International Conference – Reframing Urban Resilience Implementation

In the age of the Anthropocene, the topic of resilience has become of utmost importance for contemporary and future spatial planning. Despite many attempts at establishing urban sustainability throughout the world, ample evidence demonstrates that true sustainability and resilience are still a long way away. In short, there is a need for a more integrated and inclusive approach to designing and managing urban resilience.

To help leverage more resilient aproaches to planning, URNet (the Urban Resilience research Network, co-founded by former YA blog editor Lorenzo Chelleri), is teaming up with the United Nation HABITAT City Resilience Profiling Program and the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC) to organise the 11th International Forum on Urbanism Conference, under the theme of “Reframing urban resilience implementation: Aligning sustainability and resilience”. The Forum will first be held 10-12 December in Barcelona, Spain, and will bring together researchers and practitioners to discuss key issues and much-needed solutions.

The Forum will also include an additional conference to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in March 2019 (date subject to change), so as to open up the global debate on resilience. Both events have the support of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities initiative, METROPOLIS, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (formerly UNESCO IHE), the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the European Network for Community-led Initiatives on Climate Change and Sustainability (ECOLISE) among others. As such, the Forum will enable to create effective links between academics and practioners.

Contributions to the conference can be submitted in two different ways:

  1. a traditional conference paper, which can be submitted to one of four special issues in international refeered journals supporting the conference
  2. a “short conference paper”, in the form of a blog post submitted to one of the following prominent international blogs supporting the conference:  The Nature of Cities (TNOC), the recently released UN HABITAT Urban Resilience Hub, the AESOP YA blog, or the URNet blog.

Find out more about the conference on the new dedicated website. Four main areas of focus are suggested as a basis for contributions. You can also invited to submit proposals for side events, or other ideas for how to make an impact in Barcelona and Jakarta and maximize the forum experience. To keep in touch or for any enquiry, do sign up for our mailing list here.

The main conference announcement can be found here. Additionally, feel free to further share the annoucement via Facebook, Twitter, and even your own LinkedIn network.


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What use of European development targets?

Guest author: Ksenija Banovac, University of Tours

In the light of new multi-polar global economy, and the emergence of new country-leaders (China) Europe is no longer the core continent and struggles to identify its new economic role. Yet, her internal functioning remains quite ambivalent and raises many questions.

Since the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1956, a common vision of the future of Europe has built on the values of diversity of places and socio-economic conditions. The so-called the “European project” was conceived by the leading European policy-makers as a process of gradual political integration to overcome the nationalistic conflicts and wars.

About fifty years later, by signing the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU established a single market with a goal to achieve a sustainable development based on balanced economic growth, a highly competitive social market economy, and environmental protection. Such development was designed for all European regions to be given the opportunity to achieve their full potential by reducing disparities and by respecting the equity of all its citizens.

Yet, in 2008, the economic and financial crisis emphasized the long-existing gap between the European regions, particularly economic decline, inefficient governance and underperformance of some European economies. It became evident that isolated, peripheral, socio-economically weak regions were strongly hit by the crisis unlike central, export-oriented regions with stronger adaptive capacity to react to external shocks. Likewise, the capital regions came out as “winners”, while rural and the Eastern border regions came out as “losers”.

Development targets drafted in the European couloirs

Many critics question the sustainability of the “European project” and raise their concerns regarding the contradictions in its functioning.

To give an example of paradox functioning, the European Commission adopted a key strategy for the period 2010-2020 which aims towards a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The strategy has been backed up by the cohesion and regional policies, and a series of initiatives which all together need to produce some very concrete results by the year 2020: e.g. 20/20/20 targets, 75% of the 20-64 year-old population employed, 3% of the EU’s GDP for R&D, 40% of 30-34 year-old population completing a university degree, etc.

Yet, each member state can establish its own national targets knowing that they might be very different and might not be enough to achieve the European goals by 2020. Likewise, in the middle of the period 2010-2020, the EU2020 strategy changed its course when the Commission discovered that some regions will not be able to achieve the goals. The Commission finally admitted that it would be neither realistic nor desirable that all regions reach the same goal.

Consequently, a failure of the EU2020 strategy raises questions about the purpose and the capacity (and legitimacy) of the European Commission to draw any future strategy for the entire European community.

Market under the European supervision

Territorial competition has been gradually developed over the years under strict rules and supervision of the European Commission. The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, set the first rules of a newly established European single market: a customs union, the progressive approximation of legislation between member states, the establishment of the four freedoms of movement for goods, services, capital and labor and a unified system of economic competition rules (Colomb and Santinha, 2014).

