A motto to revisit and revise – EQUAL PAY. EQUITABLE PAY

Article originally published with Linkedin Publishing– in continuance to my previous post – Planning as a profession and course of study : A floundering Planner’s Perspective



Source: Equal Pay for Women: We Shouldn’t Be Asking Anymore


In a recent article published by The Guardian written by Peter Fleming (Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you), a few realities of job market and employment, with research findings of Columbia University Medical Center, University College London, Australian National University, US researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; were highlighted –

  1. Workers employed beyond regulated work hours of 42 hours per week (working 9 to 5), and the 39 hours limit by scientific communities across the
  2. Interns being subjected to long work hours and work load, with unequal as well as inequitable remuneration.
  3. Multidimensional costs of overwork
  4. Technology, instead of easing human life outside work, has put them in an endless mode of standby
  5. A human is productive for four hours every day, as indicated by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

The article looks into time and conditions of paid employment in general.

I, as an urban planner (that also a female one), based in India – a country where urban planning or any specialized field of planning is still undervalued and misunderstood with event planning, smart cities and every other city related program initiated by the Central government post 2014; have had a much worse experience of this exploitative market.

While pursuing bachelor and master’s programme, I worked in different capacities, with the following institutions: Town and Country Planning Organization, New Delhi, Government of India; Irrigation and Flood Control Department, New Delhi; Directorate of Environment, New Delhi; Indian Institute of Human Settlements, New Delhi; Norway Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo; Dubai MUF-ISOCARP; University of Chicago and World Bank Organization, India.

Indian academic institutes do not follow the concept of teaching assistant or fellowships, as western countries do, but it does attract several agencies and institutions from abroad to collaborate on projects, particularly research and design related. I started off my first internship with a technical agency of Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India and was not paid for the entire three month period, whilst I developed the GIS database and models for a south east city strategic plan and its flood management plan. But, following my father’s principle of life- Learn as much as you can, earnings would follow; I did not lose heart and willingness.

Following this first stint of professional experience, I was recommended for international projects and for the next 5 years of academic life (bachelor’s and master’s), was working on one or another project, either with or without remuneration. On an average, I was paid 15,000 INR (~200 USD) per month for 10-12 hours of weekly work input. I was putting in over 60 hours per week in a non-hectic period to balance work and education, which exceeded 70 hours when the pressure from either end was high. Coming out of it and entering a 9 to 5 (which extends beyond 5) work environment, I can definitely say I am glad to be a part of my experience, as it has been an enlightening path of several downs and few ups. One thing I can boast from this experience is learning and balancing multitasking with necessary prioritization and strategies. On the down side- part time work in India (definitely in the planning sector) is not counted as experience, no matter the quality and quantum of work you have done. Saddest part – the work you have done gets approved and finalized but your name is not even mentioned in the entire process and document.

On graduating Master of Planning with specialization in Urban Planning- a time to enter the job market on a full-time basis, I was yet again disappointed. Inclined towards research, I applied and eagerly got accepted into a well reputed think tank before submitting my master’s thesis. But, who would have thought that research work demanding 42+ hours per week would be compensated with less than 40,000 INR (~ 580 USD), when the same organisation is getting its projects for at least six figure sum and being handled by a group of less than 10 workers. But, that is probably true for all think tanks in India, as India spends less than 1 per cent of its annual GDP (India’s R&D spend stagnant for 20 years – Economic Times) on research and development.

But, this is not the sole example or experience of morbid job market. In my past one year experience, where I quit my full time job to pursue freelance consult and research, rather than be undervalued for my efforts, I have come across plethora of national and international consultants (let’s not even go into their legality of operations and paper work) and firms associated with projects tendered by high and mighty agencies, bilaterals, multilaterals and any other kind you can think of- there are many amongst this cohort of ‘consultants and advisors’ who aren’t remotely related to urban planning field, but are seeking and working on projects from international and national organisations, which pay minimum 300 USD (~ 21,000 INR) per day while you are paid less than 15 USD per day.

Each of these projects, no matter how short, extends to a period of three months and can last up to 2 years. The concerned manager of the project earns minimum 300 USD (~ 21,000 INR) per day, while employing recent Indian graduates and undergraduates at less than 30,000 INR (~ 430 USD) for 30+ hours per week. Sad reality? Yes! But what’s worse is these graduates are many times not planners, but architects, engineers, economists, sociologists, etc who have never even worked on a planning project and if questioned, might not even know planning beyond the usual Indian mindset of equating planning to smart cities. These naive fresh graduates are simply attracted to one component – INTERNATIONAL OR NATIONAL (like a moth is to flame), ultimately getting burnt when realization hits hard.

I write this piece of article, not as a rant against the field of urban planning in India or its job market, or for that matter perpetuity of undervalue and exploitation of young ones.

I simply request all employers to be fair and considerate to ensure- EQUAL pay (to men and women for the amount of hours put in); EQUITABLE pay (fair share of revenue to employee, not just a planner but everyone).

A few take-home messages that apply to all graduates: be aware of the job market, be aware of projects, revenues, funds and the compensation you are given for your effort. Do not run towards a JOB. Do not take a nosedive and accept all terms and agreements of the first acceptance letter you receive. Be patient. Strive to learn and find a job where you are happy and valued for your work.

