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Panel 38. Transition settlements: Towards sustainable urbanisation pathways in the Global South


  • Neha Sami (IIHS)
  • Shriya Anand (IIHS)
  • Gautam Bhan (IIHS)
  • Sudeshna Mitra (IIHS)

Indian Institute for Human Settlements


Urbanization processes in the Global South are different from those experienced historically in the Global North: first, the pace of transition is much faster; second, transition is often taking place without manufacturing-led economic growth but rather in the context of diverse economic activities, the majority of which are often in informal or semi-formal sectors; and third, it is taking place in the Anthropocene where human influence on planetary well-being is increasingly evident. All pose significant challenges to our understanding of urbanization processes and their impacts.

Although urban transitions in the Global South have attracted considerable attention from scholars, much of this has focused on larger urban agglomerations and processes in core rather than edge contexts. A less appreciated reality is that a large component of urban growth will take place in small towns and villages as they grow to become urban settlements in their own rights or are absorbed by urban expansion. Not only are these settlements currently poorly equipped to handle challenges that urban transition will bring, but they are also off the radar of research and deep understanding.

Moreover, the conditions and constraints within which this urban shift is taking place means that it may be unsustainable, unaffordable and unsuitable in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America where the great bulk of incremental urbanization will occur. Understanding and preparing such settlements for emerging challenges offers Southern cities opportunities to avoid getting locked into development pathways that are economically and socially inequitable, environmentally unsustainable, and inimical for human wellbeing.

The challenge is evident. Yet, there is no analytical framework for identifying and assessing such transitions, or to understand their multiple components, especially in the context of small towns, large villages and at the expanding urban edge. This absence is due to multiple fissures in existing approaches, which tend to be partial. Some are tied to specific methodological or disciplinary positions; others focus on a specific (and often singular) problematic; and yet others focus on particular practices or governance instruments. These are complicated by the fact that these geographical contexts are data-poor environments where evidence-based decision- making renders established methodologies unsuitable.

We invite papers that approach the problem of urban transitions through multiple lenses across discipline, methods, and place: where these transitions are occurring, what processes are occurring in transitioning settlements, how governance and planning frameworks shift, adapt or respond to urbanization, what pressures does this place on social, material, and institutional dynamics; what methods could we use to anticipate transitions using remote sensing, administrative or other novel data sources; what indicators would demonstrate shifts in economies, settlement patterns, built environment and changes in agriculture or green cover that are understood to accompany the process of urbanization, and what are emergent practices (state and non-state) in response to these shifts. We aim to open up conversations across disciplines and methods to develop approaches to understanding urban transitions that are sensitive to different geographical, political, social and economic context.

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