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ZEF in the City 'ZEF and the City' comprises a group of doctoral researchers at ZEF conducting critical urban research on topics such as everyday urbanity, citizenship, and the governance of informality in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This story draws on field research conducted in Africa by Phillip Garjay Innis in Monrovia (Liberia) and Oyewole Simon Oginni in the Lake Chad region; in Asia by Amit Kumar in Mumbai (India), Anna Brückner in Ahmadabad (India), Patan and Kathmandu Valley (Nepal), by Arif Budy Pratama in Magelang City (Indonesia), and by Arslan Waheed in Islamabad (Pakistan); and in Latin America by Arslan Waheed in Brasilia (Brazil) and by Maryoriet R. Salgado in Honduras.

Our ZEF in the City researchers:

From top left to bottom right: Amit Kumar, Anna Brückner, Arif Budy Pratama, Arslan Waheed, Maryoriet Salgado, Oyewole Simon Oginni and Phillip Garjay Innis.

Story 1: Phillip Garjay Innis is studying everyday risks and risk management strategies in unplanned coastal settlements in Monrovia, Liberia.

What the city represents for Phillip:

Urban planning in sub-Saharan Africa is largely guided by modernist urban ideals that seek to reshape the city along the lines of global cities like Dubai or Singapore. However, these 'African urban fantasies' contrast with the reality on the ground, as informal processes are the main drivers of urban growth. The ‘real’ city is therefore more of an unplanned marginal city where the majority of the urban population lives in abject poverty with minimal urban amenities.

Clara Town, Monrovia, Liberia.

In the pictures left and right: Houses in Clara Town which are constructed on storm drains. Sewers and storm drains are converted into landfills and buildings here. Thus, the flooding problems are exacerbated and we can see how land use and ‘everyday risks’ are interlinked. In this study, ´everyday risks´ refer to the risks that vulnerable groups are constantly exposed to at home, at work and in the community. These risks include pollution, crime and violence, lack of access to healthcare, food poisoning and heat waves, psychological stress, poor housing conditions, in addition to a constant fear of being evicted.

Philipp (second from right) during his field research in Liberia.

In this picture: Phillip (second from right) and Peace Island Community Youth leaders at an informal discussion in November 2019. Peace Island is an unplanned settlement that emerged in the mid-2000s after the end of Liberia's second civil war. Residents join various associations, ranging from religious to economic to recreational, to expand their sphere of action and social networks as part of their risk reduction strategies. It should be noted that leadership of Peace Island Community Youth is exclusively male. Many of the advocacy groups on Peace Island are dominated by men, whereas some economic associations, especially the informal savings clubs (or susu-clubs), are dominated by women.

More information about Philipp Garjay Innis and his research ‘Understanding everyday urban risks: Riskscapes and risk management in unplanned coastal settlements in Monrovia, Liberia’ on ZEF's website here. Contact: p.g.innis@uni-bonn.de. This research is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD).

Story 2: Anna Brueckner works on (blue) health and well-being in Ahmedabad and Ruhr Metropolis

What the city represents for Anna:

In contrast to contemporary urban research focusing mostly on the negative narratives of cities, my PhD study highlights that cities can actually be health-enabling places. Urban waters (‘urban blue spaces’) entail a health potential for city dwellers as those spaces can benefit people’s physical, mental and social well-being.

Left: Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Right: Patan, Nepal.

Picture left: Wall and men: ‘Water matters’. In the cities of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, waterbodies form a variety of public and community spaces. Until today, the traditional water supply by “dhunge daras” (carved stone fountains) has been used by many urban dwellers.

Picture right: Kids swimming in Pim Bahal, in the ancient city Patan, Nepal. The pond is used for recreational activities such as swimming by the surrounding communities.

More information about Anna Brückner and her research on ‘Blue Health for All? Urban Blue Spaces as Potentially Therapeutic Landscapes for Aging Populations in Ahmedabad and Ruhr Metropolis’ at ZEF's website here. Contact: abrueckn@uni-bonn.de. This research is part of The NRW Forschungskolleg One Health and Urban Transformation which is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ministerium für Kultur und Wissenschaft des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, MKW).

