By Ritwika Deb, on 30 July 2021
Written by Naufal Muhammad Azca, Jianglei Bai, Chang Chao, Ritwika Deb, Farah Dhafiya, Kristy Adelia Gayatri, Ahmad Rizky Rolanda, Hargita Saputri Mei Vita, Mojun Sun, Yu Wei, Menglin Yang, Haoyang Zhang
This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.
In late February, we were introduced to our research project that aimed to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesian cities through a process of remote knowledge co-production that was to be designed and implemented by our group of 11 students from Kota Kita’s Urban Citizenship Academy and UCL’s MSc Social Development Practice programme, based across Indonesia, the United Kingdom and China. The project presented us researchers with the opportunity to learn from and contribute to the Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) and the low-income neighbourhood of Pelambuan in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesia.
While preparing the groundwork for the research strategy, the work of scholars like Nidhi Singal (2010) helped us understand that disability research in countries of the South faces many challenges and dilemmas in terms of design and implementation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our project included elements of both face-to-face interaction and remote data collection, which led to additional complexities, especially in terms of ethical and logistical considerations, which had to be carefully contemplated.
To account for the dilemmas that emerged from this challenging context, our team of researchers identified the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research (British Psychological Society, 2017) as the relevant code of ethics to build on. Scholars and researchers across the board have long emphasized the importance of ethics – and for good reason, because us researchers ultimately are responsible for whether or not we do harm or good to communities. From setting the goals to shaping the strategy and implementing the methods on the ground – we play a key role as decision makers. By using the code of ethics, we learned that such a code can support researchers in general decision-making by giving them a structure to follow in the middle of the dynamic process of field engagement, allowing them to be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas if and when they arise. Especially in a scenario like ours, where unprecedented challenges could arise at the complex intersection of disability research and remote knowledge co-production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, this code of ethics served as a structure for our team members from the moment we began our engagement, not only helping us prevent potential challenges, but also making the process of dealing with emerging issues much easier.
- Ensuring informed consent
This principle of the referenced ethics guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring that participants make informed choices. The first practice in this regard was to provide adequate information about the research, to specify what kind of commitment was required from participants, and to make it very clear to them that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the research at any time if they wanted to.
To this end, the consent strategy was developed in accordance with the nature of the research methods and the needs of participants with disabilities.
First, a simple consent video was developed in the local language so that the research objectives could be clearly communicated to all, including participants with visual impairments.
Second, an accompanying consent form was created to enable participants with hearing impairments to lean on written information.
Third, participants were also given the opportunity to share verbal consent, if more feasible.
Finally, people with cognitive disabilities who expressed difficulties in giving informed consent were still invited to participate as long as they were accompanied by a family member or caregiver.
- Recognising participants’ choices
Another effort in relation to this principle was also to ensure that participants’ personal choices or preferences are always respected. To further stimulate responses to interview questions, we introduced a participatory photography method. In addition to securing consent from participants to use their photographs in our research work, we made adaptations in the process to allow participants of all abilities to take part by giving them the flexibility to either take the photos themselves or request the assistance of a researcher.
Our primary effort was to foster a safe space for them to express their opinions, address any unintentional stress during the activity and assure participants that if they withdrew their participation at any point there would be no consequences. An important instance to note is that when one of the participants showed a strong expression of autonomy on her part during the fieldwork and asserted that she was no longer in the mood to participate in this method, the researchers respected her decision without contestation.
Overall, this ethical consideration and the strategies used to promote it strengthened our understanding that a research project such as this should strongly value the opinions of participants, facilitate their inclusion and true participation even if the methods involve technical complexity. and ultimately consider participants’ needs, lived experiences and autonomy to be of the utmost importance.
In conclusion, adopting this ethical approach enabled us to adhere to a form of self regulation that guided us and defined the boundaries between what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in research. Although no code of ethics can describe every situation one will encounter, building a solid understanding of the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ and adapting the guidelines to a version appropriate to our specific context, served us in most cases. This, coupled with a spirit of continuous reflection through the research process, enabled us to spot any danger early on and to move forward with increased self-vigilance when engaging with all involved parties.
British Psychological Society, 2017. Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/ethics-guidelines-internet-mediated-research-2017. [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Capstick, A., 2012. Participatory Video and Situated Ethics: Avoiding Disablism. In: E-J. Milne, C. Mitchell and N. de Lange, ed. The Handbook of Participatory Video. Lanham MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 269-281.
Denscombe, M., 2010. Research Ethics: A practical guide. In: The Good Research Guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 329-342.
Padan, Y., 2015. Asking Questions. Practising ethics guides to built environment research Series. The Bartlett Ethics Commission. Available at: https://www.practisingethics.org/project [Online] [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Singal, N., 2010. Doing disability research in a Southern context: challenges and possibilities. Disability & Society, 25(4), pp. 415-426.
About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.
The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.
By Sandra Rodriguez Castaneda, on 20 July 2021
This blog is adapted from an essay submission for the MSc Urban Development Planning module ‘The City and its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development’
Is land a source for gender equality? “Perhaps the most significant pro-poor urban transformation of the late twentieth century had to do with the gains of the feminist movement and the emergence of gender-based planning” (Parnell, p.27, 2015). , However, there is still a long way to go before women have an equal role in cities and rural areas. In the case of land, it is fundamental to the development of women’s identity, wellbeing and mobility (Chant & Datu, 2015). It is acknowledged that good management of land is key addressing gendered concerns. However, how does gender figure in the technologies of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) that underlies good land management? Therefore, this post investigates how SDI is gendered and argues that this has consequences for land administrators seeking more equity.
There are multiple processes around the land in which the gender approach must be studied and taken into account. Generally, when talking about gender and land, it is often based on the reformulation of policies around women´s right to access land, land distribution and titling programmes. What this tends to leave aside is how data is integrated to understand the relationship between land and women’s public-private roles. Additionally, land standards are applied to define guidelines but they tend to miss the intersectionality of gendered social relations, and methodologies for assessing indicators around land use and tenure do not reflect women’s real participation.
Despite the fact that the SDI seeks to facilitate and improve processes and decisions around land, the technological and modern component does not resolve the question of the role of gender in its understanding and comprehension.
I argue for the need to have a holistic vision to generate knowledge and cooperation to understand the role of gender in spatial data. Therefore, the tools developed to support land management should be understood under a differential and gender inclusionary approach.
Why is this argument important?
In this section, two examples will be explored to provide evidence why this argument is different and important. The first example is based on the fact that SDI is a technological component intended to facilitate decision making around land and productivity. Therefore, its focus is on capturing spatial information, and it does not have an explicit differentiating approach that considers social roles that make up land relations. The second example is based on evidence of the current situation of the relationship between women and land, and it is argued that the specific needs of women are not clearly understood, and so discrimination that replicates colonising models continues to exist.
According to Coleman and McLaughlin (1998, p.9), SDI “encompasses the policies, technologies, standards and human resources necessary for the effective collection, management, access, delivery and utilisation of geospatial data in a global community”. Definitions such as these suggest that the main objective of SDI is based on effectiveness, while the social component is limited to human resources and the use of data in the community. Rajabifard and Williamson (2003, p.3) note that, “SDI is much more than data and goes far beyond surveying and mapping, it provides an environment within which organisations and/or nations interact with technologies to foster activities for using, managing and producing geographic data”. However, even in this wider view, SDI as a social approach remains very much implicit in thinking about how SDI can be an enabling tool for organisations and nations.
In this light, what kind of data should be generated to understand social roles and especially women’s roles? This first example shows, through the most cited definitions of SDI above, that raising the question around the role of women in this technological tool is significant. As an additional element, it is also worth noting that inherent in technology itself is a complex language that is often based on strategic and rational concepts that leave aside social components (Cohn, 1987). Therefore, technology could become a gender-unequal tool despite being conceived to be gender-neutral if there is not a broader approach and understanding. We are in search of more socially and spatially just cities, so it is valuable to think about using the technological tools that support decisions about land to generate a more inclusive vision.