The Economic and Monetary Union, with the creation of the euro, took that process even further. Nowadays, competition is one of the few policy areas in which the European Union has an exclusive competence not shared with the member states. The EU competition policy comprises four key elements: anti-trust regulations, merger regulations, the regulation of aid provided by states and the liberalization of monopolies and state enterprises. They have a major influence on economic activity, investment flows, human mobility and the behavior of private and public actors in Europe (van Ravesteyn and Evers, 2004).

The regulation of state aid and regional aid for firms and territories, and the regulation of services of general interest are considered to be the critical issues for territorial competition in Europe. Firstly, the state and regional aid is a financial support for firms or specific economic sectors with the aim to attract economic activities to specific areas or to support existing industries facing difficulties. It can have different forms: tax exemptions, loans at preferential interest rates, direct subsidies, acquisition of land and buildings on favorable terms, etc.

What seems to be problematic is the fact that the aid creates a distortion of competition in the European single market by giving an advantage to less efficient firms that are nationally protected (Wishlade, 2003; Molle, 2007). Each member state must inform the European Commission of any plans to grant state aid and cannot implement those plans without its approval (Colomb and Santinha, 2014). Likewise, the regional aid that targets regional disparities is also regulated by the European Guidelines on regional State aid (CEC, 2013) which had identified the eligible regions, the aid types and authorized costs, the types of eligible firms and the maximum aid level (Wishlade, 2003; Molle, 2007).

As a consequence, the design of regional, urban and rural development by the national and regional governments has little “room for manoeuvre” and there are urban and rural areas “that are neither well placed to benefit from policies focused on innovation or other horizontal priorities, nor sufficiently disadvantaged to qualify for regional aid, either at the national or Community levels” (Wishlade, 2008, p. 763).

Secondly, in terms of services of general interest (SGI) such as transportation, postal services, telecommunications, and the supply of electricity, gas and water, which used to be protected from the market’s fluctuations and organized as monopolies, are forced to enter into competition (McGowan, 2000). The problematic issue is that competition may limit the pursuit of social and territorial cohesion. Consequently, because SGI are mostly developed in densely populated areas, and the providers are guided by market dynamics, the higher prices are set for SGI’s provision in less developed and remote areas (Molle, 2007).

So far, many trade unions, public service defense organizations and left-wing parties in the European Parliament have expressed their concerns about the implication of the European liberalization for the SGI and many have called for the adoption of a clear legal framework at the European level which would guarantee the protection of social services in the name of social and territorial cohesion (Colomb and Santinha, 2014).

So far, no major changes in these areas have been made.



CEC (Commission of the European Communities) (2013), Guidelines on regional State aid for 2014-2020, Official Journal C209, 23.07.2013.

Colomb, C. and G. Santinha (2014), European Union Competition Policy and the European Territorial Cohesion Agenda: an Impossible Reconciliation? State Aid Rules and Public Service Liberalization through the European Spatial Planning Lens, European Planning Studies, vol. 22, n. 3, pp. 459-480.

McGowan, R. (2000), “Competition policy: the limits of the European regulatory state”, in W. Wallace and H. Wallace (eds.), Policy-making in the European Union, pp. 115-147, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Molle, W. (2007), European Cohesion Policy, Routhledge, London.

Van Ravesteyn, N. and D. Evers (2004), Unseen Europe: A Survey of EU politics and its Impact on Spatial Development in the Netherlands, NAI Publisher, Rotterdam.

Wishlade, F. (2008), Competition and cohesion – coherence or conflict? European Union regional state aid reform post-2006, Regional Studies, vol. 42, n. 5, pp. 753-765.

World Bank (2008), Reshaping Economic Geography, World Development Report.

Ksenija Banovac Uni of Tours_Profile Pic_Resized 150pix_width


Ksenija Banovac earned a PhD in urban and regional planning at the University of Tours. Her research focused on a network approach to the analysis of regional urban systems. Currently she works as spatial planning and business analyst at the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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Development planning in post-independence India: Where did we go wrong? What can we do about it?

The term ‘Development‘ (physical development) may be defined as – carrying out engineering, building, mining, quarrying and other such works in/on/under land. This is also called material change in the use of any building or land. Development may also refer to change of land use. In some countries, demolition is also considered to be a form of development.  Contemporary theory defines development as synonymous to ‘urbanization’ and economic growth, but the question that arises is whether or not economic growth is sufficient for human development. Amartya Sen and other scholars advocate a holistic form of development that supports the capabilities of humans and society. He propagates the idea of development which extends beyond economic growth to include better living conditions (safe drinking water, education, housing, etc.) for the population that is usually overlooked (i.e. the poor category unable to pay the taxes), with the larger goal of improving its capabilities.

Post-independence, the vision for development of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India, was founded in industrialization and large scale infrastructure development. Dams were believed as temples of modern India. Urban centres were projected as engines of economic growth. In 1986, Charles Correa spearheaded the National Commission on Urbanisation and projected urban centres of the country as generators of economic momentum, famously known as GEMs.

