Cities and Communities

Our publishing on key issues around urbanisation - including housing, inadequate and overburdened services, pollution, overcrowded or inaccessible public transport - addresses many of the challenges posed in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

We acknowledge that, with Asia and Africa set to have the largest and fastest increase in urbanisation by 2050, the Global South is a critical area for study accompanying and informing work on the Global North. 

The Urban Policy, Planning and the Built Environment series looks in particular at the contested nature of government intervention in the urban land and housing market, and how urban governance, planning and design processes respond to increasing social complexity, socio-spatial diversity and the goal of democratic renewal. 

Bristol University Press and Policy Press are signed up to the UN SDG Publishers Compact. In Cities and communities, we aim to address the following goal: 

Cities and Communities

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This conclusion answers the main question posed by the book: if corporate smart promises are inadequate in responding meaningfully to urban challenges in Africa, how do disruptive practices that use digital platforms do so more effectively? It also tells the conceptual story about how we make sense of socio-technical change in geographies that are politically unstable, spatially fragmented and highly inequitable, using a postcolonial STS approach. The chapter is structured around five dimensions of platform urbanism in African cities: space; the importance of flow and connection in socio-technical relations; the centrality of trust and continuity in enabling the application of technology; the tensions between existing governance frames and emerging regimes because of the digital evolution; and the African city as hybrid, that is, a messy entanglement of the old and the new.

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Social mobilization is an important feature of African cities where inequality and political power undermine livelihoods. By examining digitally driven activism in South Africa and Sierra Leone, this chapter explores the notion of ‘cyborg activism’ to illustrate the experiential and hybrid dimensions of such processes. Co-production of knowledge is an important aspect of these examples because the notion of agency is revised and revisited.

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Food insecurity is increasing in African cities and became particularly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. High food costs and the limited availability of core products are largely informed by inefficient supply chains and the lack of recognition of the informal economy and its role in the supply and distribution of food, as well as its role in enabling livelihoods. The applications discussed in this chapter focus on addressing such inefficiencies and incorporated street vendors and small farmers in the supply chain in Kenya. The chapter also considers community mobilization in relation to food exchange under COVID-19 lockdown measures in South Africa and the use of drones to monitor geophysical change related to crop management in Zanzibar.

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Situated Smart Initiatives in African Cities
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The ‘smart city’ is often promoted as a technology-driven solution to complex urban issues. While commentators are increasingly critical of techno-optimistic narratives, the political imagination is dominated by claims that technical solutions can be uniformly applied to intractable problems.

This book provides a much-needed alternative view, exploring how ‘home-grown’ digital disruption, driven and initiated by local actors, upends the mainstream corporate narrative.

Drawing on original research conducted in a range of urban African settings, Odendaal shows how these initiatives can lead to meaningful change.

This is a valuable resource for scholars working in the intersection of science and technology studies, urban and economic geography and sociology.

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This chapter is essentially a literature review that focuses primarily on platform urbanism. The aim is to explore current debates on the platform economy in contemporary cities and how this applies to the Global South and Africa. Furthermore, the intention is also to explore the technical qualities of digital platforms and their implications for disruptive urban practices.

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One of the most challenging spatial issues in African cities is the lack of adequate and integrated mobility systems. African urban dwellers predominantly rely on paratransit to traverse the city. This chapter explores several locally developed ride-hail applications in Uganda and Kenya, and the implications for future mobility.

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This introduction offers an alternative means for understanding smart cities in Africa by surfacing the contradictions and problematic discourses that often inform them. It introduces the structuring themes of the book: mobility, food security, social mobilization and public culture. This chapter is also central to establishing the ethos and conceptual lens that inform its narrative.

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This chapter explores the many imaginations of the digital city. It does this from three vantage points. The first explores intentional digital places that seek to use technology to define and articulate their textures and establish global connections in Kenya. The second focuses on cultural practices, also in Kenya, examining an arts hub as a physical and digital melting pot of cultural talents, intended to disrupt urban space through cultural networking. The third vantage point explores the cultural practices and representation of African urban futures through an examination of Afrofuturism as emblematic of the disrupted hybrid city. The aim here is to look towards the future of African urban spaces by examining the present and how it engages the past.

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Following the 2008 global financial crisis, Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) have become a common feature of the urban landscape in cities throughout Europe. An emerging body of literature suggests that Fab Labs go beyond providing access to digital fabrication tools, and function as ‘third places’ as they enhance social connectedness. Drawing on a case study of a Fab Lab in the English city of Coventry, this article utilises the concept of ‘austerity urbanism’ to understand the changing nature of third places in England since the 2008 global financial crash. In doing so, we argue that a confluence of austerity urbanism and digital advancements has influenced both the emergence of new third places (such as Fab Labs) while simultaneously undermining long-established third places (such as libraries). As a result, vital aspects of social infrastructure are being shaped and reshaped in the contemporary era. The article reflects on what these changes mean for individual and community well-being.

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This chapter explores work in a ‘traditional’ local authority planning department that has sought to retain its in-house specialist staff alongside a long-term reputation for doing ‘good’ planning work. Latterly it has sought to ensure this by instituting a commercialisation agenda that has monetised various aspects of planners’ work. We show how this commercialisation process unfolded and reveal its tensions with planning in the public interest alongside a lack of resistance by planners, despite their identifying with a public-service ethos. The chapter highlights themes such as the public interest, the impact of austerity politics on local authorities and how planning officers work with a local authority’s elected members.

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