RPP 1: Research Interests

Broadly, my research interests intersect urban planning and critical urban geography with international development. The success and growth of developing countries often relies on the emergence of a major city. These cities provide economic hubs, a direct and centralized connection to other international visitors, and a birthplace for both social norms and diversity. Since the growth of cities in developing countries is so important, I want to pose a question: What urban planning strategies build successful cities in developing countries?

This question could take the form of many different lenses. What urban planning strategies build successful urban economics? Which strategies build successful social urban atmospheres? Which strategies build successful sustainable urban practices? Will these strategies ever overlap, and could they even coexist? This last question presents the first of many large puzzles I mean to research. To add onto this, how can “success” even be defined?

My interest in the complexity of city planning was sparked last semester while taking a writing course focusing on architecture criticism and urban planning literature. My view on urban spaces was revolutionized after reading Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In the final chapter of the book, she discusses why cities are so complex; cities do not “exhibit one problem in organized complexity, which, if understood explains all.”[1]Additionally, she added that strategies which work in one city may often be unsuccessful in another due to the individuality of each urban culture. The complexity she describes has only further peaked my interest in the semantics of urban space.

As for thoughts about how this research will be conducted, I am considering my options for choosing a specific lens to answer my essential question from. I also would love to delve into case studies considering the individuality of each city.

[1]Jacobs, Jane. The Death And Life Of Great American Cities. New York : Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

4 thoughts to “RPP 1: Research Interests”

  1. Claudia,
    I love your idea for this project, and not just because there is substantial overlap with mine (so this is, in effect, self-congratulatory). Rapid urbanization is one of our most pressing challenges, and one not addressed often enough—surprisingly so, because the problem encompasses the intersection of environmental vulnerability, homelessness, food security, green sustainability, and public health all in one. I look forward to seeing which of these you choose to hone in on; I urge you to examine our assumptions about population, overpopulation, and what they mean for our environment and quality of life. I am in Professor Ranganathan’s class this semester, and she challenges us—as I’m sure she will challenge you—to think about why we blame our urban crowding problems on simply ‘too many people,’ and has compelled us to consider the deeply racialized undertones in that assumption.

    I agree with you that examining this question through a small number of case studies would yield abundant results; however, then, you will be faced with a decision about whether to compare urban spaces in developing countries to those in highly developed countries, or whether you will focus your research purely on the Global South. Second, you ask a great question: how is success defined? The follow-up question is, success for which groups? The developing countries you’ll be investigating have a vast array of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds, and some cities might be playgrounds for some and economic traps for others. By which group’s contentment and happiness will you measure the success of the space?
    I also think the quote you chose from Jacobs’ novel was particularly important for this project—she tells us that cities are not a problem that can be fixed with a simple, one-dimensional solution, and that is important to remember as you grow frustrated with the multitude of factors that affect—both positively and negatively—urban spaces. This will be a multifaceted, complicated, tangled project, but also intensely rewarding, as you untangle the different influences that can be combined in the right pattern to make a successful city. I can’t wait to see the final result.

  2. Hi Claudia, I find your topic and the different turns it can take so intriguing! Your questions and “puzzles” are especially interesting where they intersect, as well as in their breadth. You summarize this really well when you ask how the metrics of success are to be defined. Your topic brings ecological, social, and economic lens to urban planning. What is really fascinating about this is that you can seek to measure these things in a positivist way or you can even look at it in terms of the socially constructed meanings belonging to the communities in these cities (more interpretivist).

    For instance, there is extensive scholarship that debates neoliberal vs public sector urban economics (ie: Davis’ Planet of the Slums) and there is similarly a lot of discussion on sustainability of cities and their carbon footprints. You can seek to look at these or you can look at how inhabitants have conceived their economic conditions and their relation to the environment.

    In keeping with the social aspect, a concept I came across (and Professor Ranganathan is an amazing person to talk to) would be both her article “Rule by Difference: Empire, Liberalism, and the Legacies of Urban ‘Improvement'” where she considers the concept of development and the racial and colonial logics behind it, and Asef Bayat’s “From ‘Dangerous Classes’ to ‘Quiet Rebels’” in which he examines the discourse surrounding the “subaltern” working class and how they are often stereotyped into a set of categories. He then offers the concept of “quiet encroachment” which describes the manner in which the working class reclaims urban space in atomized way. For example, inhabitants of slums may set up shop as vendors without a license and gradually move deeper and deeper into the city until the government pushes them back. I hope this helps! It seems like you have a really cool topic!

  3. Hi Claudia,

    I very much enjoyed your research idea and, as Rachel put it, not just because we both have semi-closely related topics (yay urban studies). I was really impressed with how many puzzles/questions you are already thinking about and can’t wait to see where this project takes you. In particular, I thought your posing of the question “what is success” is incredibly insightful to how one frames their research on this topic. I think exploring that idea of “success” could lead to some other interesting questions: What do other researchers, policymakers, activists, urban residents, consider a successfully planned city? How do those ideas of success differ depending on one’s relation/position to/in a city? Why is one method of urban planning successful in one context but not in another?

    Although it isn’t a reading per se, I think the University of Richmond’s project, “Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America” (https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/) is a really impressive/striking tool depicting the racial history of urban planning in America. While I don’t know if it can give any help to your focus on cities of the developing world, I think its an incredibly beautiful visualization of urban studies research and might be useful far down the road when we start producing “final” projects.

    I am also curious, as the semester/year continues, because our research interests are similar, what insights we are going to be able to draw from each other as we each learn more about our respective topics. I quite honestly have no clue what the answer to that question is, but I am very excited to find out.

  4. Claudia — you have a good start here in thinking about your general topic area, and you also have some excellent suggestions (and questions) from your peers that you should use to inform your thinking and research as you continue to develop your ideas. As you think about the topic area, you can work on answering some of the background research questions (“what” and “which” questions) now to further deepen the foundation for your research puzzle. As you work towards that explanatory puzzle, it will be important to focus some reading on scholarly, peer-reviewed sources (journal articles) to deepen your background knowledge and begin to identify puzzles. Among other things, you might investigate the research that Richard Florida has conducted on the importance of urban areas (as well as some of the critiques of Florida’s work!).

    Overall, the goal is to work towards that idea of identifying an explanatory puzzle (as discussed by Booth et al. and Abbott) that points to a concrete, yet puzzling, state of affairs or outcome or trend that you could aim to explain. Keep thinking about these things as you continue your background research and we can discuss these things when we meet. I look forward to seeing how your research develops.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *