Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The theory and reality of urban slums: Pathways-out-of-poverty or cul-de-sacs?

Ivan Turok (HSRC, South Africa) and Jackie Borel-Saladin (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town)


About one in three urban residents (over 900 million people) in the global South live in informal settlements. These ‘slums’ generally consist of makeshift dwellings and they lack basic services such as water and sanitation. Local residents have no security of tenure, so they can be evicted at short notice.

Informal settlement near Kliptown, Soweto
Photo: Tanya Zack

Informal settlements are likely to absorb most of the world’s population growth over the next three decades. So the difference these places make to people’s chances in life is crucial to the future well-being of a large section of global humanity. Put simply, will they help to lift people out of poverty because they provide affordable entry points to access urban assets, services and livelihoods? Or will they confine people to enduring hardship and vulnerability in squalid and unsafe environments with little prospect of upward mobility?

Considering the magnitude of the issues at stake, the dynamics of urban slums are surprisingly under-researched and over-sensationalised. A better understanding of the relationship between slum characteristics and personal trajectories is important, set in the context of local labour market conditions. The interactions between these three phenomena - place, people and economy - are bound to exercise a decisive influence on whether informal settlements help or hinder human progress by linking people to the opportunities concentrated in cities. 

Without this understanding of how shack areas affect human development, all kinds of implicit assumptions and misperceptions flourish. A common stereotype is that they are ‘no-go areas’ formed in hazardous places by squatters who are anti-social, uneducated and desperate. Stigma really matters when held by powerful elites who target slums for eviction because they are blamed for crime and pollution. The opposite view is that slums are sites of remarkable self-sacrifice, high hopes and resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Their social vibrancy and energy make them worthy of special policy attention.

Neither of these polarised notions recognises that the prospects of slum dwellers are intimately bound up with the labour market context of the city, especially the rate of jobs growth. There are also contrasting perspectives on how informal settlements evolve over time. One is that slums are part of the growth pains of societies in transition that gradually disappear as living standards rise. The other is slums are permanent poverty traps that keep mushrooming inexorably.

 This paper explores which of these processes are more prevalent in practice. Do informal settlements enable people to move out of rural poverty, or confine them to insecurity and misery?

Informal settlement near Kliptown, Soweto
Photo: Tanya Zack

The focus is on South Africa, which is interesting for at least three reasons: the stark social and spatial inequalities, policy ambivalence towards informal settlements, and rising social unrest. Evidence that these places help people to get ahead could shift attitudes and prompt recognition that they warrant more investment in public services. 

The paper draws on data from the Labour Force Survey. It provides clear evidence that households are better-off in informal urban areas than in rural areas, but worse-off than in formal urban areas. Hence shack settlements may be a step up for former rural households in that a fair proportion of adults are able to access urban jobs. However, most are confined to lower-paid, manual and precarious occupations.

The prospects for stronger upward mobility are hampered by sluggish economic conditions and a segmented labour market. The contrasting conditions of shack dwellers and formal urban residents are also among the reasons for increasing frustration and violent protests in these communities.

Further research using longitudinal data is necessary to test these provisional findings and assess the extent and timescales of economic progression accompanying migration between rural and urban areas.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Beyond the ‘post-industrial’ city: valuing and planning for industry in London

Jessica Ferm and Edward Jones, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London


As practitioners and academics working on planning in London, we had for many years bought into the hype that London – as a quintessential post-industrial world city – had almost completed the transformation of its economy. Any remaining manufacturing or industry was a hangover from the past and would eventually relocate or die. However, as time passed, it seemed increasingly obvious that many of the residential, prime office and mixed use developments that were springing up across the city were actually displacing viable and indeed thriving industrial and manufacturing businesses. In 2014, we became members of a network of community and business groups, Just Space Economy and Planning, initially set up to influence the development of planning policy in London on economic issues.

One of the most pressing issues for this group has been the loss of buildings which accommodate the diverse small businesses typical of much of London. These businesses can be found in industrial areas, in and around high streets, and interwoven in residential areas. The evidence emerging from this group is largely anecdotal but there is growing capacity and determination amongst its members to formalise this knowledge and use it to influence policy and decision-making. An important first step seemed to be to explore answers to the very basic questions that sceptics might pose. Why should industry still be located in London? Should we really be resisting the dynamics of land use economics, where higher-value land uses outbid lower-value ones? Isn’t this a natural and inevitable process?

