Tag Archives: Development

Size matters? London – the subsidy junky

Iain Deas, Graham Haughton and Stephen Hincks from Planning and Environmental Management in the School of Environment, Educaton and Development at the University of Manchester reflect on Evan Davis’s arguments about London’s relationship with the rest of the UK economy …

In a recent BBC series, Mind the Gap: London v the Rest and an accompanying BBC blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03xp6x7), Evan Davis put forward an argument that government should do more to help large and successful cities prosper – even though this means spending less elsewhere. Central to the case was the notion that cities are best able to prosper when they have dense networks of highly skilled and creative workers intermingling in close proximity, driving innovation and promoting high-value economic activity.  Both local and national economic development policy, the programme argued, ought to concentrate support much more exclusively on the small number of cities that can fulfil this role as epicentres of knowledge-driven economic vitality.

The programme singled out London as an exemplar of this form of urban economic development.  The dramatic transformation of the city’s economic fortunes over nearly thirty years, it was argued, was attributable to its ability to attract and retain skilled mobile labour from around the world, lured by a seductive mix of vibrant cultural environments, attractive neighbourhoods and the prospect of rapid economic enrichment.  Amid predictable images of self-congratulatory, coffee quaffing metropolitan hipsters, the programme argued that London’s growth should be celebrated and promoted.  Although there was acknowledgment of some of the problems associated with rapid growth and overheating – strains on infrastructure, acute housing shortages and the social and spatial marginalisation of residents left behind – these were presented simply as impediments to further growth that policy intervention should and could circumvent.  London’s prosperity, ran this argument, ought to be facilitated by accommodating growth pressures: providing developable land, ensuring a supply of affordable housing, investing further in infrastructure and continuing to meet demand for labour by stressing the city’s openness to newcomers.

Mind the Gap was in some ways an entertaining and deliberately provocative piece of television. What is interesting, though, is that it echoed much of the orthodoxy that many would argue infuses contemporary urban economic development policy – not least in Manchester.  In an open access paper published last month in Environment and Planning A (http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a130335c) we began to question the sorts of academic idea that underpinned Mind the Gap. Building on this, we want in this two-part blog to critique two of the ideas central to Evan Davis’s thesis. In this first post, we assess Davis’s contention that London’s ascendancy ought not only to be tolerated, but should be actively promoted by government as the best way of driving national prosperity.  In the subsequent blog, we review the second episode of Mind the Gap, which argued that by concentrating resources in a network of linked urban areas as part of a northern super-city, England’s provincial cities might begin to develop new agglomerative economic growth and follow London’s path to success.

London: state aid addict

Evan Davis’s treatise said relatively little about the role of policy in underpinning London’s transformation from merely another declining British city in the 1970s to the thrusting global city of today.  Indeed, implicit to the programme was an argument that spatial policy had been trained to too great a degree on the declining cities of the north and midlands, to very limited effect. At the same time, earlier policy efforts to manage the growth of London itself – via green belt policy or the new towns programme – were said to have undermined the city’s economy by restricting in situ development and diverting development elsewhere.

This ignores the instrumental role played by government in enabling London’s growth. The emphasis of national policy, at least until the onset of the crises of 2007-08, on promoting the financial and producer service sectors has been a major part of this.  So too has been associated spending, aimed at accommodating London’s growth via multi-billion investment in infrastructure. What is less frequently acknowledged, however, is that public expenditure in general has also been skewed towards London.  Treasury data on per capita identifiable public expenditure on services for standard regions give some sense of the capital’s favourable treatment (Figure 1).  London, the graph shows, is consistently the best funded of the English regions, and exceeded only by the special cases of Northern Ireland and (to a lesser extent) Scotland and Wales.  The unavoidable additional cost of maintaining capital city functions for the four UK capitals, and other complications such as the variable physical size of the regions and their differing social profiles, makes comparison across regions difficult.  But the extent of interregional disparity is striking nonetheless – and even greater in terms of specific types of spending, like science and technology and transport, where London and the South East again receive disproportionately larger shares than other English regions.

Figure 1:  Total identifiable expenditure on services by country and region per head in real terms,2007-08 to 2011-12

Source: HM Treasury (2013) Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2013, Cm 8663, London: The Stationery Office. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223600/public_expenditure_statistical_analyses_2013.pdf (accessed 20th March 2014).

Source: HM Treasury (2013) Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2013, Cm 8663, London: The Stationery Office. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223600/public_expenditure_statistical_analyses_2013.pdf (accessed 20th March 2014).

A dispassionate observer might well conclude that London’s growth has been highly dependent on state subsidy.  Moreover, data on disaggregated public service expenditure suggest a pattern for the English regions that runs counter to regional policy. And the sums involved in the latter are, of course, much smaller by comparison with spending on mainstream services. This is important because implicit to the argument of Mind the Gap was a view that past spatial policy has been ineffective in reenergising declining economies, and that public money ought to focus on stimulating agglomerative growth in a few large urban areas instead of trying to narrow interregional inequality.  Past policy for cities and regions, runs this line of argument, is wasteful because it is propping-up areas that are less ‘productive’ than London.

Yet there is an argument that previous regional policy should not to be so readily dismissed, and that it is unrealistic to expect regional economic transformation given the degree to which regional imbalance has been ingrained over a century and more.  Even at its peak in 2005/06, the national budget of £2.2b for Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) represented only 0.2% of national output.  And even in the most generously funded of the RDAs – One North East – peak spending amounted to £240m: a mere £95 per person or 0.75% of regional economic output.  These are miniscule sums, dwarfed by public expenditure directed towards London.  And the contrast becomes even more striking given the abolition of the RDAs and their replacement by Local Enterprise Partnerships, nominally private sector bodies responsible for raising their own resources and benefitting from only modest levels of financial support from government. Viewed in the context of the meagre resources allocated to spatial economic development policy and the hidden subsidy to London and its region, therefore, it is unsurprising that regional economic disparity should prove so intractable.

Mind the Gap echoed the view that past policy for cities and regions has detracted from rather than added to national productivity , and that resources could be better used to enable London’s growth to be maintained and to create mini-Londons elsewhere.  What was missing, however, was any kind of lateral thinking on how to offset the growth pressures accumulating in the London region. Yet the solution to some of London’s problems of overheating, it could be argued, rests not in the capital, but elsewhere in urban Britain.  The sensible response London’s  to spiralling house prices, one could contend, lies not in liberalising planning and releasing more land for development, but in focusing economic development policy on struggling cities and regions in order to bolster their demand for labour and displace some of the pressures from the  existing hotspots of the South East.  Supply-side policies on land and labour in London and the South East over thirty years have failed to resolve growth pressures, hence acute localised wage and house price inflation. Instead of maintaining urban containment and resisting green belt encroachment, concerned residents of the Home Counties might be better advised to lobby for more investment in the north in order to ensure that housing is affordable in the South East.

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, likes to argue that concentrating investment in already prosperous London is justifiable not only because the city is a net contributor to the exchequer, but also because the benefits ultimately trickle-down to the rest of the country. “I’m making the argument to the Treasury that a pound spent in Croydon is far more of value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde. You will generate jobs in Strathclyde far more effectively if you invest in parts of London”, he told the Huffington Post in 2012 (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/26/job-creation-london-mayor-huffpost-linkedin_n_1456092.html).  A rather better argument would be to invest more in Britain’s provincial cities, linked to a genuinely integrative national spatial policy, as the best way of maintaining London’s prosperity.

 

 

 

Of refugees and post-earthquake responses

Natalia Garcia Cervantes, Jessica Roccard and Cathy Wilcock (University of Manchester) write about an international conference that took place two weeks ago in Manchester …

The third part of the series ‘Ambivalence in the city’ at the HCRI/GURC sub-conferences for the 11th International Conference on Urban Health continued with the session ‘Urban humanitarianism III: Refugees, inequalities and humanitarianism’. Participating in the plenary was our colleague Cathy Wilcock, from IDPM at the University of Manchester, and Jorge Inzulza from the University of Chile.

Cathy Wilcock started the session with the presentation ‘Institutional Resistance to the transnational political activities of refugee groups: The anti-politics of refugee NGOS towards Sudanese activists in Manchester’. Cathy explores how the political activities of Sudanese refugees in urban centres in the UK are affected by the political environment of their new place of residence. She analyses the systems of power relations, both actors and processes, of the refugees’ political environment in relation to their transnational activities. She does this by exploring three key questions: What transnational activities are taking place? How do UK-NGO’s relate to those activities? And, what are the implications of this relation?

