Urban Researchers Roundtable: Urban Equity in a Post-2015 Development Framework

The Urban Researchers Roundtable sought to answer questions on how the research agenda can mainstream equity, what current research tells us about successful practices, and what the vectors of change are.

Julio D. Davila, Professor of Urban Policy and International Development and Director of the Development Planning Unit at University College London started by thinking about who produces research report: generally, universities in the global North. However, professors who produce this research are a very specific kind of researcher, on a very particular path – is this the only good way for research to be produced? Dr. Davila then went detailed two other useful sources of research: companies, through consultancy firms, and people themselves - SDI's methodology, for example, lets people produce censuses themselves instead of an outside body telling them who they are.

According to Dr. Davila, a focus on poverty specifically, as opposed to equity and inequality, confuses issues, and "an extreme focus on poverty may in fact deepen poverty". We ought to be focusing on wealth and wealth creation instead. Cities in the global South are growing rapidly, and combined with the recession in the U.S. and in Europe, cities in the developing world provide a fantastic opportunity for businesses to make profit. But it's crucial that this race from firms in the North must not increase inequality by providing services only for the rich. This would entrench the growing inequality trends that we see around the world, with children growing up surrounded only by other wealthy people – the only people who are different are those who serve them – what kind of adults will they turn into?

Alicia Ziccardi, UNAM/Director of Programma Universitario de Estudios de la Ciudad, Centre for Advanced Studies on Cities of the National Autonomous University, started by noting that some universities in the global South, like UNAM, produce a lot of knowledge and have access to an impressive amount of resources. She focused on data and measurement: in Latin America, significant progress has been made in terms of measuring poverty: moving beyond a simple poverty like to indicators like access to health, education, social security, etc. Dr. Ziccardi also warned that "data is a construction," so it all depends on how we build and read data. Qualitative work is key, as is taking more time to reflect on research.

Caroline Moser, Lecturer and Researcher, Global Urban Research Centre at the University of Manchester opened with three tensions to keep in mind: first, our positioning alters how we do research – different kinds of institutions see reality differently. For example, she provocatively noted that World Bank reports only site other Bank employee or prominent economists. Secondly, there are tensions between academic theory and policy/planning practice. Finally a tension also exists between academics, who tend to critique, and for practitioners, who identify successes. Dr. Moser lauded the move from focusing on poverty to inequality, studying relationships between power, people, wealth, etc. She agreed with Dr. Ziccardi’s emphasis on taking time for research, saying "we want short reports and quick fixes". Finally, she is optimistic of research's role in development: "I think research can set new agendas."

Somik Lall, Lead Economist at the World Bank started encouragingly: urban poverty has declined from 23 percent to 10 percent since 1990. When thinking about interventions, there are three main issues to keep in mind:

  • Land policies: for example, Dr. Lall's work studying the effect of minimum lot sizes in Brazil shows that pro poor land regulations can in fact exacerbate slum formation.
  • Access to basic services: Dr. Lall's work, also in Brazil, shows that access to basic services needs to be comparable in rural and urban areas, so that the poor don't forfeit lower wages in exchange for services.
  • Transport infrastructure: Dr. Lall refuted the idea that BRT lines help the poor get jobs – all too often, a ticket costs 30 to 50 percent of their daily income, making it unaffordable.

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