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, Beyond planning, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Events reports, Methodology and ethics, Planning, city, and society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the cyborg: hybridity in place-making, Part 1

This is the first of two posts about cyborgs: what they are, and how they manifest as the hybrid objects and forms of knowledge that characterise much of place-making today. Is cyborg place-making a reality in-the-making? Or is it all just science-fiction? This post maps the presence of cyborgs in contemporary societies, and begins to discuss how cyborg technologies already shape place-making processes.


Darth Vader picture on steps of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

Picture credit: Darth Vader steps, by angelo Yap on Flickr. Non-Commercial Creative Commons Attribution.

Welcome to the cyborg

Cyborgs have multiple origins. The Wikipedia entry reviews many of these origins, including nineteenth century literature, science-fiction to prosthetic medical applications. In popular culture, famous examples include Darth Vader, Robocop, and Ghost in the Shell, among many others. Cyborgs have famous cousins, namely “androids” – robots made to look very human-like, even “fleshy” (i.e. something a bit more advanced than your typical android smartphone). Androids have been popularised as intelligent “droids” in the Star Wars trilogy, and as ruthless killing machines the Terminator film series starring Arnold Swarzenegger. Iconic droids are also the main characters in Isaac Asimov’s robot short stories, which explore ambiguous notions of robotic self-awareness, emotions, and self-determination. Androids are not quite cyborgs though. There is also some contention as to whether cyborgs are “bionic”. The adjective bionic can be defined as “Having or denoting an artificial, typically electromechanical, body part or parts”. From a scientific persperctive, bionics can also be defined as “The use of a system or design found in nature as a model for designing machines and other artificial systems”. In other words, bionics seems to relate more to biomimicry than to cyborg engineering per se.

Concerning the medical realm, MIT bionics designer Hugh Herr’s TEDtalk about “NeuroEmbodied Design” demonstrates how bionic prosthetic devices could slowly extend human potential, thereby potentially turning humans into cyborgs. Hugh Herr suffered a major climbing accident that lead to the amputation of his two legs, which has made him a prime user of prosthetic devices. There are many other examples of prosthetic devices that illustrate that bionic eyes, arms and spines are no longer science fiction. More broadly, extensive research and technological innovation is opening up a world of opportunities, in the form of “new converging technologies” emerging from the integration of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences.


Picture credit: Ambulation, by Kat Northern Lights Man on Flickr. Non-Commercial Creative Commons Attribution. 

Yet technological implants and limb extensions and replacements are not necessary to turn ordinary mortals into cyborgs. As Amber Case argued in 2010, we are all cyborgs already, thanks the presence of pervasive, interconnected technologies in our daily lives. Not only does technology extend our physical selves, it also directly extends and mediates our mental selves. Think of toddlers playing with iPhones long before they can even master the power of words, or the multiple digital selves and identities that we entertain online. The Google Home is yet another prime example of a device that directly extends our cognitive functions. In our digitally-addicted societies, could you imagine looking for any piece information without first “googling it”? One of Isaac Asimov’s robots would like ask: “Google, what is the meaning of life for a robot?” Not that living cyborg, hyper-digital lives necessarily makes us much happier than before, where human contacts were at least more necessary to function in everyday life than they are today. Personal addiction to digital worlds, such as social media and the fetishized digital identities these mediate, impoverishes the lives of many. First person shooter games may also contribute to influence the behaviour of mentally “at-risk” players, although it actually seems highly unlikely that such video games might turn adolescents into trigger-happy killers, as feared by many. Digital hyperconnectivity does not necessarily make Robocops out of all of us. But it does make us more cyborg-like.

Technology may sometimes seemsto offer almost infinite opportunties of improving human life. This is an important stance of the post-human perspective, which views that technology bears huge promises to enhance human capacities and even existence, in turn enabling to steer human development and evolution in unprecedented, radical ways. There is a clear risk to overdoing human evolution through technological fixes, however. The notion of eugenics, for example, aims at selecting the most desirable human traits through such means as breeding and genetic engineering. The most ghastly, and yet well-known example of eugenics was that carried out under the Nazi regime, in their quest for the Aryan race. Yet could you imagine what eugenics might offer if super-powered by today’s or tomorrow’s level of technological advancement? In contrast to the 1930s, much of the technology that now governs out societies is deeply networked and interoperable: digital technologies are everywhere and communicate with each other almost seamlessly. Add “thought control” to this technological ubiquity and we can head straight down to the brutal world of George Orwell’s 1984, as warned by Daniel Power, expert on decision-support systems for business. Advanced human engineering, motivated by ruthless power regimes, could also lead to the bio-engineered replicants from the dystopian science-fiction film Blade Runner, and its recent sequel set in a context of ecological collapse. The next frontier in “life-enhancing” technological innovation could include microchip implants that would enhance (or control) cognitive processes. A brave new world of sustained, unbridled technological innovation might not be so life-enhancing after all…

More broadly, technology has always been associated with social control, power, and concentrations of capital. The advent of the industrial factory is a major case in point, which is partly the theme of Pink Floyd’s song “Welcome to the machine”. The large-scale deployment of machinery in society has been simultaneous with the creation and reproduction of particular sets of cultural identities, which have somehow reinforced and reproduced existing distributions of power and classes in society. For example, Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour (1977) is a landmark ethnographic account of the lives of working class lads in Birmingham in the 1970s who somehow embrace working class identities, as a way to express cultural distinction, thereby indirectly contributing to the reproduction of differentiated socio-economic classes in English society. The history of humanity testifies to the fact that technology has always been instrumental to transforming society for better or worse, as Yuval Noah Harari argues repeatedly in the book Sapiens.  In all, the notion of the cyborg, or that which seamlessly fuses human and technological components, can be observed at different scales and approached from multiple angles.