Much before the large scale industrialisation took place, the majority of the Indian population lived in the countryside working as farmers. Over 70 per cent of the country’s population lived in its villages and employed almost half of the workforce, as evident from records maintained by the Office or Registrar General of India at the Census of India office. With the Independent India formulating a vision for future development of India based on urban centres, public finance, public policies and planning efforts moved towards these GEMs as well. People, particularly males, left their farms to move to these ‘employment-rich’ cities of the time in search of jobs and a better standard of living.  While some came to build cities and stayed, many others developed a seasonal mobility – travelling in the lean agricultural seasons to cities and moving back to their home village in the sowing and harvesting seasons.

As a cumulative effect of this perpetual focus on urban centres and increasing rural-to-urban migration, demand for basic amenities of food, clothing and shelter increased exponentially, well beyond the carrying capacity of the cities and financial or technical capacities of local authorities. But the population was increasing and urban centers were expanding in numbers and in terms of spatial extent. India’s urbanisation level increased from mere 11. 4 per cent in 1947 to over 33.4 per cent in 2017, as per Census of India estimations. This large scale urbanisation was accompanied with large scale destruction of natural resources: large scale deforestation to create spaces for humans to inhabit, places for leisure, networks connecting different areas, air, water, noise pollution etc.  Crux of the discussion is that urbanization never was and never will be an isolated process. It has multiplier effects, usually in sync with environmental degradation.  It is aggravated by perpetual rural to urban migration as well as urban to urban migration in Indian cities.

The systemic increase in population and its demand for resources, beyond the capacity of a city, has resulted in over a third of urban populations living in poor conditions, which means: lacking a pucca (house), clean water and sanitation services; being forced to take up petty jobs, and lacking the security of regular income to support life; and facing recurrent eviction by force. This inability of cities to accommodate a large portion of society has led to the growth of slums and bastis. However, let’s not forget that these slum dwellers or informal workers are not just poor, they are the very hands or children of workers which may have built the city, or are themselves providing fruits and vegetables at nearby markets on a daily basis, or for that matter cleaning the homes and offices where the more well-to-dos spend over 80 per cent of their daily time. Also, not all rural to urban migrants are poor. A small fraction is the educated middle class section which possesses skills to get absorbed in formal employment.   


File Photo:  A slum cluster at Prem Bari bridge, Wazirpur Industrial Area, NCT of Delhi, India – the settlement came up to serve the industrial area in 1960s. It has witnessed evictions and court stay orders with political support in 1990s. However, it continues to occupy a linear parcel of land along the railways, lacking access to adequate water and safe sanitation, or, for that matter, an all-weather roof for most of the units they call as home. (Image by Author, 2017) 

In general, however, the amount of labor available on the market is increasing more than the opportunities available. The Census of India estimates annual rural to urban migration of 10 million. This migration is primarily guided by social and economic development of the in- and out-migration node. But then where does planning fit into all this?

The answer (or solution?) is – how does urban planning accommodate its population, native as well as migratory? Does it need to serve only the tax payers? Do the poor always have to occupy the crevices?

There is much talk and measures to strive for inclusive development. But what really happens on the ground? Can one blame the government? Do the poor want to live in poverty? The answer and solution is not that simple.

First, concerning the poor: no, they do not want to live in poverty. First generation or the first flow of workers that migrated to city, is educating their children and sending them to seek respectable employment. While the second generation who is often educated but in Hindi medium schools, is teaching its children English, for all respectable employment are considered to require fluency in English as a basic skill. Some manage to escape the poverty trap while many continue to live (or die) in it.

Second, concerns with the other end of the spectrum, which includes policy makers and administrators. Is it their fault that the poor live in disgraceful conditions? The answer is no. There are several instances where affordable housing is provided by the government and allocated to the poor by the administrators, but in over 90 per cent of cases it has been found that they leave the newly allocated units for more familiar dilapidated housing. How come? Poor communities have often established years of work-home relationships and networks or have adapted to using formerly-available limited space that was earlier available, which are difficult to replicate in the new locations of affordable housing. This is where urban planning steps in: where does one allocate space for them in a landscape where land prices determine the type of development that may come upon it? Are we as planners only concerned with simple allocation of land in our age-old system of land use allocations, or do we look into the demand for retaining work-home -place relationships and provision of basic services?

Gautam Bhan (TEDIndia, 2017) believes that a basti is not a problem, it’s a solution. One cannot provide as many affordable houses as worked out from simple mathematics of housing demand. Basti is not a illegal squatter on public or private land by workers who have built the city or help in its functioning. Running a bulldozer over them is not the solution. These citizens have as much right to the city as a tax payers does. The former might not be paying property tax or income tax, but do pay indirect taxes. If they are paying a fraction of tax, then why is it an issue if they occupy less than 10 per cent of a city’s land while accommodating 20 to 60 per cent of urban population in an Indian city? Why is it that they have inhabited on a parcel of land for 10 to 40 years but notified illegal a few days before eviction? One of the most practical explanation for this is – the parcel which was earlier a no man’s land becomes a pot of gold for proposed development.

