More than half of the world‘s population live in urban areas today. This seemingly catchy statistic has been used over and over again in the past two decades when researchers, policy-makers and journalists are talking about cities and urbanisation. Often this talk is connected to the call to turn the attention to urban topics. This statement is, however, too generalized in the face of current urbanisation processes as it ignores the largely varying regional differences, the dynamics of urbanisation and the various spatial forms it can take.
More profound: The jargon of half-of humanity in cities is linked to opportunities for intervention for politics and planning which understand the city solely as a site where greater transformation processes are represented: climate change, economic globalisation, migration.
The idea seems to be very appealing – when half of humanity lives there, then we could probably meet best our environment and development goals there. I would like to contrast this reduced understanding, with a more active concept of cities.
My own interest in cities as an urban form of social organisation centres around the questions, which role actors IN the city play for transformation and social innovation? What are common approaches in practice in this context? To understand the complexity and contextualize projects, to cluster components to strategic interventions, to coordinate actors, cooperate with residents, to incorporate different levels – are parallel strategies to address the complexity of urban realities in the international context.
This I will illustrate taking South Africa as a case in point.
Finally, I will present what can be concluded for research and practice and how I foresee teaching and research to tackle the enormous task of re-thinking complex urban realities.
Prof. Dr. Astrid Ley is an interim chair for international urbanism at the University of Stuttgart since October 2014. Astrid Ley is the leading researcher with a special focus on housing for the urban poor in South Africa.
Her expertise and publication record includes topics related to the urbanization in the Global South, informal housing processes, the role of local governance and civil society, the effects of mega-events on urban development and transnational networks of urban poor.
With many years of teaching experience, she is experienced in conceptualizing and running seminars for architecture, urban design and planning for students in their master studies and for postgraduate students in Urban Management.