Picture credit: Terminator graffiti, by duncan c, on Flickr. Non-Commercial Creative Commons Attribution.

Cyborgs in the city


Place-making is increasingly a cyborg practice. Through its very mathematical, symmetrical shapes and linearity, it occurs to me that new builds often look like they been downloaded straight from a parallel, digital world. Between CAAD, GIS, BIM, 3D design and visualisation software, and emerging smart sensor infrastructures, the potential for integrated, interoperable technology is often lauded as enabling the smart city of tomorrow. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality can be deployed alongside the aforementioned technologies to explore new urban environments, in-situ, or fully digitally. Complex design software and decision-support platforms enable to combine, merge and convert a wide range of different data formats, in the fields of architecture, property management, urban planning, urban design and civil engineering. Check out for example digital opportunities for fully interactive Environmental Impact Statements. To be sure, such interactive digital impact assessment reports would be more legible and engaging than the boring EIA reports that have been “trumped” by recent, significant budget cuts to the US Environmental Protection Agency? Increasingly, complex technology provides very advanced tools for urban place-making. At the same time, the smart technological city can only be enabled by a digitally literate citizenry. In the process, learning to master the advanced digital tool could almost become self-serving; the machine almost becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Humans are increasingly encouraged to adapt to and speak the language of the machine (e.g. learn how to code), as pointed out by Yuval Noah Harrari in Sapiens. This is evidenced by Obama’s 2013 call for young Americans to learn computer science and coding, the spread of Maker-spaces and various urban labs and digital labs, as well as the proliferation of hackathon events across the world, and the emergence of machine learning as a professional career. Regarding spatial analyses, which are a core dimension of effective spatial planning, machines simply cannot be left to their own devices. Interconnected technologies can provide additional support for evidence-based decision-making. However, they sometimes require some serious “ground-truthing”, or checking on the ground if the digital reality actually matches the physical, on-site reality. For example, over-reliance on satellite imagery can give an erroneous picture of actual urbanisation trends, as has been the case in Ho Chi Minh City, with quite severe consequences for poorer communities. Hence the need to combine traditional human observations with remote sensing and other methods for geospatial data collection and visualisation. Even with complex, fancy algorithms, the machine alone can only do so much to improve human lives.

In closing, we may say that, as true cyborgs, we must trust our common sense, even our gut feeling, and abide by the moral values that are dearest to us, so that we can make the smartest use of the technology available.


Picture credit: by author. Street art from Barcelona.

Posted in Beyond planning, Planning, city, and society, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planning as a profession and course of study : A floundering Planner’s Perspective

The planning as a profession in India is synonymous with either party/event planning or smart cities, nothing more, nothing less. Only a few know what planning as a profession and course of study is in India. And when one does, the picture has varied shapes and colours for those who are either a part of this professional or academia pool and for those outside this pool.


Image from – https://jokohok.info/navi/o/city-quotes/ [accessed on June 13, 2018]

For the usual Indian pupil graduating from 10th grade and entering the last two years of secondary school, the remainder of their education is usually about deciding what they want to do after graduation, which for some, narrowly means the kind of job they want to pay their bills. More often than not, the choice has been between medicine or engineering, with past decades witnessing a change and significant proportion of students now opting for business studies, law, economics, arts and humanities, but only a few opting for the architecture stream. One would hardly find anyone who knows about planning as a field of study and wants to pursue it after finishing school.

For 98 per cent students you come across in the first year of planning studies, you come to realise you are not alone when you say: I am pursuing planning because I could not get into architecture. Yes, it is a sad truth. If one wants to study within India, a student finishing high school and seeking entry into a college has to go through entrance examinations. Architecture and planning have a common test, which includes NATA (http://www.nata.in/) and AIEEE (https://jeemain.nic.in/webinfo/Public/Home.aspx). Each has a different list of colleges it provides entrance to. In some sense, AIEEE has the list of better graded and ranked schools in India, including the National Institute of Technology, the School of Planning and Architecture, etc. But clearing the exam is not enough. Based on your score, you are given an All India Rank which ultimately determines where you will land up for the next 4 to 5 years.

These 4 to 5 years are not what you expect, as is said by every teenager who graduates school with great hopes of becoming an adult and entering college life. Some might fall in love with the college and field they enter, while others might curse every day.  Some will also actually end up working in a different field after under-graduation- like business studies, law, interior design; basically any field that has better future prospects than planning.  But one thing is common for all: your biological cycle and sleeping and eating patterns become dysfunctional. You get accustomed to 3-4 hours of sleep for weeks on end and sometimes wonder why you didn’t opt for medicine (in my case at least, as I left medicine to pursue architecture, but ended up studying planning at undergraduate level and started loving it from the second year onward).

All personal experiences and perceptions apart, planning is not a last resort to think of. True, in India planning is still under-recognised and even mistaken for events planning or simply smart cities, in light of the political impetus on smart cities in past 4 years. It is difficult to find good jobs in planning and if you do, they usually do not pay well. You earn less than an engineer or medical resident or a lawyer or for that matter many other liberal professions. Even after your master’s you might end up earning the same amount that you were getting after your bachelor degree. So, yes it is disheartening at times.

