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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


Power and Politics: A reflection on political settlement

By Michael Walls, on 11 April 2016

To many – perhaps more today than in some generations past – ‘politics’ is a dirty word. Yet the political permeates our social lives on the most personal of levels as well as more generally. And the twin sibling of politics is power; specifically it’s exercise and pursuit. Perhaps the thing that most upsets many of us about ‘politics’ is what we perceive as the naked or covert use of power for personal betterment. But there’s a complication there. As much as we tend to presume that unbalanced power is a bad thing, the reality is that the stability of human societies through history and around the globe rests on just such imbalances. And personal interest occupies an uneasy yet always central motivator in the exercise of that power. In some ways, it is hard to even conceive of power in terms other than in some unbalanced sense. After all, if one person possesses the ability to compel someone else to do something, then that represents an imbalance in itself. There’d be no compulsion if the person compelled didn’t accept the authority of the other. Which highlights the difficult balance we need to try and find as human societies if we are to balance some sense of social justice with the sort of systemic efficacy we must aspire to if our states are to be run with reasonable efficiency.

Political leaders sign an agreement on voter registration, Hargeisa

Political leaders sign an agreement on voter registration, Hargeisa

The idea of the ‘political settlement’ that lies behind this project encourages examination of the nature of those balances in the political realm.

But we can also think of power in different ways. The sense of power as an imbalance in which one person can compel another, which I’ve just described, is what Andrea Cornwall and John Gaventa called ‘power over’. But we also sometimes think of power in different terms. For example, the power to do something is usually more about the capacity we have to act, and we sometimes also talk about ‘inner’ strength; the power we gain from within ourselves. Not quite the same as the capacity to do something because it refers more to strength of character or resolve, but that can connect with capacity as well. There is also a sense of power that labour unions, amongst others, have often used: the power of unity or solidarity. The power we gain by working together with others of like mind.

Focus group meeting in Laas Aanood

Focus group meeting in Laas Aanood

The ‘Political Settlement in Somaliland‘ research project is designed to dig deeper into some of the attitudes that women and men have to each other’s political engagement, and to find out more about how those attitudes are reflected in the ‘political settlement’ that underpins what has become an enduring peace in Somaliland. In so doing, we will be thinking hard about how different kinds of power are exercised by women and men in Somaliland: both in the negotiations, debates and decisions that form the political settlement, and in the actions people take or have taken in an effort to influence those decisions.

It is axiomatic that one of the most persistently asymmetrical balances of power is where it relates to the roles of men and women in a society. A growing body of research has focused on Somali state-building, and particularly on Somaliland, and there have been a number of studies on gender roles in that context. We are aiming to explore the ideas at the intersection of those concerns by trying to understand more about the assumptions and positions that shape social relations for men and women. That links strongly to a number of specific areas, including violence against women and girls, which seems to have worsened even while stability has been consolidated.

We are still in the relatively early days of the research, and are currently collecting primary data. There’ll be numerous updates of one sort or another. Keep an eye on the research microsite for new material.

drawing water for camels from a well, Sanaag

Drawing water for camels from a well, Sanaag

Dr. Michael Walls is a Senior Lecturer at UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) and Course Director for the MSc in Development Administration and Planning. He has twelve years’ experience in senior management in the private sector and lectures in ‘market-led approaches to development’. For some thirteen years he has focused on the Somali Horn of Africa, and most particularly on the evolving political settlements in Somaliland and Puntland. He is currently leading a research project focused on developing a gendered perspective on Somaliland’s political settlement. As well as undertaking research on state formation and political representation, he has been a part of the coordination team for international election observations to Somaliland elections in 2005, 2010 and 2012 and is currently observing the 2016 Voter Registration process. 

The need for child-orientated play spaces in Addis Ababa

By ucfudun, on 21 December 2015

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is rapidly expanding and urbanising. Roads, new buildings, car parks and concrete take president and priority over child’s play and recreational space. Evidence, time and time again, has shown that common to all children is a propensity – a natural, innate drive and desire – to play. Children naturally spend most of the day playing if they can – improving their social, physical and cognitive development and wellbeing in the process. But the reality is that play is becoming a luxury for many urban children, while infants are not getting access to adequate and affordable day care which helps ensure they go to school ready and equipped to learn.

Facilitated by a new organisation called Out of The Box, over the next two months a simple yet effective pilot project involving local children, parents, artists and newly graduated Addis-based architects is underway to create a child-centred, community-managed space in the heart of city of Addis Ababa.

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

Urbanisation and the place of the child

 Ethiopia is undergoing unprecedented levels of social, economic and urban change. With a population of over 4 million, the rapid urbanisation of its capital city, Addis Ababa, brings increased danger for the child from traffic, pollution, and construction, combined with a decline of public space. Not only does the planning process tend to ignore the needs of the child, but the dramatic shift in housing from low-level forms to high-rise apartments, referred to as condominiums, adds further restrictions to the spaces in which the child is able to interact with his/her surroundings [1]. As across the global south, resource-poor local government is forced to make hard choices – investments in play and play space being seen as a luxury rather than a right, with the economic and social returns from investing in play rarely understood.

Importance of play, interactive learning, and the investment in young people’s spaces

Children are born with a natural hunger for experience, exploration, understanding and desire for passionate engagement with the physical and social world around them. Play is the process by which children achieve this intrinsic quest for learning, enjoyment and adventure[2], while the way in which children play, and what they play with, is determined by the physical and social environment they are brought up in[3]. Play, like childhood, is culturally relative: socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and race impact on the forms of play a child participates in[4].

