International Development Planning Review 41.1 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Contesting socialist state visions for modern mobilities: informal motorbike taxi drivers’ struggles and strategies on Hanoi’s streets, Vietnam’ by Sarah Turner and  Ngô Thúy Hạnh as the Featured Article for IDPR 41.1.

The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, Sarah Turner stated the following:

This paper came about because I had been working with street vendors in Hanoi, the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, for over a decade, and I was becoming increasingly concerned that restrictive and punitive measures being applied to these vendors by municipal officials, might be hampering the livelihoods of other informal economy workers who utilize the city’s streets as their workplace. Hanoi’s municipal authorities, with strong backing from the central government, are conceiving an urban space replete with security, orderliness, and modernity. This is resulting in rapid changes to the city’s urban form and access to infrastructure and amenities, while informal economy workers are being sidelined from official narratives of the city’s future.

And then came the city’s proposal to ban motorbikes by 2030. I immediately wondered how xe ôm drivers – informal motorbike taxi drivers – were going to cope. Moreover, I had witnessed the rapid rise in numbers of blue (UberMoto) and green (GrabBike) jacketed app-based drivers weaving through the city’s streets. My regular ‘traditional’ xe ôm driver, Hoà, often shook his head at these younger drivers’ inability to know where to go without their trusty GPS, and made rather disparaging comments about their lack of knowledge of the fastest routes…

Hence this project was born, with the aim of investigating the mobile livelihoods and everyday politics of xe ôm drivers in Hanoi. It would not have been possible without the help of Ngô Thúy Hạnh, my Hanoi-based research assistant and good friend, who goes out of her way to support my research endeavors, and those of my students, even when it means working long hours to complete our interviews alongside her regular job. Hạnh has a natural ability to put people at ease and gaining interviewees’ trust to learn about their livelihoods and concerns beyond the ‘public transcript’. Hạnh also actively introduces new questions and elements into our research endeavors. For example, she recently noticed that traditional xe ôm drivers are now buying green GrabBike jackets and helmets to mimic the new competitors. Moreover, now that GrabBike has bought out Uber and has little competition to keep prices in check, traditional xe ôm are gaining back customers. These customers are disgruntled at the price hikes GrabBike now places on evenings and weekends. As the ban inches closer, and the competition changes in nature, our research and rides continue…



Viewpoint: Thoughts on internationalism and planning

Town Planning Review 89.4 features ‘Viewpoint: Thoughts on internationalism and planning’ by Ben Davy. In Town Planning Review 90.1, the first issue of 2019, Klaus Kunzmann contributed his paper ‘Viewpoint: Why not Italian? Differences matter! A comment on Ben Davy’s Viewpoint in TPR on ‘Thoughts on internationalism and planning’. Below, Ben Davy describes his paper and shares his thoughts on the subject.

Ben Davy’s paper in 89.4 will be free to read for a limited time here.

When I joined the team of Town Planning Review’s co-editors in November 2017, I had just come back from a UN Climate Change Conference where I had experienced an awkward, even embarrassing situation that made me think hard about the importance of internationalism (if you want to know more about this situation, please check my Viewpoint here). Despite my reflection, I have not been able to present a clear view on internationalism and planning. At least, Professor Klaus R. Kunzmann, my esteemed colleague from the University of Dortmund, thinks that my thoughts on internationalism and planning are »opaque«. He also assumes that differences do not matter to me, and that Mozart’s Zauberflöte best be performed in Italian. Since I prefer to listen to Emanuel Schikaneder’s original libretto (in German), I better hold my tongue on the Magic Flute.

So, what’s my view on internationalism and why it is important to planners? As I am writing this blog entry, the international community – or, at least, those parts of the international community that are still committed to internationalism – celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a textbook example of internationalism. The Universal Declaration was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, and 70 years later, global human rights have failed many tests in the real world which is still filled with injustice, violence, humiliation, and terror. Global human rights, however, have also sharpened our perception of territorial sovereignty (as limited) and the rights of every woman, man, or child against national governments (as augmented). Both achievements are today called into question by the Universal Declaration of Human Hate constantly streamed on Twitter, Facebook, and other anti-social media. In my Viewpoint, I am emphasizing the need to learn about and understand others because learning and understanding are entrenched elements of internationalism. I am happy that Professor Kunzmann and I seem to agree on this point because he announces that »[t]o this end Ben Davy is absolutely right.«

In my Viewpoint, I take the role of internationalism as an instrument of building world peace even a bit further—by taking it back several centuries. Internationalism is a child of neither the internet nor YouTube. Roman law was codified in the 6th century A.D. with a clear conception of ius gentium, the law of all peoples. Although legal internationalism always also has been an instrument of hegemony, international law can be considered, as Martti Koskenniemi thinks, the »gentle civilizer of nations«. On a much smaller scale, but very dear to me, planning can play a similar role which is not opaque, but much needed. Planning can be the »gentle civilizer« of land users worldwide. Although land use planning is always sub-national, planners benefit from an international exchange with other planners. In fact, many associations and networks already exist and trade knowledge and ideas between planners, who are curious about what goes on in other countries and other planning systems. Among these associations are the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS;, the Asian Planning School Association (APSA;, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP;, the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP; and other members of the Global Planning Education Association Network (GPEAN). Not in all, but in many discussions within these networks, English is the working language of choice. Italian or German are not. Appreciating this fact is not evidence of ignoring differences, it merely acknowledges that most congress hosts cannot afford to hire translators.