The role of women has been affected by sexist and colonising models that have limited their access to land. Throughout history, the subordination of women in society, based on a patriarchal structure, has been in evidence. Also, it is assumed that housing policies affect men and women equally when it is evident that there is discrimination against women (Borja & Castells, 1997). As a result, it is essential to understand that there are socially constructed roles of women in the household and society: productive, reproductive, community managing and politics (Levy, 2009) that must be understood from a diverse perspective and taking into account the context and identity characteristics of each woman (age, religion, ethnicity). Accordingly, it is valuable to ask how this is reflected in the capture of information, in the standards implemented, in data analysis policies and in land governance in general.
According to FAO (2018, p.1), “Reliable, sex-disaggregated data on land is crucial for highlighting disparities in land rights between women and men. (…) there is still a lack of understanding as to what data are available and needed, and what they can tell us about women’s land rights”. This shows that there is still some way to go in understanding the role of women and the discrimination they face in relation to land rights. Given that SDI is an important part of land administration it will be important to work on how the inclusion and protection of women’s land rights can be enhanced through technology.
Conclusion and final discussion
This post presents an essential question in the context of SDI and gender equity. The framing of the question outlines a new challenge that combines the rational understanding of technology, the social dynamics around the land, the recognition of women’s real needs and the use of spatial tools. Consequently, technology should not be seen as a sole means of efficiency and productivity but also of inclusion.
Among the challenges that this question implies are to generate a holistic and decolonising vision that helps breaking with stereotypes and exclusionary models that are reflected in women’s lack of access to land, in the absence of protection of their rights, and the lack of representation and participation in decision-making related to land administration. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand that the relationship between women and land is complex and requires recognition of their roles in the public and private sphere. This will lead to the identification of the different entry points that need to be studied in order to find effective solutions according to time, scale and space.
Finally, “prosperity is not an inevitable outcome of urbanisation, and in the absence of appropriate management, cities can become sinkholes of poverty and inequality” (Chant & Datu,2015, p.40). Therefore, raising the question of the role of women in SDI shows that it is not enough to have efficient geographical tools; their appropriate use and management is fundamental to fight against poverty and inequality. Thus, the pressure of globalisation and the search for productivity need to be oriented to create new questions that confront the status quo and do not blind the construction of inclusive policies and strategies.
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Borja, J., & Castells, M. (1997). The City of Women. In Local and Global (pp. 45-67). Routledge
Chant, S, & Datu, K. (2015). Women in Cities: Prosperity or Poverty? A Need for Multi-dimensional and Multi-spatial Analysis. In The City in Urban Poverty (EADI Global Development Series, pp. 39-63). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Chen, M. A. (2010). Informality, poverty, and gender: Evidence from the Global South, in: S. Chant (ed.), The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty: Concepts, Research, Policy . Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 463–471.
Cohn, C. (1987). Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Volume 12, Number 4. [Accessed 15 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/494362
Coleman, D. & McLaughlin, J. (1998). Defining global geospatial data infrastructure (GGDI): components, stakeholders and interfaces. Geomatica, Canadian Institute of Geomatics, 52(2):129-144. [Accessed 20 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291089003_Defining_global_geospatial_data_infrastructure_GGDI_components_stakeholders_and_interfaces
Deere, C., Alvarado, G., & Twyman, J. (2012). “Gender inequality in asset ownership in Latin America: female owners vs household heads.” Development and Change, 43.2, pp. 505–530.
Enemark, S. (2006). Understanding the land management paradigm. GIM, 1-5.
FAO. (2018). The Gender Gap in Land Rights. CGIAR. [Accessed 12 April 2021]. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/i8796en/I8796EN.pdf
Fenster, T. (2005). The right to the gendered city: Different formations of belonging in everyday Life. Journal of Gender Studies, 14 (3): 217–231.
Kabeer, N. (2008). Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Gender Justice: Critical Pathways of Social Change. Pathways Working Paper 3, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton. [Accessed 15 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.academia.edu/4002986/Paid_work_womens_empowerment_and_inclusive_growth_Transforming_the_gendered_structures_of_constraint
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Masser, I., Rajabifard, A., & Williamson, I. (2008). Spatially enabling governments through SDI implementation. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 5-20.
Moser, C. (1993) Gender planning and development: theory, practice, and training, London; New York: Routledge.
Parnell,S. (2015). Poverty and ‘the City’. In The City in Urban Poverty (EADI Global Development Series, pp. 39-63). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Purdie-Vaughns, V. & Eibach, R. (2008). “Intersectional invisibility: the distinctive advantages and disadvantages of multiple subordinate group identities”.
Rajabifard, A. & Williamson, I. (2003). Spatial data infrastructures: concept, SDI hierarchy and future directions. [Accessed 17 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228581533_Spatial_data_infrastructures_concept_SDI_hierarchy_and_future_directions
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Sandra Esperanza Rodriguez Castañeda is undertaking her Master’s degree in Urban Development Planning at the University College of London. As a civil engineer, she has worked and led projects related to geomatics, geographical information systems, cadastre, and transport.
By Ruochan Liu, on 16 July 2021
Written by Ruochan Liu, Rachel Cobbinah, Di Hu, Celine Sola Gracia Lumban Gaol, Bayu Laksono Jati, Yuan Meng, Meerim Osmonalieva, Ricca Padyansari, Amich Kemala Damariyan, Nuzula Firda Sa’adhati, Xinran Zou
This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
——John Donne, MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624
I was wearing several layers under my hoodie when we had our first group meeting. Two seasons later, the rest of us have finally caught up with Giligan’s everlasting summer and our outfits for Zoom finally look like we’ve got the same memo.
We begin this blogpost with this anecdote because upon reflection, this is perfectly symbolic of our experience as a group throughout this Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). We set off on completely different pages, coming from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds with multiple understandings of disability research. Synchronization of workflow happens incrementally in much the same way as snowmelt precedes the budding green, and greenness is prologue to blossom. Effective communication and healthy dynamics within the group are hard-won fruits. Despite all the bad internet connections, lengthy video calls, long debates about every single detail of our methodology, we end up appreciating each other more than ever. We realized that this inseparable unit of like-minded researchers-to-be cannot function without the presence of every single member as part of the sum. For those of us from UCL, our lack of proficiency in Bahasa results in a heavy reliance on our UCA members as they make sure no data is lost in translation. For our UCA members, they are also gaining new experiences and knowledge on social rights, citizenship, inclusivity as well as empowerment, which help them as they interview our research participants. We become each other’s remedies, attending to our vulnerabilities, insecurities and frustrations through the whirlwinds of unexpectedness. We challenge each other on the falsity of our assumptions. We interrogate, together, each other’s takeaways from interviews. We scrutinize the language we’d use in interviews and discussions. We, as a team, have worked as a continent of pieces.
Our research diary entries are an intriguing read as we approach the end of OPE. We as a team have reached the consensus that our anticipation of disability research as students of urban planning and social development are significantly overturned. Research processes are much more complicated and nuanced. Working with people involves getting knee-deep into their daily experiences and acknowledging that they are complex beings full of intentions, struggles, strength and hopes. It is about building foundations of trust and rapport with gestures of mutual respect. It is about learning and producing knowledge on equal grounds. It is a practice of patience and resilience. The time spent sitting in classes and reading journal articles are only meaningful after fighting tooth and nail to bite into the realities. We, as students, have to sail off from our islands of books. It is then we will see how it is only one part of the main, and our islands are connected to millions of heartbeats.
The words in bold have emerged out of our reflective discussions. We collated them before sitting down to write this post, and it is only now we notice how they can encapsulate almost everything our research participants have said in the course of OPE. Community engagement, active participation and inclusive public spaces will be hard-won fruits. It needs bold and assured experimentation of new ways of working, the understanding of vulnerabilities in the most diverse ways, and constant outreach to the unheard and unnoticed. There needs to be a genuine respect of people’s complicated realities. Anyone who is interested to work towards promoting inclusive planning for people with disabilities must be prepared to fight a long battle.
There is really no such a binary between “us” and “them”.
It is time to start working as “We”, for no man is an island entire of itself.
About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.
The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.
By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, on 24 May 2021
By Camila Cociña, Ignacia Ossul Vermehren and Lieta Vivaldi
On Sunday 16th May 2021, Chileans elected the 155 citizens that will write the new Constitution. With the country voting in favour of a gender-balanced assembly, with indigenous and minority representation, we discuss what this latest development means for inclusion in Chile and the possibility for change and hope elsewhere.