Coming back to the question – what can a planner do to balance this scale of development and make it inclusive? Does one look at New York’s public housing and rent control, which has been able to accommodate workers from around the States and the world in areas surrounded by elite and high priced property? Or do we look for innovative ideas that developed within the country, like the Barefoot Movement (TEDGlobal, 2011) founded by Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy who built country’s first college for the illiterate with the help of the illiterates. Sanjit Roy has been propagating and working on the vision of helping rural illiterate communities to become self-sufficient in and around India, thence reducing the need for rural to urban migration.

The answer is not simple and definitely not a one solution fits all. A country is defined by its people and the people most affected are the ones who lack the ability to pay taxes, i.e. the poor section of society. We as planners need to plan our spaces and policy in a manner that is inclusive of all. 


Editor: Ian Babelon



TEDGlobal (Director). (2011). Learning from a Barefoot movement [Motion Picture].

TEDIndia (Director). (2017). A Bold step to house 100 million people [Motion Picture].

ORGI (2011) Census of India. Office of Registrar General of India: New Delhi, India 

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Changing Planning Culture in Flanders, third time a charm?

Guest author:  Clemens de Olde, University of Antwerp

Lion GDJ on Pixabay

A truly new spatial planning framework for Flanders? The lion is emblematic of the Coat of Arms of Flanders. Art credits: GDJ on Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons, no attribution required.

Shifting paradigms

It is an interesting time for planners in the Belgian region of Flanders. The spatial planning system that was introduced in 1997 is about to be replaced by a new one which has been a long time in the making. First initiatives date back to 2011 and work continued under two legislations and different ministers. A white paper was approved by the government in December 2016, but rumour has it that the Flemish government intends make the final decision this coming spring. The question remains however whether this new planning system will be able to change the dominant planning culture (Othengrafen, 2012) rooted strongly in a system of land use planning.

Fragmented landscape

Flanders is the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Counting 6,5 million inhabitants, its population comprises 57,6% of the Belgian total, on a regional surface that is 44,3% of the whole country. Flanders is therefore more dense than the southern Walloon region, and what’s more, with a built-up area of 32,6%, it is one of the most densely urbanized regions in Europe (Poelmans, Esch, Janssen, & Engelen, 2016). While sharing a language and a comparable landscape type with The Netherlands, the built environment of Flanders has little in common with the “rule and order” characterising its northern neighbour as both visitors and locals are quick to point out when the topic arises (Faludi & Van der Valk, 1994). In the 1970s, a land use planning system zoned the entire Belgian surface area in a bid to stop the ever-increasing unguided urbanization. It had an opposite effect however of making urbanization follow land ownership patterns instead of guiding it by strategic planning decisions. Weak policy implementation, lax permit control, municipal localism and clientelism also played a role in creating a fragmented landscape characterised by urban sprawl and ribbon development along roads connecting the urban and rural cores.

Flanders: open and urban

The academic literature observes three phases of urban growth management strategy (Bae, 2007; Chapin, 2012). In a first mid-twentieth century wave, development controls are fairly straightforward such as urban growth management and zoning. A second wave consists of comprehensive plans that combine boundaries with development strategies, and third a smart growth paradigm which focuses more on (dis)incentives for growth.

Following this pattern a new strategic Spatial Structure Plan for Flanders was introduced in 1997. With the slogan “Flanders: open and urban” it contained a comprehensive growth strategy which was to freeze the division of urbanization over rural and urban areas at the situation of 1991. Demarcations of urban and rural areas with prohibitive regulations and targeted supply policy of residential and commercial development were to safeguard the landscape. One of the planners who worked on the plan voices the spirit of the times:

‘That was the first time in the history of urbanism, of planning in Flanders that we thought a scale beyond that of the municipality, on a larger scale of a cohesive area for which a vision was developed.’ (E5)

These ambitions collided however with the dominant planning culture shaped by the land use system that provided property owners with legal certainty of development opportunities. Therefore the legal reality often trumped strategic planning considerations. After thirteen years, an evaluation of the planning framework concluded that its goals have only been realised to a limited degree (Voets et al., 2010). One practitioner phrases the problem succinctly:

‘So that entire dream of a separation of urban and rural space becomes meaningless when translated into the juridical instrument of the spatial implementation plan.’ (E8)

One of the main gains however is that the framework increased planning capacity in Flanders and has at the very least led to greater awareness of the need for strategic planning.

