Autore: admin

Renewable Energy Use and Livelihoods in Informal Settlements in Accra

Tracy Sidney Commodore,

University of Ghana, Ghana

Undoubtedly, most livelihoods in cities in the Global South are highly dependent on natural resource utilization. Some of these natural resources are used for energy to provide power which is key to the realization of livelihoods. In Ghana for instance, biofuel energy resources such as wood fuel are used for food related livelihood activities. Unfortunately, the unsustainable utilization of these resources have consequential impact on biodiversity conservation and depletion of forest reserves, and thus can derail efforts aimed at achieving targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 15. It is within this context that there has been increasing need for newer forms of technologies to provide alternative to biofuel. In order to introduce new ways of providing energy within low-income communities, investing in newer forms of local technologies and improving their accessibility and utilization by low-income people is an important step forward in reducing over reliance on biofuels. Gaining empirical evidence on the potential adoption and adaptation to improved energy technologies for enhancing livelihoods in informal settlements in Ghana is crucial. This will help to ensure that we meet target 2 of the SDGs 15, which aims to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests, and increase afforestation and reforestation especially in the Global South. Thus, the main objective of this paper is to examine the institutional and policy framework on conservation of natural resources and the potential use of locally improved energy technologies in informal settlements in Accra.

Impact of High-Density Urban Agglomerations & Slums on Pandemic Situation & Redevelopment Model for Pune City

Supriya Shinde,

Anantrao Pawar College of Engineering & Research, Pune, India

An outbreak of pandemic COVID-19 disease caused by novel corona virus SARS-CoV-2 has posed serious threat to human health and economy of the whole world. Pune is one of the most densely populated metro city in India, which has also came under the attack of this viral disease.

After observing the statistical data relating to Covid 19 cases in Pune city, we believe that high-density urban agglomerations i.e. densely populated areas & slums areas became hotspots of Covid 19 cases. Due to short supply or non-existent of basic needs such as water, toilets, drainage line, solid waste collection systems, adequate housing facilities along with space constraints and overcrowding in slums made physical distancing & self-quarantine impractical which has contributed in the rapid spread of infection.

This research work, predominantly focus on behavior of urban character like drinking water, toilets & road etc. facilities in Pune city & development of model for high density areas & slums using Geospatial Technology. Geospatial Technology includes Geographic Information System (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS) and Global Positioning System (GPS).

Satellite imagery and geospatial data are collected Using Remote Sensing. Satellite imagery serves as a source of information and data to support analysis and classification for geospatial assessment and modeling. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a mapping tool for analysis of geospatial data and to support environmental management for climate change, natural resources, land cover, etc. The location of high density urban agglomerations & slums in Pune city could be identify with the help of global positioning system (GPS).

All these technique used for database generation, analysis and thematic map preparation which gives in depth information of total high dense populated area, building footprints, structures related to garbage collection, Municipal/agglomeration boundary, population density, condition of roads, provision of livelihood spaces, slum locations, other physical parameters, etc. The model for redevelopment of slums as well as for highly density urban agglomerations will be developed & suggested to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to deal with the sustainable urban planning & development to ensure the safety of habitat in any pandemic situation in Pune city.

Keywords: High-Density Urban Agglomerations, Urban Character, GIS, GPS

Annexure I


1) Bharat L Gadakh (2020). “Land Suitability Analysis for slum Redevelopment of Nashik city Maharashtra”, UGC Care Group I Listed Journal), Vol-10 Issue-7, Page No.10, Nashik.

2) Carsten Butsch, Shamita Kumar, Paul D. Wagner, Mareike Kroll, Lakshmi N. Kantakumar, Erach Bharucha, Karl Schneider and Frauke Kraas (2017). “Growing ‘Smart’? Urbanization Processes in the Pune Urban Agglomeration”, Sustainability-MDPI, Vol. 9, Page No. 2335, Germany.

3) C. Weber, A. Puissant (2003). “Urbanization pressure and modeling of urban growth: example of the Tunis Metropolitan Area” Remote Sensing of Environment, Elsevier Science, Vol.86, Page No. 341– 352, France.

4) Curtis N. Thomson & Perry Hardin (2000). “Remote sensing/GIS integration to identify potential low-income housing sites”, Elsevier Science, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 97–109, USA.

5) Divyani Kohli, Richard Sliuzas & Alfred Stein (2016). “Urban slum detection using texture and spatial metrics derived from satellite imagery”, Journal of Spatial Science, Vol. 61, No. 2, Page No.405–426, Netherlands.

6) Ivan Franch-Pardo, Brian M. Napoletano, Fernando Rosete-Verges, Lawal Billa (2020). “Spatial analysis and GIS in the study of COVID-19. A review”, Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier Science, Mexico.

7) J. Grunblatt, W. K. Ottichilo & R. K. Sinange (1992). “A GIS approach to desertification assessment and mapping”, Journal of Arid Environments Vol.23, Page No.81-102, U.S.A.

8) Myrtho Joseph, Fahui Wang, Lei Wang, (2014). “GIS-based assessment of urban environmental quality in Port-au-Prince, Haiti”, Habitat International, Elsevier Journal, Vol.No. 41, Page. No. 33- 40, United States.

9) N. Mundhe (2019). “Identifying And Mapping of Slums in Pune City Using Geospatial Techniques” mumbai the international archives of the photogrammetry, remote sensing and spatial information sciences, Volume XLII-5/W3, Page No.10–11, India.

10) Rohith P. Poyil & Anil Kumar Misra (2015). “Urban agglomeration impact analysis using Remote Sensing and GIS techniques in Malegaon City, India”, International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment, Elsevier Science, India.

11) Sulochana Shekhar, (2019). “Effective management of slums- Case study of Kalaburagi city, Karnataka, India”, Journal of Urban Management, Elsevier Journal, India.

12) Srinanda Sena, Jane Hobsonb, Pratima Joshia (2003), “The Pune Slum Census: creating a socio- economic and spatial information base on a GIS for integrated and inclusive city development”, Habitat International, Elsevier Science, Vol. 27, Page No.595–611, India.

Does Collective Action lead to Improved Service Delivery and Enhanced Tax Collection for Local Governments: Case of Bengaluru, India

Sukanya Bhaumik,
Bangaluru Centre for Research in Urban Affairs, India

This paper contributes to our understanding whether collective action, active citizenry leading to measurable improved service delivery impacts people willingness to pay taxes. In the case of India property taxation is the most important tax collection instrument available to urban local governments. However, property taxation rates in cities are seldom revised, and the underlying valuation of properties is much lower that of their prevailing market value, thus making property taxes a revenue handle with very low buoyancy. While most of these are governance issues the main reason for this can be attributed to the prevailing low equilibrium trap of Indian cities. Poor service delivery in Indian cities, leads to citizen’s unwillingness to pay, leading to poor tax collection and thus perpetuating the local government’s inability to spend on services thus causing poor service delivery.
In the recent past there have been efforts to strengthen ward committees and citizen participation across the city of Bengaluru, although Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs) are not yet set up, but some wards have been more successful than others in strengthening urban governance. Also, several citizen-led initiatives have become very active in the past 2-3 years. This paper will look at the initiatives in selected wards of Bengaluru and that of selected citizen groups and assess the outcomes on service delivery and finally assess the impact on property tax collection.
In this paper we attempt to investigate whether strengthening the link between local collections and urban services can increase citizens’ willingness to pay for services, improve service delivery, and enhance local democracy.
The proposed methodology for this paper includes desk research (BBMP property tax collection data, ward committee details etc.), key informant interview (ward committee members, key position holders in citizen groups) and online focused group discussions (ward committee members, citizen groups).
This outcomes from this paper will be assessed in context of the on on-going PhD research where the scholar is assessing the revenue capacities in cities (objective 2) in order to determine the fiscal gaps in cities.

Space mobility in Lebanon. Possibilities of removing the obstacles to the use of public transport in Beirut

Rita Azaan,

Université de Toulouse2 Jean Jaurès, France

Nowadays, the rapid urbanization and the socio-economic development of cities generate more and more mobility needs, to ensure links between economic and social activities. Cities in Lebanon are experiencing significant traffic problems which hamper spatial mobility. The Lebanese Public bus network is a disorganized sector, which does not encourage users to use this type of transport, while the potential demand is there. In addition, the current modes of driving public transport are also contributing to increasing traffic congestion due to the lack of reserved lanes and irregular patterns of bus pick-up and drop-off of passengers. Moreover, the explosion of the 4th of august 2020 in Beirut has ripped the city to shreds and reopened old wounds for a fragile population already facing civil unrest, an ongoing socio-economic crisis. The people of Lebanon are more vulnerable than ever before, our aim of study is analyzing spatial mobility of Beirut, supply and demand in relation to the quality of public transport networks, the social factors and safety and security that affect this mode of travel. Taking a French example, elements of comparative perspective will allow us to consider which aspects of the interurban transport system could be transposed from France to the urban forms of the territories analyzed in Lebanon while adapting to the specific Lebanese context. Our aim is to improve the public transport service offered in order to try to increase the use of public transport to reduce traffic while taking into consideration aspects of security for people.

Conservation of wetlands in the context of disputes over access to urban land. The case of the Matanza-Riachuelo basin (Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Pablo Daniel Pereira,
Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina

This project aims to address the conservation of urban wetlands in metropolitan basins with serious socio-environmental problems. Wetlands have become more important as indispensable elements of human settlement. However, their degradation due to productive activities and urban expansion (both closed urbanizations and informal settlements) has produced new environmental conflicts and led to a new focus of environmental policy. In particular, the creation and management of natural protected areas in cities and peri-urban regions reveals complex historical controversies between demands for conservation and demands for urban expansion. We have chosen to study these tensions in the middle stretch of Matanza-Riachuelo Basin (province of Buenos Aires), one of the most polluted in the world and the most polluted in Argentina. There, the territorial tensions arose in the wetlands regarding the urban expansion linked to the housing crisis. We want to reflect the contradictions and conflicts around environmental conservation in metropolitan spaces, by offering a comprehensive insight which considers both the socioeconomic, as well as the urban and environmental dimension. On one hand, the project seeks to describe the efforts of neighbourhood organizations to extend their strictly local action towards a more integrated view of the area as a whole, establishing connections between the challenges of environmental conservation and the management of other relevant issues, like flooding and pollution control. We approach our work from a community-based conservation perspective, with contributions from urban political ecology. At the same time, we focus in the institutional dimension of the conflict through an approach to the environmental policies of the provincial and municipal authorities. In 2015, the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) began to promote the conservation of its wetland areas, developing ‘environmentally protected areas’ within the Matanza-Riachuelo territory. However, this intervention did not take place as part of any regional plan for controlling land use. From a perspective that argues for the social productiveness of the conflict referred to, it will be argued that the project’s case study offers support for a policy of environmental development of the basin.

Resilience global models versus territories from the Souths

Juliette Marin,
Universidad de Chile, Chile

Resilience of territories – cities, regions or other territorial scale – is defined through various conceptual frameworks and constitute since the 2000s a growing scientific and technical field. Although resilience’s literature, both favorable or critical, points out the difficulty of implementing such a vague or ambiguous concept, metrics, methodological frameworks and principles for designing and planning have emerged and been applied globally in the last decade, such as the City Resilience Index developed for the network 100 Resilient Cities. The article proposes a discussion on these global models of resilience, in particular hegemonic models of scientific and grey literature in order to contribute in understanding how these models are built, acting and possibly transforming territories. Since there is a global North-global South divide in the scientific production on resilience, at the very same time that resilience is widely promoted and acknowledged as a bottom-up concept, an emphasis is herein placed on the discussion regarding resilience of territories of the Souths, in particular Latin America. Four axes of analysis are proposed: (i) translations and adaptations of the notion in hegemonic networks; (ii) an analysis of the sociotechnical markers of hegemonic models of resilience; (iii) resilience as a neoliberal governmentality device; (iv) position of Latin America in the production and dispute of knowledge about resilience. Finally, these analytical insights are used in a case analysis based on Resilient Santiago project, carried out in Santiago (Chile) since 2015 within the framework of 100 Resilient Cities.
Keywords (5): Urban models, resilience, sustainability, global south, policy mobilities, governance.

The urban heritage sites; Dynamics of locality, emergence of collectives, and identity politics

Hafsa Idrees,
University of Passau, Germany

Rapid development and urbanization turn a city into a modern battlefield of cultural heritage protection leaving it to choose between conservation and destruction/redevelopment. As a result, several “collectives” emerge and evolve in and around the urban heritage site based on various interests. Locality is an important aspect of identity politics and therefore urban heritage discourse as many global issues are localized and many local modifications result from global integration. This paper is an attempt to explore how different collectives evolve and organize in George Town (Malaysia) and Yangon (Myanmar) and to what extent their common association with the territory plays a role in the management of the heritage. The analysis is mainly based on the secondary data and related literature.

Feeding the cities and beyond: contemporary agrarian questions and rural-urban counteraction. An overview of the Italian case

Francesca Uleri,
University of Bolzano, Italy

Today, more than ever, the agrarian ground, is appearing not crystallized or isolated but highly interconnected with the “growing cities” which ask for an increasing quantity and variety of agro(food and non-food) commodities. Taking into consideration the rising demand for agro-commodities, this proposal aims to highlight how the adaptation of the agro-production complexes to the global economies of scale has reshaped their internal organization, here mostly intended in terms of agricultural labor organization. Accordingly, it offers an overview of a contemporary agrarian question affecting thousands of rural laborers working in the Italian agro-industial sector, la questione dei braccianti, the question of the hand fields and of their illegal labor-recruitment and exploitation as a way to reduce production costs and face a global squeeze in agriculture. Drawing on this, the paper defines a trajectory of counteraction based on a rural-urban alliance. The counteraction is intended here not as a set of mobilizations that take to the street but as mobilizations that move firstly at the institutional level and then at the market level through a mediated social re-definition/re-construction of the market-circuits.

Collective action in the informal housing production. Recent land invasions in Buenos Aires peripherical areas

Francesca Ferlicca,

IUAV-Venice Institute of Architecture, Italy

Popular urbanization and irregular urbanization are considered equal in Latin America since the legal standards imposed on the formal production of residential space are extremely difficult to reach by lowincome sectors. Some studies have analysed the relations between informal settlements dwellers and state institutions. However, their dichotomous perspective classifies collective action as a result of autonomy or institutionalization, neglecting the more general effects of this interaction.

Since July 2020, about 30 attempts of land takings have been registered in Argentina in the Gran Buenos Aires and La Plata, concentrated mainly in the peri-urban edges of the metropolitan area. These land invasions – known in the local context as tomas de tierras – are configured as housing responses to the measures of isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic of the popular sectors that were excluded from the possibility of continuing to pay rent and that deal with situations of extreme labour and economic precariousness.

In this paper, I propose to analyse the collective action of an organized group in the recent process of occupation of a peri-urban land in Guernica, a locality in the municipality of Presidente Peron in the South of Buenos Aires metropolitan area, and their informal production of a residential neighbourhood -known in the anglophone literature as land invasions.

Moreover, I propose to build a more nuanced theoretical category that can replace the anglophone land invasion, deepening in the specificity of the Latin American urban context. Moreover, I propose to reconstruct the genesis and the process of land invasion and to analyse the interaction between the actors involved, among them the “land invaders”, the police, the local, provincial and national government, the land owners, universities, and grassroot organizations involved.

The role of collective space in the construction of social cohesion. Case study: Greater Santiago

Emilio Berríos,

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile

Cohesion and social capital are fundamental for a healthy society, representing the principle of fraternity that allows empathizing with others and moving towards greater equity and social justice, which in turn promotes greater equality and freedom pursuing the common welfare. Aligned with this, the role played by open collective spaces on the community and public sphere is crucial for urban sustainability in all its dimensions, but especially socially.

The relationship between the built environment and urban social cohesion, also referred as sense of community, has been investigated mainly at the neighborhood (micro) scale, with little development at larger scales such as the macro-neighborhood (meso) and the city (macro). Micro-scale analyzes can account for cohesion phenomena that could nevertheless be counterproductive to the whole urban system or city, eventually promoting greater social fragmentation. Hence, the importance of addressing the phenomenon in a holistic and multi-scale way.

Specifically, this research focuses in open collective spaces as a privileged place for public interaction and the development of a community, not limiting the public definition to the legal distinction of property, but rather to the encounter with others, outside family members, and often unknown people who nevertheless are part of the same society, thus promoting the construction not only of bonding ties, but also of bridging and linking different social groups of the same system.

Thus, the central objective of this research is to understand to what extent the spatial and territorial attributes of open collective spaces affect the construction of capital and urban social cohesion between different socioeconomic groups, in a highly segregated metropolis such as Greater Santiago. Regarding the territorial factors, the interest is to deepen on the distribution and accessibility of theses spaces and the mobility conditions of the inhabitants to access them, as well as their historical and symbolic aspects. While, from the spatial perspective, the interest is to analyze location and configurational factors on the urban grid; permeability and transparency of their edges; their relationship with the street network and movement patterns; and visual integration and fields.

In terms of preliminary advances on the subject, the analysis of “Structural barriers to walkability and accessibility at neighborhood scale” has been analyzed on three housing estates. The effect of the physical and social barriers have been identified and their effect on the walkable neighborhood area has been measured. The results show a considerable reduction in the area of the walkable neighborhood with significant differences between the integration of the pedestrian and vehicular network; considerable reduction in the coverage of goods and services, among which are green areas; and possible relationships of bigger walkable areas with longer distances of walking and the prevalence of walking in the modal share. These study address very relevant aspects to be analyzed deeper and in detail in further thesis work. The spatial and territorial factors mentioned above will be addressed, especially in relation to walking as a way that, in itself, favors social interaction and therefore cohesion, at least on a neighborhood scale, as documented in the specialized literature.

Revisiting Blackness in the European South: A transnational view on Lisbon

Elena Taviani,

Gran Sasso Science Institute, Aquila, Italy

Race and the city are of increasing concern for European scholars and policymakers. Only a few years ago “race” would not be an acceptable analytical term and even today there are political and academic contexts that seem not compatible with this notion. However, race emerges in our cities as a powerful social construct and shapes the everyday urban experience of an increasing number of people. Blackness rises as a political variable often interlaced with the process in which race operates, that of racialization. Across Europe, Black people are overwhelmingly located in urban areas, including mainly capital cities, but how the urban structures form and perform within the process of Black people racialization is still to be explored. Indeed, looking at the urban dimension of race and Blackness may be harder than expected in a context, like the European one, in which race seems to be “absent”, or at least “un-measurable” and “un-placeable”. The principal objective of this study is to provide an overview of the interconnections between a critical understanding of race and Blackness and their working within the urban space to – briefly and albeit partially – introduce this literature to a European Urban Studies audience in order to address one of the more significant gaps in our discipline. Moreover, situating the debate in a metropolitan city of the European South and choosing Lisbon as a case study brings along with it a number of preliminary issues that need to be addressed. Thus, moving from a theoretical perspective to a more analytical one, I first mention the key concepts emerged in the international debate about race and the city dominated by the US conceptualization, the second section is dedicated to understanding how the European debate developed and its specificity in the European South, while the rest of the study explores the urban dimension of race and Blackness in Lisbon. Through a (fluid) comparative approach that aims to highlight the influences and exchanges between main cities in Europe, the ways in which urban race-based processes are addressed by public policies and the main official approaches adopted in Europe will be mentioned in order to locate Lisbon in its wider panorama. Indeed, the third section is devoted to a transnational view on Lisbon about three main aspects: problems of measurability of race (I), urban policies and planning strategies involving race (II), and urban representations of race and Blackness (III). Eventually, a few conclusive remarks acknowledge limitations and opportunities of “a reading of race and Blackness” within urban contexts of the European South in order to draw implications and hints for future researches.

The Spatial Syntax of Urban Inequality: Daily Mobility and Mobility Capital in Urban

Daniela Villouta Gutiérrez

Universidad de Concepción, Chile

The new mobility paradigm (Sheller & Urry, 2006; Urry, 2007) has revealed the variability and complexity of people’s mobility. It has also questioned how mobility takes place and how its various factors can affect the socially differentiated use of the territory. This change of paradigm has highlighted the transformation processes that some cities are undergoing in terms of urban restructuring and the implications that it could have on urban inequality, as a social practice conditioned both by external and internal variables that are incorporated in the form of habitus1. This growing interest has been widely addressed in Europe and North America, with few studies in Latin America. Specifically, in Chile, mobility has been studied mainly through an engineering and quantitative perspective, excluding the social and spatial practice dimensions (Landon, 2016).

From here, the question arises: Which and how is the relationship between the spatial configuration of the built environment and the daily mobility used and practiced by subjects in the consolidation of urban inequality? It is argued that the spatial configuration of the territory affects the potential for people’s mobility (mobility capital) which in turn is related to complex social processes capable of consolidating urban inequality in our cities. In this sense, the social and relational nature of daily mobility (socially accustomed and practiced), evidences the way in which urban inequality is structured, distributed and persists in cities undergoing urban restructuring.

Based on the above, the thesis aims to understand the relationship of mutual influence between the spatial configuration of the built environment and the way in which everyday mobility is habituated and practiced, and its relation to the consolidation of urban inequality.

To this end, it proposes, on the one hand, to identify and characterize the mobility capital of subjects and households based on access, competence and appropriation of mobility, which in turn will be affected by the spatial configuration of the case study. On the other hand, it will articulate and analyze the daily mobility of the subjects, based on the way it is used and practiced and its relationship with the mobility capital they have and the spatial configuration in the units of analysis. In this way, it is hoped to improve the understanding of the configuration of urban inequality based on its structure, distribution and persistence in the Metropolitan Area of Concepción, Chile, and to reflect critically on the way in which public policies for Metropolitan Areas are planned and evaluated in a neoliberal context.

A mixed type of research is proposed. On the one hand, it considers a quantitative approach to identify the units of study through a georeferenced analysis of urban growth patterns, related regulations and mobility conditions between the years 1990 and 2020. In order to describe and characterize the units of the study area, a quantitative analysis of the mobility capital and the configuration of the network will be carried out, based on the “mobility indicator” of Kaufmann, et al. (2004) and Moret (2012), through structured surveys. The configuration of the urban fabric will be addressed through the theoretical and methodological tools provided by Space Syntax (Hillier et al., 2000; Hillier, 1996). A qualitative approach is also considered to

1 Set of generative schemes from which subjects perceive the world and act in it (Bourdieu, 1980).

analyze the mobility practices in the units of study, the way in which mobility is habituated and practiced, for which the trajectories of the inhabitants and their different meanings and perceptions will be observed.

The preliminary results address the debate on the mutual influence between the spatial configuration of the built environment and urban mobility and their relationship in the consolidation of urban inequality. It is argued from the prism of the “new paradigm of mobility” that the theory of mobility capital or motility allows to overcome the historical dichotomy between space and mobility. In this way, it becomes clear that mobility as a social practice also constitutes dimensions of urban inequality and dispute in space. To this end, Hillier’s theorizations of spatial syntax are put into tension with proposals of the capital of mobility by Kaufmann et al. (2004). It is concluded that, in order to understand the dimensions of urban inequality, mobility must be understood beyond the functional nature of displacement, but also, from its social and relational nature in the built environment.


Bourdieu, P. (1980). Le sens pratique, Minuit, Paris. (trad. esp. en ed. Taurus, 1992)

Hillier, B.; Greene, M.; Desyllas, J. (2000). Self-generated Neighbourhoods: the role of urban form in the consolidation of informal settlements. Urban Desing International.

Hillier, B. (1996). Space is the Machine: a configurational theory of architecture, CUP, Cambridge.

Kaufmann, V.; Bergman, M. and Joye, D. (2004). Motility: Mobility as Capital. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(4), 745-56.

Moret J. (2018) Mobility: A Practice or a Capital? In: European Somalis’ Post-Migration Movements. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham.

Landon, P. (2016). Zona Sur: barrios, infraestructura y movilidad cotidiana Estrategias de apropiación y capital de movilidad familiar en barrios fragmentados. El caso de la Autopista Acceso Sur de Santiago de Chile. Tesis para optar al grado de Doctora en Arquitectura y Estudios Urbanos. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Santiago.

Sheller, M. & J. Urry. (2006). The New Mobilities Paradigm. Envieronment and Planning. Volume 38, p. 207- 226

Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press, London

The eyes and ears of resistance: mobile ICT-afforded and crowdsourced reconnaissance in Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement

Ha Chi Yeung,
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Reconnaissance normally refers to the military operations to gather information about the enemy and the terrain. Updated and extensive information on police deployment and action as well as its surrounding urban environment is crucial to the protest’s stay-or-leave decision-making. A systematic and crowdsourced reconnaissance is rarely found in the social movements around the world, excepting Hong Kong’s recent protest movement. Based on the case of crowdsourced reconnaissance practices in Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, this article aims to examine the affordance of mobile information and communications technology (ICT) in protest participation and communication, enabling a largely leaderless and anonymous setting. This article will explore how the use of online technologies mobilizes immaterial resources, resonating with offline protest actions in almost real-time. And this article will further investigate how the anonymous nature of the movement tends to develop specific mechanisms to coordinate and verify their efforts online.

The Hong Kong Summer’: A Spatial Story Approach

Wing Shing Tang,

Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

This paper argues that it is only insightful to understand the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Movement and its aftermaths in Hong Kong, coined as ‘The Hong Kong Summer’, spanning 2019 and 2020, by situating it in its historical geography, which is in constant interaction with the world. It proposes that this can be achieved conceptually and methodologically by a spatial story approach. In particular, it deciphers ‘The Hong Kong Summer’ by tracing historical-geographically the developments of, on the one hand, the Chinese state in interaction with the world and, on the other, Hong Kong as a city evolving in the globalising world. ‘One country, two systems’ was formulated at a time when China had tried to recover from the brink of total collapse after the Cultural Revolution, on the one hand, and on the other, an insurgent response to anti-Chinese communism from Hong Kong. It has been continuously moulded by the party-isation (or the common coinage of democratic centralism) of the Chinese economy and society in the last three or so decades, when, especially after the financial tsunami in 2008, China had surged as an economic power in the world. In corollary, the Chinese state has started to promote nationalism among its citizens. This continuous party-isation, as formulated in the concept of tianxia (‘all under Heaven’), has relentlessly re-defined centre-local relations, including the frameworks and ingredients of ‘one country, two systems’. People in Hong Kong have been delayed to elect their Chief Executive under universal suffrage. The latest re-alignment, as stipulated in the decision of tenth session of Standing Committee in the twelfth National People’s Congress on 31st August 2014, met with fierce opposition from the people of Hong Kong, who were somewhat and somehow informed by the convoluted concept of the right to city, demanding the right to decide one’s future. All concomitant actions, and reactions too, had accumulated, historical-geographically, into the Umbrella Movement and, subsequently, the Anti-Extradition Law and the State Security Law movements that had shocked the world. In sum, this paper argues that it is difficult to decipher these movements except with a spatial story approach that emphasises the mutual embeddedness between two polar forces.

Collective Actions in the Cities of the World: A Radical Perspective

Wing Shing Tang,
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

This year, the School calls for a new “collective action” in cities nowadays, and it is the objective of this paper to elaborate this theme from a radical perspective for a number of reasons. First, according to Mancur Olson’s The Logic of Collective Action, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests unless there is coercion or the number of individuals in a group is quite small. This understanding is extremely limited, as it has emphasised solely on rational actions, while it could never challenge the structural forces that have produced the prevailing inequalities and injustice so widespread around us. There is then an urgent need to supplement this discussion with concepts like activisms and social movements. Second, even if we have done so, there is usually a bias towards Anglophone concepts and theories. It is common in the literature to dub every activism or social movement around the world as the jasmine revolution in Tunisia or the lotus in Egypt: according to this view, it is all about democratisation of late-coming countries, to be modelled on their more advanced counterparts. This bias has revealed vividly the underlying power relations in knowledge production. In the first School of the Souths, we came to the conclusion that this biased understanding was unacceptable. The North-South dualism is, however, unnecessary; it merely prohibits us from understanding ourselves better. We instead need to develop concepts based on the concrete structural forces of the concerned countries while not forgetting about those of the more advanced counterparts. The two are in constant interaction with each other. To further elaborate this complexity leads us to the third point: a spatial perspective. The construction of relationship, which is so central to activisms and social movements, hinges on spatial strategies and tactics to mobilise and gain power. Land, terrains, places, networks, territories and regions are made and re-made as part of the process of social and political struggles. During these processes, narratives and imaginaries are also invoked, or even invented, to facilitate the spatial deployment. The exact strategy and tactic, among a repertoire of them, deployed by a particular activism or social movment for a particular issue is dependent on the historical and spatial moments. For instance, the struggles of favelados in cities in Brazil are very different from the movements behind tongfang (sub-divided flats) in Hong Kong. It is then important for us not to employ one analytical methodology or concept to decipher all these spatial strategies and tactics. A tempo-spatial analysis is always the basic approach to success. Finally, as a summary, this paper would suggest one spatial approach of activisms and social movements that tries to meet the above requirements.

Informal Settlements: an old challenge requiring new answers

Margarita Greene, Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile

Chile has a long trajectory of social housing policies. At the beginning of the 20th century, acknowledging governmental responsibility for housing, the country initiated the first institutions and public programmes to deal with increasing housing problems. Although the contributions –and errors– of Chile’s social housing policy history are many, the ways it has approached informality, self-construction and incrementality are of special interest, and these issues have gained notoriety once again.

Like most of the accelerated urbanization process in Latin American, Chile’s main cities grew largely through informal settlements built in the periphery by the poor. At different periods in time the government first ignored them, then eradicated them (by what has been described as ‘slum-razing’ strategies), and later radicated them through upgrading neighbourhood programmes. At the turn of the new century the country was envisioning the end of informal settlements, and the greatest challenge in the housing sector was to improve the poorly equipped social housing neighbourhoods. However, in the last years the situation changed, and new informal settlements began to increase again in different parts of the country. This has been accelerated greatly with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paper describes these new informal settlements, their location, type of inhabitants, and suggests ways of approaching them. At present, only one thing is clear: although they seem to represent a same old problem, they need new and differentiated strategies to deal with them, customised to their particularities.

Justice and environmental change in Buenos Aires. A case study of the environmental remediation of the Matanza-Riachuelo basin

Gabriela Merlinsky

Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Matanza-Riachuelo Basin, home to one-third of Buenos Aires’s inhabitants, is a territory characterized for its deregulated industries, lack of sanitation and scarce water supply. Gradually deteriorated throughout the past decades, it has become a symbol of the kinship between urban marginality and environmental vulnerability.