In this context, refugees NGO’s aim to support and empower communities to establish strong organizations; nonetheless, these NGOs appear to be extremely concerned with the possibility of lending support to political activists based in the UK, such as the anti-Bashir movement. As a result, political activism is seen by NGOs as a menace for the refugees’ community development and an ‘institutional resistance’ emerges whereby NGOs become reluctant to form relationships with transnational political activism groups. Additionally, an obvious support for cultural, as opposed to political refugee organisations, on one hand, and resistance to political activities on the other, sends the message that ‘There is an ideal type of refugee that we will support’, namely those who are victims of conflict, and not embroiled in the contentious politics which espoused conflict, those who bring over cultural memories of their place of origin and not political ones. In short, it results in the legitimisation of cultural activities and the delegitimisation of political activities. She asks whether, in reality, it is sensible or possible for those to be separated.

To continue with the session, Jorge Inzulza, from the University of Chile presented a very engaging topic; ‘Tremors and large waves: loss of memories and threat in the context of the Chilean reconstruction’. Dr Inzulza introduced the urban planning policies issues regarding post-earthquake reconstruction using the case of Talca and Constitucion. He argued that, natural disasters and gentrification are processes that commonly increase poverty and social inequality; they often displace residents and change the urban landscape in cities, particularly at intermediate size cities in Latin America. Dr Inzulza suggested that, the lack of appropriate post-reconstruction planning policies results in a gentrification of the city, where the loss of infrastructure and consequent sense of place amounts to the loss of citizens’ legitimacy and identity. He highlighted the dissonance between the existent normative and guideline documents that work at different levels and the pressing needs that surge from the earthquake; and there is an explicit disconnection between normative aspects and socio-economic, government management, territorial investments and a spatial-physical approach to planning for reconstruction.

This was indeed a very compelling and exciting session. Thanks to both participants!!

All change please: climate in urban areas

The third day of the conference ICUH 2014, started with a plenary session led by Prof Hancock, Prof Sir Gilmore, Prof Hickman and Prof Rao. First, Prof Hancock presented the impacts of climate change on urban areas. Pointing out the three parameters that have influence on urban areas and public health (environment, people and economy), he argued for the need for “healthy democracies”. Secondly, Prof Sir Gilmore introduced the disastrous effects of alcohol on urban population. Hence, he claimed that we are currently witnessing a shift of the behaviour of the population: from enjoying a glass of alcohol to binge drinking. This change poses a serious threat for public health as a significant increase in alcohol-related injuries and disease and death is observed. Then, the third speaker, Prof Hickman, talked about the issue of hepatitis C in urban areas among the injection users with a very cost/effective approach by addressing the effectiveness of the possible interventions depending on the prevalence of the disease among this population. The last speaker, Prof Rao, described the health problems of the urban poor in Indian and Bangladesh cities. She pointed out the link between health and urbanisation emphasising the importance of the urban areas. Indeed, cities are powerful drivers of economic growth, but they are also the witnesses of social inequity between low-income and higher-income communities, being a major issue to address.

Is climate change THE PRIMARY concern or is it a new characteristic of development issues?

The documentary presented by Dr Dodman entitled “Climate Bites: Disease”, of the hot cities series, was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation for the purpose of being broadcast by the BBC. It presented the exacerbation of public health issues related to climate change. The examples of Jakarta and the increasing epidemics of dengue, Paris and the heat wave which occurred in 2003, and Chicago and its solutions strategies such as green roofs and surveillance system were examined.

This interesting video raises numerous questions. First, the documentary emphasises that climate change is the cause of the public health issues. However, is climate change really the main cause of the disease epidemics, or does it simply exacerbate existent issues of urbanisation of the city? In this case, what is the degree of importance of its impacts on these inherent urbanisation issues? Is climate change a development issue?

Furthermore, the case of Jakarta addresses gender issues. Indeed, while fogging is undertaken by the authorities, prevention campaigns and insecticide distribution are also carried out by a women’s organisation. Hence, could measures to face climate change impacts be implemented along with women’s empowerment strategies? However, while focusing on this organisation, further questions are raised. Who provided the insecticide to the women’s organisation? How was their organisation set up? Would it be efficient in a low-income community, also often lacking of basic knowledge?

In this context, it can also be noted that the strategy implemented by the authorities is short term. It eradicates the vector but it does not address the underlying issue of water and sanitation. Hence, the sustainability of the strategy is questionable as the deeper causes of the epidemics are not addressed. On the contrary, long-term strategies such as the building of green infrastructures and designed of surveillance system of the most vulnerable people have been implemented in Chicago. However, could these long-term strategies of Northern cities be possible to be implemented in the cities of the Global South as these latest are already facing heavy and different urbanisation burdens?

Finally, regarding both the heat wave in Paris and dengue in Jakarta, it can be noticed that the authorities and sanitary actors were unprepared to face the hazards. Learning from these experiences, responses have been elaborated. However, do we need to witness deaths to prepare for the coming changes?

All’s well that ends well: Closing plenary

The closing session of the HCRI/GURC sub-conferences was chaired by Dr Tanja Muller, with the contributions of Professor Diana Mitlin, from GURC at the University of Manchester and Dr David Dodman from IIED.

Professor Mitlin started by offering her observations on ‘Urban Risk and Humanitarian Response: reflecting on urban realities and specificities’, where, in order to understand urban risks,  she scrutinized what the terms ‘urban’, ‘risks’ and ‘humanitarian’ mean. An ‘urban’ environment is among other things, characterised by high density areas, a dependence on labour markets influenced by public investment management and potential of urban space.

Dr Dodman explored the topic ‘Climate change and its health impacts on the urban poor’ and pointed at the pressing need for new urban systems for resilience, and to develop preventative measures for the implications of climate change in health.

The session ended as an invigorating exchange of ideas between the audience and the panellists. We discussed the significance of humanitarian response to the current and future challenges posed to urban health, by risks such as violence and climate change.

Overall, the HCRI/GURC sub-conference of the 11th International Conference on Urban Health delivered a thought-provoking and dynamic symposium. It brought together some fascinating research from both established and emerging academics with insights from some world-leading practitioners.

Asking the right questions: What kind of research will actively serve to improve urban health?

Natalia Garcia Cervantes, Jessica Roccard and Cathy Wilcock (University of Manchester) write about an international conference that took place two weeks ago in Manchester …

The second morning’s opening plenary (6 March) featured keynotes by Dr David Satterwaite (International Institute for the Environment and Development) and Professor Ana Diez Roux (Drexel University). Both focus on the role of research in improving health.

Professor Satterwaite was asking ‘Why is health so poor in the Global South after 60 years of humanitarian interventions?’ Despite over half a century of development assistance, in many countries in the Global South, 1 in 5 infants are still dying before the age of 5. In light of this lack of progress, Professor Satterwaite asks why most of the research into ‘causes of death’ is conducted with the aim of being able to make global comparisons, rather than generating localised, relevant knowledge. Without this specific local information, there is no way development practitioners, urban planners, or local governments, can target the right policies at the right areas of their locality. He proposes that the way forward is to garner the unique knowledge of the poor themselves to form the basis of local partnerships between community organisations/ social movements within poor urban areas and their local governments. We wonder can participatory research work in areas where the power relations between government actors and non-state actors are abusive/oppressive? Does participation, as a policy-relevant research method, focus too much on the agency of the poor themselves, therefore initiating policies which are blind to the structural inequalities actually keeping people in poverty?

Following on from this, Professor Roux’s keynotes called for innovations in research methodology in health research. She demonstrates that a lot of health research is ‘linear’ – it aims to reveal or demonstrate a causal relationship between one variable and another, often through data-gathering in experimental settings. In contrast to this so-called ‘reductionist’ method, she makes a compelling case for a ‘systems approach’ in health research. Less concerned with proving a causal relationship between two variables, a systems approach is sensitive to the multitude of factors which affect health and can present findings which are demonstrative of feedback (as opposed to causal) relations between the numerous components in the system. Especially within the context of a conference where the somewhat vague subtitle of ‘crossing boundaries’ has not really shone through so far, this refreshing keynotes provided a clear strategy for change rather than a business as usual approach.