New horizons

The shift currently about to be realised in Flanders can be characterized as one from comprehensive to smart growth. The white paper for the new Spatial Policy Plan proposes to judge developments on their “spatial cost-effectiveness” defined broadly as ‘doing more with less space’ through strategies of intensification, interweaving, temporary and re-use. The white paper does not propose concrete instruments yet, but the policy framework as outlined focuses on promoting initiatives that benefit the spatial cost-effectiveness and discouraging ones that do not through financial incentives and flexible regulations. Furthermore it aims to support early-adopters of exemplary spatially efficient projects and to sensitize and promote behavioural change as regards land use. All the while monitoring the total amount of land use in various zoning categories but no longer speaking of comprehensive planning led by the regional Flemish Administration.

Third time’s a charm?

Though the government intends to remove the worst development locations from the market by compensating owners and setting up a system of transferable development rights, it lacks funds to remove all of those areas zoned for development back in the 1970s. Criticasters (especially those instrumental in producing the previous framework) are afraid of a regression to a past when planning regulations were interpreted very loosely and mostly depended on local actors with their particular agendas. Most of them agree however that it is time for a new planning system. The question now is whether the third attempt at producing a planning framework will prove to be a charm and can transform Flemish planning culture with its focus on land use and legal certainty to one that is amenable to pursuing the goal of countering fragmentation.

This article is part of a feature anticipating the replacement of the planning system in the Belgian region of Flanders in 2019. In the next contribution I will go into how the term “concrete-block” turned into the popular moniker for a 200-page spatial development plan.


Clemens de Olde studied sociology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam where he developed an interest in cities and space. Currently he is PhD researcher in sociology at the University of Antwerp. His PhD research focuses on urbanization and the transformation of Flemish and Dutch planning culture.

Clemens de Olde_Profile Pic_Resized.jpg


Bae, C.-H. C. (2007). Containing Sprawl. In G.-J. Knaap, H. A. Haccoû, K. J. Clifton, & J. W. Frece (Eds.), Incentives, Regulations and Plans: The Role of States and Nation-states in Smart Growth Planning (pp. 36-53). UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Chapin, T. S. (2012). Introduction: From Growth Controls, to Comprehensive Planning, to Smart Growth: Planning’s Emerging Fourth Wave. Journal of the American Planning Association, 78(1), 5-15. doi:10.1080/01944363.2011.645273

Faludi, A., & Van der Valk, A. (1994). Rule and order : Dutch planning doctrine in the twentieth century. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Othengrafen, F. (2012). Uncovering the Unconscious Dimensions of Planning. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Poelmans, L., Esch, L. V., Janssen, L., & Engelen, G. (2016). Indicatoren Ruimtelijk Rendement. Retrieved from Mol:

Voets, J., De Peuter, B., Vandekerckhove, B., Broeckaert, D., Le Roy, M., Maes, P., . . . Blummel, P. (2010). Evaluerend onderzoek naar de effectiviteit van de uitvoering van het ruimtelijk beleid in Vlaanderen. Retrieved from Leuven:


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Johor Bahru & Singapore: Is the conurbation defining megaregion in the South-East Asia?

Megaregion is a regional planning unit concept, and it is argued that larger geographical regional units such as megaregion are economically more competitive in terms of contributing towards the national economy. In the light of climate change, megaregions are also known to be developed and implemented as a strategy to consume optimum resources. While the traditional debates on megaregion argued about form versus function, and integration of economic activities, the contemporary debates are around emerged versus strategically planned megaregion to achieve economic growth through urbanization. For instance, Asian countries are known to strategically develop megaregions as part of their low carbon development strategy. A recent study explores the concept of megaregion in India through its new economic and industrial corridors (here). In this blog, some preliminary ideas are presented to explore whether Johor Bahru-Singapore conurbation can be evaluated as a megaregion. The interesting point is that it would be a transnational megaregion. Moreover, there would be strong rationale to think about how this is positioned in the Singapore-Malaysia-Indonesia triangle context (here).

Johor Bahru, a city located in the southernmost city of Peninsular Malaysia, used to be considered the backyard of Singapore until 1900s. The physical connection between Johor Bahru and Singapore, which can be crossed in 15 minutes by car, provided the traffic flow is smooth, is the only point of communication between Singapore and Malaysia (shown in picture). As shown in a media report in 2015, there are 296,000 pedestrians commuting to Singapore everyday. The approximate data on other vehicles are: 126,000 vehicles daily, including 4,000 trucks and lorries entering Singapore. There is a second link by road that has capacity of 200,000 vehicles per day and the approximate number of motorcycle users is 100,000.

The rationale for Johor Bahru to be backyard of Singapore is that it is convenient for one to work in Singapore, with a salary as large as three times of what they would earn in Malaysia and live in the neighbourhoods of Johor Bahru, from where it is convenient to commute to Singapore. This makes the transportation infrastructure between Johor Bahru and Singapore critical. In addition to above numbers, there are company buses that shuttle between JB Sentral and Singapore. With huge volume of traffic, congestion is one of the main issues the regional development authority has to deal with. In comparison to overall Iskandar region, the share of traffic volume in between Johor Bahru and Singapore is significant. It also takes almost six hours of daily commuting (both ways) in terms of door-to-door service.