Story 3: Arif Budy Pratama works on the social interface of smart city development in Magelang, Indonesia.

What the city represents for Arif:

The city can be regarded as a living space at the center of socio-economic activities, which enable its inhabitants to interact and do their routines within physical entities. Whereas 'smart city' has become a trendy policy concept in urban development, my PhD project aims to understand how smart city policy is made and implemented in everyday life. Given a nascent stage of smart-city development, the project will not assess the transformation and impacts of smart city implementation on a societal level. The study gives an account of the dynamics of smart city development projects in Magelang City. Borrowing the concept of the social interface framework from development sociology, I analyze the intersection between the lifeworld of smart city actors and their social fields in which different interests, knowledge, and power interplay.

Street scene in Magelang city, Indonesia.

In this picture: One of the densely populated Kampungs categorized as a slum area in Magelang city. Kampung is Indonesian word to describe a neighborhood in the rural or sub-urban area. In another context, Kampung also refers to slums in the urban area with rural characteristics or which is inhabited by rural peoples who have migrated in search of better employment.

Kebon Polo traditional market, Magelang city.

In this picture: An official collector collecting market levy electronically. The cashless payment is conducted by an Electronic Data Capture machine. It is also called ‘e-retribusi’ and it is one of the smart city projects to minimize fraud in the city´s income from traditional market levy.

More information about Arif Budy Pratama and his research on ‘The social interface of smart city development: an ethnographic study on understanding the dynamics of smart city projects in Magelang City, Indonesia’ on ZEF's website here. Contact: arif.pratama@uni-bonn.de. This research is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Story 4: Maryoriet R. Salgado works on the “gendered” city in urban Honduras

What the city represents for Maryoriet:

Beyond a geographical location, the city constitutes a concrete social and spatial abstraction of economic, political, and social relations. It also constitutes a specific way of life that is both individually and collectively constructed. The city is made alive by the interactions of human and non-human actors, as well as how they intersect with one another. Based on Lefebvre’s right to this city, there is an understanding of experiencing the city according to diverse and individual social locations such as race, religion, age, and particularly through the gendered body.

Tegulcigalpa, Honduras.

Picture left: Urban landscape of La Era settlement in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, portrays the peri-urban reality. There is no longer a clear division between the rural and the urban, resulting in an urban fringe that characterizes the unplanned city as well as an unrepresented and statistically significant way of life.

Picture right: Community leaders and members of the Los Pinos settlement, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, continue to adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions and measures. While impacted by the diverse repercussions, women experience the pandemic differently due to the traditional division of gender roles, which forces them to an intensified load of productive, reproductive and community work.

More information about Maryoriet R. Salgado and her research on ‘The stay-at-home paradox; narratives of domestic violence in urban Honduras during the COVID-19 pandemic’ on ZEF's website here. Contact: margeersalgado@gmail.com. This research is funded by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes.

Story 5: Oyewole Simon Oginni works on African post-conflict cities in the Lake Chad Basin Region

What the city represents for Oyewole:

I understand African post-conflict cities as sites where forced mobility and immobility are at the crossroads, conditioned and structured by institutional forms of powers. While forced immobility expresses a situation of being stuck in space due to displacement, forced mobility captures the conditions of stuckness in time and space. The institutional forms of power include camps and shelters as well as material interventions which often serve as an instrument of care and control, in addition to inclusion but also exclusion within urban space.

Children of unregistered internally displaced persons sleeping on the streets of Maroua city, Cameroon.

In this picture: The children left their parents in the informal camps because the families cannot afford a room in Maroua city, Cameroon. Those boys were relaxing after work in the afternoon. There is a wheelbarrow behind them. They use it to carry loads for older people. Girls are either married off or work as housemaids. This situation overlaps with other urban displaced people whose children were also left on the streets ‘to move on’. Allowing children to grow up on the streets is a well-known strategy among the urban poor in Maroua to reduce parents’ burden of care. However, the high risk of exposing children to terrorist recruitments has opened up debate about this practice.