As Curran (2007) argued in the context of New York: “Those businesses that could, left the city long ago; those that remain are the ones that need to be there or have a business advantage because of their urban location” (p.1429). The first part of our paper explores this concept further, providing some examples and explanations, as well as thinking about the future. We argue that industries that remain do so because they have close ties to their markets, other businesses in the supply or co-production chain, and labour. Niche manufacturers are much more reliant on being close to their markets, with access to skilled labour, driving agglomeration rather than dispersal. In new urban manufacturing there is now a closer symbiosis between production and design, research and development. This relies on access to skilled labour, which is more readily found in cities. Conversely, we make the argument that cities also need industry, to keep the city functioning to process its waste, to provide materials for its construction, and so on. Moving these essential functions further out has implications for efficiency as well as carbon emissions and environmental sustainability as the length of business to business trips increases. Although goods can be imported, demand from the city’s businesses and residents are moving away from mass produced goods towards more bespoke and ‘just-in-time’ products. The line between manufacturing and services is blurring as businesses increasingly bundle together goods and services to meet such demand (PwC, 2009). Retaining manufacturing and industry in cities also helps the city to be more diverse, and therefore more economically and socially resilient. In our opinion it also makes for a more interesting and vibrant city.

The second part of the paper then explores the challenge of planning effectively for industry in London, particularly in the context of a rapidly expanding population that needs to be housed. The traditional approach has been to protect or ‘zone’ land for industrial use. For a number of years, the Mayor of London has been actively planning for the ‘managed decline’ of industrial land, though the actual loss on the ground has been almost three times the target set for London, and up to eight times in some parts of central London (AECOM, 2016). Hopes seem to be pinned on the potential for industrial activities to be accommodated within the urban fabric in a mixed use context. The final section of our paper reveals that there is a lack of consensus on how industry should best be accommodated in our cities in land use terms, not least because some uses might not be ideal right next to housing. On the other hand, one of the joys of city life is the lively juxtaposition of different activities, and lots of manufacturing is now quieter and cleaner than in the past.

Meanwhile the ongoing and rapid loss of industrial land threatens the viability of London’s businesses today. Growing businesses, employing skilled workers, face displacement or worse when their premises are redeveloped for other uses. Ultimately, we need to move beyond the current approach to ‘managed decline’ of industrial land. Decision-makers need to take a positive, strategic and holistic view, one which appreciates the benefits that industry can bring for the city. There are tough choices to be made in London, a growing city where housing pressures are acute, so solutions won’t be easy. They will require looking beyond planning policy and striving for real leadership to bring together developers, landowners and businesses, exploring a range of design options for integrating industry with housing, as well as alternative models for the ownership and management of land and premises which allow existing businesses to have a far bigger stake in their future.


AECOM (2016) Industrial Land Supply and Economy Study 2015. For the Greater London Authority. Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/industria_land_supply_and_economy2015.pdf

Curran W (2007) 'From the Frying Pan to the Oven': Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Urban Studies 44(8): 1427-1440.

PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) (2009) The Future of UK Manufacturing. Accessed 22 July 2015: https://www.pwc.co.uk/assets/pdf/ukmanufacturing-300309.pdf

Friday, 30 September 2016

How do parental background and local house prices influence young adults’ homeownership in England and Wales?

Rory Coulter, University of Cambridge, rcc46@cam.ac.uk


Successive British governments have committed themselves to improving social mobility and increasing homeownership. However, declining rates of owner-occupancy amongst young people – attributed in part to the financial constraints imposed by high house prices and hefty mortgage deposit requirements – now threaten both of these objectives and raise the spectre of deepening housing inequality. 

Debates about Generation Rent suggest that the age distribution of housing resources is becoming more unequal as young adults are finding it harder than previous generations to ‘get on the housing ladder’. Moreover, the growing financial difficulty of accessing homeownership could be deepening housing disparities between young people by lifting owner-occupation out of reach of those whose parents cannot afford to provide housing assistance (for example through financial transfers or mortgage guarantees, help with big ticket purchases or free/subsidised accommodation). This could exacerbate the intergenerational transmission of wealth and (dis)advantage, especially in places where house prices are high and it is particularly difficult to enter homeownership.