In 2008, Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled against the government in a case filed by citizens who denounced the perilous condition of the Basin, and ordered it to carry out an environmental cleanup in order to repair the damage and improve the quality of life of the population. However, several of the policies undertaken have paved the way for territorial conflicts, especially one that aims to open up a road all along the polluted riverbank, where many of the city’s overpopulated slums are located.

The political-ecological examination of the urbanization process in Matanza-Riachuelo river basin reveals the contradictory nature of the process of socio-environmental change and shows the central role of the real estate market which, by concentrating its investment in affluent areas increases the vulnerability of territories with high environmental degradation

The article has a twofold objective: 1) to identify the different positions of actors involved in resource management in the CMR, pointing to the main metropolitan environmental governance problems; 2)

to examine the consequences of the implementation of this policy over the population’s expectations and life conditions. By analyzing the role played by social organizations and state agencies, we will discuss the implications of environmental recovery on the metropolitan policy.

Through an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the fields of law, geography, sociology and environmental sciences, the presentation develops a context analysis and case study from statistical secondary sources, analysis of judicial sentences, interviews to key informants and observation reports of judicial public hearings.

“Collective action” in the cities of the world. A view from the Souths

Paolo Perulli,

University of Piemonte Orientale and FEEM, Italy

In the world cities of today, a new “collective action” is taking place. From Hong Kong to Santiago de Chile, conflict is the key word; powers are challenged; reforms are demanded. In India, conflicts over the ethnic and religious minorities’ rights are ongoing. In Africa, conflicts over ethnicity, religion, land, resource allocation, governance, poverty and migration are widespread.

To grasp the collective action of cities in the Souths of the world, the old rational choice theory based on olsonian assumptions should be recognized as wrong. A new theory based on the needs and capabilities to express collective protest is wanted. It depends on both structural and contingent factors. It involves the critique of basic concepts like development, progress and democracy.

A new normative framework for the cities of the world could be the outcome of the conflictual processes outlined here. A new lexicon would be created around terms like: economic, social, ethnic and environmental justice, autonomy, capabilities, rights. The search for ‘universal’ principles of Justice or the necessarily ‘pluralistic’ logics and ‘relativistic’ ethics of identity are part of the dilemmas.

Is Justice universal? Are the same parameters to be adopted in the North and the Souths of the world?

Sustainable development is the key. It is based on parameters-like the United Nations SDGs-which fail to address the existing difference between the North and the Souths, the dominant and the excluded, and the need for a new synthesis. The global interest to “save the Planet” cannot avoid the enormously different, conflicting points of view of developed and developing communities. Together they stand, together they fall.

Cooperation or competition? China in Africa

Paola Pasquali,

École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, France

This presentation explores the theme of collective action in the Souths of the world from a macro level state perspective, by looking at the relationship between China and its relations with the 54 states inhabiting the African continent. China is now the world’s second largest economy and since 2019, the world’s largest official creditor (overtaking the IMF and World Bank). Prompted by the growing financing, trade, and investment flows between China and African countries, Africa-China relations have attracted increasing attention and have been hotly debated. On the one hand, this relationship is officially framed as a mutually beneficial instance of South-South cooperation among equals. This position is often accompanied by a consideration of how Chinese financing enables the realisation of critically needed infrastructure across African countries. On the other, the disproportionate size and economic power of the Chinese state in comparison to individual African countries, has led some to describe this relationship as unequal and even neo-colonial relationship.

This paper begins by emphasising how China and African countries cannot be perceived as one single actor with one agenda: there are many different actors (e.g., government officials, ministries, state-owned enterprises, private companies, etc.) who have different and at times conflicting goals. It will be further noted that the way Africa-China relations are analysed in the literature often problematically downplays and at times completely obfuscates the agency of African actors. The paper will then review the main statistics that characterise such relationship. As these numbers reveal, in spite of current narratives, China’s presence on the continent is not that of an investor but rather that of a finance and service provider. I will argue that such financing – which at times intersects with notions of development aid – has an important “Keynesian multiplier” effect on China’s own economy. It will be further observed that such financial commitments are key in consolidating Sino-African friendships which are fundamental in supporting China’s expanding global footprint, especially at the level of international global governance. While Chinese economic cooperation and capital have strengthened African governments bargaining power with Western donors, I will remark that many problems exist with regards to the issue of tied financial assistance as well as, in a number African countries, the issue of the rentability of projects and debt repayment.

The paper concludes that China’s attempts to reshape international economic governance commensurate to its economic weight principally depend on winning the support of the largest majority of countries of the global South. In this respect, African countries’ support for China within international organisations is critical, especially at a time when international relations appear to be increasingly polarised (countries of the global North vs China). As a result, although taken individually African countries are in an unquestionably weaker position vis à vis China, their diplomatic weight should be highly valued and fully leveraged on. Ideally this could be best achieved by adopting a unitary, pan-African position on African governments’ most pressing issues vis à vis the Chinese presence in Africa.

After Covid, the cities

Marco Cremaschi,

Urban School, SciencesPo, Paris, France

The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the lives and prospects of millions of people around the world. Comments appear to be evenly split between fear of the apocalypse and calls for denial. Many found the ideal culprit in the city; repentant archistars praised the countryside. However, common sense observations lead to risky generalizations and hasty conclusions.

Contrarywise, a recent survey concludes that only some changes will be permanent, while cities are the answer, not the problem. A survey at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei looks at the impacts on 20 cities around the world over the coming years. Some 25 experts have drawn up more than 200 proposals mapping the impacts and priorities of 20 cities around the world.

Diverging from press comments, the experts predict that the city will remain attractive, even though the crisis has severely affected the vulnerable population, especially in the slums of the South of the world. Each city continues to face varied impacts, however, shaped by the structural problems (inequality, war, disease, climatic events, etc.) pending from the past. Panel members are cautious about either radical changes or significant innovations. For instance, the crisis will not trigger a steady transition from consumerism to frugality; a massive abandonment of cities is unlikely, as well an increase of deregulation.

The spatial impacts of the pandemic present significant “local” variability. Production chains will become shorter, tourism will rediscover nearby places, and local governance will become crucial. The integration of digital and urban flows accelerated its pace. New ways of working explode the demand for IT and crash the need for office space. Mobility flows and routes change, some will decrease, affecting cities’ budgets and programs. AI systems will restructure technological networks and infrastructures. Public spaces will be remotely controlled and less used.

Private and public spaces and infrastructures integrating digital technology arise a challenge to the local collective action. The COVID crisis highlighted the limits of forecasting of States. Cities are already concerned but not yet equipped. A shift has been started by local actions, some informal some promoted renewing the struggle between states and cities. Cities taking advantage of this shift will become more powerful and potentially more efficient. They can become fairer or not, depending on where we will ‘land’ in politics. In all case, the local institutions of welfare and governance need to be redesigned.

The urban-rural dichotomy in contemporary urbanization processes: emerging conflicts and collective action

Luca Garavaglia,

University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy

In XXI century, the rural-urban discourse in Europe took new pathways, regarding both issues and their scale: the advent of the information society, the new attention to sustainability and environmental protection and, more recently, the changes determined by the Covid-19 pandemic introduced new arguments to the debate, while the extension of urbanization processes at regional scale and the development of urban networks at global level enlarged the arena of conflict, bringing the urban question to new spatial dimensions. The paper discusses these transformations presenting examples from urbanization processes taking place in northern Italy, where complex city-region dynamics are unfolding, generating strong interdependencies between metropolitan areas, medium-sized cities, industrial, agricultural and peripheric areas: as a consequence, new conflicts arose on the urban-rural fringe and in marginal areas, regarding the spatial distribution and the accessibility of public services, quality of life, sustainability, economic competitivity. At the local level, networks of public and private actors have been able to produce new forms of collective action in order to respond to emerging problems, but issues organized at trans-territorial scale are much more difficult to challenge, due to the difficulties in the coordination of different public administration and to the lack of preexistent experiences of cooperation between actors.

Cities in the Souths of the world are experiencing the same challenges regarding urban growth and sustainability, and some of them are producing strong and original responses in terms of collective action. Yet, those contexts cannot be interpreted with concepts and tools developed to study the urban-rural dichotomy in western cities, because of the differences in their social, economic and historical conditions. A more complex paradigm is needed, in order to better understand how the new global geographies of capitalism and power impact on local contexts all over the world, and how communities and local stakeholders can play a role in the governance of processes which are transversal to all traditional administrative boundaries.

Urbanization, Covid-19 and Collective Action Among the Urban Poor in India

Kala Seetharam Sridhar,

Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, India

Covid-19 has put the spotlight on our cities which are characterized by high population density, and have become hotspots for this reason. In Indian states, there is a positive correlation of 0.43 between urbanization and Covid prevalence. Given the effects of density on spreading of the pandemic, unsurprisingly, there is a positive correlation of 0.48 between the percentage of slum households and Covid prevalence in Indian states, and a negative correlation of -0.21 between parks (open spaces) in cities and Covid per lakh population. There is also a positive correlation of 0.36 between urban primacy and Covid prevalence for Indian states.

With the pandemic, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have become independent units of governance at the city level in India. Hence with respect to the urban poor, in an attempt to understand their collective action, we examine the determinants of membership in RWAs, their income and likelihood of voting in municipal elections, based on reported evidence from two south Indian cities—Bengaluru and Chennai.

Here are our research questions:

  1. What are the socio-economic determinants of Covid-19 at the all India level? We have strong reasons to suspect that urbanization rate, income, density, gender, workforce participation and literacy rate impact the incidence of Covid-19.

  2. What are the determinants of collective action by the urban poor, i.e., of membership in RWAs and neighbourhood associations, and likelihood of voting in municipal elections?

We find based on regressions at the district level, taking data from all Indian districts, that urbanization leads to increased Covid prevalence; higher population leads to higher prevalence of the virus. Higher workforce participation also is a cause of higher Covid prevalence, as this implies higher economic activity. We find richer districts are more likely to be aware of the debilitating effects of the virus, hence characterized by lower prevalence of the same, consistent with our expectations, although the magnitude of their effect is small.

With respect to collective action among the urban poor, based on evidence reported in Sridhar and Reddy (2014a) for Bengaluru and Sridhar and Reddy (2014b) for Chennai, demographic characteristics such as age and gender have ambiguous effects on the urban poor’s membership in associations, but salary status, higher income and migrant status lead to membership in neighborhood associations in both the cities. Further, the older, relatively higher income, poor women and members in neighborhood associations voted in municipal elections; migrants did not vote, as they are statutorily prohibited from voting currently. The most interesting finding is that beneficiaries of government programs did not vote in municipal elections, in both the cities.

Applying these results to the Covid-19 context, we conclude that the salaried and those with higher income among the urban poor are more amenable to collective action during the pandemic. On a somewhat different plane, migrants are not eligible to vote in local elections, but they may be prone to collective action. These results somewhat confirm the story from the observed collective action during the pandemic in Bengaluru.

Environmental justice and the origin of Chilean Revolt

Enrique Aliste,

Universidad De Chile, Chile

Chile, as a great part of Latin American (LA) countries, is an economy strongly dependent on commodities. Copper, forest production, fisheries, lithium, agribusiness, between others, is the base of the GDP and at the same time, the origin of a several conflicts between communities and companies.

In the last 30 years, the emergence of a new conception of the environmental rights and demands about quality of life, human rights, development, justice, etc., in an extreme neoliberal context, in addition with a scenario of risk disaster vulnerability (earthquakes, volcano eruptions, drought and climate change, tsunamis, land flows, pollution, water scarcity, etc.) has been an important reason for the social reaction and organization.

The collective action in different social context has facilitate the October 2019 Chilean Revolt. Certainly the cause of environmental justice is not the center of the revolt, but in an exploration about organized groups and collective action, is maybe one of the most important demands with future perspectives: the water property rights, the access of commons, the question about the extractivism dependence, the vulnerability on climate change, between others.

In this context, several questions its emerging from the analysis of collective action organized in Chile, and one plausible question is why the environmental collective action is not strongly based on the popular social movements? Does it’s mean a certain relation or perception with an elitization of the environmental discourses and actions?

In this paper, we discussing about how green discourses and practices coming from the global north has influenced the public perceptions about the environmental problems and actions, exploring the socio-environmental conflicts, projects and actions in Chile, for thinking and debating about the collective actions and the role of the environmental justice in the global south.

Marrakech: des réactions et des issues au contexte pandémique

Abdelaâli Benchekroun,

Marrakesh, Morocco

Les villes et surtout les campagnes marocaines, ont connu à travers les décennies antérieures, un déficit d’Etat et des services de base. Ainsi, l’Enseignement lamentable, l’analphabétisme, la santé où les démuni(e)s risquent de rencontrer la mort en cas de maladie.

Marrakech étant une ville touristique et d’artisanat, avec très peu d’industrie. La Région Marrakech-Safi étant agricole, il est vrai, mais souffre de stress hydrique qui menace les populations rurales.

Dans ce contexte, la pandémie a donné un coup d’arrêt au tourisme de Marrakech, une fois les frontières fermées. Les 300 000 personnes qui en vivent, se sont retrouvées chômeurs. L’Etat marocain a réagi au départ de façon innovante, énergique et solidaire, mais les conditions objectives ont dégagé une évolution très difficile.

Avec le déconfinement les villes pouvaient se réorganiser autrement. En réalité, le confinement s’est passé dans les pires conditions, notamment avec la fête du mouton et la promiscuité des souks ovins. Le Gouvernement n’a pas annulé la fête religieuse, comme il avait fermé les mosquées.

Vu les inégalités sociales amplifiées avec l’arrêt du tourisme, plusieurs dizaines de milliers vendent leurs affaires personnelles pour survivre et descendent dans la rue. L’Etat ne peut pas continuer à soutenir ces nouveaux chômeurs, d’autant que le Fonds de solidarité-Corona s’épuise.

La pandémie se répand dans une situation sanitaire déplorable. Les hôpitaux de Marrakech ne peuvent plus accueillir les nouveaux cas positifs, impuissants devant la demande grandissante. L’expansion du virus est telle que le nombre à dépister est bien plus grand que la capacité journalière estimée fin août à 20000. Le personnel médical exténué, manque de moyens. Le système de santé dénudé au grand jour. Le secteur privé évite d’accueillir les cas positifs, différemment de la première étape où il était impliqué. L’Etat ne fait rien, et plusieurs appellent à nationaliser ses cliniques.

La rentrée scolaire s’annonce inextricable. Apprentissage à distance ou présentiel? Le Ministère décide le virtuel, laissant le choix aux familles d’opter pour le présentiel. Or 70-80% des enfants n’ont ni tablettes ni connexion. La distanciation étant difficile vu l’encombrement des classes.

En somme, le « moins d’Etat » qui a sévi pendant longtemps (PAS-FMI des années 80), a été fatal pour l’école et la santé publiques. La pandémie a brutalement rappelé l’impératif de réhabiliter un Etat capable de reconstruise le Secteur Public, la protection sociale, réviser les orientations de l’économie et reformuler les vrais besoins.

L’évolution pandémique impose de cohabiter avec le virus. Des comportements légers des gens pourraient justifier pour les décideurs de re-confiner. Ce qui serait plus fatal pour la ville et le pays.

Nonobstant le cours des évènements cependant, l’Etat devrait mobiliser le maximum, pour garantir la sécurité, l’autosuffisance alimentaire, médicaments, équipements médicaux, finance, monnaie et énergie. Et ce, en par le lancement d’un Fonds Corona II. Le Roi avait lui même donné l’exemple par une contribution personnelle consistante. Nos richards devant être contraints à se « solidariser ».

Marrakech étant ainsi sinistrée, les autorités, centrales et régionales, élus et opérateurs divers, doivent converger pour restructurer santé et écoles publiques, les services divers, le transport et la gestion innovante des espaces publics. L’objectif premier : stopper l’expansion et la prise en charge des vagues de contaminé(e)s, par une autre stratégie de communication ciblant les précaires et le rural.

Le tourisme serait orienté et adapté pour la clientèle intérieure, et l’artisanat relancé par la substitution aux importations de produits ciblés, ainsi que le « consommer marocain » qui deviendrait la devise dorénavant.

La digitalisation occupera une place dans la reconversion au télétravail et la transparence-gouvernance. A Marrakech et au Maroc, celle-ci compte pour beaucoup dans les problèmes socio-économiques et la paupérisation rampante.

Ce contexte requiert plus que jamais la bonne gouvernance pour bâtir l’équité sociale, le développement alternatif, éradiquer l’alphabétisation, améliorer la place de la femme et des jeunes dans la société, assainir l’administration, la justice et instaurer la redevabilité. On n’a pas d’autre choix que de changer le modèle de société, ou risquer le pire.


Giuseppe Sciortino

Università degli Studi di Trento


The current global system relies on a set of liberal international regimes assuring, with some important exceptions, the circulation of goods, capital and information. No such liberal regime exists for the circulation of individuals. There is (although often violated) a right to ‘exit’ recognized by the UN declaration of human rights. There is no, however, right to be admitted somewhere else. Given the actual socio-economic configuration of global society, this implies that the movements of individuals across boundaries is regulated, rather unilaterally, by the receiving states.

Such regulation is, by necessity, highly restrictive. Contrary to news stories, the population of the world is actually pretty immobile. Only a tiny minority – less tha 4% – live currently in a state different from the one in which she is born. Nor such percentage has been growing remarkably in recent decades. The world is pretty much staying home.

If migration rates are pretty stable, the migration potential (the number of people that would move if only they had an appealing chance) is actually growing (and much higher of those of actual migrants). Surveys in emigration countries points nearly anywhere to a large migration potential (roughly, at least four times the number of current international migrants).

Measured against this global demand for admission, the functioning of migration control appears quite effective. Passports, visas, border guards, career sanctions and anti-trafficking measures are able to protect the segmentary differentiation of the world political system in a remarkable way. This restrictive regulation of migration is far from being a mere historical contingency. On the contrary, citizenship plays a key role in producing and reproducing the current global social stratification. Location is a major determinant of income. Unsurprisingly, migration is above all an attempt at social mobility through motility.

Although often ignored, the restrictive regulation of migration is an important dimension of the current global political system. It is a functional pre-requisite for any redistributive welfare policy. It has become a key factor in the functioning of all democratic societies (national public opinions, in fact, are nearly always highly restrictive). Paradoxically, such restrictionist attitude is stronger and more consistent in those states that grant resident foreigners a modicum of right and a path, no matter how long, to citizenship. It is enough to compare the percentage of foreign residents in Western Europe and South America with those of the Gulf States to realize the existence of a factual trade-off between numbers and rights.

Powerful factors militate against international mobility, particularly along the South-North direction. Why, then, migration is such a conflictual issue? Why do state complains to be “unable” to regulate migration? To understand it globally, three structural tensions are to be considered:

– The strain between political system, legitimated in reference to a community of belonging, and the market economy, whose regulation is based on prices, not territory;
– The tension between political will, inevitably particularistic, and a national and international legal system that is increasingly autonomous and increasingly universalistic (embedded liberalism);
– The tension between an international order defined by a segmentation of the political system in nation-states defined as of equal power and status and the factual existence of enormous – and growing – economic, political and military differences.

Urban Value Creation

Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway

Universidad de Barcelona



In the context of urban competitiveness, cities aim to increase the number of areas that become attractive for the location of high added-value activities or the settlement of talent.  In terms of land use, this could be the result of processes of brownfield development, urban regeneration or built environment rehabilitation, among others. With respect to the tools to raise the value of an existing urban area, a broad range of instruments can be identified: from the increase in the use of digital technologies to the use of flagship events (i.e. mobile world congress in Barcelona), improving environmental amenities or building new cultural facilities (i.e. Guggenheim in Bilbao). The major aim of these processes is to increase the existing urban value.


Several aspects should be taken into account while reflecting on the processes of urban value creation. First, to whom is this value addressed? Urban strategies might definitely be aimed at increasing the urban value for existing citizens by providing green areas or better social facilities. However, after Florida’s recipe provided in the 2000s, many local governments targeted foreign capital and talent in their urban planning activities. Besides, the rise in tourist flows all over the world is also a source of urban value creation.  Second, how is this value created? Local policies and actions traditionally decide, in a sort of paternalistic mode, the better pathways to achieve certain objectives associated to the creation of urban value. Processes of co-creation among the different stakeholders involved in using the city, have been recently employed as a natural mechanism to increase the value of the city for all those benefiting from its use. Thirdly, how has the capital gain created by the increase of urban value been shared by the different actors of the city? What kind of mechanisms have been developed to compensate the increasing value? In an era of liberalisation and diminishing role of the public intervention, there is a considerable risk related to the unbalanced absorption of urban value creation by certain economic actors in key areas of the city. This has sparked multiple effects, among others the displacement of existing residents and activities in these areas.  And finally, what kind of processes and dynamics are created as side-effects of the urban value creation procedure? Frequently, although the objective of value creation is clear and defined, there are some effects, some of them totally desirable and some of a negative nature, that also take place in the area of intervention. The attractiveness or popularity of an area after certain interventions of value creation might result in profound conflicts in the use of space by different actors. The availability of brand new green spaces or cultural facilities for the inhabitants could be considered as a positive side-effect of an intervention aimed at increasing the economic activity in certain areas.


An additional feature to be explored in processes of urban value creation is their sustainability (social, economic and environmental) over time.  Since we know, for instance,  that around 70% of the world population will be concentrated in cities in a couple of decades, or that headquarters of large firms are increasingly less dependent of agglomeration economies, the current processes of urban value creation should respect the foreseen urban dynamics and the already existing resources in the city. Urban ecosystems are highly sensitive to changes, for instance, those triggered by new technologies and big data. Public authorities are responsible for guaranteeing a smooth urban transition to new dominant paradigms.


There are some experiences where targeting knowledge and innovation as main drivers of economic growth have transformed existing areas with low added value activities into the most dynamic scenes in the city. This is the case, for instance, of the  district of innovation 22@Barcelona in 1998: by means of an urban, economic and social transformation of the territory led by the municipality, the resulting increase in urban value would, on the one hand, displace existing activities with no or little capacities to produce high added value goods or services and, on the other,  allow the location of targeted sectors able to afford higher prices and rents. Besides, the implementation of compensating mechanisms (i.e. higher density) to private landowners affected by the redevelopment and reorganisation of land was used in the negotiation to free land for other purposes than the existing ones.  Even though the process was definitely top-down, after 15 years the targets of the urban value creation process have changed. Since 2018, the different processes of urban value creation have been agreed upon by different stakeholders with a negotiated pathway for future intervention.

Key questions to be considered from a North – South global perspective:


  1. Are the processes of urban value creation targeting the same objectives in the global North and South?
  2. Up to what extent is the urban value co-created with the different stakeholders involved? Do the global North and South follow similar patterns? Are we witnessing a shift from top-down to bottom-up processes?
  3. How is the capital gain obtained after urban value creation distributed among actors? Are there mechanisms that guarantee an equal or at least, balanced distribution?
  4. Does it make sense to be concerned about the sustainability of processes that alter urban value creation? Is there a similar concern in the global North and South?
  5. How are the city’s existing resources contemplated in the processes of urban value creation? How are they channelled and cultivated? Do these processes take place in both the global North and South?

Housing in the souths of the world

Margarita Greene

School of Architecture, CEDEUS,

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile



There are three perspectives regarding housing that I would like to refer to at this moment, finishing with a short reflection on how to advance towards urban sustainability. Although each of them affects our countries in different ways, they share common factors that allow us to talk about the “souths of the world” as one Mega Region.


The first is Housing beyond the House. In this part I would refer to how a residential area requires urban services and equipment that go beyond the plot, house or flat. In this sense, it is important to consider aspects such as accessibility: while the city offers the benefits of richer opportunities (in economic, social and cultural terms), if the house does not have a proper accessibility to the rest of the urban amenities these opportunities will be unreachable. On the other hand, to provide the services that must accompany the dwelling, and that allow for an adequate urban quality of life, it is necessary to consider multiple stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. Finally, in this section I would like to refer to the mobilization of resources required for providing adequate housing.


The second regards Demography and Social Context, where I would give an overview of the demographic transition in relation to countries’ development, and also of the family and household transitions (changes in households and families composition), as well as the spatial transition (urbanization). This subject leads directly to the issues of immigrants, special groups’ needs (the elderly, children) and cultural changes that may have enormous impacts on housing and residential areas.


The third subject will approach Informality and Incrementality. One problem in the last century has been the generation and increase of informal settlements, which do not provide minimum conditions for families or communities to develop a healthy and enriching quality of life. The formal approach will be analysed, showing how it has changed from ‘slums are a problem’ to ‘slums are part of the solution’. This has led to the incremental approach to housing, which can be understood as a basic self-made house to the improvement of neighbourhoods and social consolidation.


Finally, I would like to approach the sustainability perspective and how it affects the morphology of the urban realm (i.e., compact city versus sprawl), the mobility patterns (active mobility and public transport vs cars), and the aim of diversity in function (combining residential, commerce, work sources) and social groups (among rich and poor, young and old, etc.). In the Chilean case and in most of Latin America a main problem in urban development has been segregation, and nowadays there is much effort involved in integration strategies to overcome it.

Global Discourses of Nature and Sustainability. Will Green Open a New Inequality Gap?

Enrique Aliste

Universidad de Chile


Many recent discourses focus on nature, landscape and “green” as a very important concept and source of wellbeing. Green is at the heart of future desires, it shapes the new global ideas and public policies, and it affects the accountability of the private sector. Today, an important part of the performance of investments is linked to the idea of sustainability, climate change commitment and good practices with communities. And one of the key actions for this commitment is the protection of nature.


On the other hand, however, one of the most important processes in the global Souths is land grabbing for ecological reasons (or “green grabbing”), where important national and transnational investment funds buy great plots of land at the end of the world, for e.g. in Patagonia.


In these scenarios, what kind of consequences can be expected for the future of the global Souths? Who manages these actions and for what purpose? What kind of geography are we producing for the future global era of sustainable development and climate change actions? What scenarios can be predicted for the global Souths in this context?


This is not a skeptical approach to climate change adaptation or sustainable discourses: it is a call for discussing, reflecting and thinking beyond the present for the future of the global Souths.


Keywords: green economy; global change; social geography, development imaginary, global Souths, hegemonic discourses, “eco-extractivism”.

Urbanization in the Global South: Can We Make it Sustainable?

Kala S Sridhar

Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, INDIA


This presentation focuses on urbanization in the global south, and in particular in China, India and Brazil (CIB). These three countries have been selected as being representative of Asia and Latin America, and subject to availability of data.


There are many similarities across the three countries—India started its liberalization in 1991, while China started much earlier, in 1978, and Brazil joined the party with its economic reforms in 1994. India is only 31% urban as of Census 2011, two decades after its economic reforms began, but recent research (Sridhar (2019) finds that if India were more liberal in its definition of what is urban, then more than half of India would be urban today. China, on the other hand, has experienced a much different, and chequered urbanization process since its liberalization in 1978 when its urbanization was only 20%, 36% at the turn of the millennium (in 2000); and rose more rapidly to 56% in 2018. Brazil has been always more than 80% urban, but the creative abilities of its cities to unleash growth has been recognized only post-1994, the year of economic reforms in that country.


Few countries have become high income without also becoming adequately urban, as Spence, Annez and Buckley (2008) point out. While Brazil has the highest per capita income among the CIB countries, it is also unsurprisingly the most urban, with China in second place, and India last, being the least urbanized. For the 1960-2018 period, based on data from the World Bank, we find the highest correlation between urbanization and per capita GDP in the case of China (0.96), followed by that for Brazil at 0.95, and for India at 0.91.


In each of these CIB countries, the number of cities at the apex of the urban hierarchy is lower than that at the bottom of the hierarchy, as predicted by Christaller’s central place theory and Zipf’s law. While undoubtedly cities contribute the most to the GDP of every country, they have to be made economically efficient and egalitarian. Economic efficiency is defined by the number of jobs accessible within a certain commute which refers to the city’s effective labor market, as per Bertaud (2014). We find that the accessibility of jobs within a 30-minute commute is the highest in Bangalore, when compared with selected North American cities for which the data are available. No doubt, Bangalore is projected to have the highest per capita GDP ($12,600) by 2030, as per McKinsey Global Institute (2010).


As a measure of the egalitarianism of a city, we examine the population living within 10 KMS of the central business district (CBD) as this reflects the city’s sprawl, presumably caused by urban development policies. On this measure, Seoul, South Korea is the most egalitarian, followed by Bangkok, Thailand and Shanghai, China, where roughly 50% of the metropolitan area’s population lives within 10 KMS of the CBD. Indian cities are the least egalitarian from this viewpoint, where urban policies distort household location away from the CBD where jobs are located. This may also be seen in the floor area consumption in cities around the world, which is the highest in cities such as Copenhagen, but the lowest in Indian cities. One possible reason for this is the strong land use regulations (as seen in unduly low Floor Area Ratio (FAR)) in India’s cities, compared with that for other cities around the world. The impact of FAR limits on city suburbanization, sprawl and spatial area is well established (Sridhar (2010)), Brueckner and Sridhar (2012), Bertaud and Brueckner (2005)).


The logical fallout of strong land use regulations in cities of the global south is obvious—they are environmentally not sustainable. This may be seen in the carbon emissions globally, whereby China and India are the highest contributors to global emissions, along with the US and EU. Therefore, urbanization has to be managed well, to make it egalitarian and environmentally sustainable. Otherwise we are throwing the baby out with the bath water.




Spence, M., Annez, P. C., & Buckley, R. M. (Eds.). (2008). Urbanization and growth. World Bank Publications.


Bertaud, Alain (2014), Cities as labor markets, Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment, WP #2, New York.

Bertaud, A., Brueckner, J.K., 2005. Analyzing building-height restrictions: predicted im- pacts and welfare costs. Regional Science and Urban Economics 35,  109–125.


Brueckner, Jan and Sridhar, Kala Seetharam (2012). Measuring welfare gains from relaxation of land-use restrictions: The case of India’s building-height limits, Regional Science and Urban Economics (Special issue in honor of Jacques Thisse), 42 (6) (2012): 1061-67. DOI: 10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2012.08.003

McKinsey Global Institute (2010) India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, April.


Sridhar, Kala Seetharam (2019). Is India’s urbanization really too low? Some evidence, Area Development and Policy, forthcoming. DOI: 10.1080/23792949.2019.1590153


Sridhar, Kala Seetharam (2010). “Impact of Land Use Regulations: Evidence from India’s Cities,” Urban Studies, 47 (7) June 2010: 1541–1569.

