Urban research and methods
- Discuss the various questions that have come up over the course of the MOOC that you’d like to follow up on and research. Also share the various challenges you think you might face in conducting that research.
I know in the past you have been hearing how important research is for I’d like to talk about, in broad terms the different kinds of research modalities there are, that will help support inclusive, sustainable, urban development. First of all, what are the general issues faced by researchers in the field of city and regional planning? Secondly, we will look at the various approaches and the various modalities that are used to conduct research, the different kinds of measurements, their advantages and disadvantages, the different kinds of research designs, how local knowledge and peer-to-peer exchange and best-practice information are helpful for research and lastly, I’ll make a plea for supporting multidisciplinary and multi-disciplinary methods of research.
Today there are three global conversations that are pervading every person’s, thoughtful person’s mind – the first one is how to address issues of peace and conflict, the second one is what is Climate Change going to do and how is this going to affect us and lastly, how can we address this growing problem of inequality.
Underlying all of these, is the theme and question of urbanization, i.e. with urbanization how are these three conversations shaped? The central question then that really pervades these three global conversations and the fact that the cities are so important is this – ‘what are the key policies that we can employ to make sure we achieve inclusive, sustainable, urban development?” What are the policies that can protect and underguard the trend to urban life, the trend to cities creating the global GDP and the trend to making the biggest changes in Greenhouse Gas emissions in urban areas.
These are research questions and there are many ways to approach these questions- first, we can benchmark and measure what’s happening in places with regard to some of these things.
Secondly, we can engage in structured social science research that will help us understand what kinds of policies, what kinds of efforts work and don’t work, we can also turn to local knowledge to make sure that we’re informing our research designs and our decision-making with the kinds of information that people who are living in cities and living in neighborhoods and living with the issues and problems that we’re studying can help inform and lastly, as research and information and knowledge develops over time, best practices emerge.
We can study and use best practices particularly identifying the critical success factors to share how to move forward to identify the drivers and the kinds of policies will enable us to have sustainable and inclusive urban development.
And what are the sources of this knowledge? Many many sources – multilateral organizations, government and bilateral organizations, practitioners and professional, NGOs and advocacy groups,the academia and research institutes, the private sector, philanthropy, citizens. Research comes in in helping articulate the goal, helping articulate the target and most important inventing and understanding the set of indicators or measures that will see if we’re moving towards a particular policy framework. Housing, transport, open space, environment, heritage, planning and resilience – these are things that can be measured if we have the data and this is the big question, particularly when you’re engaged in any sort of urban research.
Normally researchers turn to traditional census data – United Nations for example, does collect and assemble composite data on urbanization and tells the world- the rate of urbanization, level of urbanization, location of urbanization but you have to understand there’re deep limits to this data.
1) The definitions really vary as to what urban is and even though the United Nations does its best to reconcile the different definitions, we need to look and understand what these differences are in order to understand what you’re dealing with.
So we’re not actually comparing apples to apples here, when we’re looking at that UN data; so just remember when you’re using it, it has its limits. Management counts too – when you’re thinking about censuses and how data is collected. India has stringent definitions for urban but has not updated that definition for 50 years, and there are other issues besides that – there are delays and redrawing municipal boundaries as areas expand and we know there’s a great deal of urban growth in India, at the moment and in the future. But the point is understand what you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with the data that is coming to you from census. We also have at our fingertips, all sorts of resources and what we’ll call the Big Data Area, we have the capacities of mobile phones and the information that they are giving us and many other devices that will help us understand what’s happening in the urban arena. I’d like to turn now to some other ways of collecting information- we talked briefly about Big Data but I think perhaps the most promising are the advances that are now being made in spatial analysis, what you’re seeing in front of you here is an illustration of the number of little satellites that are going around the globe, now right now as we’re watching and talking – there are many of them and they are taking images of different resolutions of land areas throughout the world. And we started doing this globally in the 1950s when the Sputnik went gone up, by 1970s we set the first land satellite which particularly measured land development and improved that through 2013. The improvement in the capacity of this measurement is illustrated by this slide as you see the improvements in the imagery on the top and the bottom looking at Delhi and how much clearer it is as the technology has advanced.
There are two other spatial protocols that came into place in 2014 – the Global Urban Footprint which was put forward by the German Aerospace Centre which provides nodes of definition which you can see here on the right, and the Global Human Settlements Layer which is a new satellite that has a much higher resolution than any of the previous satellites and can get you right down to the shape of a building in that resolution.
So as we think about how we’re going to measure, we need to think about how we can link the census data, census numbers-based data with the spatial data in order to measure the things that we think are important when we’re doing urban research.
Next I’d like to talk about structured social science studies and particularly the debates that often go on between qualitative and quantitative studies. For purposes of this discussion we just want to recognize that each one of these approaches when engaged in has particular strengths and particular weaknesses and when you choose to use one or both because some researchers blend quantitative and qualitative research with a mixed-method approach, you just need to know what you’re going to get once you engage in that research.
And with the quantitative statistically- based research, you’ll get patterns that you could use to predict, with the qualitative case, ethnographic study, you’ll get in-depth understanding that might help you really understand what is going on in a particular place but doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening broadly.
We also need to give importance and recognition to the ability of people living in cities to reflect on and give information back about the conditions of their cities and also to be the researchers themselves and lastly, let’s talk a little bit about peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges. Oftentimes, delegations of practitioners, of municipal leaders, of local advoc
ates from local advocacy organizations will convene to exchange their information, their local knowledge about what’s worked and been successful in their places, with others who are trying to do similar things. And this allows for real-time, practice-based information to be exchanged.
Lastly I’d like to end with a plea for us to remember that there is no one single discipline that is going to provide all the answers for places that are as complicated as cities.
Let’s take a look at this issue of food security – we are not going to have prosperous cities if people can’t eat, we’re not going to have cities that are socially inclusive if people are food insecure or we are not going to have healthy cities if people are not eating the right kinds of food and are ending up with food-related diseases.
So how do we need to solve this problem? We need to solve this problem starting with developing the rural-urban linkages that understand the production of food, the distribution of food, the marketing of food, we need to talk to the nutritionists, we need to talk to the land conservationist, we need to talk to the marketers, business people; these are just a few of the people that one needs to talk about when we’re talking about food security which is so essential to having sustainable city.
So as we go forward I want you to remember that the key items that we are talking about in this session: the great variety of sources of research; the great variety of approaches to research; the fact that there is no one perfect kind of research because each one has its weaknesses. Each one has its strengths and the necessity of understanding what the capacities are of each form of research and contributing it to the larger problem. The central question of how do we create inclusive sustainable places.