Throughout the global south, many urban regions have become massive. In the familiar renditions of this notion, urban regions, mushrooming in population and spatial footprints, teeter close to chaos, environmental disaster, and ungovernability. Populations are being reshuffled, moved from one area to the other, something which an extensive landscape of built projects that never really worked has allowed as buildings are repurposed for other uses as they also take advantage of contiguities with new developments—sub-cities, new industrial zones and logistical centres. The sheer heterogeneity of developments at all scales, from thousands of small developers to large real estate corporations have equipped regions with a large volume of warehouses, housing estates, mega residential developments, industrial zones, commercial centres, and small enterprise districts that either never got off the ground, only partially fulfilled the intended functions or rates of occupancy, or quickly fell apart.
When these “projects” are coupled with large swathes of squatter settlements, temporary migrant housing, and the conversion of older residential neighbourhoods into mass boarding houses, it is possible to grasp the extensiveness of a circulating population that anchors residency across multiple tenuous residencies, remains completely unanchored in serial short terms occupancies, or is continuously displaced as a function of different instantiations of urban renewal, the migration of employment opportunities, or an increasingly opportunistic-cantered sensibility of residents themselves. Yet, massiveness may be the very thing that provides a kind of “safety net.” All kinds of discrepant environments become momentary bastions of largely improvised collectivity, where people try to make some functional use of each other without any pretence of long-term commitments. Momentary, sporadic, and makeshift become the defining metaphors of many collective formations.
In this second episode, AbdouMaliq Simone invites the four participants to reflect on Cairo (Momen ElHusseiny) Nairobi (Steve Ouma Akoth), Jakarta (Dian Tri Irawaty), Rio de Janeiro (Mariana Cavalcanti) to address these questions: 1. What is it particularly about your cities which seems at times too complex, too all over the place, too difficult to understand with the tool boxes that we have? 2. You have all been involved in attempting to do things in your cities—either in terms of advocacy, community planning, public policy, project development. Can you talk about what you have learned through this process, and how this new learning might be translated into action? 3. In terms of the urban challenges as you understand them, and the complexities of the regions you inhabit, what do you think constitutes viable political experiments, particularly those addressed to issues of spatial justice, economic precarity, and social marginalization?
AbdouMaliq Simone is an urbanist with an abiding interest in the spatial and social compositions of urban regions. He is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, visiting professor of sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, visiting professor at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, research associate with the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta, and research fellow at the University of Tarumanagara. For three decades, AbdouMaliq has worked with practices of social interchange, technical arrangements, local economy, and the constitution of power relations that affect how heterogeneous cities are lived. He has worked on remaking municipal systems, training local government personnel, designing collaborative partnerships among technicians, residents, artists, and politicians. The focus of these efforts has to been to build viable institutions capable of engaging with the complexities of life across the so-called “majority world.” His work deals with a multiplicity of propositions and capacities for relationships that remain untapped in popular districts across urban Asia and Africa, even though they are deployed everyday under the rubric of “popular economies.” https://urbaninstitute.group.shef.ac.uk/who-we-are/abdoumaliq-simone/
Dian Tri Irawaty
Dian is interested in housing, urban poverty, and urban politics. Her doctoral research at UCLA explores and examines the various understandings of kampungs in Jakarta, Indonesia. Particularly what informs and motivates different understandings of kampungs, and their implications for the future of such settlements. https://geog.ucla.edu/person/dian-tri-irawaty/
Mariana holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2007) and is the 2020-21 Peggy Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. She is Associate professor at the Institute of Social and Political Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP / UERJ) and coordinator of the research collective CASA: social studies on housing and the city (www.grupocasa.iesp.uerj.br). She was co-founder of Casa Fluminense, a civil society association aimed at deepening democracy in the metropolitan city of Rio de Janeiro. Cavalcanti directed, with Thais Blank and Paulo Fontes, the documentary Favela Fabril (2012, 49 ‘) and edited, with Bruno Carvalho and Vyjayanthi Rao, the book Occupy All streets: olympic urbanism and contested futures in Rio de Janeiro (UR Books, 2016). http://www.iesp.uerj.br/en/docentes/mariana-cavalcanti/
Steve Ouma Akoth
Steve is a Kenyan scholar, advisor and activist in the field of human rights and social anthropology with over 15 years’ experience working in diverse national, regional and international fora. His current focus is on Mobility in Southern Urbanism, he explores how our cities and neighborhoods are fashioned in ways that do not readily accommodate this constant movement. https://www.chrflagship.uwc.ac.za/fellowship-programme/fellows/steve-ouma-akoth/
Dr. Momen ElHusseiny
Dr. ElHusseiny is assistant professor of architecture and urban design at The American University in Cairo. He is a trained ethnographer with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in Architecture (2007-2015) with a designated emphasis in global metropolitan studies and minor in anthropology. https://www.aucegypt.edu/fac/momenel-husseiny
Photo: Momen ElHusseiny.