GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (CSHLH)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Social Sciences


Urbanisation can help drive sustainable development. However, within cities, poverty and inequalities are at their most acute, and in lower- and middle-income countries, rapid growth due to rural-urban migration poses challenges of global proportions. Global urban policies for developing countries tend to operate at a very general level; research and understanding of urbanisation are fragmented and mainly focused on the conditions and life in slum areas. Sustainable development debates tend to concentrate at high levels and emphasise the physical and environmental aspects of urbanisation. We know very little about the social, economic and physical structures of fast growing cities in developing countries and how they are changing, especially at neighbourhood level. Apart from slums, there are many different types of urban neighbourhoods emerging in fast growing cities. Some are successful and sustainable, which offers inspiration for slum dwellers.

Our approach to the dualities of urbanisation recognises the complex inter-relationships between sustainable cities, education and health, at the level of the urban neighbourhood. Sustainable cities depend on a population with the resilience and resources that health brings, and on relevant learning. Equally, access to healthcare and quality education depend on the sustainable development of cities and the neighbourhoods within them.

The overall aim of our Centre is to grow research capacity in both developing countries and the UK through a series of training programmes/workshops and by means of multi-disciplinary and comparative studies of urbanisation and the formation and differentiation of neighbourhoods in urban areas, in order to address the challenges of urbanisation and large scale rural to urban migration in Africa and Asia. This programme draws on strong interests in and academic connection to developing countries at the University of Glasgow. It brings together a multi-disciplinary academics (including urban studies, health and wellbeing, and education) and international experts from seven developing countries (South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Philippines and China) to form an international urban research centre and a new consortium to facilitate and implement capacity strengthening training and knowledge exchange activities. The capacity strengthening programme will consist of both vertical flows of ideas from international knowledge base to developing countries, but also horizontal learning and knowledge exchange between developing countries, especially between the BRICS countries and the others. It will also conduct large scale cross-country comparative studies of urban neighbourhood dynamics. The research programme will adopt a common research framework in all seven countries (and 14 case study cities) to develop new research methods and techniques through four work packages. Our capacity enhancing, research activities and impact activities will extend beyond the research teams and partner institutions to involve local and national policy makers, academics based in other institutions, and relevant NGOs and private sector actors.

Understanding how socio-economic changes, particularly migration, are driving the social and spatial structures of cities and shaping the lived experience of residents is an essential foundation for planning urban public services and finding forms of social organisation that are beneficial to welfare and stability. This is particularly relevant to policy makers as they move into a new phase of urban development where quality of life and social cohesion are increasingly important, and where urban economic competitiveness can no longer rely on low wages and cheap products. The research will identify urban planning and public service change as it relates to urban neighbourhoods and position this alongside an in-depth study of daily experiences of neighbourhood life.

Planned Impact

There will be seven groups of non-academic beneficiaries of the research:
In Developing Countries:
1. Practitioners and policy-makers in national and municipal governments (e.g. ministries and bureaux in urban development, planning, land, health, education, housing, neighbourhoods and population management), and public and private urban development companies in the case study countries.
2. Practitioners and policy-makers in national and municipal governments in other developing countries in Africa and Asia.
3. Urban residents, especially marginalised groups, considering their access to housing and public services.
International and UK:
4. International organizations involved in supporting and evaluating urbanisation in developing countries such as UN Habitat, UNESCO, WHO, World Bank and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).
5. NGOs (charities and other third sector organizations) working to find ways to reduce poverty and unfairness in access to public services as well as to meet specific needs of marginalised groups, for example of women. These include for example Citynet (a network of 85 Asian cities including in Bangladesh, China, India and the Philippines), Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and Community-based Research and Social Responsibility in Research (CRSRR) based in Delhi and the Centre for Local Economic Development (CENLED), a national centre at the University of Johannesburg.
6. UK/Scottish Government and EU policy makers working or engaging more widely with countries in Africa and Asia. These include UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and International Development (DfID).
7. UK Companies investing in cities in the emerging markets and developing countries, especially for property development projects.

Our programme will benefit these users in the following ways:
1. Deepening and transforming understanding by scholars, practitioners and policy makers of patterns of spatial and social transformation in 14 cities in seven developing countries. Our comparative research of several dimensions has the potential to shape sustainable urbanisation debates and policies through its insights on the relationships between spatial and social change under urbanisation and to influence the course of international development.
2. Improving information for policy-makers and their domestic and international advisers in their attempts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (especially Goal 11, 3 and 4) and the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda. Our survey evidence on people's experiences of their neighbourhoods and access to health, education and infrastructure services, as well as other socio-economic factors will inform public policy along many dimensions. It may help mobilize political support for improving public services especially health and education in the poor neighbourhood areas. Survey and qualitative data findings, and the insights gained through their detailed analysis have the capacity to influence policy agendas, change perceptions and attitudes, and influence the way issues are defined and framed and the values which are perceived to be at stake in urbanisation in developing countries.
3. Contributing to understanding of cities and urban resident living experiences in developing countries by UK government (FCO, BIS, DfID) and EU policy makers, as well as wider civil society.
4. Contribute to the UK economy by enhancing businesses' understanding of markets for housing, health, education and other services.
5. Helping NGOs and international governmental organisations active in the case study countries to identify strategic priorities in the process of sustainable urbanisation and understand the context of public service delivery in different types of neighbourhoods.


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