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Play is essential for the development of both individual identity and the creation of active and responsible membership of society. Play, according to the UN Convention of the Child is a human right, and research on play interventions, particularly during a child’s early years, show that the active participation in play-based activities results in significantly raising IQs, greater levels of education attainment, higher rates of employment, and increased wages in later life[5], whilst investing in playgrounds, sport and recreational spaces and youth centres plays a crucial role in the creation of strong and cohesive communities, directly enabling the child to feel respected and valued within their immediate community.

Bob Hughes, a pioneering adventure play worker in 1970s Britain, states: “Children will always be children and will always find a way to play”. This begs three important questions: 1. Is where children play safe? 2. What play facilities do governments, policy makers, city planners and communities provide for their children? 3. Does the child have any say in this provision?

Out of The Box Project

In 2012 I spent 3 month living in a housing condominium called Balderas. Constructed in 2008, it’s home to 1050 households and 6000 residents, one third of whom are under 16 years old. During this time I saw first hand how there was a distinct lack of designated early years day-care, play and youth space both in Balderas and across Ethiopia. Inspired by the children I met and the openness of the Resident Association to listen to my slightly “out of the box” ideas, we set about developing Out of The Box (OTB) with the aim of building an adventure playground, a children’s permaculture garden, and multipurpose youth and early years day-care centre at Balderas as a pilot for seeding similar developments in condominiums across Addis Ababa.

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Based on interactive children’s workshops and consultations with the Balderas Resident Association, newly graduated architects from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture (EiABC) are currently designing an original, culturally relevant, dynamic space for children to play, socialise and learn. Incorporating 5 key elements of early years learning and play (Physical, Cognitive, Sensory, Social, Imaginative), the playground aims to be inclusive of different ages, genders and abilities, and use local materials such as bamboo and recycled tyres, jerry cans and satellite dishes. In addition, the site will feature a 30 metre art wall featuring collaborative work from local Addis artists, art students and the children themselves. A children’s permaculture garden will ensure the space is green, vibrant and a celebration of the natural environment in this urban setting.

A second phase to the project will build a children’s centre for early years day-care, youth activities, plus library and café – all managed by Balderas Youth Board and community members.

The first phase of the pilot project will start at Balderas in early 2015. This will act as an example which OTB hopes to replicate in other condominiums in Addis and further afield, continuing to work in creative partnership with a diverse range of individuals and organisations based in both Addis and the UK – promoting the importance of play and the opportunity for every child to play within their immediate community, through both active community participation, cultural dialogue, and exchange.

For more information or ways to be become engaged visit www.outoftheboxpartnerships.com or contact Sally directly at sally@outoftheboxpartnerships.com


Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.

Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.


[1] Tiumelissan, A and Pankurst A (2013) Moving to Condominium Housing? Views about the Prospect among Caregivers and Children in Addis Ababa and Hawassa, Ethiopia, Young Lives Working Paper 106 [Online] Available from: http://www.younglives.org.uk/publications/WP/moving-to-condominium-housing/wp106-pankurst-moving-to-condominiums [Assessed 1st August 2015]


[2] Bartlett S, Hart R, Satterthwaite D, De La Barra X, Missair A (1999) Cities for Children – Children rights, Poverty and Urban Management, Earthscan Publication Ltd, London.


[3] Valsiner, J (1989) Human Development and Culture; The Social Nature of Personality and its Study, Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.


[4] Holloway S and Valentine G (2000) Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning, Routledge: London and New York


[5] Kellock P (2015) The Case for Play, Playground Ideas Report [Online] Available from: http://www.playgroundideas.org/wp-content/uploads/The-case-for-play-V5.pdf [Assessed 09th December 2015]

Sally Duncan has just completed an MSc in Social Development Practice from DPU. She is the CEO and Founder of Out of The Box and also works as a consultant for Oshun Partnerships. Formerly she worked for DFID, as well as for local NGOs in Ethiopia, India, South Africa and Madagascar. Sally is now living in Addis Ababa carrying out her dream to oversee the construction of the adventure playground and youth center in Balderas condominium where she used to live – she hopes this will be the first of many!

Impediments to Development: A Cursory View of Nigeria

By ucfuogu, on 14 October 2015

What is development?

Source: Sun.Star http://gallery.sunstar.com.ph/Editorial-Cartoons/i-hWjMJP8


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

Why are developing countries not developing?

Source: SMART Technologies http://exchange.smarttech.com/details?id=88de0e47-b103-491c-ab9b-401d9554f440


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

Hegemonic narrative overshadows other impediments to development.

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

Urbanisation and development

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

Why are cities/urban centres critical to development?

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

Nigeria’s experience

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


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


1. A Statement by the President of Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari. Source Punch Newspaper http://www.punchng.com/news/buhari-to-split-nnpc-into-two-plans-fresh-bid-round-for-oil-blocks/
2. Editor Punch Nigeria Limited, 2015. PUNCH. [Online]
Available at: http://www.punchng.com/editorials/corruption-let-the-war-begin-in-earnest/
[Accessed 3 August 2015].
3. Statement by the President of Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari at the US Institute for Peace on 22nd July 2015. Source: Punch Newspaper http://www.punchng.com/news/buharis-speech-at-us-institute-for-peace/
4. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/overview
5. Miller, H., 2014. What are the features of urbanisation and cities that promote productivity, employment and salaries?. s.l.:EPS-PEAKS.
6. Well-being and citizenship in urban Nigeria (2015) Forthcoming publication by Andrea Rigon et al.
7. Knowledge platform: Urbanization. http://www.citiesalliance.org/sites/citiesalliance.org/files/7%20-%20WB%20Urbanization%20KP%20Full%20Document.pdf