Whose role is it anyway? Sharing responsibility for the urban poor’s health

The keynotes speeches had left me wondering about the question of responsibility – who is responsible for improving the health of the urban poor. Is it the poor themselves? Their local governments? National governments? International NGOs? Local NGOs? If it is a combination of any of the above, how can that shared responsibility be managed? The session on ‘Stress in the City’ provided some interesting approaches to this question.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) presented on their work with market traders, street vendors, home based workers and domestic workers in urban townships in South Africa. Following that Dr Selmin Jahan spoke about water and sanitation facilities for the urban poor in Dhaka. The session closed with Dr Helen Elsey speaking about a ‘Healthy Kitchens’, an initiative which identifies interventions to improve health in urban slum kitchens. All of these presentations were about projects seeking to improve the health and safety in informal, unregulated urban settings where people are exposed to a multitude of risks including lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, burns etc. All three projects are asking how do we extend health and safety policies to urban informal settings? How can they be included in urban planning? How can we minimise health and safety risks in informal settings? In WIEGO’s case, they have developed a piece of research in partnership with the market traders which outlines a zonal health and safety plan for their workplace. As well as providing education and training, they have overseen the installation of a risk management sub-committee among the traders. For the healthy cities initiative, the targeted intervention is to replace open fires and gas in kitchens with a safer alternative.

These projects placed a lot of the responsibility for improving health and safety on the urban poor themselves – the aim of these projects was to empower the urban poor to take the appropriate actions and establish the appropriate systems for improving health and safety using the resources available to them. However, they also recognised that these measures can only go so far without the local governments also taking responsibility to protect their citizens. In WIEGO’s project in particular, the difficulty of making this shared-responsibility work shone through. They recognised the need to negotiate the unequal power relations between governments and their poor citizens and interestingly, have themselves developed strategies to tread this contentious path towards partnership. These presentations about three fascinating projects demonstrated how small, inexpensive measures can be implemented by the urban poor themselves to improve their health and safety. However, unequal structures loom large: how can the poor empower themselves effectively in a broader context of disempowerment?

Climate Change: a universal threat?

During the session about climate change (CC) and urban insecurities chaired by Dr Dodman, three presenters, Mr Umamaheshwaran, Mrs Dang Thu and Dr Rais introduced their work. Their interesting speeches raised different issues caused by climate change impacts on urban areas. On the one hand, it can be understood that impacts such as flooding and/or the increase in temperatures (among many others), are faced by every city within every country. And within these cities, they severely affect particularly the health of the most vulnerable: the low-income communities. However, not every city has to face existing burdens that CC only exacerbates. For example, New-Delhi faces extreme problems of drinking water access, sanitation systems and air pollution caused by the dense traffic. Moreover, the health policies are not always being adequately implemented and the reaction time of the authorities when an epidemic occurs is too long.

Nevertheless, there are attempts underway to address these problems. Indeed, strategies to face climate change impact are implemented by NGOs such as ‘Challenge to Change’ (Mrs Dang Thu), by providing support to the most vulnerable groups in Vietnam to implement strategies to mitigate and adapt to these impacts. On the other hand, more technological solutions such as projects from Taru (Mr Umamaheshwaran) are also being implemented in Indore. By supporting a new management system and software for the health practitioners, this organisation helps to monitor the spreading of disease and allows following in real time the epidemics.

The second session about climate change, chaired by Dr Alfredo Stein, also introduced some very interesting topics. Starting with the presentation of Dr Jemery Carter from the University of Manchester, the session first focused on climate change impacts and adaptation responses in Greater Manchester. Dr Carter pointed out the existing connections of the previous concepts with people health and well-being. He emphasised the creation of green infrastructure as a solution to face impacts such as flooding and heat wave. However, the infrastructure promoted might be efficient in a context of Manchester, but would not benefit from the same efficiency in Indian cities, for example.

Mr Brown and Dr Dodman propose a different approach of climate change. They argued that climate change research has been often considering it as top-down approach and focusing on hazards themselves. Hence, challenging this view, the vulnerability of the urban poor is the focus of their research.

The last presentation, given by Vikai Desai, focused on her experience in Surat city, which experienced strong flooding. As an impact of flooding, the city witnessed the arising of a new disease: leptospirosis. Facing this new challenge, an innovative monitoring and control system had to be implemented. Not only people, but cities as a whole have also to adapt to the new challenges arising from climate change direct and indirect impacts!

Finally, these sessions allowed the understanding of the multi-disciplinarity of climate change and multi-faceted impacts. CC creates strong challenges for urban health and development actors, as well as for the inhabitants of those cities. Practitioners and academics must work together to build a brightest and healthiest future.

Aiding violence? Urban violence and humanitarian responses to it

One of the HCRI/GURC sub-conference sessions was ‘Urban violence and conflict: Exploring the response to urban violence’ with the participation of Elena Lucci (via skype), Verena Brähler, and Dr Melanie Lombard.

Elena Lucci opened the session with the intervention ‘Humanitarian Action in the context of urban violence’ drawing on the lessons emerging from case studies based on humanitarian aid in urban settings experiences. She started by asking the question ‘What is urban violence and why is it important for humanitarians?’ She defined urban violence and then asserted that the characteristics such as dynamism, density and diversity or urban centres, can create enabling environments for violence. There are important lessons from her experience in humanitarian aid. For example: ensuring clear aims from the beginning must a priority; also, acting strategically to develop capacity and linkages in the community that is being served; thirdly, taking a localised approach to violence and to developing the specialized skills that are needed to respond to urban crises.

Following this, was Verena Brähler from UCL, with ‘Inequality of Insecurity in Rio de Jainero, Brazil’. Verena presented the results of her PhD Research. She used a mixed methods approach and, on this occasion, she talked about the quantitative part. Her analytical framework is based on the concepts of inequality and security. Additionally, she measured social cohesion and perceptions of insecurity through a series of surveys in the ’favelas’ and compared the security provision between low and middle-income neighbourhoods. To end such an interesting discussion, the audience contributed to the dialogue with questions about the role of the state in security provision in Brazil. She argues that in the absence of the Brazilian state as a provider of security, poor people have to accept to live side by side to criminals, respecting a silence code in exchange for minimal security provision.

Last but not least, Dr Melanie Lombard explored urban land conflicts with a case study from provincial Mexico. Dr Lombard provided key concepts about land disputes, and conceptual differences between conflict and violence; in Santa Lucia –the case study– the situation of many urban settlements in Mexico is exposed: land is available but unaffordable. As a result, colonias populares or peri-urban settlements arise from the illegal subdivision of previously community-owned land (ejidos). Conflict appears when, under the absence of state presence and a normative dissonance (since the land was neither claimed to be rural nor urban), the interests of key actors, including the state, urban political leaders and local associations clash. She concluded asserting that ‘When violence is used as a tool by actors struggling for political or economic power, conflict over land is more likely to escalate and the urban poor communities are more likely to be adversely affected’.

This was indeed a very intense and stimulating session. Thanks to all the participants!!

 

Sustainable City Betrayed?: Calgary’s Neoliberal Sustainability Politics and Its Consequences

Byron Miller  from the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary and currently Guest Professor, Institut für Umweltsozialwissenschaften und Geographie, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, writes about how Calgary continues to wrestle with the issue of “sustainability” …

Over the past decade Calgary, Alberta, like many cities around the world, has promoted a wide range of sustainability initiatives as part of what While, Jonas and Gibbs have termed a “sustainability fix.”  There are certainly good reasons why Calgary might turn toward a sustainability agenda.  Long considered the poster city for urban sprawl in Canada, Calgary ranks as the Canadian City with the largest “ecological footprint,” the highest degree of socio-spatial income polarization, and one of the largest infrastructure deficits. Its politics, moreover, are dominated by fierce anti-tax sentiment, despite low tax rates.  Whatever the merits or demerits of the concept of “sustainability,” the need for Calgary to address its ecological, social, and fiscal issues has been clear for some time.   

To grapple with the perceived deterioration of quality of life in Calgary, the City began an extensive two-year “city visioning” process in 2004, called imagineCalgary.  Over 18,000 Calgarians participated in the process, which produced a surprisingly progressive and detailed document focusing on needed improvements in five systems: the built environment and infrastructure, the economic system, governance, the natural environment, and the social system.  imagineCalgary was adopted by City Council as an advisory document and laid the foundation for a new municipal development and transportation plan, dubbed “Plan-It,” which was prepared between 2006 to 2009.  