Spatial Inequality and Poverty in African Cities

George Owusu

Institute of Statistical, Social & Economic Research (ISSER)/

Centre for Urban Management Studies (CUMS)

University of Ghana


The rapid pace of urbanization characterized by under-served urban neighbourhoods, sprawl and the emergence of slums and other informal settlements are common features of cities of the global south, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet these characterizations of cities have not slowed down the movement of the population to cities. This is because cities are largely seen as offering better livelihood opportunities compared to rural areas. In other words, the ‘brighter lights’ of cities and towns which describe the lure of urban life, and the promise that urban centres hold for individuals and groups who may be hungry, jobless, or just curious remain strong – fueling the shift of the population to cities and hastening the process of urbanization. Equally important is the fact that migrants to cities in the global south, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are predominantly young people and this inevitably contributes to high rates of natural increase in urban centres. Youth populations in cities are coterminous with high levels of unemployment, a major contributory factor to urban poverty. Moreover, urban poverty is equally associated with poor living conditions and inequalities.


Nowhere in the global south is the process of urbanization a challenge as in Sub-Saharan Africa where economic growth and development have not kept pace with the rates of urbanization. For instance, while Sub-Saharan African countries can match the urbanization rates of China and India (which are considered the industrial powers of the future), they cannot boast of anything near the rates of economic growth of these two countries. The effects of this situation are increasing urban poverty and the emergence of slums and other informal settlements. Indeed, urban sustainability issues in many Sub-Saharan African countries are best observed through the challenges confronting their cities. Yet, urban life has not collapsed in most African countries largely on account of the informal sector which provides the urban population with housing, employment and income, and any claims on consumption of goods and services in the city.


In many African countries, poor urban planning and governance remain at the core of challenges to be met, as they impede the creativity and innovation required to address other urban development challenges. A critical challenge is the inadequate attention of urban planning and governance to the informal economy despite its significant contribution to the city and national economies. In many African cities, the lack of adequate policy attention to the informal sector has led to a situation whereby spatial planning has failed to consider informal economy activities in planning and development of zoning schemes. This has resulted in clashes between informal economy operators and local authorities, mainly on the issue of location, further exacerbating spatial inequality and poverty levels in cities. In many cities in Africa, city authorities and policy-makers’ attempts to deal with informality have entailed taking on euro-centric notions of the city and utopian notions of urban development. Rather than asking how urban dwellers in African cities manage to create their own mechanisms of production and sustenance within existing societal structures, city and national governments have continually pushed a development agenda aimed at making African cities conform to ‘developmental’ norms of cities in the global north.

Studying urban policies in global South cities

Dr. Paola Pasquali, EHESS – UMR Géographie-cités, CNRS Pasquali.pao Paola.pasquali

Studying urban policies in global South cities

Over the last decade or two, several urban scholars have emphasised the underrepresentation of global South cities in urban theory, predominantly based on a based on a small sample of Euro American cities, the original heartland of urban theory. New scholarship has nevertheless become to emerge, inspired by a different selection of cities from those which have informed urban studies in the twentieth century. This displacement from North to South is made particularly necessary by current and near-future urbanisation trends: virtually all population growth in the world in the next 30 years will take place in cities of the global South. The goal of this paper is twofold. First, the aim is to provide a general overview of the current debates in urban theory and policy studies with reference to cities of the Global South (Part I). Second, to discuss current literature on policy analysis in the global South and sketch an open list of policy themes for comparisons across cities of the global South.




  1. Background

UN forecasts show that virtually all population growth in the world over the next 30 years will take place in cities of the global South. In just a generation, Latin America has become the world’s most urbanised region, with an urban population which grew from 30% to more than 85%.1 As far as future projections go, the majority of urban population growth is expected to take place in the Asian and African continents, which are projected to become 64% and 56% urban, respectively, by 2050. While Africa presently remains the least urbanised continent, it is urbanising at the fastest rate: in the next 35 years, the continent will need to accommodate almost 900 million new urban dwellers, which is equivalent to what Europe, USA and Japan combined have managed over the last 265 years.2 This trend also pertains to city sizes. For example, by 2025, China will have 8 megacities with over 10 million citizens and more than 220 cities with a population over 1 million.3 These trends are dissonant with the current state of urban theory and policy scholarship, predominantly based on case studies from cities of the global North. The latter still function as the basis to define what a city is, how should it be governed and how should it be planned. Given current and future global urbanisation trends, a growing number of scholars has called for a rebalancing of the weight case studies from the global South have in global urban theorising and analyses (Robinson 2006, Parnell et al. 2009, Roy 2009, Chen and Kanna 2012).




2 Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2015 Accessed 10 October 2019

3    Accessed 10 October 2019


2.          Urban theory in the XX century: “global North” cities as the essence of modernity

The first literature on urban studies dates to the early and mid-twentieth century. At that time, urban studies were centred on the work of the Chicago School of urban sociology. According to the latter, the city was to be primarily conceived as a jumble of socially differentiated neighbourhood communities, implicated in a process of natural evolution and sequences together with associated mentalities and codes of conduct. This approach shifted in 1970s, when the discipline of urban studies – based on case studies of North American and European cities – moved in the direction of Marxist-inspired approaches, which – from different perspectives – emphasised a concept of the city as the privileged realm of class struggle where land markets are to be seen as machines for distributing wealth upward (Lefebvre 1970, Castells 1977, Harvey 1973). This trend changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where new avenues of investigation burgeoned. These included topics such as neighbourhood development, displacement and the different ways in which socially differentiated (gender, ethnicity, race) groups are spatially clustered in cities (Massey 1991, Jackson, 1989). Other topics included the impact of globalisation on the structure of cities (Sassen 1991 and 2008) as well as the re-conceptualization of notions such as urban politics and governance and the pervasiveness of neoliberal imperatives on a global sphere (Brenner 1999, Harvey 2007 and 2012). This last strand of literature has naturally extended the urban sphere to a more global realm and audience. Yet, these urban theories have been based all along on Euro-American case studies, rooted on the idea that global North metropoles are at the forefront of global urban transformations, with southern cities following in their steps (Myers 2011).

3.          Global South cities: from chronic factors of underdevelopment to growth engines

It is not that over the last fifty years or so, southern cities have not been studied at all. Rather, because of their supposedly un-modern status as compared to northern cities, their issues were tackled as another discipline altogether, namely, development studies. The assumption among urban scholars being that urban studies is primarily concerned with “modern” cities. As Jennifer Robinson has shown, the notion of southern cities being in a condition of “underdevelopment” has been largely responsible for the binary thinking about “Western” developed cities and “Third World” cities as hierarchically less important to urban theorists (Robinson 2006). This conception is somewhat reflected in development literature, where the notion of urbanisation in cities of the global South has been traditionally conceived as detrimental and unhealthy to development until recent times. Traditional international development literature’s depictions of strongly growing urban areas in the global South are revealing in this respect. As Éric Denis notes, the notion of “Third-world city”4 emerged at the end of the 1960s in international development literature as “an unproductive scourge, always nearing explosion, poor, violent, uncontrollable and above all overcrowded” (Denis 2015: 310). Swamped by rural migrations unmet with a proportional creation of formal employment, southern cities would have fostered a low-added value informal economy clashing with the formation of a modern industrial sector (Lewis 1955 in Denis 2015: 311). Cities in the global South would be “parasitic” rather of generative of growth (Hoselitz 1955 in Denis 2015: 311). Some development scholars went as far as to define urban growth as a severe obstacle to development in the global South (Bairoch 1971, Linn 1982 in Denis 2015: 310), a “chronic factor of underdevelopment”


4 As Denis points out, the expression “third World” did not have a negative connotation when it first emerged, as it related to the non- aligned countries movement as materialised at the Bandung conference, as an alternative to the bipolar world charactering the cold war period.


(Denis 2015: 310). These positions resonate with a general “anti-urban” attitude in development literature (Beall 2019: 154) exemplified by the work of Michael Lipton, according to whom an urban bias versus rural areas in economic policies would be the main responsible for enduring poverty in developing countries (Lipton 1977 and 1984 in Beall 2019). While the view of a coherent divide between rural and urban classes has been subsequently rebutted, the view that development interventions should focus on rural areas is one which still influences development scholars and policy makers (Beall 2019: 153).

On the one hand, such negative view of southern cities has given way in the 1990s to a new paradigm which now conceives of them as engines for development (Harris 1988, Osmont 1995).5 This idea is exemplified by the 2009 World Bank Development Report which posits that “growing cities (…) are integral to development” (2009: XIX)6. On the other hand, according to this new discourse poverty and burgeoning informal economies and settlements would be a temporary phenomenon (Beall 2019: 153). Remarkably, comparisons and classifications in this field are heavily reliant upon the development model of industrial western democracies and are based on the supposedly universal principle of a single development trajectory, translating into a need for developing world cities to catch up with the rest (Denis 2015). The notion that there is one urban modernity – of which northern cities would be the illustration – has been put into question by several development and urban theory scholars. Perhaps even most importantly, this single development trajectory nowadays is being put into question by the success of modes of development which differ from the Western model, China being perhaps the main case in point for this.

4.          New approaches to urban theory and the place of global South cities

Starting from the early 2000, urban theory has been the object of a postcolonial critique. A key departure point of postcolonial scholars is the concept of “ordinary city” proposed by Amin and Graham: the idea is that cities are all equally distinctive and unique: no city can be maintained to work as a privileged archetype or an example for the others (Amin and Graham 1997). Earlier-mentioned Jennifer Robinson has drawn on this notion to assert the necessity of putting all urban centres across the North-South divide on an equal standing (Robinson 2006). According to her view, notions of urban modernity – predominantly rooted in the global North – and development have engendered a conceptual and practical binary thinking about “Western” developed cities and “Third World” cities, hierarchically less important to urban theorists due to their underdevelopment (Ibid).

An even more radical view is put forward by Ananya Roy. Roy draws attention to the tendency to consider the history of European urbanisation as a universal trajectory, unavoidable at any latitude, as a recipe to progress and unlimited growth (Roy 2009). She deprecates how traditional urban theory tends to be produced “in the crucible of a few ‘great’ cities: Chicago, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles – cities inevitably located in Euro America” (Roy 2009: 820). On the contrary, most urban studies cities of the global South tend to be treated as anomalous empirical cases in comparison to a paradigm of the city which adopts European and North American metropoles as what a city is or should be (Ibid). This tendency would be further apparent in “apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum” (Roy 2005: 224). In Roy’s view, the poverty, informality, marginalization, and extensive slums of Southern cities should be


5 Although some authors continue in this line by depicting global South cities as dangerous (Graham 2010) or at risk.

6      “World    Bank.   2009. World   Development   Report   2009   :    Reshaping    Economic    Geography.   World    Bank. Accessed 15 October 2019


seen as a mode of urbanization rather than anomalies to a norm (Ibid, emphasis in the original, 2011: 224). Instead of being regularly assembled under the label of underdevelopment or being reduced to “that last and compulsory chapter on ‘Third World Urbanization’ in the urban studies textbook”, for Roy southern cities experiences should become central to urban theorising: “the centre of theory making must move to the global South” (Roy 2009: 820).

A second approach which at times overlaps with the postcolonial approach mentioned above advocates for urban research to be based on assemblage and actor-network theory.7This approach builds up on images of the urban by assembling descriptions of urban situations or phenomena marked by their own particularity. The main feature of this approach is to avoid a priori theoretical abstractions. According to one of the main proponents of this theory, Ignacio Farias, the city should be conceived as “… an object which is relentlessly being assembled at concrete sites of urban practice, or, to put it differently, as a multiplicity of processes of becoming, affixing sociotechnical networks, hybrid collectives and alternative topologies” (Farías 2010: 2). Examples for this include city as “a transport system”, as “a playground for skateboarders and free-runners”, a “landscape of power”, “a public stage for political action and demonstration” and so on (Ibid: 14). While a priori characterisations are to be avoided, at times generalisations are allowed among the proponents of assemblage theory through the creation of typologies based on the links between the phenomena it describes. An example for this is the notion of “worlding cities” by Roy and Ong, which describes an effort to bring more cities into theoretical frameworks and to adequately account for the urban-global interactions shaping contemporary cities (Roy and Ong 2011).

A third attempt at making the foundations of urban theory and research more “inclusive” is the notion of “planetary urbanisation”8 proposed by Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid (2011, 2014). The latter rebut the traditional assumption in urban theories that cities represent a territory that is qualitatively specific, different from “non-urban” spaces (Brenner and Schmid 2011: 10-11). In their view, over the last thirty years or so, worldwide socio-spatial transformations compel a radical revision of existing approaches. These transformations would pertain to: the formation of new scales of urbanization; sprawling urban clusters that stretch beyond a metropolitan region and at times even traverse multiple national borders (Ibid: 13); “the disintegration of the hinterland” to the continued expansion of industrial urbanization and its associated planetary urban networks (Ibid: 14) and the transformation of wilderness spaces through the growing socio-ecological consequences of unregulated worldwide urbanization (Ibid). These geohistorical developments would point towards a new state of the urban, as an increasingly global condition in which political-economic relations are entangled. According to Brenner and Schmid, the current situation of “planetary” urbanization entails that even spaces that are located beyond the traditional city borders or peripheries are part of the urban. The solution would be then to embed the urban on a global scale “within a fluidly extending landscape” (Brenner et al 2013).

7Assemblage theory, as derived by the work of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, is an ontological view of the world as a mass of shifting networks binding together human and non-human objects representing the current state of the visible world. Assemblages become set by “territorialization” (as opposed to the disrupting act of deterritorialization) when they are fixed to specific configurations of geographical space. According to this perspective, every theoretical principle supposedly ordering reality in a top down manner can be de-constructed into the variegated and partial relations that have established it in the first place (Deleuze and Guattari 1972). Actor network theory as developed by Bruno Latour partially draws on these insights to explore the relationships between human and non- human objects. Latour argues that all objects are capable of agency to the extent to which they wield effects on other agents (Latour 2005).


8 “Planetary urbanization” is an expression and concept that originally comes from the work of Henri Lefebvre (1968, 1970, 1989).


The question at this point is how then a “truly global” urban theory could be grounded, from a methodological and conceptual perspective. In other words, how might we work constructively with existing theories while maintaining conceptualisations open to inputs from any city, that is, how might we “provide a rigorous foundation for the possibility of beginning conceptualisation anywhere?” (Robinson 2016: 3). The following section considers a few examples of how urban scholars have attempted to put into practice a more global urban theory.

5.          Building “a more global” urban theory: which methodology and concepts?


  1. Globalisation and world cities network

An attempt to include more cities in theorising the impacts of globalisation and urbanisation is the work of the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) research network, a research group founded in 1998 by Peter Taylor together with scholars such as Manuel Castells, Peter Hall, Saskia Sassen and Nigel Thrift. The network focuses on the study of interconnections between cities in the world economy and it operates a bi-annual categorization of world cities, based upon their international connectedness. The concern for inter-city relations intersects with research on issues concerning international business, sustainability, urban policy, and logistics. The GaWC group classifies cities according to a city’s integration into the world city network. The GaWC databank focuses in particular on office networks for advanced producer services, such as finance, advertising, accounting and law firms. Cities are ranked on a scale which uses the Greek letters Alpha, Beta and Gamma (with both plus and minus signs) with Alpha++ counting as the highest score indicating the cities which are most integrated with the global economy (London and New York currently detaining such primacy), with the ranking continuing all the way down to a rank below “lettered” cities, High sufficiency and Sufficiency. Insofar as this ranking system includes cities from the global South, the claim by its advocates is that such system incorporates the postcolonial critique and overcomes its vagueness in putting forward concrete alternatives. On the other hand, as critics of this ranking system – dominated by some global North cities – have highlighted, the Globalisation and World Cities ranking is based on a very specific and narrow economistic understanding of globalisation, which once again has been shaped by European criteria (Myers 2018: 232).

  1. Urbanisation through the lenses of planetaryneoliberalism

Another attempt at making urban theory more aware of global South urbanisation is the notion of “planetary urbanization” mentioned above (Brenner and Schmid 2011, 2013). For Brenner and Schmid contemporary “planetary” urbanization entails three mutually constitutive moments, which they define as “concentrated”, “extended”, and “differential” urbanisation (Brenner and Schmid 2015). They argue that in the current era, ‘the city’ as we traditionally understood it, as “concentrated urbanisation” is but one of three processes of urbanisation taking place in the contemporary world. Urbanisation worldwide would extend beyond the realm of city agglomerations, urban regions and even mega city-regions and within such process, differences come to light. A central analytical concept of this framework is the nexus between forms of urbanisation and the global pervasiveness of neoliberal capitalism, impacting on urbanization across the North/South divide. On the one hand, Brenner and Schmid view importantly includes global North and global South contexts contra postcolonial urban theories’ emphasis on descriptions of everyday life and the particularism of global South specificities (Brenner and Schmid 2015: 162). On the other,


scholars such as Garth Myers have criticised their approach for erasing differences among cities and ending up locating, once again, the essence of urbanity in big metropoles of the global North (Myers 2018). Another critique of their account has been moved by Roy on the fact that such framework does not adequately consider the rural aspect (Roy 2015).

  1. Comparative urbanism

The construction of knowledge and new theoretical frameworks for all cities based on experiences of the cities of the global South is related to what has been called “the comparative gesture” as a basis for building knowledge about cities and for circumventing the dangers of a priori theorizations, especially when they are based on a small sample of Euro American cities (Robinson 2011). The idea is to employ comparisons between cities in order to create a new mode and style of theorisation. In lieu of “an authoritative voice emanating from some putative centre of urban scholarship”, comparisons should lead to “a celebration of the conversations opened up amongst the many subjects of urban theoretical endeavour in cities around the world, valorising more provisional, modest and revisable claims about the nature of the urban” (Robinson 2016). This comparative urbanism would distinguish itself from efforts to employ a “quasi-scientific rigour” to case selection based on trying to control for difference across cities (Ibid). Moreover, comparative urbanism should counter the attitude of certain scholars to draw comparisons with “elsewhere” as evidence to support current analytical agendas. In Robinson’s view, if we reformat urban comparativism in this way, we can find in comparative analyses offer global scholars “an agile theoretical practice, certainly eager to engage with existing conceptualisations, but committed to revisability, to thinking through a diversity of urban outcomes and to being open to starting to theorise from anywhere” (Robinson 2016). Critiques of the comparativist approach question the theory-generating capacities of the comparative method insofar as it would lead to privilege particularities in urban outcomes rather than more general taxonomies or conceptual abstractions (Scott and Storper 2014).

As Parnell and Pieterse have posited, a key point for the creation of a more global urban studies is to take into account that global financial bases of global urban scholarship are deeply unequal and efforts must be made to work against “the destructive consequences” of this reality (Parnell and Pieterse 2016). The debate on the role that cases from Southern cities should assume in urban studies and conceptualisation remains open and prolific. Some might think that this querelle among a selected group of particularly theory- oriented scholars has little practical use. Yet, I believe that having a general idea of these debates is useful: they are an important reminder that the categories or concepts we use in urban analyses always come from somewhere. The idea that brought this School together is not to get rid of current categorisations or reinvent all urban theory from scratch. Rather, the idea is to highlight the limits of existing theories and develop new concepts from it. In other words, the main contribution of these debates is to draw attention on the fact that taxonomies and concepts are always created having a particular urban space in mind, even when they claimed to have universal validity. The idea is thus, when we use a certain concept, to ask ourselves, where does it come from? Based on which evidence and context was it created and for what purpose? Is it useful to describe the phenomena I am looking at? How does the observation of my context corroborate it or rather invalidate it? Does this dissonance call for a new theorisation? It goes without saying that this line of questioning does not imply that a taxonomy or a concept cannot apply beyond its contexts of origin. Rather, the idea is to keep current taxonomies and concepts open to revision,


hybridisation and discarding when needed. The very notion of policy can be used as an example for such reflection, as shall be seen below.




  1. Defining policies in a global context

According to the traditional definition, a public policy is “anything a government chooses to do or not to do” (Dye 1972: 2). The classic “pluralist” model of Theodore Lowi distinguishes between regulatory, distributive, redistributive and constituent policies. The first provides the rules of the game to the players, the second distributes resources to the public, the third redistributes resources according to criteria of equity, the fourth establishes new institutions, agencies, etc. In Lowi’s typology, distribution policies take on a primary role: they act on individuals according to the patron-client relationship. The aim of these public policies and of the agencies that implement them, is to respond to political conflicts by disaggregating them: treating each decision or benefit, each unit of output, as separate and distinct from all the others (Lowi 1969). Another traditional reference in policy literature is Albert Hirschman. Hirschman explores the issue of the connection between policies and those who are affected by policies (Hirschman 1970). According to his exit, voice and loyalty model, members of a human grouping (whether a state, a city, a business or organisation) detain two possible responses to what they as a decrease in quality or membership: exit (withdrawal from the relationship) or voice (attempt to mend the relationship through voicing grievance and/or proposing changes). Exit and voice represent a union between economic and political action and are reminiscent of Adam Smith’s idea of an invisible hand guiding buyers and sellers “freely” auto-regulating through the market.9 The general understanding is that insofar as these typologies are based on macro-variables (i.e. the distribution of costs and benefits and the possibility of the use of coercion) they can be used to analyse any level of government – so national but also urban policies – and any domain of public policy (Allulli and Tortorella 2013).

At this point one could reasonably wonder whether Lowi’s four typologies or Hirschman notion of exit and voice do apply to urban policies in a southern context, for example, in a situation where the economy is predominantly informal. Or in a context where civil society is not unified. Or again, in a situation where the state does not have the primary resources to implement urban policies. Regardless of the answer to these questions, what emerges is that Lowi’s and Hirschman’s typologies have been built presupposing certain features – namely well-resourced and capacitated state institutions, strong civil societies, predominantly formal economies and low levels of poverty.


The case of social policies is exemplary of a disconnect between current social policy theories – which have been shaped by certain features of global North regions, such as the predominance of a formal economy regulated by the state – and the absence of southern experiences informing them. A key challenge for researching social policy at a global level is the fact that over one third of the population in the global South lives in informal settlements and gains their livelihood from the informal economy, more specifically from activities such as trading food or other merchandises on the street, machines or vehicles repairing,

9 According to Paolo Perulli, Hirschman’s fruitful distinction between exit, voice and loyalty is no longer remembered in the global North: “only the economic behaviour of the exit is now contemplated, like that of any dissatisfied consumer who passes from one produ ct to another, while the use of the voice (protest) is no longer part of the language of politics. It is reduced to the domain of consumer objects.”


rag picking, agricultural work and so on (Pellissery 2013). In this context, the power of the state to reach through the informal economy is limited. Despite what is put down in official statements, the informal economy, which in many cases represents the largest part of the economy,10 is not affected by state regulation and is regulated instead by private contracts and social identities (Harriss-White 2003: 74). In the informal economy, authority and legitimacy reside in individuals’ private social statuses and the line between state and society is fuzzy (Appadurai 1996). On the one hand, to the extent in which it escapes the state’s regulatory framework, the informal economy questions the very notion of social contract, which is the foundation for state legitimacy (Pellissery 2013a: 81). On the other hand, the informal economy is crucially the only source of livelihood and welfare for most households in the global South (Ibid). Following Hirschman’s theorisation about voice and exit, which presupposes a formal economy as a complement of the state system, one could reasonably wonder at this point whether voice and exit are still an option for somebody who’s livelihood depends on an informal economy.


Remarkably, processes of globalisation have intensified the phenomenon of informal economy (Ibid). Moreover, while urban economies in the global South have been growing, so have the levels of urban poverty and inequality: according to some, much of this depends on the way urban governance in specific contexts has or has not been able to address such issues (Obeng-Odoom 2017). In contexts where societal forces (often at a subnational level), are stronger than state capacities, policy can be perfectly stated on paper but the practice might be “hugely distant or contradictory to what is promised in the policy” (Pellissery and Zhao 2016: 10). In other words, in a context where implementation is absent, “understanding what is done in the name of policies is more important than understanding what the policy in itself is” (Ibid).


Apart from institutional capacities, the implementation of urban policies has also to do with the availability of resources. As it has been noted in the Indian case, while the Indian constitution endows city governments to translate the urban development agenda into action, Indian cities are not sufficiently empowered by Indian states to take on the challenges of providing public services and managing the process of urbanization (Ahluwalia 2017). Financial constraints represent a huge implementation setback also in the African context, where in many cases local governments never know their budget until the last minute (Mo Ibrahim foundation 2015). It should also be remarked how municipal authorities in rapidly urbanising regions of the global South typically also have the smallest per capita budgets. For example, looking at budget data between 2010-2016 it has been showed that the municipal budget of a city such as Accra, Ghana, was just $12.50 per person per year as compared to the $9,500 per capita of New York City (Beard et al. 2016). In the African context, scholars have noted that the budgetary issue is particularly severe in secondary cities, due to their smaller economies and less capacitated local governments compared to capital cities (Smit 2018).


Urban policies are a field where urban governance is often fragmented among different government stakeholders with reduced capacities and often conflicting interests. Moreover, although governments at various levels take decisions, the determination and outcomes of urban policies is very much dependent



10 For example, in Accra the informal economy accounts for as much as 74% of the economy, statement by the mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah at 2019 Urban Age Developing Urban Futures– Delivering inclusivity Accra Accessed 10 October 2019


upon those individuals and groups that participate in the processes of city building, planning and self- production. Until the 1970s. urban policy and administration were commonly seen as a top-down process of dealing with control of land planning, tax collection and the delivery of few services (Freire and Stren 2001). This general view of urban government progressively changed in the 1980s, where the notion of urban management, investing local governments with the responsibility of providing services and being more receptive to the demands of local citizens, became increasingly popular (Ibid). From the 1990s onwards, a more bottom up perception of urban governance has developed, whereby local governments are invested of the task of promoting good urban governance by fostering accountability and transparency as well as being more willing to engage proactively with different actors (Watson 2016). Yet in practice, scholars have noted how urban strategic planning approaches normally fail to account for the views of low-income citizens and often prove inadequate at the implementation stages, particularly in contexts where urban governments lack key financial resources and capabilities (Horn et al. 2018).


6.         Policy planning and analysis in cities of the global South


According to Vanessa Watson, who works on urban planning in contemporary South Africa, urban planners in cities of the global South face a particularly severe clash of two concomitant rationalities. On the one hand, a “governing” rationality, including “techno-managerial and marketised systems of government administration, service provision and planning” (Watson 2009: 2259). On the other, planners in the global South are deeply cognisant of the existence of a “survival rationality” permeating their everyday experience of the city with a population “surviving largely under conditions of informality” (Ibid). Watson emphasises that the resolution of this clash requires urban planning in a global South context to tap into development studies literature, which has long dealt with themes such as informal settlements for example (Ibid: 2273). Watson argues that this clash might further require a radical departure from the approaches to urban planning currently in use in cities of the global South, modelled on urban planning which arose in Europe and the US in the early 20th century (master planning and zoning, removal of informal settlements and so on).11


In the field of social policies, Ian Gough and others have explored the conditions under which social policy function in developing countries and have created new conceptual frameworks for analysing welfare regimes in the global South. The authors illustrate how the evolution of welfare policies in the West has relied on several key features that are mostly absent in a development context, such as an independent, legitimised and capacitated state, a widespread labour market and division of labour, strong financial markets and an effective legal and judicial system – that is, a capitalist economic and a democratic political type of regime (Gough and Woods (eds.) 2004). The historical experience and legacies of colonialism have entailed that from the beginning, global South states emerged as a weak institution in terms of both democratic processes and functional capabilities (Surender 2013: 26). In terms of social policy, historically


11 This approach to urban land use usually includes a detailed land use plan describing the desired future of an urban area some 20 years hereafter, supported by a regulatory system (zoning) which allocates use rights in land, and handles any alteration of these according to a ‘master plan’ (Ibid: 2261). The latter has almost everywhere, brought with it a specific ideal of the ‘good city’ drawn on the work of early urban modernists such as Le Corbusier. According to the latter, urban form is designed following a concern with aesthetics, efficiency and modernisation (removal of informal settlements, vertical or tower edifices, connectivity, abundant open green spaces) (Ibid). In the early 20th century, master planning and zoning, were vigorously adopted by middle classes who were able to use them as a way of preserving property prices and avoiding the influx of lower-income residents, ethnic minorities and petty traders (Ibid).


the prevailing discourse has been one of “growth first” and “welfare after” (Mkandawire 2004). In other words, mainstream development theories have historically stressed that in a developing context economic growth should come before social spending, which was generally seen as a wasteful diversion (Surender 2013: 20). The idea being that there is good public debt, spent in infrastructure and investments that can generate revenues, while the rest – debt used to pay for instance for public sector salaries or welfare services – is bad debt. Another issue has to do with the lack of trust, especially among those living in conditions of poverty, in developing countries’ state institutions, seen as tools for pursuing the interests of the dominant groups (Collier 2007). Such lack of trust in official policies strengthens in turn reliance on strategies to secure welfare through informal channels such as family, kinship, communities and other civil society-based systems of welfare as well as those intermediated by global actors (Davis 2001). The management of social welfare in countries of the global South takes place under a diverse set of institutional conditions: formulated and implemented by a wide range of actors, it is delivered through multiple mechanisms and instruments, many of them informal.


Several of these actors do not exist in the governance of cities in the global North. An example for this are traditional leaders, who play a key role on matters of land allocation in urban and peri-urban areas in the African context (Smit 2018). The ownership of land by chiefs is just an example of how Western notions of land ownership, usually framed in terms of the binary public/private, are inadequate to wade through the complexities of land ownership in African cities, for example. Other uncommon actors of urban governance in Europe or America but common in an African and most generally global South context are multilateral and international donor agencies, given that most global aid and loans to developing countries are linked to the international ‘good governance’ agenda (Ibid). Moreover, it could be argued that in some respects, civil society groups (ethnicity-based networks, home-town associations, youth associations, savings groups and so on) are to some extent more active that what is normally understood as a civil society activity. As a matter of fact, often these associations perform roles undertaken by the state in cities in the global North, such as providing basic services, distributing land, guaranteeing safety, delivering social security nets and so on (Ibid).