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


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

Windsor Workshop at the DPU

By ucfubi0, on 10 December 2012

Post written in collaboration with Josephine Wilka. Students of the MSc Development Administration and Planning

On the 30th October 2012 at 11am, there was a lot of commotion at the Cumberland Lodge: almost 180 DPU postgraduate students and staff were gathering in the back garden of this beautiful Windsor mansion to have their photo taken. It captured one of the many memorable moments of this year’s Windsor Workshop which was concerned with the subsequent topic: “Dar es Salaam – Negotiating a unified strategy for land use and affordable settlement upgrading”. Some of the students then headed towards the buses to return to London. For them it marked the end of two days full of intense group work, heated discussions, film-screenings from the ground, tricky negotiating and decision-making, certainly the most demanding tasks of the whole exercise. For the other half of the students the challenges of creating a solution to this Tanzanian reality with their stakeholder groups were still ahead. After all, this simulation project was attended by Tim Ndeze, who participates in the actual negotiations on site as a member of CCI (Centre for Community Initiatives)- a civil society organisation. He not only presented an invaluable in-depth local knowledge of the situation, but also, together with Ruth McLeod and Gynna F. Millan Franco, contributed to the excellent movie footage from Dar es Salaam, which had been collected in the weeks ahead. Their team effort allowed DPU students to immerse themselves into the perspective of one of the many actor groups they chose to represent, ranging from international financial institutions to slum dwellers, in order to envision the environment and to connect to the local people through the recordings. Despite the assignment itself being very serious in nature, there was also time to enjoy the historic surroundings, giving the foreign students the opportunity to get a glimpse of the British culture, and to socialise with other participants and coaches over a delicious meal or a drink at the cosy bar. For those that preferred to be more active, there was the chance to show off their table tennis skills, to hit the dance floor for some twists and spins and to explore the vast Windsor Park, ideal for a quick afternoon walk.

Following this period that resulted in defining the strategy, forming of alliances and the establishment of concrete points of action at the Cumberland Lodge, a final meeting of all “stakeholders” was being held at the Royal National Hotel in London, providing the last opportunity to maximise support for the respective actor group’s vision. The students representing slum dwellers, for example, did not let this chance pass by and took the liberty to stage some last minute demonstrations to remind everyone that the voices of the most marginalised should not be forgotten and that it is them who should be at the heart of the solution. With the objective being clear, interests and efforts had to be harmonised – a task which emerged as the most difficult struggle in achieving a comprehensive, far-reaching action plan by all parties involved.

Reflection upon the workshop and its effects shows how profoundly it had challenged many DPU students to engage with the multiple layers of causes and impacts in urban affairs. What’s more, the specific understanding of a region has been highly valued by various Windsor Workshop participants, whose opinion is resonated in the following statement by a DAP student who contemplated about her experience a few weeks after returning from the lodge: “I thought Windsor [Workshop] was fantastic! What I liked most about it is that I now know so much about Tanzania and its development-related problems, I knew very little before.” The benefits of attending far exceeded simply learning about Tanzania: everyone had the opportunity to assume a specific role as a member of one of the various actor groups, and by doing that each one could actively contribute to finding solutions to the many issues Dar es Salaam is facing right now. Moreover, all the activities, carefully planned by the DPU staff, were notably aimed at encouraging students to enhance their ability to work in teams, to think outside the box, to be creative, and to improve their presentation skills. Whether one was a  local government official dealing with  a lack of funds, staff and coordination or a member of a Chinese estate giant trying to develop the land for the people, yet securing commercial interests: working together was crucial to achieve common goals.

What especially made the whole project worthwhile was the fact that the proposals and solutions that have been developed, will be considered by the team of practitioners on the ground in Dar es Salaam, who have sent Tim Ndeze to London to attend to this task. In this sense, DPU students had the unique opportunity of making a real contribution  to the  positive change in some of the Tanzanian communities facing resettlement.

For more images visit the DPU flickr account

Pictures in this post by ©Remi Kaupp

Future Proofing Cities

By ucfucjl, on 29 November 2012

Risks and opportunities for inclusive urban growth in developing countries, a report reflecting 9 months work by teams from Atkins and UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) funded by DFID, was launched on the 28th November 2012.

In this picture, from left to right: Adriana Allen (DPU,UCL), David Tonkin (Atkins) and Nick Godfrey (Atkins)

At a time when debates about the environment seem to get stuck around arguments about the existence and magnitude of environmental problems, and the short term and long term opportunity cost of solutions in primarily economic terms, the report offers a clear methodology for assessing and responding to environmental risks and opportunities in a way that addresses poverty and inequality in cities.  The methodology was applied to 129 cities across 20 countries within DFID’s programme remit.

The first component of the methodology is an ‘urban diagnostic’ based on an assessment of three critical issues:

  1. A cities environmental risk assessment based on the intersection of the risks from carbon emissions and energy use, climate change risks, and resource and ecosystems risks;
  2. an assessment of urban vulnerability, based on poverty and inequality; basic infrastructure and services; and urban form;
  3. an assessment of the capacity to act, based on indicators relating to the economy; governance; planning; finance and delivery.