Plan-It was envisioned as a means to enhance the environmental, fiscal and social sustainability of the city and, indeed, it called for substantial changes in growth and development patterns to enhance transit service and walkability and to reduce the fiscal costs of growth.  The social aspects of early versions of the plan were dramatically weakened, largely due to restrictions contained in the provincial government’s Municipal Governance Act, and to avoid an anticipated backlash from the development industry.  Planners pressed ahead on the environmental and fiscal agendas with reports detailing the cost savings associated with Plan-It.  Public relations stressed not only cost efficiency of the plan but also consumer choice, particularly the provision of more mobility options, more neighbourhood facilities and services, and stronger local businesses.   

That city officials and politicians would anchor their arguments in the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, cost efficiency, and consumer choice was not particularly surprising.  What was surprising was  the extent to which these neoliberal political tropes were adopted by many citizens and citizen organizations, including many that had been involved in the imagineCalgary process.  Indeed, many citizens’ organizations adopted the same neoliberal tropes, often for purely strategic reasons, to make their case for the sustainability agenda of Plan-It. Perhaps most  surprising of all, Plan-It was passed unanimously by City Council after early indications it would be defeated by a wide margin. The strategic adoption of neoliberal tropes to counter the anti-planning arguments of the development industry ultimately proved successful, but at what cost?  Quality of life, environmental, social justice and use-value arguments were largely abandoned, as were critiques of the federal and provincial governments’ underfunding of basic city functions such as public transit and social housing. Today, a concerted development-industry counter-attack that seeks to weaken the implementation of Plan-It relies on the same tropes and appears to be gaining traction, at the same time the provincial government further cuts funding to cities. The dynamics of Calgary’s planning politics raises questions about the merits of short term strategic adoption of neoliberal discursive tropes.  It also points to the role citizens play, unwittingly or not, in the reproduction and perpetuation of neoliberal hegemony.   To twist the words of Peck, Theodore and Brenner just a bit, “[citizens]… are not merely at the ‘receiving end’ of neoliberalization processes, imposed unilaterally from above.”

Universities and city-region development in crisis? – Cases of Manchester and Newcastle

Professor David Charles (University of Strathclyde), Dr. Fumi Kitagawa and Dr. Elvira Uyarra (Manchester Business School) have worked on the issues related to HEIs and local economic development over the decade. Here is their reflection on recent changes in two English  city-regions – Greater Manchester and Newcastle …

Universities have long been recognised for their important contributions to the long-term economic prosperity and wellbeing of cities and regions. In a recent special issue “Universities in Crisis” in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, [http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/01/09/cjres.rst029.abstract] we examine the post-financial crisis challenges for the city-regions and higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK by looking at the city-regions of Greater Manchester and Newcastle. The paper illustrates the recent changes in regional governance, higher education policies and changing expectations and pressures for universities to engage and work with local and regional agendas, before and throughout the financial crisis and the following economic downturn.

Manchester and Newcastle are two old industrial cities in the North of England, in the regions that have historically lagged behind the rest of England and the UK in economic terms. Both traditionally manufacturing regions (manufacturing still accounts for 20% of GDP in the North West), in the last 20 years they have diversified into higher value added activities such as biotechnology, aviation and energy. Economic growth has also been driven by a rapid expansion of the service sector, mainly professional and financial services, with public services still being an important component particularly in the North East. Both Newcastle and Manchester can be seen as having experienced something of an urban renaissance although significant pockets of deprivation remain. HEIs have been important actors embedded in such urban transformation.

Between the late 1990s throughout the 2000s, universities in Manchester and Newcastle took strong roles in the economic and social development of their respective regions, working collaboratively through their higher education regional associations, and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). This collaboration emphasised the complementarities between different types of institutions and the formation of ‘regional systems of innovation’. The ‘new regionalist’ model supported by the New Labour government was gradually accompanied and then overtaken by a new ‘localism’ – institutional partnership and governance models embedded in city-regions. Both Newcastle and Greater Manchester received designation as Science Cities since the mid 2000s, with a focus on city-level partnerships, which for Greater Manchester reflected a longer experience of city-region partnership models.

Since 2010, the economic development landscape has substantially changed under the Coalition government, with the abolition of the nine RDAs in England, replaced by 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) at a city-region level.[i] The recent shift to LEPs signals a more focused and strategic alignment between universities and city regions, with the higher education sector represented in the LEP board member. Further, this ‘scalar shift’ of the local governance mechanisms has coincided with the financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures, cuts in public funding and changes in the higher education funding mechanisms, including the increase in the home/EU students’ tuition fees. The drastic reduction of funding and supporting structures devoted to HEIs regional engagement from the loss of RDA funding and additional pressures placed upon universities have further brought institutional differences into sharp focus.

Under the new governance structures emerging during the 2010s, whilst universities have been enrolled in the new city-region strategic alignment, it has become clear that different types of institutions are forming and implementing different strategies. Regional level collaboration, meeting regional needs and demand, seems to have declined in terms of universities’ institutional priority and strategies. Policy infrastructure, resources and funding incentives at the regional level are no longer there, replaced by city-region/local partnerships. Increasingly, universities in both the North East and North West regions are finding little incentive to collaborate with each other at the regional scale. Tensions between the regional and the city-regional levels have always been more prominent in the North West region, where the Greater Manchester city-region had always had strong political identity. However, even in the North East, where the regional HE collaborative mechanisms had existed over the last three decades, the new local partnership model with LEPs seems to be overtaking the regional collaboration model.

Our findings resonate with Sir Andrew Witty’s recent review of “universities and growth” (published on 15 October 2013)[ii], which highlighted the heterogeneity of both universities and LEP strategies. The case studies of the two city-regions show how universities are part of the new city-region alignment where new strategic leadership roles are expected – however, under a post-crisis environment characterised by austerity, changing funding mechanisms and more pressure to compete, universities are facing challenges to meet these new expectations.

The political and institutional vacuum left by the recent local governance changes has led to practical issues such as management of EU funds. The time of austerity also provides new opportunities to realise new city-region and university collaboration by linking and managing resources available at multiple levels – local, national, European and global. Universities are partners in local governance, but are not simply bound within their city-regions. Universities seek to join up and integrate across missions and across spatial scales – local, national, European, and global. Both in Greater Manchester and in Newcastle, the new alignment seems to be still in a state of flux. It is imperative to develop strategic visions and plans rooted in a sound understanding of the city-region’s comparative advantage, by asking: How can universities and LEPs better work together for the benefit of the city region?

Vacant Lots Cost Philadelphia $90 Million a Year!

This is the fourth of six blogs written as part of the assessment for North American Cities, a second year undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Manchester. Required to write a blog of 1500 words on an issue of their choosing, Ceri-Ellis Kenyon chose Philadelphia …

If you’ve ever found yourself strolling through Lower North Philly (not that I’d recommend it!) you’ll have noticed that there’s not much to see – literally. The abundance of vacant land and boarded up property leaves you feeling thoroughly depressed. It’s a far cry from the booming 1950s when John McWhorter stumbled across and photographed this vacant lot, a rarity in those days but all too commonplace now.

Over the past 20 years, vacancy has spiralled out of control.  A recent study found that Philadelphia has the highest vacancy per capita of any US city.  Combatting the issue of vacant property has been at the forefront of government agendas for decades now. Why? Because these tracts of vacant land dispersed throughout the city cost Philadelphia an estimated $90 million a year in delinquent taxes and policing charges alone!

So, what have the politicians done to improve things? Well, they’ve thrown lots  of money at the problem but, as is often the case, they’ve mostly ignored the needs of the local people. No surprises then that, far from getting better, things have continued to decline.

‘Wastin’ away on the streets of Philadelphia…’

I’m sure Bruce (Springsteen, of course!) had something quite different  on his mind when he wrote this song back in the 1990s but his lyrics seem more relevant than ever in today’s downtown. The Philly streets are literally “wastin’ away” as the population plummets and vacancy and crime rates soar.