A policy analysis category under discussion in urban policy literature is the distinction between “place policies”, that is, policies targeting particular cities or parts of cities, and “people policies” targeting specific socio-economic categories regardless of the location (Glickman 1981, Glaeser and Gyourko 2005, Freedman 2012). Particularly among urban poverty scholars, this distinction has led to the identification of the potentialities and limitations of policies focused on place (for example policy interventions that try to reduce the spatial concentration or the isolation of the poor in selected neighbourhoods) versus those policies focused on the population as such (for example, interventions aimed at correcting factors like family or educational failure). According to some, this distinction is an example of how policy analysis of the urban and socioeconomic roots of poverty could go beyond the North-South distinction (Scott and Storper 2014: 13).


Another theme that intersects that of urban policy is the relationship between government and governed. Based on case studies in the global North, scholars such as Edward Soja and David Harvey have emphasised the emancipatory role of the urban, in other words, the urban as a principal source of emancipatory political trends and movements (Soja 2010, Harvey 2012). The question of politics as “voice”


is a very actual topic in the cases of mass mobilization in cities such as Santiago de Chile or Hong Kong. In these places, current mobilisations are aimed at expressing dissent towards governments which continue to “see like a State”, that is, to plan in an authoritative way, as James Scott has documented (Scott 1998).12 Scott’s account importantly sheds light on how state building in the 20th century in contexts such as Russia, Brazil, Tanzania, and so on has heavily relied upon the notion of “high modernism” to design society and centralise power. I agree with Paolo Perulli’s suggestion that, the method of tracing an “archaeology” of these state powers operated by Scott could also be used to look with disenchantment at the alleged “modernity” of contemporary urban and national governance tools, whether they are political market technicalities or economic contracts. For neither of these tools can provide adequate responses to bottom-up requests of sociality, development and sustainability. Urban policies are an exemplary field to observe the interactions between bottom-up and top-down requirements: both are necessary to each other, neither can stand on their own. Next section attempts to sketch a list of urban policies which could be explored through comparisons in our school of the Souths of the World.


7.         A sketch of urban policies typologies in the global South


The aim of this subsection is to sketch an open list of policy themes which could intersect and offer platforms for comparisons across cities of the global South.


  1. Urban growth


As already mentioned at the beginning of this paper, a key concern of urban policies in the global South is the growth of the urban dimension. This theme affects cities in Africa and Asia mainly. Earlier we observed that while until recently urban growth in the developing world has been tackled as an inherently undesirable and unhealthy phenomenon in development literature, most recently the literature and policy makers have shifted to a more positive view of such phenomenon. This phenomenon is characterised by a strong component from below, in that urban sprawl is in the first place the result of people settling in the city and peri-urban areas. Yet, urban growth is increasingly a phenomenon which national and local governments have been governing, more or less effectively, through policies such as metropolitan plans, agglomeration schemes, creation of urban regions. This is also the case of national urban policies, leveraging on the central role that cities undergoing rapid urbanisation have in accelerating growth and creating economic growth for the whole national economy. As Mohanty, who writes about planning urban growth in the Indian case, posited: “Planned urbanisation offers a colossal opportunity for India’s development in the coming decades. The future of the rural poor trying to escape poverty, the urban poor, and slum dwellers struggling to secure a dignified living, the rural areas striving to access basic services, the cities contributing to economic growth, and the nation endeavouring to come out of the riddle of under-development will crucially depend on the national policy to harness urbanisation as a resource” (Mohanty 2014: 1).



  1. Regulation of relations among different levels of governance


12 These developments clash with Huntington’s depictions of a democratic and pluralist West versus an authoritarian and fundamentalist East, characterised by the lack of political contestation.


Connected to the regulation of urban growth through policy planning is the regulation of relations among different levels of governance. Governance can be defined in different ways.13 In contrast to the hierarchy and clear separation between state and society typical of traditional government, the notion of governance indicates a blurring of the boundaries between public and private and an increased role of different actors other than local governments in the realisation of public goals (Pierre 2005). For example, in the context of sub-Saharan Africa cities, actors such as traditional leaders play a fundamental role in urban governance

– particularly as far as land use management is concerned – and have been incorporated into formal governance structures. Apart from the government, other key actors of urban governance in the sub- Saharan Africa context would include large private sector organisations (i.e. property development or food production companies), international agencies and civil society (Smit 2018). The regulation among different levels of governance can be investigated from the perspective of different levels of government, from urban to national to federal government. We mentioned earlier the Indian case, where at the federal level the Indian constitution endows city governments to translate the urban development agenda into action, yet Indian cities are not sufficiently empowered by Indian states to take on such task (Ahluwalia 2017). The regulation of different actors and levels involved in urban governance has been the object of initiatives such as covenants and agreements between cities and these groups and cities and central governments. These initiatives could be an interesting object of comparison among our cities.


  1. Identification of a competitive role for the city in the global space

Another important urban policy trend in some cities of the global South is the identification of a competitive role for the city in the global space, as financial or technological hubs. This trend is apparent for instance in the urban plans and policy making of certain Chinese mega-cities, where city governments have been implementing policies aimed at “upgrading” urban areas and attracting “talents” and investors through migration policies, start-up incentives and tax exemptions. When considering the latest edition of master plans of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, a common rationale is discernible in their governance, one that “actively imagines and fabricates a purified neoliberal urban space centered on financial and high-technology sectors and up-scale residency, while seeking to remove or invisibilize low- skilled sectors and persons” (Zhang 2018: 871-2). The purpose of these plans is two-fold: on the one hand to requalify the structure of the urban economy and its human capital in the name of security, beautification and global competitivity.14 These policy initiatives, aimed at promoting Chinese mega-cities as global hubs for start-ups and cutting-edge tech innovation, have already reconfigured China’s role in the field of tech on a global scale.15 Apart from the Chinese example, other interesting case studies of cities striving to become global hubs for tech could include Bangalore and Pune in India, Santiago and Buenos Aires in South America.

  1. Population management


13 The term became to be widely used in the 1990s to describe a neoliberal turn in government, indicating “a new process of governing; or a changed condition of ordered rule; or the new method by which society is governed” (Rhodes 1997: 652‒653). Since 1989, the notion of “good governance” has been particularly promoted by financial institutions such as the World Bank as a normative development paradigm (Obeng-Odoom 2017). Such conception of governance is predominantly concentrated on efficiency and accountability and has been critiqued for being overly focused on the promotion of a neo-liberal agenda.

14 A key concept and principle of urban development policies in the Chinese context is that of ‘functional dispersal’ (gongneng shujie) to indicate the removal of functions, sectors, and industries that do not follow the city’s development goal (Ibid: 872).

15 For example in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), where China now disputes a global primate with the US (Lee 2018).


Another key policy theme is that of population management. This might have to do with the management of large influxes of internally migrant population (from rural areas or other cities) as well foreign migrants. Apart from managing migration to the city, policies dealing with population management might be aimed at managing and finding solutions to population decline, an issue affecting some South European and South American cities. While some countries have traditionally governed these issues through specific policies, such as China with the hukou system – aimed at controlling rural to urban migration to prevent overpopulation of cities -, most global South cities have not been traditionally characterised by such concern. Another related theme is that of international migrants in the cities and the way in which legal categories affect their management (refugees vs economic migrants). Our comparative analyses could further look at how national and urban policies legalise/illegalise certain segments of the migrant population in cities. This question is deeply related to the question of selective granting of rights to different sections of the urban population – be them internal or international migrants – as well as notions of a “right to the city”, its foundations and the political effects of its recognition. On the one hand, the Lefebvrian interpretation of it rests mainly on the case of Western European and North American cities and prioritizes the question of value and private property (Morange and Spire 2019). On the contrary, the notion of a right to the city in the global South is oriented towards issues of access to basic social and economic rights, urban inclusion, participation and local democracy (Ibid). Analyses in this direction would have to encompass actors such as civil society, public security authorities, state contractors, development agencies and other stakeholders.

  1. Creation of networks of cities and urban corridors between cities

A fifth topic of urban policies in cities of the global South which is gaining popularity in urban literature is urban corridors. The latter are generally described as “a number of large, linear urban areas linked through a well-developed transport network” (Georg et al. 2016: 2). The concept of economic corridor became popular in the late 1990s through an Asian Development Bank (ADB) project to develop the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) in Southeast Asia (Ishida and Isono 2012). Corridors typically include three complementary elements: cities, a transport corridor and industrial production centres. The transport corridor defines the geographical space of the corridor and enables the flow of goods and services, while the urban centres along the corridor provide a key source of labour and local development. Scholars have classified corridors according to trade type: domestic, transit (transporting the shipments of another country), foreign (transporting mainly imports and exports of a country), and hybrids, which depend on its service catchment area (Fraser and Notteboom 2014). Some countries have specific development policies for urban corridors, as in the case of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). The latter represent an attempt by the Indian central government – in cooperation with various stakeholders – to openly connect economic and industrial development to urbanisation (Anand and Sami 2014). The goal of this corridor policy includes doubling up the employment capacity, tripling up industrial outputs and the quadrupling of exports from the region through the creation of industrial infrastructure and clusters (Indian Institute for Human Settlements 2015: 6). Corridors as a development strategy are gaining increasing importance also in the Sub-Saharan Africa context, the leading example being the Maputo Development Corridor (Mulenga 2013). The theme of urban corridors policies leaves a lot of room for the development of comparative analyses. These would have to take into account the variety of domestic and international stakeholders from the private and public sectors, across different scales.


  1. Land Use Management

Land is a key lever of urban policy in cities of the global South. The control and valorisation of land by local governments is an important resource of revenues for local governments’ limited budgets. The question of land within cities of the developing world also means making sense of phenomena such as settlements and areas of illegal residence, which affect large parts, in some cases the majority, of the urban population. On the one hand, local governments often seek to make the most of this resource by raising property taxes and the value of public assets. On the other, investigations of land access policies entail a careful study of the strategies put in place by urban residents – especially low-income residents – to legitimize their presence in the city and gain recognition of their land rights. As it has been noted in the Indian case (but could also apply in the case of Ghana, for example), the act of turning land into a source of revenue is not the preserve of big institutional actors or private investors but it is also for private citizens on a smaller scale (Denis 2018). As a matter of fact, the purchase of plots of land is often considered as a safer investment than the purchase of financial saving products. The growing value of this land, normally divided into lots to meet the potential needs of individuals with highly fluctuating income levels, is based on the hope that the city will soon arrive at – and assimilate – these lots (Ibid). A tangible example for this growing speculative economy is the phenomenon of unoccupied new housing, which is connected to the development of real-estate bubbles. China is possibly the country where this phenomenon is most visible, but as just mentioned, this phenomenon is widespread in many cities and peri-urban areas of the global South.

  1. Provision and Management of Basic Infrastructure/Services

Another key type of urban policy in cities of the global South has to do with the provision and management of basic infrastructure and services. The provision of services such as water, sanitation and waste management are typically a key function of urban governance. While this is the main official role of city governments, in many cities of the global South state-provided services cater for a very small proportion of urban residents. The gap in infrastructure provision is in part been filled by the provision of services by private operators, self-organised communities and NGOs. The access to services such as energy provision, sanitation, water, are key to fostering economic development and poverty alleviation. A big sub-theme in this respect is the creation of sustainable energy to fill such infrastructural and service gap which is a big impediment to urban development.

  1. Urban mobilities

Another key topic of urban governance in global South cities is urban mobility. Urban mobilities are essentially about how people and goods can move from one part of the city to another. Urban mobility is a vital enabler of development insofar as it makes economic activities and labour across the city possible. This is especially the case for low-income residents, often living in peri-urban areas and spending several hours daily commuting to get to the city’s business centres, on vehicles or on foot. The reduction of times of commuting has economic and livelihood impacts. At a basic level, urban mobility consists of roads and footpaths, while at a higher level there will be buses, trains, taxis and so on. Urban mobilities are a domain that is shaped by both local government policies, private operators as well as commuters’ behaviours. In the context of global South cities, urban mobilities are often heavily enabled by private providers rather than urban governments, whose finances are limited. The absence of government also entails that the role


of ensuring some basic level of service provision and maintenance of footpaths is taken up by residents’

associations in informal settlements (Smit 2018).

  1. Sustainable Development Goals

One typology of policies which cuts across all our cities is urban and central governments’ pursuit of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal No.11 of the SDGs aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. However, other SDGs, such as those tackling poverty, health, sustainable energy and inclusive economic growth, are intimately linked to urban areas and often policies stress an integrated approach for progress across the multiple goals.

Other possible themes to develop:

  1. Selection of sites to be protected, with the solution of local and environmental conflict: Environmental plans, plans for the protection of Unesco’s heritage,
  2. Involvement of the business community: Donors, Philanthropy, Public-Private Partnerships






Ahluwalia, I. J. (2019) Urban governance in India, Journal of Urban Affairs, 41:1, 83-102, Allulli, M. and Tortorella, W. (2013) « Cities in search of Policy », Métropoles vol. 12

Amin, A, and S Graham. 1997. The ordinary city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 22: 411-429


Anand, S. and Sami, N. (2014) Scaling up: Land use and economic development in India’s urban corridors. Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. Philadelphia, PA


Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Beall, J. (2019) “Social policy and urban development” in Midgley, J. et al (2019) Handbook of Social Policy and Development, pp.147-168, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing


Beard, V.A. et al. (2016) “Towards a More Equal City: Framing the Challenges and Opportunities.” Working Paper. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Available online at:


Bhan, G., et al. (2018) Introduction. on G. Bhan., S. Srinivas and V. Watson (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to planning in the Global South, pp. 1-22. Oxon, UK: Routledge

Brenner, N. (1999) Globalisation as reterritorialisation: the re-scaling of urban governance in the European Union. Urban Studies 36.3, pp. 431–51

Castells, M. (1977) The urban question. Edward Arnold Publishers: London

Chen, X. and Kanna, A. (2012) Rethinking Global Urbanism: Comparative Insights from Secondary Cities. London: Routledge


Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Collier, P. and A. Hoeffler (1998) On the economic causes of civil war. Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 50 issue 4, pp. 563–573

Davis, P. R. (2001) Rethinking the Welfare Regime Approach: The Case of Bangladesh. Global Social Policy, 1(1), pp. 79-107

De Satgé, R, and Watson, V. (2018) Urban Planning in the Global South, Conflicting Rationalities in Contested Urban Space, London: Palgrave Macmillan

Deleuze, G, and F Guattari (1972) Capitalisme et Schizophrenie. Paris: Editions de Minuit

Denis, É. (2015) « Depicting strongly growing urban areas in the Global South, L’Espace géographique »,

Volume 44, pp.307-324

Denis, É. (2018) “Urban Desires and Lust for Land. The Commodification of Rural Spaces in the Global

South”, Metropolitics, 20 April 2018

Devas, N. (2004) ‘Urban Government: Capacity, Resources and Responsiveness’ in N. Devas (ed.), Urban Governance, Voice and Poverty in the Developing world, London: Earthscan, pp. 95-122.


Farías, I. (2010) “Introduction: decentering the object of urban studies” in Urban Assemblages: How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Theory, eds. I Farías and T Bender. London: Routledge. pp.1-24

Franklin Obeng‐Odoom (2017) Urban Governance in Africa Today: Reframing, Experiences, and Lessons, Growth and Change, volume48, Issue 1, pp. 4-21

Fraser, D. and Notteboom, T. (2014), “A strategic appraisal of the attractiveness of seaport-based transport corridors: the Southern African case”, Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 36, pp. 53-68

Freedman, M. (2012) Place-based programs and the geographic dispersion of unemployment. Working Paper, Department of Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Freire, M. and Stren, M. (2001). The Challenge of Urban Government: Policies and Practices. Washington DC: World Bank

Georg, I., Blaschke T. and Taubenböck, H. (2016) A Global Inventory of Urban Corridors Based on Perceptions and Night-Time Light Imagery, International Journal of Geo-information, vol. 5 pp. 1-19

Glaeser, E.L. and J. Gyourko (2005) Urban decline and durable housing. Journal of Political Economy 113.2, pp.345–76

Glickman, N.J. (1981) Emerging urban policies in a slow-growth economy: conservative initiatives and progressive responses in the US. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 5.4, pp. 492–528.

Gough,  I.  and  Woods,  G.  (eds)  (2004), Insecurity  and  Welfare  Regimes  in  Asia,  Africa  and  Latin  America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harvey, D. (1973) Social justice and the city. Johns Hopkins University Press: Washington DC Harvey, D. (2007) A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Harvey, D. (2012) Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution. Verso: London. Hirschman, A. (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Harvard: Harvard University Press


Horn, Mitlin, Bennett, Chitekwe-Biti, Makau (2018) Towards citywide participatory planning: emerging community-led practices in three African cities. GDI Working Paper 2017-034

Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Urban Corridors, working paper September 2015 C-35117-INC- 1 available at

Ishida, M. and Isono, I. (2012) “Old, new and potential economic corridors in the Mekong region” in Emerging economic corridors in the Mekong region, in Ishida, M. (ed), BRC Research Report N.8, Bangkok Research Centre, IDE-JETRO; Bangkok.

Jackson, P. (1989) Geography, race and racism. In R. Peet and N. Thrift (eds.), New models in geography, Volume 2, Unwin Hymen, London.


Lee, K-F (2018) AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Lefebvre, H. (1970) La Révolution Urbaine. Paris: Gallimard


Lowi, T, (1969) “Four Systems of Policy, Politics, and Choice”, Public Administration Review, 33, 3, pp.298– 310.

Massey, D. (1991) Flexible sexism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9.1, 31–57.


Meagher, K. (2011) ‘Informal Economies and Urban Governance in Nigeria: Popular Empowerment or Political Exclusion?’, African Studies Review, 54(2), pp. 47-72


Mkandawire, T. (Ed.) (2004) Social Policy in a Development Context, London: Palgrave Macmillan Mohanty, P.K. (2014) Urban policy and cities: An Urban Agenda for India, New Delhi: Sage.

Morange, M and Spire, A. (2019) « The right to the city in the Global South. African appropriations and adaptation », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [Online], Space, Society,Territory, document 895.


Myers, G. A. 2011. African Cities : Alternative visions of urban theory and practice, Londres/New York : Zed Books Ltd.Myers, G. (2018) The Africa Problem of Global Urban Theory: Re-conceptualising Planetary Urbanisation, International Development Policy, vol. 10, pp. 231-253


Parnell S. and Pieterse, E. (2014) Africa’s Urban Revolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press


Parnell, S., Pieterse, E. and Watson, V. (2009) ‘Planning for cities in the global South: An African research agenda for sustainable human settlements’, Progress in Planning, 72: 233-240.

Pellissery, S. (2013) ‘Informal’ global social policy?, Global Social Policy, Volume: 13 issue: 1, pp. 87-89

Pellissery, S. (2013a) “The informal economy: dilemmas and policy responses” in Surender, R. and Walker,

  1. (eds.) (2013) Social Policy in a Developing World, Chelthenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.81-100.


Pellissery, S. and Zhao, F. (2016) Challenges of Teaching Public Policy in Global South (May 17, 2016). Available at or

Robinson, J. (2006) Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development, London: Routledge


Robinson, J. (2016) Comparative Urbanism: New Geographies and Cultures of Theorizing the Urban,

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 40, issue 1, pp. 187-199

Roy and Ong. A. (eds.) Worlding Cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global (2011);

Roy, A. (2009) ‘The 21st century metropolis: New geographies of theory’, Regional Studies, 43(6): 819- 830

Roy, A. (2015): What is urban about critical urban theory?, Urban Geography, pp. 1-13

Roy, A. The 21st-century metropolis: new geographies of theory. Regional Studies 43: 819-830 Sassen, S. (1991) The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press, Princeton

Sassen, S. (2008) Territory, authority, rights; from medieval to global assemblages. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Scott, A. and Storper, M. (2014) The Nature of Cities: The Scope and Limits of Urban Theory in

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, pp.1-16 Scott, J. (1998) Seeing like a State, Yale University Press: Yale

Silva, C. N. (ed) (2015) Urban planning in sub-Saharan Africa Urban Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa: Colonial and Post-Colonial Planning Cultures. London: Routledge.


Smit, W. (2018) « Urban Governance in Africa: An Overview », International Development Policy, Revue internationale de politique de développement Vol. 10

Soja, E. (2010) Seeking spatial justice. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.


Surender, R. (2013) “The role of historical contexts in shaping social policy in the developing world” in Surender, R. and Walker, R. (eds.) (2013) Social Policy in a Developing World, Chelthenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.14-35

Watson, V. (2009) “Seeing from the South: refocusing urban planning on the globe’s central urban issues”,

Urban Studies, 46(11) pp. 2259-2275

Exploring geospatial data issues from the Global Souths perspective. Approaches, sources and methodologies

Exploring geospatial data issues from the Global Souths perspective. Approaches, sources and methodologies


Francesco Curci, Alessandro Frigerio, Fabio Manfredini, Stefano Saloriani[1]

Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano









The objects of this contribution are, broadly speaking, geospatial data and analyses, whether or not they are overtly geographic information, whether they have public or private origin, whether they are freely accessible – potentially anywhere and by anyone – or subject to various kinds of restrictions.

The focus is placed rather on the different geographical scales (global, national, regional, urban, local) that characterize them, on the formats – which are nowadays fundamentally digital or digitalized – and on the IT and web environments and tools through which they can be consulted and processed.

Of great relevance is also the value attributed to such information by the different subjects (natural or legal, formal or informal, institutional or non-institutional entities) that collect, produce, validate, analyse, interpret, disseminate and use it. Depending on the case, this value can be political, economic, social, cultural, scientific, and technical, and it can certainly change in relation to the different types of activities to be performed: strategic, planning, programmatic, cognitive, marketing, experimental activities, etc.

Equally important is obviously the cultural and geographical context, with its variables and peculiarities, within which geospatial data and analyses originate and spread, just as their potential recipients with their different competences and aspirations are fundamental. In relation to this last point, the paper is addressed mainly, but not exclusively, to PhD students who make research in the field of urban and regional studies in the so-called countries of the South of the World.


The paper reflects on the role and methods of production, dissemination, use and exploitation of geospatial data and analyses adopting a point of view necessarily mediated by the constructs and systems that characterize the countries of the global North, but with a particular focus on those research activities that investigate the Global South environments and spaces. One of our objectives is to propose some precautions regarding the approach to take in relation to different data sources and issues and their treatment with reference to the countries of the South of the World. In fact, we believe that the scope, the size and the complexity of the question we are asked to address require us to put forward some clarifications about the way in which we approach on a global scale the question of data and its analysis, particularly urban and territorial data, together with a whole series of more strictly methodological considerations. The next section provides some considerations of general and theoretical nature, while all the other paragraphs are devoted to more practical examples about different ‘families’ of data that could be useful to explore when carrying on different urban research activities.



  1. Data and Global Souths, between capitalism imperatives and research purposes


To begin with, we need to spend a few words on the different meanings the concept of data assumes according to the geopolitical and socio-cultural contexts to which it refers, also and above all with respect to the economic and technological revolutions that occurred during the last decades. The starting point is to recognize in a broad sense that there is a profound link between the modern concept of data and the rationalism inherent in the scientific method but also in modern capitalism, as theorized by Max Weber. As known, both the scientific and the industrial revolution took place in Europe, and even the mediaeval proto-capitalism took shape in this precise geographical and cultural context. Both science and capitalism are therefore originally Western inventions. It is not a coincidence that the first examples of geospatial data and analysis were developed in the heart of neo-industrial Europe thanks to positivist, scientific (and bourgeois) impulses present at the time in some important capital cities such as Paris and London. We expressly think of the pioneering maps by Charles Piquet (1832) and John Snow (1854) developed to study the cholera epidemies in Paris and London, but also the subsequent London’s poverty maps by Charles Booth (1898-1899) [fig. 1, 2, 3].



Fig. 1 – Cholera map by Charles Picquet (48 districts, Paris, 1831)





Fig. 2 – Cholera map by John Snow (Soho District, London, 1854)





Fig. 3 – Poverty map by Charles Booth (Inner Wester District, London, 1898-9)





Leaving aside the relationship – much more evident and explored – between data and science, we want to try to reflect here more on the relationship between data and capitalism. This is because the same concept of the South of the World is strongly linked in a Weberian sense to this long-running phenomenon. Therefore, if it is true that the South of the World is the geopolitical and socio-cultural space in which modern capitalism has not yet become the only or prevalent mode of satisfying daily needs (Weber, 1923/1997, pp. 195 ss.), it becomes fundamental to understand how diffusion and extensive use of data, whatever it may be, even when dealing with experiences of anti-capitalist (and / or de-colonialist) data activism, are directly or indirectly connected to the way the capitalism reproduces itself, expands its influence and impacts on contemporary spaces and societies.


To address these arguments, one cannot ignore the specifics of the current phase that capitalism is going through, i. e. digital capitalism (Schiller, 1999; Fuchs, 2013) or platform capitalism (Srnicek, 2017). According to some scholars working in the field of so-called ‘critical data studies’, «when we map Big Data, we map the contours of capital» (Dalton, Taylor and Thatcher, 2016, p. 6). This poses obvious problems relating to the growth of inequalities at all scales, since «a great variety of ‘software-sorting techniques’ is now being widely applied in efforts to try to separate privileged and marginalized groups and places across a wide range of sectors and domains» (Graham, 2005, p. 562). It is interesting to note that according to these critical approaches the current differences in production, diffusion and access to data (in particular the ‘big data’, but not only) are not exclusively a consequence of the intrinsic structural differences between advanced contexts and backward contexts (such as the digital divide issue), but more likely they are also the sign of the absence of specific profit imperatives (Dalton, Taylor and Thatcher, 2016) and market strategies.


«Digital exclusion confirms capitalism’s selective interest in creating markets and exploiting labor. Not every population is equally attractive to capital. A totalizing push for data extractivism, driven either by corporate expansionism or state policies, would have improved digital access. However, just like previous forms of capitalism, digital capitalism selectively targets publics while completely ignoring others. It is not equally driven to monitor, track, and commoditize all populations. In a region with historically entrenched, abysmal levels of social inequality, digital exclusion is another form of social marginalization» (Segura and Waisbord, 2019, p. 416).


Studies that relate dataification (Van Dijck, 2014) and data justice are increasingly numerous and in some cases they place a strong emphasis on cities of the Global South and their specificities to investigate above all the risks for urban populations that are already marginalized (especially those living in informal areas) and who risk being further marginalized and under-represented[2]. According to some scholars, the intrinsic power of knowledge structures and information flows have exacerbated existing divides and debased the Global South specific knowledge (Andrejevic, 2014; de Sousa Santos, 2014; Milan and Treré, 2019). Milan and Treré (2019, p. 324) argue that there is a growing necessity to question data universalism, i.e. «the tendency to assimilate the cultural diversity of technological developments in the Global South to Silicon Valley’s principles» and to go beyond it to avoid or mitigate what de Sousa Santos (2014) specifically defines epistemicide of the South.

Therefore, given this inexorable capacity of profit-linked mechanisms to determine the fate of the territories and populations that inhabit them, does it really make sense to wonder about other possible data regimes as an alternative to capitalism-driven ones? If this is the case, as we believe, then what are or must be the ethical imperatives (beside scientific ones, of course) to be placed at the base of alternative and complementary ways of collecting and disseminating data from subjects able to free themselves from capitalist domination (Dalton, Taylor and Thatcher, 2016)?

All these considerations and questions become crucial and urgent if we assume the thesis according to which in the XXI century the countries of the South of the World will progressively complete their process of assimilation to the capitalist model regardless of the specific forms that it will take[3]. Accordingly it becomes important to recognize the specificity of the current situation – evidently the result of a phase of geopolitical and socio-cultural transition – and also to consider apparently negative facts – such as the lack of data or the inability to produce them like in the North of the World – in a possibilist, pluralist and anti-epistemic perspective. Perhaps also in the scope of urban and territorial studies, thanks to the techniques and methodologies typical of these disciplines, new practices and trajectories of production and use of data could be developed in the future in an alternative way to those of strictly capitalistic matrix. We know that this is already happening in various forms, but we are not able to establish whether even the most virtuous experiences will be able over time to subvert the dominant logics already mentioned. However, insisting on the search for a new data ethic remains something desirable at least to try to push away the spectre of data colonialism, but also that, certainly more misunderstood, of academic and professional colonialism.


We can now introduce the methodological issues on which we have decided to build this contribution based on the start of the work of the School of Global South. We must certainly begin by saying that we will base ourselves on the awareness that the work we are called to do as urban and regional scholars is now completely performed within the field of digitalization of processes, communications and social relationships. These are processes that, in addition to expanding our possibilities of knowledge, hide various ethical pitfalls. Therefore, when referring to geospatial data issue we have to recognize the existence of «two contradictory forces in contemporary digital societies: (1) data extractivism and surveillance driven by corporations and states and (2) the possibilities for citizens’ resistance and autonomy in late capitalism» (Segura and Waisbord, 2019, p. 412). Notwithstanding this evidence, since this contribution is strongly oriented to instruct concrete research activities, we do not intend to take sides with either one or the other force. We rather prefer to explore a wide range of sources and methodologies based on the actual availability and usability of information and tools within a conceptual framework based on the awareness of what they are and represent.


It is the intention of this contribution to provide some general coordinates on geospatial data, trying to recall terms and concepts from which to conduct more specific research in different geographical contexts. Providing a few key words, accompanied by some concrete examples, can be very useful since we are addressing an audience of young researchers with extremely different backgrounds, competences and abilities. Our aim is to increase awareness about the multifaced world of urban data and specifically of geospatial data. Our experience in the educational and training field tells us how some technical-methodological notions are not always guaranteed by the university educational offer and how the acquisition of certain notions should not be taken for granted even for students attending the same course degree program or for doctoral students of the same doctoral course. For this reason, we believe that this paper must fundamentally provide an overview of notional and terminological “realignment” even before being strictly methodological. In this sense, our contribution intends to provide stimuli and clues on how to navigate the vast and varied world of geospatial data.


The following paragraphs are dedicated to some large types or families of data, tools and infrastructures that it would be important for PhD students to recognize at least in their purpose and specificity. The articulation of the different paragraphs is dictated by our intention to provide a first broad classification of the vast world of urban and territorial data. This classification, which cannot be exhaustive, is fundamentally based on the type of sources, scales, formats and work environments. Each paragraph tries roughly to return definitions, actors involved in the processes of innovation and application, methods of functioning, aims and possible recipients. With reference to the latter, in some cases, any measures to be adopted for each case will be reported. In general, this contribution constitutes a synthesis effort that we certainly consider useful, if not even preparatory, to the conduct of empirical research activities dictated by the methodological approach of the School of the “Souths of the World 2019”[4]. What is gathered in this contribution is in fact the prerequisite for more detailed explorations to be hopefully constructed around one or more of the ten urban variables identified by the aforementioned methodological framework: density; diversity; dimension; porosity; social and geographical mobility; informality, poverty, informal economy; social norms and commons; governance and social capital, rationality and openness; housing and ecology.