Recently, many graduate planners have been switched fields to business studies or pursuing a master’s abroad. For many years I did not understand the appeal of the latter. Earning an MBA is sure to get you into a higher pay band, but why spend lots of money and relocate abroad to apply to a master’s programme, earn a student visa, work a few years and then return home, or re-apply for visa to work further. The answer that I am able to articulate so far is: better recognition and a whole lot more opportunities, especially for young planners.

A student with average grades and work experience that graduates from a planning school in Europe, Australia or the United States of America, has much better chances to not just earn better but learn more from practical job experiences than a top-notch student graduating from one of the best colleges in India. The former have access to tremendous variety of conferences, lectures, entrepreneurs who are working in the field and would be happy to support and guide you. While in India, more often than not, you will find your friends competing against you. It is not ranting, but a fact. The limited availability of decent jobs, especially for a women planner, plays a critical role.

But yes, if you do love planning and everything that has to do with it, you have to think beyond that and explore opportunities for yourself. The road may be tougher than the rest, but if you are willing to take a step, the end result can be fulfilling or not, that’s debatable based on personal experiences (which I would like to learn of from my colleagues around the world).

Posted in Dissemination, outreach, communication, Planning, city, and society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How culture played a role in an environmental campaign

Guest author: Kedar Uttam

This post presents an initiative that was undertaken by a civil society movement in Mangalore (South India) to fill the gap of cultural impact assessment which most environmental campaigns in that region miss out.  

It is a decade since my hometown, Mangalore (in South India) celebrated a photo exhibition named “Nilae” (meaning: habitat) that was probably the first of its kind in the region. This photo exhibition was arranged in July of 2008 as part of an environmental campaign organised by a civil society called the (Coastal Karnataka) People’s Development Forum. The photo exhibition documented the identified cultural impacts of the (then proposed) Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) project phase II. People’s Development Forum described this event as “an exhibition of photographs from the area earmarked for the MSEZ, including the places of Tuluva[i] cultural and religious significance that will perhaps soon be history”. The establishment of special economic zones (SEZ) in India have led to forced acquisition of land and the displacement of previous owners and farming communities. Resistance to SEZs has been primarily from directly affected communities and civil society organisations [1].

My hometown, Mangalore, located on the South West Coast of India is a lush green belt of land between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. A study conducted by Ramachandra, T.V. and colleagues [2] in one of the villages, where land was planned to be acquired for the MSEZ project, recorded 187 species of plants, 59 butterflies, 11 odonates, six amphibians, three reptiles, 55 birds, seven species of mammals in a short duration of two days in certain selected localities.

Phase I of the MSEZ project had displaced more than 1500 families spread around four villages. Ian Cook from the Central European University and his colleagues based in Mangalore called it the “multiple displacements of MSEZ” [3]. They analysed the different types of displacement, such as social, economic and cultural, caused by the land acquisition process of MSEZ.

The environmental impact assessment study conducted by the “consultant-proponent nexus” [4] lacked detailed investigations covering the cultural impacts of the project [2]. An assessment of cultural impacts must include the impacts on “linkages which the local populace has with ecological components” [4] whereby such linkages form a part of their culture and contribute to the livelihood.

My discussion with the photographer of the exhibition, who is also the member of People’s Development Forum, provided some insights on the rationale of this innovative concept of documenting the identified cultural impacts. He revealed that most of the internationally funded non-governmental organisations in the region focused only on ecological issues in their environmental movements, thereby disregarding the cultural loss embedded within the predicted environmental impacts. So People’s Development Forum decided to view the entire problem not merely from ecological and economic angles but also from a cultural perspective. This viewpoint resonated with what Kagan and co-authors [5] have recently observed in their study. They highlight that culture still plays a minimal role in both sustainability science and mainstream political discourses and that “culture” is not specified as a significant arena of action on the policy level. The identified set of issues and challenges are often based on “green” themes.

Collage Nilae Exhibition resized

Selection of photos exhibited at “Nilae”, the photo exhibition that raised awareness about the cultural impacts of the Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) phase II. Photo credits: Udaya Ullal.

Another member of the People’s Development Forum mentioned that as most city dwellers were indifferent to the issue of displacement induced human sufferings in MSEZ, the photo exhibition was conceived to tell the larger community outside the SEZ area about their cultural loss and the collective loss of Tuluvas as a distinct cultural community. Furthermore, one of the goals was to make communities in the affected villages feel proud about what they already have.

None of the members of People’s Development Forum were impact assessment experts per se, but they possessed that cultural value-based thinking, which is often missing in the Indian environmental assessment practice. Cultural values encompass attributes traditionally considered to be cultural (stories and sense of history in the landscape), and as well as natural attributes that are valued culturally [6].

Two years after this exhibition, at an annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment, I stumbled on a poster developed by Szilvacsku Zsolt which called for assessments focusing on “the core value of vitality of living being” to be incorporated in impact assessment practices [7]. The photo exhibition in Mangalore took one small step towards respecting the value and vitality of living systems in the MSEZ affected areas. Paddy fields, cattle herd, traditional houses, a temple and grazing lands were all treated to be components of cultural significance and as forms of vitality.

Moreover, the exhibition was a creation of the concerned citizens of Mangalore and the communities of MSEZ affected villages. It captured the attention of the public and of certain key influential actors and triggered the cultural consciousness that subsequently fuelled the environmental campaign against the land acquisition of MSEZ project. In a certain sense, the cultural focus in this environmental campaign had represented the “conservative” nature of the communities’ movement against the MSEZ land acquisition and their displacement, or in Guha’s words, “refusing to exchange a world they know, and are in partial control over, for an uncertain and insecure future” [8].