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Town Planning Review 90.1 Featured Article

The editors of Town Planning Review have selected “Why not Italian? Differences matter! A comment on Ben Davy’s Viewpoint in TPR on ‘Thoughts on internationalism and planning’” by Klaus R. Kunzmann as the Featured Article for 90.1.

The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance the author stated the following:

In his very personal essay Ben Davy, the acting president of AESOP, the Association of European Planning Schools, argues that open physical, mental and cultural borders should certainly be on the agenda of the planning community. His viewpoints on internationalisation and planning, however, remain opaque. What is internationalism in planning? Writing in English, or Globish respectively in “Audacity English” as Ben Davy calls it, certainly is not, though it may help to communicate with planners in other countries when travelling around to see other places and learn from other experiences. He is absolutely right, when he writes “internationalisation never must be an excuse for cultural appropriation, intellectual colonialism”.

In times of globalisation internationalism is a virtue of enlightened citizens (including planners) who are open and curious to learn from other cultures, from people who believe in other gods, and who have still memories of their lands of origin they had left permanently or temporally for whatever reason. Most internationally minded planners outside the Anglo-American world of planning are more international than those within the Anglo-American world, who, as a rule, pick-up developments outside only, once they are written in English.

Though one should not forget that planners, who are doing the hard work of practical planning work in their home countries, who are daily communicating with citizens, developers, politicians and powerful local stakeholders of urban development, do it in their local language. And these are 99% of the planning community. They can be internationally minded, but their assignment is to address local challenges to find solutions for local problems to ultimately to contribute to improving quality of life in the place, for which they are responsible.

In times of globalization the gap between theory and practice in planning is widening. Language that bridges academia, divides planning theory from planning practice. Planners who are bridge-builders between theory and practice are a scarce species. and those who are addressing both international and local planning communities in two languages are even more so.

While internationally recognized planning theory tends to distance itself from local practice, local practitioners are being cocooned in legislative and administrative rationales, often dominated by local party politics. Here a more international view on planning can certainly help. Young academic planners, locked in the treadmill of career promotion may not bother, whether their thoughts on planning are read by local and regional planning professionals. Their ambition is rather to earn international credits to further advance their academic careers.

Planners have to be educated to cope with the obvious gap between international theory and local practice. Basing planning education on theoretical global curricula, as it has been frequently suggested by prominent writers may make sense for post-post-doc degrees , though this is valid only for a small minority of planners. When preparing the other 99 percent planners in a country or region, it may raise the individual awareness but not really qualify for doing the job, neither in India, Italy or Afghanistan.

More bridge-builders are needed to bridge the gap between global and local as well as the gap between theory and practice in planning.. Regrettably the number of such bridge-builders is too small. English will certainly remain the only way of easy communication in business and financial worlds, and in the world of sciences, as Latin has been more than 500 years ago. In the not too distant future daily improving digital translation, however, may become a threat to English as a lingua franca. Internationalism in planning is learning from difference.

Francois Julien, the French philosopher, has reminded us that the future world is a world of in-between languages, of translations not of Globish, the globalized English.


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International Development Planning Review 40.3 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Comprehensive user insight to improve technologies for development’ by Annemarie Mink, Jan Carel Diehl and Prabhu Kandachar, as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, Prabhu Kandachar stated the following:

The most cited definition of Design is attributed to Herbert Simon, an American political scientist (1916-2001): “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Design is a multi-disciplinary activity requiring the knowledge domains of both natural sciences and humanities. During the design process, designers seek solutions for problems and challenges, which can be very simple to extremely complex ones. International Development falls into the last category with wicked and interrelated challenges, reaching new heights in the complexity ladder. Persistent challenges include poverty alleviation, income inequalities, climate change, provision of energy & safe drinking water for the poor and underserved, as listed in the Millennium- and Sustainable Development Goals.

A research and education activity at the School of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) at Delft University of Technology was started in the 1980’s to explore whether the design domain could contribute to solutions in this direction. Many questions had to be faced: Is it possible to morph Design’s relevance to the growing aspiration of the world’s marginalized and disadvantaged population? How to improve the Quality of Life in every sphere of their: Living conditions, Food, Water, Energy, Health, Education, Governance, Mobility, among others? More than 100 projects embodying human centered innovations were executed at Delft involving students and business enterprises to identify opportunities as well as to design & prototype products and services for the target group. This part of the population in various developing countries around the world, with its low resource settings, provided opportunities to search for solutions for them.

Meanwhile, hundreds of new technologies, products and services have been thought of to help meet their needs and aspirations. Nevertheless, few have found their way into the hands of those that need them most. There is a real struggle when it comes to developing products that are accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable by their intended users. The Design for Development outcomes which are often unsuited to the users and their environment are based on poorly understood needs and preferences.

