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Durham University

Urban Worlds

Selected Grants

Durham's Geography Department has joined efforts with two Brazilian universities (the Pontifícia Universidade Católica Do Paraná and the Federal University Of Bahia) as well as Plymouth University for a comparative analysis of smart urbanisation processes in the UK and Brazil. The 'Augmented urbanity and smart technologies' research network aims to build strong research collaboration on smart cities and the interaction between digital and physical infrastructures. It is an RCUK-CONFAP Research Partnership funded through the Newton Fund.

Joe Painter, AHRC, 2011

Although introduced by a government formally elected by UK citizens, it must be recognised that the territorial jurisdiction of the Localism Bill is restricted to England rather than the UK per se. Indeed, post devolution, there are early signs that Scotland may be offering a different version of 'localism'. This is evident from the Scottish Government's continuing support for the joint Community Empowerment statement of 2007. There is also a strong contrast between the introduction in Scotland of Community Planning Partnerships designed to meet objectives agreed with the Scottish Government and the more market-led 'neighbourhood planning' reforms being promoted in the Localism Bill. Consequently, the trajectory and composition of public sector cuts is likely to be very different in England and Scotland (and, indeed, in different parts of England), leading to very different pressures on the quality of life of citizens and quality of public services for users in different places. This project will examine the Scottish and UK public sector's approach to community empowerment and its impact on fostering citizen-state relationships in a time of austerity. Launching its 'Big Society Agenda', the UK Coalition Government has introduced the 'Localism Bill',which it argues is, aimed at reversing decades of central governemnt control. The Bill is targeted at stregthening local democracy by giving more power and freedom to councils and neighbourhoods while also reforming the planning system in favour of local communities.

Colin McFarlane, ESRC, 2009 - 2011

There is widespread recognition that urban sanitation in cities in the global South has been neglected in the social sciences and international development community. This is despite the importance of sanitation in cities, particularly for the urban poor, in terms of health, dignity, schooling, employment, and gender relations. Globally, less than one third of people in most urban centres in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are provided by what the United Nations has referred to as `good-quality sanitation', and as many as 100 million urban dwellers worldwide are forced to defecate in the open or into wastepaper or plastic bags because public toilets are not available, too distant, or too expensive (UN Habitat, 2003). This research aims to address these gaps through detailed ethnographic analysis of the micro-geographies of urban sanitation that can feed into social science and policy debates locally and globally. It will do so through the case study of Mumbai, India. As one of the world's biggest cities, where urban sanitation challenges are starkly posed - especially for the estimated 54% living in various forms of informal settlement - Mumbai is an important context for this research. The research will consider how social differentials such as gender, age, class, caste, religion and ethnicity effect and are in turn effected by sanitation conditions, and will ask how these relations change over time.

Since 2013 Durham's Geography Department has been the home of INCUT, the International Network on Urban Low Carbon Transitions. INCUT is an ESRC funded international network of academic researchers across the global North and South examining how cities around the world are responding to the challenges posed by climate change. It is a platform for exchanging information, learn about other cities' experiences and discuss different viewpoints. INCUT aims for the development of comparative approaches around urban low carbon transitions, alongside a common understanding of how cities can embrace a low carbon future. It counts with the participation of 12 universities, including RMIT and Newcastle in Australia, City University of Hong Kong, Lund University in Sweden and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements.

Chris Harker, CBRL, 2010 - 2011

The twin objectives of this project are to (i) examine the socio-cultural, political and economic impacts of changing patterns of housing (vertical growth) in Ramallah, and (ii) compare these findings with those generated in a previous study in the village of Birzeit (see Harker 2009a & in process b in publications section). The question driving this research is what happens (both conceptually and practically) when people move from largely family-centred dwellings in villages such as Birzeit ('horizontal' dwellings) to apartment buildings in Ramallah that house a more socially cosmopolitan (and less familial based) mix of residents ('vertical' dwellings)? This study of the socio-cultural geographies of inhabitation vis a vis the family, forms the first of three pillars of a more extensive future study of contemporary urban change in Ramallah. The second focus will be the economic geographies (from transnational flows of capital to the daily wage paid to construction workers) that circulate through apartment buildings. The final focus will explore the dynamic relationship between these new urban spaces and shifts in political affinity from nationalist belonging to urban citizenship. This study of a particular Palestinian urban space will then be used to develop a larger future study comparing Ramallah with Amman, Jordan, and subsequently other cities in the Middle East.

