GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods

This is a major centre funded for 52 months from 1 October 2017 under the aegis of RCUK's Global Challenges Research Fund. Sustainable development recognises that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and fostering social inclusion are interdependent. Urbanisation can help drive sustainable development. However, within cities, poverty and inequality are at their most acute and, in lower- and middle-income countries, rapid growth due in part to rural-urban migration poses challenges of global proportions. Responding to the dualities of urbanisation requires an understanding of the complex relations between sustainable cities, education and health, at the level of neighbourhoods. Sustainable cities depend to a considerable extent on a population with the resilience and resources that health brings, and on relevant learning. Equally, access to healthcare and quality education depend on the sustainable development of cities and the neighbourhoods within them. Yet, recent global urban policies for developing countries tend to operate at a very general level; research and understanding of urbanisation are fragmented and mainly focused on the conditions and life in slum areas. Sustainable development debates tend to concentrate at higher levels such as ‘the city’ or ‘the mega city’ and emphasise the physical and environmental aspects of urbanisation at macro rather than micro-scales. International policy makers often know little about the specific social, economic and physical structures of fast growing cities in developing countries and how they are changing, especially at the neighbourhood level. Apart from slums, there are many different types of urban neighbourhoods emerging in fast growing cities. Some are successful and sustainable, which offer attraction and hope for many slum dwellers.

This programme has two overall aims:

  • to strengthen research capacity among urban studies researchers, government officials and policy makers in the public and private sectors both in the UK and in developing countries; and
  • to conduct systematic and comparative studies of urbanisation and the formation and differentiation of neighbourhoods in urban areas in order to address the challenges associated with urbanisation and large-scale rural-to-urban migration in Africa and Asia.

Historically, population health and education have been boosted by rural-urban migration, yet contemporary rates and styles of urbanisation suggest that these benefits may not continue to materialise in developing nations. The unequal distribution of opportunities, benefits and harm within the urban population is of acute concern. Urban prosperity, for example, is often confined to particular groups, whilst others face disproportionately high levels of poverty, violence and environmental risk. Many global organisations focused on urbanisation agree that reducing inequality within cities is a priority. The relationship between place, learning, health and quality of life, is well documented in both developed and developing countries. Western models concerning these relationships, however, do not capture the realities of the Global South with the contribution of spirituality and the importance not only of individual health, but also that of the family and community relationships often ignored. This programme of the centre therefore builds on existing partnerships to strengthen capacity to address these challenges while embedding research in context and avoiding the risks of uncritical policy transfer.

PI and Co-Is

PI: Professor Ya Ping Wang, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Glasgow

Co-Is: Professor Michael Osborne and Professor Michele Schweisfurth, School of Education, University of Glasgow