How does a people collectively rewrite the trajectory of its own history? How does a people mobilise its differences to set up their own collective rules? How to write a “we” that has never been spelt out before? The people of Chile have started to recognise and build together their own “we”, one that is female, indigenous, working class, diverse, and is coming from places not usually in the spotlight.
What is happening in Chile?
The elections last weekend saw the latest development of a process of constitutional transformation that was triggered by the simmering social unrest that exploded in October 2019 across the country. As we discussed in a previous blog, in October 2020 Chileans voted in mass to overhaul the 1980’s Pinochet-era Constitution, determining that this new Constitution would be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom would be women. Following this popular mandate, the poll on the 15th-16th May 2021 elected the 155 members of this Constitutional Convention, which will function for the next 9 to 12 months with the exclusive task of writing the new constitution.
New mechanisms for inclusion
The election of the members of the Constitutional Convention is a crucial milestone in a unique transformative national process, which has relied on social mobilisations, territorial organisation, political negotiations and agreements, formal democratic processes, violent contestations, resistance to human rights violation, and thousands of organised actions that have strengthened a collective sense of self determination. During the last decade, several processes paved the road and created the political conditions to promote renewed mechanisms for institutional inclusion. These events included social mobilisations around specific social justice agendas – including feminist mobilisations – as well as an attempt of constitutional change led by the previous central government (2014-2018), which involved self-organised local assemblies, and a rich public debate about potential mechanisms for the writing of a democratic Constitution. These processes only intensified after the 2019 social outburst, with the emergence and raise of countless local political instances in urban and rural areas, including spaces of discussion and co-learning, and territorial and feminist assemblies, which have’t been waned by the difficulties of the pandemic.
In a post-2019 scenario of political crisis, it became very difficult for the political class not to acknowledge the existing gap between the formal tools of political representation and the deeply democratic and diverse processes taking place across the territory. Then, the institutional arrangements for this Constitutional process agreed between November 2019 and March 2020, were pushed to incorporate several explicit inclusion mechanisms: The gender quota system, designed prior to the election, enshrined a historical agreement for gender parity of 50% both in the nomination of female candidates as in the elected ones; indigenous groups’ representation (7 Mapuche, 2 Aimara, 1 Rapa Nui, 1 Quechua, 1 Atacameño, 1 Diaguita, 1 Kawashkar, 1 Yagán and 1 Chango); and electoral mechanisms to allow independent actors outside political parties to be competitive in the election.
This is positive in at least three ways: First, it mirrors Chilean society more closely – women represent more than half of the population, and for the first time 10 indigenous groups in Chile are recognised and represented in a formal political process; second, it prevents the overrepresentation of white, upper class, heterosexual men that has been reproduced historically in other spaces of democratic decision-making; and third, it will allow the interests of women, indigenous groups and working class people – such as achieving recognition of specific rights that have been historically invisible – to have a better chance of being incorporated into the constitutional text.
Results: A more honest and plural ‘we’
Beyond the pre-established inclusion mechanisms – which had an indubitable effect in terms of the output – the results of May 16th presented a picture of Chilean society that no previous election had ever shown:
- Gender: As said, the gender quota mechanism was established both in terms of number of candidates, as in terms of elected members – in other words, entry and output This double mechanism was key to encourage political parties to present competitive female candidates. In the National Congress election of 2017, for example, there were already mechanisms to include at least 40% of female candidates, but this only translated into 23% of female representatives elected (see the analysys from Arce-Riffo and Suárez-Cao). By contrast, in this 2021 election women candidates performed better than men, and the correction instruments to ensure parity of output benefited more men than women, with eleven cases in which women had to give their place to their male co-runners in order to ensure equal distribution of female and male. As a result the convention is now formed by 78 men and 77 women. .
- Indigenous: Indigenous groups had 17 reserved seats, which constitutes an unprecedented mechanism of recognition in the country. The low turnout (22,81%) of indigenous people reflects that there is still a possible distrust in formal political processes and representation through institutional spaces. Among the elected (9 women and 8 men), there are emblematic traditional and spiritual authorities, such as the Machi (traditional healer) Francisca Linconao, who obtained the first majority of the Mapuche votes. Machi Linconao spent nine months in pretrial detention accused of terrorist activities in 2016, and was later acquitted of all the charges in a case that raised international concerns about the violation of human rights of Mapuche people by the Chilean state.
- Age: The new Constitution will be written by a relatively young assembly. The average age of the elected members is around 45 years old. Independent elected candidates are the youngest, with an average of 41, while the two traditional rightwing and centre-left coalition are the oldest with an average of 48 and 49 respectively.
- LGBTIQ+: There are at least 6 (3,9%) self-identified LGBTIQ+ elected members. There were 38 LGBTIQ+ candidates, two of which were transgender candidates but weren’t elected.
- Class and occupation: The social composition of the Convention is also significantly more diverse than traditional representational bodies. In Chile, as elsewhere, schools are a very clear proxy for class. While in the current Chilean Congress more than half (54%) of representatives come from paid private schools, from the 155 elected members; 49 come from public schools, 40 from publicly-subsidized private schools, and 43 from paid private schools – and most of them are not from traditional elite schools (see infographic here). Likewise, in terms of occupation, even if more than 60 of them are lawyers – as could be expected given the nature of the constitutional body – the second most common occupation is teachers (20) and the rest are distributed in 39 occupations that include activists, accountants, social leaders, environmental scientists, technicians, nurses, designers, journalists, housepersons, and so on.
- Progressive and grassroots forces: Finally, one of the main surprises of the poll results was the support to transformative and emergent political forces. Conservative ruling parties, under the “Chile Vamos” coalition, got only 37 seats – less than a third of the convention, which would have allowed them to block initiatives within the Convention; this is an important loss compared to the previous performance of the current president’s coalition, even if they collected significantly more financial resources for their campaign; the traditional centre-left parties, “Unidad Constituyente”, got 25 seats; this is less than the 28 seats gained by the newly formed left coalition “Apruebo Dignidad”, which includes the Communist Party and the emerging force Frente Amplio; the rest of the seats are distributed among independent candidates, 27 of which ran for the “Lista del Pueblo”, which grouped activist mobilised during the 2019 social outburst outside the traditional political system. As the table below shows, progressive forces of Apruebo Dignidad, Lista del Pueblo, and the indigenous seats had a significantly larger representation of elected women, with 68%, 67% and 59% respectively.
Opportunity for a truly transformative institutional process
The plurality of protagonists of this process – which are best captured by the diversity of the 155 elected members – opens up the possibility of recognising claims, struggles, knowledges and ways of living that have been historically rendered invisible by dominant discourses and practices, in a highly unequal and centralised country. At last, we see how a country full of complexities and particularities can be represented in their difference and not only by a white, middle class, heterosexual elite, that for years has impossed an absolute and “universal” thruth leaving behind the rights of so many people.
The possibilities of this transformative institutional process fills many Chilean people with hope. Getting here has only been possible through the articulation of complex processes of social mobilisation with political action. It has required active efforts and mechanisms to give space to the life experiences of sectors that have been historically discriminated against and excluded from traditional political spaces. This moment has been shaped by a combination of formal mechanisms and the grounded efforts of the people of Chile to articulate claims and voices in new and democratic ways. In doing so, it recognises the composition of the country as it is, and as it wants to be. In a context in which sisters and brothers are fighting for their rights and freedoms from Colombia to Palestine to Myanmar and beyond, we see in this unique experience a hope; one that shows the possibility of a change mobilised by the radical construction of a plural ‘we’.
 Chile will be the first country in the world that writes a Constitution with gender parity. This is possible due to the gender parity system established in the nomination (same number of men and women as candidates), as well as in the election, to make sure that the elected positions are distributed evenly between men and women.
Camila (Univeristy College London), Ignacia (University College London) and Lieta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.
A journey into the Peruvian Amazon: Collaborating for sustainable regional economic development in Tarapoto, San Martin
By Naji P Makarem, on 23 April 2021
By Naji Makarem, Etienne Von Bertrab and Alessio Koliulis
Over the past 4 years, students of the MSc in Urban Economic Development have been engaging with stakeholders on the local and regional development of Tarapoto, a wonderful small city in the Amazon rainforest in Northern Peru.
