Driven by our core principles of linking theory to practice, and a bottom-up focus, our research focuses on the effects of unprecedented global urbanisation in the global South.

These include the challenges of associated poverty, exclusion and inequality, but also the opportunities that cities provide.

Land tenure, conflict and violence in urban Mexico

Project details

Researcher: Melanie Lombard

Funder: University of Manchester (Hallsworth Fellowship)

Project duration: 3 years


Project overview

The importance of land, and land tenure, in cities of the global South is beyond question. In an urbanising world, where and how people access land for shelter has become one of the most pressing issues. Land underpins the most basic struggle of the poor, that of access to shelter. In the informal settlements which house the majority of residents in global Southern cities, secure tenure may stimulate urban consolidation, through improved housing and infrastructure, but also social and economic opportunities. Conversely, the effects of insecure tenure include forced eviction, displacement and resettlement. The UN-Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements 2007 identified insecurity of tenure as an increasingly serious threat to urban security.

Increasing levels of violence in cities continue to be a pressing development concern in a predominantly urban world, and Mexico presents a particularly acute example of urban insecurity. Over the last five years, violence in Mexico has increased dramatically, following President Calderón’s attempts to crack down on the drugs trade. However, while drug-related violence receives considerable media coverage, in many poor urban communities it is everyday economic and social violence and conflict which dominates people’s lives. In already marginalised areas, increasing scarcity of land and growing populations exert additional pressure on the urban environment, increasing the potential for conflict.

While there has been extensive research into urban violence over the last decades, linkages between small-scale, localised conflict and urban violence are yet to be fully explored, and sufficient consideration has not been given to disentangling and understanding the relationship between conflict and violence, which is less straightforward than may be imagined. Conflict has the potential to tip over into violence, depending on contextualised factors. It may be that issues around land are one such tipping point: alongside land tenure’s (often uneven) benefits, it is frequently associated with small-scale, localised conflict. However, despite considerable research on rural land tenure and conflict, this nexus remains curiously unexplored in the urban setting. The proposed research therefore seeks to explore the linkages between land tenure, conflict and urban violence in urban Mexico.

Scaling up asset accumulation strategies on cutting edge development concerns

Project details

Principal investigator: Caroline Moser

Funder: Ford Foundation funded research project

Project duration: January 2011 - July 2012 (second phase)

Project overview

In 2007, the Ford Foundation approved a US$ 600,000 grant for the implementation of the project ‘Scaling up asset accumulation strategies on cutting edge development concerns’. The main purpose of the project was to strengthen the research capacity of two post-doctorate academic researchers from Southern Universities in relation to asset accumulation and cutting edge issues (such as transnational migration, HIV/AIDS and climate change) through a two year research programme at the Global Urban Research Centre (GURC), University of Manchester. The original project which closed on the 31st of December 2011 was extended until July 2012. In addition to terminating the activities of the original project, the following activities will be carried out during the extended time frame:

  1. Systematization of the Urban Asset Planning (UAP) exercise in Cartagena:
    For future training and capacity building on both the UAP conceptual and operational framework, GURC will develop an audio-visual presentation. This activity was not included in the Ford Foundation grant on ‘Urban Asset Planning in Cities of the Global South’, but can be undertaken with the local partners in Cartagena (Universidad Tecnológica de Bolivar) along with the pilot asset planning exercise to document the different methodological phases that will take place in the city in July 2011.
  2. Capacity building on the asset framework:
    With the project funds GURC employed a talented young researcher, Philipp Horn, from March to July 2011. During this period, Philipp will participate in the UAP case study in Pondicherry, India and help GURC to systematise and prepare for publication, as working papers, the overall conceptual rationale and methodological background on the UAP and the results of the planning exercises in both Pondicherry and Cartagena.
  3. Further dissemination of longitudinal research on asset accumulation and urban poverty reduction:
    The publication of Caroline Moser’s book ‘Ordinary Families: Extraordinary Lives’ has fostered considerable interest in the importance of longitudinal perspectives on urban poverty at the academic and policy levels. Yet, to date, such longitudinal studies remain the exception. To increase the profile of such important work, GURC will organise a collaborative workshop with counterpart institutions. It will bring together a number of prominent researchers that in recent years have finalised, or are in the process of finalising longitudinal studies on urban poverty. The workshop will not only focus on the results of these studies, but as importantly, on the methodologies that have been used for longitudinal research. To build capacity on longitudinal research approaches and methodologies, a number of young researchers from Latin America, Asia and Africa interested in assets and urban poverty reduction will be invited to participate. Papers presented as well as the workshop discussions will be systematized, published and disseminated worldwide as a book.

Understanding the tipping point of urban conflict

Project details

Principal investigator: Caroline Moser

Co-investigators: Dennis Rodgers

Funder: ESRC/DfID Joint Scheme for Research on International Development (Poverty Alleviation)

Budget: £496,000

Project duration: 1 September 2010 - 31 August 2012

Project overview

Urban violence is an increasingly significant global phenomenon. Over the past few years, a conventional wisdom has emerged within policy and research circles associating it with four key factors: (a) poverty, (b) youth bulges, (c) political exclusion and (d) gender-based insecurity. Underpinning this conventional wisdom is the notion that while cities are inherently conflictual spaces, conflict is generally managed more or less peacefully through a range of social, cultural and political mechanisms, but that this can be disrupted by the presence of one or more of these four key factors, all of which can lead to conflict spilling over into chronic, generalised violence.

Recent research has sought to determine the tipping point of urban conflict. This has generally been conceived in quantitative terms, with increases in poverty, the number of youth, levels of political exclusion, or gender-based insecurity beyond a certain threshold seen to lead to a sudden change in social conditions. Although recognising that quantitative factors are important, this project proposes that urban conflict can also tip over into violence as a result of qualitative factors, such as the particular articulation of two or more contextual factors, or the involvement of specific groups or individuals in violence-related processes. The project will therefore seek to understand the nature of both quantitative and qualitative tipping points, identifying how they can best be measured and the processes that generate them in order to determine the range of potential means to prevent urban conflict from tipping over into violence.

The project will also explore how different forms of violence that are generated by tipping points processes interact with each other and can form a violence chain. The ultimate aim of the research is to identify entry points in both tipping point processes and violence chains that would allow the implementation of policy initiatives to reduce the risk of violence, or break strategic linkages within violence chains. These changes might well be modest, and therefore more easily put in place both within poor urban communities and at the metropolitan level. Such initiatives contrast with efforts to address ‘macro-level’ structural issues such as poverty or demographic bulges.

The study will focus on four cities in: Asia (Patna, India and Dili, Timor Leste), Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) and Latin America (Santiago, Chile) - chosen because they are all paradigmatically associated with one of the factors conventionally identified as causing urban violence, although they do not all display high levels of violence. To this extent, the research sites will allow for an exploration of the reasons why urban conflict tips into violence as much as why it does not.

Urban asset planning in the global South

Project details

Principal Investigators: Caroline Moser and Alfredo Stein

Funder: Ford Foundation funded research project

Project duration: 1 October 2010 – 30 September 2012


Project overview

To date, while there has been considerable progress in the identification of asset accumulation as a critical strategy of the urban poor to increase their wellbeing, capabilities and income levels, nevertheless there is still an urgent need to translate such theory into operational planning practice. This project provides an important opportunity not only to disseminate the asset accumulation/adaptation framework beyond the research and policy community to urban planners, but also to collaboratively test its utility for urban development planning practitioners and poor communities, both grappling on a daily basis with the increasing social, economic and environmental challenges in cities in the global South.

The project draws on the synergies between theoretical research on asset accumulation and community-focused action planning. To date Caroline Moser and colleagues in GURC have undertaken a significant body of conceptual and empirical research on the assets of poor urban households. In her longitudinal study in Guayaquil, Ecuador Moser first identified the important linkages between the accumulation of assets – including physical, human, financial and social capital-and poverty reduction, as well as their gender disaggregation. The framework was also used in studies in Colombia and Guatemala to assist in identifying the way in which violence and conflict erodes or transforms the poor’s assets; further research on Ecuadorian and Argentinean migrants to Barcelona focused on the role that international migration plays in the transfer not only of financial capital but also civic and political capital assets, and most recently participatory climate change adaptation appraisals (PCCAA) in Mombasa (Kenya), Estelí (Nicaragua) and Lusaka (Zambia), documented asset adaptation to increasingly severe weather at household, small business and community level.

The objective of this project is to take the asset accumulation/adaptation theoretical framework, link it to bottom-up community action planning practice and develop an approach to urban asset planning. The planning methodology is intended to enhance the negotiation and contestation capabilities of local poor communities not simply to access services, but rather to identify and achieve new asset-based economic and social opportunities.

The asset planning approach will be tested and introduced into the urban development planning practices of two secondary cities – Cartagena (Colombia) and Pondicherry (India).

Urban climate change adaptation: global lessons for a global problem

Project details

GURC Investigators: Alfredo Stein and Melanie Lombard

Other Investigators: Paul O’Haire (CUPS) and Iain White (CURE)

Funder: School of Environment, Education and Development (University of Manchester) Research Stimulation Fund.

Contacts: and

Project overview

The effects of climate change offer an immense challenge to urban societies throughout the world; yet so far, international efforts to reach consensus on reducing the anthropogenic drivers of climate change have made little progress. In the absence of a mitigation ‘panacea’, pragmatic adaptation strategies may facilitate the development of climate resilient communities and cities, helping counteract the most immediate impacts of climate change. Increasing incidence of extreme weather events, with devastating effects for urban fabric and communities, have concentrated efforts to prepare for and protect against the effects of climate change. In the global North, as flooding and heat waves have intensified over recent years, urban adaptation has gained increasing prominence. Initiatives have been based on technological/engineering solutions, often implemented strategically by state-led institutions. Meanwhile, in cities of the global South, where the effects of climate change are most acutely felt, ‘autonomous adaptation’ is occurring. In contexts where state involvement is weak or non-existent, communities are carrying out urban adaptation at the local (household, neighbourhood or small business) scale.

Against this background, this project seeks to facilitate learning on urban climate change adaptation across the global North/South. Building on and extending existing work on local and strategic climate change adaptation it aims to support the efforts of both local governments and urban residents. We will aggregate expertise across several urban-focused research centres in the School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) – initially the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy (CURE), the Centre for Urban Policy Studies (CUPS) and GURC – to develop a coherent research and teaching strategy on urban climate change adaptation.

Current work on this area with CUPS and CURE examines how adaptive measures (for instance water resistant building materials) can be disseminated across European political, institutional and cultural contexts; while existing work by GURC on asset-based adaptation to climate change has shown that as well as reacting to one-off events or disasters, urban residents are adapting to the slow, insidious, weather-related changes brought about by climate change. Bringing these lessons together will form the basis for this project.

Building on these existing, hitherto un-coordinated institutional capacities, this project strengthens cross-disciplinary networks through a series of workshops; contribute to the development of research-led teaching in this field; and prepare a larger funding application on urban climate change adaptation, based on broadening the adaptation debate through inter-disciplinary learning across the global North and South. The funding will be used for two workshops, covering the costs of the events and external participants’ travel. Based on these activities, the primary output will be a research proposal on urban climate change adaptation involving interested colleagues both from within SEED and partners from outside The University of Manchester.