Consorting with a new generation of urbanists
Quito, Ecuador. It is 4.30 am I am at Quito’s sparkling well organised airport waiting for my flight to Cape Town via Lima, then Buenos Aires, then Johannesburg, then Cape Town. Difficult to imagine I can survive this, and can only hope that all the flights are on time. I have been here for a week participating in an International Fellows programme hosted by the International Social Science Council on the theme ‘sustainable urbanization’. I was one of three invited to help co-facilitate the discussions and provide expert inputs. The other two were Andrea Lampis from Bogota, and Adriana Allen from DPU at UCL in London. 20 Fellows were selected to participate after a public call for applications was issued in 2012. The target was early career academics, post-docs and professional researchers completing their Phds. 19 attended the Quito workshop which lasted for six days. The majority were early career academics or full-time post-docs from all parts of the world.
The hosted institution was the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, a private regional University serving the Andean nations. We were accommodated in a luxurious University residence, and the meeting rooms were in the same building. Besides the well run high-quality facilities (and quite good food, at least by standards), the best feature of all was the exceptionally beautiful art on the all the walls, including in each of the residential rooms. One beautiful room included an array of stained glass windows expressing the profiles of the women who played leading revolutionary roles. All the paintings and sculptures in the room were all of women with similar histories. An extra-ordinary testament. Mostly by Ecuadorian painters, a sense of liberation was the overriding theme of all the art – the liberation of indigenous people, of women, of the oppressed. A giant painting by famous Ecuadorian artist Jorge Perugachy loomed over the main meeting room depicting a powerful female deity who seemed to be leading and anointing the liberation of all the world’s exploited and oppressed peoples. (Apparently Perugachy always features a female deity at the centre of his paintings.) A fitting setting for a workshop on the complex dynamics of cities midway through the second urbanization wave.
The final outcome was an agreement to publish an edited collection of the work presented and discussed with the tantalizing title Untamed Urbanisms. Adriana Allen, Andrea Lampis and I will act as the Co-Editors. The four main section themes (although not the final headings) are as follows:
• Greening the Urban Age: Perspectives and Trajectories
• Governance and Planning for the Sustainable City
• Poverty, Vulnerability, and Inequality
• Liberating Alternatives
It was agreed to include a fifth section on Research Journeys that will summarize submissions to a blog on the methodologies and methods deployed by the chapter contributors.
I find this project exciting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the book will bring together the writing of a new generation of urbanists. While they wrestle with similar themes to the previous generations of urbanists, there are new themes and challenging perspectives that go beyond mere critique. Secondly, the intellectual strength of this new generation is a reflection of the growing institutional capacity that has been built up over the past decades of Universities in developing countries. Even in Africa which is where a structural adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s had the most negative affects, Universities are strengthening and a new generation of intellectuals are happy to be employed in Africa. Thirdly, it is unusual to find a generosity of spirit and openness to learning in a large group of academics – this is what I found during our discussions in Quito. It was a breath of fresh air.
(I will work with Adriana on getting the book together when I get to London in July for our mini-sabatical.)
The participants included the following:
Manase Chiweshe (Zimbabwe): Gendered dimensions of old age care in a time of crisis: Experiences of elderly women at Bako Redonhodzo Old People’s Home in Harare, Zimbabwe
Mauricio Dominguez (Mexico): Domestic Water Accessibility and Adaptation to
Climate Change Impacts in Peripheral Urban Settlements of Mérida Metropolitan Area, Yucatán, MéxicoFerne Edwards (Australia): Small, Slow and Shared: Emerging Social Innovations in Urban Australian Foodscapes
John Harris (USA): Expanding Sanitation Access in Accra’s Public Toilets
Taibat Lawanson (Nigeria): Neighbourhood differentials and environmental health interface in Lagos metropolis, Nigeria
Moises Lino e Silva (Brazil): Formally informal: Daily life and the shock of order in a Brazilian favela
Chipo Mubaya (Zimbabwe): Climate Change, Urban Population Growth and City Governance in Dar es Salaam Settlements, Tanzania
Jenia Mukherjee (India): Mega-urbanization of Eastern Kolkata: Vision and Reality
Franklin Obeng-Odoom (Ghana): The Mystery of Capital or the Mystification of Capital?
Luke Parry (UK): Rural-urban migration brings conservation threats and opportunities to Amazonian watersheds
Dominik Reusser: Classifying railway stations for sustainable transitions – balancing node and place functions
Natalie Rosales: Towards the modeling of sustainability into urban planning: Using indicators to build sustainable cities
Mintesnot Woldeamanuel (Ethiopia): Analyzing Mode-Switching Behavior in Response to Transit-Oriented Developments
Alok Tiwari (India): How can we improve the quality of life in Indian Metros?
Irene Sotiropoulou (Greece): Economic activity without official currency in Greece: the * hypothesis
Landy Sanchez (Mexico): The demography of adaptation to climate change