflicts, and regional sustainability.

    Moscow State University, 17th August 2015 – First day of the conference at Moscow

    Moscow State University, 17th August 2015 – First day of the conference at Moscow

    The five day conference hosted many parallel sessions which were interesting to me mainly because I myself come from an emerging but developing economy, which is India. Such discourses on urban challenges provides you with an opportunity to see different perspective in addressing common problems and helps you to assimilate learnings and apply them in your own context. I was selected for a poster presented under the theme – creating sustainability and I impressed on the need to change our consumption patterns in light of the stress the current growth has put on Earth and its finite resources. It is estimated that we are using up to 50% more natural resources that the earth can provide for, inferring that – at our current population, we need 1.5 Earths to meet our current demand.

    I drew the above painting titled - Romanticising Urbanism to question the idea of Growth itself which is primarily determined by the rate at which we consume.

    I drew the above painting titled – Romanticising Urbanism to question the idea of Growth itself which is primarily determined by the rate at which we consume.

    Degrowth as a Solution?

    During the club of Rome[2] meeting in 1970’s, many visionaries, environmentalists and governments across the world acknowledged that the business as usual approach has failed and we need a course correction. The idea of degrowth which came about the same time, is the intentional redirection of economies away from the perpetual pursuit of growth. To me it sounds, a little far fetched, is it even possible to ask the developed world to forcibly reduce its growth? Even though the critics of degrowth argue that slowing of economic growth would result in increased unemployment and increase poverty especially in the Global South, degrowth proponents advocate for a complete abandonment of the current (growth) economic system, suggesting that delocalising and abandoning the global economy in the developing countries would allow people of the South to become more self-sufficient and would end the over consumption and exploitation of Southern resources by the North.

    Whichever way the argument goes, if we look at some of the solutions it promoted, degrowth should not be confused with economic decline, rather the concept can be compared to a healthy diet. Irrespective of the income of a person the person’s diet should be such that it does not adversely harm him/her, I can only eat as much as I can digest and stay fit. But with respect to consumption of materialistic things in the world, we all are using more than we require to lead a happy satisfied life.

    The problem we face today may not have a simple solution but a combination of many solutions, which can help the world to move towards a sustainable being. Thus, today, the decisions makers and communities themselves have a vital role to play when adopting a particular approach to tackle developmental issues. One such approach is collaborative consumption, which works on an economic model of swapping and sharing. Collaborative consumption can also be defined as using the same resource repeatedly and collectively by closing the loop of the liner material economy.

    The illustration which I drew for the conference intends to promote collaborative consumption - a way of life based on sharing and renting.

    The illustration which I drew for the conference intends to promote collaborative consumption – a way of life based on sharing and renting.

    I briefly pondered the idea of Choice Editing which could be another means to achieve degrowth — editing peoples’ choices toward a certain lifestyle. One way to ascertain choice editing is through policies like taxes and provision of subsidies, the other could be led by the community, where a group of people form a nexus to not only consume together but restore resources together through water harvesting, through sharing (both knowledge and material), etc. The illustration below shows that all basic needs of each incomes groups are the same, the more we earn the more we add to our consumption of the lesser needed materials. If we club the common components of different income groups and follow the principle of equity where the higher earner pays more we could help ensure better security for the poorer section of the society.


    *The above diagram illustrates a situation where different service charges are taken from different income groups (mainly determined by their individual buying capacities) to bridge disparity and to meet basic needs. Promoting social inclusion by being co-consumers in using services like transportation, education, housing.

    What good are Global Debates?

    During the five day conference I kept asking myself, but why discuss these issues in a larger forum? What possible gain could it bring us? Can India, which has a situation unlike others with an entirely different cultural setting, adopt or mirror what the developed world is doing to address its urban challenges. One of the lecturers at IGU, Professor Benno Werlen (Germany), spoke about knowledge sharing to find feasible local solutions through global discourses. I liked the idea which he introduced by saying that global thinking and global action demand global understanding. Not 100% positive but I did leave with the impression that initiatives like International Geographical Union (IGU) aim to bridge the gap in awareness between local acts and global effects through research, education, and information.




    Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at IPE Global Limited. Her interest lies in urban planning; urban reforms, environmental management; climate change and its mitigation & adaptation; knowledge management.


    Impediments to Development: A Cursory View of Nigeria

    By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 14 October 2015

    What is development?

