Welcome to Development Studies Association
The Development Studies Association is the UK's learned society and professional body for academic teaching and research, policy and practice in the field of international development.
While the annual conference is a principal focus for the association, the DSA is active throughout the year through its many Study Groups. All those involved in development whether as teachers, researchers, consultants or practitioners, are welcome to join both the Study Groups and the DSA itself.
For all the DSA members' news visit our new set of News pages.
Thought for the Month
Smart Cities and inclusive development: A conundrum?
As we speak, the idea of smart cities is sweeping across many countries in the Global South. Who could possibly resist the temptation of transforming their city to be a smart city? In our research we found that many African nations from Benin to Kenya and from Morocco to South Africa have smart city projects in progress. We might argue that Africa has been a pioneer in the use of mobile phones for financial products and hence there is nothing unusual in African advances in smart city initiatives. However, as development studies academics and practitioners we tend to be sceptical of silver bullets, and the idea that all the urban development challenges that have remained unresolved in the last four decades somehow will be magically resolved by the smart city projects triggers our cautious nature into overdrive.
As we speak, the World Urban Forum is in progress in Abu Dhabi. The Habitat 3 conference a few years ago in Quito and the Urban Agenda adapted the call for collaborative and partnership-based approaches to transform cities and human settlements of all sizes through inclusive, participatory and citizen-led governance to make them more resilient and sustainable.
Large cities have a huge environmental footprint in terms of the extent of natural resources such as water, wood and other biomass, soil and sand, and fossil fuels they consume and the magnitude of wastes they generate. As Kennedy et al point out, just 27 mega cities consume 9% of global electricity and 10% of fossil fuels and generate 13% of all waste.
However, as Glaeser showed, the per capita CO2 emissions tend to be the lower in central city locations than in the suburbs. This suggests that in order to be green we do need cities - but denser and better managed cities. Given that building new cities from scratch costs enormously, has huge ecological impacts and in most countries can take decades to complete, it is safe to assume that much of the future urban growth between now and 2050 is likely to take place in existing cities.
Thus, retrofitting existing cities to change their energy use patterns, make housing more energy efficient, improve access to cleaner fuels especially for the low-income households, and improving public transport systems are all important priorities.
In many countries, urban governments are seldom given the legislative and financial support they need to play a lead role in this urban transformation. City governments tend to be hotbeds of slow, bureaucratic red tape driven havens, providing ample opportunities for corruption, rent extraction and profiting from speculative land hoarding. Public investment projects and urban planning processes become tools in patronage distribution rather than delivering public goods. When computers first arrived in the city halls, they usually remained dedicated to serve the elite among city officials, rather than serving the public interest by improving data handling and management. The smart city projects are replicating a similar pattern. While the glossy brochures raise hopes among millions of urban dwellers, in most cities that we have researched, smart city projects appear to benefit a tiny minority of elite. They raise many questions about privacy, consent, data protection and governance. Yes, big data analysis can help us understand patterns of behaviour and this can help in addressing important health and environmental issues but like all silver bullets smart city projects may promise a lot more than they can actually deliver. There is work to be done to enable civil society institutions and citizens to critically scrutinise such projects and ask relevant questions.
Best wishes to you all,
Council member, DSA
University of Bradford