To examine these issues I enriched the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study of England and Wales with new data on average transactional house prices within Local Authority Districts. I then analysed how parental attributes predicted the probability that young people aged 25-34 in 2011 were homeowners, exploring whether these patterns varied with local house prices. 

There were two principal findings:
  1. Children with more socio-economically advantaged parents are disproportionately likely to become homeowners, even after taking into account that young people lead very different types of lives (for example in terms of educational attainments or employment patterns). Disparities in the odds of homeownership between children from more and less advantaged backgrounds are also somewhat more pronounced in areas with higher house prices where fewer young people are owner-occupiers.

  2. Nevertheless, individual factors like qualifications, family type and employment are generally more potent predictors of young adults’ homeownership than parental background or local house prices. Parental factors and local prices also only strongly stratify the homeownership prospects of those more advantaged young people whose life trajectories are conducive to owning. Less advantaged young people are unlikely to become homeowners regardless of local prices or the socio-economic status of their parents. This means that housing policy interventions such as Help to Buy are unlikely to create a more socially mobile housing system unless the intergenerational transmission of (dis)advantage in other areas - such as the education system and labour market - is also addressed.
Going forward, this new evidence about the multiple factors constraining young adults’ homeownership indicates that improving the housing experiences of less advantaged young people requires policy-makers to look beyond social mobility and ownership oriented initiatives. As many young people are prolonging their education and grappling with student debts and a lack of secure well-paid work, interventions to improve young adults’ everyday quality of life need to also target the rental sector. This is important because a lack of social housing means that many young people who cannot or do not want to enter homeownership currently have to remain in the parental home or rely on weakly regulated private rental accommodation that is often relatively more costly, insecure and of poorer quality than housing in other tenures. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Special Issue: Urban land and conflict in the global South

Melanie Lombard, University of Sheffield, UK
Carole Rakodi, University of Birmingham, UK


Photo: Melanie Lombard (2007)

2016 is a significant year for the global urban development community. In October, the third Habitat conference will be held in Quito, Ecuador. Elaborate preparatory processes have aimed to ensure that the conference tackles the issues most crucial to the achievement of equitable, efficient and sustainable urban growth and management. During the conference, it is hoped that delegates from all the UN member countries will agree a Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, setting out a new global urban agenda. Yet, arguably, land, and particularly conflict over land, should be more central to the deliberations and the agenda itself. 

In cities of the Global South, access to land is a pressing concern. Typically neither states nor markets provide suitable land for all users, especially low-income households. In the context of urban growth and inequality, acute competition for land and the regulatory failures of states may result in violent conflict. Conflicts over urban land undermine land management and planning systems, add to bottlenecks in the court system, and may lead to violent clashes if unresolved. Policy measures such as registration or improved land use planning are often justified, amongst other things, on the basis that they will help to reduce land conflict. 

However, most accounts refer to such conflicts only in passing. The dynamics of conflict related to urban land are rarely examined in depth, perhaps because it is risky to do so. For example, the Habitat III issue paper on urban land refers to the impact of internal displacement on urban areas, the need to protect rural landholders’ rights in peri-urban areas affected by urban expansion, and the increased competition for land following sea level rise, but none of these are examined in any detail.

The draft New Urban Agenda, which has already undergone several iterations at preparatory meetings, refers briefly to the effects of land conflicts arising from informal settlement integration and wider civil conflict. In addition, several of its recommended ‘development levers’ (policies and actions) relate to land, such as planned city extension. However, the possibility that conflict over land might undermine policy implementation is not recognised. Meanwhile, the 2016 report Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures, which identifies key implementation issues for the New Urban Agenda, refers to conflicts arising from urban inequality and redevelopment, but does not contain a specific chapter on land. Such omissions are surprising, given that equitable access to, and sound management of, land is central to transformative change. They make the publication of this special issue of Urban Studies very timely. 

The publication originated from the authors’ shared frustration at the lack of thorough understanding of urban land conflict, particularly in terms of the actors involved, the relationships between them, the role of land administration systems and the efficacy of existing conflict resolution mechanisms. A key concern is that policies and practices intended to reduce conflict over land have the potential to exacerbate it instead. These points are addressed across the papers in this special issue, which are based on ground-breaking research in challenging contexts including Xalapa, Mexico; Juba, South Sudan; Nairobi, Kenya; and eThekwini (Durban) and Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Our editorial introduction sketches out a framework for land conflict analysis. We suggest that such analysis must, first, consider definitional categories, including the material and emotional dimensions of access to land, conflict and violence, and tenure. Second, it needs to identity and examine the interests and behaviour of the many actors involved in land conflicts. And third, it needs to analyse the interactions and relationships between those involved at different levels: from the individual/household, through the local to the citywide, national and international. It is only from such grounded and detailed research, exploring the drivers, dynamics and outcomes of urban land conflicts, that well-informed, appropriate policies and practices will arise.