    Source: Sun.Star


    There is no universally accepted definition of development. Different definitions and measurements have been proffered over the decades. These range from the use of indicators of economic affluence, such as GDP and poverty line, to use of social variables encompassing rights, education, and freedom, such as the Human Development Index. Nonetheless, no matter the approach adopted, a generally consensus is that many countries in the developing world, including Nigeria, are at the lower end of the development trajectory.

    Why are developing countries not developing?

    Source: SMART Technologies


    “Corruption is one of the top three issues facing Nigeria, along with insecurity and unemployment. We must act to kill corruption or corruption will kill Nigeria”. [1]
    Many issues have been attributed for the slow pace or lack of development in developing countries such as Nigeria, with a lot of emphasis laid on corruption. This is buttressed in Nigeria by the fact that successive governments have prioritised tackling corruption. Corruption, especially in its endemic state, has a negative impact on development. Such negative impacts include negatively impacting on the business environment, a decrease in funds available for developmental projects, increasing cost and time of transacting private and public business, etc. Such impacts, which affect the day to day living of citizens, has resulted in a hegemonic narrative that if corruption could be tackled then Nigeria would be on the highway to development.[2]

    Hegemonic narrative overshadows other impediments to development.

    “The fight against corruption is a full time job that the Federal Government will carry with sustained resolve. I have always maintained zero tolerance for corruption. I am even more committed to fighting this number one enemy decisively because I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that the much needed impetus for our country’s survival is held back by corruption”. [3]
    This hegemonic view has resulted in the relegation of other substantive issues hindering development to the background. Furthermore, by focusing so much attention on tackling corruption, policy makers lose sight of the fact that corruption could be directly or indirectly tacked by focusing on other substantive issues. One such substantive issue that is not being given adequate attention in Nigeria is urban development planning and management.

    Urbanisation and development

    It is widely agreed that urbanisation is a necessary condition to achieve development beyond a modest level of income. This is because urban centres are important drivers of development and poverty reduction, as they concentrate much of the national economic activities, and provide crucial links with rural areas, between cities, and across international borders. According to the World Bank, more than 80 percent of global GDP are generated in cities. [4]

    Why are cities/urban centres critical to development?

    The answer can be seen in the fact that cities, right before the creation of nation states in the 16th century, have existed to perform crucial functions which allow development to flourish and these functions are still germane today. These include: presence of thick markets around multiple workplaces and division of labour; shared infrastructure and service providers resulting in the dynamics of backward and forward inter-linkage of firms in industrial systems; and the emergence of localised relational assets promoting learning from knowledge spill-overs and innovation effects. [5] These functions are enhanced as productive cities tend to have a high concentration of support services; from high end legal and accounting services, financial and management consulting, repair and logistics, advertising, to public services like education and policing.

    Nigeria’s experience

    Findings indicate that successive Nigerian governments have not come to terms with the critical roles of cities/urban centres. This is based on the fact that with the exception of Abuja and Lagos, urban governance structures are lacking or non-existence in Nigerian cities.[6] This is despite the fact that Nigeria’s urban population was estimated at 47% of her total population as at 2014 and it is predicted to rise to 67% by 2050.
    The above fact is further nuanced when the functions of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) saddled with urban development issues are examined, as well as, the coordination of urban issues amongst the national, state and local levels of government. Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for urban development initiatives at the federal level. At the state level, Ministries of Physical Planning and Urban Development exist in some state, although they may bear different nomenclature. While planning for local government areas are undertaking by state MDAs in most states in Nigeria.
    A deeper look at the activities of these MDAs reveals that while at the federal level the focus is geared towards housing related issues such as provision, state MDAs focus on physical planning, mainly designing of master plans and enforcement of planning laws and regulations, which many states see as a tool for revenue generation through development permit. Coordination of urban development issues amongst the national, state, and local levels of government can be said to be non-existence, despite provisions made to this regard in the 1992 Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law, decree No. 88 as amended in 1999.


    If the preceding facts are correlated with the conclusion arrived at by Cities Alliance that “no country has ever attained middle-incomes without urbanising, and none has reached high income without vibrant cities that are centers of innovation, entrepreneurship and culture”,[7] then the situation in Nigeria and other developing countries, where policy makers are yet to come to terms with the need to create structures and systems to effectively manage cities/urban centres, is a cause for concern. This is because when corruption is eventually tackled in these countries there will be a realisation that attaining development is still a mirage.


