Linking Academia With Policy: Youth and Land Markets in Urban DevelopmentNovember 16, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
“It’s always important when working in policy to consider what we can do beyond conception and look at more implementation,” said Valerie Stahl of New York University at the Wilson Center last month.
Stahl was one of three graduate students presenting their winning papers for an annual academic paper competition, “Reducing Urban Poverty,” co-sponsored by the Wilson Center, USAID, International Housing Coalition, Cities Alliance, and the World Bank. This year’s competition was the third in an effort to better link new academic work on urban issues to actual policymaking. [Video Below]
“You only have to read the papers…to understand that the future of urban studies is very bright,” said Blair Ruble, director of the Wilson Center’s Global Sustainability and Resilience Program.
Helping Young People Find Their Voice
The themes for this year’s submissions were climate change, youth, and land security.
Marika Tsolakis of the University of London wrote her paper on the popularity of English language clubs in Senegal. She found that the motivation for those joining the clubs, which gather weekly on an informal basis in Dakar and elsewhere, sharply contrasts with the view commonly held by development agencies. Young people joining the clubs did not see learning English simply as a vocational skill, but studied and debated to gain greater personal confidence as well.
“I say to myself that if I speak English, I’ll be more interesting to others,” one member told her.
Tsolakis said it’s important to ask, “what are the underlying values and aims for education for urban young people – is it about only working, or is it about fostering democratic citizenship, encouraging debate, positive youth identity?”
She suggested that the open discussion in the English clubs helps foster political stability. “Education is the foundation of a democratic society in that positive educational spaces can really foster the kind of democratic debate that encourages stability, security, and democracy,” she said.
Patricia Flanagan, from USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment, agreed, saying that education is not only about building vocational skills but also helping young people develop a “voice and perspective that really has to play a role in work, learning, and citizenship.” She also highlighted some informal education programs sponsored by USAID, including computer skills programs in Paraguay and Macedonia.
Participatory Planning in Argentina
Valerie Stahl compared two programs in Argentina with the same goal – encouraging community participation from young people – but different results.
At a community center in the city of Rosario, “youth were highly consulted and mobilized and were meant to be big stakeholders, but also big voices in planning within the center.” As a result, the center offers training for vocations like carpentry and information technology, and also offers a gathering space for recreational activity, like theater.
On the other hand in Barrio San Jorge in Buenos Aires, improvement efforts led by community members “really [focused] on physical improvements,” aiming to “physically improve upon this space and make it more livable for young people and adults at large.” Though it was community-led, young people were not explicitly targeted and thus felt more disconnected and dissatisfied with the improvements than their counterparts in Rosario.
Stahl concluded that while more money and infrastructure are crucial, “we also strongly need to play to the capabilities of communities and not blindly apply resources without considering the context of where they’re being distributed.” Participatory planning, especially giving young people a voice in community programs, is one way to do that.
“I think that [Stahl] hit probably one of the most important development questions for Latin America,” said Ellen Hamilton, “and quite likely it’s one that, in my own opinion, applies to many poor communities across the world.” In Hamilton’s experience, the three factors contributing to crime and violence are poverty, youth, and exclusion. Participatory planning can increase youth agency and community involvement.
Perceived Land Security and Urban Farms
Both farms are on land owned by ASECNA, the Cotonou airport authority.
Cocotiers is newer, formed when its members were evicted from their previous site in 2011 after the land was sold. It’s controlled by an urban producer organization composed of elected officials; farmers attend weekly meetings and pay small dues.
Houéyiho sits on land that must be kept vacant to allow planes to land, which allows farmers to feel greater stability and permanence. It’s also a larger site, fitting five urban producer organizations.
“On paper, they have the same access to land: they are not recognized occupants of the land but they have informal agreements with the landowner,” Carter said.
But she found that farmers at Houéyiho invested more in the land, using technology like irrigation pumps to decrease labor inputs and increase yields. Other organizations were also more likely to collaborate with the Houéyiho farmers – non-governmental organizations, for example, which implemented compost programs and brought latrines to the farm. Cocotiers, however, remained isolated and saw less investment.
In this case, Carter pointed out, perception about tenure was just as important as legally owning the land. Both sites had the same legal status but Houéyiho was more successful because the farmers there felt more secure.
And there’s a feedback cycle, she said. “The more investment is put into the land, is put into the agricultural activity, the more it reinforces the perception of security and permanence.”
Jolyne Sanjak of the Millennium Challenge Corporation called Carter’s conclusions “very dramatic illustrations of what’s well-documented in the literature on rural space about how insecurity of land rights limits incentives for productive investments and productivity.”
She attributed this insecurity to “a lack of clarity between urban and rural rules around land tenure,” concluding that land tenure – both perceived and legal – will continue to be an issue as global urbanization continues.
Building a Future for Urban Development
“Urban poverty is very multidimensional; there are so many issues with isolation, with land security, [and] food security,” said Tsolakis.
As urbanization accelerates around the world, the need to connect new scholarly work with the challenges policymakers are facing, including a projected 900 million slumdwellers by 2020, will only grow.
Besides environmental and land-use changes, demographics will also play an important role in the future of cities, with today’s young people representing the largest single age cohort in human history.
“We’re considering not only how youth will become contributing members of their society in the future,” said Stahl, “but how they contribute to their spaces in the present.”
- Lindsay Carter’s Presentation
- Patricia Flanagan’s Presentation
- Valerie Stahl’s Presentation
- Marika Tsolakis’ Presentation
For information about entering next year’s competition, please direct questions to the Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project.
Sources: Adaptation Fund, International Institute for Environment and Development, Municipalidad de Rosario, Peace Corps, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, USAID.