The purpose of our field trips (or what we now call the Overseas Practice Engagements – OPE) are two-fold: On one hand the OPE is an opportunity for students to put theory into practice; on the other it’s an opportunity for students to develop insights that may influence local conversations around the future of the cities we engage with. Together we try to make sense of what is going on and with the help and insights from stakeholders, co-imagine equitable, sustainable and ecological potential-futures.
The charming features of the city of Tarapoto today date back to 1970 when it was a small village of 30,000 inhabitants characterised by one-storey houses and walking and motorcycling (and moto-taxis) were and continue to be the transport modes of choice. It has grown into a small city with a population of approx. 200,000 inhabitants. It has maintained its charm; Tarapoto has a many trees paving the streets and purple flowers which together with its colourful low-rise housing make it a very charming city, but at this grander scale its growing pains are beginning to exert pressure on the city and its residents. Our student groups over the past 4 years focused on the city’s major challenges and opportunities, imagining a more inclusive and sustainable future for Tarapoto.
One common theme investigated by student groups was moto-taxis and mobility more generally in the city and its surrounding regions, which the urban core is integrally connected to socially and economically. Moto-taxis are extremely convenient (easy to find most of the time, but not always and not everywhere) and refreshing as the cool breeze sweeps passengers’ faces, creating a sense of freedom and adventure when moving around the city. They also offer a source of income to the large share of the population that owns their own moto-taxi, including what in the UK we would call white-collar workers.
Mototaxis are also very loud, they emit toxic gases in the air which people breathe and contribute to global warming, and they are relatively dangerous (road accidents are fatal due to their very nature but also due to the road system itself) and they are also perceived to be less safe at certain times of day or in certain places, particularly for women travelling alone (our students were advised to always traveled in pairs). Yet the moto-taxis of Tarapoto are very much loved by residents and visitors alike, and have been the focus of investigation by our student groups over the past 4 years. We have translated and published the research of our wining student group from the 3 groups who focused their work on moto-taxis and mobility in Tarapoto last year, available to download here. Tarapoto is a region with a city at its core. The urban and rural have been interconnected ever since the traders of agricultural produce began to agglomerate in the city, connecting the Coffee and Cacao amongst others products grown in the region with national and global markets. In retrospect, globally, we look back on the green revolution and we see deforestation and the devastation of biodiversity, as well as the economics of large monoculture farming that pushes people, small farmers, off the land and into cities that struggle to provide them with the affordable housing, infrastructure and services human beings need to live a good life.
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the region. Tourists land in Tarapoto in a well-connected and well-maintained airport (a welcoming, cosy small-scale airport), and use Tarapoto as a base for regional tourism. Tourism is an attractive sector for many cities because it is the only sector whose export markets come to you. To be sure, there is an element of services exports through marketing and other promotional initiatives abroad to help generate awareness and attraction, but essentially the market comes to you (selling a 3-course dinner to a Japanese tourist akin to packaging the food and sending it to people in Japan).
Doing tourism well is therefore an extremely attractive economic opportunity for cities, but it is also very intrusive and, if not managed well, has a heavy environmental footprint and drain on resources. It can also increase rather than reduce inequality and end up siphoning a large share of the value generated to international investors leaving locals with precarious and not-so-interesting jobs and low wages. If done well it contributes to locals interacting with people from all over the world, bringing new ideas and perspectives, celebrating and bring out their cultural heritage, their art and culture and creating entrepreneurial opportunities and community initiatives that generate value and incomes for people and communities. You can access the report of the winning student group from last year’s students groups on Tourism here.
All of us students and staff at the DPU’s Msc. in Urban Economic Development extend our sincere gratitude to our local facilitator and coordinator, Maite Hidalgo, who invited us to Tarapoto, Dra. Martiza Requeja la Torre from the National University of San Martin, the Dean of the University Dr. Aquilino Mesia Garcia Bautista, the faculty, students and admin staff who engaged with our students and supported us in many ways including facilities for our final presentations.
We are also grateful to all the stakeholders who engaged with our four OPEs, including the Mayor Tedy Del Aguila Gronerth and leading managers at the municipality of Tarapoto, business leaders and heads of the chamber of commerce, business owners, social entrepreneurs, local organisers and community leaders, and residents and visitors who so kindly offered our students their time, insights and trust to better understand the city from its diverse perspectives. Last but not least the UED team is also grateful for the hard work, passion and creative thinking of our students.
We hope you all enjoyed our 4-year engagement and enjoy reading through our 3 winning reports from last year (available in English and Spanish).
Durante los últimos 4 años, los estudiantes de la Maestría en Desarrollo Económico Urbano se han involucrado con actores interesados en el desarrollo local y regional de Tarapoto, una pequeña ciudad maravillosa en la selva amazónica en el norte de Perú.
El propósito de nuestras excursiones (o lo que ahora llamamos Compromisos de Práctica en el Extranjero – OPE) es doble: Por un lado, el OPE es una oportunidad para que los estudiantes pongan la teoría en práctica; por otro, es una oportunidad para que los estudiantes desarrollen conocimientos que puedan influir en conversaciones locales sobre el futuro de las ciudades con las que nos relacionamos. Juntos tratamos de dar sentido a lo que está sucediendo y, con la ayuda y los conocimientos de actores interesados, imaginamos un futuro potencial equitativo, sostenible y ecológico.
Las características encantadoras de la ciudad de Tarapoto hoy se remontan a 1970 cuando era un pequeño pueblo de 30.000 habitantes caracterizado por casas de una sola planta y donde caminar y andar en motocicleta (y moto-taxis) fueron y siguen siendo los medios de transporte de elección. Se ha convertido en una pequeña ciudad con una población de aprox. 200.000 habitantes. Ha mantenido su encanto; Tarapoto tiene muchos árboles pavimentando las calles y flores violetas que junto con sus coloridas viviendas de poca altura la hacen una ciudad muy encantadora, pero a una escala mayor sus dolores de crecimiento están comenzando a ejercer presión sobre la ciudad y sus residentes. Nuestros grupos de estudiantes durante los últimos 4 años se enfocaron en los principales desafíos y oportunidades de la ciudad, imaginando un futuro más inclusivo y sostenible para Tarapoto.
Un tema común investigado por los grupos de estudiantes fue el de los mototaxis y la movilidad en general en la ciudad y sus regiones circundantes, a las que el núcleo urbano está integralmente conectado de forma social y económica. Los mototaxis son extremadamente convenientes (fáciles de encontrar la mayor parte del tiempo, pero no siempre ni en todas partes) y refrescantes ya que la brisa fresca barre los rostros de los pasajeros, creando una sensación de libertad y aventura al moverse por la ciudad. También ofrecen una fuente de ingresos a una gran parte de la población que posee su propio mototaxi, incluido lo que en el Reino Unido llamaríamos trabajadores administrativos.
Los mototaxis también son muy ruidosos, emiten gases tóxicos en el aire que las personas respiran y contribuyen al calentamiento global, y son relativamente peligrosos (los accidentes de tráfico son fatales por su propia naturaleza pero también por el propio sistema de carreteras) y también son percibidos como insegurosen ciertos momentos del día o en ciertos lugares, particularmente para las mujeres que viajan solas (a nuestros estudiantes se les recomendó viajar siempre en parejas). Sin embargo, los mototaxis de Tarapoto son muy queridos tanto por los residentes como por los visitantes, y han sido el foco de investigación de nuestros grupos de estudiantes durante los últimos 4 años. Hemos traducido y publicado la investigación de nuestro grupo ganador de los 3 grupos de estudiantes que enfocaron su trabajo en moto-taxis y movilidad en Tarapoto el año pasado, disponible para descargar aquí. Tarapoto es una región con una ciudad en su núcleo. Lo urbano y lo rural han estado interconectados desde que los comerciantes de productos agrícolas comenzaron a aglomerarse en la ciudad, conectando el Café y Cacao entre otros productos cultivados en la región con los mercados nacionales y globales. En retrospectiva, a nivel mundial, miramos hacia atrás en la revolución verde y vemos la deforestación y la devastación de la biodiversidad, así como la economía de la gran agricultura de monocultivo que empuja a las personas, a los pequeños agricultores, fuera de la tierra a las ciudades que luchan por proporcionarles la vivienda, a la infraestructura y a los servicios asequibles que los seres humanos necesitan para vivir una buena vida.