Drawing together the urban diagnostics, the research proposed a categorisation of cities into 5 urban types based on their most significant environmental risk, that is,

  • energy intensive, sprawled cities, with significant carbon footprints (eg. Bangalore, Cape Town);
  • cities with major climate hazards (eg. Dhaka, Kampala);
  • cities with regional support system(s) at risk (water, food, biodiversity) (eg. Karachi, Da Nang);
  • cities with multiple risks: energy, carbon, climate hazards, and regional support systems (eg Jakarta, Bangkok);
  • and cities with a low current risk profile (eg Blantyre-Limbe, Lilongwe)

The second component of the methodology is a 5 stage multi-criteria approach to identifying and prioritising policies for future proofing.  The research reviewed 102 different policies which might have different combinations of applicability to the urban types.  For an individual city, the 5 stage model would involve the identification and appraisal of solutions related to

  1. the risks addressed;
  2. the ability to target vulnerabilities;
  3. and the capacity required to implement solutions;
  4. on the basis of 1.- 3. , an impact and cost effectiveness assessment;
  5. and finally a policy portfolio is assembled.

At the launch of this research, the Nick Godfrey (Atkins) and Adriana Allen (DPU, UCL) summarised the following main arguments from the report.

The first and strong message is that cities need to take steps to future proof themselves.  In the face of massive future growth in African and Asian cities, there is an important but closing window of opportunity for cities to act.   The team emphasised that there is not a single development path for cities, and the report demonstrates that, although cities may face similar challenges, social and political and cultural diversity means that there will be multiple paths, for example, in the cases of Maputo and Karachi.  Moreover, a review of the 102 policies revealed that policies with the highest impact are not necessarily those that require the highest investment.  Thus, the policy portfolio for any city must be tailored to the specific of the context, including the capacity to act by government as well as civil society and the private sector.  In this sense, the report moves away from the ‘best practice’ approach, offering a methodology rather than the transferability of policies identified for their success in a particular place and time.

Source: Future Proofing Cities report (c)Atkins 2012

A second major theme is that future proofing cannot be done at the expense of equity issues.  Future proofing policies can generate important wider social and economic benefits.  “…a strategy based on ‘grow first, tackle environmental risks later’ is unlikely to be effective given the risks to economic growth and the urban poor from depletion of natural resources, climate change, and global population pressure.” (p ix).  Although the report has pulled together a unique data set form a wide variety of sources, it was also a useful survey of the data gaps of city and city hinterland level information which constrains the effectiveness of the proposed urban diagnostics.   The proposed categories for assessment suggest where future research needs to be done, including the need for disaggregated information as research shows that who you are and where you live matters a lot in terms of how vulnerable you are.

Finally, the multidisciplinary and integrated character of the challenge was emphasised.  The opportunity to achieve multiple benefits for cities is only possible if we break out of our disciplinary silos. Only teams with multidisciplinary approaches, knowledge and skills can address the complex and ‘wicked’ problems so many contemporary cities face.

The notion of future proofing in the report is aspirational and goes beyond the notion of resilience in getting us to think not just how we cope, but how we transform our cities. Report seeks to engender confidence that multidisciplinary teams working collaboratively within government, civil society and the private sector, can address the environmental, economic and social challenges faced by contemporary cities.

More information about the report at www.futureproofingcities.com
Listen to the podcast of the report’s official launch here http://j.mp/SvSBEc

The New Fishing Imperialism

By Liza Griffin, on 13 September 2012

Fish are amongst the most extensively traded commodities in the world, with a global export value of almost US$ 60 billion. In the Global South, sea food products comprise 20 % of agricultural and food exports, that’s more than nuts, spices, cotton and sugar put together. Much of this trade is facilitated by distant water fishing fleets from the Global North entering Southern waters under bilateral access agreements between countries like Mauritania and trade blocs like the EU. However, these agreements effectively displace the EU’s own overfishing problem to the Global South. Despite pledges to make agreements fairer and more environmentally sustainable, distant water fleets continue to out-compete with national fishers and to over exploit Southern waters providing woeful compensation in the process. Does this state of affairs represent the new fishing imperialism?


Photo by flickr member ©Ferdinand Reus

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is widely considered to be a failure for not meeting its objectives. Evidence from scientists, the fishing industry and environmental groups demonstrates that the policy has not succeeded in conserving stocks, protecting the marine environment or ensuring the economic viability of many European fleets. In addition, it has not solved the basic problem of overcapacity: the EU fleet is still too large and technological sophisticated to be compatible with a sustainable fishing effort in European waters.

The CFP’s problems have been exacerbated by the recent emergence of ‘super trawlers’: vessels that can catch and process around 200-250 tonnes of fish per day in their on-board factories. As well as taking huge catches, these ships’ powerful refrigeration equipment enables them to go vast distances for long time periods. For example, the Atlantic Dawn, a boat owned by an Irish entrepreneur, accounts for a staggering 15% of Ireland’s entire fishing capacity and can drag behind it a net twice the volume of the Millennium Dome. Its hull can store over 7,000 tonnes of fish: enough for 18 million meals!

According to Greenpeace, there are over 50 pelagic freezer trawlers (super trawlers) operating in 2012, mainly from Western European countries, but also from China, Russia, Lithuania, Peru and elsewhere. Under CFP reforms planned for 2013 new restrictions in catch quotas and fleet sizes will come into force, in an attempt to restrict the overcapacity problem. But these restrictions may encourage super-trawler operators to find alternative fishing opportunities further afield. That is, to stay financially viable these boats must increasingly venture outside European waters.