The cultural photo exhibition complemented the strong environmental advocacy that was under way in the campaign. The photo exhibition was a part of the campaign’s strategy. Although Phase I of the MSEZ project had acquired around 1757 acres (approximately 711ha) of land comprising of four villages between the years 2004 and 2007 [9], the government notification order to acquire land for Phase II (2000 acres or approximately 809 ha) was eventually withdrawn in July 2011 following the vigorous environmental campaign.

[i] Associated with Tulu speaking communities, based in places such as Mangalore and Udupi and around in the South West Coast of India.


[1] Rawat VB, MB Bhushan and S Surepally. 2011. The Impact of Special Economic Zones in India:  A Caste Study of Polepally SEZ. Paper presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing 6-8 April 2011.

[2] Ramachandra, T V, K V Gururaja, H Bhat, S Ali, et al. 2007. Biodiversity Inventory in and around Tenka Yekkaru Grama Panchayat, Mangalore Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District, Karnataka, Bangalore: Indian Institute of Science.

[3] Cook I, R Bhatta, V Dinker. 2013. The Multiple Displacements of Mangalore Special Economic Zone. Economic and Political Weekly, vol XLVIII no 33.

[4] Rajaram T, A Das. 2011. Screening for EIA in India: Enhancing effectiveness through ecological carrying capacity approach, Journal of Environmental Management,Volume 92, Issue 1,

[5] Kagan S, A Hauerwaas, V Holz, P Wedler. 2017 . Culture in sustainable urban development: Practices and policies for spaces of possibility and institutional innovations, City, Culture and Society. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ccs.2017.09.005

[6] Stephenson, J . 2008. The Cultural Values Model: An integrated approach to values in landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning 84, 127–139

[7]  Zsolt S. 2010. Challenge of value based impact assessments in transitioning to sustainability. Poster presented at the Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment in 2010, Geneva. Corvinus University of Budapest, Department of Landscape Planning and Regional Development.

[8] Guha, R .2010. How much should a person consume? Thinking through the environment. Hachette India and Black Kite, Delhi.

[9] Dhakal. S. A Report of People’s Audit of SEZ Karnataka. Tata Institute of Social Sciences


Kedar profile pic 150pix width

Kedar loves to loiter in the university. He is a sustainability researcher and teacher. His research interests include environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, cultural impact assessment, and green and sustainable public procurement. He has also monitored and evaluated development projects funded under the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)- Small Grants Programme (SGP). He has a PhD from KTH Sweden in the field of environmental assessment and management.

Posted in Beyond planning, Conflict, development, Heritage and Planning, Sustainability and resilience, Territory, landscape, land, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

YA conference summary & selective list of upcoming planning conferences

One of the last major spatial planning events was the 12th AESOP Young Academics conference, held at the University of Groningen 26-29 March 2018. Following last year’s YA conference (focusing on planning and entrepreneurship), this year’s conference was entitled “Navigating Change: Planning for societal and spatial transformation”).  This year, 53 participants came from more than 30 universities in Europe and the USA. You can read a concise conference summary by Steven Forrest, one of six PhD researchers who constituted the organising committee. Stay put for an upcoming conference report which will provide more detail about the outputs of the conference.

If you are interested in public participation and local democracy, a noteworthy event that almost went unnoticed for many is the international Improving Democracy conference hosted by the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities (SKL), held 17-18 May in Stockholm, which featured a wide range of international experts. You can find all contributions to the conference here.

The next major event is of course the AESOP Congress in Gothenburg 10-14 July, held at Chalmers University of Technology, with the theme “Making Space for Hope”.

The rest of this post is a selection of upcoming research and/or practitioner conferences that could be of interest to you, most of which still accept abstract submissions. Many of these have been posted on the YA Facebook page.  They are classified by region (Europe vs Global) and by date.

If you would like to share events that can still be attended, do leave a comment below the post.


Many international conferences in Europe can be found on the following pages of the World Urban Planning magazine, the Regional Studies Association and CitizenLab (see below under “Global”). Here are some individual conferences held in Europe.


East-West Arc: Delivering the Future Symposium  will take place at the University of Westminster, London, on 19 June 2018, of particular interest to planners, architects and civil engineers in the south of England.

The annual RTPI Convention (Royal Town Planning Institute) will take place in London on 21 June 2018. Attendance can be expensive for young academics and practitioners, unless your organisation can sponsor you.

The City (Re)Shaped will be held at the University of Leeds on 11-12 Sept 2018 , with a 29 June 2018 deadline for abstracts.

The annual RGS-IBG international conference (Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers) will be held at Cardiff University 28-31 August 2018. Although abstract submission has closed, the event is worth attending, with plenty of research being highly relevant to spatial planning.


Growing Bad? will focus on the Regional Sub-Urban Housing Challenge, held at RWTH Aachen University, Germany, 6-7 September 2018. Aachen is close enough to anyone living in the Netherlands and Belgium too.

Resilient Cities 2019, the Global Forum of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), will be held in Bonn on 26-28 June 2018.


The 1st Annual Meeting of the Cycling Research Board will take place at the University of Amsterdam on 14-16 Nov 2018, deadline for submission is 15 June 2018.