  1. Institutional geoportals and Open Data


In the last two decades, technologies related to spatialization and geo-referencing of data have made great strides. Not only private companies and institutions specialized in this sector have developed information systems and web platforms dedicated to the systematization and querying of geospatial data. Also public institutions, at different levels, have designed and implemented innovative platforms for managing and sharing their official data, starting with the registry and census records referring to a variety of administrative and functional geographies. This fact has produced positive impact on the academic research initiatives since official statistics can and must still represent a fundamental resource for urban research. Every institutional effort to detect and harmonize census and registry statistics, to make them accessible, searchable, downloadable, continues to be valuable even in an age in which big data seems to annihilate effectiveness, in describing ever more changeable and complex contemporary phenomena, of databases, geo-statistical repositories and more traditional atlases. The main concerns, as is known, are on the one hand the gradual aging of information, on the other their space-time comparability since the historical detection thresholds do not always coincide with data coming from other innovative sources in more rapid updating. Other kind of problems derive from the anchoring of official institutional data to administrative boundaries that are less and less able to reflect the socio-spatial phenomena in progress.

With reference to institutional data, it is important to note that in recent years interesting initiatives have been developed for the construction and management of homogeneous databases on a global or continental level positively affecting the knowledge of the Global South countries. Some operations specifically addressed to these countries have led to Open Data portals managed by or in cooperation with some international institutions such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the OECD. Since the first government policies on Open Data appeared in 2009, many improvements have been made and today more than almost 50 developed and developing countries have launched their Open Data initiatives at national, subnational and city levels (World Bank, Open Government Data Toolkit[5]). A very detailed overview designed to conduct comparative analyses on the spread of institutional Open Data at a global level is offered by The Open Data Barometer (ODB), a portal produced by the World Wide Web Foundation with the support of the Omidyar Network. The ODB aims «to uncover the true prevalence and impact of open data initiatives around the world» combining «contextual data, technical assessments and secondary indicators»[6] [fig. 4].



Fig. 4 – Open Data Barometer: chart illustrating the state of the Open Data implementation in India



The World Bank open data portal is also worth mentioning as it systematically collects thousands of datasets from countries around the world[7], also concerning microdata[8]. On the microdata front, the NADA case is particularly relevant since it is an open source microdata cataloguing system developed by the World Bank Group that “serves as a portal for researchers to browse, search, compare, apply for access, and download relevant census or survey datasets, questionnaires, reports and other information”[9].


If we exclude for a moment the strictly geospatial data, a very interesting relationship to explore and to spend a few words on is that between official data and statistics and informal phenomena which tend, for obvious reasons, to escape from official surveys. Since informality (urban and not only) is a distinctive trait for many realities in the southern hemisphere, it may be useful to clarify that some countries are attempting to obviate its physiological statistical fleetingness. As the World Bank makes clear, “in the principle, the informal sector should be included in national statistics”, however the governments of some countries have long started to include in their surveys also data referable to the informal sector[10]. The World Bank also mentions the virtuous example of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) that has built an inventory of practices of its 29 member countries that measures “non-observed economic activities (underground, illegal, informal or undertaken by households for their final use)”[11]. The OECD also conducted a similar operation in the past (2002) by publishing a real handbook entitled Measuring the Non-Observed Economy[12]. Among the virtuous experiences on this topic we find also the General Data Dissemination System published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)[13], as reported as well on the World Bank web site.


In addition to the cases described above, other types of not merely statistical geoportals are offered by different (not only institutional) subjects. Unlike the official statistics which often, especially in the countries of the southern hemisphere, make use of obsolete and therefore rigid portals and information technology, this second case is characterized by being accessible and consultable through new generation websites and platforms often with dedicated software and Web GIS clients. Worldwide, the first actual geoportals (web portal used to access geospatial information and geographic services) were developed and launched in the 1990s by US governments. Today there is a proliferation of geoportals for sharing of geographic information based on region or theme. Even when developed within US or Europe, new geoportals and data management standards produce positive impacts on other countries. As examples we can consider the ESRI ArcGiS Hub dedicated to Africa[14] [fig. 5] (geospatial tools data and training, free for users working on Africa geospatial challenges) and the EU-JRC worldwide observatories[15]. Another representative of this family is the portal produced by the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club. It is the «only comprehensive and standardised geospatial database on cities and urbanisation dynamics in Africa. Combining demographic sources, satellite and aerial imagery and other cartographic sources, it is designed to enable comparative and long-term analyses of urban dynamics»[16] [fig. 6].




Fig. 5 – A screenshot from the Africa GeoPortal (ESRI ArcGIS Hub)





Fig. 6 – A screenshot from (OECD Sahel and West Africa Club)




A great innovation in the field of geospatial data consultation and OpeGIS was the introduction of the so-called Consultation Service, in particular the Web Map Service (WMS) and the Web Feature Service (WFS). This type of web services has allowed forms of standardization and intersection between different geographic systems offering the possibility to directly transfer, access, analyse and process spatial data coming from different sources. According to the European INSPIRE guidelines, a Consultation Service should allow at least to display, navigate, vary the display scale and portion, overlap datasets that can be consulted, and to display the information contained in the legends and any relevant content of the metadata (Directive 2007/2/EC). Also this type of web services developed in Europe are gradually spreading to other parts of the world.



  1. Photo-cartographic mosaics


The term “mosaic” in the field of geospatial data refers to assemblages of single or multiple images and cartographies from different sources. These can be the result of systematic activities (automated or manual) or more sporadic and circumscribed technical, scientific, cultural or media operations.


In this section we deal in particular with some fundamental photo-cartographic mosaics with global or at least supranational coverage, produced by highly qualified and specialized subjects. In addition to the more or less free initiatives mentioned in the following paragraph – in certain cases, it must be said, lacking in the methodological rigor or exhaustive information about the same methodologies used – there are also types of photo-cartographic assemblages that are the work of specialized subjects who are responsible for the construction and management of global mosaics used by millions of people all around the world.


Photo-cartographic mosaics can cover different families of information, different themes and different types of data. This means that even the primary sources from which the materials subject to mosaic are derived can have different nature and sources. In most cases purely cartographic mosaics tend to recompose, homogenize and make usable (at least accessible) fragmented information layers at national or sub-national level referring to land cover (natural, agricultural, urban), infrastructure and related flows, presence of population (mainly resident population), boundaries (administrative and otherwise), hydro-geomorphological elements and phenomena, environmental, climatic, epidemic phenomena etc. The level of definition can vary depending on the type of information and the origin of the data, but it is not always possible to push up to the urban and local level. With reference to the theme of “soil”, for example, it seems useful to point out the great work by ISRIC (International Soil Reference and Information Centre), an independent foundation whose mission is to serve the international community through the production, gathering and compilation of reliable and freely-available relevant soil information to address global environmental and social challenges[17]. The project, powered by ISRIC, seems exemplary with respect to the specific issue discussed in this section[18] [fig. 7].



Fig. 7 – A screenshot from (powered by ISRIC)



Besides the purely cartographic mosaics, photo satellite mosaics are available. These are extremely important because they are often at the origin – through technically complex remote-sensing and photo-interpretation processes – of thematic cartographies, in particular those on land covers, soil features and soil temperatures. In fact, thanks to the radiometer and thermal infrared sensor on board of the last generation satellites, such as Sentinel-3 (ESA)[19] and Landsat-8 (NASA-USGS), it is possible “to detect long wavelengths of light emitted by the Earth whose intensity depends on surface temperature”[20].


Photo-cartographic mosaics play an important role in research for several reasons. The first reason is related to their use as maps of first (in remote) exploration and knowledge of the geographical contexts under study. The second is related to their use as basic layers (cartographic backgrounds) for different sectorial analyses that need to be spatialized, even for those who lack specific cartographic skills. Other equally important reasons concern the “mediation” effort, also linguistic, between different cultural contexts, as well as the effort of homogenization and construction of dedicated platforms that allow their use to any type of user. Moreover, it is evident that photo-cartographic mosaics are particularly useful where research interests and questions require comparative approaches and methodologies in the study of cities and regions distant from each other. In addition to geographical comparisons, thanks to the high technical skills and technological endowments of the actors involved, these mosaics allow to obtain information referred to contexts that are otherwise under-represented or lacking visibility. In this sense, the efforts of voluntary consortia aimed at developing international standards for the management of geospatial data were of fundamental importance. That is the case of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), an international organization comprising almost 500 companies, government agencies and universities which has developed “more than 30 standards for a variety of geospatial data types, including the KML format developed by Google and submitted to the OGC”[21].


In terms of geospatial mosaicking, Google Earth is probably the best known and most used case in various scientific and professional fields. It is in fact a system of satellite and topographic imagery mosaicisation made available through a specific software[22] but also through a web version[23]. A very useful function for several reasons, also very popular even if available in a non-homogeneous manner, is Google Street View. This tool allows users to make screen observations at ground level through panoramic views (360° horizontally and 160º vertically) [fig. 8].



Fig. 8 – In blue, the geographical areas where the Google Street View function is available.





  1. Assembled maps and datasets


In recent years the potentials and the possibilities offered by technology have become the basis for many mapping and information sharing projects globally. At the urban scale, information is available almost all over the planet for what concerns socio-economic data, but also for environmental and demographic ones. Therefore, the technologies and the availability of information – not necessarily ready to be mapped – have led to the proliferation of digital mapping initiatives. The assembled data are those examples in which the promoters bring together in a usually virtual space various information that can be of two types (i) scattered information coming from different databases (for example house numbers, national population, etc.) that are globally combined (as for example, GeoNames[24]); (ii) different information already present at a global level that are reworked with the construction of indicators between the different information layers (world population, urbanized area, etc.) realizing new information (population density, accessibility, etc.).

The subjects that promote this kind of actions are multiple but usually it is the result of the work of researchers, freelancers, private citizens or associations etc. The purposes are often different and range from research objectives combined with the desire of scholars to show and share information to the public up to reporting operations or more simply pure sharing of information. The objective of the section is to understand whether these types of data can be used in researches or as a tool to support the monitoring or the reporting of existing situations. For this purpose, four key factors that can guide the user in the search (and combination) of information sources have been investigated: reliability, open or closed dataset, technical skills needed, temporality and funds. These will be discussed further in the following examples.


The first case concerns the investigation of data reliability. Especially in situations where these data will become the basis for official projects it is necessary to explore their authority. The user must therefore be aware of how rigorous and correct those data are from the point of view of their construction-aggregation and the correspondence to the reality of the facts.

The first example is the Global map of travel time to cities to assess inequalities in accessibility in 2015 (Weiss et al., 2018)[25] published on Nature during 2018. The aim of the research was to develop and validate a map that quantifies travel time to cities at a spatial resolution of one by one kilometre by integrating ten global scale surfaces and 13k high density urban centres. The results highlight disparities in accessibility relative to wealth as 50.9% of individuals living in low-income settings reside within an hour of a city compared to 90.7% of individuals in high-income settings [fig. 9].



Fig. 9 – Example of a research on the accessibility to cities



This is an assembled map that uses the technology of the European Community “Global Human Settlements Grid” together with the open data of OpenstreetMap and the Google Maps data concerning infrastructures. There is, therefore, a double mix both of data (population and infrastructures) and sources. The research consists of authoritative and truthful data as verified by both the researchers and the journal’s reviewers.

At the same time this research – as well as other cases i.e. Strava[26] website or the ArcGis initiatives [27] – does not allow other subjects to reuse data and therefore this could be a limitation. In fact, as seen above, the paradigm of open data is fundamental to guarantee the diffusion of new studies and works related to the knowledge of places and political decisions.

Regarding the positive elements of re-use possibility, the case of data opening of GADM[28] is important. The initiative started within the academic environment – at the University of Berkeley – as a database of the location of the world’s administrative areas. Boundaries in this database include States, regions, departments, municipalities etc. and cover every country in the world [Fig. 10]. Visitors to the GADM website can download administrative boundaries for individual Nations or they can download administrative boundaries for the entire world. There are other similar websites like Natural Earth[29] or Contour Map Generator[30] and many others that are created following the open data paradigm.



Fig. 10 – Example of the GADM database (Brazil)

Source: author’s elaboration


Another crucial example is The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)[31]. It is “a disaggregated data collection, analysis and crisis mapping project”. ACLED records the information of all reported political violence and protest events across the world with the aim to “capture the forms, actors, dates, and locations of political violence and protest as it occurs across states” [Fig. 11]. All the data are available for free download and the website features a dashboard that allow some data analysis and interpolation.



Fig. 11 – Example of the ACLED online map



The objective of these works is not to provide an interpretation or analysis of the data by combining various databases or information, but to collect information regarding boundaries, or toponyms, or contour lines, or protests and fights from various sources or by data manipulation and to share information with the community allowing the creation of new analyses / studies.

Whether in the case of the travel time to cities it is the map, as a final result, that leads the user to understand the objective of the researchers, in these cases the objective is not the study of a phenomenon but the information sharing. To use the data, the user – as in many cases similar to these – should be an expert and know software and technologies that allow the usability of the datasets. This should be a part of a general reflection related to the importance of the user-friendly dataset release but at the same time it should help to understand how to train the user to increase their capacity to use the dataset. It is important in order to consolidate and expand a community that knows how to use, improve, update and increase the data.

For the last key factors, we use another global map – this time produced by a private organization – as an example of the “Global Forest Watch”[32] [fig. 12]. It is an online platform providing data and tools for monitoring forests that was born in 1997 as a part of NGOs funding network.



Fig. 12 – Example of the Global Forest Watch map



This type of mapping has the purpose of monitoring and reporting some environmental aspects that in this case concern global forests and their development or disappearance. The positive element of this example is the importance of simplifying and restoring complex data (in this case, satellite images produced by various institutions). Compared to the first case, it is possible to interact with data and download some of them.

One of the main nodes of this type of database is their economic sustainability. This is a common theme for most online initiatives: their destiny in the medium-long term. In many cases, the websites are funded with the community or organization support (UN, European Union, etc.) for a limited amount of time and money. Therefore, the dilemma regarding what will happen in the future cannot be avoided. It is a crucial point because some of the (non-official) databases might disappear leaving a huge gap in the knowledge of the contexts.

In conclusion, it is useful to underline that these typologies of initiatives, with pros and cons previously described, are very important because they increase the information and the knowledge about the global phenomena grouping and spreading data otherwise difficult to recover. Several examples range from economic macro-data[33] to the submarine infrastructures[34] to the number of scientific publications of each state[35] to the spread of social networks[36] and to the population density[37]. Clearly, this type of database is fundamental for those countries in the Souths of the world, which, sometimes, do not have internal databases able to provide precise information: for example, the activities of ACLED are useful and crucial to report and denounce the fights that usually are not monitored especially in those fragile areas.

The work of searching for alternative sources and data can really be fundamental for the studies and for the communities of those countries. It turns out therefore that these mixed examples are useful to underline the richness of information about the Souths of the world. Maybe, it could be interesting to create a portal to gather these websites or researches in order to have an easier starting point to understand our planet and to reuse the information produced over the years.



  1. Volunteered geographic information (VGI) as global data source


An overview on geospatial data available in different geographical contexts cannot avoid to treat some specific sources provided directly by users according to their personal interest, their willing, their involvement in local projects and communities.

In 2007 Goodchild introduced the broad concept of Volunteered geographic information (VGI) as a novel source of geographic data coming from collaborative mapping projects that represent the set of geographic information generated and shared by a community of users through a data infrastructure (Goodchild, 2007).  The reason why people decide to map, how accurate are the results and how this user generated content can augment more conventional sources can be discussed, but there is no question that this is one of the biggest innovations in the world of data production in recent years.

The VGI represents an innovation in the panorama of geographic data especially as a potential tool for solving the problem of cartographic material production and update involving the citizens’ knowledge. This is important for the public bodies mostly when the official cartography is lacking (Haklay et al. 2014). The constantly modifiable nature of the information characterizes the VGI as a new concept of knowledge: a cartographic representation that puts the “absolute power of the map, which admits neither criticism nor correction” into crisis. (Farinelli, 2003, p. 37). More and more open data-VGI hybrid systems are proving to be the most effective enabling technology vectors for innovative methods of mapping and enhancement of fragile and abandoned areas. This depends on many different factors but, first of all, on the possibility of interpolating extremely diversified data families coming from sources closely linked to the territory: this allows to make visible parts of that kind of local embedded knowledge that is often hidden or partially forgotten. In other cases, the use of local information sources is able to detect elements of the cultural landscape that are not mapped only because they are no longer part of the collective memory or have ended up unused due to an inability to enhance the stratified and lesser-known weave of our territories. This specific topic will be discussed in the next chapter.

Among the main VGI projects[38] aimed at producing maps or data at the global scale, the most prominent and useful for urban research is definitely Openstreetmap (OSM).

OSM[39] is a collaborative project aimed at creating an “open source” and editable map of the world. The data is grouped into different features[40], described by a number of tags such as amenities, buildings, highways, shops, railway, natural and many others. The map is created and maintained by nearly 5 million registered users and more than 1 million map contributors in every country in the world, using free tools and software.

Moreover, it has active mapper communities in many locations and it provides free and flexible contribution mechanisms for data (useful for map provision, routing, planning, geo-visualization, point of interests (POI) search, etc.) (Senaratne et al., 2017).

For this reason, it is not easy to state at the global level how this source is good and reliable for mapping purposes but at the same time there are some clear evidences that OSM is constantly improving in all regions, that OSM is often as good as or even better than what is commercially available and that more and more governments, institutions and researchers (Arsanjani et al., 2015) increasingly use and contribute to OSM [fig. 13-14].



Fig. 13 – Openstreetmap / Google map comparison in September 2017


Fig. 14 – Example of Openrouteservice for disaster management. Openrouteservice is a project based on OSM for routing application on a global scale. Available at



Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)[41] for example, is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. Among the projects, promoted by HOT OSM, it is worth to cite Missing Maps[42], an open, collaborative project in which it is possible to map areas where humanitarian organisations are working, some initiatives aimed at mapping different cities around the world (Accra, Monrovia) and a collaboration between HOT OSM and Facebook for building and improving OSM coverage for Southern Asia countries by using Machine Learning technology.

In urban research, OSM can be very useful as a starting point for further analysis and elaboration because it is very well integrated with Open Source GIS software[43] and with spatial databases[44]. It’s anyhow important to verify the quality and completeness of VGI data in respect of the scale and requirements of the ongoing investigations.



  1. Counter-mapping and back: participatory mapping as empowerment process


The role of maps as tools to exert power has changed in the last decades thanks to VGI frameworks allowing anyone to place oneself on a map, getting visibility, fighting spatial abuses and claiming for rights. This grassroots political effort to contrast hegemonic uses of maps by dominant powers and to democratize mapmaking has been defined as “counter-mapping” and has opened the way to several experimentations in participatory mapping that involve or are developed by initiatives of local communities, incorporating local cultural knowledge and promoting meaningful access to information in context of emergency or critical invisibility.


The concept of counter-mapping was introduced by Nancy Peluso to describe mapping initiatives that indigenous people in Indonesia undertook to contest governmental land-use plans disregarding the customary ownership and uses of community forests (Peluso, 1995). Similar projects already existed before coinage of the term, but since then, the connection between fragile communities and the potential of GIS technologies has opened to several experimentations in terms of participatory mapping initiatives moved by the aim to “cartographically and politically represent marginalized groups in relation to governments” (Craig et al., 2002).

Harris and Hazen stress these political implications defining counter-mapping as “any effort that fundamentally questions the assumptions or biases of cartographic conventions, that challenges predominant power effects of mapping, or that engages in mapping in ways that upset power relations” (Harris and Hazen, 2005, p.115).  And Sebastian Cobarrubias, discussing the term in the Encyclopedia of Geography (Warf, 2010) recalls how “countermapping refers to the use of cartographic tools and maps to correct or denounce injustice. It is usually carried out in opposition to maps or spatialities produced by powerful interests, be they from the state, the private sector, or elsewhere.”

The political role of counter-mapping is explicit and it’s often related to activism as an aware process of reclaiming rights with spatial implications, “a conceptual framework for understanding and creating geographic and political change in the post-Fordist economy” (Dalton and Mason-Deese, 2012).


Among the different counter-mapping methodologies and strategies, as already discussed by Peluso (1995), two main mapmaking processes have emerged in consideration of the promoter of the counter-mapping effort. The most popular model sees international organizations and NGOs supporting local communities in collaborative mapping initiatives, while it’s less common to have local NGOs and communities directly contracting the services of international experts to be trained in mapping. In both cases a counter-mapping initiative requires the match of locally owned knowledge and the contribution of exogenous skills for the sake of a common goal, under the umbrella of a shared set of values that are violated or disregarded by the dominant power.

In both cases, mapmaking is intended as a social process, evolving from basic mapping and data collection to very detailed and high quality analysis to build awareness and visibility on peculiar culturally rooted spatial features (rules, uses, tenures) in areas of limited statehood (Kovačič and Landine, 2014). Thus, the mapmaking process, beyond filling knowledge gaps, turns into a capacity development and empowering occasion, also promoting active citizenship.

Sub-Saharan Africa, due to the relevance of the urbanization phenomenon in combination both with high socio-political fragility and a widespread availability of personal digital devices, has provided in the last decade a fertile context for counter-mapping initiatives coping with the challenge to bring invisible informal urbanities and citizens on a map to foster inclusive and sustainable urban plans, policies and projects. In this context, the initiative of external actors advocating local communities has prevailed.

In this perspective, Map Kibera has been a ground-breaking experience. The project, started in 2009 by Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron, aimed at overcoming the lack of available maps and data about Kibera, one of the world’s most-known slums in Nairobi (Hagen, 2011). As Hagen points out, Kibera wasn’t really invisible at first glance, being one of the most famous slums worldwide and “saturated with international NGOs, community-based organizations, and faith-based groups. The problem was that none of the existing maps were shared with the public or used by Kibera’s residents”, left disempowered and excluded from the processes to cope with their own neighbourhood’s challenges.

The first phase of the project was dedicated to participatory GIS mapping involving groups of local volunteering citizens and uploading data to OpenStreetMap. Participants were trained, getting “new knowledge about the impact technology can have on a community”, and validated as “holders of important information rather than poorly educated slum dwellers”, thanks to their sharing of “intimate knowledge of the paths, businesses, and social relations of their own neighbourhood […] This continues to be a primary concept behind Map Kibera’s work, but it remains a challenge because such local knowledge is traditionally held in low regard” (Hagen, 2011). Few in Kibera had seen themselves on a map before and paper printouts of the map were posted in public spaces and distributed in the neighbourhood to share the results of the first phase; on paper maps, residents were stimulated to add further information, opening the way to the following phase.

The second phase was aimed at transforming the map “to become an information resource that was truly useful to the community”, developing “a model for a comprehensive, engaged community information project” (Hagen, 2011). Citizen reporting was considered an essential part of the acknowledgment process and gave birth to two other parallel projects: The Voice of Kibera (, an online community information and news platform, and the Kibera News Network (, a citizen video team. Lately, Map Kibera was institutionalised by becoming a Kenyan-based Trust, while the founders gave birth to GroundTruth Initiative, established as a new media and technology consulting company specializing in community-based participatory technologies, especially mapping and citizen journalism, in poor and marginalized regions throughout the world [fig. 15].



Fig. 15 – Map Kibera. Making informal settlements visible through cartography and digital media narratives.


Building on the experience in Kibera, the project was scaled-up and extended to another informal settlement: Mathare, the second largest slum in Nairobi. In Mathare, the mapping effort was directly focused on community development and followed the model of open data and open source software combined with participatory techniques to build a platform of dialogue within and outside the community. In 2012 another ICT-based collective action named Spatial Collective tested a further step by pushing the use of ICT from information delivery to concrete action complementing State’s activity (as facilitating water delivery in case of shortage) (Kovacic and Lundine, 2014).

Building on these experiences, in 2011, GroundTruth Initiative kickoffed community mapping in Dar es Salaam starting from Tandale and later supporting Slumdwellers International in their work mapping Keko Machungwa. In each community a target issue was selected as a focus to work on through reporting/mapping; in Tandale, it was the building of a secondary school. By mapping all the local schools, citizens were able to demonstrate the long distances separating some children from the closest school, as relevant information to support claims for the building of a new local school. Furthermore, a widespread awareness on the neighbourhood features was developed and shared by the local community.

The project scaled up in 2015, when the initiative Dar Ramani Huria (Swahili for “Dar Open Map”) extended the field of action. The community-based mapping project got funded by the World Bank and involved university students and the local community to create highly accurate maps of the most flood-prone areas of the city, essential tools to develop culturally rooted patterns of metropolitan resilience (Ramani Huria, 2016). Community mapping techniques were used to engage with local leaders and teach community inhabitants free, open source data collection tools from their smartphones. The data collected are enabling people across all levels of society to improve flood mitigation plans and to raise awareness and resiliency to natural threats. Furthermore, contemporary Dar es Salaam finally appeared on a map [fig. 16].



Fig. 16 – Ramani Huria. Mapping Dar es Salaam informal settlements to improve urban resilience.



In the last years, several similar initiatives popped up, and got a crucial role even in contexts of emergency or crisis, investigating methodologies to deal with humanitarian action and community development through participatory or community-led open mapping initiatives.  In particular, it’s worth to recall two examples. One is the involvement of local communities by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in creating updated maps to face the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone (Nic Lochlainn et al, 2018), a technological update of what happened in 1854 London with Snow’s fight to cholera, combined with capacity building. The other is the collaborative project led by Humanitarian Open Street Map (HOT) to help clarifying the spatial impact of refugee populations on local services in Northern Uganda (West Nile Region) with the aim of supporting decision makers to overcome siloing, to focus on operational efficiency, and to draft better strategies and policies to address the challenges of the ongoing humanitarian crisis by empowering local communities (Allan, 2018, p. 4) [fig. 17].



Fig. 17 – Humanitarian Open Street Map training local and refugee communities in the West Nile Region, Uganda, to map basic infrastructure and social facilities, claiming for rights.



The progressive institutionalization of counter-mapping as a practice adopted even by international organizations implies the risk of losing the radical drive that generated it, but opens to further extensive empowerment implications overlapping data ecosystems to urban patterns of digital citizenship. The Open Cities Africa ( set of initiatives, supported by the World Bank, is a relevant example of this tendency. The project is carried out in 11 cities in Sub-Saharan Africa to engage local government, civil society, and the private sector to develop information infrastructures to build urban resilience by a collaborative approach [fig. 18].



Fig. 18 – Map of Zanzibar City showing the impact of participatory mapping initiatives in the last decade (


All the above-mentioned examples, representative of many more, consider counter-mapping as a socio-spatial platform for tailoring planning and design initiatives to communities’ needs and priorities in a more precise way, thanks to the understanding of culturally rooted patterns of value.

At the same time, when analysing them, few criticalities emerge, to be considered while dealing with counter-mapping. First, it’s relevant to stress how getting a place on the map means securing a place in the existing political framework, with relevant rights and duties, including the possibility (or right) to claim rights. This is not always an easy choice. Where political conditions are particularly critical, invisibility could still be preferred (Frigerio and Elgendy, 2019). Second, data validation could be an issue, as the processes don’t always imply specific verification methodologies and self-verification patterns can be ineffective. Third, the perspective of counter-mapping initiatives could sometimes be excessively limited to certain fragile categories or specific issues, lacking an overall synergy with broader urban phenomena. Fourth and last, the effectiveness of the initiatives and their legacy is still an issue to be further investigated. The cartographic legacy is clear, with most of the collected data contributing to Open Street Map or other open-source databases, but the socio-cultural legacy is difficult to evaluate and monitor.



  1. Media & telecommunication data and statistics owned by multinational companies


In recent years more and more new sources of data, mainly based on media and telecommunication data, have become available for urban and regional research. Thanks to spatial and temporal resolution, such data showed a great potential for understanding urban transformations, for analysing and mapping spatial patterns of activities within the cities. Such information can hardly be gained through conventional data. The census data output is usually coarse in resolution (e.g. local areas or counties rather than individuals or households). Moreover, the methods used to generate them are quite inflexible (for example, once a census is being implemented it is impossible to add/remove questions).

At the same time, it is not easy, if not impossible, to make general considerations on the quality and on the updating of the censuses at a global scale since the Census is conducted at the national level[45]. For this reason, Census data quality and completeness must be evaluated case by case and depend on survey and estimate techniques, budget, competences, technical skills just to cite some issues.

On the other side, in urban research, the recognition of the “right” geographical scale for observing urban phenomena is not always easy. The re-scaling of data sources requires more flexible data and tools able to intercept urban phenomena in their correct spatial dimension. It clashes with the traditional data collection, because urban and regional data are normally available at the level of statistical subdivisions that correspond to municipal and administrative domains and not to the geographic dimension of processes and urban transformations. For this reason, in the last ten years, dozens of scholars searched for new data sources able to overcome some limits of conventional data (Blondel et al., 2015).

The idea is that mobile devices with location information leave digital traces when used by users. This implies to consider the phone traffic data as the effect of behaviours and individual habits that become indirect information on the characteristics of the territory and, somehow, an intrinsic feature of the same, that changes in time. The widespread use of mobile phone devices guarantees that the potential information available is huge and distributed among all the countries of the world.

ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), estimates that at the end of 2018, 51.2 per cent of the global population, or 3.9 billion people, will be using the Internet[46]. According to ITU, the growth in mobile cellular subscriptions in the last five years was driven by countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa regions.  Growth was minor in the Americas and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region while a decline was observed in Europe and the Arab States. For this reason, this topic appears to be relevant within the context of this contribution aimed at presenting and discussing the main sources of data for the Souths of the world countries.

Media and communication data, and among them, mobile phone data appear to have great potential in urban analysis and planning, for recognition and identification of urban practices occurring in time and space. These phenomena are difficult to recognize through conventional data sources since they are rarely updated and since they are not able to intercept phenomena which change over time such as typically, mobility or the temporary presence of people in certain parts of the city, or the density of uses of territories or informal activities. Recent years have seen a growing debate on evaluation of the potential contribution of new sources of data, based on information collected anonymously by users, to official statistics.

In particular, the main question is the definition of methods able to integrate them with conventional data sources to overcome the limitations of conventional data in describing and measuring phenomena occurring in urban spaces.