    1. A Statement by the President of Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari. Source Punch Newspaper
    2. Editor Punch Nigeria Limited, 2015. PUNCH. [Online]
    Available at:
    [Accessed 3 August 2015].
    3. Statement by the President of Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari at the US Institute for Peace on 22nd July 2015. Source: Punch Newspaper
    5. Miller, H., 2014. What are the features of urbanisation and cities that promote productivity, employment and salaries?. s.l.:EPS-PEAKS.
    6. Well-being and citizenship in urban Nigeria (2015) Forthcoming publication by Andrea Rigon et al.
    7. Knowledge platform: Urbanization.

    Tags: Development, Urban development planning and management, urbanisation, corruption, cities/urban centres


    Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.

    India’s tea capital can recover from devastating floods – if the government gets its act together

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 22 September 2015

    Heavy flooding has affected more than a million people in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, with 45 dead and more than 200,000 in relief camps. However, there is still very little coverage of the disaster in the international media – perhaps not surprising when you consider even most Indians aren’t paying attention.

    But they should – and so should you. The fact a region that is flooded regularly should be so unprepared for the latest downpour is scandalous, as is the short-sighted or uncaring government response.

    The floods have also affected local wildlife, with the Kaziranga National Park – home to two thirds of the world’s Indian rhinos – reporting the electrocution of elephants fleeing from the water, as well as the death of at least three rhinos.

    The floods come amid reports of increasing illegal immigration from Bangladesh and poor working conditions on local tea plantations, while armed conflicts between separatist groups and state security forces make the situation in the region even more unstable.

    Image 2

    Floods in Solmari in 2012 after the floods caused by embankment breach


    Perfect conditions for tea – and flooding

    Assam is best known for its black tea, which grows well in the hot, steamy Brahmaputra valley. While the monsoon may create perfect conditions for tea, it also means the region is highly susceptible to flooding.

    More than 40% of the region is at risk and severe floods occur every few years, eroding riverbanks and dumping large amounts of sand on farmland, often rendering lands infertile.

    For local communities, these floods have been disastrous and many are not receiving sufficient aid. For example my own research on recovery after major floods in 2012 found affected families who hadn’t received the promised compensation from the government, even two years on.

    Government initiatives to build new embankments have led to further distress. For example, new barriers constructed in 2012 displaced hundreds of families who found their resettled homes were now on the wrong side of the embankments. Compensation was poor, lower than market rates, while others received no support for resettlement due to identity and land ownership issues for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

    Some embankments built along the Brahmaputra in central Assam as an ad hoc response to the 2012 floods were so poorly constructed over natural drainage they actually failed to keep the river movements in check and increased erosion. The embankments simply breached in the following year’s monsoon. The subsequent relocations and distress were entirely preventable.

    The Brahmaputra has caused serious erosion for decades now, and yet the government response has been inefficient. Plans to tackle the problem remain confined only to paper.

    image 1

    The fixing of new embankment to prevent breach in 2013, in Morigaon. (which breached within a week after this image was shot


    The real cost for Assam’s communities

    The floods in Assam have taken a heavy toll on water, sanitation, health and education systems. Affected people flee their homes and create makeshift camps, where access to essential facilities is inadequate for the hundreds of thousands displaced.

    The quality and accessibility of drinking water in particular is severely affected, and people are depending on contaminated sources – even when they know it isn’t clean. Defecation in the open becomes dangerous, especially for women and adolescent girls, all the more so during floods and regular displacement.

    During floods the government turned some public schools into relief camps for a week or two. This of course affects the school term. Once the water recedes people start leaving the camps and are forced to fend for themselves. When they return to their villages they’ll be faced with destroyed homes, lost food grains and fields ruined by silt or sometimes even entirely lost to erosion.

    The road to recovery is hard to see, particularly as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil groups or NGOs.

    The floods also have an adverse affect on marginalised people, such as women, who bear the responsibilities of running households, childcare and rebuilding homes after floods. A 2013 study involving 900 households around Assam found that soil erosion, as a consequence of flooding, heavily affected the standard of living for farmers. This in turn forced women to leave the home and earn an income which resulted in girls dropping out of school to look after younger siblings and do the chores.

    India’s 2005 Disaster Management Act doesn’t recognise the chronic challenges of erosion as a natural disaster. The present development plans are short-sighted. They do not feature a long-term recovery, or take into consideration environmental factors.

    In the case of Assam, disaster resilience will only be possible through education and the participation of local communities and institutions. Something that needs to be done if the area is prone to flooding.

    Image 5

    Flood-affected families living in school complex during the floods, Solmari

    What can alternative technologies contribute to sustainable development?