The African Perspectives Conference BK will be held at TU Delft, Netherlands, 25-27 March 2019. See also below.


Smart Greens 2019 will be held in Heraklion, Crete, 3-5 May 2019. Quite techy and engineering-minded, but also very relevant to the more spatial-planning-minded among us.


Urban Transitions 2018: “Integrating urban and transport planning, environment and health for healthier urban living” will be held in Barcelona on 25-27 November 2018. Abstract submission until 8 June 2018.

The 11th International Forum on Urbanism Conference: “Reframing Urban Resilience Implementation: aligning Sustainability and Resilience” will be held in Barcelona on 10-12 Dec 2018, and in Jakarta in March 2019.

Global (i.e. not just European)

The Regional Studies Association routinely hosts many conferences and seminars across the world. Check out the RSA network as well.

Here is a list of relevant world planning conferences, on the website of the online magazine World Urban Planning.

And here is a list of upcoming Smart City events for 2018, delivered to you by the Brussels-based planning consultancy CitizenLab.


The African Perspectives Conference BK will be held at TU Delft, Netherlands, 25-27 March 2019. It is a venue for sharing “African Perspectives on Design, Planning and Construction: Research and practice for inclusive, fair and sustainable urbanisation.” It is hosted by Planners for Democracy and African Perspectives +12. Although held in the Netherlands, it deserves due mention here.


The 11th International Forum on Urbanism Conference held in Barcelona, Spain, will also be held in Jakarta in March 2019 (see website link for more details, posted in due time)


Picture credit: Infinite, by AurelioZen on Flickr, Non-Commercial CC License Attribution 

Please leave a comment below if you would like to share upcoming events.


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Territorial Stigmatization during an Urban Regeneration Project: The Example of Tarlabasi

In the last decades, the rise in the real estate sector has become the main factor of urbanization in the ‘developing world’ (Lees et al., 2015). In the global South experience, massive urban redevelopment and regeneration projects can exceed the neighbourhood scale, creating big spaces of gentrification and gentrification-led displacement (see Shin and Kim, 2015; Ribeiro, 2013; Goldman, 2011). In this post, I look at urban regeneration projects that result in gentrification, through the lens of ‘stigma’, specifically the Tarlabasi Renewal Project. I use stigma in the same way as Goffman (1963) and Wacquant (2007) as ‘discrediting differentness’ by a person of another one through face-to-face and daily interactions. To use this understanding for examining a neighbourhood I use the concept of ‘territorial stigmatization’ (see Wacquant, 2007; 2008; 2010) as a way for the state – as a symbol of power – to make its own representations and spread them through the general public. I pay particular attention to the power of the state in the Turkish context in the last 15 years or so. The current ruling party, which has been in power since 2002, has become more and more authoritarian with many scholars expressing concerns (Tugal; 2016a). It is not easy for those marginal groups (who are invariably non-Turkish) impacted by territorial stigmatization in Istanbul to resist given the increasing censorship of opposing voices.

Urban regeneration as a term is used for the Turkish term of ‘kentsel dönüşüm’ which is – as pointed out by Cavusoglu and Strutz (2014: 135) – a term that is used by the Justice and Development Party (JDP) ‘as a buzzword for a wealth of urban renewal, urban regeneration, urban transformation and urban development projects’. As an urbanist, I use the term urban regeneration and renewal in this context as a threat to the wellbeing of the urban poor and a tool to increase social segregation and displacement in the inner city.

The use of stigma in Tarlabasi emerged as the criminalization of the inhabitants. These inhabitants were often portrayed as ‘invaders’ and this was used to justify the project since, it was claimed, these residents did not have the right to live there in the first place. These kinds of statements ignored the fact that most of the people living in the neighbourhood were Kurdish people who had been forced to migrate to Tarlabasi because of the military conflict in the east of Turkey. One of the promises of the project is to eliminate crime from the area, and since the current residents are presented as the main reason for the high crime rate, their evictions are justified. During my research in Tarlabasi, the government officials and people from construction firms were asked what should be done about the crime rate. The main answer was that after the project was completed and new people started moving in, the crime rate would automatically decrease.

Criminalization continued with the use of news media to manipulate the public opinion. Some of the news headlines included: “Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three years. Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess and we are healing her. Tarlabasi will be a safe place.” (see 11 May 2012, Sabah; 16 June, 2012, Haberturk; 3 July 2012, Sabah; 17 August 2012, Star; 26 August, 2012, Vatan; 31 December 2012, Yeni Safak). Denigrating Tarlabasi residents as drug dealers, sex workers, thieves, and undesirable conditioned the public reaction to the project. Thus, public opinion has been formed in such a way that the injustices that inhabitants have experienced during the project have been ignored.

One of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association (an association founded to resist the unfair treatment of the inhabitants of Tarlabasi by the inhabitants of Tarlabasi) explained how Tarlabasi was represented in the press perfectly:

……We observed how the whole of the press played the three monkeys [he means the three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil]. We realized all the news about us and Tarlabasi were just lies and did not represent reality at all. Let me tell you an interesting story. In the project area, out of the 269 buildings, 6 of them were derelict and ruined. Star TV, Sabah and ATV [mainstream Turkish media channels] showed those 6 houses for months to show Tarlabasi. They said this was Tarlabasi and they showed those 6 houses……. Press just showed those 6 houses to whole of Istanbul and the whole of the country as if those 6 derelict buildings were Tarlabasi was ever was (Aybek, 2018: 177).

