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    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:

    What do you get when you gather 2000 geographers?

    By Vicente A Sandoval Henriquez, on 27 September 2013

    The fourth EUGEO Congress took place in Rome, Italy, 5-7 September 2013, at the University of Rome La Sapienza and at the Società Geografica Italiana, where thousands of geographers and researchers from all different fields of study attended and participated in more than 500 presentations.

    Photo 05-09-2013 09 42 42

    When thinking of organising a mega-conference like this in a city like Rome one must deal with motivation. The event is competing against the Coliseo, the Vatican and more than 3000 years of vibrant history. How do you maintain the attention of 2000 geographers and attendees for 2 “cloistered” days ? Well, some keynote speeches kicked off the conference. The programme included keynote speakers such as James W. Scott, Ron Boschma, Anne Buttimer, Gyula Horvát, Vladimir Kolossov, Peter Mehlbye, Armando Montanari, Petros Petsimeris and Ad de Roo, among others. But also, other activities such as paper sessions, poster sessions, thematic panels, scientific and social events created very interesting spaces for discussions and knowledge dissemination.

    So, when bring 2000 geographers together, along with other researchers from related-fields, it is great to have a juicy programme that ignite intellectual discussion on matters highly relevant for all. Thus, macro topics such as capitalism and geography, borders and neoliberalism, and disaster and capitalism, were a very good beginning.

    Neoliberal borders for a neoliberal world

    James W. Scott, from the University of Eastern Finland presented in the session “Beyond ‘Fortress Europe’? Bordering and crossbordering processes along the European Union external frontiers”, critically discussing, for example, how EU borders have been affected and influenced by neoliberal forces creating something like a “neoliberal segregation”. The discussion turned to what defines a border as a “good” or “bad”, with further examples given; for instance, the case of US and Mexican border agencies working collaboratively. This sparked debates on borders as opportunities for cooperation, while also being protection from threats. One discussant described this phenomenon as the “permeability of frontiers”. Interestingly, a creative author proposed borders as interstitial spaces such as “Venn diagrams” where opposed forces share common interests and concerns.

    Another interesting discussion emerged in the session on free mobility, borders and neoliberalism. The contradictory idea that free market and free mobility of people – ideas from neoliberalism – are all about freedom and liberty but only possible inside a controlled space caught my attention. ‘Free mobility’ for insiders maybe, but ‘exclusionary borders’ for outsiders.

    When Capitalism Met Disaster


    I participated more actively in the session where Camillo Boano and I presented; “Multiple geographical perspectives on hazards and disasters”. In this session, we discussed single-scale studies on disaster risk and vulnerability –i.e. urban risk, physical vulnerability– by formulating the progression of vulnerability proposed in the Pressure and Release Model (PAR Model) as a multi-scalar phenomenon.

    We examined the case of Chaitén in order to explain how socio-economic and political processes nested at major geographical scales participate in the production of disaster risk and vulnerability at minor scales. This proposal and another presentation on L’Aquila earthquake in 2007 set the discussion on ‘disaster capitalism’. Most of the presenters acknowledged that disasters open windows of opportunity for structural transformations. Nobody disagreed with the potential transformative opportunity of disasters. Nevertheless, some of the case studies explored suggest that these windows of opportunity have been devised to systematically introduce more neoliberal reforms, such as in the cases of Sri Lanka in 2004 and Katrina 2005.

    While disasters have became more frequent and their impacts more severe, neoliberal reforms are aggressively expanding in an unprecedented manner. So, the combination – or the encounter, just like in the film “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)– of these processes is highly challenging for government and institutions, particularly for people in the global south. Naturally, we all agreed that more research and more intellectual endeavours are required to better understand the implications and potentials –negative or positive– of this new phase in disasters.

    Reflections on recent Centennial Congress of the International Federation of Housing and Planning (IFHP)

    By Jamie K Abbott, on 23 July 2013

    IFHP 2013 Cover of special edition of Arkitektur DK for the IFHP Centenary Congress 2013 in London

    The Centennial Congress of the International Federation of Housing and Planning (IFHP) recently brought together a stimulating and highly qualified crowd of international planners for a conversation closely aligned to the DPU’s focus on global urban growth. Yet, as DPU students might have come to expect, the messages the speakers presented were as diverse as their backgrounds and veered from the highly technical to the bluntly political and everything inbetween.

    The first to take the plenary podium was Mitchell Silver, Past President of the American Planning Association and Chief Planner, City of Raleigh, North Carolina. In a perhaps unlikely combination, Silver doubles up as an inspirational speaker. He called for us to ‘fall in love with planning again,’ thanked planners and asked us to find purpose, be proud of the planner’s role in and assert the planners role in ‘making a difference.’ Silver argued strongly for big ideas and courage in planning for new trends. His message was that we need to plan more for sustainability, for people and for people’s consumer preferences – and the key difference he highlighted is generational change. According to him, new approaches are needed to cater for increased mobility, urban living, quality transport, easy access to entertainment, shops and high quality public spaces.

    The suburban dream is becoming outdated, both for mobile young professionals and for aging baby boomers, increasingly isolated in car dependent suburbs as age curtails mobility. In Raleigh they are responding with a ‘new’ urbanism approach – increased density, transport orientated development (TOD) and investment with a nod to environmental consideration and equity. Another good news story: density = higher tax revenues. For all the big ideas and motivation here we might have been left wondering: where are the people in this? Even further, where are the politicians? Silver’s message was one of the planner as hero, empowering enlightened planners to help people, not the other way around – politicians were peripheral, people were objects to be planned for.

