Urban Dynamics in the Age of Cities

Debating Development 2015 Cities are on the rise. In 2007, the world’s urban population exceeded the rural for the first time. Some are hopeful about this shift. They underline the opportunities cities have for human development. Cities are believed to be spaces where government is close to the people, public services are accessible and business easily connects to the global economy. But are these claims true? Throughout this series of debates we will touch upon current urban dynamics and explore the related discussions.

Debating Development 2015

Urban Dynamics in the Age of Cities

Monday 19 October - Smart cities from scratch: a wise idea?

Ayona Datta (University of Leeds)
Eric Osiakwan (Angel Investor and Tech Entrepreneur, Ghana)
Moderator: Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp)

In recent years, the idea of “smart” cities has been identified as a key strategy for sustainable urban growth. The concept lends itself to two distinct but related definitions: a smart city can refer to an urban environment in which real-time technologies are embedded into a city’s infrastructure to monitor and regulate the environment, or, it can refer to the catalytic effect of information and communication technologies (ICT) in jumpstarting a knowledge economy. In this debate we focus on the latter definition, and look at how entire regions are being re-designed—or even planned from scratch!—to accommodate ICT industries. Examples of new cities and technology parks abound, for example, Gurgaon (India), Songdo (South Korea), and Cyberjaya (Malaysia). Proponents argue that smart cities leverage technology, innovation and entrepreneurship for development, and that they offer countries the opportunity to “leapfrog” into a high-tech economy. But others say that smart cities are just utopian visions offering few real benefits for local people, many of whom are displaced from their homes and livelihoods to make way for high-rise buildings and office parks. Do smart cities facilitate development, and if so, what kind? Will they usher in equitable development for nations as a whole, or simply create enclave economies that benefit multinational firms the most? Who will be the winners in our smart new world?

Ayona Datta is a Senior Lecturer in Citizenship and Belonging at the University of Leeds, School of Geography. Her broad research interests are in the social and cultural processes shaping notions of home, belonging and citizenship in cities. Her current work includes research on smart cities and the politics of urbanization, focusing on ways in which new forms of city-making create exclusionary landscapes of sustainable development in the global south. She is co-editor of Translocal Geographies: Spaces, places, connections (2011) and author of The Illegal City: Space, Law and Gender in a Delhi Squatter Settlement (2012). She is also the co-editor of two forthcoming books, Fast Cities: Mega-urbanization in the Global South and Ecological Citizenships in the Global South, which will be published in 2016.


Eric Osiakwan, Managing Partner of Chanzo Capital, is an angel investor and tech entrepreneur with fifteen years of ICT industry leadership across Africa and the world. His work in 32 African countries has helped establish businesses and organizations including Angel Africa, Angel Fair, Ghana Cyber City, WABco, Ghana Internet Service Providers Association (GISPA), and Ghana Connect; he was also part of the team that built the TEAMS submarine cable in East Africa. He is a TED Global Fellow, an affiliate of MIT Media Lab, and Visiting Fellow at the Berkman Centre - Harvard University, the University of Maryland, and Stanford University. He has acted as a consultant to various organizations, including the World Bank, Soros Foundation, UNDP, and USAID.


Stijn Oosterlynck is Associate Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Antwerp, Sociology Department. He teaches courses on urban studies, poverty and social inequality. His research is concerned with local social innovation and welfare state restructuring, the political sociology of urban development, urban renewal and community building and new forms of solidarity in diversity. He currently coordinates a large-scale research project on solidarity in diversity (DieGem, IWT-SBO), is involved in several European collaborative research projects (ImPRovE, EU FP7 and Divercities, EU FP7) and is a partner in the Flemish Policy Research Centers on Spatial Planning (DURV, Flemish government) and on Poverty (VLAS, Flemish government). He holds a PhD in Sociology from Lancaster University in the UK.

Monday 26 October - Building resilient cities: what role for local food production and consumption?

