Complex Cities of the Global South

Key words: democratisation, governance, [in]formal spatial practices in developing countries, urbanisation in the global South

This graduation topic Inclusive Cities is dedicated to the study of and the design and planning proposals that tackle urbanisation issues and challenges in the Global South. Our aim is to understand and to propose feasible and realistic planning and design solutions at the regional and local levels that are realistic, sustainable, inclusive and embedded in local contexts. The outputs of Inclusive Cities graduations are strategic plans and designs at area or metropolitan level. An excellent, guiding example of work is to be found HERE. The graduation project, titled ‘An informal frame incorporating social & economic production of space in redevelopment’ was developed by Kritika Sha (India).

Strategic spatial planning typically involves the proposal of a spatial vision and the formulation of a spatial strategy to achieve that vision. A spatial strategy is typically composed by spatial interventions (spatial designs) and policies that have a spatial and societal impact. The whole must be formulated in processes that include a governance approach – that is, the process must contemplate the relationships between public sector, private sector and civil society and propose new partnerships and solutions.

As other Complex cities graduations, Inclusive Cities graduations are research based. This means that serious academic research takes up quite a lot of our energy and time. Students are encouraged to dedicate the time before their P2 to develop a solid academic base upon which their spatial strategy and  spatial interventions will be built. As a consequence of this, research here means going beyond the critical understanding of processes. Research is done with the purpose to propose feasible solutions in consultation with or with the participation of real world stakeholders. These might include UN-Habitat, the Dutch Ministry of Aid and Development, The Dutch Association of Municipalities (international section), African, Latin American and Asian universities and institutions, The World Urban Campaign and many others.

With the advent of the A is for Africa initiative at BK, this section of the studio has started to devote its attention to Africa and several students have already done work there. The Africa Initiative continues to support students at BK who wish to do research, planning and design in Africa.

This part of the studio is also propelled and builds upon the partnership between TU Delft and UN-Habitat and the World Urban Campaign for the teaching of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Downtown Addis-Ababa, with the recently inaugurated light rail, 2016. Photo R.R.


Many regions around the world are challenged by explosive urbanisation triggered by rural to urban migration, as people arrive in cities  looking for better lives. Rapidly urbanising regions are at the same time the locus of national projects of industrialisation and modernisation or development. But the effects of these modernisation projects can be problematic at social and environmental levels. Modernisation and development projects need to be reformulated in order to include sustainability and democracy.  This has consequences for how cities are planned and designed. The principle of the ‘right to the city’ includes the right to shape the city and to share the benefits of urban life with fellow urban dwellers, but how to achieve the ‘right to the city’ in places where the most basic services and facilities are lacking?

Inclusive Cities projects explore issues of urbanisation, citizenship, environmental sustainability,  social and economic integration and power under conditions of rapid modernisation and rapid urban growth, often coupled with inadequate governance and  weak institutional capacity. This section of Complex Cities explores how good governance, planning and design can be deployed to promote access to public goods, improve livelihoods and liveability, tackle mobility problems, achieve affordable housing, resolve conflicts over land in terms that recognise the contributions of urban communities and other actors, through sustainable modes of development. Slum upgrading strategies are part of this research topic.


Informal urbanisation in Paraisopolis, one of the largest favelas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Roberto Rocco.

Urban informality can be defined in many ways and is highly contested. Scholars have identified three schools of thought characterising debates on informal urbanisation: dualist, legalist and structuralist. Despite various critical accounts, a dualistic framework for the study of informality persists. The assumption of formality as the ‘norm’ and informality as an anomaly can still be read in practice and policy. In recent discourses, this binary opposition is being addressed by several authors, forcing a more nuanced understanding of what is “informal”. Here, we see informal urbanisation as intrinsically connected to modernisation and rapid urbanisation processes, but lacking basic features that characterise the formal city, such as land and/or property legal ownership and access to adequate sanitation, for instance.

Pages from INTRO Inclusive city-2

Urbanisation project by Peabiru, one of the leading offices in slum upgrading in the world.

Slum upgrading

Slum upgrading has become an option in many parts of the world, as opposed to strategies of slum eradication. This issue is particularly relevant for Latin America, but is lacking in Africa. Rural migration into cities has largely ceased in most Latin American countries, which have attained unimaginable urbanisation rates in the last few decades (92% in Argentina, 87% in Brazil, 77% in Peru (CIA World Fact Book, 2012). Besides, most countries in Latin America are functioning democracies, while this is not the case in many African countries. Meanwhile, urbanisation in Africa is extremely low (only 20% in Ethiopia, for instance), even though urbanisation rates are among the highest in the world. Many countries in Africa have very low capacity to tackle the problems of explosive urbanisation and planning institutions are weak.

This reprieve in rural influxes and democratisation means that Latin American cities can think ahead and plan how to include informal sectors of cities into some kind of planning system. The question for Latin America seems to be not how to have less planning and governmental control, but rather the contrary: how to develop more effective planning strategies recognising informal urbanisation and seeking to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities it creates.

Projects in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela have shown that, through legalisation, implementation of public facilities and improvement of infrastructure, mobility and accessibility, informal neighbourhoods can become well-functioning parts of the city with decent living standards. In order to achieve this, it is critical to rethink governance approaches to accommodate the social, economic and institutional specificities of informal neighbourhoods and embrace more inclusive and participatory planning practices in order to recognise and integrate the stakeholders from those areas into decision-making processes.