    Following Silver’s heavily planning orientated speech, six influential figures took to the stage, including Charles Landry, whose backgrounds and responsibilities stretched tensions between the technical and political planning to the limit. The discussion was unmistakably political, with only two ‘professional planners’ – one of them representing a multinational technology firm. Next, the event divided into sessions around themes. On the agenda were broad discussions around responding to urban growth, a case study of East London regeneration and the Olympics, smart cities, climate resilience and social justice.

    Cities are transfroming

    I followed the seminar track on the East London case study – the subject of my dissertation and one where planning and politics are tricky to unpick. This deprived area of London is the subject of unprecedented regeneration attempts linked to Olympic ‘legacies’ but while the legacy narrative is of social development, the investment model is dominated by massive real estate development, led by financial industries and a mega event. What would be the effect on the local populations? There were three comparable and sizable interventions to look at – all heralded as part of the solution to the ‘East End problem’. Jo Negrini, Newham’s Director of Strategic Regeneration proudly announced a deal with a Chinese financial conglomerate to redevelop the Royal Docks as a third financial centre for London. The Royal Docks are currently a bleak and windswept site, isolated from the rest of London by the river, major trunk roads (the A13) and sprawling estates of suburban council housing but they are seen as a strategic growth area by the council. It was too early for detailed questions, but the sales pitch was clear – new jobs and investment in an underutilised site.

    As the conference progressed, speakers included Eric Sorenson, former CEO of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), responsible for the Canary Wharf development and Paul Bricknell, head of planning for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). Sorenson was quick to admit that Canary Wharf remains starkly isolated from the surrounding communities and has done little to alleviate poverty and deprivation. This he said was down to physical barriers such as the (very same) A13 and a ‘needs based’ government housing policy that concentrates poverty. But would the Olympics and the Royal Docks go the same way: would economic and spatial improvements cater for the local populations or create new divisions? Bricknell, from the LLDC said no – local jobs and clear physical links are a key part of the Olympic plans; ‘Legacy’ is key. But can we really learn all the lessons of the past simply through ‘comprehensive strategic planning’? And what does ‘Legacy’ really mean?

    Mike Raco, a Planning Lecturer at UCL’s Bartlett remained dubious. In his summary of the two-day seminar session, Raco asked: “If we were serious about Legacy, why were £9 bn invested in mega sports stadiums in an area of deprivation when budgets are being cut for key services?”. He invited us to imagine a planning approach for people that invested £9 bn in nursing homes for the ageing population. It went unspoken but it appeared as if Raco’s question quietly asked whether a new financial hotspot is really what Newham needs.

    The conference ended as it had begun; highlighting generational change and calling the next generation of planners to step up, to use new approaches to bridge the tough social urban questions. Urbego, the new IFHP initiative for young ‘multi-disciplinary’ planners rejected the old ways but weren’t sure what to offer instead. We had to find something new, different, radical: something akin to the ‘Fosbury Flop’. So how could planning be re-imagined? Well, it seemed to depend on who you asked, but something that didn’t feature much – at least in the debates I attended – was planning with people (or by people) for people…..

    Jamie is currently a student of the MSc Urban Development Planning at the DPU

    The right to stay put: contesting housing policy for the poor in Chile

    By Maria Ossul Vermehren, on 11 July 2013

    This video is part of conversations with slum dwellers in the region of Valparaíso – located in the central coast of Chile- from January to April 2013.

    Almost one third of the slum dwellers in the country are located in this region.  This is the second most densely populated region and more than 90% live in urban areas. The squatter settlements have been part of the landscape of the city for years; they are located on the top of the hills without formal access to water, sewage and land tenure.

    Contesting the trend of the last 30 years in housing policy for the poor in Chile, the slum dwellers are fighting to stay put. The relocation as main strategy does not fit their aspirations as inhabitants of the city. In they express it, relocation would be far away from the centre of the city, in high-rise buildings and would mean to leave the place they have been living for years.

    Manuel Bustos, the biggest squatter settlement in Chile, is a key example. Although the need for better housing and access to services is evident, their claim is not only based on this need, but on their aspiration: to live the life they value. This means, to re-define the way in which the city is produced based on aspirations, expressed in this case, in people’s preference for slum upgrading rather than relocation, which also implies the cost of not receiving a permanent house from the state.

    Turner´s idea of housing as verb and the old debate of self-help vs. whole housing system play out in a new debate for housing policy in Chile. This case contests prominent ideas of housing such as housing as the main need for the urban poor, housing as an end and housing only as a house.  Manuel Bustos´s narratives tell a story of struggle and the need for recognition that is linked to a strong sense of place. Slum dwellers are pointing out that the house in itself might not be the final goal, yet the possibility to create and influence the development of their neighbourhood and the city are.

    Although slum upgrading is not part of the current housing policy, some pilot projects have been considered and Manuel Bustos is being evaluated. This video will be part of a series exploring housing aspirations in this context.

    Maria Ignacia is an Mphil/PhD candidate at the Development Planning Unit

    Megacities are bad for the developing world

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 5 July 2013

    This is an extract from the talk given to the finalists of Debating Matters, National Finals 2013 at UCL, London. Debating Matters is a competition for sixth form students, organized by the Institute of Ideas. For more information about Debating Matters, please see:

    Megacities may not be bad for the developing world in every sense. They concentrate population, resources and capital… they may support regional and national economies. However, I want to argue here that ‘Megacities are bad for the developing world’ in the sense that they constitute a threat to the dreams and aspirations of most urban citizens in the global south. In particular, I am worried about the extent to which megacities draw opportunities away from ordinary citizens and expose them to disproportionate risks.