Vacant land reflects vacant soul

Philadelphians know which areas of town not to venture into at night, or even by day for that matter, but why? A bunch of empty houses? That surely seems crazy…

…But, empty houses and barren land lead to social issues; crime, poverty, gang warfare and drug use. A recent Forbes survey ranked Philadelphia as the 5th most miserable city in the USA. Any stats based on averages are going to paint a gloomy picture but Philly isn’t all bad. We’d love to argue with the ‘experts’ at Forbes but there is, in actual fact, overwhelming evidence that vacant land and crime go hand in hand. Ken Skinner’s “Clean and Seal” programme is the city’s latest attempt at tackling the social blight associated with vacancy. Skinner, Chief of The Department of Licences and Inspections, has joined forces with the City Redevelopment Authority to employ a 48 strong team to secure the entrances to empty property and deserted land, in an effort to keep out the thugs and keep the neighbourhoods clean.  This temporary measure is an uphill battle as 300+ properties and lots are added to the vacancy inventory each year!

Lower North Ghost town

Lower North is without doubt the most desolate area in Philly. In terms of land use (commercial, residential, recreational etc.)  “vacancy” is the third largest category in the district. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Lower North was home to a thriving community of Black African Americans, attracted to the area by an abundance of brick yards, coal yards, tobacco plants and textiles workshops along Glenwood Avenue. Economic crisis in the 1950s left many Lower Northerners permanently unemployed as manufacturing jobs became few and far between. This triggered an epidemic of vacant land, an increase in crime and a decrease in population, which has continued every year since. In the 1990s, Philadelphia experienced the 3rd largest population decline in the history of urban America.

Lower North is an urban graveyard; 47% of the Lower North population are living in poverty, 13% of property is vacant and the district has 45 so called ‘ghost parks’. The only remaining ‘assets’ in Lower North are Temple University, 19 bus routes, 2 regional rail stations and its proximity to the city centre. The fact that two of the four remaining assets are transport infrastructure says it all…

So far, the problem has only been exacerbated by those in high Philly society. Ex-mayor Ed Rendell promised to rejuvenate Lower North and was voted into office by a majority black vote, desperately hoping for change. But Lower Northerners suffered anguish and humiliation at the hands of Rendell, who focussed solely on the city centre, deeming Lower North a problem unworthy of  attention.

Double duped as Street turns his back too…

Hot on the heels of Rendell; came Street and his ambitious plan to commandeer The Neighbourhood Transformation Initiative. His ingenious idea, to simply demolish 1400 vacant properties in Lower North was supposed to attract private investment. Instead, as most of us  could have predicted, it transformed vacant property into nothing more than vacant land! His typically political heavy handed approach caused nothing but backlash among the surprisingly tight knit community of Strawberry Mansion (which is hardly surprising when you consider Street’s plan to demolish their entire century old neighbourhood!). His  approach meant he ‘succeeded’ in demolishing a mere 800 of the planned properties at a  cost of $81 million and more importantly, he demolished the trust and vote of an entire community.

The Master plan, change may be just around the corner!

A committee of Philadelphian planners, community leaders, business owners, non-profit organisations and elected officials are currently working to piece together a blueprint for the redevelopment of the neglected Lower North. The PlanPhiladelphia2035 scheme hopes to pull together the expertise needed bring about change and rescue Lower North once and for all. David Fecteau, the brains behind the idea, chaired community meetings throughout July and August to gauge public opinion. What did he want to know? “Who’s happy?”… Seems nice!

Fecteau claims that unused industrial land could create up to 200 jobs and that ex residential areas could be re-moulded into community gardens and green space. Maybe! Of course, as a development tycoon he would say that, wouldn’t he Could this be just another example of the all too familiar pattern of planning betrayal in Lower North? If so, it has not weakened the residents of Strawberry Mansion’s burning desire for something to be done…finally. Community leader Judith Robinson announced that ‘redevelopment which avoids gentrification and subsequent displacement is welcomed’. The agenda for PlanPhiladelphia2035 is definitely optimistic and so far so good. The community meetings have established hotspot areas of unhappiness and have fuelled ideas and debates about the future land use. Could this be the answer to Lower North’s prayers? Watch this space…

Sowing the seeds of change

Clearly these large-scale, top-down approaches to redevelopment in Philly have largely failed. The PlanPhiladelphia2035 project is the first integrated approach and therefore the most likely to succeed. Hallelujah!

In typical Philadelphian fashion, small scale initiatives to decrease vacancy abound in many neighbourhoods throughout the city. Urban farms have sprung up on ex industrial sites all over the place, the most popular of which, GreensGrow, is in Kensington. The area reaps the social and economic benefits of urban farming and GreensGrow puts the vacant land to good use. Could the land in Lower North be suitable for an urban farm? Could it reduce the levels of crime and antisocial behaviour experienced there?

We’re constantly bombarded by green action group lobbying about transformation of urban land into green community space, but is this what Lower North needs? Research from The University of Pennsylvania found that over a period of ten years, the area surrounding a fenced public garden experienced a significant reduction in crime. Apparently, fences and neatly mown lawns deter criminals in these areas. Could this work in Lower North?

Is it naïve to assume that the introduction of green space will solve all social and economic issues in Lower North? Green space alone is not enough. Redevelopment needs to take place and must happen now! The work of PlanPhiladelphia2035 is a step in the right direction, but to succeed we need real commitment from those in power and enthusiasm for the project from the communities themselves. Appearances can be deceiving and there is still a strong community spirit beneath the desolate face of the Lower North. The residents deserve better and we must learn from past failures and work together to rejuvenate Lower North and turn it back into the thriving community it once was.

Here are some useful links if you’d like to find out more…

PlanPhiladelphia2035 Lower North plans: http://phila2035.org/home-page/district/lower-north/

An Accessible news bog site for Philadelphia: http://philly.curbed.com/tags/top

An Academic article evaluating Street’s Neighbourhood Transformation Initative:

http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~sys502/arcview/Projects/Phil_Housing/Phil_Nbhd_Initiative.pdf

Lower North District’s Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Philadelphia#Neighborhoods

A news article expressing concern around Fecteau’s ulterior motives: http://philly.curbed.com/archives/2013/08/05/consultant-to-major-developers-advocates-clearcut-strategy-for-city-planning.php

Information about Ken Skinner’s clean and seal programme: http://articles.philly.com/1993-09-30/news/25985242_1_houses-seal-tin

A news article about the reduction of crime in ‘greened’ areas: http://grist.org/list/2011-11-23-turning-vacant-lots-into-parks-reduces-violent-crime/

Is Breaking Really That Bad? How it’s Heroin, Not Meth, that’s Albuquerque’s Vice.

This is the second of six blogs written as part of the assessment for North American Cities, a second year undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Manchester. Required to write a blog of 1500 words on an issue of their choosing, Nicola Carter chose to write about Albuquerque …

Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been pushed into the spotlight thanks to a certain bald meth dealer hitting our screens in early 2008. If you haven’t seen AMC’s Breaking Bad, I suggest you do so. Lock the door, take the phone off the hook and clear a week in your calendar. Shot and based in Albuquerque and chronicling the life and crimes of chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer (Bryan Cranston, below right) and his petulant protégé (Aaron Paul, below left), Breaking Bad paints an altogether grim picture of drug use in the United States. Prostitution, murder, gang mentality and violence all feature heavily in the show – officially named the most streamed (both illegally and legally) show in the world. What is really interesting though, is the city behind the story – a real life city faced with a real life drug problem.

The term “Breaking Bad” itself is a southern colloquialism, meaning to stray from the straight and narrow; in Albuquerque’s case, a move towards drug usage. Methamphetamine, Breaking Bad’s primary drug of choice, is arguably not the drug which causes the most problems in Albuquerque – Albuquerque in fact has fewer patient admittances for methamphetamine abuse than both the state and the national average. Government figures show that Albuquerque only really stands out as a “problem” city in terms of heroin usage and abuse of prescription painkillers (you can check out the 2008 report here). There’s a problem with these official figures, though. Whilst there may be less patient admittances, how does that translate to actual figures of users? No-one is naïve enough to think that every drug user goes into a rehab program – nor that every user is even on any kind of radar. Many people can (and do) keep their addictions secret, from family, friends and colleagues.

New Mexico as a state doesn’t have the best reputation for drug usage. New Mexico had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2008 and in 2011 – that equates to more people dying from overdoses than from all road traffic accidents per year. Española, just 85 miles South West of Albuquerque, has a level of drug related deaths roughly 6-7 times the national average (that’s 42.5 drug related deaths per 100,000 In Española, compared to the US average of just 6).  Whilst Albuquerque isn’t perhaps as bad in terms of statistics, try this interesting test. Internet search “Albuquerque drugs”. Yep, you find this delightful fellow as the first result.