Among these urban phenomena, mobility in its spatial and temporal articulation appears to be one of the main issues that call for the identification of new sources of data and methodologies able to describe it (Pucci et al., 2015).

Media and telecommunication data have a very fine spatial and temporal resolution and are very flexible. It is therefore feasible to analyse customized areas depending on the aims of the research (urban blocks, linear infrastructures, etc.). The precise spatial accuracy is therefore one relevant aspect that creates greater possibilities for detailed research.

Recent years have seen a growing debate on the potential contribution of new sources of data, based on information collected anonymously by users, to official statistics. The main issue relates to defining methods that can integrate new data sources with conventional data sources to overcome the limitations of conventional data in describing and measuring the phenomena that occur in urban spaces.

On the other hand, the real availability of mobile phone data is a relevant issue because of the huge fragmentation of providers in world countries and their lack of willingness to cooperate for public interest purposes such as an improved understanding of territorial development. The identification of conditions for the acquisition of private data by public institutions is a topic that needs to be fully addressed to define how this data source can contribute to a near real-time understanding of urban spatial processes [fig. 19].



Fig. 19 – Above normal flows from Kathmandu to other districts, as of

19 August 2015 on the basis of mobile phone data provided by Ncell (


The original raw data are acquired by the network, processed directly by the company and provided to the scientific community in different formats, at different spatial and temporal resolutions and without an established standard for privacy issues, which is a dimension regulated by national laws.

Some relevant initiatives have been undertaken in order to expand the use of new sources of data for development and to improve data awareness in the context of the Souths of the world countries [fig. 20].



Fig. 20 – Mobility patterns and connectivity in West Africa (Wesolosky et al., 2014)


One example is United Nations Global Pulse[47] which is a flagship initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General on big data. Big data, in its vision, is harnessed safely and responsibly as a public good. Global Pulse has worked on several research projects[48] in collaboration with public and private partners for example on the use of mobile phone CDR for understanding refugee integration or for estimating socioeconomic indicators.

This concept is also promoted by several organizations[49] and tech or telecommunication giants[50] with ongoing programs and activities developed in the context of data for social good and international development initiatives. An interesting starting point for further analysis is a collection of projects and experiences based on the use of data provided mainly by private companies within the Data Collaboratives[51] initiative. Collaboratives are a new form of collaboration, beyond the public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors exchange their data to create public value.










Allan, R (2018). Hyper-local Participatory Mapping of All Refugee Hosting Districts in Uganda. Openly Accessible Maps and Methodology for Protection and Multi-Sector Operational Decision Making. Proposal for Scaling Community/Partner Mapping across Uganda.

Andrejevic, M. (2014). Big Data, Big Questions: The Big Data Divide. International Journal of Communication, 8: 1673–89.

Arsanjani, J.J., Zipf, A., Mooney, P., & Helbich, M. (2015). OpenStreetMap in GIScience. Lecture notes in geoinformation and cartography.

Blondel, V., Decuyper, A., & Krings, G. (2015). A survey of results on mobile phone datasets analysis. EPJ Data Science, 4 (10).

Booth, C.  (1886-1903) Inquiry into Life and Labour in London. Available in: Charles Booth’s London Poverty maps and police notebooks (

Craig, William J., Trevor M. Harris and Daniel Weiner, (eds.) (2002). Community Participation and Geographic Information Systems. London: Taylor & Francis.

Dalton, C. and Mason-Deese, L. (2012). Counter (Mapping) Actions: Mapping as Militant Research. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies.

Dalton, C. M., Taylor, L., & Thatcher, J. (2016). Critical Data Studies: A dialog on data and space. Big Data & Society.

de Sousa Santos, B. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. London: Routledge.

Farinelli, F. (2003). Geografia: un’introduzione ai modelli del mondo (Vol. 248). Torino: Einaudi.

Frigerio, A. and Elgendy, N. (2019).Right to the City and Public Space in the Post-Revolutionary Cairo. In R. Rocco and J.v. Ballegooijen (eds) The Routledge Handbook on Informal Urbanisation, London: Routledge.

Fuchs, C. (2013). Capitalism or information society? The fundamental question of the present structure of society. European Journal of Social Theory, 16(4), 13–434. doi:10.1177/1368431012461432

Graham S (2005) Software-sorted geographies Progress. Human Geography, 29(5): 562–580.

Haklay, M., Antoniou, V., Basiouka, S., Soden, R., & Mooney, P. (2014). Crowdsourced geographic information use in government. World Bank Publications.

Mayer-Schönberger, V., and Ramge, T. (2018). Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data. Amsterdam: Van Ditmar.

Hagen, E. (2011). Mapping Change. Community Information Empowerment in Kibera, Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, Vol. 6, Issue 1, Winter 2011, 69-94.

Harris, L. and H. Hazen (2006). Power of Maps: (Counter)-mapping for Conservation Acme International E-journal of Critical Geographies. 4 (1): 99–130.

Kovačič, P., & Lundine, J. (2014). Mapping Kibera. Empowering Slum Residents by ICT. In S. Livingston and G. Walter-Drop (eds), Bits and atoms: Information and communication technology in areas of limited statehood. New York: Oxford University Press.

Milan, S., & Treré, E. (2019). Big Data from the South(s): Beyond Data Universalism. Television & New Media, 20(4): 319–35.

Nic Lochlainn, L.M., Gayton, I., Theocharopoulos, G., Edwards, R., Danis, K., Kremer, R., et al. (2018). Improving mapping for Ebola response through mobilising a local community with self-owned smartphones: Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, January 2015. PLoS ONE, 13(1).

Peluso, N. L. (1995). Whose Woods Are These? Counter-Mapping Forest Territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode, 27(4): 383-406.

Picquet, C. (1832). Map representing cholera outbreak across 48 districts of Paris.

Pucci, P., Manfredini, F., & Tagliolato, P. (2015). Mapping urban practices through mobile phone data. PoliMI SpringerBriefs. Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer.

Ramani Huria. (2016). The Atlas of flood resilience in Dar es Salaam. Dar er Salaam.

Schiller, D. (1999). Digital capitalism. Cambridge, UK: MIT Press.

Segura, M.S., & Waisbord, S. (2019), Between Data Capitalism and Data Citizenship. Television & New Media, 20(4): 412–419.

Senaratne, H., Mobasheri, A., Ali, A. L., Capineri, C., & Haklay, M. (2017). A review of volunteered geographic information quality assessment methods. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 31(1), 139-167.

Snow, J. (1854). Map showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemy.

Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, Dataism and Dataveillance: Big Data between Scientific Paradigm and Ideology. Surveillance & Society, 12(2): 197–208.

Warf, B. (Ed.) (2010).  Encyclopedia of geography. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications

Weber, M. (1923/1997). Wirtschaftsgeschichte. Abris der universalen Sozial und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, ed. it. Storia economica. Linee di una storia universale dell’economia e della società. Roma: Donzelli.

Weiss, D.J, Nelson, A., Gibson, H., Temperley, W., Peedell, S. , Lieber, …., & Gething, P. (2018). A global map of travel time to cities to assess inequalities in accessibility in 2015. Nature. 553. 10.1038/nature25181.

Wesolowski, A., Buckee, C. O., Bengtsson, L., Wetter, E., Lu, X., & Tatem, A. J. (2014). Commentary: containing the Ebola outbreak-the potential and challenge of mobile network data. PLoS currents, 6.

[1] This paper is the outcome of a joint effort by the four authors. However, F. Curci ( took primary responsibility for the introduction and wrote sections 1, 2 and 3; S. Saloriani ( wrote section 4; F. Manfredini ( and A. Frigerio ( took primary responsibility for section 5; A. Frigerio wrote section 6; F. Manfredini wrote section 7.


[3] Paolo Perulli, “Alla ricerca del Sud Globale”, PhD Seminar held on 30th January 2019 at DiARC, University of Naples “Federico II”.


















[21] See


















[38] OpenStreetMap (OSM), Wikimapia, Google Map Maker, Map Insight are some examples of Map-based VGI.





[43] Qgis ( is one of the main open source GIS.

[44] For example, PostGIS is a spatial database based on the PostgreSQL object-relational database.

[45] The United Nations Statistics Division issues standards and methods to assist national statistical authorities and other producers of official statistics in planning and carrying out successful population and housing censuses.







Living Labs – a tool for inclusive urban innovation

FEEM Fall School “Souths of the World”

November 2019, Milan


Living Labs – a tool for inclusive urban innovation


Luca Garavaglia

Università del Piemonte Orientale



1)    Urban Living Labs: from theories to practice

Urban Living Labs (ULL) are a tool for urban innovation which is rapidly proliferating across cities internationally in the effort to provide economic prosperity, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. The notion of ULL is very broad, and it has been interpreted in many different ways: rather than a comprehensive review of theories and methodologies, the intent of this paper is to provide a basic overview of Urban Living Labs, discussing their main features and their role in urban innovation projects, as well as an introduction to the argument for Phd students and practitioners of urban studies lacking a strong background in social sciences. In this first chapter a definition of ULL will be provided, summarizing the most recent contributions by urban scholars and experts, while in later chapters some operative examples of ULL in cities of the Souths of the World will be described. Since ULL are complex processes, requiring a certain degree of organization and the coordination of different urban actors and interests, the final chapter of this paper will give some hints and warnings about their management from the literature on community planning and inclusive urban governance.


1.1 Origins of Living Labs

The concept of “Living Lab” is credited to William J. Mitchell, a professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who, reflecting on the innovation possibilities offered by ICT, suggested that “living” spaces such as a city or a building can be laboratories to generate and test hypotheses by monitoring users’ interactions with new technologies (Dutilleul et al., 2010).

The technique of Living Lab was soon adopted in the US and Europe by the corporate sector, and in particular by ICT firms, to organize more open and rapid innovation of products and services whose potential applications could not be fully anticipated without the inclusion of end users (Chesbrough, 2003; von Hippel, 2005; Bilgram et al., 2008).

Initially the focus of living labs was to test technologies in a homelike constructed environment (a good example is MIT’s own Living Lab, “Spacelab”, an apartment specially equipped to observe its inhabitants and their interactions with technologies[1]), but more recently the concept has expanded to include real world context, aiming not only to produce technical innovation but also to foster civic involvement and co-creation (Brask, 2015). In particular, this approach attracted the interest of the European Commission, which in 2006 funded two projects – CoreLabs[2] and Clock[3] – to promote a common European innovation system based on Living Labs (European Commission, 2009), in order to sustain the Lisbon Strategy goal of enforcing the economic competitiveness of the Old Continent. Those actions led to the creation of the umbrella organization ENoLL – “European Network of Living Labs”[4], an association including (in 2019) over 150 active Living Labs worldwide. ENoLL defines a Living Lab as a real-life test and experimentation environment where producers and users co-generate innovations, exploring emerging usages, behaviors and markets. Importantly, the concepts tested in the labs are evaluated to ensure learning and progress. This definition of Living Lab  integrates both user-centered research and Chesbrough’s (2003, 2006) notion of open innovation, and involves four main activities (Schumacher,2012):


  • co-creation activities to bring together technology push and application pull (i.e. crowd sourcing, crowd casting) into a diversity of views, constraints and knowledge sharing that sustains the ideation of new scenarios, concepts and artifacts;
  • exploration activities involving all stakeholders, especially user communities, at the earlier stage of the co-creation process for discovering emerging usages and behaviors through live scenarios in real or virtual environments;
  • experimentation activities, implementing technological artifacts in live scenarios with a large number of users, to collect data to be analyzed in their context during the evaluation activity;
  • evaluation activities, intended to assess new ideas, innovative concepts, technologies in real life situations (considering many dimensions such as socio-ergonomic, socio-cognitive and socio-economic aspects) and to make observations on the potential diffusion of new concepts and related technological artifacts through a confrontation with users’ value models.


To sum up, the concept of Living Lab is associated with many interrelated meanings (Dutilleul et al., 2010): it may refer to the monitoring of experimental technologies in real-life systems, to an approach to the development of technologies bases on the involvement of users, to an innovation system consisting of structured multidisciplinary networks fostering interaction and collaboration, or to the organizations facilitating those networks. In practice, most initiatives labelled as ‘Living Labs’ adopt parts of the multi-faceted concept and operate according to different interpretations of it (Følstad, 2008).


1.2 Definition and characteristics of ULL

The term Urban Living Lab (ULL) has emerged to describe Living Labs set up in urban areas seeking to address issues occurring there[5]. In the transition to the urban context, Living Labs emphasized the importance of inclusion (to actively engage citizens in urban research projects with socially oriented research agendas: Franz, 2014) and the focus on the development of place-based solutions, embedded in the particular socio-economic dynamics of each city. The real-world setting promises to produce more useful knowledge than experimentation performed under more controlled circumstances (Evans and Karvonen 2011), and could also inspire social and technical transformations of the city (Brask, 2015).

In recent years, ULL have been widely used, in Europe and worldwide, as forms of experimental governance whereby urban actors develop and test new technologies and ways of living to address a variety of challenges, from sustainability and climate change to energy and transportation systems, social innovation, quality of life, quality of the built environment (Evans and Karvonen, 2011; Bulkeley and Castán Broto, 2013; Franz, 2014; Evans et al., 2016; Voytenko et al., 2016).

In the current scenario of strong urban competition at national and global level, cities are in need of governance forms which are able to produce innovation and sustainability connecting public institutions, research organizations, associations, private sector and communities. Towards this goal, ULL are often seen not only as “protected spaces” for experimenting new ideas and projects, but also as ways to enable collaborations and gain public support, stretching and reforming existing regimes (Smith and Raven, 2012, Voytenko et al., 2018). Thus, involvement of the users is considered a central element of ULL (Voytenko et al. 2016): generally, the users are urban populations who would be affected by the product or service tested in the lab, lending credibility to the success of potential future applications. They play a big part in the operation of the lab by giving feedback and being an active partner through the whole innovation process (JPI Urban Europe 2013), negotiating with key stakeholders “in a strongly reflexive manner” (Nevens et al., 2013).

The ULL model also highlights the public element of urban innovation, based on the quadruple helix model, with a crucial role of knowledge partners (universities, private or public research institutes, etc.), and the importance of intermediaries (organizations operating between social interests and/or technologies) in the production of place-based solutions, in the absence of a “one best way” to innovation and sustainability.

But such processes can take different forms, and may involve many different actors: all ULL seem to share some basic features (the place-based approach, the emphasis on experimentation and learning of new technologies and solutions in real world conditions, the involvement of end users and communities in all stages of the project), yet at least three distinct models of ULL can be distinguished (Marvin et al., 2018), with important consequences on their organization and their goals (tab.1).


Table 1: different ULL models

Strategic ULL Civic ULL Organic (or grassroot) ULL
Lead actors Innovation agencies, supra-local governments,

Corporate business

Local authorities, universities, local companies, SMEs Civil society, NGOs, etc.
Primary purpose Innovation and technological priorities Urban economic and employment priorities Social, economic and environmental priorities
Organization form Competitive (urban selected as a site for experimentation) Developmental (partnership formed by local actors) Micro/single (multiple forms of community organization)
Funding type One-off/competitive Co-funding/partnership Improvised
Urban imaginary Urban as a test-bed that can be replicated or generalized Urban as a contingent and historically produced context urban understood in particular ways by local communities
Governing responses Governing by authority / governing with provisions Governing by authority and through enabling Self-governing
Translation / scaling up No plans on scaling up Policy plan on translation Policy plan on scaling up
Similar to… National innovation programs Urban innovation policies Grassroot innovation projects

Source: adapted from Marvin et al., 2018; Mai, 2018.


”Strategic” ULL are characterized by some degree of conditioning by national or regional authorities, and are often organized with multi-level mandates: as a consequence, they are less place-embedded than the other ULL models. They are usually activated to test and develop experimental applications which later will be diffused elsewhere. Cities are considered to be optimal test-beds for those innovative actions, and are expected to compete with each other for state funding, assembling partnerships with local stakeholders and global enterprises. Investments for such ULL are often awarded as a lump sum for specific activities and for short periods of time, since the priority is on supra-local diffusion strategies.

“Civic” ULL are instead the product of collaborations between local governments (usually acting as project leaders) and universities and private companies, which pool their resources to intervene on specific, place-based urban priorities, often regarding the transfer of research into demonstration. These ULL may take various forms, from one-off experiments to long programs taking place over a long period of time and supported by ad-hoc local agencies. In every case, they aim to embed new knowledges, infrastructures and benefits in the urban context, and to sustain urban competitivity.

“Grassroot” ULL show a strong bottom-up nature, and emerge from the demand of particular urban communities, regarding highly contingent local problems (i.e. social needs, pollution, lack of infrastructures, unemployment), looking for experimental solutions by the activation of local resources, tacit local knowledge, social capital. They are focused on the self-governing of urban dynamics (Mai, 2018), yet they often propose radical innovations, which can be diffused in other areas or cities. The budget of those ULL is often limited, relying on municipal or supra-local funding programs and on volunteer’s engagement.

Overall, a socio-technical split exists between different ULL models: strategic ULL generated by top-down programs tend to be techno-centric, while, at the opposite, grassroot ULL are much more socially grounded and include a wider variety of actors. Civic ULL can be situated in the middle of this spread, depending on their specific characteristics and goals (Mai, 2018).

Evaluation is another discriminating characteristics across ULL models: grassroot ULL are often subject to constant evaluation from funding agencies and programs (in particular, the social impacts of these initiatives is commonly considered to be a decisive component of their evaluation). On the other hand, in civic and strategic ULL evaluation can be less important and more informal (except for procurement procedures conducted by leading public actors on private project partners) and self-evaluation is rarely produced, outside mechanisms for policy learning.


1.3 Critical aspects of ULL

ULL are often described as a mean to provide responses to critical urban problems involving sustainability, quality of life, urban development. However, the extent to which ULL can address those urban challenges has yet to be proved. The strong enthusiasm for ULL by institutions like the European Union sustained their diffusion, but an extensive critical analysis of the practices and impacts of Living Labs has not been undertaken by scholars until very recently (Marvin et al., 2018; von Wirth et al., 2019), nor it has been cleared if they can facilitate comprehensive urban innovation and sustainability (producing outcomes that would not have been possible by other processes: Evans and Karvonen, 2011; 2013) or exchanges of best practices among cities: scalability is certainly very limited for the solutions developed in many “grassroot” ULL (see par. 1.2), due the their strong embeddedness in the local socio-economic and geographical context (May, 2018), but also in “civic” and “strategic” ULL evidence of take-up is limited, even in presence of an explicit intention to translate innovations into other places or to scale them to upper levels of governance. This is a consequence of the absence of learning structures and evaluation across individual programs (Marvin et al., 2018). So far, ULL in different cities and countries produced a fragmentation of the singular discourse of the sustainable city, developing new urban imaginaries which are rooted in locality and experimentation rather than on comprehensive and replicable programs. Such fragmentation may be a sign of the need for a novel approach to the “smart” or “sustainable” city, focused on a scale lower than the metropolitan one, which will require a re-thinking of the traditional concepts of ecological modernization, economic growth and social justice in the urban environment: the diffusion of ULL in cities of the Souths of the World will surely be a decisive step in this process.

Another aspect of ULL that should be more deeply questioned is their approach to urban governance: ULL are often presented a completely new phenomenon, but they share many similarities with already existing inclusive arenas (urban forums, strategic plans, grassroot innovation initiatives, community planning, etc.:). In a certain sense, they merely represent a new stage in the diversification of partnership-based governance modes organized by cities in the last decades, as a response to the increasing limitations of municipal funds and financial transfers from national governments (Percy, 2003; Brenner, 2004). Yet, in the European Union, ULL had an important role in the development and diffusion of innovations in urban sustainability, thanks both to the financial and policy support from the European Commission and to their capacity to accelerate the adoption of new technologies through experimentation in real setting and end-users involvement (Voytenko et al., 2018; von Wirth et al., 2019). But some authors (Marvin et al., 2018) argued that ULL often bring to a redesigning of existing urbanity rather than to radical transformations: given the strong role played in many Living Labs (namely, in “civic” and “strategic” ULL models: see par. 1.2) by existing economic or political urban partnerships and by traditional urban priorities <<there is a tendency for initiatives to undertake forms of experimentation “on” the context and users rather than working co-productively and symmetrically “with” context and users. Consequently, the urban is constituted as a test-bed according to external priorities and processes>> (Marvin et al., 2018, pp. 255-256). In order to avert the threat of “constrained experimentation” and to allow for a real and effective integration of communities and users in the development of new place-based solutions for urban problems, designers and facilitators of an ULL should pay attention to local factors, in particular when the process takes place in the urban and social contexts of the Souths of the World, where operative conditions may be very different from the ones in which ULL methodologies have been originally developed and tested. Inclusive participation often requires citizens with high levels of education, and the organization and outcomes of the process may be strongly affected by the capacity of communities to voice their interests and needs in formalized, visible ways, which depends on power relations and social practices (par. 3 will provide some hints about techniques and methodologies which could be applied to ensure effective participation and organization in an inclusive process).

Moreover, concepts like “smart city” or “sustainable city” cannot be utilized without regards to the local context. Castán Broto describes the difficulties encountered by “smart city” programs aimed to improve energy efficiency in Asia and Africa (Castán Broto, 2018): in the city of Maputo (Mozambique) the public utility Electricidade de Moçambique tried to improve accessibility to electricity with the implementation of a pre-paid system through which local people could control their consumptions and fraction the payment in relation to resources available, but this new technology had only little impact because many families were not connected to the electric grid, and those who were only utilized electricity for lighting and communication purposes, relying on charcoal-fueled stoves for cooking. A more effective approach to the energy problem in Maputo has been developed by local NGOs and community leaders, with programs intended to connect households to the grid, and to improve cookstoves performance in order to reduce indoor pollution and domestic accidents caused by cooking. In such contexts the vision of the “smart city” focused on technologies and infrastructures which are not accessible by all citizens may have only a limited impact on economic growth, quality of life or environmental sustainability, and it could even produce new forms of inequality between urban populations. For a better consideration of user needs, ULL aimed to make cities “smarter” should adopt an enlarged concept of “innovation”, focusing less on novel technologies and more on the potential for social innovation, cultural innovation, innovation in the public and voluntary sectors.


2.     Case studies of ULL in the Souths of the World

This section provides a description of five cases of ULL organized in Asia, Africa and Latin America[6]. Those projects are not always explicitly labelled as ULL, mostly because in many countries the term has not become popular yet, due to the differences from Europe and USA in official science and technology’s agendas and in public financing models for urban initiatives (Duarte Masi, 2016; Mai, 2018). Nonetheless, the case studies presented in this chapter adopt an approach to planning and decision-making which is very similar, if not identical, to the ULL’s one, based on the inclusion of end-users and on the open nature of the process. The differences with European experiences are caused by the social context of the cities of the Souths of the World, where inequality is larger and problems are bigger: “when Living Labs started to focus on identification and solution of social issues in countries, regions and communities of Latin America, Africa and Asia, they managed to include a new and interesting way of humanitarian aid development and assistance in order to achieve social development from an integrator point of view. Through this vision, beneficiaries participate actively on the identification of their problems and the search for solutions making easier the implementation of those solutions and the innovative creation of alternative ways to reach their goals” (Duarte Masi, 2016). Such an approach, focused less on technological innovations and more on social issues, could greatly contribute to the construction of more open societies, conceiving original governance models for the XXI century’s cities.

Case studies have been selected with the intent of presenting some examples of the variety of forms taken by ULL experimentations in the Souths of the World, including strategic, civic and grassroot models, as well as different urban problems, ranging from sustainability to housing and economic growth. For each case, a brief description of the process objectives, organization and actors will be followed by some critical remarks, highlighting in particular the role of communities and end-users in all phases of the ULL, and the problems the process had to face.


2.1 the Green Source Program


location Shenzhen, China
ULL model Grassroot ULL
Lead organization Shenzhen Green Source Environmental Protection Volunteers Association
Partners NGOs, municipal and district government, community centres, schools, professionals
Funding sources Donations, membership fees, service provisions incomes, government subsidies
running time 2013-present
Topics Sustainability, education
Sources; Mai, 2018


The founding objective of the Shenzhen Green Source Environmental Protection Volunteers Association (from now on: “Green Source”) was the conservation of mangrove wetland in the urban region of Shenzhen. Local mangrove forests not only have a value in terms of biodiversity, but also play a vital role in the natural protection from coastal erosion. Nevertheless, in the last decades they were increasingly threatened by urban growth and pollution. A few local environmental activists took interest in that problem, and in 2013 founded Green Source to call on local volunteers to monitor and collectively safeguard some mangrove areas which were not given any form of protection by the municipal government. Regular patrols proved to be crucial, given the need to protect mangroves from solid wastes dumped in the coastal areas, yet they were not sufficient to ensure the forest survival and biodiversity. Then, the Association started a program for the incubation of mangrove seedlings, and identified suitable sites for new plantations. Green Source also organized activities for community-based environmental education, and gathered a team of scientists and expert to produce periodic surveys and studies on local mangrove, diffused with the help of volunteers, local media and political groups to raise social awareness on environmental hazards and to change urban management practices.

The grassroot initiatives of Green Source soon emerged as an alternative solution to public programs organized by municipalities and universities, which had already been formulated but never reached implementation. Meanwhile, the local government started an administrative reform, based on the national doctrine of “administration streamline and power delegation”, to transfer functions from the public sector to civil society organizations: it assumed the role of facilitator, empowering, connecting and funding local NGOs to incubate and design a new generation of societal changes, including the ones regarding urban sustainability.

This recognition allowed Green Source to activate a new project to monitor water pollution and to report illegal discharges of wastes, which resulted in administrative penalties for polluting enterprises. Even more importantly, it helped Green Source to devise collaborations and cross-sector initiatives with other NGOs, creating alliances which were able to deal with more challenging tasks, involving strong urban actors: Green Source and the China Mangrove Conservation Network (an NGO founded in 2001 and operating in all five provinces of southeastern China) worked together to monitor the environmental changes caused by the extension of the Shenzhen metro system, contrasting the policies of the powerful municipal office of metro system construction. The same two associations experimented with new ICT technologies, launching an online geo-location platform named “China Mangrove Alert System” which allows volunteers to organize improvised patrols on mangrove locations all over China and to share information about observed risks.

The Green Source initiatives show many of the defined characteristics of  ULL working on urban sustainability (Voytenko et al., 2016), starting from the importance given to the involvement of volunteers and communities and from the capacity to organize networks for collective actions, both at local and national level. The Green Source is an example of the recent growth of grassroot activism in Shenzhen, supported by the best practices and technical transfers from the neighboring Hong Kong, where the social innovation sector is very active and strong, due to the different political system and democratic tradition. The proximity and exchanges with Hong Kong also encouraged the emergence of expert community leaders in Shenzhen, helping the organization of many community associations focused in particular on urban sustainability and social innovation (while initiatives led by governments or private enterprises are more focused on technological innovation). These associations are completely redesigning and redirecting, from the bottom-up, the processes of urban change in the area, “introducing new techniques for lobbying and agenda setting with local authorities” (Mai, 2018, p.211). They are rapidly gaining legitimation at local level, but in most cases they still lack dedicated resources, given the absence, in China, of the community development trusts which are common in OECD countries: they are dependent on alternative financing (Green Source has been often financed by “green” local enterprises), public sector’s grants and contributions of volunteers.


2.2 Stellenbosch’s ULL


location Stellenbosch, South Africa
ULL model Civic ULL
Lead organization University, municipal government
Partners Urban stakeholders, professionals, urban communities
Funding sources Municipal funds
running time 2011-2015
Topics Urban governance and planning, sustainability
Sources Davies and Swilling, 2015; 2018; Davies, 2016


In spite of the municipality’s vision to became the “Innovation Capital of South Africa”, Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, was in the early 2000s a city of great contrasts, with an internationally renowned university, well-developed agricultural and tourism sectors and a growing tertiary sector, but also many problems of poverty and social inequality. Also, the lack of strategic coordination between urban stakeholders and the absence of long-term integrated planning programs hindered all projects for urban change:  insufficient provision for future demand led to deficiencies in urban infrastructures (mobility infrastructures, water and electricity supply, waste management), and ad-hoc spatial development projects caused spatial exclusion and economic disparity (Davies and Swilling, 2015; Davies, 2016).

A decisive step towards a new model of urban governance for Stellenbosch was taken in 2005, with the organization of a joint forum between the municipality and the local university, the Rector-Executive Mayor Forum (REMF). This forum represented a new strategic commitment by the university towards more meaningful interaction with local society, while for the municipality it marked a new policy of receptiveness to collaborations and partnerships. The REMF soon became an important learning arena: monthly meetings, alternated between being hosted in university venues and in municipal spaces, were the occasion for researchers, municipal officials and politicians to discuss issues of mutual concern, sharing ideas, exchanging information and organizing collective projects for urban development. Informality was a key factor (informal drinks regularly followed scheduled meetings), and allowed all participants to share a common language and sensibility on urban problems, overpassing the preexistent mistrust and antagonism between the university and the municipality (Davies, 2016). REMF activities were organized as an open process, without strict procedures to follow and without pre-designed objectives: as a result, the REMF developed a “solutions-oriented approach to transdisciplinary research in developing world contexts that are characterized by high level of social fluidity, where the research process is designed as it unfolds and where the goal is to co-generate knowledge applicable to specific, complex social challenges” (Davies and Swilling, 2018, p.98). In 2011 the experience of the REMF resulted in the establishment of two sub-committees participated by local institutions, associations and private sector players:


  1. the Integrated Planning Committee (IPC), which applied Appreciative Inquiry methodologies (Cooperrider and Srivasta, 1987; Cooperrider et al., 2001) to organize an inclusive “idea gathering campaign” (“Shaping Stellenbosch”) directed to urban stakeholders and citizens: stakeholders were engaged in workshops with experts from the university and the municipality, while citizens could submit their ideas for urban development via an online form, or at gathering points in public libraries (the public engagement process was introduced by an information campaign in the three local languages, Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa, diffused via website, local media, flyers and posters: Davies, 2016). Combining “top-down” and “bottom-up” inputs, the “Shaping Stellenbosch” campaign produced the “Stellenbosch Spatial Development Framework” (2015), a formal planning program for the city;
  2. the Infrastructure Innovation Committee (IIC) which, after a dense program of interviews, workshops, formal and informal meetings of 6 working groups (dedicated to Finance, Energy, Water and Sanitation, Solid Waste, Transport, Administration), and with inputs from the “Shaping Stellenbosch” program, produced the “Stellenbosch Quo Vadis” report (2014), a strategic document based on the vision of a compact, inclusive and sustainable town, supported by a public transport-oriented, infrastructure-led development logic, that transcended the preexisting tensions between the ultra-conservative approach focused on heritage and conservation and the developer’s driven one based on urban sprawl.


