Friday, 18 September 2015

Sol Gamsu - The re-location of elite and middle-class schools

Sol Gamsu, King's College London, discusses his article "Moving up and moving out: the re-location of elite and middle-class schools from central London to the suburbs". Download the article here:

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Collective or individual titles? Conflict over tenure regularisation in a Kenyan informal settlement

Andrea Rigon - University College London, UK

The urban regeneration of poor neighbourhoods is an increasingly common intervention in cities across the world. These interventions are often accompanied by market displacement and gentrification, processes through which some local residents benefit from the increased value of their properties whilst others cannot afford to continue living in the area and are replaced by more affluent people. A key policy concern is therefore the ways in which such interventions can protect current residents from displacement and allow them to remain in their neighbourhoods. In the context of fast growing African cities – where land is rapidly appreciating and often contested – ensuring that residents of informal settlements, particularly tenants, can continue living in their settlements of origin after regeneration interventions is particularly challenging.

My research analyses a specific slum-upgrading project in an informal settlement of Nairobi in which there were different interests amongst diverse groups of residents. I explore the negotiations over tenure regularisation, including in particular the proposed use of a collective form of land titling through the creation of a Community Land Trust, explicitly with the aim of reducing displacement and gentrification. While at first glance a very attractive option, I argue that such tenure reforms are always shaped by context-specific power relations, and that in this particular case the process came to be dominated by the implementers’ need to maintain fragile agreements with local elites in order to avoid conflict. Elite pressure led to a change in project’s objectives, which makes it more difficult for tenants to afford living in the settlement in the long-term. Ultimately, then, what my case shows is that tenure reforms are based on different ideas of whose rights should be recognised and competing claims that are both negotiated through and shaped by the implementation process.

This research contributes to policy-oriented and theoretical debates on how to approach the complex task of upgrading informal settlements, which now host a quarter of the world’s urban population and over 60% of Africa’s urban population, according to UN-Habitat. While policy innovation, in terms of new tenure approaches is sorely needed, any project should be aware that technical solutions are likely to fail if they do not take into consideration power relations and how these shape implementation through the daily encounters between different groups of residents and project implementers. In particular, urban land reform outcomes are likely to be shaped by local power relations and the relative power of state and non-state actors involved in the process of detailed planning and implementation rather than land policy decisions taken at higher levels.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Transforming transport planning in the postpolitical era

Crystal Legacy (Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Australia)

This research examines the transformation of the democratic systems that support transport decision making in Australian cities. The focus of the paper is the controversial East West Link road tunnel proposed for the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. Following the state government decision to fast track the signing of the contracts for this project, concern that this would remove public debate about the efficacy of the proposed tunnel eventually proved unfounded. Instead, the closing down of debate by the government spurred debate to occur elsewhere.  My ambition in this project was to understand the intricacies of the opposition to this controversial road project, but, more specifically, to examine the ways in which different community-based groups organised to stop a project and do so in a way that offers a transformative urban transport agenda for the State. When a government deliberately closes its door to open citizen engagement, particularly around discussions of transport priorities, I was interested in investigating how community based groups and individual residents alike can move beyond NIMBY-focused and site specific agitation to garner a spatially dispersed re-politicisation of urban transport priorities? I set out to consider how a reconceptualisation could transpire, and in what ways could a political orientation of the problem provide a platform for a redemocratisation of transport planning?

When the research commenced, I was nearing the end of my semester of teaching Integrated Transport Planning. Motivated by the high level of student activism that catalysed the creation of the Students Linking Melbourne Sustainably (SLiMS) group, my research assistant Daniela Minicucci and I set out to follow and engage groups like SLiMS through an ethnographic study of the politicisation of transport in Melbourne. This included participation in community organised street protests, engagement in public forums and debates about urban transport policy at community meetings and in the media. I also followed Twitter feeds and hastage discussions as well as participated in meetings with leaders in the community campaign against the East West Link.  To develop a more robust understanding of the motivations and strategies embraced by the groups, and to help with my analysis of the variety of ways these groups were working collectively to stop the project, I also conducted 15 semi-structured interviews with the lead campaigners. Even though the substantive aspect of my research focused on a 6 month period of state-led community engagement with a highly flawed Comprehensive Impact Statement process, my interest in these groups continued unabatedly into the state election in November 2014 when, following months of political pressure from these groups in the lead up to the election, and after signing the contracts, the party in power was defeated. Through the campaign, which included savvy engagement with the political parties and major media outlets, the community-based groups were able to position the project onto the state’s political agenda in the lead up to the election. This enabled the newly elected government to remove the East West Link from the top of the transport infrastructure priority list following the election. Shortly thereafter the contracts were broken.

The paper’s contribution is to illustrate how the politics of transport evolves and is played out.  Any decision to remove the community from the processes that determine the priorities of transport investment, are inherently political decisions and therefore any attempt to depoliticise decision making, be that through streamlining decision making or by narrowing the scope for citizen participation, only serves to hyper politicise projects. A key conclusion of the paper is the need for new urban governance settings that both respond to and embrace the political aspects of transport planning and decision making.  But in the absence of inclusive governance arrangements, politically engaged citizens will go to great lengths to create their own spaces where deliberations about transport problems, priorities and investments can occur, but in a manner that allows alternative transport futures to also be considered. These informal processes offer an illustration of the redemocratisation of transport planning. To the extent that citizens can influence transport decision making (and they can!), a closed system of transport decision making does not close down debate and community action.