Marielle Dubbeling (RUAF Foundation – Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food security)
Michael Winter (University of Exeter)
Moderator: Erik Mathijs (KU Leuven)
Presentation Dubbeling

Over the last couple of decades, urban agriculture has been booming and micro-urban farms have burgeoned within and around cities of the world. While in the global South, urban agriculture has for a long time contributed to the food security of poor urban dwellers, in the global North, this development has been associated with the local food movement which has emphasized the environmental impacts of global agro-food systems and has advocated for local food systems as a solution to reduce the problem of food miles. In this way, there is now a widespread assumption that producing and consuming local can improve, not only ecological sustainability, food security and nutrition, but also food quality and freshness as well as social justice. However, studies in agro-food research have increasingly challenged the idea that the local is inherently better showing that the scale actually does not matter as local-scale systems might result in the same undesirable outcomes than globalized systems of food provision. Who will benefit from localization? May local food systems in the North hurt the poor in the South? Does producing and buying local mean lowest carbon emissions? What are the real motivations of city dwellers purchasing locally grown food and what are the consequences of their actions? In this debate, we will critically discuss the role of local food systems in building sustainable and resilient urban development in the face of wider popular discourses that position localism as an end goal with inherent economic, social and ecological benefits.

Marielle Dubbeling is the Director of RUAF Foundation-International network of Resource centres on Urban Agriculture and Food security, which researches and advocates intra- and peri- urban agriculture and city region food systems for more sustainable and resilient cities.  The RUAF Foundation seeks to contribute to reducing urban poverty, enhancing urban food security, improving urban environmental management and stimulating participatory city governance. Marielle has long experience in policy advise and training. In her current function, she has supported over 20 cities and other local and national stakeholders (NGOs, research institutes; government staff; producer organizations) in developing urban agriculture programmes and policies. Before joining RUAF she worked with the UN HABITAT Urban Management Programme in Latin America, where she supported the development of municipal programmes on urban agriculture in cities in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. Marielle published several articles, working papers and books on urban agriculture, amongst which “Cities, poverty and food: multi-stakeholder policy and planning in urban agriculture (2010)”, “The role of urban agriculture in building resilient cities in developing countries” (2011) and “Urban agriculture and climate change adaptation: Ensuring food security through adaptation” (2011).

Sustainable Urban Food Provisioning (RUAF, 2015)
SMEs & Sustainable Urban Food Provisioning (RUAF, 2015) 

Michael Winter is a rural policy specialist and a rural social scientist with particular interests in applying inter-disciplinary approaches to policy-relevant research and in direct engagement in the policy process. Alongside his directorship of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter he is also Director of the Food Security & Land Research Alliance (encompassing the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, Rothamsted Research and Duchy College). His current research focuses on the governance of sustainable agro-food systems and food security; thehistorical and contemporary sociology of west country agriculture; and farmer environmental attitudes and decision-making, particularly in the context of diffuse pollution and water quality. He leads Project 2 of the Sustainable Intensification Research Platform of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. Michael published a high number of articles, amongst which several on local food, e.g. “Embeddedness, the new food economy and defensive localism” (2003), “Local food, food miles and carbon emissions: a comparison of farm shop and mass distribution approaches” (2009), “Local food for local people? Producing food for local and national organic markets in England and Wales” (2011).


Monday 9 November - The global city: a blessing or a curse?

Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)
Jeroen van der Waal (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Moderator: Ben Derudder (Ghent University)

Presentation Swyngedouw
Presentation van der Waal

This debate investigates the link between global city formation and social polarization. Global city formation entails the process by which core economic activities, from the delivery of elementary goods to the provision of legal and financial advice, shift from the local to the trans-national level. In contrast to earlier production periods, in which prominent cities operated mainly for their immediate hinterland and vice versa, global cities are featured by a widespread geographic dispersal of economic activities. Global city theory argues that this dynamic fosters social polarization. On the one hand, global cities attract service-dominated and internationally oriented firms, in need of both high and low-skilled labor. On the other hand, economic sectors persevering middle classes, like car manufacturing companies, tend to relocate. In this debate we discuss the social impact of global city formation. When is a city to be considered as a global city? And are these global cities indeed showing a tendency towards social polarization, as global city theory argues, or are its effects mediated by domestic factors, like the strength of labor unions and/or social policies? By digging deeper into theories of globalization and by drawing upon case study knowledge, this debate seeks to elucidate the question whether global city formation should be propelled (and seen as a blessing) or mediated (and thus seen as a curse).

Erik Swyngedouw is Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester in its School of Environment and Development. He received his PhD entitled “The production of new spaces of production” under the supervision of David Harvey at Johns Hopkins University (1991). From 1988 until 2006 he taught at the University of Oxford and was a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. He moved to the University of Manchester in 2006. Prof. Swyngedouw has published several books and research papers on economic globalization, regional development, finance, and urbanization. In general, he commits his studies to the political economic analysis of contemporary capitalism.