However, with Malaysia’s aspiration to be amongst the developed countries and with the forecasted urban growth, there is a new trend of urbanization in progress. Iskandar Malaysia, which is the brand name adopted by the regional development authority (Iskandar Regional Development Authority), is being considered the gateway to Malaysia. Iskandar Malaysia was declared a Special Economic Zone in 2006. In addition, in line with Malaysia’s commitment towards reducing carbon emission, Iskandar Malaysia has developed a blue print for Low Carbon Society that mandates delivery of low carbon infrastructure, including public transport (here). Besides Iskandar Regional Development Authority’s Low Carbon Society Blueprint, there are two other planning framework of Johor Bahru, which are its structure plan and master plan. The structure plan of Johor Bahru also highlights its importance in Malaysia-Singapore-Indonesia triangle, and Johor Bahru is the node located in Malaysia. Acknowledging the need of mass transit project between Malaysia and Singapore, both governments have recently approved high-speed rail project between KL and Singapore (here), and another MRT project between Johor Bahru and Singapore (here). Further, the federal government of Malaysia has approved partial funding for a large-scale mass transit project on Bus Rapid Transit in the region that will be connected to HSR, easing the commute between these two cities/regions from 2021 (here). Hence, investment in strengthening the connection between Johor Bahru and Singapore can be placed in the wider framework of both Low Carbon Society Blueprint and Johor Bahru’s Structure plan. It is worth noting the importance of the Singapore-Malaysia (Johor)-Indonesia triangle that aims to improve the regional economic competitiveness to attract investors, and hence, Johor Bahru has taken a decision in favour of strengthening this regional connectivity, besides supporting the wider national interests that come from Kuala Lumpur region.

Following are some criteria to evaluate a megaregion and assessment of whether Johor Bahru-Singapore conurbation could be identified as a megaregion. It would be worth to look into the models of Johor Bahru-Singapore, and Shenzhen-Hongkong (which is considered a model for Johor Bahru-Singapore) in order to be able to define megaregion in the South East Asian context.

  1. Megaregion: Traditionally megaregions were identified based on population and geographic area. One main debate on the concept of megaregion is whether it is about economic integration or is it about accumulation of urban form. However, there is no magic figure. The link between Singapore and Malaysia is already established in the broader framework on Malaysia-Singapore-Indonesia context.
  2. Flow of people and goods: As reflected in media reports, approximately 300,000 people cross the border of Malaysia everyday to commute to their jobs in Singapore. However, such huge influx of people could be unidirectional for the purpose of jobs. The flow of people on economic grounds would be for tourism. Johor Bahru is considered as the gateway to Malaysia, and many tourists choose to travel to Malaysia from Singapore. For instance, Johor Bahru hosts many national level tourist festivals and sports festivals that attract additional huge number of tourists in a year.
  3. Investment in transport infrastructure (low carbon infrastructure: HSR and BRT within JB) is made to improve urban mobility both within and with other regions, both for flow of people and goods. The first rationale for investing in transport infrastructure is definitely on economic grounds, and by investing in low carbon infrastructure; the region is strategically implemented as a low carbon development.
  4. Challenges for Malaysia: Heavy investment in regional connectivity between Singapore (developed economy) and Johor Bahru (still in developing state) creates challenges for Johor Bahru, especially in terms of ensuring the interests of local people. Developments like forest city (here) raises questions on gentrification, which the planning authorities are also aware of. Besides local peoples’ financial capacity to own such property, their access to natural resources (such as sea beaches) is also threatened in the process of attracting external development and investment. This will also address the question of whose megaregion (attracting outsiders or for locals), how (through investment both in infrastructure and development) and why questions of megaregion (low carbon development, economic growth), as discussed in the academic literature (here).
  5. Differences in traditional development pattern: Singapore and Johor Bahru remain two regions with completely different development patterns as of now. In terms of public transport, while Singapore has a already developed a well-appreciated public transport system, and a supporting culture, Iskandar region is quite the opposite. The region grew based on automobiles like other cities in Malaysia, and there has been difference in development strategies between these two countries. It is to be noted how these two regions deal with their differences, while still being identified as a region, and what is the homogeneity.
  6. Focus on climate change and low carbon infrastructure: There is focus on low carbon infrastructure in terms of strategy and investment due to even Malaysia’s commitment towards reducing carbon emission.
  7. Does the megaregion also address the concern of climate change/ low carbon infrastructure? While megaregion remains an old concept, and it was not always related to low carbon development, it is to explore whether authorities consider this as a strategy to mitigate carbon emission and resource consumption, as many Asian countries do.
  8. Contribution towards the national economy: The main rationale behind promoting megaregion is its contribution towards national economy. This is the main point to explore both for Singapore and Malaysia.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank MIT-UTM Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program as I was based at University of Technology, Malaysia (UTM), Johor Bahru, for a semester as part of the program. I have spoken about Johor Bahru and Singapore relationship to a senior faculty at Faculty of Built Environment, UTM and to one of my colleagues for the fellowship, also based at UTM. I am thankful to them for the discussion and ideas.