    Megacity, Sao Paulo- Brazil

    When walking through tall cities of glass towers I do not experience the buzzing atmosphere that one would expect from the concentration of people. Think for example of walking in the city of London on a Sunday afternoon. These are empty, ghost landscapes- functional spaces where people do not live.

    In Shanghai, the expansion of the glass city, for example, is threatening the traditional alleys, called Longtangs. To understand life in a Longtang you have to imagine beautiful narrow streets full of activity, with vendors, workers wandering, children running, elderly playing board games and most of all, the symbolic hanging of the clothes to dry. When walking through Shanghai Longtangs I was mesmerized. But when one of the residents said that they were being evicted to make space for glass towers I was sad to imagine those beautiful places, created through centuries of interaction between human and their environment, displaced by empty, glass buildings, monuments to human egos, rather than to human kindness and civilization. This cannot in any sense be a model for our future cities.

    Communal Living, Longtang-Shanghai

    When cities are regarded only as giant reservoirs of labour, people suffer. This is because, although work is important in people’s lives, people do more than just working. They may be obliged to be in cities if work is there, but cities have to offer as well quality of life and services including access to resources such as water, sanitation and energy and access to education and health.

    UN-Habitat estimates that “over the past 10 years, the proportion of the urban population living in slums in the developing world has declined from 39 per cent in the year 2000 to an estimated 32 per cent in 2010”. They argue however that “the urban divide endures, because in absolute terms the numbers of slum dwellers have actually grown considerably, and will continue to rise in the near future.” UN-Habitat estimates that the world’s slum population is expected to reach 889 million by 2020. Even in mega-cities where the proportion of informal settlements has been reduced- especially in Asia- this has been done through evictions and relocations which destroy people’s lives and are hardly reflected in the official statistics.

    While the availability of capital may make it possible to complete big infrastructure projects, these projects are unlikely to benefit the majority of the urban population, least of all the urban poor. Take the express highway in Mumbai to check this. While the center of the city is difficult to navigate, because of the continuous flow of people on foot, bikes, motorbikes and other vehicles, this highway is empty. A toll fee becomes a means to prevent the large majority of the people in Mumbai from using the highway, thus giving the richer people the privilege of traveling in less time. Scholars have described this kind of process as a form of “splintering urbanism”. “Splintering urbanism” means that in large urban centers, specially megacities, infrastructure services concentrate in wealthy areas and move away from poorer ones, leading effectively to the fragmentation of service provision. This limits the access of the underprivileged and the working class to basic services. Infrastructure may even pass through the houses of the poor but they lack access to it

    The splintering of service provision is also related to resource scarcity. Megacities are often treated as isolated islands of prosperity. But the truth is that this prosperity depends on huge imbalances between the megacity and the broader regions that the city depends upon. These rural-urban imbalances draw giant flows of people and resources that may further impoverish rural areas. Moreover, megacities may export their residues they cannot deal with. In the past, these relationships have led to the vision of the city as parasitic. Cities are not parasitic, they are essential ways of organizing human life, reservoirs of creativity. But when massive growth- both of population and resources- is promoted at the expense of the larger regions where the city is located then there is a danger that this parasitic metaphor becomes real.

    Take for example how mega cities are encroaching in their immediate natural environment. I call this “the paradox of the eternal suburb”. On the one hand, middle class urbanites go to the periphery in search of more relaxed forms of life, idyllic dreams or ruralized living and greater contact with nature. On the other hand, this search leads them to destroy the very environment upon which the city depends. For example, there has been in recent years a proliferation of eco-cities in Bangalore, India. Most of them are being built at the urban fringe in gated communities, hosting quite wealthy sectors of the population. Under the premise of eco-cities and using green technologies such as wind energy and solar panels, they draw on the land and water resources that belong to the whole city. Worse enough they are threatening the wildlife landscapes that surrounded the city. When I talked to one of the developers on the construction site of an eco-city she told me that only a few weeks before, in the same spot where we were standing, she had seen a tiger. ‘We are so close to nature!’ she said. I asked her whether she was not worried that their projects were destroying the natural environments upon which these tigers depended. ‘If we were not building this, other would come and would do something worse’, she said. But, to what extents do tigers mind about solar panels or wind energy?

    Vincom Eco City

    Vincom Eco City

    All these issues become now magnified by climate change. The pressing nature of climate change highlights the importance of considering seriously how megacities concentrate risks. Not only populations in megacities are exposed to climate change, but also, its impacts affect mostly the urban poor. The urban poor are often settled in areas with the highest risks, whether this is in flood prone areas or in areas affected by other risks. When floods struck Florianopolis, Brazil, in November 2008, 84 people die and 54,000 were left homelessness. Most of these people had not choice but to live in dangerous slopes where their houses became engulfed by mudslides. The vulnerability of the urban poor to climate change also determines that their reduced capacity for response and after a disaster such as this, their only option may be to continue living under the shadow of risk or move to even more dangerous areas.

    Some have pointed out at megacities as providing solutions to mitigate climate change action. They claim that the key to reducing carbon emissions is achieving higher urban densities and promoting the concept of the compact city. But urban growth is highly heterogeneous. In most megacities, urban sprawl- rather than density- is the main feature. In megacities sprawl is only contained by the geography, such as it happens in Mumbai, where the impossibility of growing beyond the water has led to an increase in density at the expense of the cities mangroves- hence increasing the vulnerability of the city to climate change risks and natural disasters exponentially.

    What are the best means to achieve high density? People living in informal settlements have demonstrated how they can achieve high densities by occupying urban space, rather than just by growing up vertically. In other places, like in Spain, higher density is achieved by moderately tall constructions, because the habitability of the city. Rather than conjuring visions of megacities, these examples speak to balanced, diverse cities which acknowledge the location of cities within a rural-urban continuum and that provide space and opportunities for all urban dwellers to reach their aspirations.