Afortunadamente, Tarapoto no sufre el tipo de indigencia evidente en muchas ciudades más grandes del mundo, principalmente en el Sur Global, pero no exclusivamente. Por lo tanto, la ciudad lucha con el desafío y la oportunidad de un futuro ecológico y agrega más valor a una gama más diversa de productos agrícolas que pueden aportar mayor sostenibilidad y valor a la ciudad y la región. Los invito a acceder a nuestro informe de estudiantes ganadores del año pasado, seleccionados de los 3 grupos dedicados al tema de la agricultura y el procesamiento agrícola en Tarapoto disponibles aquí.
El turismo es uno de los sectores de más rápido crecimiento de la región. Los turistas aterrizan en Tarapoto en un aeropuerto bien conectado y bien mantenido (un aeropuerto acogedor y acogedor a pequeña escala) y utilizan a la ciudad de Tarapoto como base para el turismo regional. El turismo es un sector atractivo para muchas ciudades porque es el único sector cuyos mercados de exportación llegan a ti. Sin duda, existe un elemento de exportación de servicios a través del marketing y otras iniciativas promocionales en el extranjero para ayudar a generar conciencia y atracción, pero esencialmente el mercado se acerca a usted (vender una cena de 3 platos a un turista japonés similar a empaquetar la comida y enviar a la gente en Japón).
Hacer turismo bien es, por tanto, una oportunidad económica extremadamente atractiva para las ciudades, pero también es muy intrusivo y, si no se gestiona bien, tiene una gran huella medioambiental y consume recursos. También puede aumentar en lugar de reducir la desigualdad y terminar desviando una gran parte del valor generado a los inversores internacionales, dejando a los locales con trabajos precarios y no tan interesantes y con salarios bajos. Si se hace bien, contribuye a que los lugareños interactúen con personas de todo el mundo, aportando nuevas ideas y perspectivas, celebrando y sacando a relucir su herencia cultural, su arte y cultura y creando oportunidades empresariales e iniciativas comunitarias que generan valor e ingresos para las personas y las comunidades. Puede acceder al informe del grupo ganador de los grupos de estudiantes del año pasado sobre Turismo aquí.
Todos nosotros, estudiantes y personal de la Maestría de la DPU. en Desarrollo Económico Urbano extendemos nuestro más sincero agradecimiento a nuestra facilitadora y coordinadora local, Maite Hidalgo, quien nos invitó a Tarapoto, Dra. Martiza Requeja la Torre de la Universidad Nacional de San Martín, el Decano de la Universidad Dr. Aquilino Mesia García Bautista, la facultad, los estudiantes y el personal administrativo que se relacionaron con nuestros estudiantes y nos apoyaron de muchas maneras, incluidas las instalaciones para nuestras presentaciones finales.
También estamos agradecidos a todos los interesados que se involucraron con nuestras cuatro OPE, incluido el alcalde Tedy Del Aguila Gronerth y los principales gerentes del municipio de Tarapoto, líderes empresariales y jefes de la cámara de comercio, dueños de negocios, emprendedores sociales, organizadores locales y líderes comunitarios, residentes y visitantes que tan amablemente ofrecieron a nuestros estudiantes su tiempo, conocimientos y confianza para comprender mejor la ciudad desde sus diversas perspectivas. Por último, pero no menos importante, el equipo de la UED también está agradecido por el arduo trabajo, la pasión y el pensamiento creativo de nuestros estudiantes.
Esperamos que todos hayan disfrutado de nuestro compromiso de 4 años y disfruten leyendo nuestros 3 informes ganadores del año pasado (disponibles en Inglés y Español).
Reflections from the frontline: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 1)
By Nick Anim, on 1 April 2021
The question about whether environmental sustainability has a problem with social justice seems rather wrong, right? At first glance, it appears a bit abstract because what it is asking us to do is to interrogate a dialectical relationship between two contested concepts that have no determinate meanings. Upon further thought, the question beckons a somewhat counterintuitive analysis because in many spheres we simply assume to be true, and therefore take for granted, the proposition that environmental sustainability and social justice are not only interconnected but also interdependent in a relationship of mutual reinforcement on the same virtuous circle. Indeed, notions such as sustainable development, environmental justice, climate justice and just sustainabilities, whilst being conceptually distinguishable, all endeavour to promote and/or uphold that assumption. Here at the DPU, our main goal of “planning for socially just and sustainable development in the Global South” also contributes to the omnipotence and omnipresence of that canon.
It has been argued elsewhere that whilst environmental sustainability and social justice share a common organising concern around issues of scarcity, they do very different things with it (cf. Campbell, 2013; Dobson, 1998; Irvine and Ponton, 1988). On the one hand, environmentalism centres on questions of extinction, reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources, increasing the use of renewable resources, and decreasing the aggregate amount of waste generated by industrial and other processes of production. On the other hand, social justice concerns centre around the fair sharing or distribution of benefits and burdens in the socio-political community.
On that basis, having different centres of gravity means their objectives will almost always conflict as environmentalists focus on intergenerational justice, and social justice activists demand intragenerational justice. From that perspective, the differences between them are not merely of ambition, but also of tactics. Any convergence of the two ideologies, then, it has been argued (ibid), should be taken as a temporary marriage of convenience with no conjugal rights, and will thereby produce no empirical evidence to validate claims of their universal compatibility.
Now, although those arguments about the lack of empirical evidence may hold true and excite theoretical discussions and diagnoses in the ivory towers of academe, it is not my intention here to excavate, re-examine and confirm or contest them in this short piece. Rather, what I propose to do is to interrogate that opening question through the reflexive lens of my activism with two prominent environmental movements, Extinction Rebellion (XR), and the Transition Network (TN). Both movements can be understood in terms of adopting a glocal focus in their approach to environmentalism; think globally, act locally. In that regard, their organisational structures are very similar; place-based, decentralised and highly networked.
Where XR and TN differ is in their collective action repertoires and processes. XR pursues a broad spectrum of high-impact performative ‘Capital-A activism’ repertoires of civil disobedience that show a moral outrage against the machinations of predatory capitalism and its inherent contradictions which perpetuate environmental despoliation (see Harvey, 2014). In contrast, the TN model subscribes to Buckminster Fuller’s aphorism that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Accordingly, the TN promotes a solutions-based approach which encourages groups to experiment with niche innovations such as local currencies, local energy production, and food initiatives.
It is worth noting here that whilst XR and TN occupy distinct spaces in the ecosystem of contemporary environmental activism, there is some level of cross-pollination of activists between the two movements. Perhaps most importantly for the purpose of this piece, there is considerable consistency in the viewpoints of activists regarding the question of whether environmental sustainability has a problem with social justice. Bringing that question down from the ‘ivory tower of academe’ to the frontline of activism, the kindred question to ask, then, is, do environmentalists have a problem with incorporating social justice claims into their strategic demands?
Drawing from my reflexive diaries of notes taken following conversations with over a hundred activists in both groups, it is clear that there is a significant minority of just under 25% of activists in XR and TN who strongly believe that the clear course of their demands will somehow be muddied by incorporating issues of social justice. That figure increases to just over 32% when the proposed pivot is towards accommodating matters of racial justice. To be clear here, almost all activists sympathised with, and showed enlightened concern for, the cries and demands of social, economic, and racial justice. However, many argued that the introduction of the aforementioned justice concerns might prove too politically divisive and thus threaten the critical ‘mass factor’ necessary to trigger the tipping points for regime change (see, Centola et al., 2018) with regard to the status quo of damaging environmental practices.
Further, as many activists pointed out, there are a plethora of well-established social, justice, economic justice, and racial justice movements already attending to those issues. On that last point about the existence of other movements for various issues of social justice, the inescapable question to ask here at this point, then, is ‘how can environmental movements and movements for social justice build solidarity across differences?’ That is the question I propose to tackle in the next offering of my ‘Reflections from the Frontline’. For now, I will end this short piece by suggesting that the opening question is one that in many ways reflects the state of the union in terms of how humanity is organised on Earth. We find ourselves in the middle of two simultaneous emergencies. On the one hand, we face the twinned climate and ecological breakdown, and on the other hand an emergency of persistent inequalities within and between countries.