Ouch. Now a bit of a comparison – do the same with “Baltimore drugs”. Supposedly the heroin capital of the US, but no self-professed drug dealer posting his home address on the internet. Do the same with Chicago, or Tucson, which has approximately the same population as Albuquerque. This poses a more interesting question about the culture of Albuquerque, perhaps. What kind of city would facilitate such brazen illicit activity on the internet and more importantly, perhaps, why is there a need for such a thing?

I read an interesting article recently written by a born and bred Albequerquean in Time magazine recently that really opened my eyes. There’s no aspiration, the piece argues – no hunger and no means of escaping the “city of mediocrity”. Apathy is what really rings true with this piece – low income families, poverty, a culture of brazen lawlessness (remember our friendly neighbourhood drug dealer, just a Google search away?) and a wild sense of isolation. The piece, any many more that you can find all over the internet also highlight the use of prescription drugs as gateways to harder substances, like heroin. One small scale study, on a group of seven high school students, found that every single one of them knew someone who’d abused prescription drugs, and every person interviewed for a news story said that the route to heroin started with prescription drugs. Teens in New Mexico are twice as likely to experiment with heroin than in any other state, resulting in $300,000 worth of heroin being sold in Albuquerque every day. Taking into consideration that heroin is now the cheaper alternative to prescription drugs (80-mg of Oxycontin, a prescription opiate based painkiller, costs $40-$60, compared with $20 for a bag of longer lasting heroin) that could be the equivalent of 15,000 users per day. Of the 13 high schools in Albuquerque, 9 have full time drug counsellors.

So what does this mean for the city? The drugs abuse stories that hit the media are usually extreme cases or based on sweeping generalisations – like this story from 2012 where a two year old child tested positive for methamphetamine. Albuquerque has a crime rate 53% higher than the US average. Since 1999, Albuquerque has had consistently higher levels of arson, theft, assault, murder, auto theft, robbery and rape than the U.S average. That’s staggering for a city of just over half a million. Maybe not surprising though, in a city where 22% of the residents live below the poverty line. This online map is awesome for tracking areas of the city. Areas of the city such as Trumbull Village, popularly and infamously known as the War Zone, is plagued by drug related shootings and crime – and 30.3% of the population live below the poverty line. Areas like Santa Fe show just how much drug policing can impact an area; a 20% decline in property crime (including burglaries) is largely attributed to an increase in drug related arrests.

The relationship between poverty and crime (read more here) has been the subject of numerous  academic studies over the years.  Put simply: high crime rates are considered by both the UN and World Bank to be a barrier to development. Albuquerque has both high crime rates and high poverty rates, perhaps both helped along by the high rates of drug abuse and usage? Figures from 2011 state that almost half of all US prison inmates were incarcerated for drug offences. The Albuquerque Journal publishes arrest records for the city, and a substantial number of these are for drug related offences. There are countless reports and testimonials from ex-addicts who explain the lengths they went to for a fix; burglary, prostitution, muggings or even kidnapping. Many others may have been committing crimes to pay for their drug habit. Heroin is cheap, yes, but expensive enough that many users are forced to steal to feed their addiction. The sheer cost of the law and order associated with the drug trade is staggering – police officers, judges, courts, prison services, lawyers. Drug enforcement cost the American Government as a whole billions of dollars (a recent estimate is $41.3 billion) a year – not including the cost of crime indirectly caused by drugs.

It seems Albuquerque’s problems with drugs are actually quite well exemplified by Breaking Bad; the ease with which Walt accesses drugs, and how easily he finds buyers for his meth, Jesse’s using of drugs to escape a painful childhood, and the murders that seem to occur in every episode. If only ending Albuquerque’s relationship with drugs was as easy as ending Breaking Bad

Albuquerque has a heroin problem; a problem that’s debilitating and demobilising for the city. A drug problem that exacerbates the other problems in the city; that drives and maintains poverty, which increases crime and reduces aspiration. The infiltration of heroin into high schools and the young age at which addiction is starting is crippling the city, breeding another generation of addicts and perpetuating a culture of lawlessness. The amount of money being poured into drug policing in the city clearly isn’t enough: in 2010, a 16 year old girl overdosed on heroin and died, following a two year struggle with addiction. Based on a state average life expectancy of just over 78 years, that’s 62 potential working, childbearing, tax paying, life enjoying years lost. And overdose and drug related deaths are on the increase. Reducing this number will be a hard slog, but kicking the heroin habit might just be what Albuquerque needs.

Detroiters: Back in the Driving Seat

This is the first of six blogs written as part of the assessment for North American Cities, a second year undergraduate course in Geography at the University of Manchester. Required to write a blog of 1500 words on an issue of their choosing, Amy Barron chose to write about Detroit …

Detroit is the focus of a stereotype. After years of decline, together with the repetitious drip feed of negative media attention; riots, white flight, dereliction and deserted neighbourhoods have become emblematic of the city. Today as the city faces rejection from government and global press, Detroiters have taken matters into their own hands, nurturing innovation, initiative and creativity.

Detroit; the city that put the world on wheels; the throbbing heart of American culture, soul and industry; the sprawling metropolis; the epitome of the American Dream. During its 1950s heyday, the ‘motorcity’ thrived, providing an accommodating, dynamic and cohesive urban hub; a centrifugal force for the global automobile trade whilst functioning as a magnet attracting social and economic capital that saw the population rocket. So, what went wrong? I hear you cry.

Well listen up America, there’s a lesson to be learnt. After the initial auto-industrial success, it was the failure of the American government to recognise that the Asian auto-manufacturing expansion was upon them and America was effectually bitten on the ass by its competitor. This ultimately caused the start of the cardio-collapse of the heart of American auto-industries, unable to stay ahead of their efficient Asian opponents. This slow death of the motor giants eventually caused the inner-city commuter highway vestals to become clogged with poverty as the rich fled and suburban arteries were drained of talent as the skilled relocated elsewhere. The eventual outcome was a population plummet, leading to a lower tax base. Crime rates spiked and public service networks crumbled. The rust belt of the American mid-west was rapidly corroding and Detroit was the ‘buckle’. The media willingly jumped on the bandwagon and the drip feed of negativity began to infest the city. Events reached their pinnacle when Detroit hit the headlines as it became the largest city in the US to file for bankruptcy. Investment was deterred and the endless cycle of decline had seemingly begun.

So, how do you remake a city and perhaps see it prosper once more? Seemingly an impossible task? Well, providing there is more to life than generalised statistics and headline-grabbing  quotes, I-and Detroit-argue ‘hope is not lost’. Believe it or not media, through the dereliction and destitution; human nature prevails, inter-connections are materialising, and community clusters are beginning to form. Whilst the data presented may well hold elements of truth, surely daily community interaction, cohesion and a dense urban texture are equally important qualities which define urban life. The Detroiters are innovating their way out of this problem, so why should the very real, happening, positive efforts be brushed under the carpet?

All too often the city is portrayed in a negative light. Rarely reported is the surviving stock; the green sprouts of hope emerging at grass roots level. The winds of change are blowing through the streets of Detroit with more force than ever as ‘a neighbour helping neighbour’ ethos is spreading generating a strong ‘shared responsibility for a shared place’ attitude. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes; revitalised and ready for flight, young maverick entrepreneurs are surfacing, thrusting forth new innovative ideas which will regenerate, renew and rejuvenate.

Although Detroit may, in some respects be teetering on the precipice, it still has the safety harness of ‘community strength’ to hold onto, pulling it back from the brink. Realising the difficulties they are facing, many residents are calling on inner resources and imagination, taking issues into their own hands. All sectors of society-young, old, groups, and individuals-are pioneering positivity impacting across the social, economic and environmental spectrum. Could Detroit be a leading beacon in showing the rest of the urban world the path to overcoming these universally experienced problems? With progress in green transportation, sustainability, business incubation and community cohesion; the future looks promising. Detroit is moving forward, starting where it matters; at the heart and with the people.