    While high rise may have actually brought about higher densities in cities such as Hong Kong this has been at the expense of their vulnerability to climate change risks, especially heat waves. Moreover, the gains in reducing carbon emissions that follow high density may be small in comparison to the additional carbon emissions produced by the need to manage the emerging risks.

    Ultimately we have to ask: what is a megacity and why we need them? They may contribute to bring together a disproportionate share of capital and build labour reservoirs. In doing so, megacities represent nodes in global financial and knowledge flows, rather than places for ordinary people to live their lives.

    Vanesa is a lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit.

    What is going on in Brazil?

    By Alexandre Apsan Frediani, on 23 June 2013

    Together with my Brazilian friends and family living in London, we cannot stop following the posts, videos, tweets and news about what is going on in Brazil since the demonstrations in the streets of São Paulo on June the 6th and spreading to the main urban centres of the country. We cannot also help starting most conversations we have at the moment by commenting on the latest news. Even after spending hours talking and reading about it, it is still hard to answer the question: what is going on in Brazil? While hopeful and excited about the level of social mobilisation around equitable access to urban infrastructure and services, we are also extremely worried about the more recent turn of the events towards a conservative agenda.

    Picture 1: Demonstrations in London

    Source: Alex Frediani

    Source: Alex Frediani


    The Excitement

    Since the demonstrations that impeached the president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 we probably have not seen the public sphere so much dominated by political debates, rather than football or soap opera. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is having to position themselves in one way or another. This is also the result of a long-term mobilisation story around universal access to transport through free fares. After a series of decentralised actions (including the demonstrations in Salvador in 2003 in Florianopolis in 2004[1]), in the 2005 World Social Forum the Movimento Passe Livre, MPL (Free Fare – but also translated as Free Pass – Movement) was formed. A charter with basic principles was developed, which included independence, non-partisanship, horizontality and decision-by-consensus. National meetings were conducted to generate strategic plans. Local groups consolidated and political pressure was successfully exerted through studies and street demonstrations. During August and September of last year the MPL organised demonstrations in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), March this year the movement took thousands to the street of Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). Then in the beginning of this month, the movement responded to the plans of increasing the price of bus fare in São Paulo by organising the demonstrations on the 6th of June, which brought 5,000 people to the streets.

    For me, these activities provide examples of how social movements are contesting the commodification of city services. One of the major references of the movement is the engineer Lúcio Gregori (municipal secretary of transport of São Paulo between 1990-1992). Lúcio designed during his mandate the Project Free Fare, never implemented but which aimed at subsidising the cost of public transport through a reform of the progressive property tax. His argument is based on the idea that the high costs of the tariffs is prioritising the support towards automobile industry and bus companies over the movement towards sustainable and equitable cities.  By subsidising public transport and reducing tariffs, citizens would opt for collective transport services rather than individual cars, minimizing traffic and maintenance costs of roads. Importantly, Lúcio argues that financially the project free fare is viable, however it needs the political willingness that is not in place, hence the need for social mobilisation and pressure by civil society organisations.

    Picture 2: Illustration used by MPL

    Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source:

    Translation: A city only exists for those that can move through it. Source:


    However, since the initial stages, protests increased in amount of supporters but also concerns. Apart from transport tariffs, the various signs seen in the demonstrations have condemned a series of issues, including the costs caused by the forthcoming world cup[2], as well as the controversial constitutional amendment number 37, which would prohibit public agencies from carrying out criminal investigations. Such claims are important demands to keep Brazilian government under scrutiny and deepening public debates and democratic practices.

    Picture 3: Protests in London with demands beyond bus tariffs

    Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani

    Translation: Brazil, let’s wake up! A teacher is worth more than Neymar (Brazilian footballer). Source: Alex Frediani


    The Brazilian government responded to the voices of those in the street. In a televised announcement on the 21st of June, the president Dilma Rousseff called for meeting with activists, mayors and state governors to discuss about the demands of protesters. In particularly, urban mobility would be a major theme of deliberation. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo mayors also responded by scraping their plans to increase prices of bus tariffs in the short term

    The Worry

    Apart from those exciting citizenship claims through debates of transport and urban mobility, we have also seen a series of worrying elements that we perceive to be counter productive to such claims. Firstly ‘violence’ has been unfortunately dominating a lot of the discussions. Just after the first protests since the 6th of June, the major media corporations did not hesitate to focus their news around the violence generated by a few protesters, therefore criminalising the activities in the streets. In the meantime, on-line various videos were shared by protesters and journalists showing the outrageous reactions of the police force using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowds shouting: sem violencia – without violence. Videos also show police shooting people recording the events in the streets and in buildings.

    When the activities in the streets of the country started getting momentum, the position from the major media corporations, especially Globo, changed radically. From criminalising uprising, they started to provide ‘reasoned’ arguments, mostly associated to corruption of current government, to legitimize activities. Many comments on-line have accused such shift to demonstrate an opportunistic attitude of the right-wing/conservative elite in Brazil, tapping into and co-opting events, shifting the agenda from urban mobility towards a debate on corruption with the intention to destabilise the PT (workers party) government[3].

    Also worrying is how the mood of the crowd in the streets started to shift. As numbers increased and causes for mobilisation started to multiply, the national anthem has become a key shouting bringing protestors to a united voice. The article by journalists Camila Petroni and Debora Lessa of the journal Brasil de Fato[4] outline the dangers of the emergence of this problematic nationalistic mood, which often is associated to militarization and reminds us of worrying times of our history during the 60s and 70s military government. Therefore, many have argued that the demonstrations have become compromised, losing coherence, depth and clarity due to this attempt of the right to sabotage and co-opt activities. Others have argued that this is the nature of current uprisings: multiple, decentralised, unpredictable, difficult to explain as a whole, and evidence of a new form of networked society.