Taken together, it becomes clear that humanity is facing something of an identity crisis; a crisis of belonging and othering. As Covid-19 stalks the Earth, threatening to, as viruses so often do, mutate the living daylights out of available vaccines and continue to disrupt everything, we are forced to pause and reflect on how rapidly things can change. In the last twelve months during the pandemic, so many things that we were always told were not possible, suddenly became possible. Amidst speculative visions of dystopian futures predicated on haphazard government responses that demonstrated a mixture of chaotic politics and politicised chaos, measures such as national lockdowns, social distancing and quarantining, fuelled cycles of fear, despair, social isolation and division, and great uncertainty.
Against that backdrop, many place-based movements such as XR and TN have taken a leading role in engaging in mutual support, providing basic needs and solidarity in their community and beyond. What lessons can activists learn from this experience to help the coalescence of environmental movements and movements for social justice in post pandemic activism?
Campbell, S.D., 2013. Sustainable development and social justice: Conflicting urgencies and the search for common ground in urban and regional planning. Michigan Journal of Sustainability, 1.
Centola, D., Becker, J., Brackbill, D. and Baronchelli, A., 2018. Experimental evidence for tipping points in social convention. Science, 360(6393), pp.1116-1119. Accessed via: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/20031/1/
Dobson, A., 1998. Justice and the environment: Conceptions of environmental sustainability and theories of distributive justice. Clarendon Press.
Harvey, D., 2014. Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism. Oxford University Press, USA. Accessed via: https://www.marefa.org/images/3/3f/Harvey14.pdf
Irvine, S. and Ponton, A., 1988. A Green Manifesto: Policies for a Green Future. Vintage.
By Reshma Kumar, on 18 March 2021
Part of the HUD Urban Profiles blog series.
Designing safe cities for women: The green space, gender, safety nexus in London
The Healthy Cities movement from the World Health Organisation, established a focus for understanding the relationship between our environment and health, including the responsibility of local governments. A healthy, sustainable city is one that provides access to safe and inclusive public green space. This is highlighted, specifically for vulnerable populations, including women, under Sustainable Development Goal 11.
Data from the ONS shows that 44% of London residents live within a five-minute walking distance of a park. This is important as Londoners are less likely than residents living in the rest of the UK to have access to a private garden, and the Mayor of London has incorporated the promotion of green spaces in to cross-sectoral policy, as illustrated in the Health Inequalities Strategy.
However, poorly designed public space can increase the occurrence of harassment and threats. It is important that we pay attention to how the experience of green space can differ across gender, race, age, sexuality, disability and economic status. In London, women report, at twice the rate of men, that safety is a barrier to walking in public space.
What are the benefits of green space?
The positive effects of green space are well documented. Physical benefits include healthier immune systems, improved cardiovascular health, decreased exposure to noise and air pollution and promotion of physical activity. To add to this, the mental health benefits consist of promoting social interaction, lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and lifting mood.
More must be done to question how accessible these spaces really are, and who benefits from them. 59% of people surveyed in London found they had become more attune to the importance of green space for their wellbeing during lockdown. Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of green space, as well as concerns around women’s safety. The pandemic has not only affected access to services and livelihoods, but has also restricted women’s freedom of movement, and freedom from violence.
Lived experiences and safety perceptions
The intersection between space and gender is influenced by subtle, underlying power dynamics within society. Women are one of the groups who are underrepresented in green spaces and hence feel unsafe. Reflected across the UK, disaggregated data further shows that BAME women in particular are less likely to be visibly present in green spaces.
Despite green spaces being recognized as places of escape, the fear of violence can present as a barrier to accessing them. Our identity influences how we experience and shape space and place, including the levels of psychosocial and physical risk we face. 1 in 5 women in London go through sexual assault, with 40% recorded having taken place in public spaces.
In quieter spaces there is the appearance of having fewer ‘eyes on the street’, leading to the impression of weaker public safety. Throughout green space in London other factors accompanying this include poorly lit areas, badly constructed pathways and enclosed, less visible areas with blind spots.
How can we create safer green spaces?
Multiple tools have been used globally to encourage women friendly spaces and increase awareness of these issues. Recording this sensitive data whilst also paying attention to anonymity are essential to guaranteeing reporters’ safety and encouraging women to disclose this information to create safer, more accessible green spaces.
- The UN Safe Cities and Public spaces programme works with local organisations and governments to eliminate violence and sexual harassment in public spaces; empowering women and enhancing their freedom of movement, access to services, cultural activities and in turn better health.
- The ‘Hollaback!’ project is an app and website to anonymously document harassment that occurs in public spaces. It uses this data to drive dialogue and action with stakeholders such as Transport for London and the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
- The ‘Women’s Safety Audit’ is a checklist incorporating the lived experiences of women, identifying safety concerns specific to a local area. A recommendations report is presented to planners to improve design features which may not have been recognised as causing concern.
- Finally, lack of diversity and understanding of these spaces is reflected in industry. In the UK in 2018, 74% of architects were male. And within horticulture, only 15% of employees were female, with 10-20% from a BAME background. Working towards encouraging women into these industries can aid in bringing an intersectional perspective in to planning and design.
The urban environment is constantly adapting to the needs of its residents. But cities continue to be spaces of inequality, and it is necessary for our green environments to be inclusive spaces, if all groups within society are to gain from the positive effects of nature. Allowing the spaces for different voices and perspectives to be heard throughout policy and design processes will aid in producing safer, more equitable green spaces across London.
Braubach M., Egorov A., Mudu P., Wolf T., Ward Thompson C. and Martuzzi M. 2017. Effects of Urban Green Space on Environmental Health, Equity and Resilience. In: Kabisch N., Korn H., Stadler J., Bonn A. (eds) Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas. Theory and Practice of Urban Sustainability Transitions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-56091-5_11
Centre for London. 2019. Fair Access: Towards A Transport System For Everyone, Chapter 3: Impacts On Different Groups. [online] Centreforlondon.org. Available at: <https://www.centreforlondon.org/reader/fair-access/chapter-3/#health-and-wellbeing> [Accessed 18 January 2021].
Collier, B.. 2020. The Race Factor In Access To Green Space. [online] Runnymedetrust.org. Available at: <https://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/the-race-factor-in-access-to-green-space> [Accessed 5 December 2020].
CPRE London. 2020. Appreciation Of Green Space Grows During Lockdown. [online] CPRE London. Available at: <https://www.cprelondon.org.uk/news/cpre-poll-of-londoners-shows-appreciation-of-green-space-during-lockdown/> [Accessed 18 January 2021].
Glouberman, S., Gemar, M., Campsie, P., Miller, G., Armstrong, J., Newman, C., Siotis, A., and Groff, P. 2006. A framework for improving health in cities: a discussion paper. Journal of urban health: bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. Vol.83. Is.2. Pg.325–338. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-006-9034-9
Greater London Authority. 2018. The London Health Inequalities Strategy. [online] Greater London. Available at: <https://www.easy-read-online.co.uk/media/52136/health_inequalities_strategy_easy_read_lores_v4.pdf> [Accessed 17 January 2021].
Greenspace Scotland. 2020. COVID-19 And Ensuring Safe Cities And Safe Public Spaces For Women And Girls. [online] Available at: <https://www.greenspacescotland.org.uk/news/covid-19-and-ensuring-safe-cities-and-safe-public-spaces-for-women-and-girls> [Accessed 21 November 2020].
Hollaback London. Undated. About Us And Faqs. [online] Ldn.ihollaback.org. Available at: <https://ldn.ihollaback.org/about/> [Accessed 19 January 2021].
Kalms, N., 2019. To Design Safer Parks For Women, City Planners Must Listen To Their Stories. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/to-design-safer-parks-for-women-city-planners-must-listen-to-their-stories-98317> [Accessed 21 November 2020].
London Green Spaces Commission. 2020. LONDON GREEN SPACES COMMISSION REPORT. [online] Available at: <https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/4244_-_gla_-_london_green_spaces_commission_report_v7_0.pdf> [Accessed 18 January 2021].
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Lockdown and inequalities in green spaces distribution: side effects on mental health, a French case study
By Theophile altuzarra, on 9 March 2021
Part of the HUD Urban Profiles blog series.