The stigma imposed on the inhabitants of Tarlabasi, which is described above, shows the everyday struggles of gentrification-led displacement, capital-led destruction, and transformation of social space through creating a narrative about a group of people by the state. Criminalizing the inhabitants means the state can evict residents more easily and without public resistance. Once the urban renewal project is implemented and all the current inhabitants are displaced, it becomes possible to present a tension-free gentrified area to the new comers. The kind of segregation brought about by these projects will cause problems in the future, because the local state not only deepened the differences between social classes by displacing all the poor inhabitants, but also created feelings of resentment among working class residents in reaction to exaggerated accusations of criminality and degradation.

I would like to conclude this post with a statement of one of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association summarizing the diversity and richness of the community in Tarlabasi that was not ever published in the mainstream press:

Our houses were 200 metres away from Istiklal Street. We were all over all those shops, stores and restaurants one sees on Istiklal Street. We were the ones picking up trash, cooking the meals, musicians who were playing the instruments and singing the songs and snatching purses. We were the ones doing everything in that area [Istiklal Street, Tarlabasi and most of Beyoglu] and getting by day to day money…… we created a culture of our own. When you see those clotheslines from one house to another, across the street and thinking to yourself “these people are just too much”, what it really represented was: One day I’m drying my clothes and next day my neighbour is [he means solidarity in Tarlabasi]…… We discussed life while drying those clothes and around those clotheslines such as “My husband is out of work”, “I cannot give money to my kids”, “I could not pay the rent his month” (Aybek, 2018: 175).


This post is part of a paper that focuses on the renovation and regeneration projects, as well as the gentrification concept with regard to a set of urban policies that have particularly enriched the holders of capital in the historic neighbourhoods of Istanbul. I analyse this process of gentrification through structure and agency, and the latter examines conflict and how this may play out. There are two levels of structure involved: (i) international (world-wide) and (ii) the Turkish case.


Aysegul Can received her PhD from University of Sheffield, Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She is currently an independent researcher focusing on urban regeneration, gentrification-led displacement and affordable housing.



Aybek, E., (2018). An interview about the Tarlabasi Renewal Project in Tarlabasi. Istanbul: Chamber of Architects

Cavusoglu, E. and Strutz, J., (2014). Producing force and consent: Urban transformation and corporatism in Turkey. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(2), 134-148

Goffman E., (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster

Goldman M., (2011). Speculative urbanism and the making of the next world city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(3): 555–581

Haberturk, (16 June 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three and a half years’.

Lees, L., H.B. Shin, and E. Lopes-Morales. (2015). eds. Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement. Bristol: Policy Press

Ribeiro, Q., (2013). Transformacoes na Ordem urbana das Metropoles Brasileiras: 1980/2010. Hipoteses e estrategia teorico – metodologica para estudo comparative. Observatorio das Metropoles

Sabah Newspaper, (11 May 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be complete in three years’.

Sabah Newspaper, (3 July 2012). ‘Half of Beyoglu will be transformed.’

Shin, H.B. and Kim, S-H. (2015). The developmental state, speculative urbanization and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul. Urban Studies, 53(3): 540-559

Star Newspaper, (17 August 2012). ‘Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess. We are healing her.’

Tugal, C., (2016a). In Turkey, the regime slides from soft to hard totalitarianism, Open Democracy , 17 February 2016

Vatan Newspaper, (26 August, 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will create a domino effect’.

Wacquant L., (2007). Territorial stigmatization in the age of advanced marginality. Thesis Eleven 91 (1) 66–77

Wacquant L., (2008). Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wacquant L., (2010). Designing urban seclusion in the 21st century. Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal 43 165–178

Yeni Safak Newspaper, (31 December 2012). ‘ A safe environment will be created in Tarlabasi.’

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Social Enterprise, made in France – helping people and planet?

Spatial planning, at its best, can facilitate sustainable development. Planning policies, however, are no silver bullet for the implementation of sustainable development goals. Where spatial planning might sometimes fall short of leveraging solutions on the ground, the emerging trend of social enterprise can provide much-needed bottom-up solutions to complex socio-economic and environmental problems. Social entreprise: helping to save people and planet? A snapshot of French social enterprises. 

Give me five Agostino Iacurci on ArtVibes

“Give me five!”: social enterprises help to reconnect people by addressing social, economic, health and environmental issues. Art credit: street art by Agostino Iacurci, photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/congfengchen/14058553807, Creative Commons license 2.0 Attribution.

Social enterprise is an emerging trend across the world. Social Enterprise UK (“the leading global authority on social enterprise”), describes social enterprises as: “Businesses that are changing the world for the better…  Social enterprises are in our communities and on our high streets – from coffee shops and cinemas, to pubs and leisure centres, banks and bus companies. By selling goods and services in the open market, social enterprises create employment and reinvest their profits back into their business or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, provide training and employment opportunities for those furthest from the market, support communities and help the environment” [emphasis added].

In short, social enterprises seek innovative solutions in nearly all sectors of society, tackling such diverse issues as mental health and education to food and ecological consumables. Social enterprise may bring ethical focus on leveraging particular products/services, as well as in the manner in which they do so (e.g. they might function as cooperatives). This said, because there are many different forms of social enterprises, it is virtually impossible to provide a definitive or authoritative definition that captures the diversity and complexity of the trend. Nonetheless, a key defining factor might well be that long-term financial viability may often be more difficult to achieve than for commercial enterprises.