    However profoundly worrying has been the reaction in the streets of São Paulo in the celebration following the announcement of the mayor saying that the bus tariff would not go up. Those who went to celebrate using their party or organization’s banners and shirts (i.e. PSOL – Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Socialism and Freedom Party – that thas been involved with the MPL since its first steps) were kicked out from the marches. Protesters argued that they would not like such groups and organisations to profit from what has been the ‘people’s demonstration’[5]. This rejection to the role of such groups in the organisation, mobilisation and future dialogue with government officials is naïve and limits the potential of protests to move beyond an outburst of grievances and influence concrete policy and practices of governance. Furthermore, and even more worrying, those claiming to be of no-association and no-party have also been accused of belonging to organised right-wing and military groups[6].

    As a result of such recent events, the MPL has said that it would not be involved in the organisation of future demonstrations. Journalists and bloggers are calling protestors to localise their discussions. As it happened also in Spain, the call is to consolidate the debate and critical thinking in neighbourhoods and hubs of dialogue. The editorial piece of the magazine Forum (which was created during the World Social Forum of 2001 in Porto Alegre) asked activists to replace in the short-term demonstrations with meetings to deepen the debate, work out differences and share perspectives before going again to the streets[7].

    Next steps

    The above description is one of the many readings of the situation. It is quite surprising that the media in the UK is not engaging with such reading and has not been trying to capture complexities and the contradictions of the schizophrenic nature of the uprisings in Brazil. It is impossible to attempt to make any analysis of what could happen, but I see exciting and worrying scenarios: if the progressive activists move out from the demonstrations by prioritising localised discussions, the conflict in the streets might end up dominated by right-wing groups, with dangerous prospects of militarization and confrontation with the current government. But on the other hand the confrontations with fuzzy purposes might phase out with time, and what is going to be left are the seeds for a much more constructive and profound mode of civil engagement. What is going on in Brazil? I am not sure, but definitely it is uncertain, exciting and worrying all at the same time…

    Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a lecturer at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and co-director of Masters in Social Development Practice.

    [1] See documentary Impasse on-line about the movement in Florianopolis:

    [2] See videos that went viral on-line outlining the major arguments against the World Cup: ‘No, I am not going to the world cup’: and Brazilian ex-footballer and now politician Romario arguing that FIFA has established a estate within the Brazilian estate:


    [5] See post by a demonstrator that got kicked out from the celebrations:

    [6] See list disseminated through facebook:


    Participatory Action Upgrading and Well-Being in Kisumu, Kenya

    By Stephanie Butcher, on 22 June 2013

    From February – June 2013, the MSc Social Development Practice (SDP) partnered with the international NGO Practical Action to pursue an ‘action-learning’ project entitled “Participatory Informal Settlement Upgrading and Well-Being”, focusing on the city of Kisumu, Kenya. The research process consisted of three months of desktop research and policy analysis in London, and two and a half weeks of primary field research in Kisumu in late April. In Kisumu, SDP students were joined by colleagues from Maseno University and the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, to collaboratively undertake the fieldwork research.

    The Participatory Informal Settlement Upgrading and Well-Being partnership opened in early February 2013, when fourteen SDP masters students were introduced to the project. Students were asked to examine four different water and sanitation interventions within three unplanned settlements in Kisumu. Three of the projects were implemented with the support of Practical Action as a part of their People’s Plans into Practice (PPP) programme—a participatory planning initiative that works through the local Neighborhood Planning Associations to identify and address settlement upgrading priorities.  The final project was implemented under the Kenyan Government’s Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan (LASDAP), a participatory planning process with devolved funding, chosen to serve as a point of comparison with the NGO models.

    Each selected case represented a different model of service delivery, including a waste pickers social enterprise, a water spring / eco-sanitation toilet community facility, a water kiosk run through the delegated management model, and the LASDAP community toilet run as a pro-poor public-private partnership. The focus of the action-learning platform was two-fold. Students were firstly asked to assess the well-being impacts of their particular model of service delivery, exploring dimensions including dignity, health, empowerment, security, recognition, accessibility, and equity in relation to diverse identities within the settlements. Secondly, students were asked to explore the wider institutional environment and urban context in which the models were embedded, to comment upon the potential for scaling up and sustaining the positive participatory processes underlying each model.


    This SDP collaboration with Practical Action emerged out of the mutual interest in exploring ‘human well-being’ as the objective of development. For Practical Action, this is reflected in their new vision that examines the concept of ‘technology justice’ through the lens of well-being. This recently established narrative seeks to elucidate the linkages between the material impacts of Practical Action’s small-scale technologies and ‘relational well-being’, which refers to people’s abilities to participate in decision-making that affects their lives. Drawing from Sen’s (1989) Capability Approach, for the SDP team this offered a useful entry point to start exploring the operationalization of well-being theories in development practice.

    Throughout the course of the research project, the SDP students highlighted a number of key findings and experimented with a series of methodologies to stimulate discussions on well-being. Here, the analytical focus on material and relational well-being proved critical in highlighting the different processes and impacts underlying each intervention. Notably, while all the projects facilitated greater access to basic services such as water and sanitation, and supported resident associations to manage the provision of these goods—each still faced certain structural barriers to scaling-up these institutional relationships to generate wider relational gains. What emerged from the research was that that such institutional change required challenging the predominant vision of the ‘citizen as consumer’ embedded in key policy documents and in the rhetoric of the Kisumu municipal council.