But already, EU fishermen do not fish only in European waters; the European Community has long negotiated access for its fishers to the Global South’s fertile fishing grounds, including those off Morocco, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Senegal and Ghana. Today, over 25% of all fish caught by EU vessels comes from outside Europe. Economically developed countries, or trading blocs like the EU, negotiate Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs) with countries where their fleets want to fish. Spain, for example, had agreements with 18 countries as long ago as 2004, 16 of which were developing countries as far apart as Cape Verde in Atlantic and Kiribati in the Western Pacific.

Under these deals, the recipient government is paid a lump sum to allow foreign boats to fish in their waters. FPAs with developing countries should provide foreign exchange and contribute to sustainable development. So for developing countries, FPAs can be a significant source of revenue. However campaigners have argued that these agreements represent a displacement of the EU’s own problems to the Global South by effectively exporting overfishing to some of the world’s poorest countries. NGOs express deep concerns over the development of so called EU-third country ‘partnerships’, for they can facilitate large scale fishing in poor countries, causing damaging footprints on local communities and the environment. These NGOs have exerted considerable pressure to make access agreements coherent with other EU policies and subject to the same environmental and social standards. But, despite a series of reforms to ostensibly make access agreements more equitable, there has been continued concern about the EU’s current partnerships, for according to many commentators they represent a scarcely disguised form of neocolonialism.

In principle, the EU will fish the partners’ waters only where there is a surplus stock which the local fleet doesn’t have capacity to catch. In practice, however, it’s feared that short-term economic interests have taken priority and the EU fleet has fished beyond sustainable levels. 80% of the economic benefits of the EU’s external fishing agreements go to the Spanish fleet, with Portugal, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland and Lithuania also benefiting. By paying financial compensation for FPAs to third countries, the EU in effect subsidises its Member States’ fleets.

Most notably, the EU has negotiated fishing rights for the West African coastline, once known for being one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds. However, since the 1990s and the introduction of super trawling there, West African stocks have rapidly declined. Today the UN’s FOA warns that the region’s fisheries are fully or over exploited. But despite this, vessels registered to the EU catch hundreds of thousands of tonnes of pelagic species (like sardines) from Mauritanian and Moroccan waters every year. Greenpeace emphatically maintains that this industrial exploitation of fisheries is unsustainable. At the same time, fishing opportunities are much reduced for African artisanal fishers, who are often forced to fish further from shore in dangerous waters unsuitable for their boats.

In Mauritania, artisanal fishers cannot compete with the super trawlers now fishing in the region. For their boats are small and outdated, and African fishermen may only expect to earn $500 to $1,000 per year. By contrast, a super trawler can gross over $2m for each trip. €600 million worth of fish is caught every year by EU vessels, whereas Mauritania only receives about €100 million in return. Again, in countries such as Senegal around 15% of the economically active population get their livelihoods from fisheries, with fish providing 75% of the protein in the population’s diet, and up to 50% of export earnings come from fish. Fish are an important source of nutrition for the average Mauritanian, but most fish caught there by EU boats is destined for other markets, despite famine in parts of Mauritania itself.

Photo by flickr member ©Ferdinand Reus

Radical environmentalists campaign for a ban on access agreements, but this would not be easy to implement since, first, governments of Global South countries have come to rely upon earnings from them and, secondly, EU boats might quickly be replaced by Icelandic, Chinese and Russian trawlers or illegal pirate ships which cannot be regulated.

Nonetheless, some form of action in order to strengthen regulation of factory fishing seems essential. There have been about 15 FPAs between the EU and developing countries over the past 4-6 years. But recently several important partners, such as Senegal and Angola, have declined EU offers to renew Agreements. According to Gorez of the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements, potential partners lack confidence that the EU will keep its promises, and they don’t like the secrecy which surrounds negotiations. Gorez therefore argues for fundamental change in the guiding principles for EU fisheries relations with developing countries, which would give priority to democratic governance and environmental sustainability whilst providing an enabling environment for small scale fishing communities.

For this to happen the objective of the external dimension of the CFP needs to be changed – it should be to contribute to the establishment of just and sustainable fisheries, not primarily to secure long term EU access to third countries’ fish resources and maintain the European fleet’s presence in those countries and international waters. And for this to happen, EU dialogue with non-EU partners should henceforth emphasise transparent and genuinely democratic negotiation. In the longer term it might be desirable for these unfair resource relationships between the North and South to end, and for Southern countries to develop their own capacity to exploit fish stocks in a sustainable way, taking heed from the disastrous overfishing situation in regions like Europe.

Thresholds of Liminality, Visibility, and Temporality in the Grafting of New Peripheries in Zurich: Reconnaissance from DPU summerLab

By William N Hunter, on 14 August 2012

What does it mean to transplant two inherently different demographic entities with different and debatable models of organisation against one another in what would otherwise be considered a current urban periphery? What would it imply, in regards to the expected evolution of a site, if the mechanism for transplanting these two entities was seen as definitively temporary and par the existenzminimum? And furthermore, if this be the situational urban problematic, what provocations can be found in critically interpretive readings and what measures should be taken in the form of alternative tactics that could increase their unspoken potential as urban generators?

workshop group walking in Oerlikon district residential park

These are the primary questions that formed the core investigation of the DPU summerLab Zurich held in the Swiss capital from August 6-11. The workshop, entitled Liminal Contours, under the collaboration and facilitation of the ETH Zurich, combined a series of lecture talks, exploratory city walks/site visits, and design charrette exercises. That suggestive title refers to a theme surrounding various suspect activities and alternative forms of development that, although not completely foreign or novel, still stand apart from the generally kosher character of the city and its more conservative development tendencies. It was in fact certain small divergent planning schemes that peaked particular entry points for this line of intriguing urban questioning.