Joe Painter, AHRC, 2012 - 2013

This project will examine the Scottish and UK public sector's approach to community empowerment and its impact on fostering citizen-state relationships in a time of austerity. Launching its 'Big Society Agenda', the UK Coalition Government has introduced the 'Localism Bill',which it argues is, aimed at reversing decades of central governemnt control. The Bill is targeted at stregthening local democracy by giving more power and freedom to councils and neighbourhoods while also reforming the planning system in favour of local communities. Although introduced by a government formally elected by UK citizens, it must be recognised that the territorial jurisdiction of the Localism Bill is restricted to England rather than the UK per se. Indeed, post devolution, there are early signs that Scotland may be offering a different version of 'localism'. This is evident from the Scottish Government's continuing support for the joint Community Empowerment statement of 2007. There is also a strong contrast between the introduction in Scotland of Community Planning Partnerships designed to meet objectives agreed with the Scottish Government and the more market-led 'neighbourhood planning' reforms being promoted in the Localism Bill. Consequently, the trajectory and composition of public sector cuts is likely to be very different in England and Scotland (and, indeed, in different parts of England), leading to very different pressures on the quality of life of citizens and quality of public services for users in different places.

Ben Anderson, ESRC, 2009 - 2011

In response to a changing set of 21st Century threats and hazards new ways have emerged of anticipating uncertain and complex futures (such as precaution, preparedness or preemption). The problem that these different ways of anticipating respond to are events - events that are contingent in their potential occurrence and complex in their potential effects. The most high profile of such events are new forms of terror post 9/11 and 7/7, but they also include other threats to the smooth functioning of societies (such as Avian Flu, infrastructure loss, or high impact flooding). The research will examine the role of exercises in how U.K. 'preparedness' anticipates and attempts to govern a range of 21st Century threats and hazards. Specifically it will fill in three gaps in knowledge by focusing on: how exercises are rationalised, legitimised and contested by different actors involved in preparedness; how different types of exercises are conceived, planned, staged and undertaken; and how forms of knowledge are generated from exercises and circulated within the organisations that are part of preparedness planning.

Chris Harker, Leverhulme Trust, 2012 - 2015

This project seeks to understand how families enable people to live in cities through everyday practices that create and maintain specific social, economic and political resources and connections. Adopting an ethnographic approach, the empirical research will focus on how Palestinians families are able to live in the city of Ramallah.

The project will develop a better understanding of contemporary Palestinian life by exploring the geographies of migrants and apartments, advance Urban Studies debates by theorising cities in relation to families, and assist academics, policy makers and NGOs concerned with addressing problems associated with rapid urban change in the global South.

Marcus Power, ESRC, 2012 - 2015

The involvement of Rising Powers in clean energy systems in sub-Saharan Africa is often obscured by popular images of resource- and land-grabs. Seeking to engage more closely with a number of African states, businesses and communities in pursuit of diverse economic and political goals, the Rising Powers have increasingly come to incorporate renewable energy projects into their aid and loan portfolios in Africa. The depth, drivers, and outcomes of this activity are complex and contested in terms of both development and the implications for international energy and climate governance. This interdisciplinary research project seeks to examine how, why and to what extent China and Brazil are enabling the transition to low carbon energy systems in Southern Africa and to assess the consequent implications for the affordability, accessibility and sustainability of energy services in the region. The project will develop new frameworks for analysis in order to systematically compare the roles that China and Brazil are playing in facilitating the transition to low carbon energy systems in Africa and in particular will analyse how they are shaping the provision of energy services for productive uses (eg for cooking, lighting and mobility). Further, the project also seeks to assess the implications for the wider governance of energy and climate change at the local, national, regional and global scales.

While austerity can pose opportunities for social innovation as well as challenges, there is currently limited understanding of its implications for urban politics and governance. The Urban Politics and Governance of Social Innovation in Austerity examines these questions through a comparative study of the ongoing effects of austerity in Athens, Berlin and Newcastle. The project aims to identify the roles of alternative finance, grassroots mobilisation and community provisioning in meeting the needs of their citizens as traditional forms of authority are disrupted and competition for public services increases.