10 months ago, governments across Europe imposed movement restriction policies, often resulting in lockdown measures, in order to contain the spread of Covid-19. In addition to curfew periods, France has witnessed 104 days of strict lockdown measures, in two periods, and is now expecting a highly probable third one.
These measures, have nevertheless resulted in side effects, degradation of well-being and mental health of inhabitants, particularly among the most vulnerable groups. With a few months’ hindsight, we are now able to better understand the underlying drivers of the increasing depression symptoms, stress and anxiety among the population resulting from the anti-Covid measures, with a growing body of studies and evidence. One of the main reason for the deterioration of mental health under lockdown measures is the lack of access to nature and green areas for urban dwellers.
I. Green-and-blue areas and mental health
The positive impact of natural areas, urban parks and forests, on mental health is now well known. These areas are contributing to the reduction of stress for urban dwellers, as well as the reduction of depression symptoms. Moreover, urban parks are places of socialisation, particularly for the youth, providing them areas for physical activities and social practices, positively contributing to their well-being.
II. Lockdown highlighting the inequalities
During lockdown, natural areas became really important for residents. But this access was hindered in some countries, like France where lockdowns were strict. During the first French lockdown, the access to seashore, beaches, forests and even urban parks and other green spaces was forbidden, with important consequences on mental health. For the second lockdown, if natural and green spaces were theoretically opened, population movement was restricted to a strict radius of 1 kilometer from residence.
This 1km radius restriction, neutral in appearance, was in fact reinforcing preexisting inequalities, particularly regarding access to natural areas in urban environments. More than just access to blue and green spaces, the access to quality spaces is important. In the Paris Metropolitan Area, nature is unequally distributed among the population, targeting particularly the poorest neighbourhoods. The restrictions have been added to inequalities in urban park distribution, where priority neighborhoods in France, with higher population density and poor housing conditions, usually have less access to quality green spaces than other neighbourhoods.
Under normal circumstances, home is considered as a restorative space. But during lockdown, home becomes the only place for living, working, leisure. As boundaries between personal and professional spaces are fading, the indoor area is no longer this restorative place it used to be. Having access to green areas can compensate for this loss of restoration. And being deprived of these areas, particularly in the most deprived neighbourhoods where poor housing conditions and overcrowding are exacerbated, is a second burden in pandemic times.
III. Consequences on mental health
By preventing most urban dwellers from natural areas, lockdown restrictions are resulting in a degradation of mental health. Depression symptoms are rising, particularly among those who don’t have access to nature, and even people who don’t have views on natural elements from their windows. There is therefore a direct correlation between mental health and natural elements, and this connection is exacerbated in difficult, stressful times such as pandemic and lockdowns, creating a gap in mental health between people living in overcrowded, deprived, with poor housing, and no access to blue and green spaces, and people living in more favourable conditions.
Green areas are known for their positive outcomes, and psychological restorative impact, particularly needed under stressful conditions such as a pandemic or the restrictions resulting from the pandemic. Preventing some part of the population to have access to it, by implementing an arbitrary 1km restriction is the same as depriving them from opportunities to cope with the situation, in a very unequal way, particularly because this part of the population is composed of vulnerable groups.
IV. And now?
Therefore, as France is now expecting to know a third lockdown, which is just a matter of weeks, it seems urgent to think what kind of city do we want to build, regarding normal time, lockdowns period, and even future pandemics. One of the most important issues is to deal with the ‘’side-effects’’ of the containment measures, on psychiatric and mental health level, to deal with the increasing depression cases, particularly among the youth.
One of the solutions for future policies can be to guarantee for all citizens an equitable access to quality blue and green areas more spread in the city, regarding the rights to nature. For example, policy measures regarding the access to nature for future urban planning can provide an access to a close urban park for new housing units built. Furthermore, new houses or collective accommodation buildings can be designed in a way that each resident can have at least an access to a balcony, a terrace or a view on natural elements.
Finally, regarding the more than likely third French lockdown, it seems urgent to abolish the 1km restriction, or at least adapt it to mitigate the too important negative outcomes.
By Jess Beagley, on 3 March 2021
Part of the HUD Urban Profiles blog series.
A Liveable City
Situated in the north-east of London, Waltham Forest is home to some 277,000 residents, of whom an unusually low proportion are over the age of 65. In fact, the median age of the local population is just 34, compared to a national average of 40. Many local residents are young families, drawn to Waltham Forest’s notable liveability, with green open spaces, a local food market, miles of cycle lanes, and comparatively spacious housing – all within manageable commuting distance of central London.
At first glance, the setting seems idyllic for many, but older people are decreasingly visible not only in terms of their number but arguably also in the extent to which their needs are reflected in local planning. One setting where this is evident is the popular Lloyd Park, which has long been appreciated by local residents, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Space and the Right to the City
While Lloyd Park offers an impressive variety of facilities and activities for a range of ages, with football pitches, a boules court, skate park, Tai Chi classes, tennis courts, and regularly spaced benches, some aspects nevertheless greatly limit the enjoyment of older visitors.
Signs at the park entrance indicate that “considerate cycling” is permitted, but many riders race down the main path which runs through the park, providing a convenient shortcut between two roads, with little care for pedestrians of any age. Other routes around the perimeter of the park have far less rapid traffic, but present a different hazard: poor or entirely absent surfacing of the paths leaves them perilously muddy, with severe risk of slipping after wet weather. A lack of lighting along even the main paths adds to the hostility of the environment once the afternoon light has faded.
For people over 65, falls represent a particular hazard to health, and the ability to get up and continue on is not one that can be taken for granted. Falls have an enduring impact, and are causes not only of injury and pain, but also of distress, loss of confidence and loss of independence. Over 65s are vulnerable in this context on account of their reduced capacity to resist and recover from the threat posed by the unsafe environment, to the extent that some older residents are unlikely to use the park. One visitor to the park commented “There are no ‘really old’ people – I mean, people in their 80s. They are conspicuous by their absence” and how “the park [should be] for everyone, but everyone needs to…respect the shared spaces.”
Subsidiarity and Truly Participatory Urban Governance
UN Habitat defines good urban governance as being underpinned by the interdependent and mutually reinforcing principles of “sustainability, subsidiarity, equity, efficiency, transparency and accountability, civic engagement and citizenship, and security”. The principle of subsidiarity refers to the allocation of responsibility for provision of services “at the closest appropriate level consistent with efficient and cost-effective delivery of services”. While the principle of subsidiarity is apparent in Waltham Forest, with the park being managed by the local council, this has not led to effective civic engagement in defining priorities for the maintenance and upgrading of the park. This has in turn contributed to inequities. In order to ensure that the park becomes a truly public space, active outreach and engagement with older people and the wider community is necessary. The question here is not so much of who uses the park, but of who does not. The duty of the service provider to understand the needs of those who the park visitor described as “conspicuous by their absence”, often referred to as “hard-to-reach” is one which is often overlooked. Workshops with regular park visitors to consult on plans for park developments are comparatively easy to organise, but these relatively passive efforts fall far short of what is needed to serve the local population.
The very term “hard-to-reach” encapsulates the reason for this collapse – many of those who do not use the park are distanced not by choice, but by exclusion. The abject failure to cater to the needs if the disenfranchised, whether for age or any other reason, is in stark juxtaposition to the very essence of “public” space. It must be questioned whether these communities are “seldom-heard” or rather seldom offered a platform to speak. In order to overcome these shortcomings, the local council must actively identify, reach out to, and seek to gain the trust of those who are least likely to use the park in order to understand their needs and views and how these can be catered for alongside those of other residents. Approaches to support these forms of active outreach have been proposed including by Cinderby and BEMIS and must be pursued for the sake of urban justice.
Images (author’s own) show one of Lloyd Park’s football fields, and the muddy perimeter path of the same area at dusk.
HUD Urban Profiles
As part of the module Urban Health: Reflections on Practice, students were given the opportunity to critically and creatively engage with their surroundings. Urban Profiles is a culmination of students’ reflective journals from the start of the course. Whether it was a walk around their town or a focus on specific communities within their home cities, students reflected on what ‘health in the city means’ to them as urban health practitioners, and strategised what could help tackle health concerns in consideration of the urban profiles of their cities.