    By Jorge Ortiz Moreno, on 6 August 2015

    A few weeks ago the NGO Shelter Global announced the winners of its first annual “Dencity Competition”, focused on fostering new ideas on how to better handle the growing density of unplanned settlements while spreading awareness about this global issue.

    The first-placed project, Urukundu: Slum Factory consists of the creation of a small community-managed construction materials factory for the physical improvement of an informal neighbourhood that is now being partially demolished and replaced by high-priced private housing. All in the name of “enhancing” the city image of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

    Among the main features of the project is its use of local materials, local technologies and local construction systems like rainwater harvesting, clay filters for water purification and biogas micro-production systems (biodigesters) in order to stimulate the future sustainable growth of the neighbourhood.














    Out of 300 entries from 50 different countries that sought to “rethink life in slums”, the winner represents a great example of how design can sustainably empower communities. However, what I want to point out here is the relevance of alternative technology to improving living conditions in informal settlements.

    Evidence from many regions of the Global South is showing that more and more successful initiatives are including the implementation of decentralized, locally-managed and sometimes labour-intensive technologies for infrastructure improvement and socioeconomic development.

    As well as the “Appropriate Technology” movement, popularized in 1973 by Ernst Friedrich Schumacher through his influential book “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”, Urukundu: Slum Factory is characterized by a strong “people-centred” approach.

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Many different conceptualizations have arisen around the alternative technology movement during the last 50 years. Recently, for example, the concept of “grassroots innovations” has been proposed for technologies that come from processes of innovation that are inclusive of local communities, in terms of the knowledge, processes and outcomes involved.

    There are strong research groups in the UK at Sussex University and University of East Anglia that are exploring the role of “grassroots innovations” on sustainability and social justice issues.

    Melissa Leach and her colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex suggest that ambitious Sustainable Development Goals are now required along with a major transformation in modes of innovation to meet them. In an article published in the Ecology and Society journal in 2012 they suggest the Appropriate Technology Demonstration and Training Centre (CEDECAP, is its acronym in Spanish) as an example of such “transformative innovation”.

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    This organization works with local communities in rural Peru to identify their priority uses for electricity and then to develop energy schemes that those communities control, run, and benefit from. Furthermore, CEDECAP develops, trains, and pilots alternative forms of renewable energy distribution, focusing on low-cost technologies with low environmental impact, and fostering local research and capacity.

    In Mexico, accompanied by a group of researchers, students and consultants from the Institute of Research on Ecosystems and Sustainability of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) I have been studying and working on another alternative technology approach called “ecotechnology.”

    This refers to technologies that promote a positive relationship between their users and the environment, and are linked to a specific socio-ecological context. In our recent book “Ecotechnology in Mexico”, we describe several initiatives that have been providing small-scale ecological alternatives to meet basic human needs such as sanitation, water, energy, housing and nourishment in rural and urban areas.

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    From experienced NGOs to recently launched social entrepreneurship initiatives, there are a wide range of actors that are innovating in order to to reach the poor and meet the needs that neither the private sector nor the governments have been able to.

    Some examples of this are the Patsari Project, a participatory and multi-institutional initiative that promotes a sustainable model of firewood consumption by distributing improved cook-stoves in rural areas, and the Isla Urbana Project, which aims to provide sustainable access to water by implementing low cost rainwater harvesting systems in the peri-urban interface of Mexico City and other isolated localities of the country.

    As it is illustrated by the examples given, alternative technologies are playing an important role on development and they should be kept in mind as a vehicle for community empowerment and sustainability in the Global South. A better integration of the research done is needed and, of course, more attention on the issue is fundamental.

    Jorge Ortiz Moreno is an independent consultant with experience in grassroots innovations, clean technologies and peri-urban dynamics. Nowadays he coordinates a program about “Clean technologies and sustainable development” at the Eco-technology Unit of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM). He graduated from the DPU’s Urban Development Planning MSc programme in 2014.
    Although most of his work has been done in Mexico, Jorge has participated in research projects about housing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Olympic Legacy in London, UK, and urban infrastructure in Medellin, Colombia. He is interested in how social entrepreneurship can foster well-being and environmental justice for the peri-urban poor and the role of grassroots innovations as tools for sustainable development in Latin America.

    Building Partnerships for South-South Cooperation

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 29 July 2015

    Considering the increased focus on South-South Cooperation development dialogue and India’s long standing presence in assisting development in various regions of the world, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is implementing a new model of cooperation support in India.