Sixty four year old John Ratov is only one of the thousands of people across Detroit who have become self-appointed community activists. A former inmate, Ratov now spends his time serving others by giving rides, delivering lunches and visiting the pitiably lonely. Not only is Ratov actively improving the lives of his fellow citizens but his ‘community spirit’ is rubbing off onto others such as 52 year old Renee Miler who met Ratov at a local soup kitchen and now also helps saying; ‘’it’s just the right thing to do’’. Together they continue building an ever expanding human life support machine for the city.

Not only is this ingenuity occurring on an individual level, but also at a collective level. Organised by several local charities, with ‘booming dance music, flaming BBQ grills, and a stocked food tent for thousands of homeless’ Detroit hosted it’s ‘Red carpet backyard surprise BBQ!’ The idea was simply to give struggling Detroiters a holiday meal like the rest of America would be eating that day. The party was a huge success with the food line snaking through the park as far as the eye could see. Instead of the streets feeling bare and cold, they were full of life, laughter and love with thousands of homeless folk uniting in celebration as the festive mood set in and spread through the crowd with a shared sense of place and belonging. This is the precise way a community should unite, by helping one another. It engenders the reconnection of the fragmented city scape and improves Detroit for the greater good.

Have you too been fooled into believing Detroit has being deserted by the young? Well, think again. ‘I am Young Detroit’ is a social venture initiative promoting and publishing positive change occurring in Detroit. Social entrepreneur, Andy Didorosi is one of many who are determined to make a difference.  After reading ‘Detroit’s light rail is dead’ Andy bought a bunch of buses and founded ‘The Detroit Bus Company’. This was a huge success. Not only are the buses environmentally sustainable hybrids but Andy added his quirky artistic edge making them ‘public party buses ‘reinforcing the young imaginative flair so many Detroiters possess. With service hours rapidly expanding, cool areas in the downtown are valuably reconnecting. I am captivated and amused by Andy and found myself continually impressed by his ambitious nature when reading more. The world could really use a few more Andys ready to give it a shot!

Boda-Boda! Rethinking Unregulated Urban Transport in the Global South

Unregulated transport is vital to billions living with poor road access in the Global South, yet is increasingly marginalised in transport policies intended to modernise cities. In this article James Evans focuses on boda-boda motorcycle taxis in Uganda to ask how current thinking in Geography might help us re-think the role of informal transport in achieving more inclusive and sustainable urban development.

It is impossible to visit the Global South without being struck by the variety of transport at street level. Rickshaws, tuk-tuks, jeepneys, minibuses and bikes appear in all sorts of motorised and non-motorised forms across cities in Asia, Africa and South America.  Kampala, the rapidly growing capital of Uganda, is no exception. Synonymous with its unregulated army of motorcycle taxis, so-called boda-bodas dodge and weave through the congested streets and alleys with passengers clinging on to the driver. Boda-boda taxis are part of African bicycle culture, originating as a way to cross the Kenyan-Ugandan border in the 1960s and subsequently spreading through East Africa as an industry with relatively cheap entry costs for migrants. In 2010 the Kampala Boda-Boda Association estimated that there were upwards of 200,000 boda riders and 5,000 stages (stops) serving an urban population that has doubled in the last 20 years to some 1.5 million people.

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Boda-bodas connecting the full extent of the Kampala (source: Jennifer O’Brien)

Offering affordable transport to the poor, boda-bodas are more efficient in terms of fuel, space and maintenance than cars. These kinds of informal modes of transport play an essential role filling the gap left by the absence of planned transport infrastructures and have grown at the same breakneck speed as the cities in which they exist, with estimates suggesting that informal transport accounts for 80-90% of public transport journeys in medium sized cities. Manifesting what AbdouMaliq Simone terms the distinctive mobility of the African city where movement is essential to daily survival, boda-bodas support the ‘thickening fields of social relations’ that city dwellers depend on. Flexible and cheap, they contribute to the connectivity and resilience of the city, running errands delivering both goods and information in addition to providing personal transport. It is through informal urban infrastructures like boda-bodas that existing socio-economic relations find material expression in the city.

Unlike slums that are often out of sight, informal transportation permeates and often defines the experience of an entire city. In response to a national road safety crisis that has been compared to HIV in terms of its national importance and the protestations of more affluent car-driving residents of the city, the recently formed Kampala Capital City Authority is attempting to bring the unruly growth of boda-bodas under control, leading to a long-running dispute between the boda-boda operators and the city authority over perceived attempts to cleanse the city of their presence. It is the powerful versus the poor, but more than this it is battle between competing visions of the city. This is a story that we find repeating itself from Shanghai to Lagos, leading to calls for new thinking about the role of informal transport in urban development. Delhi may have famously failed in their attempt to ban motorised rickshaws in 2010, but Chinese cities have progressively banned various forms of two wheeled transport in the name of modern transport planning.

The 2013 UN Habitat report Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility, which provides the nearest thing to a template for current global thinking on the issue of sustainable mobility, argues that robust land use planning is necessary to create urban landscapes that are amenable to more sustainable forms of mobility. But local transport solutions like boda-bodas question the validity of top-down planning approaches that seek to impose Western infrastructure on the city. Because informal transport infrastructures have developed incrementally with the city, they have shaped it materially and territorially. No doubt transport needs are dictated by the ways cities are planned, but equally the existing urban landscape reflects the kinds of transportation available. Changing the material form of a city is easier said than done; to the extent that things like existing houses, streets, wells and shops are obdurate, cities are locked into certain transport futures. At the same time, informal transport is so integral to cities like Kampala that imagining a future without it literally requires us to imagine a different place. For the city to be in any sense sustainable and inclusive, informal transport has to play a part.

While the idea that informal transport is more adaptable and thus potentially sustainable is not new, few studies have attempted to understand how its social functions are materially and territorially embedded in the city. More often than not, African roads are approached as a source of either terror or fascination by writers and commentators struck (not unreasonably) by their apparent chaos. Perhaps because of its poor safety record, motorcycle transport has received relatively little academic attention despite its importance to the billion people currently living in cities with poor roads. Researchers have focused on the impact of roads and road-building projects on local communities and cultures, but specific work on the day-to-day experiences of driving and using taxis is less common.

One way to capture this relation between mobility and the city is to rethink informal transport as a materially embedded urban infrastructure. Recent research has shown how self-building technologies and sanitation in informal settlements unavoidably reflect material conditions and constitute something distinctive and different to the kinds of development that characterise Western cities. In challenging received norms about mobility, the street-level practices of boda-bodas produce a very different kind of city to the ones commonly envisaged in planning documents and strategies. Focusing on the distinctive qualities of informal transport opens up new ways to think about infrastructure provision in the city and what a transition to sustainability could and indeed should look like.

Many basic everyday questions remain unanswered about boda-bodas in Kampala. For example, how do boda-bodas connect the city? Where do bikes circulate, what is their range, where are the stages, what routes do they trace, which parts of the city do they link and what are their working rhythms? What role do they play in circulating goods, people and informal knowledge? Beyond this, how is boda-boda infrastructure embedded in the city? For example, how, where and when are bikes fuelled, stored, repaired, recycled, reclaimed and maintained? Where do the drivers live and what do they eat?

Materiality matters. Just as political ecologists have shown how power is manifested in the material resource flows of cities so it is possible to open up alternative visions of the city though materially grounded analyses. In Kampala, the city planning authority is potentially receptive, currently developing a low-carbon development plan in addition to finding itself at the centre of a major transport row. If current solutions like simply building more roads have failed as a strategy in the West then they certainly won’t solve the transport challenges faced by cities in the South, which are that much more acute. There is an opportunity to establish a new agenda for the study of informal transport and its role in achieving more sustainable and inclusive urban development. In the search for viable alternatives, the question of what we can learn from existing forms of transport like boda-bodas seems to be a valid one.

 

“What do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’?” Migration, informal settlements and everyday politics in Buenos Aires

By Tanja Bastia, IDPM

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

A couple of weeks ago we had a one day workshop (link to http://informalpoliticsinthecity.wordpress.com/) on ‘informal politics in the city’, funded by cities@manchester.  The papers included circular migration and migrants’ identities in Southern Africa; step-migration through Western African countries; street peddling in Barcelona; and two papers on Buenos Aires.  The aim was to bring together discussions about informality and migration.  While there is a large literature on informality and internal migration, there is far less work on cross-border (international) migration and informality.  Towards the end of the workshop one of the participants who works on migration and informality in Africa asked another, who works on informal housing in Buenos Aires, “what do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’”?  I remember asking the same question when I first started researching migration and informal settlements in Buenos Aires.