No question about it, like many cities experiencing more rapid population growth, Zurich is expanding. Specifically, the western peripheral village of Altstetten has been a focus of real estate speculation since the early 90s. However, not living up to the hype, the area still retains its neighbouring village character complete with sub-urban style park-and-shop centres. Any serenity seems set to finally change as activities set in the former urban peripheries begin to transplant there along with an expanded rail and tram station.

containers for creative industry start-ups being moved onto the site in Altstetten

The most apparent of these new developments is the latest incarnation of the “Basislager” (Eng. translation – basecamp), a temporary clustering of stacked custom-designed shipping container-like modules meant to house creative industry start-ups. These compact commercial containers were original erected in the Binz district and will intend to house many of the previous tenants. The last few container clusters were being shifted as we visited the site. Already on the new site in Altstetten is another similar cluster of colourful shipping containers housing asylum seekers under a municipal scheme that allows immigrants to live there until their new papers are sorted, eventually giving way to another group of refugees. Undoubtedly the most intriguing entity that will be located near the commercial units is a “Strichplatz” (legal prostitution zone). Zurich has a healthy history of prostitution, both legal and illegal, and many such manifestations still exist throughout the city. The new-found attention, outright planning and forced juxtaposition of such a suspect and debated entity next to a temporary creative zone raises some profound questions in regard to the urban problematic.

shipping containers housing asylum seekers in Altstetten

 At the moment the site in Altstetten is in its infancy. The creative commercial containers are just now being stacked. The prostitution boxes or corrals (for a more honest label) are not yet erected. No landscaping features appear on the horizon and all indications would lead one to believe that not many will. Given the current skeleton of action on the site, the workshop participants and tutors had to look elsewhere for clues as to how these divergent activities manifest in their everyday manners. Through determined transect walks exploring various points throughout the city that contain elements of these activities, we focused primarily on two areas to provide the most generous identifiable revelations. The Langstrasse Quarter, an eclectic and diverse enclave of multicultural factions, sometimes hedonist energy, sex shops and a still apparent red light district character, was approached at different hours of the day in order to witness, in a sort of retrospective mode, how certain suspect activities have evolved and adapted over time. The Langstrasse has experienced various levels of gentrification. It’s once seedy image is wavering, yet a clear outsider reputation precedes any discussion on the area and one can easily find a healthy faction of sex workers and parallel levels of “clientele”, especially in the late hours of the night.

entrance of the Roland Kino (erotic cinema) on the Langstrasse

The most revealing observations were the dominating overlaps of programs in the area. An array of sex shops and erotic cinemas nestle somewhat seamlessly next to professional offices, galleries, clothing stores, kebab shops, and bars (some of which cater to the suspect trades). Here the concept of visibility vs. invisibility emerged as method of mapping and understanding the phenomenological character of the place. The idea of thresholds, the notion of public and private began to blur in different ways as one’s eyes moved from street level to a scanning of the facades of the buildings. A particularly intriguing observation was how the actual size of signage decreased as one moved away from the main high street. Signs and symbols of the sex industry would change as the residential quarters emerged in side streets, implying that a different level of acceptability occurred there.

spatial program analysis  in the Langstrasse Quarter

Similar former suspect areas were covered in our walks to gain further parallel understanding- including Platspitz (the former legal drug zone Needle Park) and drug/prostitution zones along the Limmat River. Although these scenes have been disbanded over 15 years ago, the historical knowledge and the layers of new activity provide interesting insight into the city’s liberal interludes. A short visit to the Binz district, the site of the former “Basislager” was a bookend to our field excursions. Here the group was able to detect a changing of the guard as the office containers were removed. What was clear is how the inhabitants of the containers had “moved in” to the site, dotting their immediate proximity with casual public amenities. This gave some hint as to how the future site in Altstetten might develop over a period of a couple of years.

model image of proposed “Strichplatz” and “Basislager” with walled partition in between

What emerged in the final days of production was a challenge of understand the Langstrasse Quarter and the Altstetten site across a package of thematic underpinnings. The notions of visibility, thresholds, juxtaposition, inheritance, temporary, and public formed the framework for mapping the phenomenological characteristics of these areas, hoping to reveal prioritized entry points that would elicit a sampled representation of the challenges facing the users of the future site. Recognizing a cross-cutting relationship of themes, especially in what was seen to be an odd tendency for the burgeoning creative industries and prostitution zones to always be located in peripheral settings, the framework allowed for clearer, if not still challenging transposition of observations from one site to the other. Without being able to see a finished transplanting of the activities in Altstetten, the speculation of interventions and strategies were limiting. However the process of understanding the phenomenal character and the spatialising of themes led to a more informed questioning of what it would mean to have these activities occupying neighbouring swaths of land and what tactics could lead to a critique of this situation.

group work at ETH’s  Werk 11

speculative critique of future activity on the Altstetten site

Ultimately the Zurich summerLab offered the opportunity to undertake a different reading of the city from alternative perspectives, and led to a critical thinking on proposals that challenge the decisions taken by current development planning schemes. The group was able to adopt alternative methods of design research and action with the charge to rethink the processes of urban practice in a dominant political economy where such processes, activities and contours might in some way regain control of the design of the urban realm.