An introduction to time-space planning: Re-thinking the role of planning in the making of cities in India
By Debayan Chatterjee, on 28 January 2021
“Given the overwhelming evidence that cities are a complex overlay of buildings and activities that are in one way or another, temporary, why have urbanists been so focused on permanence?” (Bishop et al., 2012: 3)
Indian cities today are changing physically slower than the rate demanded by the pace of activities within. And the emerging trend of ‘temporary urbanism’ signifies a shift from traditional physical city-making paradigm to one which interprets the city as a backdrop for activities. Therefore, the contemporary urban practitioners need to revisit their conceptual association with urban permanence and explore possibilities of de-constructing the current mainstream planning narrative which is grounded in a dichotomy where space stood for fixity and time for dynamism, novelty and becoming (Massey, 1999). In this context, the introduction of Time-Space planning as an alternative narrative cherishes ‘seductive flexibility’ and openness by re-conceptualizing urban time-spaces as ‘multiple, relational, and co-produced’ (Ferreri, 2015; May et al., 2001).
Historically, cities in India have always celebrated temporariness in various ways. Religious festivals, periodic cultural events, and street markets are a few examples of such ‘embedded’ practices that have been an integral part of people’s everyday lives for years. After independence, it was the modernist city planning that tried to separate the time and space aspects of everyday practices, generated the thrust for fixity across the country, and created binary distinctions such as permanent versus temporary. However, the deliberate practice of Time-Space planning (at the local level) allows planning professionals and communities to learn from deeply ‘embedded’ temporariness, experiments with ‘intentional’/’experiential’ temporariness (Madanipour, 2017) and therefore, helps in the new imagination of urban places/ societies. These contemporary urban practices reinstate Lefebvre’s understandings of time that is something inseparable from space (1992) and validate that cities are ‘four-dimensional’ (Bishop et al., 2012). Thus, the above-mentioned changes demonstrate a clear shift from ‘solid’ modernity to ‘fluid’ modernity (Bauman, 2000) where, the urban is “…understood as a living pulse, assembling and disassembling itself in a reversible manner according to needs and opportunities, market demands and supply of resources, restrictions, and aspirations of inhabitants” (Mehrotra, 2016).
In my viewpoint, Time-Space planning emphasizes on the alternative conceptualization of cities “…by questioning the very assumptions, norms, values, and ideals” (Miraftab, 2009) that shape mainstream planning practices in India. The new planning narrative refuses to picture permanent ‘destinations’ for people and therefore, unleashes the possibilities of imagining ever-transforming environments that can sustain through the processes of ‘improvisations’ and ‘indeterminacies’ (Simone, 2019). This is a major analytical shift because planning here is neither obsessed with finding out the ‘ultimate solution’ for a given urban context nor dependent on the long-term projecting and forecasting. Such refusals lead to the much-needed liberation of current planning imaginations by provoking enough willingness “…to risk, to try different things, without necessarily needing for the results to come, in some sense, right away” (Simone, 2019). Such ‘incompleteness’ embedded within the Time-Space planning narrative allows the planners and the people to collectively experiment with the moments of ‘provisionality’ (Simone, 2019) and to maneuver rooms for future improvisations in India.
Unpacking time-space planning & its principles
In my opinion, the conceptual formulation of the Time-Space approach stresses on a few urban trajectories as follows;
– The alternative planning practices challenge the foundations of modernist planning and its obsession with permanence and imposing order;
– New urban imaginaries celebrate flexibility and fluidity; deliberate planning for temporariness sits within a mix of time-scales;
– Active involvement of a range of actors and recognition of their power relations are necessary for inviting necessary improvisations in the urban-making process. The actors’ collective roles/ responsibilities change with the context. It liberates ‘planning’ from the ‘professional planners’;
– Transformative local practices use a palette of (time-based) strategies and tactics to fulfil the need of marginalized communities. Here, planning refuses its mainstream norms and discipline, follows unorthodox processes, and therefore celebrates incompleteness;
Thus, contours of Time-Space planning can be distilled into four key principles;
Principle 1: Liberating planning imagination
“Cities are subject to continuous change and restructuring. There arises, inter alia, a fundamental tension between the rigidity of the urban built environment and the relative fluidity of the socio-economic processes that produce and are accommodated by it” (Henneberry, 2017: 1). Unlike the top-down planning approaches, Time-Space planning improves the relations between the former and the latter and allows smooth urban transformations. The new adaptive planning practices enforce alternative imagination of cities by amplifying ‘reversibility’ and ‘openness’ in the space production processes. In short, these careful measures assert a new consciousness that “…aims at decolonizing the planning imagination by taking a fresh look at subaltern cities to understand them by their own rules of the game and values rather than by the planning prescriptions and fantasies of the West” (Miraftab, 2009: 45).
Principle 2: Embracing a hybrid/ in-between development approach
Temporary urban interventions “…may arise completely spontaneously or be supported wholly or partly by the state or established private actors” (Henneberry, 2017: 256). The long-term sustenance of these time-bound interventions neither solely dependent on the support from the state nor the communities. Rather, the collective efforts from both the government and the people decide the fate of alternative place-making practices. Time-Space planning goes beyond the binary of the state-led and citizen-led practices and develops a ‘third way’ of development that ensures active participation of all mainstream and marginalized actors in the urbanization process. Understanding the negotiations involved in the process is crucial to produce social innovations.
Principle 3: Amplifying socio-spatial justice
“Temporary activities can provide a vehicle for local consultation” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 35), and help to build a bridge among state, developers, and (marginalized) communities. Such collaborations are essential to enable the marginalized communities to actively take part in their city-making process. Time-Space planning protects these weak actors and facilitates them to address various forms of injustices by re-using available city structure; re-adjusting structural forces; and reinforcing strategic temporary-use regulations. Thus, temporary urban interventions are capable of producing socially just built-environments in cities (Klanten and Hübner, 2010; Oswalt et al.,2013). The new imagination of cities not only focuses on minimizing harm (/inequalities) but on doing measurable good.
Principle 4: Triggering experiment-driven planning practices
Time-Space planning is “…experiment driven development, not planning led” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 36), and therefore, it involves a range of decision-makers and users, and aims “…to foster change by producing alternative visions and projects whose aim is not to be sustained but to evolve with space and its users” (Andres n.d.). These practices follow the conceptual architecture of Insurgent Planning and hence, shift the theoretical objectives from ‘planner to planning’ (Miraftab, 2009). As a result, the alternative urban-making processes democratize planning practices and re-define the planning limits by allowing various community activists, professional planners, city councilors, employed/ unemployed residents, etc. to decide the necessary planning measures focusing on conditions and not on the action itself (Miraftab, 2009; Lehtovuori et al., 2012).
Mainstreaming time-space planning
It is important to understand that mainstreaming the Time-Space approach won’t be an easy task for the new-age urban planners. And failing to do so, the future will be “…less open and more predetermined as persistence and perpetuation of the present” (Miraftab, 2017: 284). So, they can ‘imagine’ the ‘unimaginable’ only when; (a) Place-making practices identify ‘impermanence’ as a ‘potential’ and not a ‘failure’; (b) Planning becomes reflexive and not prescriptive. Hence, the focus shifts from top-down forecasting, projections, and improvements to grassroots improvisations; (c) The interested communities/ planners/ government officials have the appropriate technical knowledge/skills related to time-bound planning, construction, maintenance, and demolition/ transferal of temporary urban interventions; (d) Government is willing to modify its rigid administrations and reduce bureaucratic obstacles that hinder ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unorthodox’ practices; (e) All the actors stress on just collaborations and the newly formed alliances have enough courage to experiment with ‘non-linearity’, ‘fuzziness’ and ‘openness’ in planning; Without satisfying these prerequisites, planning will be always afraid to celebrate its ‘incompleteness’ in true sense.
The purpose of this article is not to stress on replacing the long-term interventions with time-bound interventions. Rather, it celebrates the notion of adaptability and openness in planning, and discusses how embracing ‘temporariness’ in urban planning allows new-age urban planners to explore appropriate possibilities to ‘improvise’ urban lives in India.
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Mr. Debayan Chatterjee is a Commonwealth Scholar from India, who has finished his MSc in Urban Development Planning at University College London with distinction in 2020. He also earned a Master of Urban Design degree from SPA-Delhi and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is an academician and artist too. Currently, he is working as an urban designer at Jacobs India.