    The market-oriented approach to the provision of water and sanitation services was problematic for particularly vulnerable residents that might have to prioritize amongst a set of financial demands, the individualized approach to service delivery was not sufficient to address collective challenges such as waste collection in public spaces, and public-private partnerships often represented gains for the public sector in the form of increased efficiency and reduced expenditures, while leaving small private operators or the managing community groups with a greater share of risk and responsibility. Thus while students found that Practical Action played a key role in the development and support of networked residents—taking advantage of devolved spaces of governance as stipulated in the recent reforms of the Kenyan Constitution in 2010—the potential of these spaces were not fully unlocked when implemented within this wider market-based narrative.


    Here, the added-value of a well-being approach was in allowing for a subjective interpretation of the quality and inclusivity of the relationships established through the Practical Action and LASDAP interventions. This allowed for an analysis that unfolded how different identities, including men, women, children, tenants, landlords or elected community representatives, experienced each service delivery model, and helped to qualify the (sometimes fuzzy) concept of community participation in planning processes. As the SDP-Practical Action partnership moves forward, a key area of interest will be in the examination of these subjective and relational dimensions, looking to explore both methodologically and conceptually how this focus on well-being can continue to inform Practical Action interventions, and wider development discourse.

    Sen, A. (1989). Development as Capability Expansion. Journal of Development Planning 19: 41–58, reprinted in Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and A.K. Shiva Kumar, eds. 2003. Readings in Human Development, pp. 3–16. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Stephanie Butcher is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU.

    UCL’s Urban Agriculture Society – A Green Champion in the Making

    By Josephine Wilka, on 2 May 2013

    Written in collaboration with Iwona Bisaga 

    Interview UAS 034

    London is a sprawling megacity. Sadly, its ecological footprint of more than 34 million hectares is also outsized. The area required to provide for services and resources as well as waste locations to support the city’s functioning is thus over 200 times the size of London, (UK Environment Agency). This provides striking evidence that London’s sustainability issues are critical challenges that urgently need to be addressed. A group of passionate and ambitious DPU students with green ideas are determined to become part of the solution by introducing urban agriculture to UCL. It is the clear way forward!

    The Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture & Food Security Foundation defines urban agriculture as “the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities.” It not only advocates food production to enhance urban food security, but is also an integral part of the city’s economic and ecological systems. Many cities in developing countries have preserved small-scale food production: the streets of many African cities, such as Accra, are still enlivened with goats and chicken. Residents of large urban centres in the developed world, on the other hand, rediscovered urban agriculture a few decades ago. Here, urban agriculture is developing alongside more traditional urban development patterns. In regions around the globe, urban agriculture awareness has spread and the number of practitioners has been rising dramatically. This growing popularity comes at a time when global food crises are occurring at a greater rate threatening both developing and developed countries.

    In London, the concept has captured the attention of government departments, local authorities and businesses stimulating the introduction of programmes to tackle climate change and unemployment by the means of urban agriculture. Some Crouch End supermarkets for example have started growing vegetables on their roof terrace and numerous schemes have been introduced, including Cultivate London (a farm with an innovative approach to urban agriculture) and Good Food for Camden (a strategy developed by the NHS Camden). In fact, urban agriculture has become so successful that new urban farmers now, ironically, have to venture outside of London to find plots of available land.

    Interview UAS 004

    “They were waiting for a group of students to start doing this!” (Maria Neto)

    With the above successes in mind, a group of DPU students have taken action and created the Urban Agriculture Society (UAS). With the knowledge of similar initiatives at fellow institutions such as LSE, UAS have a clear vision (and an even stronger determination) to ensure that UCL participates in confronting London’s food challenges and in developing greener and improve sustainability strategies.

     But what does it take to make students want to dirty their hands growing food they could find in the any supermarket?

    When asked about the reasons why they have decided to focus their efforts on bringing the idea of urban agriculture to life at UCL in an interview, UAS members Maria, Martin and Thomas unanimously answered: because there is something in it for everyone!  Some, such as Martin, find it important to increase food autonomy in urban areas and import less agricultural products from overseas, especially since the diet of about 2 billion people does not contain sufficient nutrients or calories and the exported food is needed elsewhere. Naturally, this would also have a positive impact of CO2 emissions. He says: “potentially, every lettuce that you do not import from Spain and just grow in your backyard is a contribution” to alleviate these issues of the global food production system.

    Additionally, Thomas and Maria, emphasise that urban agriculture is not just about farming in an urban setting or making effective rooftop insulation, but also about the social benefits.

    Interview UAS 009

    “Urban Agriculture has social implications and provides an opportunity for community building as well.” (Thomas Chung)

    Many feel a lack of connection with their urban space, the concrete and cement, and are looking for a way to connect to their urban surroundings. It is a hobby, but also educates citizens on the possibilities that exist in their surroundings. Thus the three interviewees agree: the UAS is not only an attractive way to reduce UCL’s CO2 footprint, but has the potential to change the university through the creation of green spaces in which staff and students can work to connect with themselves, the city or the world.

    Interview UAS 004 (2)

    “Let’s take over the rooftops!” (Martin Lichtenegger)

    For an initiative conceived during a fire alarm evacuation and created with as much enthusiasm as sense for urgency, the UAS has filled a conceptual gap in UCL’s sustainability strategy. It is prepared to overcome the numerous expected challenges such as fighting for space – a rooftop or other patch of land at UCL. Action will be taken must be taken soon to obtain this land after the lengthy winter has delayed plans and the UAS founders are eager to finish what they have started and leave an urban agriculture legacy for a new generation of students to build upon in the next academic year.

