Urban Studies

Our interdisciplinary Urban Studies list examines how the built environment shapes behaviour and how to address complex problems like urban poverty, gentrification, climate change and educational inequality.

Subjects covered include urban planning, urban geography, urban policy, local governance and community-based participation, to offer a broad understanding of how urban dynamics shape both global interdependence and local spaces.

Urban Studies

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Despite occupying a subordinate position in the urban context, displaced people influence how cities are evolving, and shape their morphologies and patterns of growth. Their agency here is embedded in a political economy of rent-seeking that is intertwined with international aid. This chapter outlines the multiple facets and ambiguities of the clientelistic networks that underpin these rent-seeking practices and demonstrates how urban newcomers act within and through these networks to secure their survival. The creation of settlements associated with displacement can increase the value ascribed to land. The chapter links these processes to wider insights on the development of real estate markets for domestic urban capital, which are often driven by local and diasporic investors, and which accompany the infrastructural focus of global capital penetration in contemporary African cities. Comparatively highlighting distinctive aspects of camp urbanization in Somali cities, the chapter shows how the combination of protracted violence, urban reconstruction and mass in-migration has been accompanied by cycles of forced evictions that initiate nascent forms of urban gentrification.

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This conclusion ties together the analyses of the preceding chapters and further elaborates on how the findings speak to research undertaken in other global contexts where the displacement–urbanization nexus is prominent. It explains how moving back and forth between the urban settings and the wider relations in which emergent urban environments are entangled contributes to the analytical ‘worlding’ of cities at the global margins. The conclusion also reflects on how the book’s discussion of precarious urbanism could be interpreted in ongoing narrative contests around post-war urban reconstruction, and highlights how the issue of displacement connects contrasting discourses around both the violence and economic growth that underpin contemporary forms of camp urbanization in Somalia, Somaliland and beyond. It also reflects on limitations of the study and marks out important areas for future research, particularly in relation to the role of internationally supported state-building, the rise of new political actors and their influence on processes of camp urbanization.

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This chapter examines the concept of displacement through a historical overview of the relationship between forced mobility and different phases and locations of violent conflict in Somalia. It outlines the historical and political context of the four cities under focus through the lens of personal experiences shared by research participants. The memories of research participants of the unfolding political fragmentation, and periods of instability in Somalia since the 1980s detail multiple reasons for flight and show how people were moving to – or back to, or between – the cities of Baidoa, Bosaso, Hargeisa and Mogadishu. Research participants describe experiences of forced mobility, how people found and negotiated places to settle in cities on arrival and their attempts to rebuild their lives in the urban environment. Although experiences of displacement and dynamics of urbanization across the four cities are diverse, the chapter shows how each city has been shaped by interrelated legacies of conflict and displacement. After a brief overview of political dynamics that have underpinned the construction, break-up and attempted reconstruction of the Somali state, the chapter focuses each of the four cities’ historical experiences of conflict-linked in-migration and the development of camp-like settlements in urban and peri-urban space.

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This chapter foregrounds the intersection of social and material aspects of urban lives and examines how infrastructures mediate and differentiate urban practices. People improvise to create or fill gaps in basic infrastructure. In doing so they produce the socio-materiality of places and configure urban morphologies, which, in turn, shape their everyday bodily experiences in and of the city. Focusing on the urban margins, the chapter uses examples of sanitation, water, health and education as analytical entry points to highlight socio-ecological dynamics that produce spaces of privilege and exclusion in the city. The chapter further expands on the previous analyses of the political economy of urban in-migration and humanitarian entrepreneurship by demonstrating how infrastructural struggles are conditioned through relations of property that intersect with arrangements for security. It is again emphasized that people at the margins are active agents of urbanization, even if they themselves do not usually benefit from these contributions to city-making.

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This introductory chapter frames the wider book as a critical engagement with the discursive figure of the ‘internally displaced person’ and the use of this label by various actors in the context of conflict-linked migration and urbanization. The chapter presents the methodology that underpinned the research on which its findings are based. It explains and reflects upon the use of narrative interviews, participatory photography and public exhibitions/discussions to generate insight on the nexus of displacement and urbanization from the perspectives and everyday experiences of marginalized populations living in conditions of extreme socio-economic precarity. The concept of precarious urbanism is introduced as the process by which mobile, constantly shifting patterns of arrival, settlement, camp transformation, eviction and resettlement manifest in the morphologies of the four cities under focus and shape trajectories of urban development and ways of living. The chapter explains the thematic structure of the book and the different aspects of this precarious urbanism that are analysed in each.