France, like many other countries, has its fair share of economic, social and environmental issues to deal with. Here is a glimpse of the kinds of social enterprises that are mushrooming across the country and try to square the circle of sustainable development. They are classified by theme.

Intergenerational ties

We may not be getting wiser, but we are definitely getting older. Aging populations now affect both post-industrial and developing countries. At the same time, both younger and older people suffer from isolation. To help remedy this situation, a number of French social enterprises are helping to recreate intergenerational ties, for example through one-to-one teaching and food.

Les Talent d’Alphonse connects retired people who want to share their skills and knowledge with young people. One-to-one and small-group tuition is available for a range of practical skills, including languages, music and photography, charged at 15 euros per hour. Mostly clustered around Paris and Lille, the digital platform may well expand to other French cities, given the impressively wide media coverage which they have received.

Paupiette builds on the idea that young people deserve to have a proper lunch cooked by individuals who could well be their own grandparents, and that grandparents should enjoy the company of young people who could well be their own grandchildren. The French culture of food as a social experience helping, Paupiette is fresh out of the social entreprise oven in Bordeaux. The idea deserves to be developed further and exported.

Upcycling – turning waste into gold

Did you know that a third of all food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted? Here are more detailed eye-opening facts and stats about food waste from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO.

Based in Paris, Les Alchimistes collects food waste from restaurants and food stores to make compost – which really entails re-creating value from a resource that would otherwise end up in a landfill. They use a simple yet innovative composting technology that does not emit any foul smell, noise or visual disturbance. The compost is then used by urban farmers and gardeners.

Commown’s vision is to convert digital tech to long-term sustainability by promoting long-lasting products and avoiding planned obsolescence. Functioning as a cooperative, Commown encourages owners of digital devices to lease them to others, with the entreprise providing maintenance service, thereby creating income and reuse of devices that would otherwise be discarded and are still often dismantled in subprime social and environmental conditions. Although not impacting the actual design of devices as yet, they aim to help push the digital industry toward the adoption of “Fair” devices (e.g. the fully ethical Fairphone), based on a co-ownership model.

MéGo ! recycles cigarette butts into plastic elements that can be assembled into furniture. It aims to operate as a national waste collection programme, and provides fit-for-purpose ash tray elements or even street fixtures for organisations wishing to be active parts of the collection programme. It would almost make smoking environmentally friendly…

Not a social entreprise per se, the association Carton Plein reuses removal cardboards and provide modest, low-carbon removal services by giving jobs to unemployed people from various backgrounds. All removals are loaded onto low-tech but highly efficient bicycle trailers and pulled by bicycle power and plenty of elbow grease (or knee grease to be more accurate). Their complete service thereby helps combat socio-economic exclusion as well as air pollution and premature wastage or recycling. Could the model become a social entreprise business model?

Emmaüs is a famous charity and community that recruits jobless individuals from all backgrounds through a widespread network of second-hand stores. Their new digital platform, Label Emmaüs, puts that network online. Nothing fancy, but it does is enable a charity with a clear social purpose to compete with the likes of eBay, and functions as a kind of Argos for second-hand, vintage items. As not all the items in their specialised second-hand shops get to be sold, the platform enables the quicker distribution and sale of their stock, thereby taking the second-hand charity “enterprise” to a higher level. Vintage items range from furniture and interior decoration to fashion, books and multimedia.

Urban farming

Topager is a small company that designs and delivers urban rooftop farms and gardens, founded in 2013, enabling to produce food as well as contribute to alleviate environmental pollution. In the words of co-founder Nicolas Bel in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, economic productivity can be found even among the most unlikely urban denizens: “For me, an earthworm is a kind of micro-factory that digs tunnels and produces fertiliser”. He adds: “An intern once told me that I viewed ecosystems as machines. He was quite right.” Check out their impressive portfolio, including their submission for the 2024 Olympic village in Paris.

Using vacant urban space

Branding itself as a “cooperative for temporary urbanism”, Plateau Urbain transforms the concept of squatting vacant buildings into a cooperative provider of temporary spaces for various uses, particularly artistic and cultural events. Fully legit, the cooperative provides its expertise to local councils, architects and property owners who want to make use of vacant properties. They have been active in several French cities.

Start-up coaching for social entrepreneurs

Even those who train social entrepreneurs to define and launch their businesses could be seen as social entrepreneurs. Here are a few start-ups that help others create their own social enterprise start-ups…

Hearty enterprises – restoring faith in business values?

In sum, it seems that consumerist capitalism does not necessarily have to consume us all on the stake of social and ecological collapse. People and planet are tightly connected, and need to be addressed together. Perhaps social enterprise can help steer relentless capital accumulation and creative destruction toward a brighter, more equitable and less predatory future. Michael Porter, professor at the Harvard Business School and founder of multiple non-profits, argues boldly that business can best solve social problems not the public or third sectors alone. Social businesses, funded by microcredit schemes such as the ones kick-started by Muhammad Yunus, have also enabled entrepreneurs in developing countries to take off. Business models grounded on a circular economy perspective also have better chances of generating wealth by addressing acute environmental needs. Social enterprises have the potential to bring the heart back into business, much beyond the veneer of corporate social responsibility. Let us hope that social and environmental stewardship becomes the next norm in the world of economic ventures, so that changing our communities for the better will no longer require going against the grain.

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