    If you have ideas, want to stay informed or get your hands dirty, join the Facebook group: (Growing UCL – Urban Agriculture Society)

    Edited by: Seth Pyenson 
    Photography by: Fernando Martinez Cure

    Post-election Reflections from Somaliland

    By Stephanie Butcher, on 11 March 2013

    The history of Somaliland has long existed as a quiet success story within the more volatile Horn of Africa. Having declared independence from neighboring Somali in 1991, the nation has since operated as a relatively stable, if persistently unrecognized, autonomous state. Partially underpinning this image of stability is the nation’s demonstrated commitment to moving beyond clan politics to a multi-party system of democracy—represented in the incidence of six different elections ranging from the local to the presidential level. The most recent of these local council elections occurred November 28, 2012, an occasion I witnessed as a part of a 52-member team of international election observers. This election acted as a window into the wider Somaliland political system, highlighting a unique set of institutional arrangements, offering insights into key themes of citizenship, participation, and democracy.


    The November 2012 elections saw nearly 2,400 candidates vying for 379 seats spread across six districts of Somaliland. For the seven different political associations represented, this election would determine the top three ultimately eligible to contest all future elections for the following ten years. As such, candidates stood as both individuals and party representatives, raising the stakes for all-out campaigning on two different levels. The observation mission, headed by Dr. Michael Walls of DPU and Dr. Steven Kibble of the NGO Progressio, allowed us to witness a month marked by vibrantly-hued rallies of song and dance, cars full of chanting youths, and billboards, walls, rocks, and even donkeys emblazoned with campaign paraphernalia. Beyond complaints related to traffic jams, noise, and the occasional injury sustained by over-exuberant supporters tumbling out of vehicles, campaigning proceeded in a largely peaceful and equitable fashion. Polling day demonstrated a few more hurdles— most significantly the overwhelming practice of multiple voting. (This was certainly exacerbated by the lack of a voter registration system, and apparent impermanence of the ‘indelible’ ink used to mark those that had already voted.)

    Other concerns surfaced regarding the sometimes heavy-handed police response to disorder, particular as voting day waned on and polling stations began to run out of ballot papers. Further disturbances were evidenced in the wake of announced results, with protests, sometimes violent, occurring throughout the nation. Despite these setbacks, the international observer team was ultimately able to report on process that was reasonably free, characterized by exceptional polling staff, and which tackled the major concerns posed by the vast number of candidates. In a wider region marked by nonexistent, violent, or repressive electoral histories, and in a nation-state characterized by a severe lack of resources, it is easy to be charmed by the unlikely and repeated success of elections.


    Beyond these more procedural concerns related to the election process, the stories we gathered generated a series of reflections in relation to different visions of citizenship and participation. The Somaliland political structure today acts as a hybrid system, melding representative democratic institutions (executive, legislative, and judicial) with the more traditional decision-making mechanisms of consensus-building amongst clan elders. The fluidity between these different systems remained highly visible within the November elections, where more informal clan systems continued to shape the formal electoral process. This was perhaps most evident within the various political associations themselves, which had not developed particularly distinctive policy orientations, and continued to mobilize loosely around kinship lines.

    Reports of negotiations amongst clan elders to determine which candidate to support were common and were reflected in the tendency of some candidates to suddenly withdraw from the race, or even switch party allegiances. Perhaps more positively were the examples of this influence in the voter education system, where more informal practices supplemented the formal donor-driven education system to support the population on how to decipher the (rather overwhelmingly) ballot paper. These experiences highlighted the multiple ways in which these spaces pushed against, influenced, or transformed each other.

    somaliland 1

    What is perhaps most interesting here is to consider the role of Somaliland’s clan-based system, which has historically infused everything from political decision-making processes to service delivery. Within this structure, the emphasis on public deliberation and consensus created clear spaces for certain visions of citizen participation—an ethos that curiously underpins many of the ‘participatory governance’ initiatives initiated today. Unsurprisingly then, recent moves to institutionalize the trappings of representative democracy are felt by some to constrict these more traditional spaces—relegating a more robust form of citizen participation (at least for men) to the routinized sphere of elections. Yet in other ways this evolution offers other potentials—generating certain legitimacy for the unrecognized nation, and creating certain safeguards for the well-being of groups that may have particular interests outside of clan lines—demonstrated most concretely in the case of women.

    In Somaliland, the current election marks another step to institutionalize a multi-party system, with the hopes that the top three elected parties are able to forge lasting allegiances and associations amongst a broader spectrum of the population. Though there are certain gaps in regards to social and political enfranchisement, what remains is to examine whether this represents one step in an evolving process—a foundation from which deeper discussions on social and political participation can emerge. At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of the rich tradition of democratic debate that has characterized the Somaliland system, and the opportunities for public involvement that this offered. As the nation continues to move along a particular democratic path it is valuable to continue watching these spaces of engagement, perhaps drawing lessons for a wider region strongly influenced by kinship bonds, and allowing for deeper theoretical discussions on the shape and visions of citizen participation.

    Stephanie Butcher is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU.

    Comic Reliefs’ Dilemma: Fundraising vs. Awareness Raising

    By Richard M Moran, on 19 February 2013

    As children growing up in the UK in the 90s, Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day represented a week of  treats where we could wear non-uniform to school, throw water balloons at our teachers and sport red noses – all in the name of helping people living in poverty. Next month people around the country will once again embrace Red Nose Day, hoping to beat the £74 million raised in 2011. Comic Relief states that alongside raising funds it also aims to “help the public…understand the root causes of poverty and injustice”. To what extent will the campaign engage the public in a conversation about social justice? Will the discourse and images used present simplified and damaging views of the people it aims to help?


    photo by author (of a photo by Julien Harneis)

    Comic Relief creates an impact on its audience by contrasting an image of people living in poverty (often in African or South Asian countries) with a night of indulgent entertainment. The inequality made stark between viewers and the people they see on their screens is effective in stimulating guilt which drives donations, but does not encourage those watching to fully explore what they are confronted with.