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This chapter explores how people displaced to cities understand their longer- and shorter-term prospects and the impacts of internationally backed ‘durable solutions’ interventions. The chapter discusses how in-migrants think about their (new) urban lives and the potential for ‘return’ mobility. It then focuses on how local resettlement schemes in Bosaso and Hargeisa have created new clusters of peripheral settlements with varying connections to the main cities. This section analyses resettled residents’ different experiences of land tenure and material opportunities or constraints in these new liminal urban spaces, which themselves have significant effects on wider dynamics of city growth. The chapter argues that categorizations of displacement are spatialized in these initiatives and structure relations between people who have newly settled in the city and those who consider themselves indigenous residents. Tensions exist between co-produced narratives of pan-Somali solidarity and experiences of belonging and discrimination aligned with place, race, clan, caste and ethnicity. The chapter shows that the discursive and spatial reordering of urban populations, in the context of the durable solutions framework, relies on and reproduces reductive labels of displacement, which fold themselves into local contestations over citizenship and belonging.

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Displacement, Belonging and the Reconstruction of Somali Cities

This book explores relationships between war, displacement and city-making. Focusing on people seeking refuge in Somali cities after being forced to migrate by violence, environmental shocks or economic pressures, it highlights how these populations are actively transforming urban space.

Using first-hand testimonies and participatory photography by urban in-migrants, the book documents and analyses the micropolitics of urban camp management, evictions and gentrification, and the networked labour of displaced populations that underpins growing urban economies. Central throughout is a critical analysis of how the discursive figure of the ‘internally displaced person’ is co-produced by various actors. The book argues that this label exerts significant power in structuring socio-economic inequalities and the politics of group belonging within different Somali cities connected through protracted histories of conflict-related migration.

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This chapter examines patterns of physical mobility and virtual circuits that connect people in urban camps to resources and interlocutors throughout the wider city. Focusing on the labour relations and forms of petty entrepreneurship that emerge within and from these marginalized settlements, it emphasizes their gendered character and the ways in which they constitute and sustain economic precarity. Mobile phone infrastructure enables many of these labour practices, and the chapter considers the significance of the burgeoning Somali telecommunications sector within the wider displacement urbanization nexus. The chapter highlights various uses and risks of virtual connectivity for urban in-migrants, and the impacts of ICT-enabled information and resource flows on mobility and settlement patterns. Examining the linkages between labour, livelihood strategies and digital connectivity, it discusses the role of mobile money in the working lives of urban in-migrants. Interrogating linked discourses of digital inclusion and entrepreneurial innovation in refugee policymaking, the chapter emphasizes the ambiguous impacts of connectivity on the social and economic lives of people in marginalized urban settlements. Technologies do not work outside of existing layers of gendered, raced and classed inequalities, and, as a consequence, can exacerbate unequal social and spatial distributions of hardship and immiseration in the city.

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My Wife and family return’d to me now out of the Country, where they had been since August by reason of the Contagion, now almost universally ceasing: Blessed be God for his infinite mercy in preserving us.

John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, entry for 6 February 16661

In the end, it’s still about the human touch: making time and making contact, even when it might well seem like it’s gone for good. In this context, ICT is the great enabler – we can ‘reach out’ across cities and continents as never before – but it is not the great substitute – F2F is still integral to maintaining relationships, confidence and commitment. So, ICT substitutes for the trip across town when all we really wanted to do was say ‘Hey, how are things?’, but there is no substitute for when ‘seeing the whites of their eyes’ is essential. Consequently, central places, where contact is easier and quicker, retain a crucial advantage.

And the great agglomerations, where there’s lots of potentially useful contact all around, create a critical mass for doing business in many of our most dynamic sectors. Not in every market, or for every sort of deal, of course: for great swathes of business, from travel booking to logistics to advanced engineering, 21st-century digital technology means liberation from ‘you had to be there’ day in and day out. This book has been about how these differences work, and what that means for cities. In our Introduction, we raised a range of questions. We asked: what do people value about cities? Is distance ‘dead’? Why do firms still pay astronomical rents for the CBD office when ICT should allow them to locate in cheaper suburbs? And why isn’t telecommuting much more common, as forecast for a long time now?

To answer these questions, we looked at how different ‘layers’ of

interaction stack up, one on top of the other: infrastructure, which creates

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We cannot … regard the conditions of supply by an individual producer as typical of those which govern the general supply in a market. … Thus the history of the individual firm cannot be made into the history of an industry any more than the history of an individual man can be made into the history of mankind.

Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics, 18901

This chapter turns the focus to transactions: the where and who of ‘doing deals’, and how they shape choices about which locations are more or less desirable for a new office, shop or plant. Donald Trump (or his ghost-writer) said: ‘I don’t do it for the money … I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.’2

Well, it’s a bit more complex than that. We unpick the costs of those choices and how a deal is shaped by how much a business’s transactions are standardized or one-offs, and what this imposes in terms of search costs around each transaction. We home in on the fact that even though ICT is shifting the boundaries of these choices, face-to-face interactions can still make or break a deal. If you are regularly ‘betting the firm’ – especially in fast-moving, highly unpredictable industries – then the informational advantages that you gain from being in central places and being able to meet a wide range of collaborators and competitors can outweigh the obvious costs of, for instance, city-centre congestion.

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