But what about Africa? Can formulas developed in Latin America be transferred to the continent? How to tackle urban development in countries that are both urbanising at record rates and have weak institutional and planning capacity? We are currently building up knowledge and practice that allows us to dialogue with African stakeholders and part of the energy of this studio will be used to organise a big conference in March 2019 titled “African Perspectives on African Urbanisation”.

This part of the studio is also connected to the organisation of the “Confronting Informality” Symposium, which builds upon research being done in this section. More information about the symposium can be found here: https://confrontinginformality.org

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the graduation year, students will be able to

  1. Creatively and critically reflect on and discuss the interrelated nature of urbanisation, democratisation, and socio-cultural transformation;
  2. Critically analyse and reflect on the forces, structures and agents that build, manage, plan, govern and shape cities;
  3. Apply trans-disciplinary approaches to explore ways in which informality can support achievement of the right to the city;
  4. Envision, design and plan desirable and possible futures for rapidly-growing cities in the Global South;
  5. Elaborate a sustainable and politically sensitive spatial plan that addresses some of the many issues connected to informal urbanisation (see student work already done)

Relation with research activities

International planning and developing regions: Inclusive Cities graduations are connected to the research line INTERNATIONAL PLANNING AND DEVELOPING REGIONS of the Department of Urbanism of the TU Delft. Graduations help the promotion of development studies at TU Delft and in the Netherlands. They contribute to the acquisition of scholarship and increased knowledge about urbanisation practices in the Global South.

Extra-curricular activities: Research and design on Inclusive Cities will be complemented by extra-curricular activities, such the Urban Thinkers Campus and the Confronting Informality Symposium, both student-led events at TU Delft. Similar relevant activities are the SCUPAD Student Workshop (Vienna, May 2017) and the Confronting Informality Symposium. To know more about the Confronting Informality Symposium, CLICK HERE.

São Paulo: Graduation students addressing Inclusive Cities in São Paulo have access to knowledge accumulated in the project “The Political Meaning of Informal Urbanisation” and the elective AR0027 (Smart Infrastructures and Mobility, led by Taneha Bacchin, Denise Piccinini and Roberto Rocco) that takes place in Sao Paulo. Knowledge provides a basis for graduation projects that focus on an increased understanding of how governance structures and political circumstances hamper or support informal urbanisation. Research in the region of São Paulo is also supported by the University of São Paulo, the Polis Institute, the Municipality of São Paulo (Secretary of HousingSecretary of Urban Development), Peabiru (Architectural office for slum upgrading of São Paulo), URBZ (NGO), and community representatives at the Favela Paraisopolis, as well as other governmental and non-governmental organisations in the metropolitan region of São Paulo.

Africa: students will benefit from scholarship and networks accumulated by Rachel Keeton currently developing a PhD on New Towns across Africa. Students will invited to understand and use the design framework developed by Rachel and to test it in different cases. Possible case studies here are Addis Ababa, Accra, Lagos.

To know more about the organisers, please CLICK HERE.


Core literature

  • UN-Habitat 2014. Practical Guide to Designing, Planning and Implementing Citywide Slum Upgrading Programs. R. Skinner. Nairobi, UN-Habitat. Download
  • UN-Habitat 2012. Streets as Tools for Urban Transformation in Slums: A Street-Led Approach to Citywide Slum Upgrading. B. Banerjee. Nairobi. Download
  • UN-Habitat 2015. World Atlas of Slum Evolution. Nairobi, Un-Habitat. Download
  • UN-Habitat (2014). Construction of more equitable cities: Public policies for inclusion in Latin America. Nairobi, UN-Habitat. Download

Reading recommendation

  • DEVAS, N. 2010. “Does City Governance Matter for the Urban Poor?” International Planning Studies 6(4): 393-408. Here the author discusses what are the consequences of governance-based planning to deprived citizens. Issues of power asymmetry, effectiveness and accountability are discussed. The poor generally don’t have a voice in city development and planners must find ways to make them heard.
  • LARSEN, G. L. 2012. An Inquiry into the Theoretical Basis of Sustainability. Understanding the Social Dimension of Sustainability. J. Dillard, V. Dujon and M. C. King. London, Routledge. This text fundaments the whole discussion in our course. How does an idea of “integral sustainability” (one that includes sustainability’s social, economic and environmental dimensions) help us understand the role of planning and planners in city development?
  • PAPADOPOULOS, Y. 2007. Problems of Democratic Accountability in Network and Multilevel Governance. European Law Journal, 13, 469-486. This text discusses the issues and challenges of governance in planning. In this text, the author discusses concepts of governance and the issues arising from new styles of government and planning that rely on this concept, especially those related to accountability, transparency and democracy.
  • RILEY, E., et al. 2001. “Favela Bairro and a new generation of housing programmes for the urban poor.” Geoforum 32: 521-531. Tools for planning informality. Latin America is a great laboratory for experiments on how to tackle informality. Tools like the Favela Bairro programme are part of a new generation of tools that recognise the rights of informal dwellers.
  • SAUNDERS, D. 2010. Arrival city: how the largest migration in history is reshaping our world, New York, Pantheon Books. This popular book examines the phenomenon of migration in 30 cities and villages on five continents.  It analyses how migration impacts cities, population growth, foreign aid and politics.

Exemplary graduation projects*

* Forthcoming (2018): Master thesis by Concha Aranda, Eva LaBrujere, Chris Bartman and Ardian Wiratama.