    In order to emphasise this inequality, direct comparisons are often made between the people featured and viewers’ lives in the UK. This year Christine Bleakley muses that “we take for granted safe water…imagine living where one mouthful could be fatal”. These contrasts draw attention to difference, helping to create a sense of “ourselves” and “others” where the measure of variance is poverty. This idea of poverty is often used to explain the situations depicted, however the meaning and causes of the concept are not fully unpacked.

    Kate Simpson (writing about young people who have taken gap years in developing countries) argues that, when presented with inequality without an adequate framework to understand it, people rely on logic of luck to interpret what they are seeing. Comic Reliefs lack of engagement with the root cause of inequality and social injustice doesn’t invite viewers to look beyond this mysterious explanation of poverty. The stories told often focus on individuals or communities as a single unit without considering the wider structural context. This doesn’t initiate a conversation that considers history, culture, markets, gender or politics. Audiences are not encouraged to reflect on the structures that link their lives with those of the people on their screens and are not confronted with the ways in which they can take responsibility beyond making a donation to Comic Relief.

    To drive contributions, Comic Relief emphasises the impact of the money raised and how easy it is for viewers to make a difference. Billy Connelly looks the audience straight in the eye, telling them that he has “no doubt that you can change the world”. This idea is exciting, however it doesn’t communicate the complex reality of generating change in the lives of people living in poverty. It doesn’t explain that, in using the funds, choices have to be made about who not to help and which programmes not to prioritise. There is no attention paid to the forces that may countervail these efforts such as politics, markets and environments.


    Photo by author (of a photo by babasteve)

    The picture presented is also inadequate in ways beyond this. In order to create impact, the Comic Relief campaign focuses on poverty, violence, fear and disaster. The images used are taken in slums, under resourced hospitals and the homes of the ill. This represents a partial view of the lives of people in these countries and reinforces a negative, narrow image of developing countries. As Chimamanda Adichie points out, the danger of this single story is that it creates stereotypes and that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”. The story that is told is not damaging because the situations are fabricated or because people living in these countries don’t face huge challenges. They are damaging because they don’t give proportional weight to the triumphs and successes that also happen on a daily basis.

    Comic Relief does go some way to present a different side of the lives of people featured in their publicity. Positive images of smiling children, improved living conditions and successful entrepreneurs often feature in the second half of their films. However, these are primarily used to illustrate the impact that funds raised by Comic Relief have made. There is a real emphasis placed on the hard work, resolve and capacity of people living in poverty to help themselves alongside Comic Relief funds. These statements are important. They hint at a second, parallel story beyond that of the helpless and suffering African. However, they are limited and still present people in a positive light within a context of deprivation.

    This discourse, used by Comic Relief to communicate with the public, conceals issues related to poverty, social injustice and development. However, it is clear that, in its other areas of operation, the organisation makes a concerted effort to engage with these issues.

    Comic Reliefs’ International Grants Strategy acknowledges its position within the global development context and that choices must be made in using its finite funds. There is an express focus on specific countries and locations and an explicit commitment to nine programme areas. In making grants there is an undertaking to understand the causes of poverty by examining a balanced picture of the cultural, political and socioeconomic context their partner organisations work in.

    When considering grants made within the programme area of trade, Comic Relief acknowledges that economic growth holds no guarantee of increased job opportunities or living standards for the poorest people within a country. There is a consideration of structural factors such as the global trade system and local producer’s access to markets. The constraints that these may place on development strategies inform the support of partner organisations that work precisely with those vulnerable to the global supply chain, recognising that these people specifically have the least power.

    There is a clear disparity between the language and concepts used to engage the public on Comic Relief night and those used by the organisation in its work throughout the year. To a large extent this may be explained by the primary purpose of fundraising during the evenings programming. Here the need is to generate shock, guilt and encourage people to ease these feelings by donating.


    photo by author (of a photo by Meanest Indian)

    The story that is told during the show on March 15th will be powerful. The viewing figures are often tremendous, peaking at 12m in 2011. The mixture of entertainment with issues based narratives draws a unique audience for whom this may be one of the few times they engage with development issues during the year. This suggests a missed opportunity to explore the structural links between their own lives and those on the screen. Viewers are permitted to feel that they have a limited responsibility to these others and that simply by making a small donation they can resolve conditions of poverty.

    This does not increase the capacity of viewers to understand the development context, the role of the markets through which they secure their livelihoods and buy their commodities and the power of their government vis a vis other national governments. This does not increase the audiences’ incentive or capacity to advocate on behalf of the people they see on their screens.

    Over the next few weeks people around the UK will embrace fundraising with good intentions to help a vital cause. There is little doubt that Comic Relief will succeed in its aim to raise significant funds to support change around the world. However, by focusing on its fundraising goals, is its raising awareness of the structural causes of poverty and global social justice compromised?


    Chimamanda Adichie: The Power of a Single Story (

    Kate Simpson: ‘Doing Development’: The gap year, volunteer-tourists and a popular practice of development. (Simpson, K. (2004) ‘Doing Development’: The gap year, volunteer-tourists and a popular practice of development, in journal of International Development, Vol. 16, pp.681-692)


    Richard Moran is a current candidate for the MSc Development Administration and Planning at the DPU