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The contributors respond to the absence of critical debate surrounding the ways in which spaces of the city do not merely contain, but also constitute, urban poverty. The volume explores how the spaces of the city actively produce and reproduce urban poverty.




This book sets out to explore the reasons why a city-spatial analysis is crucial to contemporary interpretations of, and policy responses to, urban poverty. In recent decades, there has been widespread recognition, within both academic and policy arenas, that the scale of the city is of utmost importance in understanding contemporary social, political, economic and cultural life. This perspective is typically justified by the oft-repeated incantation that more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas (often overlooked in this justification is that urbanisation is not restricted to cities). At the same time, traditional interpretations of poverty as largely rural have lost traction, as aid agencies and scholars alike increasingly recognise the dominance of urban poverty, particularly in the rapidly urbanising Global South. However, whilst the dominance of these two agendas (the city and urban poverty) is now well established, what is striking is the absence of connections between research addressing the spatiality of the city (typically located in geographical approaches) and research exploring the dimensions of urban poverty (situated within poverty studies and development studies).

Charlotte Lemanski, Colin Marx

1. Poverty and ‘the City’

The twenty-first century is the first truly urban epoch. However, the well-circulated graphs that reveal the inexorable urban transition of past and future decades are only part of the story. Accompanying the headline demographic message, that this is an era where urbanisation is the dominant motif, is the reminder that the locus of the twenty- first century has shifted away from Europe and North America. We not only now live in an urban world but also a Southern world, in which Asia and Africa are numerically dominant. As the absolute epicentres of population, cities and towns are the places and spaces that provide the foundations on which contemporary and emerging global systems and values will be built (Miraftab and Kudva, 2014; Roy and Ong, 2011). There are other substantive ways in which, over the next few decades, what happens in and is exported from ‘cities of the South’ will come to dominate our collective lives: cities will have massive impact on natural systems changes; the production, distribution and circulation of goods and services; and the experiences of everyday life, health, culture and politics (McGranahan and Martine, 2014; Parnell and Oldfield, 2014; Revi and Rosenwieg, 2013; Elmquist et al., 2013). For the global majority, life will be shaped by urban conditions and expectations. But for all of its centrality, we do not really understand what constitutes the city or how urban form, urban management, urban life and identity interface with the experiences of, or responses to, poverty.

Susan Parnell

2. Women in Cities: Prosperity or Poverty? A Need for Multi-dimensional and Multi-spatial Analysis

Urbanisation is often celebrated as a gateway to expanded economic social and political opportunities for women, as well as greater possibilities for independent upward mobility. This is one plausible reason why, in the context of increased fetishisation of the city as a generator of wealth and well-being, the issue of gender and urban prosperity has come to the fore, being the theme of UN-Habitat’s State of Women in Cities 2012/13 (UN-Habitat, 2013). Yet while not denying that urban women enjoy some advantages over their rural counterparts, barriers to female ‘empowerment’ remain widespread in towns and cities of the Global South, especially among the urban poor. Indeed, that several gender inequalities and injustices persist in urban environments is highlighted all the more when considering prosperity in conjunction with poverty. An analysis encompassing both phenomena reveals the frequently stark contrasts between what women contribute to wealth in cities through their paid and unpaid labour, their endeavours in building and consolidating shelter, and their efforts to work around shortfalls in essential services and infrastructure, and the often limited rewards they reap in respect of equitable access to ‘decent’ work and living standards, human capital acquisition, physical and financial assets, personal safety and security, and representation in formal structures of urban governance (Chant, 2013).

Sylvia Chant, Kerwin Datu

3. Space and Capabilities: Approaching Informal Settlement Upgrading through a Capability Perspective

Definitions around the concept of poverty have fundamental implications as to how the role of space is understood in shaping and tackling deprivations in the urban context. The capability approach has emerged as a prominent evaluative framework in the redefinition of poverty as a multi-dimensional, dynamic and socially constructed phenomenon. However, there has been very limited interrogation of how such an understanding of poverty takes into account the role of space and how it could therefore contribute to discussions exploring the relationship between space and poverty. This chapter draws on different case studies to explore how capabilities are conditioned by spatial arrangements and imaginaries, but also how the expansion of capabilities of the urban poor can contribute towards a more socially just production of space.

Alexandre Apsan Frediani

4. Constructing Informality and Ordinary Places: A Place-Making Approach to Urban Informal Settlements

Since the 1960s, understandings of urban informal settlements have constantly evolved. Almost since this urban phenomenon was first observed — coinciding with patterns of industrialisation and urbanisation in 1950s Latin America — it has been accompanied by debates about the meaning and extent of urban informality, understood as closely linked to urban poverty. Although many advances have been made in terms of theoretical understandings of these places, and the policy responses that ensue, they are still subject to disproportionate levels of marginalisation, including effects ranging from discrimination to eviction and displacement. Some observers suggest that this is reflective of critical gaps in urban theory, deriving from the dominance of particular epistemologies and methodologies within urban studies, which have led to the prevalence of ‘apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum’1 (Roy, 2011: 224). Such accounts reveal the limits of knowledge about urban informality, based as it is on certain privileged circuits of knowledge production which frame urban informal settlements in particular ways. This may lead to ‘sanctioned ignorance’ (Spivak, 1999 in Roy, 2011: 228), the unseeing of the productive spaces of informality that constitute significant swathes of today’s cities; or to stereotyping of particular places and people in terms of their ‘illegal’, ‘illegitimate’ status in the urban environment. Both processes contribute to the marginalisation of urban informal settlements.