Slummin’ it: The re-emergence of an ethical tourism debate

By William N Hunter, on 27 July 2012

Just the other day as I stood on semi-cramped tube carriage in morning rush-hour on the London Underground, passively flipping through the Metro, that bourgeois staple of just-above-the surface news periodical, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at an article of astute guile and questioning verve. Ross McGuinness’* article on whether the concept of ‘slum tourism’ was merely a glorified exploitive cash cow or a legitimate method for enabling those individuals and communities stuck in poverty stricken conditions struck a particular chord, especially given the coincidental fact that just the evening before Film4 was screening Danny Boyle’s multi-award winning Slumdog Millionaire.

McGuinness keenly points to that film and others such as Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and The Constant Gardener as catalysts in how cinema has had a profound universal influence on generating a newfound interest in the intriguing and somehow exotic qualities of a mostly unknown social and cultural phenomenon, at least to the rest of Western society. Despite a lack of prevalent data on the correlation between exposure through film, there is little doubt in the re-emergence or growth of travellers seeking a different kind of experience as they eschew the erstwhile daily grind of the office or the default third trip to an easy and enjoyable European capital. But what exactly are they hoping to see and find in these alternative landscapes and moreover what does it imply in regards to the how the other half- the residents of these areas- perceive this attention?

It seems that a fortuitous parallel occurred in the sense that many of the ‘slums’ across the world that have experienced such influx of intrigue are located in glamour destinations already on the tourist map, for example cities in Brazil and South Africa, which became more accessible and certainly popular after the Apartheid. As Dr. Fabian Frenzel points out in the article, in Rio “favela tourism has almost become part of the package.” Frenzel is a lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Leicester and has just published a lengthy EU funded volume on the subject titled Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power, and Ethics* which attempts to advance the debate on the concept of slum tourism and put to rest the easy generalisations and presumptions that follow this trend.

The big question that stems from any presumption or debate is one of whether slum tourism should be considered an exploitive mechanism for selfish capital gain or a legitimate driver and benefit for poorer populations in cities and territories in development. But this too, as Frenzel points out, is also a generalisation of the argument. For the notion of slum tourism or at least some version of it is nothing novel at all. As a revelatory note, Frenzel and McGuinness highlight the UK’s own booming experience with the concept in the 1870-80s when well-off Londoners from the West End would visit the seedy East London foxholes of Hackney and Shoreditch and draw attention to Engels’ description of Manchester’s Irish Quarter around the same time. It is also well known that New York saw a similar phenomenon all the way through the Great Depression in such storied hollows as Central Park, briefly documented in Ron Howard’s film Cinderella Man.

                                                     drawing of old London slums


So what then is the difference now in the situation and debate surrounding the economy of slum tourism? Given the fact that in some cities the idea has existed in various forms before, there are some examples where individuals involved in this growing enterprise have implemented an arguably less exploitive methodology. As the article reveals and according to his website, for 20+years, Marcelo Armstrong has run Favela Tour in Rio. Says Armstrong, “We talk about many subjects that it’s not proper to talk about if you go to Sugarloaf Mountain or Christ the Redeemer. You just see Rio. Every new step we do something new. The tour is basically to contextualize favelas into Brazilian society. It is not a tour that only talks about favelas but about Brazilian society from another point of view.” On the surface this doesn’t sound like exploitation, but rather a more critically insightful alternative tour experience, even more than one might expect to receive at the tourist flooded landmarks of the city. To that, McGuinness pointedly asks if visitors in fact go on the tours for the right reasons. Armstrong’s response is that “Human beings are very complex. There are many motivations why they want to go there. Some may have a specific interest because they are teachers, historians, social workers or architects. Others because they want to confront what they have read about. Others have seen films.” An argument for the genuine article in this particular tour which has 1500 visitors per month is that it funds a school- highlighting the belief that education is the main way out of poverty.

                                                     favela tour, Rio


Aside from the primary of question of ethics and benefits, it is important to ask what is wrong with ordinary individuals wanting to gain some perspective towards a subject or a reality that they themselves do not encounter on an everyday scale- that has itself been coloured up (or down) or exploited by media and film. Not every person could be thought of as a gawker and as Armstrong points out, many of the visitors have a certain level of sophisticated and clear motivation. And tours, at least like his cater to a more critical mass of individual and subject rather than object. The work of the DPU comes quickly to mind.

Each May our various MSc courses take intriguing and somewhat exotic journeys to destinations in the Global South- i.e. Ghana, India, Ethiopia, Thailand. While the agenda is one of determined, critical and open-minded social consideration, many of our students have never spent time in such extreme conditions and there always exists a high level of debriefing and attention given to the perception we have and a clarity of what we are intending to do there. In nearly every case we are working in collaboration with community groups from within these possible slum areas, so our appearance is generally measured. Though the fact that we are there conducting research still places us square in the middle of the debate. And we are constantly questioning the benefit of our work for the communities that have taken their time to share with us the challenges they may face.

                                                     pavement dwellers in Dharavi, Mumbai


Another significant note worth mentioning, and one that is also being revealed more and more in parallel regards to why these areas have piqued such an interest for researchers and tourists alike is the fact that despite a usually clear lack of sufficient provided infrastructure, resources, and opportunity slum communities produce some of the most fascinating informal economic systems and represent, across many societies, the truly historic and grounded ideal of the working classes, the vital aspects of society. The cultural practices and the levels of resilience in these areas is something to behold and learn from, and in the case of this type of tourism, and witness in the flesh. I can signal my own experience in Mumbai when on a day off from the field research, I had the opportunity to visit the dohbi ghats- the fantastic community clothes washing centre where millions of residents and travellers’ garments go to cycle. The children outside the gate could not have been more than excited to guide me around the inner-workings for a very nominal fee. And I was able to talk with workers about what I was doing in Mumbai and about the phenomenon and tradesmen history of the dohbi ghats. This is just one of hundreds of examples that could ripen this post and address the debate further. Unfortunately this admittance will be for another day.