Powering Africa’s Urban Revolution

Jonathan Silver, Durham University, UK
Simon Marvin, The Urban Institute, University of Sheffield, UK

The pace of change in some sub-Saharan African towns and cities is relentless. In Lagos thousands of people arrive everyday to establish new lives, economic opportunities and social connections. Many of these new arrivals will find space in the informal settlements that make up to 60 percent of the population in cities such as Kampala. Urbanisation is taking place on a scale unmatched in human history and its creating an urgent need to produce new infrastructure systems to serve the needs and dreams of these growing urban populations. 

The energy challenges of these cities form only one part of this infrastructure agenda - but one vital to the futures of these urban regions and their inhabitants. The energy issues of powering what Sue Parnell and Edgar Pieterse (2014) term ‘Africa’s urban revolution’ are complex and ever changing across the multiple, urban geographies of this vast region. From mega-infrastructure projects such as the $20 billion Grand Inga hydro in DR Congo to the everyday struggles of energy poverty in households in Cape Town it’s clear that multi-scalar energy transitions are taking place alongside the broader infrastructural transformations of the region. But how such transitions are taking place across towns and cities and how these socio-technical processes might be guided around concerns such as sustainability or security remain less clear. 

Solar panels for sale in a market in Timbuktu
Photo: Jonathan Silver

It is this uncertainty concerning the trajectories of energy transitions and how they are understood that has provided the impetus for our critical commentary. We have been working for a number of years with an international team based across Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and the UK as part of the SAMSET project (Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions). The work of researchers, practitioners and municipal partners has shown that understanding this energy transition is complex and varies across different urban, national and regional contexts. Furthermore, they also offer very different outcomes to the infrastructuralisation that occurred during electrification in the global North. As such we have taken inspiration from the growing literature on postcolonial urbanisms, particular across sub-Saharan Africa to consider these urban energy transitions in ways that are more applicable to the regional dynamics of (urban) infrastructure.

Electric pylons cross the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Cape Town
Photo: Jonathan Silver

Beginning with debates concerning urban transitions analysis we then propose extending the outlines of such a framework into new directions that address our concerns about how we research the energy dynamics of ‘Africa’s urban revolution’. Here we seek to draw attention to the specificity of sub-Saharan African urbanisation, the need to find an ‘urban’ context for understanding transition, how urban capacity is constituted and might be rethought and finally the politics and contested natures of these transitions. Our conclusion argues that we need new ways to interpret and explain urban energy issues as a basis for critical social science research that better accounts for actual existing urban energy conditions. Such research is vital to connecting with, informing and partnering with the world of practice through helping a range of intermediaries, from municipalities to slum dweller groups better grasp these energy challenges.

One way we have done this is to take our ideas and concerns from this critical commentary to inform a new short documentary made in an informal settlement in Kampala with our research assistant Joel Ongwec - Powering Namuwongo - an examination of energy transition in an poor but vibrant neighbourhood in Uganda’s capital city.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Empty spaces in the crowd: Residential vacancy in Sao Paulo´s city centre

Vanessa Nadalin, IPEA - Institute of Applied Economic Research, Brazil


The issue of higher residential vacancies in the city centre has been relevant in the case of São Paulo, Brazil for quite some time. In fact, since 1997, social movements have been promoting squatting in empty central buildings, aiming to convince the government to use these vacant properties as social housing. Nowadays, these social movements play an important role even in national politics, with great power over street protests mobilisation.

Homeless people claim affordable housing at Avenida Paulista 
Foto: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil (11/12/2013)

(Licença Creative Commons Atribuição 3.0 Brasil)

São Paulo is a wealthy city with respect to the rest of the country. It has been the centre of Brazil's industrial development. Still, the high income inequality implies a great concentration of poverty. The fast pace of urbanization during the 70s and 80s contributed to the fact that São Paulo is a huge disorganized urban area. Urban problems are everywhere: housing deficit, traffic congestion, violence.