Photo credit: online OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Open Defecation: A Coda of Geospatial differentiation by British India?

Swacch Bharat? A pan India mission launched with political support at the centre is a novel effort. But to eradicate open defecation from a society whose foundation is still influenced by Manu Smriti, sanitation pipes need to be dug deep. 

Open defecation and urban sanitation has been influenced and associated with several policies, agendas and efforts, running separately for rural and urban areas in India. Yet, the human right to adequate sanitation and anyone concerned with its upkeep and cleanliness, continues to be linked with ‘dirty’. The latter idea emerges from the Laws of Manu, famously known as the ‘Manava Dharma Shastra’ of 500 BC, which identify toilets and the caste cohort ‘responsible’ for cleaning them as untouchables and thereby need to be segregated from place of habitation. Centuries of social, physical segregation and psychological segregation have been spent but the outlook remains largely unaffected. Living in a country which boasts of earliest sanitation systems, as excavated from the Indus valley civilization in 2600 BC, our country and its citizens have been knowingly or unknowingly been propagating the ideologies of British India when it comes to eradication of open defecation, until recently.  

British India introduced the modern sanitation system in India post 1857 mutiny, in conjunction with recommendations of the Royal Commission appointed in 1859 to look into the sanitary state of the army, which was plagued with the epidemic post mutiny. Sanitary reforms were launched and spatial segregation of indigenous and European population became vital. Model towns, cantonments and civil lines came up as areas boasting of modern sewerage system interwoven with network of pipelines and latrines while the indigenous population, derogated as dirty, drowned in their own waste. The guiding principle of this movement was that it is cheaper and more effective to prevent further environmental degradation than spending large amounts of public finance on poor relief. As state intervention was required for achieving its goal, these sanitary reforms soon became political and gained support of the middle class and elite. In 1848, the Public Health Act was passed. It was only in the late 1860s that public health and sanitation became effective with the passing of Sanitation Act of 1866.

This sanitary revolution and its implementation was managed by the  Provincial Sanitary Police force headed by a military medical officer, while for the indigenous section, Sanitary Boards and inspectors were delegated with the task of vaccination and other menial containment measures. At city level, need for sanitary society was emphasized and thus a resolution for establishment of Local Self Government (LSG) by Lord Ripon was passed in 1882. These newly formed institutions at the local level were given the power to collect taxes to finance sanitation services and public works.  In 1885, the LSG Act was passed and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) came into existence for sanitation at the local level but still necessary staff was not appointed by the Central government. With the outbreak of plague in 1896 in the port towns of Bombay and Calcutta, the need for bringing sanitary reforms into town planning was further reinforced. Immediately, the level of expenditure skyrocketed, unfruitful outcomes of which led to the establishment of Improvement trusts in Bombay (1898) and Calcutta (1912). These trusts were entrusted with the power to demolish existing informal settlements, especially slums and build chawls for workers, along with development of new housing estates and arterial roads, catering to emerging middle class and prospering elite. Soon, the first town planning legislation in India, i.e. ‘The Bombay Town Planning Act, 1915’ came into force on March 6, 1915. The Act primarily provided for the preparation of Town Planning schemes (TPS) for areas in course of development within the jurisdiction of local authority.

With time, however emphasis from using bye-laws and sanitation systems to address these problems shifted to controlling the use of land. At the same time, slum clearance had become the most commonly used method by financially constrained local government in their attempts to beautify the city, pushing the poor to overcrowded and fringe areas. Simultaneously, large residential areas were being developed as an attempt to make cities ‘sanitary’ by spending large amounts of public finance to build the capital infrastructure of drainage and sewerage system. These practices of colonial India led to adoption of slum clearance policy post-Independence in late 1950s, as a way of city beautification.