                                                     dohbi ghats in Mumbai, India


But, this brings up a point in that if slum tourism continues to grow, it should arguably be harnessed from within these communities. It may be a fine line, but there is a difference between exploitation, even self-exploitation and the sharing of culture. As the debate rages on and discourse and research is built around the subject, slum tourism can be seen as urban tactic formed around local trades and culture and most certainly can act as a catalyst for prompting wider strategy, whether that sits in education initiatives or physical environment upgrading. Practitioners and those individuals with knowledge in the tourism industry and likewise steeped in local knowledge have a responsibility to jump on the potential, if and/or before it is appropriated. In an ideal scenario, the local slum communities and socially-minded professionals would come to define the paradigm. If this is slow in formation, according to Ko Koens of the Slum Tourism Network and part of the research team with Fabian Frenzel, at least “if done in a respectful way that actively tries to benefit the local communities, it can help inhabitants gain income and pride. On the other hand, issues of access and power abuse may mean only a limited number of people benefit.” So continues the conundrum…


Ross McGuiness’ article Slum tourism: A cynical cash cow or a helping hand to those in poverty? appeared in the Metro 11 July 2012
 Dr. Fabian Frenzel’s Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power, and Ethics is out now through Routledge
Marcelo Armstrong’s Favel Tour Rio can be found at http://www.favelatour.com.br /

The road to Rio 2012

By Barbara Lipietz, on 21 June 2012

The trials and tribulations of climate change regulation: an interview with Alain Lipietz.

Photo by ©Fora do Eixo

No other issue has entered international negotiations with as much urgency as climate change and yet, effective and concerted international action remains painfully elusive. As a new negotiation round opens in Rio, are we anywhere closer to unpacking the deadlocks? In a recent interview, renowned economist and environmental activist Alain Lipietz offers an incisive account of two decades of fortunes and misfortunes in global negotiations against climate change.

Lipietz explains why and how climate change brought about the realisation that “humanity is not only threatened by the exhaustion of its resources […] but by an excess of production itself […] which produces so much waste we no longer know what to do with it.” He traces the trajectory through which the conceptualisation of the atmosphere as a ‘non-rival’ and free access global common started to be reframed as a global ‘pit’ in urgent need of regulation.

While agreeing with Ostrom’s claim that “there are no common goods which have not been regulated, whose excludability has not been regulated … [through]… socio-political compromises”, Lipietz explains the struggles involved in fostering collective action to protect the global commons – at a planetary scale but with specific reference to the role of the European Union. The interview exposes the spectrum of claims and counterclaims around the development of socio-environmental regulation, the socio-political dilemma of whose access should be regulated and whose should be excluded, as well as the mechanisms capable of breaking the deadlocks of conflicting interests. Ultimately, Lipietz argues that developing effective climate change regulation – and its actual enforcement – will require the backing of a sizeable and assertive ecological political movement.

Click here to download the full interview.

Reflections from Ethiopia

By Henry W Mathes, on 21 June 2012

Post written in collaboration with Stephanie Butcher

From April 29th – May 14th, eighty-five students from the Urban Economic Development (UED) and Development Administration and Planning (DAP) programmes conducted a series of research projects centred on poverty reduction strategies within the burgeoning Ethiopian city of Mekele and its environs.

Mekele, located in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, is a mid-sized but rapidly expanding city home to some 200,000 residents. Ethiopia as a whole remains largely rural , and has somewhat  lagged behind in the rapid-fire urbanization occurring within the rest of the world – with its GDP still nearly 85% reliant on agriculture.  Mekele, however, stands out as a major urban centre in the country’s north, and is home to one of the country’s most prestigious universities. A recent grant from the World Bank has funded an urban beautification project, creating wide cobbled avenues populated by pedestrians, mototaxis, and the occasional donkey or camel. On the whole, we found the city to be safe, friendly, and patiently receptive to the student inquiries.

The following series of photographs illustrates our experiences in the city and surrounding countryside:

Although technically a city, Mekele retains a quiet, laid-back atmosphere, unlike the capital, Addis Ababa. The cobblestone streets shown here were recently paved as part of a beautification project funded partially by World Bank.

Monday is market day in Mekele. Women and men from the surrounding rural areas flood into the city to sell their produce and wares. Seen here: guava and cabbage.

This woman was kind enough to allow us to photograph her after she sold us a curiously large citrus fruit of some sort.

Part of the permanent market, on the outskirts of the city centre, where everyday household products are bought and sold. As sites of income generation, markets featured prominently in our students’ research.

A colourful market stall specialising in baskets of all shapes and sizes. In Ethiopia, basket weaving is traditionally women’s work.

A market of a different sort: Hawzien is small town 2 hour’s drive from Mekele, and very much within the city’s sphere of influence. Hawzien is also the site of a midweek market, seen here.

Many women travel to the Hawzien market from rural areas, some walking more than 4 hours, their young children often in toe.

The rural areas outside of Hawzien. This photo was taken from a village where the students were interviewing cooperative members.

We encountered this man in a village outside of Hawzien, he had just purchased colourful yarn for his wife.

Mekele is blessed with amazing produce, particularly fruit. Fruit salads of mango, guava, papaya, avocado and banana were a popular treat for students and staff.

All photos in this blog were taken by Henry Maths