SGPIA student Ayesha Issadeen (Development) received the Student Travel Grant to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the Global Urban Futures Project! The team presented their research at the 9th World Urban Forum. Ayesha spoke with SGPIA about her academic path, her involvement with GUFP, and the experience of presenting abroad.
How did you become involved in Global Urban Futures? What has your work been like with them in the past? Does it tie into your other academic work?
Prior to starting my Masters degree I worked for the Development Action Group (DAG), a leading urban land and housing NGO in Cape Town, South Africa. I have also worked as an associate for Architecture sans Frontières-UK (ASF-UK) for 3 years, and secured my position at DAG after participating in ASF-UK’s Change by Design workshop in April 2015. Both of these organisations focus on urban issues, typically involving inclusive housing and displacement. I became involved with the Global Urban Futures Project (GUFP) in September 2016, just after I started at the New School in the Graduate Program for International Affairs. My advisor Michael Cohen recommended that I looked at the project after he heard what my previous work experiences were.
“Global Urban Futures is a learning network of scholars and activists who are changing the conversation about urban policy. GUFP highlights the major challenges facing cities around the world; rising inequality, uneven growth and climate change.”
At the time, the team had just published the Habitat Commitment Index (HCI); a research initiative that measures performance – accounting for institutional capacity, using a set of indicators that relate to the Habitat III commitments. A team of 25 faculty and students, including members of the Observatory on Latin America (OLA), were preparing to attend the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. I joined the team in Quito after assisting with design work in the lead up to the conference, where we held a side-event which had over 200 attendees. It was an amazing experience to be representing The New School at one of the biggest UN Conferences (with 50,000 attendees) which only happens every 20 years. I filmed and produced a short video of our time at the conference, as well as designing the materials we distributed during and after the conference. Although my academic work does not tie directly into the work of GUFP, working with the team has allowed me to learn a number of skills and engage with many different partner organisations. Alongside this, I am able to keep refining my design skills – something I am always looking to improve and thoroughly enjoy working on.
Can you share a little bit about your research process on the project presented at the WUF9 Conference?
After an extremely positive response to the HCI project at Habitat III, we were encouraged by our funders – The Ford Foundation – to conduct a similar study at the city level. In November 2016, we began the research process for the HCI 2.0. The team of twelve graduate students began the project by investigating how to better measure institutional capacity before we embarked on what seemed to be a never-ending data collection process. Data collection proved to be incredibly time and labour intensive. We scrutinized over 53 data sources; including data from city governments, NGOs, private institutions and intergovernmental organisations – before we were able to determine our sample of 178 cities. I worked on collecting data in African cities with two other team members. We struggled to find consistent datasets and often found unreliable data presented. It was a harrowing process! With the hopes of presenting the study at the 9th World Urban Forum, we started running the data with our HCI methodology (developed by GPIA Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr) in December. Unfortunately, the results of the city-level study were not as successful as the first HCI – our findings point to a lack of data availability to monitor and evaluate the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. With only 4 out of our 44 collected indicators yielding an HCI score – we started analysing the trends within the other indicators to report any interesting findings. The publication team consisted of four primary editors and myself leading the design – this process needed to happen very quickly in order to be ready for the WUF9. It was an immense responsibility to ensure that the booklet presented our findings in a way that was easy-to-understand and to design the graphics throughout the document. I applied to the GPIA Travel Award to help fund my trip to Kuala Lumpur for the WUF9 Conference.
What was the experience like of being at the conference and presenting in an international setting?
A team of five people attended the WUF9 in February 2018; Professors Michael Cohen and Margarita Gutman, and students Lena Simet, David Lopez Garcia and myself. With the help of the team in New York, and others representing our partner organisations (KotaKita and the City of Mannheim) – we organized two events during the WUF9. The first event “Moving from What to How: Implementing and Monitoring the New Urban Agenda” was a half-day pre-event to the WUF9, we had 10 speakers present from 10 organisations. The event was attended by 50 people and facilitated a rich discussion around the role of local data, implementation and addressing local capacity. We also had a side event as part of the WUF9 conference; where the HCI 2.0 was presented alongside a presentation by Mayor Kurz of Mannheim which highlighted the city’s striking efforts towards achieving the SDGs. We will be publishing a report on the GUFP website in the next week of our pre-event if you would like to know more!
I was lucky enough to arrive a couple of days before the pre-event and conference and used my days to explore the city. A friend and I decided to explore a derelict housing project in Hulu Selangor. Alongside the old highway that leads into the city, we drove past a number of construction sites which seemed to be abandoned. On further investigation we discovered that after the new highway was built, most of these projects had stopped received funding as the location was now less profitable. It was difficult, but unfortunately not uncommon, to see so many empty structures, some nearing completion as well as seeing many people living on the streets closer to the city.
It is always interesting to attend large conferences as there is such a vast range of agendas on display; I attended events which praised and congratulated meager city and country-level efforts towards achieving the SDGs, but I also attended heated events in which experts, activists, community-based organisations and other like minded audiences are able to engage in beneficial discussions. It was an ideal networking opportunity for both me personally as well as the GUFP team, as we had different organisations approach us regarding partnerships to conduct further HCI studies. Overall the conference was a successful trip for the GUF team, we were able to present the HCI study at The New School on the 1st of May in the Orozco Room!