Melanie Lombard

5. Constructing Spatialised Knowledge on Urban Poverty: (Multiple) Dimensions, Mapping Spaces and Claim-Making in Urban Governance

Recently, increasing attention is given to poverty issues in urban areas in the Global South. This follows recognition that population growth is shifting to urban areas, as more than half the world population is found in urban areas, which are expected to grow mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the next 30 years (UN, 2011). What are the implications of this shift? First, governments, academics and advocacy organisations require more insight into the ‘dynamics of poverty’ (i.e., what deprivations households experience, how they deal with them, and how these processes of engagement change over time). Secondly, what does it imply for urban governance in terms of mandates, power relations and politics? Local governments often have difficulties coping with existing responsibilities and now face rising numbers of households with conflicting agendas — middle-class expectations as well as increasing numbers of poor households experiencing various deprivations (social, economic, infrastructural). Rescaling of government and privatisation processes have reduced their mandates, so that local governments have less leverage to make service provision more inclusive (e.g., Baud and de Wit, 2008). Negotiating with advocacy organisations for urban neighbourhood communities offers ways to tailor provision to local needs and mobilise existing capacities.

Isa Baud

6. Refugees and Urban Poverty: A Historical View from Calcutta

Global urbanisation is once again recasting cities as key sites to explore a myriad of issues with uniquely urban characteristics, from politics, to economics, planning and urban social relationships. Urban poverty is increasingly significant in this discussion. A consideration of the history of studying poverty is appropriate which locates the urban squarely within the discourse. Poverty studies have their beginnings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in urban Britain undertaken by Charles Booth in London and Seebohm Rowntree in York. Rowntree’s work, for example, highlighted urban poverty as a new and distinct phenomenon from rural poverty due to the fact that urbanisation and urban living had unique characteristics, from commodification of standards of life to individualisation, and the particularities of the labour market (Mingione, 2008). In the United States, as well, many of the studies on poverty focused not only on urban poverty but on inner city poverty and emphasised questions of race (Beteille, 2003). The concentration of studies on urban poverty in countries in the Global North is partly due to the specific concentrations of poverty and visible poverty in these places, and it can be argued that it is qualitatively different from the poverty in developing countries. In nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, for example, the production of slums and poverty amongst the working classes was largely driven by the Industrial Revolution.

Romola Sanyal

7. Expanding the ‘Room for Manoeuvre’: Community-Led Finance in Mumbai, India

Urban planning in cities of the Global South does not have a good track record in addressing urban poverty. Infused with colonially inherited planning systems, at best, planning has often been associated with lack of recognition of poor informal areas of the city; at worst, with the eviction of poor households and/or their livelihoods. At the same time, urban planning has often been reticent in challenging powerful actors in the city who are benefiting unequally from its development, creating a system of city management that is neither transparent nor accountable, and contributing to the reproduction of socio-spatial urban inequalities. This tendency is even more pronounced in a neo-liberal age when the aims of planning have been reframed as supporting the market and enhancing the vision of the ‘competitive city’.

Caren Levy

8. Where the Street Has No Name: Reflections on the Legality and Spatiality of Vending

The street is a metaphor for the urban in India (Ahuja, 1997; Edensor, 1998). Understanding the urban is incomplete without understanding the street. The vendor is a ubiquitous presence. In Delhi, where hawkers and vendors ply, the street is a diverse geography of everyday uses. Street life — its bustle and complexity — is manoeuvred by the vendor in a jostle of negotiated interests.

Amlanjyoti Goswami

9. Gangs, Guns and the City: Urban Policy in Dangerous Places

Over the past decade, a host of publications have examined the relationship between (under)development, security and violence (e.g., Buur etal., 2007; DFID, 2007; Keen, 2008; World Bank, 2010, 2011). International development agencies in particular have become concerned by ‘the challenge of repeated cycles of violence’ and evidence indicating that new forms of conflict are emerging with the potential to become linked to each other in ways that are very difficult to control, especially in ‘fragile’ contexts (World Bank, 2011: 276, 2). A basic premise of many such studies is that poverty, as well as unemployment, income shocks, rapid urbanisation and weak institutions, enhances the risks of violence. Violence, in turn, makes development more difficult, suggesting to one influential figure that we need to understand conflict as ‘development in reverse’ (Collier et al., 2003: 13) and ‘accept the links between security and development outcomes’ (World Bank, 2011: 31). On this last point there seems to be a broad consensus, leading some to claim that addressing poverty is impossible without first creating the conditions to control conflict (Collier, 2010; World Bank, 2011).

Gareth A. Jones, Dennis Rodgers


In their contributions to this volume, the authors have responded to and extended our view that the spaces of urban poverty matter. Rather than simply interpreting urban poverty as poverty happening in cities and towns, they have explored the multiple ways in which spaces matter to the constitution of urban poverty. The ways in which this approach to understanding urban poverty as of the city (i.e., urban poverty is in the city, and the city is in urban poverty) are utilised vary significantly according to each chapters’ theoretical, empirical and sectoral context, as detailed below.

Colin Marx, Charlotte Lemanski


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