    DFID India’s Global and National Team (GNT) is at the centre of delivering the transition from an aid-based UK-India development relationship to a mutual partnership for global development, in line with the vision set out by the Former Secretary of State in his Emerging Powers speech at Chatham House in February 2012. Enhanced policy engagement with India on national and global issues through programmes like the Knowledge Partnership will be at the heart of this transition.

    The Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP) with which I am associated as a Senior Programme Manager from the last two and half years will be completing its pilot phase in June 2016.

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    IPE Global, where I work, is implementing the programme on behalf of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The programme aims to produce and disseminate high quality research and analysis products, share Indian and global evidence on policies that impact development outcomes and support advocacy towards strengthening policy design and implementation.

    To date we have promoted sharing of Indian evidence, best practices and expertise with Low Income Countries in order to facilitate evidence-gathering and uptake.

    Priority Areas

    Since its beginning, the programme has prioritised the following areas for engagement: (a) food security, resource scarcity and climate change; (b) trade and investment; (c) health and disease control; (d) women and girls; and (e) development effectiveness.

    The aim is to step up collaboration around ideas, knowledge, evidence, accountability, technology and innovation between UK, India and the developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. The work my team and I carry out, focuses on Indian policy and practice with the explicit intention of developing India-Global networks, strategies and sectors to promote knowledge exchange through south – south collaboration.

    Recently, we were able to facilitate a partnership between, Kudumbashree, a state led mission in India and Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs Ethiopia, on the theme – women economic empowerment.

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members - women construction workers

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members – women construction workers

    What can Self Help Groups contribute?

    Today, the MFIs in Ethiopia are motivated to extend the frontier of financial intermediation to those traditionally excluded from conventional financial markets, the Poor, and especially the poor women. At the same time, various studies point out that the Self Help Groups (SHGs) can act as a tool for advancement and empowerment of women in India.

    The microfinance movement through the SHG model in India has also been considered an effective development tool to enable women SHG members to graduate to microenterprises and in turn, to address poverty. The Indian experience of empowering marginalized women through formations of SHGs with institutional linkages and the growing demand for microfinance development in Ethiopia created an ideal situation for us, at the programme, to promote collaboration and cooperation between the two countries.

    In my opinion, this India-Ethiopia alliance on SHGs represents a success story of mutual cooperation between two nations. It reiterates the potential for knowledge based cooperation and collaboration between nations in the global south to set their agenda and achieve sustainable development.

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Progress towards SDG Goal 17

    As development processes become ever more complex, I see a growing demand for knowledge and analytical products that can provide evidence and learning for policy changes and reforms. Informing and influencing policies are hence critical aspects of inter­national development and I believe, together we can bring a change by focusing on advocacy along with service delivery.

    By adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals, countries are also committing towards achieving the Goal 17 – to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

    More specifically, countries will promote multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the SDGs. In addition, these collaborations will encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships.

    These two targets 17.16 and 17.17 are banking on the existing North-South cooperation and the emerging South-South, and triangular cooperation.

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    India’s role in the post-2015 development agenda

    In the post-2015 era, India plays a critical role in sharing learnings it has accumulated in the process of gradually upgrading from a low-income to a middle-income country. I hope partnerships based on knowledge will support effective and targeted capacity building in developing countries and help achieve common objectives.

    Through activities undertaken and studies supported by the programme, we hope to engage more with policymakers and key stakeholders. By providing informating their choices through evidence-based advice, we hope the effectively influence the policy environment and reforms in India.

    At the same time, we through the KPP are also aiming to strengthen India-UK partnership and significantly contribute to global development opportunities across the developing world.

    Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at a variety of organisations.

    At present she is working as a Senior Programme Manager for the DFID funded Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP), implemented by IPE Global. The programme has established more than 50 partnerships to date with a wide range of partners in a number of sectors, including IDS (Sussex), UNDP, FAO, and Governments of Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Malawi. For more information about the programme please visit

    One city, different realities: Infrastructure development and urban fragmentation in Nigeria

    By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 22 July 2015

    Osbourne Foreshore_wide

    Modernity meets Informality at the reclaimed portion of Osborne Foreshore

    Every day on my way to work, when I cross Third Mainland Bridge and look to my right, I see the type of planning portrayed by conventional wisdom as progressive, reformist and modernist in its contribution towards attaining societal goals. In Lagos this is manifested in the high rate of construction activities observable in Osborne Foreshore, Banana Island, and Lekki axis.

    These developments demand the reclamation of large expanse of land, raising environmental concerns. However, when on my way back home and on the other side of the bridge, I see ‘blighted areas‘ such as Makoko and Okobaba; [1] they remind me of what Oren Yiftachel referred to as the dark side of planning – where government actions or inaction leads to the marginalisation, oppression, and impoverishment of citizens.