The pictures were taken by Oyewole during his doctoral fieldwork in Far Northern Cameroon and Northeast Nigeria in 2019-2020.

In this picture: The red-brick buildings in the picture were constructed by internally displaced persons who returned to the neighborhood of Maroua II in Cameroon. The erection of temporary red-brick shelters is part of internally displaced persons’ strategy ‘to move on’ while waiting for peace to return to their communities. In this sense, ‘to move on’ is not only about being in motion, moving from one place to another, but also explains the way refugees and internally displaced persons adopt different strategies to overcome exclusion in both formal and informal settings within urban space.

More information about Oyewole Simon Oginni and his research on ‘Humanitarian urbanism: Navigating everyday life in overlapping displacement context in border cities of the Lake Chad Basin Region’ on ZEF's website here. Contact: O.oginni@uni-bonn.de. This research is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Story 6: Amit Kumar works on the 'contested city' in Mumbai, India

What the city represents for Amit:

The city is constantly struggled over and re-imagined in multiple ways. On one side, the nexus of state, planners and private investors see Mumbai as becoming a world-class city through tall buildings making the skyline picturesque and representing the city’s development. In contrast, the collective of slum dwellers with their solidarity network among non-governmental organizations and other people’s movements act against that notion. For them, this notion of development hinders their rights and entitlements, so they call for inclusive approaches for a world-class city to come.

Sanjay Nagar II, a slum in M-East Ward, Mumbai.

In this picture: Sanjay Nagar II is a fully functioning slumwhere slum dwellers navigate through the chores of everyday life. The legal status of these dwellings is ´grey´, i.e., its residents are struggling to become permanent to the city through collectivization and self-help. However, the state has categorized them as being temporary, ordering frequent demolitions.

Slum resident making a statement.

In this picture: In the aftermath of a large-scale slum demolition in the M-East Ward of Mumbai, a slum dweller juggles relocating and furnishing evidence to prove himself as a resident of the demolished locality. He claims that he lived there before the cut-off date, making him eligible for a state-led slum rehabilitation scheme.

More information about Amit Kumar and his research on ‘From migrant to becoming a citizen in Mumbai: Assemblage approach to studying the strategies of place-making by slum dwellers in Indian cities’ on ZEF's website here. Contact: s5amkuma@uni-bonn.de. This research is funded by Right Livelihood / German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Story 7: Arslan Waheed researches development discourses and urban poor in the slums of Islamabad and Brasilia

What the city represents for Arslan:

City represents socio-economic realities which are inscribed spatially. These socio-economic realities are continuously shaped and shaping both our perceptions and the lived experiences of any urban settlement. To understand urbanism, as my research highlights, we need to understand both semiotic and non-semiotic aspects that are best represented through the struggles of all groups across gender, religion, race, class, and age barriers.

Fetching water in Islamabad.

In this picture: Kids and a young man are taking water for their daily use from one of the few hand-pumps installed in a katchi abadi (slum) of Islamabad – a city rendered as a symbol of modernist urban planning.

Next stop: Central Bus Station Rodoviária in Brasilia.

In this picture: Brasilia: Police checking homeless people sitting with their few belongings in front of empty and closed shops at the Central Bus Station Rodoviária in Brasilia. The station was designed by the famous planner and architect Lucio Costa, and Oscar Niemeyer. This picture underlines the socio-economic discrepancies in Brasilia hailed as a symbol of modernist urban planning and societal development.

Arslan obtained his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Arts, Bonn University, in August 2021. More information about Arslan and his research on ‘Development discourses and urban poor: A comparative study of slums of Islamabad and Brasilia’ on ZEF's website here. You can read more about his doctoral research in his recent ZEF blog post "Reflections on a PhD journey to two continents: researching the slums of Islamabad and Brasilia" (September 2021). Contact: onlinearslan@gmail.com. This research was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

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