Examining “The Places We Live”: Slums and Urban Poverty in the Developing World

  • Win a trip to World Urban Forum 5 in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010
  • Be published in an online publication edited by The World Bank and other sponsors
  • Get invited to an interactive policy workshop with urban development practitioners in Washington, DC, in February 2010
  • Deadline Extended: Abstracts due by Nov. 30, 2009
Sponsored by USAID, the International Housing Coalition, The World Bank, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project, and Cities Alliance.


Worldwide, approximately one billion people currently live in slums.  The vast majority are in developing countries, where an estimated 1/3 of the population lives in slum conditions.  The total number of slum-dwellers is expected to double by 2030, placing unprecedented pressures on cities around the globe.

USAID’s Urban Programs Team, in cooperation with the International Housing Coalition (IHC), The World Bank, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project (CUSP), and Cities Alliance, is seeking paper submissions for an upcoming policy workshop and paper competition on slums and urban poverty in the developing world. 

This Call for Papers is associated with both “The Places We Live” exhibit (, which has been brought to Washington, DC, in conjunction with World Habitat Day, and the upcoming World Urban Forum 5, being held in March 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Papers should be linked to one of the following topical areas:

  • The Right to the City / Bridging the Urban Divide
  • Equal Access to Shelter
  • Cultural Diversity & Identity in Cities
  • Governance and Participation
  • Sustainable Urbanisation

(see below for a more detailed description of these five themes)


Papers should be policy-based and solutions-oriented and should critically examine existing projects and/or propose new strategies for tackling slum-related issues.  Papers may focus on the drivers of slum formation and other forms of urban inequality and related efforts to prevent these trends, or may concentrate on ameliorating existing conditions in slums and among the urban poor.  Papers that take into account the cross-sectoral nature of slum/urban poverty issues and that present replicable and scalable interventions are particularly welcome. 

Papers from a variety of disciplinary and/or interdisciplinary perspectives are appropriate, including (but not limited to) urban planning, economics, political science, geography, public policy, sociology, and anthropology. For more information, please contact Chris Ward ( ).

Process and Timeline

  • Eligibility: This call for papers is directed at PhD students and advanced Masters students.  To be eligible, applicants should be currently enrolled in a degree or post-doctoral programme.

  • Abstract Submissions:

    • Abstracts (max 500 words) and a brief CV should be submitted to the selection committee by Nov. 30, 2009.  Submissions can be made via the OurUrbanPlanet website ( or sent to

    • Abstracts should contain a title, paper description, author name and affiliation, and specify which of the topical areas listed above the paper will most directly address.

  • Request for Full Papers:

    • A panel composed of members of the sponsor organizations will review submitted abstracts and request full papers from approximately 15 authors.

    • Applicants will be notified the first week of December whether they will be asked to write a full paper.

    • Completed papers should be a maximum of 20 pages in length (double-spaced, Times New Roman 12pt font) and utilize the style, spelling, usage, citation and illustration guidelines used by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (

  • World Bank Publication:

    • 5-10 of the full papers will be selected for inclusion in an online publication being compiled by The World Bank and other sponsor organizations.

    • Publication of each selected paper will be contingent upon completion of suggested revisions by the authors, should they be requested by the selection committee.

  • Policy Workshop:

    • 3-4 of the authors selected for publication will also be invited to Washington, DC, to take part in a unique “policy workshop” that will bring together a small group of academics, policy makers and students for an interactive discussion of international urban development topics. The session will focus on bridging gaps between policy and academia, theory and practice.

    • At the conference, students will be paired with a senior development expert who will serve as a discussant for their paper.

    • Accepted papers should be submitted (using the same method as the abstracts) at least 2 weeks before the start of the conference.

    • Workshop invitees will be provided with a $500 honorarium to help cover transportation and accommodation costs.

  • Trip to World Urban 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

    • A “Grand Prize” winner will be selected within one week of the policy workshop and will be invited to attend World Urban Forum 5 in Rio de Janeiro, being held March 22-26, 2010.