    Bana & Osbourne

    Land reclamation at Banana Island (left) and Osborne Foreshore (right) as seen from Third Mainland Bridge

    The accumulation of wealth in places like Osborne Foreshore is in stark contrast to the endemic poverty prevalent in places like Makoko and Okobaba, hence resulting in a great divide. However, of greatest concern is the fact that government action and/or inaction is – whether knowingly or unknowingly – reinforcing, reproducing, deepening and institutionalising the divide.

    My concern is premised on the belief that the government’s infrastructural development drive, which places emphasis on road infrastructure, is based on the hegemonic assumption that all citizens, in spit of their of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, will benefit equally.

    An example is the 1.36 km cable-stayed Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge built at a cost of N29 billion of public funds (approx. £93 million/$145 million). Although lauded as a good initiative, more pertinent questions to me are, who are those benefiting from the presence of the bridge? Whose productivity, livelihood and wellbeing does it enhance? Whose position is it privileging?

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge_500

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge

    I would posit that the government is, whether by design or accident, indirectly subsidising the means through which the elite/property class can ensure their livelihood and wellbeing at the expense of the poor/non-property class. Especially when such interventions are substantiated with discriminatory and exclusionary acts such as not allowing commercial means of transportation – the main means of mobility for majority of Lagosians – to use the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge.

    Such practices have been revealed to be detrimental to sustainable development and akin to what David Harvey termed ‘the quiet redistributive mechanism’, which helps to maintain or widen the socio-economic gap.

    My thoughts therefore are: if government can subsidise the wellbeing of the elite/property class, why same cannot be done for the poor, marginalised and non-property class? A good opportunity for such was when residences of Makoko submitted a regeneration plan for their area, which was rejected by the government on the basis that the community did not have legal title to the occupied land. [2]

    I view this as a missed opportunity for local collaboration and partnership with these community-based organisations, especially those designated as ‘blighted areas.’ This could be used as the basis for developing an alternative model for urban development and slum/informal settlement upgrading in Lagos, hence setting a precedent which could have been gradually institutionalised through wider public learning.

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    This is given added significance in view of a statement by officials of the Lagos state government, in a 2008 Cities Alliance report, confirming the limited implementation, success and, sustainability ratings of the government’s approach towards slum upgrading.

    I am of the opinion that if the government really wants to promote sustainable and inclusive development, it needs to take deliberate actions to ensure the poor and marginalised are not excluded from accessing opportunities for wealth creation.

    Also of importance is seizing opportunities, such as the Makoko scenario, when they arise to expand the room for partnership and collaboration with poor and marginalised communities. This is because, as aptly pointed out by Agbola & Agunbiade, “marginal people are unlikely to have access to the resources that are required to overcome the restrictions imposed by marginal environments and thus enable them to live beyond the limits of subsistence”.

    I believe that if the government does not take deliberate steps to address the great divide we are currently seeing, it will result in the continuous fragmentation of Lagos along the lines of socio-economic conditions and levels of infrastructural development.


    [1] 42 ‘blighted areas’ were identified by UNDP in 1995 (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009).

    [2] This is not peculiar to this case but is a general issues with most slum/informal settlements (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009). For the experience of Ijora Badia another blighted community refer to The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC), 2013, If you love your life, move out! Forced eviction in Badia East, Lagos State, Nigeria, London: Amnesty International.

    Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.

    Cinema as a vehicle for social integration in the city

    By Marco Trombetta, on 17 July 2015

    Cinema is one of the least accessible forms of art. It demands a certain amount of financial investment into equipment for filming, lightning and sound, people like actors, assistants and editors – not to mention time. Nevertheless our digital world has opened new doors for visual storytelling through the democratisation and affordability of tools necessary for filmmaking [1].

    Inhabitants of excluded spaces – those living outside the ‘formal’ city – are able to use the tools of the digital age, from mobile phones and affordable recording equipment, to online platforms for funding and distributing films, to tell their own stories about the cities they live and experience. Informal settlements are part of the landscape in many cities in the Global South, where for some social exclusion, discrimination, drugs and violence are part of everyday life [2].


    Mainstream cinema has picked up these themes through films like El Elefante Blanco, Tropa de Elite and recently Trash. These films have been supported by formal studios and were able to find distribution channels into mainstream cinemas.