Gordon MacLeod, British Academy, 2008 - 2010

The New Urbanism (NU) is a US based movement advocating compact, carefully planned, ecologically sustainable towns: an antidote to the uncontrolled automobile-dependent suburban sprawl now viewed to dominate the contemporary American landscape. It coalesced in the early 1980s with the creation of Seaside in Florida, designed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who subsequently helped to create the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in 1993. The possibilities opened up by the NU have been of considerable interest in Britain. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has urged its members to adopt the NU and to work more closely with local communities, government planners, private developers, builders and environmentalists. The Prince's Trust has long been an advocate of NU in its call for 'sustainable urbanism' and for socially mixed communities as an avenue towards reducing social exclusion. Moreover, whilst addressing the 2007 CNU annual conference, the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, felt compelled to characterise his Government's Sustainable Communities Plan as "New Urbanism with a British accent'. Glasgow's political leaders are busy digesting a recent call by Norquist to arrest the 'banal regeneration' of the Clyde waterfront while the sprawling development of Inverness is scheduled to be absorbed by a planned new town, Tornagrain, designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. The latter project has involved a 'charrette', a novel intensive planning workshop where the public, designers and consultants work together on a vision for development.

Chris Harker, CBRL, 2012

Much of Urban Studies has recently been criticised for creating theoretical generalisations from only a small number of cities (eg London, New York, Tokyo). Robinson (2011) suggests that such studies, by drawing heavily on particular 'Global Cities', ignore or marginalise analytic insights about the diverse experiences and heterogeneous practices in other cities where the majority of the world's population live. One symptom of this problem in comparative urban studies is a tendency to explain urban life in Global South cities through concepts gleaned from cities in the Global North. This critique aligns with McGuirk & Dowling's (2009) contention that many contemporary urban studies tend to reify neoliberalism - a particular marked-based economic doctrine and set of practices - rather than develop new conceptions about other forms of urban governance. My research program seeks to respond to, and develop, these critiques in three specific ways: (1) Through locating my research in Amman and Ramallah, my research explores cities that are often ignored by many urban theorists; (2) By theorising from and across the specific context of the Middle East in general and these cities in particular, my research explores both the specificity of city life in the Middle East, while still recognising the ways in which the region and its cities are connected to the rest of the world; (3) Through studying geographies of domestic inhabitation and families relations, I seek to capture some of the diversity of urban life in Amman and Ramallah, which both exceeds and/or resists the (neoliberal) redevelopment of these cities, and escapes academic studies captivated by this redevelopment.

Harriet Bulkeley, ESRC, 2008 - 2012

Cities are critical sites for responding to climate change. With over half the world's population, cities are large sources of emissions of greenhouse gases and are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Too often, cities are seen as the background against which the profound transformations of climate change will be played out. However, cities are made up of infrastructure systems / such as utilities and housing / which have a critical role in both reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and in enhancing resilience to potential impacts from climate change. These systems are sociotechnical, that is they include technical components, such as the technologies which generate energy (eg solar panels on a roof), and social components, the institutions which guide the development of these technologies (eg planning laws) and the behaviours through which energy demand is produced (eg using hot water). At the moment, we know very little about how these urban socio-technical systems are responding to climate change. Previous work, including my own, which has looked at how cities are addressing climate change has focused on the levels of emissions being produced by cities, their potential vulnerabilities, and the strategies that local governments have adopted to address these issues. There has been little analysis of the dynamics of climate change, infrastructure systems and urbanisation. In order to address the question 'How could rapid transformation of complex socio-technical systems be managed and achieved?' this Fellowship will draw on the existing work on cities and climate change, as well as research on socio-technical systems and urban political ecology, to generate new theoretical insights about urban systems and how they are, or are not, changing in response to climate change.

Lynn Staeheli, EC, 2012 - 2017

YouCitizen is a comparative, multi-level ethnographic research project that examines the efforts of international organisations, civil society organisations, and states to foster citizenship for youth in divided societies. In their efforts, agents working in such organisations often engage in paradoxical, if not contradictory, acts to promote both cosmopolitanism within civil society and national identities, even when aspects of national identity have been a source of division. A central premise of the research is that the outcomes of these efforts are conditioned by the contexts in which programmes for youth are delivered and enacted. In these contexts - which include histories of division and marginalisation, societal and communal norms, family histories, and the spaces of daily life - youth interpret and experience citizenship. YouCitizen's critical intervention is in extending the examination of citizenship formation to consider the ways in which youth interpret, experience, and potentially remake citizenship that is different to, and may actually challenge, the forms of citizenship that organisations and states attempt to instil. The empirical foci of the study are the networks of organisations promoting citizenship and/or civic engagement, and youth, aged 15-24 in South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon who have been involved with those programmes. It explores the goals of those organisations, their funding sources and activities to understand both the vision of citizenship they promote and the traditions and influences from which they draw; particular attention is paid to ideals and values associated with cosmopolitanism vis-à-vis the nation and the ways in which they address social division. Interviews and participant observation with youth explore the ways in which their experiences and understanding of citizenship are influenced by those programmes, but are also entwined with daily life in their homes and communities.