    • Conference registration, roundtrip flight from the US to Rio de Janeiro, and accommodation will be provided by the International Housing Coalition.

    • While at the Forum, the winner will have the opportunity to attend various sessions, including those related to their paper topic, and report back on their experiences and impressions via the website.

Thematic Areas

Below are the main themes being emphasised in this Call for Papers.  While paper topics can obviously stretch across multiple themes, authors should identify the one theme that most directly relates to their research when submitting their abstracts and papers. 

The themes draw heavily from the “Dialogues” that will take place at World Urban Forum 5, and are also meant to build off of the issues explored artistically in The Places We Live exhibit, which has been brought to Washington, DC in conjunction with World Habitat Day 2009.

The “Right to the City” / Bridging the Urban Divide
This theme seeks to examine the concept of the “Right to the City” and its use in forging inclusive, participatory and equitable urban communities.  The theme also seeks to explore countervailing trends that are contributing to greater urban inequality in many cities--particularly in the developing world
Potential topics for examination: City Governance; Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship; Policies and Approaches to enable access and right to housing, land and urban services; Reciprocal responsibilities of citizens and governments; Inclusive city policies; Urban inequality (in terms of both income and non-income measures), poverty and slum incidence and their impact on cities; Spatial disparities in urban standards of living; Uneven distribution of urban services and social and spatial segregation; Global and urban trends in urban inequality.

Equal Access to Shelter
The main objective of this theme is to examine the various constraints that hinder the functioning of the housing sector and which in turn ensure that informal settlements and slums are often the only shelter alternatives for the poor. In addition to examining these problems, papers may also identify policies and/or practices that help enable wider access to land and housing, and how these policies are useful in slum prevention strategies.
Potential Topics for Examination: Affordable housing policies; Land and housing delivery systems; Security of tenure; Land and housing rights; Policy and instruments to enable access to land and housing; Slum upgrading, slum prevention and citywide land regularization; Housing finance for the poor; Formal and informal housing markets; Gender equality and shelter.

Cultural Diversity and Identity in Cities
This theme is designed to explore the cultural dimensions of cities, the interface between cultural and physical/spatial dimensions of urban areas, and the role of cultural diversity (in terms of ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality, etc.) in either bridging or reinforcing the urban divide.
Potential Topics for Examination: Social and spatial segregation; Diversity in social, economic and cultural life; Active cultural expressions in the city by diverse citizen groups; Cultural pluralism and tolerance (or lack thereof) in cities; Diversity in gender, age, sexuality, minorities and vulnerable groups. Preservation of cultural heritage (in terms of both built and social environments); Urban entertainment; Marketing of cities through culture (such as festivals and events); Culturally- and socially-inclusive policies and approaches.

Governance and Participation
This theme seeks to examine participation in local democratic decision making, and how its presence (or absence) impacts equity, transparency and efficiency in urban management and planning.
Potential Topics for Examination: Participative democracy; Civil society participation in decision making; Participatory urban management; Local democratic decision making; Empowerment and participatory budgeting; Public participation and citizenship responsibility; Urban politics; Social justice; Social control and levels of participation; Implications of participatory urban management in reducing inequality, social exclusion and inefficiencies in public service provision.

Inclusive, Sustainable Urbanisation
This theme is intended to examine the interaction and overlap between environmental sustainability and social equity, as well as social and environmental sustainability.  The links between these concepts are clearly evidenced by the fact that residents of slums and informal settlements are often more susceptible to floods, landslides and other natural disturbances.  Ways in which these synergies can be reversed and urbanization can be made simultaneously more sustainable and more inclusive will also be examined.
Potential Topics for Examination: Sustainable urban development; Growth and equity with environmental sustainability. Social, economic and environmental vulnerability; Social, spatial and residential inequality; Poverty reduction; Access to secure and decent housing; Livelihoods and social value; Climate change and vulnerability; Accessibility and urban mobility, and access to services.

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