    However there are directors living in informal settlements who have created fictional depictions of life, while adopting a more realistic approach with its basis in the world within which they live. The interesting link lies more between the cinematic representations of the city than with the story. The mise-en-scène and the urban space not only imply a cinematic setting, but also indicate sociocultural context.

    The realistic mise-en-scène of these very low-budget films does not illustrate absolute authenticity but is rather the filmmaker’s articulation of their reality [3]. It is an invitation for the “outsiders” – people living in the formal sector – to understand where these dwellers live and what their perceptions of reality are.

    Image by Eflon via Flickr:

    These types of films – similar to post-war Italian neorealist cinema [4] – privilege shooting on location and adopt a style of cinematography visually similar to a documentary. The example of Cesar Gonzalez, an Argentine film director living in the informal settlement Carlos Gardel in Buenos Aires province, is relevant.

    His films are a testimony to the power of art as a tool for social recognition and integration. Cesar Gonzalez found a voice in cinema that he didn’t have before when he was involved with gangs and smugglers. He directed his first film Diagnóstico Esperanza in 2013 which was filmed with the local people from the informal settlement Carlos Gardel (the film is available to watch on YouTube).

    The film depicts life in a space within the city that has its own vocabulary, its own vision of the world, its own soul. As “outsiders” we walk in the streets of this unfamiliar world. His films progressed a wider social acknowledgement among intellectuals and movie critics of informal settlements not just being seen as excluded spaces, but also replete with excluded people.

    His latest film “What can a body endure?” (Qué puede un cuerpo?) was made possible by crowd-sourcing funds and then released online via Youtube. It has currently more than 200,000 views. His two films so far have gained critical praise and have been screened in a very prestigious local cinema in Buenos Aires [5]. The National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) is currently funding his third film.

    Cinema has been historically involved with political contexts, helping to contribute to a collective perception of reality, and reflecting the state of society at that time. As the example of Cesar Gonzalez has shown, not only can films become a vehicle for telling a story in an artistic way but also as a tool for social recognition and integration – breaking down some of the physical barriers that seem to divide the city.


    Marco Trombetta holds an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU. He was involved in local politics in Argentina, participating in several NGOs and international forums such as the G20. He has a passion for Cinema and he writes film reviews in his blog Red Curtain Cinema.

    Contradictions of urban mobility: riding a motorcycle in India

    By Daniel Oviedo Hernandez, on 14 July 2015

    The city of Ahmedabad is the seventh largest in India and an interesting case of rapid urban development and large investments on transport-related infrastructure. Policies implemented in the city in recent years aim to respond to challenges common to cities in the Global South, such as rapidly increasing populations, rising income and extensive private motoring.

    By 2011, nearly 120,000 of Ahmedabad’s 6.35 million inhabitants used the recently developed Bus Rapid Transit -BRT- system each day. Its name, Janmarg, translates as ‘The people’s way’. Due to my increasing interest in the development and performance of systems like this, and the common ground for comparison with the BRT of my home city Bogotá, in Colombia, I spent nearly four months in Ahmedabad.

    Ahmedabad 3_500

    My First Impressions

    It is commonly said that first impression last. As a transport planner, my first impression of the city was of a chaotic system governed by individual rather than collective goals for mobility.

    Therefore, the first thing that I asked myself when interacting with Ahmedabad’s traffic was: how does such a system work? My own experience later would show me how. Furthermore, my available travel choices led me to experiment first-hand with the local market and conditions for private two-wheel motoring.

    I became a transport planner driving a motorcycle in a city I had previously understood to be unable to organise its transport system and struggle at the hands of too many private vehicles. Despite my lack of familiarity with the city and its traffic rules and behaviour, the decision to drive myself became both a game changer and a moral and intellectual struggle for me.

    Urban mobility in Ahmedabad

    The streets of Ahmedabad present a very rich transport ‘ecosystem’. A large share of travel takes place through walking, cycling and public transport – formal and informal. The latter encompasses public and private bus operators, rail, auto-rickshaws and taxis.

    As with most cities in India, the increase in private motoring of two and four-wheel vehicles is palpable. Data from the last two decades shows per annum growth rates of 15% for two-wheelers and 10% for private vehicles. In large and medium-sized cities 40–50% of urban households own a two-wheeler [1].

    Recent initiatives attempt to palliate the effects of this traffic mix in regards to congestion and environmental pollution. These include converting the entire fleet of rickshaws to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), developing a BRT, and increasing road capacity. Nevertheless, demand for public transport and increases in private motoring look set to continue at steady rates.