With Jawaharlal Nehru pivoting urban centers as engines of economic growth post- Independence, cities witnessed a large influx of migrants from all parts of the country pre- and post-partition. Cities and its local government fractured under population pressure. Failure to provide the universal service obligation of adequate sanitation, more and more people were succumbed to defecate in the open. By the time, the First Five Year Plan was rolled out, sanitation became a national agenda, but emphasis was given to rural India and sanitation was just a sub-section of water supply chapter. From second Five Year Plan onwards, funding was allocated for the development and strengthening of state public health engineering departments. It was only in the 8th Five Year Plan (1992-97) that a national attitude was developed towards urban water supply and sanitation. A decade later, the National Urban Sanitation Policy, 2008 was rolled out encompassing a broader spectrum of stakeholders involved in providing sanitation to India’s urban residents. Still, urban sanitation was drowning amidst the attention given to water supply projects. It was only in 2014, that government at the Centre identified open defecation as a priority issue across India, not just in villages and launched the Mission to achieve 100 percent eradication of open defecation by 2019.

Launched with great hope and rigor, the Mission has not been able to fully achieve its agenda. Reports available in public forums have indicated that the Mission in many parts is producing the same results as that of the past. Toilets and infrastructure created are being misused for other purposes or lying unused, particularly storage. Reasons may vary from social attitudes to financial burden to mismatched priorities. The crux of the matter is that sanitation deprivation and open defecation is not a linear concept, it is not as simple as provision of toilets and water to clean it and thence you are able to eradicate open defecation. The history of sanitation, especially urban sanitation, is a much complicated and deep rooted than its modern day pipelines, with spatial manifestation of differentiation.


Keywords: Sanitary Revolution. Physical Segregation. Spatial Differentiation. Universal Service Obligation.

(Photography by Author (2017) : Open Defecation in confined space) 

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Call for blog posts

The Newspaper Reader by J Seward Johnson Jr NonCommial CC

Sculpture: “The Newspaper reader” by J Seward Johnson Jr (located in Steinman Park, King St, downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA). Photo credits: John on Flickr. Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic Attribution (CC BY-NC 2.0). 

The blog of the AESOP Young Academics network is looking for regular and occasional contributors to write on diverse topics related to spatial and territorial planning. Contributions can be made on just about any aspect of spatial planning. Detailed examples of themes and contribution types can be found on the “Themes” tab of the YA blog website, which are simply listed here again:

  • Methodology and ethics
  • Dissemination, outreach, communication
  • Research quality and assessment
  • Beyond planning
  • Planning, city, society / Planning and conflict
  • Territory, landscape and land
  • Sustainability and resilience
  • Heritage and planning
  • Books and book reviews
  • Event summaries
  • Useful resources

The Thematic Groups of the AESOP network also provide a good overview of much of the wide-ranging research conducted by its members. The thematic groups overlap with the themes listed above.

Guidelines for contributions to the YA blog can be found here.

Here are a few more suggestions of themes for contributions (among many others!):

Bridging Theory and Practice.

The gap between planning theory and practice is nothing new. We often hear that research and practice evolve in parallel worlds, subject to different organisational cultures and project timeframes. At the same time, there is ample evidence that planning theory and practice feed off each other in very diverse ways, especially where individuals become planners and academics at different points in their career (e.g. the journal of the UK Royal Town Planning Institute is named Planning Theory and Practice). Check out also the latest volume of the AESOP YA network’s own truly open access journal, PlaNext, vol. 5 Dec 2017, themed “Spatial Governance: Bridging Theory and Practice“.

Contributions to the blog are warmly encouraged about how theory and practice shape each other. Particularly, contributors are invited to share their personal stories, experiences, and career paths across academia and practice, including practice-led research and research-based practice, as well as insights about the role of education (both formal and informal, from pre-school nurseries to continuing education). How can we continue to build stronger bridges between theory and practice?

Food and planning

Food might not always appear as the main concern of spatial planners, particularly in post-industrialised contexts, yet its spatial and societal implications are tremendous. As food and water security will rise even higher on the global agenda due to environmental change, a growing body of research and hands-on experimentation is already showing the way toward more resilient, equitable and ecological forms of food production and landscape management, including the socio-cultural and economic networks and innovations that can sustain the health of both people and the environment. How can spatial planning better promote more sustainable food?

Consumption and planning

Beyond food, people consume huge amounts of consumable goods and services. Strangely enough, the regulation of “planned obsolescence” (i.e. designing consumer products to last a limited period of time, so as to increase consumption levels) usually falls outside the remit of spatial planning (yet see how one country is suing Apple for slowing down its phones). While cities around the world are becoming carbon neutral, the consumption habits of their citizens are actually becoming ever more carbon intensive, with huge implications for environmental pollution and the depletion of resources worldwide. From plastic pollution in the seven seas to “peak everything”, how can spatial planning promote more sustainable forms of consumption?

All roads lead to Planning

“Everything is spatial” goes the saying in geographically-minded circles. Likewise, (almost) everything can be related back to planning. Themes of interest to the blog are therefore countless: Climate resilience, Environmental Assessment, Post-truth and populism, Evidence-based planning, the Impact of academic researchyou name it!

See here for guidelines for contributions to the blog.

So open your favourite word processor or online note-taker and get blogging! Looking forward to receiving your submissions.


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