Jeroen van der Waal (Ph.D. Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2010) is associate professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, and a member of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities, and Young Erasmus. His research is predominantly located in the fields of political sociology, urban sociology and sociology of health. Prof. van der Waal’s PhD project explicitly addressed the Global City Debate of Saskia Sassen and others on the impact of economic globalization on inequality within cities. The research has been awarded the bi-annual dissertation award for the best PhD thesis in Sociology by the Dutch Sociological Association 2009-2010 (NSV) and was recently published in book version.


Ben Derudder (PhD in Geography, Ghent University, 2006) is Professor of Human Geography at Ghent University's Department of Geography, and an Associate Director of the Globalization and World Cities research group and network (GaWC). Previousy, Prof. Derudder also held positions as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia, 2011-2013) and as a Senior Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing (2014-2015). His research focuses on (1) the conceptualization and empirical analysis of world city networks, (2) the globalization of scientific praxis (in geography in particular), and (3) the interaction between (social) network analysis and spatial modeling techniques. His work on world city networks has been published in leading academic journals, and he has co-authored the 2nd edition of 'World City Network: A Global Urban Analysis' (Routledge, 2015, with Peter J. Taylor), one of the key textbooks in the literature.

Monday 16 November - Urban transport: how to reach our destination?

Xavier Godard (independent consultant)
Honoré Paelinck (visiting professor at University of Antwerp)
Moderator: Bruno De Borger (University of Antwerp)

Presentation Godard

Rapid population growth, suburbanization, economic growth, and motorization are some of the challenges that growing cities around the world are currently facing. While transport infrastructure, services and systems that originated in industrialized countries have often been rather blindly transferred to the developing world, it is now widely acknowledged that urban transport policy and planning challenges in the developing world differ considerably from those characterizing urban areas of the developed world. In broad terms, the fast pace of urbanization and motorization, the high travel demand, limited resources, ineffective governance ,and lack of democracy and public participation are often exacerbating general urban transport problems in cities in developing countries. Consequently, pathways to address the highly inadequate urban transport conditions for the majority of the population need to be discussed. Given the complexity of the topic, many different questions may enter this debate. How we can make urban transport efficient, accessible and affordable for all (sub)urban dwellers? How to bring together formal and informal modes of transportation, including private cars, pedestrians, buses, moto taxis etc.? Who should have the lead or at least a say in the planning of the urban transport system? Are mega projects and private sector involvement the new panacea? Which opportunities lie ahead and where should we go from here?

Xavier Godard has for many years focused his research and expertise activities on developing countries, especially Africa. During his 35 years working at Inrets (the French Institute for Research in Transport and Road Safety) he conducted analyses and project assessments on urban transport and mobility in developed (1969-1981) and developing countries (2000-2009). Additionally, Xavier Godard was the Scientific Committee Chairman of several CODATU conferences (e.g. Caracas 1982, Sao Paulo 1990, Lomé 2002). Even though he retired from Inrets (later transformed into Ifstar) in 2009, he kept working on an independent basis. His main research theme is mobility and travel needs analysis, including the analysis of the various modes of transportation that can be found in urban (and regional) transport systems and the appraisal of transport policies and projects. He is a recognized specialist of urban transport in Africa, with a focus on paratransit and urban poor mobility needs. Due to his expertise, he was asked to act as an advisor on several occasions (e.g. UN-Habitat report on “planning and design for sustainable urban mobility” published in 2013). Moreover, he guided PhD students in preparing their doctoral theses on urban transport in African cities up to his retirement in 2008.

 Honoré Paelinck is a former World Bank consultant on transport. He has led several transport companies, including the Belgian Railways in 1987. More information.





Bruno De Borger is a professor at the Faculty of Applied Economics of the University of Antwerp where he teaches various courses, including ‘Transport, Mobility and the Environment’. Earlier in his career he also held positions at The Pennsylvania State University and at the KU Leuven. He is a former chairman of the Centre for Economic and Social Research (SESO) and served as a consultant to various public and private organizations on issues related to transport economics, health economics and applied industrial organization. Within the wide range of research projects, Bruno De Borger has focused on social, economic and environmental dimensions of transportation. In his most recent publications he deals amongst others with the economics of pricing and regulation in the transport sector, and the political economy of transport decision-making.


Monday 23 November - Megacities: lands of opportunities or cities of disappointments?

