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Global Urbanism Research Group

Shelter and informality

One billion people in the global South are living in urban neighbourhoods without safe and secure housing, and with inadequate access to basic services.

Eagle-eye view of an urban village
One billion people in the global south are living in urban neighbourhoods without safe and secure housing, and with inadequate access to basic services.

Most of these families are living in informal settlements – however, some are in over-crowded inner-city neighbourhoods. In the absence of government planning and management, low-income families find homes wherever they can, locating on pavements, squatting on public or private land, or acquiring land not zoned for residential development. With very limited access to public services, households invest in their own provision, or buy from commercial enterprises. Growth in larger cities pushes the lowest income households to ever more peripheral locations – frequently with very limited transport services. 

Our research includes:

  • Understanding how transnational flows of finance and people are shaping urban transformations in Accra, the capital of Ghana. This project will explore the impact of these transnational dynamics on local housing affordability and land use in Accra. In the process, it will seek to understand to what extent gentrification theory, traditionally associated with cities in the global North, can be useful for understanding contemporary processes of change in an African city. In addition to primary fieldwork in Accra, secondary fieldwork will be conducted in London – a key site for the transnational marketing of Ghanaian real estate (2017).
  • Understanding how to achieve inclusive cities through scaling up participatory planning from the neighbourhood to the district and city. We are working with community groups and NGOs networked within the SDI in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) Johannesburg (South Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya) and the Universities of Johannesburg and Nairobi and the National University in Bulawayo. In addition to understanding the barriers on scaling up and how they might be overcome, we will use this project to explore how knowledge to secure more inclusive and social just cities can be co-produced between academics, professionals and organizations of residents living in informal neighbourhoods (2017-2020).
  • Understanding lived experiences of homelessness and displacement in the UK. This project involves collaboration with housing campaigners and mental health practitioners to explore how recent changes to housing and welfare policy are affecting homeless people, with a particular focus on the health impacts on those experiencing insecure poor-quality housing and displacement.
  • Preparing a special issue of the Journal of Development Studies on spatial, economic and political informality (2015-2017)
  • Preparing a special issue of Environment and Urbanization (April 2018) on innovative finance for inclusive urban development (2017-2018)

Further information