The “Quo Vadis” report produced by the IIC was intended as a guideline to the implementation of the Spatial Development Framework put together by the IPC. Together, the two documents posed the foundations for a large-scale program of collaborative innovation and experimentation of the city over the coming years, which linked spatial planning and infrastructure development to urban problems like traffic congestion, housing, social cohesion.

However, changes in leadership in both the municipality and the university, and conflicts between different municipal departments and political factions, led to the suspension of most REMF activities in 2015. The forum, which never had a formal or institutional role in the city government structure, remains a recognized actor in urban governance, but since then its operativity has been limited.

Stellenbosch’s process is an example of an ULL focused not on technological innovation, but on the development of new social and administrative practices. It succeeded in the definition of a new governance model for the city, based on collaboration, inclusion and collective learning, which have proved capable of addressing context-specific, complex social challenges. The initial activities of the REMF only included the two most powerful and resourceful urban actors, the municipality and the university: inclusion of other stakeholders and citizens came only after a long learning-by-doing process had been undertaken by those two institutions. Stellenbosch’s ULL is also a clear example of the impossibility to a-critically transplant inclusive planning projects typical of OECD countries in a developing country, where the material and social conditions are different and where the social context is very fluid (Davies and Swilling, 2018).

Another significative aspect of the Stellenbosch case is the importance of mediation in urban change processes. One of the main achievement of the REMF was the creation of trust and understanding amongst the stakeholders (Davies, 2016), which allowed for a higher level of collaboration in the governance of the city. This couldn’t have been possible without the support from both the municipality and the university, nor without the full commitment of their leaders. When they started to dwindle (in particular on the municipality’s side), the whole process came to an abrupt end.



2.3 URBZ


Location Mumbai, India (and other cities)
ULL model Grassroot ULL
Lead organization URBZ
Partners Citizens, associations, private firms, local governments
Funding sources Various (service provision incomes, local development programs, etc.)
running time 2008-ongoing
Topics urban planning, housing, creativity


URBZ is an experimental action and research collective including architects, designers, urban planners, anthropologists, economists and policy makers, founded in 2008 to promote social and urban innovation in the Dharavi area of Mumbai, one of the largest and more densely populated slums in Asia, counting between 600.000 and one million inhabitants (estimates vary widely).

URBZ is specialized in the design of “user-generated cities” which consider the existing condition as a starting point for future development. Its approach is based on the recognition that residents’ everyday life experiences constitute an essential knowledge for urban planning, development and policy-making. URBZ activities are strongly rooted in local communities: the collective is engaged in the organization of researches and workshops with local residents and non-local experts aimed to produce more knowledge of the specific urban context and to start projects for housing, education, cultural and economic development. Information sharing and public participation  are intended as the main tools to bring together local and global knowledge, and to re-think the urban space according to the citizens’ visions and needs. The most important projects realized by URBZ in Dharavi are the ones on sustainable housing: providing technical competences (about home design, materials, financing) and mediating with small building constructors (who are crucial local actors, with the capacity to work in the difficult environment of Dharavi) and providers of building materials to fulfill the needs of the residents (usually, the demand is for a renewal and rising of the existing house, often comprising the family’s shop or artisan workshop). These micro-interventions on the urban space produced an alternative to the development vision of the Municipality of Mumbai which, considering the whole Dharavi an “informal settlement zone”, have placed it under the responsibility of the Slum Redevelopment Authority, who is envisaging a complete destruction of existing buildings to make space for big, low-cost housing complexes. The Slum Redevelopment Authority’s “Dharavi Redevelopment Project” plans to concentrate the actual Dharavi residents in 20% of the redesigned space, allowing developers to construct expensive new building and attract new residents and economic actors in the area: the slum is located in the center of the Mumbai metropolis, and land value could potentially be sky-high. Yet, this project will destroy all the existing social context and the dynamic circular economy of Dharavi, where thousands of small activities grew up and prospered in the last decades (Echanove and Srivastava, 2014): it is estimated that Dharavi boasts 5,000 local businesses and 15,000 single-room factories, accounting for at least 1 billion USD of Mumbai’s revenue each year[7] and playing an important role in the urban economy (including a quasi-monopoly on plastic waste recycling, with 250-300 recycling businesses and 10.000-12.000 employees in Dharavi). On the opposite side of the Slum Redevelopment Authority strategy, URBZ vision, looking at Dharavi as an “in-formation neighborhood”, is focused on the progressive improvement of the existing context, envisaging solutions which won’t force the residents to relocate elsewhere their lives and activities. Apart from building renovation (adding more stories to existing houses in order to accommodate new residents, new activities, roof gardens, etc.), the collective is active in Dharavi with low-cost, user-centered initiatives for the design of public spaces and green areas, for the improvement of infrastructures (water and drainage, electricity), for the organization of community governance arenas, for the development of local economic activities (including projects for the design of market stalls, new farmer markets, and the creation, in collaboration with Dutch and local partners, of the “Dharavi Design Museum”[8] to showcase local talent through a nomadic exhibition space).

Another important activity of URBZ is dissemination: conferences, seminars and exhibitions are held both in Dharavi and in international venues to spread information on realized projects and to promote the collective’s approach to urban planning. URBZ has been invited to exhibit its work at the Design Biennial of Istanbul (2008),  MoMA in New York (2013 & 2014), MAK in Vienna (2015), Chicago Architecture Biennial (2015), CAPC in Bordeaux (2016), HDA in Graz (2016), MAXXI in Rome (2016), the Art Center at the International School of Geneva (2016) and Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai (2017). Starting from his small office in Dharavi, the collective now has offices and teams operating, with the same methodologies and approach, in Bogotá, São Paulo, Geneva and Seoul.

URBZ is a good example of a ULL capable of developing a grassroot vision of urban planning in a city of the Souths of the World, without resorting to “standard” models and techniques but focusing instead on place-based issues through projects co-generated with the users. The role of the experts (architects, designers, urbanists, sociologists, economists) is vital not only at the local level, where they are asked to provide knowledge, technologies and ideas to implement the resident’s visions of development, but also, through their professional and academic networks, in the dissemination of the approach in other cities and in the global communities of urban planners and designers.


2.4 Quiero mi barrio


Location Urban areas in Chile
ULL model Strategic ULL
Lead organization Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo (MINVU)
Partners Local governments, local communities
Funding sources National funds
running time 2006-ongoing
Topics Quality of life, security, sustainability


The Neighborhood Recovery Program “Quiero mi barrio” (“I Want My Neighborhood”) was created in 2006 by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development  of Chile (MINVU) with the aim of improving the quality of life and security of people living in vulnerable neighborhoods. Unlike precedent MINVU programs, the Programa Quiero Mi Barrio (PQMB) is not focused on housing projects, but on the recovery of public spaces and the strengthening of the social fabric: it supports the building of infrastructures such community centers, telecentres, green areas, sports fields, playgrounds, and the improvement of street furniture. Another primary objective of the PQMB is the funding of social projects to empower local communities and to support their associative capacities and their activation to improve the identity, security and environmental sustainability of their neighborhood.

All investments in public spaces and urban infrastructures are chosen and prioritized through a participatory and inclusive process: a Consejo Vecinal de Desarrollo (CVD, “Neighborhood Development Counsel”), involving the municipality, community leaders, neighborhood boards, local cultural associations and citizens, is created in each “barrio” and is charged to produce a Plan Maestro (“Master Plan”) describing the vision and long-term development strategy for the area, and a Contrato de Barrio (“Neighborhood Contract”) detailing  the physical works and the social initiatives that will be activated in the three years of the program’s execution. The CVD is also required to organize the monitoring of physical interventions and to strengthen the organizational capabilities of the local community.

The neighborhoods to be part of the program are nominated by the municipalities and selected by the MINVU. Initially the PQMB was set out to intervene on 200 neighborhoods, fluctuating in size from 100 to 3.000 homes each, with a budget of 1.2 million USD for the period 2006-2009. Since then, the program grew to encompass 570 neighborhoods in all 16 regions of Chile, reaching over one million people and realizing more than 3.000 urban projects. In 2015, the PQMB was recognized as one of the “best practices” worldwide by the Dubai Prize of the UN.

Being a ministerial program, the PQMB is subjected to many evaluation procedures: after the selection of the neighborhood by the MINVU, the evaluation ex-ante of the projects is realized by technical teams from the ministry and the municipality, supporting the CVD in its strategical choices, while the valuation in itinere, during the implementation phase, is managed by the local actors, according to the provisions of the Contrato de Barrio. Ministerial ex post evaluations and researches by sociologists, planners and scholars of urban studies don’t only address the physical results of the program, but also investigate its capacity to generate effective improvement in the quality of life of the residents: for example, while positive results have been obtained in issues like security and use of public spaces (even if a recent study on the city of Quilpué highlighted that differences still remain in the behaviors of different groups of citizens, in particular between men and women: Mora et al., 2018), in some areas, starting from Santiago (Link et al., 2017), the program did not promote important changes in the social interaction patterns of residents, with poorer neighborhood still loosely connected with the rest of the city.

The originality of the PQMB lies in its capacity to intertwine infrastructural and social projects, but also in its attention to user-generated urban change, which led to a strong focus on the inclusion of residents in the decision-making process and in the implementation of the projects. Those characteristics are very similar to the ones of strategic ULL (see par. 1.2), yet the difficult social context of many Chilean barrios required an extra effort for the empowering of local communities, which is typical of initiatives for urban and social development in cities of the Souths of the World. In this sense, evaluation activities carried out both at local and national level proved to be central in the learning process towards the re-adjustment of the objectives and procedures of the program.







2.5 Başakşehir Living Lab


Location Başakşehir, Turkey
ULL model Civic ULL
Lead organization Başakşehir municipality
Partners Private firms, universities, NGOs, citizens
Funding sources Municipal funds, private funds
running time 2014-ongoing
Topics Smart city, health, education
Sources ;


Başakşehir is a municipality of the metropolitan area of Istanbul counting about 380.000 inhabitants, with quite high levels of education and entrepreneurship but also with a significative presence of poverty. In 2014, the municipal government, in partnership with ICT firms, local firms, research centers and universities, created a research facility based on the Living Lab approach to support its vision of becoming a “City of Applied Information Technologies and Innovation”. The mission of Başakşehir Living Lab (BLL) is the development, testing and production of ICT innovations towards a livable, efficient and environment friendly urban environment. The facility is open to all the citizens and SMEs in Başakşehir that have limited resources but innovative ideas: the BLL and its partners provide business management support,  technical competences and the equipment needed to develop new product or service ideas, while citizens visiting the center are invited to participate in testing activities of new technologies (either produced in the BLL or elsewhere).

Innovative ICT services developed by the BLL for the city and citizens of Başakşehir include:

  • a Geography Information System, an app for mobile devices integrating e-map technology and location data from the Municipality to provide location based information;
  • a “Support Card”, a smart card for people in need providing credit which can be spent for certain products and services in a number of local shops;
  • an Outdoor Security System (Mobese) consisting of a network of full HD street cameras for urban security, connected to the offices of the municipality and to the local police department;
  • A mobile health kit accessible by mobile phone to measure and report basic health parameters;
  • “Biopipe”, a sustainable waste water treatment system;
  • “Metroplus”, a software app for the optimization of urban public transport system;
  • “Duyum”, home automation technologies for deaf people;
  • “Gadron”, an application for real estate value determination;

The BLL also works on market-oriented innovations in various technological fields, from unmanned aerial vehicles, toothbrushes and paper made from calcium carbonate and biopolymers (“stone paper”) to software applications for mobile phones (virtual shopping, social media platforms, educational apps, etc.).

The BLL center,  built according to green principles and mostly powered by solar energy, include both facilities for the development of new products and services (an electronic laboratory, a design factory, consulting services for business development and commercialization, a music studio and a video production studio) and areas dedicated to the end-users and to the local community: a conference center, an education center, an open office space, a lounge area for social events, an healthcare station (where users can monitor their most important vital parameters without assistance, using simple applications developed by BLL) and the “user experience showroom”, a 900 square meters area where citizens and investors can see and test new technologies and services produced in the lab, giving their feedbacks to the developers.

BLL is a member of the European Living Lab network ENoLL, and joined international innovator networks to support the diffusion and marketization of its researches. One of its near future objectives is also to replicate similar Living Labs in other Turkish cities, and to inspire similar projects in other countries.

Başakşehir’s project is a good example of an civic ULL centered on the diffusion of ICT innovations in a difficult area of a great metropolis: it provides citizens with local collective competition goods (Crouch et al., 2001) to develop their ideas and to test them in real-life environments, supporting creativity and entrepreneurship with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life and the sustainability in the urban environment. Although similar to a business incubator, the BLL is also committed to educational purposes, encouraging the diffusion of knowledge and providing basic services for citizens without means: in this sense, the BLL innovation center acts as a seed for the development of a bottom-up approach to the “smart city”, making up for market failures and encouraging the activation of the civil society towards a better diffusion and use of new technologies.


3.     Methodological notes for inclusive urban development projects

Like in many other projects for urban development experimented by cities in the last thirty years (Evans et al., 2016), inclusive decision making has a central role in ULL: it allows for a better consideration of all variables and interests involved, and may help the gathering of all knowledge, information and resources needed to fulfill the project’s objectives (Susskind and Cruikshank, 1987). It may also be useful to reduce opposition to policies and projects by specific social groups, or the risk of the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome, which often arises when a decision threatens to generate a negative impact on a local community. Yet, when it comes to urban governance, the temptation of “deciding alone” (or to involve only a small group of selected stakeholders in the decisional process) is always strong, in particular for public actors legitimized by democracy and having the strength to enforce their solutions: the choice to enlarge the number of the actors involved in a decision causes higher decisional costs, in terms of both time and resources. Also, inclusive processes are often quite hard to manage, since they require the coordination of many public and private actors: they need to be carefully organized and planned, in particular in the fluid socio-economic contexts of the cities of the Souths of the World. The following paragraphs will point out the main critical aspects of inclusive urban processes, and provide some guidelines and hints for their successful assemblage, management and evaluation.


3.1 At which stage of the process should inclusive methodologies be started?

Actors willing to organize an urban development project, and in particular public administrations, are often tempted not to include end-users and communities in the decision-making process from the very beginning, but only after some key steps and choices have already been taken: typically, after the initial idea or concept has been fully defined, and after a technical analysis has been produced.

This tendency can be easily understood considering how development projects are usually generated: when an urban problem (or an opportunity for development) is perceived by a public administration, it starts a cognitive process, usually a technical study of the current situation, which produces possible solutions and a first analysis of their feasibility. Technicians, experts and politicians are not inclined to present the project to the public before they identified a viable solution or course of action, or at least without a well-defined idea, which could withstand criticism. Such technical-based approach is based on a just sense of responsibility towards the public and the end-users, but sometimes it may pose some serious threats to the realization of the project: once the idea has been defined, radical modifications are very difficult to accept. The proposal may be integrated, and some changes may be made, but completely different options or actions proposed by the community are not likely to be welcome, since they would require a step back, and a waste of the time and money the technicians and experts spent on the project (sunk costs). The attention is no more on the original problem, but instead on the proposed solution: other possible options may not even be considered, or may be disregarded due to the partiality of the proposing administrations towards their project (i.e., the protest against the project of an incinerator may distract the city from a more ample and generative debate on waste reduction and recycling).

Even worse, when presented with a project in which the critical choices have already been made, the public and the target community may perceive it as a “take it or leave it” proposal, in which their decisional role is marginal, thus raising the risk of disengagement, exit, social or political protest, as it happens with the “Not in My Backyard” syndrome.

Another possible risk concerns the implementation of the project, in particular when other public administrations are involved in that phase: the operators and executives within those organizations may not be committed to a project in whose design they had no part, and may find it difficult to understand its objectives and goals.

In order to avoid all those risks and inefficiencies, Living Lab methodologies propose a completely different approach, recommending, when an inclusive process is needed, to start the public debate as soon as possible: i.e., not on an already designed (or even sketched) project, but on the possible options to confront a particular problem or opportunity. This choice allows for a better considerations of all processual choices, for a better understanding of the problem itself (with a direct representation of all interests involved) and even for the emergence of creative, unimagined solutions generated by a different approach to the debate topic.

Another advantage in earlier inclusion is the possibility to build trust between participants, and to let criticisms and oppositions emerge in a phase when negotiations are still possible, avoiding the waste of time and money.

On the other hand, the choice of starting inclusive processes as soon as possible implies some risks: it is important to carefully choose who should be included in the decision-making process. Involving local actors and communities at such an earlier stage may be difficult, since people and interests are easily activated by the protest against a possible threat, while may be reluctant to spend time to join an open debate around a problem whose solution is still to be defined. A careful choice of who should be included in the decision making process (par. 3.2) and the adoption of techniques for good communication and organization of the process (par. 3.3) are crucial to realize a successful ULL.


3.2 Who should participate in the inclusive process?

Choices about the number and characteristics of the participants in an inclusive project are always complex and important, and have a direct correlation to the capacity of the process to produce good results. The rational choice is usually to include in the decision-making all people and groups interested by the object of the debate. Yet, it’s often practically impossible to include all end-users and target communities: in a typical ULL, thousands of citizens should be involved, and it’s obvious that no table nor room could be large enough to allow a place for them all. As a rule of thumb, all efforts should be made to include all stakeholders involved, making should no one is excluded a priori: doing so, no one will be able to de-legitimize the process ex post, lamenting its unjust exclusion from the ULL. But more definite criteria should be envisaged, in order to allow the inclusive process to start and to have a chance to produce solutions and to make choices. A preliminary research on the field may be necessary in order to determine which stakeholders are involved, analyzing all possible impacts of the project (on the local society, on the economy, on the environment, on the urban setting) and the subjects best qualified to represent them in the ULL, building a “map” of all relevant actors. Some interests and stakeholders are usually easy to spot: public administrations and organized groups (labor unions, trade unions, local interest groups, citizen committees, cultural or sports associations, etc.) can be easily invited to join the process. But problems may arise when there are no organized groups to represent some of the interests which could bring their voice to the decision-making process: in such cases, a well-planned preliminary research, including an information campaign and outreach techniques (Wates, 2000), may help the communities to organize themselves, making new actors emerge in response to the call of the ULL. When dealing with diffused interests without any form of voice, it is also possible to resort to a call for volunteers or to a drafted group of citizens, with methodologies experimented by consensus conferences, Citizens’ Juries (Stewart et al., 1994; Cosby, 1995), Planungszelle (“Planning Cells”: Dienel, 1991; 1999) and Deliberative Opinion Polls (Fishkin, 1991).

A common objection to the inclusion of spontaneous groups or citizen committees is the question of their capacity to truly represent diffused interests: local administrators are often weary of those groups, whose representativeness and legitimation are very hard to prove, fearing them to be merely vehicles for protest. In inclusive ULL, problems regarding representativeness can be ignored, given that all participants are willing to contribute to the project. Stakeholders desiring to bring their voice to the table, even the most conflictual ones, should be included in the process, not only because every knowledge and opinion may be important but also because ULL are designed to make disagreement emerge and to cope with it in productive ways, in order to produce better and shared solutions to complex problems. Even when there are opposite positions on a topic, the underlying interests may be brought to an agreement, through discussion and negotiation (Bobbio, 2004; Fisher et al., 2011) and with the help of neutral mediators (Forester, 1999). And if some participants should show an irreducible hostility to the project, at least their opposition will be immediately revealed during the early phases of the process: discovering it later stage be much more dangerous and costly.

A different situation happens when there are groups refusing to join the process (usually for political or ideological reasons). These groups should be formally invited nonetheless, and they should be allowed to join the ULL at a later stage, if they change their mind. But it is also important to inform all other participants of the existence of other positions and ideas, not represented in the debate, taking them into consideration: sooner or later, the project will have to cope with them.


3.3 Basic principles for the organization of inclusive processes

Managing an ULL involving many actors with different languages, interests, sensibility, may not be easy. The participants should receive good information to enable them to understand the discussed topics. They all should have the opportunity to fully express their opinions. Conflicts need to be managed until an agreement is found. Timing and progress of the process must be kept under control. A poorly organized process may not only be a waste of time, but may also have a negative social impact, deluding the citizen’s expectations and shattering trust among local actors.

An extended review of all techniques to ease the process, to encourage productive cooperation between its participants and to solve conflicts is well beyond the scope of this paper: detailed information can be easily found in many manuals dedicated to consensus-building (i.e.: Susskind et al., 1999; Fisher et al., 2011) and community planning (i.e.: Wates, 2000). But all those techniques share some common principles that can be adopted in any ULL, as guidelines for the effective organization of an inclusive decision-making process:


  1. Avoid complex language and technical terminology: to manage an ULL, it is important to be aware of the presence of actors (in particular citizens and end-users) which have no knowledge of the technical language usually adopted in urban development processes. All concepts should be explained, even the ones that are obvious to urban studies experts. Graphics, images, model and examples should be used, and an effort should be made to translate complex concepts in order to make them understandable to all participants. The development of a “common language” shared by all actors of the ULL will greatly improve the chance of success, and will lead to a more profitable debate and to more shared and detailed projects.
  2. Set up explicit and shared rules to organize the process: an ULL is not merely an assembly, where a promoter presents an idea trying to make other participants agree with it: it’s an arena for the development of shared ideas and concepts, in which everyone should be able to play an equal role, regardless of his power in the urban chessboard. In order to avoid endless discussions and the subsequent frustrations, some organization is required: the first step is to present the “rules of the game” and to have all participants agree on them, before the real work starts. The process should be clearly divided in phases, with a well-defined timing for each phase and for each meeting of the Lab. Rules and timing should be flexible enough to adjust the process according to the circumstances, but should also be rigorous enough to give a clear indication of the effort required to all participants and to regulate the process activities towards the expected results, without unnecessary delays. Also, a long-term view of the process should be adopted: even if short-term marketisation of the innovations produced by ULL is usually one of the mail goal of their promoters (private companies, urban and regional governments, etc.), successful innovation often needs time, and in many ULL long periods of discussion, contestation, experimentation and testing have been necessary before new solutions or new technologies could be embedded in the local context and stabilized, through a difficult trial and error process requiring many adjustments to satisfy all the actors and interests involved (Marvin et al., 2018).

The spaces utilized for Lab activities should be carefully cured, preferring a set-up which could encourage interaction (i.e. a round table) and avoid distractions. When possible, meetings and visits could be arranged in the areas where the project will take its effects, to provide a more immersive experience and a better contact with the “real world” where the testing and implementation will be realized.

  1. Encourage informality: an ULL is not a formal event, but a process intended to build capacity for collective actions: it is important to make all participants feel welcome and relaxed, in order to encourage the development of trust and cooperation between them. The meetings should be held in an accessible and neutral place, not strongly linked to any of the powers and interests involved in the process. Invitations should be accompanied by personal contacts with the organizers, to explain the process and to point out the importance of participation. Welcome procedures should be well organized, but should be also very informal, avoiding distinctions between participants based on their status or on the importance of their organizations. Whenever possible, the meetings should not involve large numbers of participants, in order to allow everyone to express his opinion and to develop personal relations with all other actors (if many actors are involved, multiple, “parallel” tables can be organized: information and exchange between them will be cured by the organizers). Participants should not be forced to speak, if they prefer to stay silent – but they should always be aware of the possibility to express their voice, as many times as they want. The more informal the meetings are, the more the participants will be encouraged to take an active role, and the easier will be to resolve eventual conflicts.
  2. Ensure the transparency and fairness of all phases, activities and decisions: participants lacking resources or power (i.e. common citizens, associations, local committees) may be suspicious of inclusive processes where “strong” actors are involved. They may feel their role as merely symbolic, while important decisions are taken elsewhere without their voice. In order to reassure them of their importance to the ULL, all information relevant to the process and all knowledge needed to analyze the topic and to produce solutions should be shared to all participants. Everyone should be encouraged to honestly express statements and opinions: even if this could lead to conflicts, it’s the only way to produce an open debate and to build trust. Procedures and decisions should be transparent in all phases of the process, and no participant should be allowed to negotiate his interests in a “separate room”. If privileges are accorded to some participants, others may feel cheated and demotivated, endangering the whole process.


3.4 Evaluating the process and its outcomes

Given the learning by doing nature of ULL, it is vital to evaluate the effects of such experiments in urban transition processes (Sharp and Salter, 2017). To this end, a threefold typology of “direct, indirect and diffuse impacts” to understand the success of urban living lab projects has been proposed (Schliwa et al., 2015): but while direct impacts can be easily measured from an economic (i.e. costs of the product, job creation, reduction of bills, lifecycle costs), ecological (i.e. resource efficiency, energy efficiency, reductions of pollution) or social perspective (i.e. acceptance of technologies, quality of life, number of participants involved in the project), and indirect impacts could be estimated analyzing follow-up activities of diffusion, knowledge transfer (to the academic sphere, but also, and more importantly, to the society and the market), or policy reform, diffuse impacts are more difficult to detect, since they often refer to changes in normative or cultural values which may influence the perception of problems and the design of future urban infrastructures, and such changes require some time to stabilize and may be hard to link to their generative causes.

Another important aspect of an ULL to be evaluated, other than its impacts, is the quality of the process. Was the decision-making process efficient? Were the resulting decisions wise, fair, practicable? Did the process improve the relationships between the stakeholders? Did it generate trust among them? Did community empowerment (Iscoe and Harris, 1984; Laverack, 2001) grow? Did the organizers learn some original tools to innovate the urban context? Although it may not be easy to answer those questions, all information about the quality of the process, in particular the one collected directly from the participants, will be useful to modify the procedures and the objectives of the Lab, adapting it to the real-world scenario and actors (in itinere evaluation), as well as a learning tool to better organize future activities (ex post evaluation).
















Bilgram V., Brem A., Voigt K.L. (2008), “User-centric innovation in new product development”, International journal of innovative management, 23(1), pp. 419-458.

Bobbio L. (eds.) (2004), A più voci. Amministrazioni pubbliche, imprese, associazioni e cittadini nei processi decisionali inclusivi, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, Napoli-Roma.

Brenner N. (2004), New state spaces. Urban governance and the rescaling of statehood, Oxford University Press, New York.

Brask M. (2015), The role of urban Living Labs in fostering sustainable cities – Insights from Sweden, paper  (master thesis), Lund University,

Bulkeley H., Castán Broto V. (2013), “Government by experiment? Global cities and the governing of climate change”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38, pp. 361-375.

Castán Broto V. (2018), “Urban living labs, “smart” innovation and the realities of everyday access to energy”, in S. Marvin, H. Bulkeley , L. Mai, K. McCormick, Y. Voytenko (eds.), Urban Living Labs. Experimenting with city futures, Routledge, London-New York.

Chesbrough H.W. (2003), Open innovation: the new imperative for creating and profiting from technology, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

Chesbrough H.W. (2006), Open business models: How to thrive in the new innovation landscape, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

Cooperrider D. L., Sorenson P.; Whitney D., Yeager T. (eds.) (2001), Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development, Stipes, Champaign.

Cooperrider D. L., Srivastva S. (1987), “Appreciative inquiry in organizational life”, in R. W. Woodman,  W.A. Pasmore (eds.). Research in Organizational Change And Development. Vol. 1, JAI Press, Stamford.

Crosby N. (1995), “Citizens Juries: one solution for difficult environmental questions”, in O. Renn, T. Webler, P. Wiedemann (eds) Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation. Technology, Risk, and Society (An International Series in Risk Analysis), vol 10. Springer, Dordrecht.

Crouch C., Le Galès P., Trigilia C., Voeltzkov H. (2001), Local production systems, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Davies M. (2016), Intermediaries and learning in sustainability-oriented urban transitions: a transdisciplinary case study from Stellenbosch Municipality, paper (Phd thesis), Stellenbosch University,

Davies M., Swilling, M. (2015). Intermediaries and learning in sustainability-oriented urban transitions: a transdisciplinary case study from Stellenbosch Municipality, paper, presented at the International Sustainability Transitions 2015 Conference, University of Sussex, Brighton.

Davies M., Swilling M. (2018), “Intermediation and learning in Stellenbosch’s urban living lab”, in S.Marvin, H. Bulkeley , L. Mai, K. McCormick, Y. Voytenko (eds.), Urban Living Labs. Experimenting with city futures, Routledge, London-New York.

Dienel P. C. (1991), Die Planungszelle Second Edition, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen.

Dienel P. C. (1999), “Planning cells: the German experience”, in U. Khan (eds.) Participation beyond the ballot box. European case studies in state-citizen political dialogue, UCL Press, London.

Duarte Masi S. (2016), “Social labs: identifying Latin American living labs”, Humanities and Social Sciences Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 76-82. doi: 10.11648/j.hss.20160403.12

Dutilleul B., Birrer F., Mensink W. (2010), “Unpacking European Living Labs: analyzing Innovation’s Social Dimensions”, in: K. Müller, S. Roth, M. Zak (eds.), Social dimension of innovation, Linde, Prague.

Echanove M., Srivastava R., URBZ (2014), The Slum Outside: Elusive Dharavi, Strelka Press, Moscow.

European Commission (2009), Living Labs for user-driven open innovation: an overview of the Living Labs methodology, activities and achievements, European Commission, Information Society and Media, Brussels,

Evans J., Karvonen, A. (2011), “Living laboratories for sustainability: exploring the politics and epistemology of urban adaptation”, In H. Bulkeley, V. Castán Broto, M. Hodson, and S. Marvin (eds.), Cities and low carbon transitions, Routledge, London.

Evans J., Karvonen A. (2013), “Governance of urban sustainability transitions: advancing the role of living laboratories”, International journal of urban and regional research, doi:10.1111/1468-2427.12077

Evans J., Karvonen A., Raven R. (2016), The experimental city, Routledge, London.

Fisher R., Ury W., Patton B. (2011), Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, 3rd edition, Penguin Books, New York.

Fishkin J.S. (1991),  Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Følstad A. (2008), “Living Labs for innovation and development of information and communication technology: a literature review”, The electronic journal for virtual organizations and networks, 10, pp. 99-131.

Forester J. (1999), The deliberative practitioner: encouraging participatory planning processes, MIT Press, Cambridge.