This experience led to the need for a fundamental exploration of bridging Design with Development at Delft by means of a research project. Is C. P. Snow’s (1905-1980) description of the mutual lack of sympathy and appreciation between the two cultures of science and the humanities a major hindrance? Product designers are trained to take the user perspective into account, but they are not specifically trained to conduct ethnographic research. Thereby, they have limited time and resources to explore the user context. A systemic approach that efficiently guides designers to develop a social needs inventory would therefore be valuable.

Amartya Sen’s capability approach seemed to have the potential to provide the required analytic guidance for guiding comprehensive user context research. He was of the opinion that it is not the goods or products that are ultimately important, but what they allow us to do and to be, the kind of lives they enable us to live. Giving everyone a laptop or some other piece of technology is no good by itself, according to Sen’s approach. Some people will be able to make good use of it and increase their level of functioning, but others who are illiterate, or do not have access to reliable power supply or are restricted to use the laptop, cannot possibly convert their possession of the technology into new opportunities in their lives. As Sen’s approach focuses on the richness of human lives rather than simply on the richness of economies, design outcomes with this framework can be expected to be much closer to improving the quality of life relating to people’s values, aspirations and well-being.

The research project at Delft focused on development of the Capability Driven Design (CDD) approach, supported by the analytic guidance derived from Sen’s ‘Capability Approach’ (CA). Practical guidance was derived from the domains of Human-Centered Design, Design for Development and Rapid Ethnography. From these domains, methods, techniques and tools were selected which are considered to fit designers’ behaviour and to enable them to rigorously explore people’s well-being in their own context. Financial support by the Dutch Science Council helped the research group at Delft to appoint 3 researchers (2 at Delft at The Netherlands and one at Bangalore, India) in this project.

This publication is based on the PhD thesis of one of these researchers. The outcomes are the result of desktop research in The Netherlands, extensive field research in India, expert consultations as well as iterative field-testing by eight teams executing actual design projects in various counties in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The result is a systemic approach that urges designers to move beyond the investigation of product–user interaction and supports them to rigorously explore their potential users’ context and their valued beings and doings. Designers are guided to take a comprehensive view of the well-being of their potential users leading to products and services with better accessibility, affordability, acceptance and adaptability.


International Development Planning Review 40.2 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Spanning the spectrum: infrastructural experiences in South Africa’s state housing programme’ by Sarah Charlton, as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

In recent years policy discussions and scholarly debates have flagged a major issue in the housing landscape of developing countries: that of informal settlements and slums, and the in-situ upgrading of these. However in several parts of the world there has been at the same time another, highly significant low-income housing process underway: that of state funded and/or state provided new-built houses, delivered en masse. Important examples can be found in Chile, Mexico and South Africa. Because of their scale these formal housing developments have major impacts on the built form of urban areas, on capital budgets, on the operating or maintenance budgets of authorities tasked with managing new neighbourhoods, and also on political dynamics. A further enormous impact, of course, is on people’s lives – the lives of residents relocated to or newly living in these locations – and this is a relatively understudied area of investigation.

This article discusses South Africa’s mass housing programme, built for the poorest of the poor since the transition to democracy in 1994. It is dramatic both in terms of the sheer number of houses that have been delivered, but also because of the political potency of housing, land and ownership given the history of the country which barred urban rights for the majority of the population. The housing delivery has been both celebrated for its various achievements but also criticised for failing to fulfil some of its own objectives. In this article the discussion moves beyond either celebratory or condemnatory accounts to consider some of the detail of people’s interactions with the housing – what they do with their houses, how they make use of them, what role the houses play in their lives. Focusing on Johannesburg, interviews with housing beneficiaries reveal varied and complex interactions and the reasons for them. These practices include modifications and adjustments such as changing the physical form or some of the uses of the house, but beyond this, even at times to altering family configurations and social rhythms in relation to the housing.

The paper makes the argument that these sorts of bottom-up adaptions are necessary to make a flawed and spatially fixed housing intervention ‘work’ in people’s lives, given a particular context of joblessness, poverty, and sprawling, inefficient cities. Socio-economic conditions were not as anticipated at the advent of the housing programme, when living in a formal house and commuting to a formal job were the envisaged future. Instead, in the absence of jobs, informal forms of income generation have become endemic, and some people use the government-provided house for this purpose. Although some adaptions of the house, and of people’s practices, transgress regulations and appear to contest authority, they should not be seen as a defiance or rejection of the houses or the state’s perspectives on this, but as an important contribution to animating and making liveable this particular form of infrastructure. The argument here is that it is in the combination of state-provided housing infrastructure and people’s appropriation of it that the housing contribution needs to be assessed: in other words, not only does the infrastructure (by and large) help sustain lives as anticipated – through providing shelter, services and security – but people’s agency assists in making it function in more multi-faceted ways, which are necessary in less than ideal circumstances and thus thereby strengthening the credibility of the government’s infrastructure.