The effort in attracting jobs and maintaining economic activities in the inner city is particularly challenging. Indeed, even if many cities have successfully regenerated their central areas, the so-called inner city problem is still very much alive in São Paulo. As a result, although the city centre has abundant urban infrastructure, it still has plenty of vacant spaces, including residential buildings. One could say that São Paulo’s city centre is characterised by a large number of empty spaces in an area that is simultaneously crowded with buildings and urban facilities.

A 1960 building that houses 378 squatting families in São Paulo city centre
Foto: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

The ‘housing deficit’ in São Paulo´s urban area amounted to 694,042 units in 2010, whereas there were 476,112 vacant residential units in total (IBGE 2010 Census). This significant housing deficit indicates the need to seek alternatives in the provision of good quality housing and, clearly, the reduction of residential vacancy rates in the city centre might be an option. Nonetheless, to assess whether this is a sensible approach it is important that vacancy levels are monitored and their underlying drivers understood.

Residents of squatted building take turns in cleaning common areas
Foto: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

Our research intended to contribute to the empirical analysis of the determinants of vacancy rates, with a particular focus on historical city centres, using the Sao Paulo Metropolitan Area (SPMA) as our case study. Our empirical analysis relies on district-level data for the years 2000 and 2010, and combines standard spatial econometric methods with hedonic modelling.

We find evidence of three main groups of determinants: individual building characteristics, mobility of households and neighbourhood quality. There is also evidence that the historic central city is a distinctive submarket and its determinants work differently when compared to the housing markets of other areas across the SPMA. 

The empirical vacancy determinants indicate ways in which policy makers could interfere to change market conditions and improve the provision of good quality housing.  In general, one might think of policies that aim to reduce the natural vacancy rate or, alternatively, measures with the objective of correcting upward deviations from the natural vacancy level. For instance, the enforcement of laws that punish owners for keeping units vacant can influence and expedite the price adjustment process.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Regeneration and networks in the Arts District (Los Angeles). Rethinking governance models in the production of urbanity

Dr. Sébastien Darchen, University of Queensland, Australia


Cities are more and more analysed as being part of broader urban networks. But does the context of a network society – as defined by Manuel Castells – have an influence on local planning processes? The literature on networks is rapidly expanding; yet urban scholars know very little about the influence of this context on the micro-politics of planning. More research is needed on the ways urban stakeholders use specific networks to influence the evolution of a given urban area. Associated with this challenge of rethinking governance models, is the need to answer the following question: Who is in charge of the production of urbanity in the contemporary city? Conventional top-down planning has become difficult to achieve and interactive forms of governance supplement traditional government institutions and representative democracy (Sehested, 2009). This context broadens opportunities for new non-institutionalised social actors to play an active role in current planning processes.

This research studies the regeneration strategies of a group of non-institutionalised stakeholders in the Arts District in the downtown area of Los Angeles. In the absence of real engagement from institutionalised actors, this group of new entrepreneurs (e.g., Creative Spaces, Linear City, business owners) has developed an innovative regeneration process based on the adaptive re-use of industrial buildings. Adaptive re-use can be defined as “a process to ameliorate the financial, environmental and social performance of buildings...that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose” (Bullen and Love, 2010: 215).

This process involves the creation of socially responsible new businesses and work spaces for artists (see picture below), as well as for companies from the creative sector. 

An abandoned industrial building transformed into an exhibition space for artists
Source: The author

The regeneration process relies very much on professional networks; the group of new entrepreneurs is active in enrolling actors outside the District in the regeneration process. They use their professional networks at the national scale to attract residents and businesses from the creative sector in the Arts District. This enables them to retain an element of creativity in the neighbourhood and to promote an innovative regeneration process based on the adaptive re-use of industrial buildings. The research highlights the use of social networks and “spaceless” interactions active in the production of contemporary urbanity. Furthermore, this research encourages urban scholars to look beyond endogenous interactions to consider the external networks that contribute to the transformation of a given urban area.


Bullen PA and Love PD (2010) The rhetoric of adaptive reuse or reality of demolition: views from the field. Cities 27: 215-224.

Castells M (2009) Communication Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sehested K (2009) Urban Planners as Network Managers and Metagovernors. Planning Theory and Practice 10(2): 245-263.