Alastair Donald (Future Cities Project; British Council)
Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London)
Moderator: Tom Coppens (University of Antwerp)

Presentation Donald
Presentation Broto

Today, an estimated 7% of the world’s total population live in 29 megacities, which are usually defined as metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people – the largest being Tokyo with a population of 37 million. This number is expected to rise further over the next 35 years with an urban population growing at phenomenal rates in developing countries. Many celebrate the mushrooming of megacities all around the world as they tend to produce more wealth and offer more to the unremitting rural poverty. They see megacities, including their slums, as centres for social changes and creativity and that create new opportunities for economic development and better standard of living for society as a whole because there are gateways to global markets. On the other hand, those opposed to this super-urbanisation argue that even with solid economic growth, megacities are not necessarily becoming better places to live. They contend that large infrastructure projects destroy people’s lives and are more beneficial to large corporate firms than to ordinary people to live their lives. Moreover, they suggest that megacities are poverty traps for many citizens who wanted to escape hopeless poverty in their village but who are faced with economically uncertain existence, diseases, urban violence, and natural disasters. Are megacities desirable or even necessary? Do megacities represent an opportunity or a dystopia? Can megacities offer pleasant life for all ? Alastair Donald from the Future Cities Project and Vanesa Castan Broto from University College London will discuss these important topics during this 5th debate of our series on  Urban Dynamics in the Age of Cities.

Alastair Donald is associate director of the Future Cities Project which critically explores issues around the city and society, and convenor of the Future Cities Salon. For the British Council he is project director for the British Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale. As an expert on urban planning and mobility and space, he has advised on urban policy at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and on masterplanning and urban design at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).He is co-founder of Mantownhuman who published “Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture” and co-convenor of the architecture and design international summer school Critical Subjects. He is co-editor of “The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs” (2011) and “The Future of Community: Reports of a Death Greatly Exaggerated”.

Twitter: @MaximumCities

Vanessa Castan Broto is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Sustainable Development and Researcher at the Development and Planning Unit (DPU) in University College since 2011. Her work focuses on understanding the role of urban planning in delivering sustainable urban futures through studying topics such as: the political consequences of urban innovation for climate change; and participatory methodologies for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies in cities in developing countries. Vanesa is also part of the Future Proofing Cities comparative research project which investigated the risks and opportunities for inclusive urban growth across 129 cities in the world. This project identified measures that cities can take to manage climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems. Vanessa has published widely in leading academic journals in planning and the environmental sciences and she is a co-editor of the volume Cities and Low Carbon Transitions. Before joining the DPU in 2011, Vanessa worked at the University of Durham investigating processes of social and technological innovation within the city in response to climate change. This project has influenced international initiatives in cities for climate change at the World Bank, UN- Habitat and UNEP. She has research experience in locations as diverse as Bosnia and Herzegovina, UK, Spain, Bolivia, Argentina, India and Mozambique. Vanessa holds an Engineering Doctorate from the University of Surrey and two Masters on Environmental Policy from Wageningen University (the Netherlands) and on Environment and Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain).

Twitter: @VaneBailo

Tom Coppens is professor urban planning and development at the university of Antwerp. He is head of the department planning and urban development, and head of research group for urban Development. Coppens is an expert in spatial governance, planning instruments, process management and stakeholder involvement in large spatial projects. A part of his research focusses on spatial governance in the Caribbean region and (un)sustainable urban development.

(cancelled) Monday 30 November - Superdiversity: an answer to structural inequality?

Ben Rogaly (University of Sussex)
Paul Watt (University of London)
Moderator:  Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp)

This debate was cancelled due to transport issues

Many cities in the world are becoming increasingly diversified and complex. In contrast to previous modes of multi-culturalism, with a clear distinction between minority and majority groups, current urban dynamics jeopardize this social fabric in favor of cities where only minorities hold sway – a trend captured by the term ‘superdiversity’. This debate seeks to investigate the link between superdiversity and structural inequality. For one, superdiversity provides economic, social and political opportunities for many people and social groups, given that the control of strategic goods, like state resources and import and export channels, get less centralized and hence more accessible. For the other, however, superdiversity implies a mere continuation of past patterns of migration, structurally layered, and thus consolidating traditional forms of inequality. Questions that will be addressed during this session are: how does superdiversity affect structural inequality? What new forms of structural mobility do we witness within such a context? And what happens with power relations within cities that are super-diverse? Answers will be formulated by zooming in on social dynamics within certain city neighborhoods in Western societies and beyond.