Franz Y. (2014), “Chances and challenges for social Urban Living Labs in urban research”, ENoLL – OpenLivingLab Days 2014 – Conference proceedings, Amsterdam, 2 -5 September 2014, pp. 105-114.

Iscoe I., Harris L. C. (1984), “Social and community interventions, Annual Review of Psychology, 35, 333-60.

JPI Urban Europe (2013), Urban Europe. Creating attractive, sustainable and economically viable urban areas, 2nd Joint Call for Proposals,

Laverack J. (2001), “An identification and interpretation of organizational aspects of community empowerment”, Community Development Journal, 36(2), 134-45.

Link F., Greene M., Mora R., Figueroa C. (2017), “Patrones de sociabilidad en barrios vulnerables: Dos casos en Santiago, Chile”, Bitácora Urbano Territorial, 27. 9-18.

Mai L. (2018), “Placing sustainability in communities. Emerging urban living labs in China”, in S. Marvin, H. Bulkeley , L. Mai, K. McCormick, Y. Voytenko (eds.), Urban Living Labs. Experimenting with city futures, Routledge, London-New York.

Marvin S., Bulkeley H., Mai L., McCormick K., Voytenko Y. (eds.) (2018), Urban Living Labs. Experimenting with city futures, Routledge, London-New York.

Mora R., Greene M., Reyes A. (2018) “Uso y percepción del espacio público en dos barrios vulnerables: un análisis comparativo de dos barrios”, AUS [Arquitectura / Urbanismo / Sustentabilidad], (24), 53-60. doi:10.4206/aus.2018.n24-08

Nevens F., Frantzeskaki N., Gorissen L., Loorbach D. (2013), “Urban transition labs: co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities”, Journal of cleaner production, 50, pp. 111–122.

Percy S. (2003), “New agendas”, in C.Couch, C. Fraser, S. Percy (eds.), Urban regeneration in Europe, John Wiley and sons, Hoboken.

Sharp D., Salter R. (2017), “Direct impacts of an urban living lab from the participants’ perspective: Livewell Yarra”, Sustainability, 9, doi:10.3390/su9101699

Schliwa S., Evans J., McCormick K., Voytenko Y. (2015), Living Labs and sustainability transitions – Assessing the impact of urban experimentation, paper presented at the conference “Innovations in climate governance”, Helsinki, 12-13th March 2015.

Schumacher J. (2012), Alcotra Innovation Project: Living Labs definition, harmonization cube indicators & good practices, Alcotra Innovation, Genève,—alcotra

Smith A., Raven R. (2012), “What is a protective space? Reconsidering niches in transitions to sustainability”, Research policy, 41, pp. 1025-1036

Stewart I., Kendall E., Coote A. (1994), Citizen’s Juries, IPPR, London.

Susskind L. Cruikshank J. (1987), Breaking the impasse. Consensual approaches to resolving public disputes, Basic Books, New York.

Susskind L., McKearnan S., Thomas-Larmer J. (eds), (1999), The consensus building handbook. A comprehensive guide to reaching agreement, Sage, Thousand Oakes-London.

von Hippel E. (2005), Democratizing innovation, MIT Press, Cambridge-London.

von Wirth T., Fuenfschilling L., Frantzeskaki N., Coenen L. (2019), “Impacts of urban living labs on sustainability transitions: mechanisms and strategies for systemic change through experimentation”, European Planning Studies, 27:2, 229-257, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2018.1504895

Voytenko Y., McCormick K., Evans J. (2018), “Catalysing low carbon and sustainable cities in Europe?” in S.Marvin, H. Bulkeley , L. Mai, K. McCormick, Y. Voytenko (eds.), Urban Living Labs. Experimenting with city futures, Routledge, London-New York.

Voytenko Y. McCormick K., Evans J. Schliwa G. (2016), “Urban living labs for sustainability and low carbon cities in Europe: Towards a research agenda”. Journal of cleaner production, 123, pp. 45–54.

Wates N. (2000), Community planning handbook, Earthscan, London.





[5] With a definition echoing the one from ENoLL cited in par.1, the funding body Joint Programme Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe defines an ULL as “a forum for innovation, applied to the development of new products, systems, services, and processes, employing working methods to integrate people into the entire development process as users and co-creators, to explore, examine, experiment, test and evaluate new ideas, scenarios, processes, systems, concepts and creative solutions in complex and real contexts.” (JPI Urban Europe 2013).

[6] An extended collection of (not only Urban) Living Labs, listed by topic and by country, is available on the ENoLL website ( The ENoLL database comprises mostly European LL, although some cases of programs in other continents are present.

[7] Source: Kempner, R. (2017, Dec. 7), “Dharavi, India: The Most Entrepreneurial Slum In The World?”


Knowledge co-creation in implementing landscape approach in Kalomo, Zambia: A new landscape architecture?

PhD Student: Malaika Pauline Yanou

Tutor: Olivier Mbabia, University of Montreal

University of Amsterdam


Problem definition

Although integrated landscape approaches have recently gained attention in the scientific community as a framework for multi-stakeholder engagement, their conceptualization, terminology, and application are entirely under discussion. While there is an agreement that landscape approaches have potential for balancing competing demands and integrating policies for multiple land uses and multiples actors, the question of how to integrate different types of knowledge remains under-researched and completely disconnected from political discourses. Alternative forms of knowledge and enhancing knowledge co-production mechanisms and practices are some of the new challenges facing global environmental changes and sustainable development processes.

Research Question

How can knowledge co-creation in the implementation of landscape approaches be designed in a way that values traditional ecological knowledge and empowers marginalized actors in complex multi-functional landscapes?

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework comprehends four strands of scholarly literature: 1) debate on ILA conceptualization, terminology, and application; 2) local knowledge and conservation practices, 3) challenges and potentials of knowledge co-production processes; 4) politics of knowledge, exploring knowledge and sustainable development relationship to show the (in)adequacy of the discourse on knowledge.


The study will adopt a mixed methods design, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Secondary data collection includes comprehensive policy documents review, government documents, and archives. Primary data collection will be gathered through participatory observation (attending meetings), and interviews with platform participants.

Data analysis includes Q-methodology for discourses analysis, and social network analysis to identify actors networking.

Expected Results

By analysing co-production knowledge process in ILA implementation, the study expects to: a) contribute to strategies for knowledge co-production design and implementation; b) obtain the active participation of the different stakeholders in negotiating trade-offs and synergies; c) analyze the effects of knowledge production in empowering marginalized groups and of knowledge-power relationship.

Under urban resilience and adaptation models: New or strengthened hegemonies hidden by sustainable discourses rules?

PhD student: Juliette Marin R.

Tutor. Prof. Enrique Aliste A.


Universidad de Chile, Santiago de Chile




Resilience, adaptation and transformation are strategies for global challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, disaster reduction, in fine global and local sustainability. These strategies are predominantly urban based. Developed under urban assumptions, rationalities and standards, their usefulness in representing territorial or space processes and problems should be questioned. Is the hegemony of the urban conception leading to formulate correct questions, and thus pertinent strategies for the current global and local challenges in the global south? Studies of telecoupled processes point out the limit of traditional territorial scales of analysis, by linking the dependencies of places. Similarly, resilience and sustainability of cities require to rethink urban boundaries and scales.


Second, rural places and people are conceived and imagined from urban perspectives. ‘Nature’ is for the urbanite both immensely attractive -thus its need for preservation- and terribly threatening. Urban dwellers are fascinated by this ‘natural world’, perceived as exotic, mysterious, untouched. This idealized version of a ‘natural landscape’ generates gaps between ideas and proposals in the name of sustainability and rural visions and practices, such as cycling cities, green infrastructure, walking cities, etc.


In addition  to this hegemony of cities over territories, one must also consider the dominance of cities of the Global North in thinking, designing, justifying and promoting certain sustainability strategies, and the neo-colonial divisions in the production of knowledge structure and in the articulation of ideas and theories. Under the resilience and sustainability discourses and models -normative and uncritical-, what kind of hegemonies are being built or reinforced? Coincidentally, world-leading sustainable cities are from the Global North, serving as inspirations, goals and examples of good practices. What are the premises under which resilience and sustainability models are built, how are they promoted and by whom, and how do they circulate and gain legitimacy? For e.g., 100 Resilient Cities, City Climate Leadership Awards, etc.

Land and property development in Hong Kong

Prof. Wing Shing Tang

Hong Kong Baptist University



In the literature on southern theories, it is common to have ignored land development as an essential element of understanding. This project attempts to contribute to the project by understanding landed and property development in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong studies can make a modest contribution to the advancement of nuanced southern theories. This can be attributable to its distinguishable development history. The history of Hong Kong has rendered many southern theories irrelevant, as the tradition and, its polar opposite, the modern have be mutually embedded since it was colonised by the British in 1841.  Land in the New Territories has been mutually embedded with its counterparts elsewhere in the colony  since 1891, when this large tract of land was lent to the British by the Chinese. As a result, the traditional Chinese customary land occupancy system has persisted, and again thanks to the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, until today. Simultaneously, Hong Kong as an independent city has ended with the return of sovereignty to China in 1997, becoming part of the Chinese spatial administrative hierarchy with the birth of the ‘one country, two system’. These complexities have rendered any account of Hong Kong by southern theories irrelevant.


As a preliminary attempt to construct a more nuanced southern theory, this case study focuses on the land development of a district that exhibits the mutual embeddedness of the modern and the tradition. Ngau Chi Wan, a rural village of more than 200 years old, is located next to Choi Hung, the first public housing estate built in the early 1960s, in Kowloon Peninsular. It is such complexity of mutual embeddedness between town and country that calls for a careful scrutiny. To begin with, an archival search of the development of this village over time is to be achieved. It starts with comprehending the land development system and the way the village has developed. A survey will be carried out to document the population composition, and their land and house ownership patterns. The technique of walking around the village is employed to enumerate an inventory of concrete spatial elements such as building, ancestor halls, other ceremonial and festival structures, and infrastructures. This will be supported by, if possible, a few aero-photos to map the historical geography of the village. Villagers will be interviewed to cover their everyday spatial practices and their imagination about the village. In totality, the information collected would allow us to identify the town-country relation within the land development system and its changes over time. Some generalised statements can be made by situating the case study materials in the general discussion of Hong Kong as a whole.


All the information collected will be collated in a such a way to make a modest contribution to debating southern theories.

Fiscal Gaps in Indian Cities: The cases of Bengaluru and Mumbai

PhD Student: Sukanya Bhaumik

Tutor: Prof. Kala S. Sridhar

Bangaluru (India) Centre for Research in Urban Affairs
Institute for Social and Economic Change



Indian municipal bodies are amongst the weakest in the world in terms of access to resources, revenue-raising ability and financial autonomy. The ratio of municipal revenues to gross domestic product (GDP) at factor cost in India was estimated at 1.03 per cent for 2014-15, compared to South Africa (6.0 per cent) and Brazil (7.4 per cent). Not only is the country’s municipal sector small compared to international benchmarks, but municipal bodies in India have been subject to significant erosion in their fiscal autonomy over time.  In 2014-15 the municipal tax-GDP ratio stood at 0.33 per cent as against the combined ratio (central plus state) tax-GDP ratio of 17 per cent.

The precarious state of municipal finance in India is a matter of concern, because as cities drive growth and productive employment, they also generate public finances for socio-economic development In 2015, urban areas with 31 per cent of the population contributed to 62 to 63 per cent of India’s GDP. This contribution will rise to about 75 per cent by 2021. However, cities will not be able to perform their fundamental role as engines of economic growth and structural transformation unless their municipal finances are strengthened.

Indian municipal bodies are in many ways stuck in a state of low output due to high expenditure needs and low revenue capacities. The high expenditure needs in cities is due to increased functional responsibilities, huge demand and high cost of service provisioning. Low tax base, poor collection efficiency, low fiscal autonomy etc. are the reasons for the low revenue-raising capacities. The gap between the two (expenditure needs and revenue capacity) is defined as fiscal gap, which is the key reason for the poor quality of services across municipal bodies in India.

There are several endogenous and exogenous factors that are the causes of the fiscal gaps in Indian cities, this paper will examine each of these factors. The expenditure need of cities depends on the services that are provided by the local government and the costs associated to provide these services. This research attempts to assess the expenditure needs of the two Indian cities of Bangalore and Mumbai as both these cities have distinct functional responsibilities and economic specializations. The expenditure needs will be assessed using two approaches: Unit Cost Method and Regression model approach.

Revenue capacities of municipal bodies are defined by what the body is capable of raising as opposed to what it is actually raising. It is determined by ‘income from own source revenue (OSR)’, most importantly it includes the potential income from all untapped sources. This paper assesses the revenue capacity of the municipal bodies of Bangalore and Mumbai, theBBMP (Bruhut Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) and MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) from property taxes (ward-wise), advertisement tax and other charges (for multiple services). The thesis will assess the current income, collection efficiency for each of these sources and make simulations of BBMP and MCGM’s income potential.

Finally, the thesis will document best practices and make policy recommendations for BBMP and MCGM to narrow the existing fiscal gaps.

Post-welfare state vulnerable communities and self-produced services in public housing units: the case of Lotto Zero in Ponticelli (Naples)

PhD student: Marilena Prisco

Tutor: Prof. Laura Lieto


Università degli studi di Napoli “Federico II”


The research project focuses on self-produced services as a frame to investigate how publicness is created in one of the 1980s’ post-earthquake public housing complexes of the periphery of Naples (Italy). It is part of the international research network Public Space in European Social Housing (PUSH – “Hera” Joint Research Program financed by the EU) that aims at analysing the concept of public space in a socio-material perspective in selected cases located in Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy. Differences between north European and south European countries are central in the PUSH project and the Italian case of Ponticelli (Naples) represents an emblematic case of both “South Europe” and “South Italy”.


The Lotto Zero is characterised by a high rate of unemployment and crime, of multi problematic families and of school dropout. Building on academic international studies on multiscale processes in phenomena of social marginalisation, this study aims to investigate inequalities of service provisioning in a marginalised residential context. It focuses particularly on the evolution of identity among young people (gender identity and social identity) and the emerging of new forms of vulnerabilities. It has to be considered that the European Union recently reaffirmed its interest in both a better understanding of the evolution of vulnerabilities (linked to new types of families, the increase of child poverty and the increase of social exclusion) and in the provision of services to prevent social vulnerability (preventive welfare instead of reparatory welfare).


This study starts from two hypotheses. First that vulnerability and identity are interlinked and, as a consequence, that identity formation and evolution could prove useful in defining emerging forms of vulnerability. Second that the retreat of the public welfare state resulted in service provision involving citizens that participate in informal practices creating what we could call “self-provided services”. According to the collected data, those services neither entirely exclude traditional public actors (institutions and NGOs) nor are they completely illegal. They develop in a “grey zone” where institutional actions and informal activities interplay and create specific forms of publicness.


The public archival data will be integrated next year with fieldwork through participant observation and interviews. Furthermore the project encompasses activities with local institutional actors, NGOs and target groups with the aim to develop descriptions of self-provisioning in services using experimental digital tools. Cooperative digital representation and storytelling will be tested as tools for analysing different types of services, for increasing awareness about coping with processes of marginalisation and for supporting empowerment of vulnerable groups.

“Touristification” of Heritage areas in Latin America The historic centre of Cuenca as a case study

PhD Student: Natasha Cabrera Jara

Tutor: Prof. Margarita Greene


Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile



The insertion of tourism in urban heritage areas in recent decades has led to the implementation of public policies designed to make these spaces more attractive to tourists. Examples are regeneration projects of public spaces, rehabilitation/restoration of buildings, public space management strategies, and urban marketing campaigns to promote tourist attractions. This process, known as “touristification” of urban heritage (Navarrete, 2017, p. 64), has generated material and immaterial urban reconfigurations, which have affected not only popular practices and uses, but also the residents and users.

We hypothesize that the material and immaterial reconfiguration derived from “touristification” has negative effects, such as gentrification, dispossession and displacement (Janoschka, 2016), which have been underestimated (despite their magnitude), while its positive effects have been overestimated and widely spread. The minimization of the negative effects has helped to validate the tourism-related process implemented, making it difficult to monitor its development considering aspects that are not evident at first sight, especially when these have negative connotations. To address this hypothesis, we study the “touristification” process of the historic centre of Cuenca, Ecuador, since it was appointed Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1999.

Cuenca appears as an emblematic case due to its success as a tourist destination in the last decade. For example, it was ranked as one of the best two cities for foreign retirees, it made the list of 50 best historical cities in the world of National Geographic magazine (Zibell, 2012), and obtained the Oscar for Tourism, as best destination in South America for short stays, between 2017 and 2019 (World Travel Awards, 2019). This was partly due to an effective advertising campaign, under the logic of competitiveness and marketing, but mainly due to the implementation of a series of urban regeneration projects in the heritage area and its environment, with the clear objective of making it more attractive to tourists. However, these have sometimes influenced its morphology, and promoted displacement and dispossession processes.

The methodology of our research study considers four stages:

1) Analysis of policies, plans and programs promoted by governmental agencies for the protection of Cuenca’s urban heritage and for the implementation of tourism there;

2) Analysis of projects considering: (a) characterization, (b) material reconfiguration, (c) immaterial reconfiguration, and (d) identification of their effects;

3) Analysis of the positive and negative effects of the material and immaterial reconfigurations;

4) Discussion and validation of results.

Humanitarian space: a dynamic “capture” network of global migratory flows and a constituent part of the contemporary city

PhD student: Student Sofia Moriconi

Tutor: Prof. Laura Lieto

Università defli studi di Napoli “Federico II”


My research focuses on humanitarian space, understood both as a dynamic “capture” network of global migratory flows and as a constituent part of the contemporary city, far from bounded notions like that of “Other Spaces”, confined into traditional humanitarian emergency spaces, but constantly interacting with several kinds of places and practices.

The idea of ​​humanitarian space is confronted with the seminal work of Giorgio Agamben. In Homo Sacer, he addressed “the Camp” (instead of the City) as the biopolitical paradigm of the West.

This type of space (born in the colonial period at the end of the nineteenth century) is described as an empty “bubble” in the globalized, smooth and continuous space of the contemporary world. Interpreted by some as a sort of Anti-City, like an Enclave, “the Camp” hosts entire populations for periods of time that, in many cases, last lives. Especially in the past, it had the ability to annihilate man’s political potential, his being a “citizen”, sometimes caused also by the presence and work of NGOs.

My research starts from the assumption that the humanitarian space is now beyond the definition of “camp-space”: this kind of space is now scattered and deeply entangled with other forms of spatiality.

My investigation aims to study the combination of bodies, objects and spaces collaborating and circulating through the humanitarian network, with a specific focus on migrant people.

The goal of my work is to understand the material conditions, the national and supra-national forms of regulation, the legal and political agreements, the actors and stakeholders that, in complex and different ways, actually “produce” the network of humanitarian space as a City-Camp.

The final objective of my research is to outline a series of guidelines and alternative strategies for planning and managing the humanitarian space network, particularly including the urban area of ​​Naples, and then replicable to a wider territorial dimension.

Urban Heritage in Georgetown, Penang and Yangon: A Comparative Study

PhD student: Hafsa Idrees

Tutor: Prof. H. Ruediger Korff

University of Passau


A basic dilemma of city planning is that planners can make plans but that the development of the city depends on the practices of the citizen. Here we find a basic discrepancy between usually technocratic planning ideas and communicative practices of those living in the city. (Korff 2018)

City planning is strongly influenced by national decisions as well as world models (Meyer, Rowan), maintained by international organisations. In the sixties and seventies, the dominant model used to be modernization and thus, the creation of modern cities. The old city centres were either already in decline or fell into decline through sub-urbanization. In addition, their structures resembled the past and tradition, exactly what had to be transformed! Heritage was identified with religious etc. buildings.

Perhaps as a consequence of post-colonial discourses and globalization, identity policies became relevant as well as the idea to maintain cultural identity and heritage. This led, however, to a dilemma: What is the cultural heritage of a colonial city? On the one hand, the old buildings of the colonial administration as well as the colonial banks, offices, department stores and hotels refer to a past in which the local culture was subjugated to colonialism. On the other hand, most of the cities were centres of in-migration and minorities, and thereby featured styles not in line with the disseminated nationalism.

While planning the modern city, new centres were established. For the planners, the old parts of the city posed several problems like insufficient infrastructure with their often narrow streets, overcrowded houses etc. In short, the architecture fell short of modern demands and functions. These old centres turned into marginal areas in terms of space as well as economic activities and cultures.

Since the last decade, a new world model has emerged in part as a result of the world heritage projects of UNESCO. Instead of tearing down the old city, heritage should be maintained, so that the history of the city becomes visible. Several old parts have now become world heritage sites like the old quarters of Georgetown.

For the study we selected two cities: Georgetown on Penang island in Malaysia, and Yangon in Myanmar. Both have been under British colonial rule and urban planning. One important feature used to be that the cities were mainly inhabited by migrant communities with their own administration that led to the rise of the so-called “plural society”. In both cities we have a large south Asian community.

In the old quarters of Georgetown the vernacular architecture is characterized by Chinese and Indian styles. Yangon was the centre of British colonial rule in Burma. The policy to not develop Yangon during the military rule (1962 to 2011) led to a form of “conservation”.

Governing Latin American Cities housing informality and environmental sustainability

PhD student: Francesca Ferlicca

Tutor: Prof. Alejandro Sehtman


National University of General San Martín – Argentina



Only five of the world’s fifty largest metropolitan cities are located in Latin America: Ciudad de México, Säo Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Lima. The subcontinent’s metropolization process has been overcome by Africa’s and Asia’s. But even when Latin American metropolitan cities aren’t the most populated or the fastest growing, they remain a key space in the region’s social, political and economic trends: the most important effects of inequality, democracy and neoliberalism are to be found in the big cities where most of Latin America’s population lives.


Latin American governments have coped with the challenges posed by this combination of inequality, democracy and neoliberalism in ways that have been deeply studied by literature at the national level. But the ways in which this mix has been dealt with at the urban level has received much less attention. The objective of our research is to highlight the politics and policies of urban governance in Latin America’s biggest cities. This general objective will be carried out through the analysis of two relevant urban governance issues: informal housing and sustainability management.

Informal housing has been an extensive mode of urban growth in Latin America for decades. It represents an antithetical alternative to traditional planning as it implies a production of urbanization independent of formal frameworks and assistance that do not comply with official rules and regulations and emerge as a different path of city construction. The social and environmental effects of this new kind of urban growth are challenging both for governments and specialists. While different approaches tried to describe, theorize and formulate the causes of the emergence of this type of urbanization, literature has not paid enough attention to the political dimension of informality, especially on how local governments deal with informality, and how it affects urban policy making, urban management and political choices and how local urban planning systems contribute to the emergence of informal settlements.


On the other hand, sustainability management has only recently entered the urban governance agenda. It represents a new approach that crosses the classic policy division between economic development, social issues and urban planning. Latin American cities are still trying to find their own paths to sustainability between multilateral formulas (like the Millenium Development Goals), contradictions with national commodity export and industrial development models, and the interplay of both institutional and non-institutional local actors. Urban level compromises seem to be the most successful and are sometimes the only way of introducing sustainability in the policy agenda of this region.

Poverty and equality : use of ai tools

PhD student: Mr. Yogesh Deshmukh

Tutor: Prof. Ashok Saraf


University of Pune, India


Traditionally, the South and especially the Poor have been pushed into subsistence level existence and denied equality in due share for access to global social and natural resources. In the post digital era, we can see potential for changing this practice through the digital empowerment of the poor with assured equality in access to network, information, knowledge, data, software tools and, most important, with the supportive power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in tackling problems beyond their capacity.

Magarpatta city, which was developed as a completely autonomous cybercity within the limits of Pune city in India  by farmers’ families empowered by education in civil engineering and management, is a living example of what such empowerment can do. ( (Created by Management expert Mr. Satish Magar and Engineering expert Mr. Umesh Magar of the Magar family clan, the land owners of farmland near Pune.)

With the total management of such an urban conglomerate through Digital means, farmers can do away with the typical middlemen, such as investors, managers or government representatives, and build their own cities to initiate migration reversal from the North to the South. As owners of such cities, the traditional poor South actually plays host to the future of the North.

The next step in further empowerment is to put high end maintenance capabilities in the hands of the new urban creators of distributed cities in order to combine civil engineering with AI to allow the use of ecofriendly materials for structures, predictive analyses of buildings, bridges, and other structures.

The proposed research project explores the application of AI through civil engineering and aims at preparing the future practice of construction and maintenance empowered by the Internet of Things and AI tools. Computers and AI could thus be key enablers for issues related to Poverty and Equality especially in the North and South context.

Attractive Cities and the Provision of Housing: the Case of Barcelona and Hong-Kong

PhD Student: Riccardo Demurtas

Tutor: Prof. Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway



Universidad de Barcelona



Local governments struggle to transform cities into attractive hubs for capital, talent and international events. Urban competitiveness has been on the agenda for decades, but the means used to achieve it have changed: from a resource-based location or infrastructure availability, cities now explore other mechanisms to become more attractive to intangible assets such as human capital or financial investment. Different recommendations have been suggested from the academia, paying attention to different aspects that should be taken into account. Among others, path dependency or the meaning of place are considered essential to develop well-grounded cities, even more than tolerance or technology.


Besides success, a key aspect to take into account in any endeavour focusing on urban attractiveness is conflict. In particular, the growing tension in the use of the city’s space and the needs of those attracted by the city’s success versus the needs of those who try to cope with their daily life in an attractive city.


Housing understood as a radical human right becomes a critical aspect in many cities but especially in those under the pressure of different demands. The understanding of housing as a commodity but also as a basic need has historically created multiple elements of tension in ‘popular’ housing markets.


The declining welfare-oriented role of the state in the provision of social housing in attractive cities has contributed to the creation of degraded living conditions and of housing emergencies such as homelessness. In turn, this generates a spiral of mutual reinforcement between housing and income inequalities within urban areas.


Our research uses the cities of Barcelona and Hong Kong as case studies. Both cities are living in a politically tense environment and have recently been stage of street protests, with citizens expressing their discontent with the local housing market. This paper aims to explore three different dimensions of housing in the two cities and the answer provided by local governments to counteract the market equilibrium. The three dimensions are chosen on the basis of three different conflicts that emerge in these cities: first, the access to housing for vulnerable households in need of public housing provision; second, the effect of the generalisation of temporary subletting agreements (i.e. AirBnB) in core areas of the city; and finally, the gentrifying process initiated after urban regeneration programmes.


Methodologically, we will consider a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques. On the one hand, we will explore by means of available statistics, memorandums and policy documents, the housing market situation (stagnating or overheated market, vacancies, unsatisfied demand, etc) in both cities together with the design of policies to cope with housing problems. On the other, we will interview key actors in the field in the two cities.

Renewable Energy and Gendered Livelihoods in Low-income Communities in Accra, Ghana

PhD student: Tracy Sidney Commodore

Tutor: Prof. George Owusu

University of Ghana


The urban environment is likely to affect livelihoods at every point in time. Hence, adequate access to resources is central for achieving sustainable development in cities. Energy resource, a topical issue globally, is crucial in developing sustainable livelihoods as well as improving the environment. It plays a critical role in poverty reduction due to the patterns involved in energy generation, distribution and utilization. This directly affects opportunities for income generation for both men and women, environmental protection as well as national development. In addition, cities and economies in Africa in general are exposed to high levels of resource depletion and climate change effects. Therefore, it is imperative for African cities to focus on appropriate infrastructure choices which are “better informed on the material reality of slums and how they contribute to the metabolism of the city” (Smit et al., 2017). Since energy is an essential engine for growth in cities, it is worth collecting empirical evidence on emerging issues related to renewable energy and livelihood strategies of men and women in low income communities in Accra, a rapidly growing city with an increasing incidence of informal settlements. The main objective of this study is to assess the gender dimensions on the use of renewable energy resources among residents in low-income communities. The sub-objectives are as follows:

  1. To examine the institutional and policy framework on renewable energy in Ghanaian cities.
  2. To explore the gendered perceptions on usage of renewable energy resources among residents in low-income communities.
  3. To examine livelihoods of men and women which are dependent on renewable energy resources.
  4. To evaluate the gender dynamics in accessing renewable energy resources and their coping strategies.


This study will be premised on the livelihood, vulnerability, resilience and adaptive capacity concepts. A mixed-methods research strategy will be used to address the research questions.

The emergence of hybrid electrical configurations in a complex Lebanese energy landscape

PhD student: Alix Chaplain

Tutor. Prof. Marco Cremaschi

Sciences Po – Paris


Since the Civil war, people in Lebanon are suffering from disruption and interruption of the electricity supply with chronic massive power cuts (between 3 and 12 hours a day). The restructuring of the electricity sector, centralized with the near monopoly of Électricité du Liban, has been unsuccessful for more than 20 years. Given the state’s failure to provide electricity, a wide range of technologies are blooming throughout the Lebanese territory and are challenging the way electric systems are regulated and managed.


Since the 90s diesel-based electric generators provide a backup to the shortages of the public grid. Firstly, generators were individual backup systems, but in the face of persisting shortages of supply, they gradually became mini grids at the neighbourhood or the municipal scale. Anchored in the practices for more than 30 years, generator systems are totally integrated in the daily life of Lebanese citizens (Abi Ghanem 2017), and informal electricity providers are filling a gap. Despite their illegality, they are considered as a “perpetuated extra-legal system” (Gabillet, 2010), regulated by local institutions but recently also by a national one. On the other hand, driven by the need to secure electricity supply and cut down costs, households, large companies or even municipalities are developing local renewable production systems. It’s a way to emancipate themselves from the State but also from the diesel minigrid. Initially, the various fossil or renewable supply devices coexisted side-by-side, but an articulation between them led to the creation of a singular socio-technical object: the hybrid PV-diesel system. Hybrid configurations are technologically more complex and are developed at a wider scale for collective uses.


In this context of diversification and complexification, the main grid is no longer the dominant paradigm, but it is articulated to varying degrees with other configurations whether formal or informal, renewable or fossil, centralized or decentralized. To seize this long-lasting process of technical and political complexification of the energy landscape, we use the concept of electric hybrid and electric hybridisation. The goal is not to stress heterogeneity of infrastructural configurations, but to capture the changing dynamics that are occurring. Through the lens of public policies, we analyze the role of public institutions and energy governance in the solidification of these artefacts. Also, from a geographical perspective, the goal is to understand to what extent electrification configurations are shaped by and shaping the social and urban contexts (socio-economic conditions, urban spaces and local resources, social practices and political powers).