There is the issue of the extent to which concepts translate across different regions.  The straightforward answer is that ‘urbanising’ in the Latin American context is usually referred to as ‘upgrading’ in Africa.  It refers to the process of ‘opening up’ informal settlements through widening and paving of main roads.  This makes the informal settlement look more like a ‘normal’ – read formal – neighbourhood (though in some countries informal parts of the city are built on square grids).  Widening and paving of main roads means that services which are usually available in other parts of the city also become available in the informal settlement.  For example, police can patrol the streets, ambulances can get to those who need it, bricks and building material can be brought by motorised vehicles instead of having to be pushed in wheelbarrows.  

‘Urbanising an informal settlement’ also involves the state arranging for the provision of water services, electricity and sewers, to the same standard as in other parts of the city.  The 2003 Plan to Urbanise Villas and Precarious Neighbourhoods of the City of Buenos Aires includes three main objectives:

  1. The physical and social integration of precarious settlements so that they become similar to existing urban neighbourhoods
  2. Improved quality of life for those living in informal settlements with the provision of services to a similar standard to those available in the rest of the city
  3. The integration of the community in the process of decision-making through the active encouragement of the participation of the population living in precarious settlements in the configuration of their habitat (Plan summary available http://www.cnvivienda.org.ar/revistas/revista9/CiudadBA_9.pdf)

However, the question points to an issue that is more complex than the translation of concepts across different regions.  When I first came across the term ‘urbanising the villas’ – as the informal settlements in Buenos Aires are known – I was perplexed by the etymology of the term.   To ‘urbanise’ means to make something more urban, usually referred to the process of urbanisation – the growth of the urban population or the turning of village or town into a city.  However, in this particular case, the term ‘urbanise’ is being referred to informal neighbourhoods.  How can you ‘make more urban’ something that is rapidly becoming the very image of urban life for the majority of the urban population across the globe?  Is there any aspect of the ‘slum’, as informal settlements are despectively called, that is not ‘urban’?  The use of the term ‘urbanise’ to refer to the villas, favelas or any other precarious part of the city implies that informal settlements are not really part of the city, a reference to the early process of urbanisation, when informal settlements were seen as vestiges of village life in the city and their inhabitants as ‘peasants in the city’ (see e.g. Bryan Roberts Cities of Peasants, published in 1978). 

Internal migration was indeed important for the growth of informal settlements.  In Buenos Aires, villas emerged during the 1930s and the process of industrialisation, to house the large number of workers that were unable to find housing in other neighbourhoods.  As in other Latin American countries, villas were built on public land and were an integral part of the growth of the city, with the main difference being that the state played a small role or no role at all in the provision of basic services, such as water, electricity or sewage.  The auto-construction of the houses was often complemented by collective efforts to bring basic services to the informal settlements. 

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

The military regimes during the 1970s attempted to eradicate informal settlements from the city of Buenos Aires, as these were seen as key bastions of opposition.  The city was associated with order, cleanliness and obedience and villas were seen as lacking in these characteristics.  They were associated with dirt, chaos, subversiveness.  The military regimes therefore aimed to move all informal settlements on the other side of the boundary of the city of Buenos Aires.  Racist stereotyping preceded the forced evictions and over 200,000 are thought to have been forcefully evicted from the city of Buenos Aires (see Blaustein, Eduardo, Prohibido vivir aquí: la erradicación de las villas durante la dictadura, published in 2006).

With the return of democracy in 1983 many of these residents returned to the places from which they had been evicted and they were increasingly joined by migrants from neighbouring countries, such as Paraguay and Bolivia, and during the 1990s, Peru.  Some informal settlements today are associated with specific nationalities.  For example, the villa 21-24 is predominantly Paraguayan and the parish church bears the name of a Paraguayan Virgin, the Virgin of Caacupé.  However, while there might be a cultural association with Paraguayan ancestry, and while anecdotal accounts give estimates of ‘90% of those in 21-24 are from Paraguay’, a recent census conducted by the Instituto de la Vivienda de la Ciudad, (IVC – City Housing Institute) indicates that in fact only just over a third of its residents were born in Paraguay (34.7%), while 48% are Argentinean (they might have Paraguayan parents but given that they were born in Argentina, they are Argentinean).  This is significant, given the fact that many public authorities attempt to ‘export’ the issue of informality by attributing it to a problem generated by the migration from neighbouring countries.

Migrants from neighbouring countries and Peru have suffered decades of discrimination.  Xenophobic attitudes in public discourse intensified during the 1990s, during the Menem government, when migrants from neighbouring countries, particularly Bolivia, were accused of stealing jobs from Argentineans, and therefore increasing unemployment, increasing crime rates and insecurity, and blamed for health scares, such as a cholera outbreak.  These xenophobic attitudes were also present in everyday actions, such as a brutal murder of Marcelina Meneses, a young Bolivian woman, who was pushed off a train in Buenos Aires in January 2001 while carrying her ten month old son, who also died in the accident.  The event, painfully illustrates the everyday acceptance of xenophobic and racist attitudes towards migrants from neighbouring countries.

It is clear, however, that much has changed in Argentina, which today boasts one of the most progressive migration legislations in the world, the law 25,871, which was approved in 2003 after years of lobbying by civil society organisations, and implemented the year after.  However, migration as a subject, as in many other parts of the world, continues to be studied from the point of view of the nation, that is, it suffers from methodological nationalism.  Beyond public figures that attribute the growth of informal settlements to a problem of neighbouring countries, there is very little research that takes a deeper look at the association between informality and migration (some notable exceptions include work by Alejandro Grimson, Lucia Groisman and Carla Gallinati).

In a pilot research project we are currently exploring the relationship between informality and migration, specifically through the everyday politics of informal settlements.  We are particularly interested in understanding how migrants organise as ‘neighbours’ (vecinos), often in conjunction with non-migrants, around issues that affect them.  These sometimes relate to their condition as migrants, but most of the time, they organise on the basis of their experience as residents of informal settlements.

Organisational strategies and aims vary greatly.  However, we find that the scale at which we address migrants’ everyday politics matter.  When we look at the city as a whole, migrants tend to organise around their particular country of origin, and on the basis of their national identity.  We find many organisations that (claim to) represent Bolivians, Paraguayans or Peruvians.  However, when we shift the focus to the informal settlement, there are many more cross-national organisations, those made up of migrants from different countries, as well as migrants and Argentineans.  While it is not surprising that the everyday politics in informal settlements aim to address the most immediate needs – adequate access to electricity, connection to sewage system, better security and access to health services – what is surprising is the absence of claims in relation to their condition as migrants.

Does this mean that migration is irrelevant at the more micro level of analysis, at the level of informal settlement?  Some interviewees vividly remember the nights following the 2001 economic collapse when they had to gather around fires to fend off attacks from other groups of migrants.  However, most grass-roots organisations are able to transcend differences on the basis of nationality and unite their activists around issues that affect them all.  This is encouraging, particularly if taken together with the progress at the national level on migration legislation, as it could point to a top down and almost simultaneous bottom up recognition of difference but a willingness to work across these differences, to form what Amin terms a ‘society of strangers’ (see Ash Amin, Land of Strangers, published 2012).  There remains, however, the level of the city, where public authorities as well as those claiming to represent different groups of migrants, reproduce and often strengthen divisions among groups of strangers.  

In the same way that informal settlements are an integral part of the city and, many would argue, are here to stay as long as the current system remains in place, so too is migration.  To wish to ‘urbanise’ informal settlements, lends little recognition to the structural elements that have generated existing inequalities, the same inequalities that encourage people to move from one country to another, despite having to live in an informal settlement.  What is clearly missing is the recognition of the fact that informal settlements are already urban, they are an integral part of the city life, and its residents are already proposing creative solutions to their problems.  Listening and paying attention to these proposals is a vital ingredient of constructing a more just, and less unequal, city in the future. 

The project to which this blog refers to “Seeking justice: migration, informality and political participation in Buenos Aires” is being carried out by Tanja Bastia and Jerónimo Montero Bressán, in collaboration with Diana Mitlin and Melanie Lombard (Global Urban Research Centre, University of Manchester). We gratefully acknowledge the funding from cities@manchester.