Ben Rogaly is Professor of Human Geography, Head of the Department of Geography at the University of Sussex and a member of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research. He comes to Geography from an interdisciplinary social science background. Before joining Sussex in 2003, Ben was based at the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, where he had been a member of faculty since 1996. He has also worked as a Research Officer at Oxford and Reading Universities, and as a policy advisor at Oxfam (UK).  Ben's doctoral research at Oxford University (completed in 1994) focused on employment arrangements for agricultural workers in West Bengal, India. He has subsequently led major research projects in the UK, India and Mexico.

Paul Watt is a Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at Birkbeck University of London since 2007. Prior to joining Birkbeck, he was a Reader at the Policy Research Institute, University of Wolverhampton. Previously Paul has taught at the University of East London and Buckinghamshire New University. Paul Watt’s research interests span geography, sociology and social policy, with an over-arching research focus on the inter-relationship between social inequalities, space and place, especially in global cities and their hinterlands.


Stijn Oosterlynck is Associate Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Antwerp, Sociology Department. He teaches courses on urban studies, poverty and social inequality. His research is concerned with local social innovation and welfare state restructuring, the political sociology of urban development, urban renewal and community building and new forms of solidarity in diversity. He currently coordinates a large-scale research project on solidarity in diversity (DieGem, IWT-SBO), is involved in several European collaborative research projects (ImPRovE, EU FP7 and Divercities, EU FP7) and is a partner in the Flemish Policy Research Centers on Spatial Planning (DURV, Flemish government) and on Poverty (VLAS, Flemish government). He holds a PhD in Sociology from Lancaster University in the UK.

Monday 7 December - City tourism: reason to cheer or protest?

Johannes Novy (Technical University Berlin)
Fabian Frenzel (University of Leicester and Potsdam)
Moderator: Steven De Craen (ViaVia Tourism Academy)

Presentation Novy
Presentation Frenzel

Tourism has been a rapidly growing sector and is considered as one of the main economic development resources in many cities in both developing and developed countries. Many local actors are being mobilized too present their city in initiatives that are set up to further stimulate the growth of the tourism sector. Yet, such initiatives have also led to contestations of and conflicts over the impacts of the expanding tourism on urban spaces and on the life of residents in particular. In those disputes, most attention is given to the potentially negative effects tourism might have on neighborhoods, local communities and urban environment. In that sense, it is not really surprising that newly emerging activities such as slum tourism provoke some strong opinions. Slum tourism is a type of tourism which ‘allows’ tourist to ‘observe’ people living in poverty and has become increasingly popular (partly due to the global success of the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’). While opponents argue that such practices are an invasion into the privacy of the local residents and should therefore be considered as an unethical way of generating income, those in favor argue that it is a promising tool to understand and eradicate poverty. In sum, the debate will discuss the opportunities and challenges that arise when trying to generate a positive impact of tourism on local resident.

Dr. Johannes Novy is currently employed by the Brandenburgische Technische Universität Cottbus-Senftenberg as a Guest Professor for Planning Theory and will start as a lecturer for Spatial Planning at the University of Cardiff in October 2015. Previously, he worked as a senior researcher at the Technical University of Berlin. He holds a PhD in Urban Planning from Columbia University (New York) and wrote his doctoral thesis on tourism and leisure in the 21st Century City. Previously, he successfully completed a Master of Philosophy in Urban Planning (Columbia University) and a European Master of Arts in Comparative Urban Studies. The sustainability challenges arising from the emergence and growth of city tourism in its various forms are often at the centre of his academic work. In recent years, he has given various inspiring guest lectures and talks on new urban tourism, for instance during the 3rd Global Summit on City Tourism of the UN World Tourism Organization.


Dr. Fabian Frenzel is a lecturer at the School of Management, University of Leicester. Previously, he also lectured at Bristol Business School and University of West of England. He holds a PhD from Leeds Metropolitan University and has a MSc in Political Sciences from Freie Universität Berlin. His principal research interests are political implications of international tourism and mobility. Through a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship he could conduct a comparative case study of three global destinations of tourism in areas of urban poverty. He is a founding member of the international slum tourism network and one of the key academics in the emerging research field of slum tourism. Within this field he is particularly interested in the role of tourism in empowering local communities. In 2012, Frenzel has also edited (with Ko Koens and Malte Steinbrink) the book entitled ‘Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics’ (Routledge).


Moderator: Steven De Craen (ViaVia Tourism Academy)