Methodological papers 2019

Studying urban policies in global South cities

Dr. Paola Pasquali, EHESS – UMR Géographie-cités, CNRS Pasquali.pao @gmail.com Paola.pasquali @parisgeo.cnsr.fr

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.

 

 

PART I. GLOBAL SOUTH CITIES AND URBAN STUDIES

  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).

 

 

1 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/latin-america-cities-urbanization-infrastructure-failing-robert-muggah/

2 Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2015 Accessed 10 October 2019

3   https://ec.europa.eu/knowledge4policy/foresight/topic/continuing-urbanisation/growth-asia-africa-urban-population_en    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. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/5991 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.

 

 

PART II. POLICY ANALYSIS AND THE PLACE OF GLOBAL SOUTH CITIES IN IT

  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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsesm4kDivs 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

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

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)

Source: https://www.crouchrarebooks.com

 

 

 

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

Source: https://blogs.cdc.gov

 

 

 

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

Source: https://booth.lse.ac.uk/

 

 

 

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

Source: https://opendatabarometer.org

 

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 Africapolis.org 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)

Source: https://africageoportal.maps.arcgis.com/home/gallery.html

 

 

 

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

Source: https://africapolis.org/

 

 

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 SoilGrids.org project, powered by ISRIC, seems exemplary with respect to the specific issue discussed in this section[18] [fig. 7].

 

 

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

Source: https://soilgrids.org/

 

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.

Source: https://earth.google.com/web/

 

 

 

  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

Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322368535

 

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

Source: https://www.acleddata.com/dashboard/#

 

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

Source: https://www.globalforestwatch.org

 

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 https://disaster.openrouteservice.org

 

 

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 (voiceofkibera.org), an online community information and news platform, and the Kibera News Network (kiberanewsnetwork.org), 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 (https://opencitiesproject.org) 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 (https://opencitiesproject.org)

 

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 (https://www.worldpop.org/region/nepal)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

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

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[1] This paper is the outcome of a joint effort by the four authors. However, F. Curci (francesco.curci@polimi.it) took primary responsibility for the introduction and wrote sections 1, 2 and 3; S. Saloriani (stefano.saloriani@polimi.it) wrote section 4; F. Manfredini (fabio.manfredini@polimi.it) and A. Frigerio (alessandro.frigerio@polimi.it) took primary responsibility for section 5; A. Frigerio wrote section 6; F. Manfredini wrote section 7.

[2] https://www.sci.manchester.ac.uk/research/projects/urban-data-inequality-global-south/

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

[4] http://www.southsoftheworld.com/the-methodological-framework/

[5] http://opendatatoolkit.worldbank.org/en/open-data-in-60-seconds.html

[6] https://opendatabarometer.org/

[7] https://data.worldbank.org

[8] https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/home

[9] http://nada.ihsn.org/

[10] https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/114951-do-you-have-data-for-informal-sectors

[11] https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/stats/publications/NOE2008.pdf

[12] https://www.oecd.org/sdd/na/measuringthenon-observedeconomy-ahandbook.htm

[13] https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/gdds/guide/2013/gddsguide13.pdf

[14] http://www.africageoportal.com/

[15] https://forobs.jrc.ec.europa.eu/observatories/

[16] https://africapolis.org/

[17] https://www.isric.org/explore/soil-geographic-databases

[18] https://soilgrids.org/

[19] https://sentinel.esa.int

[20] https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/thermal-infrared-sensor-tirs/

[21] See http://opendatatoolkit.worldbank.org/en/supply.html

[22] https://www.google.com/earth/

[23] https://earth.google.com/web/

[24] https://www.geonames.org/

[25] https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25181

[26] https://labs.strava.com/

[27] https://torymaps.esri.com/stories/2018/anthropocene/1-human-reach.html

[28] https://gadm.org/index.html

[29] https://www.naturalearthdata.com

[30] https://contourmapgenerator.com

[31] https://www.acleddata.com/

[32] https://www.globalforestwatch.org

[33] https://oec.world/en/

[34] https://submarinecablemap.com

[35] https://uk.rs-online.com/web/generalDisplay.html?id=did-you-know/most-scientific-countries-in-the-world

[36] https://vincos.it/world-map-of-social-networks/

[37]https://pudding.cool/2018/10/city_3d/?fbclid=IwAR3ZX1DPLA3LECHPAJeuJWIy2xQEM5shJU3JFw_whSMiHXGdtzDRhYoCJBs

 

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

[39] www.openstreetmap.org

[40] https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Map_Features

[41] https://www.hotosm.org/

[42] https://www.missingmaps.org/

[43] Qgis (www.qgis.org) 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.

[46] https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/Pages/2018-PR40.aspx

[47] https://www.unglobalpulse.org/

[48] https://www.unglobalpulse.org/projects

[49] https://datafordevelopment.it/en/home.html

[50] https://www.gsma.com/betterfuture/bd4sg

[51] https://datacollaboratives.org/

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

luca.garavaglia@uniupo.it

 

 

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 www.szhb.org; 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
Sources http://urbz.net/

 

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
Sources https://quieromibarrio.cl/

 

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 http://basaksehir-livinglab.com/ ; https://enoll.org/network/living-labs/

 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] http://web.mit.edu/cron/group/house_n/intro.html

[2] https://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/79424/factsheet/en

[3] https://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/80155/factsheet/en

[4] https://enoll.org/

[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 (https://enoll.org/network/living-labs/). 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?” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/randall-kempner/dharavi-the-most-entrepre_b_834300.html

[8] http://designmuseumdharavi.org/Design_Museum_Dharavi/Dharavi.html