    Ahmedabad 1_500

    The environment for travel choice in Ahmedabad partly explains such behaviour, particularly among medium and higher-income groups.

    1. There is a disconnection between bus services (both regular and BRT) between each other and with other forms of mobility.
    2. High temperatures incentivise motorised travel or at the very least act as a clear disincentive to walking and cycling.
    3. The infrastructure network gives priority to motor vehicles rather than pedestrian spaces (including sidewalks, overpasses and traffic lights), which indicates a system built primarily for private vehicles.

    Contradictions in Ahmedabad’s transport planning

    These seem to contradict some of the underlying objectives of other recent investments and the general discourse of sustainable transport. Short and medium-term investments, such as Ahmedabad’s BRT have taken precedence over shaping the long-term urban growth and achieving sustained ridership of the public transport system [2].

    This of course, places enormous strain on the city’s road network, leading to congestion, long travel times and pollution, particularly in peak traffic times. However, the general mobility in the city can be said to be quite dynamic during other hours.

    Short discussions I held with motorists revealed that in most cases people driving were willing to overlook these costs in exchange for the freedom of mobility, security and comfort that the vehicle provided, something to which I could agree with based on my own experience.

    Why do people drive themselves?

    One particular aspect stood out in some discussions: the social status associated with owning a vehicle. Here the private vehicle becomes another instrument for social differentiation.

    Not only there is an unequal distribution of resources and options for mobility, but travel choices themselves serve as a mechanism for stratifying society [3]. Motorists and non-motorists are perceived as somehow different social groups, and this in turn reinforces the choice of private vehicles over non-motorised and public transport.

    Despite awareness of the negative externalities of private motoring and the benefits of public and non-motorised transport from social, economic, and environmental perspectives, urban and transport professionals are not exempt of making choices in relation to their personal mobility.

    In fact, the practitioners, academics, students and planners in disciplines related to sustainable urban development that travel by private vehicles in India and many other cities in the global south can be surprisingly high. This is a contradiction, though not an uncommon one.

    Ahmedabad 2_500

    In light of such a reality the question arises: If people planning and researching urban transport make the choice of using private motoring, how can we expect to reduce usage of these transport modes amongst the general public? The answer is as much a matter of policy as it is of civic culture and collective action.

    What does this mean for integrated transport planning?

    A conflict seen consistently across cities in India, as in Ahmedabad, is a lack of traffic management and enforcement.

    There is a disconnection between policy objectives, which lead to large investments in infrastructure and modernisation of transport as an urban service on the one hand, and very limited actions taken in the daily operation to strengthen sustainable alternatives for making effective use of such infrastructure on the other.

    How should we address these contradictions? It is clear that for people with sufficient resources and choice private motoring will always be an attractive option, and it is their right to have it. The problem lies more on how to make use of available alternatives and how the system and the rest of society can contribute to a virtuous cycle rather than the current vicious one whereby more vehicles leads to more road investment and so to even more vehicles.

    Regulation and planning play a central role in enabling positive changes, as it has been shown in other developing cities in the past (examples include Curitiba, Bogotá, Buenos Aires) [4 & 5].

    However, the role of civil society in changing paradigms of travel choice is a must in order to achieve lasting transformations. If individual choice places personal benefit before costs for society, it is the role of both policy and citizens to increase awareness of these costs and empower people to adopt sustainable practices.

    The contradictions we face in similar situations can inform our understanding of our own and others’ behaviour, maybe shedding some light on how to strengthen our practice and attain lasting positive change.


    Useful References:

    1. Tiwari, Geetam. “Urban transport in Indian cities.” Urban Age (2007): 1-4.
    2. Cervero, Robert, and Danielle Dai. “BRT TOD: Leveraging transit oriented development with bus rapid transit investments.” Transport Policy 36 (2014): 127-138.
    3. Levy, Caren. “Travel choice reframed:“deep distribution” and gender in urban transport.” Environment and Urbanization (2013): 0956247813477810.
    4. Brand, Peter, and Julio D. Dávila. “Mobility innovation at the urban margins: Medellín’s Metrocables.” City 15.6 (2011): 647-661.
    5. Cervero, Robert B. “Linking urban transport and land use in developing countries.” Journal of Transport and Land Use 6.1 (2013): 7-24.

    Daniel Oviedo is a PhD candidate at the DPU where he is examining urban mobility in Colombian cities. Last year he spent around four months exploring the governance of Janmarg and its effects on the mobility of Ahmedabad as part of the UKNA (Urban Knowledge Network Asia) research exchange.