Tag Archives: Right to the City

PI Ayona Datta at the World Urban Forum 2020

Established in 2001, The World Urban Forum (WUF) seeks to address the pressing issues of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. WUF, convened by UN Habitat, is a high level and inclusive platform used to address challenges that are brought about by sustainable urbanisation. This year’s theme of #WUF10 is Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation, in line with #SDG11 and #Innovate4Change.

As mentioned on their website, WUF aims to do the following:

  1. Raise awareness of sustainable urbanisation among stakeholders and constituencies, including the general public.
  2. Improving collective knowledge on sustainable urban development through open and inclusive debate, sharing of lessons
  3. Promote collaboration and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies engaged in the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanisation
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Principal investigator, Prof. Ayona Datta was invited by UN-Habitat to speak at the fourth dialogue plenary session on “Frontier technologies and Innovation for Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient Smart Cities”.

Some questions addressed during the plenary are as followed.

  1. What are frontier technologies and how do they relate to cities?
  2. How can technologies and innovation benefit small and medium-sized cities and cities in the Global South?
  3. What initiatives are required to close the digital divide?
  4. What are the risks related to frontier technologies vis-à-vis protection of human rights?
  5. Which technologies hold the most promise for achieving SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda?

At the aforementioned dialogue session, “Frontier technologies and Innovation for Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient Smart Cities”, UN-Habitat’s new flagship programme Frontier technologies and innovation for inclusive, sustainable and resilient smart cities was launched at this session. As well as that, a global discussion that delved into the intersection between urban technologies, smart cities, inclusion and human rights was carried out. As part of the New Urban Agenda, which represents a shared vision for a better and more sustainable future, calls for an adoption of a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitalisation, clean energy and technologies.

Digital developments in technologies are playing an imperative role in shaping cities and lifestyles of city-dwellers. This includes, the internet of things, platform economies and tools for urban management as well as autonomous mobility. Over half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet. There also have been more mobile phone subscriptions than there are people. In order to mitigate threats such as rising inequalities, emissions and the endangerment of human rights, appropriate policies and regulations are required in regards to digital transformation and new technologies. These threats have been highlighted as frontier issues by The UN System-wide strategy on Sustainable Urban Development. Ayona addresses the assumption behind automatic empowerment through plain access to technology and the power dynamics at play.

“Technology is not neutral. The digital divide is a gender divide. Access is more than just numbers. It is about reducing barriers”, said Ayona, as she shared about the interconnectedness between physical, digital and social infrastructures. Bringing attention to how we think of smart cities as inclusive, when in reality, many women are excluded. She also elaborates on the need to go beyond networks and physical infrastructure in order to make technology accessible to all in reference to our project, Gendering the Smart City.

Gender inclusive smart cities understand the differences in the way the male and female population access digital space. “Access to technology is much more than just numbers.”, said Ayona. She elaborated that access to technology is not merely putting the technology in the hands of the poor but more importantly, how easy it is for them to access critical knowledge and information. Additionally, she adds that Smart cities need to work with marginalised communities such as women in poverty, in order to co-produce and co-create participatory and bottom-up solutions. Such examples of inclusive technologies include voice-based services (to support people with low levels of literacy) as well as gender inclusive surfaces that pay attention to visual design, language and navigation.

Our project team has been working on co-producing community platforms for low digital capacity basic mobile phones, as opposed to smartphones, which are staple to accessing smart city technologies and applications. Through using a feminist approach – one that considers how technology can be an exclusionary tool to those who have been historically, socially and politically left out, more inclusive, sustainable development can be achieved.

#AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] Exhibition Story Map

Curating gendered digital lives in Delhi’s urban peripheries

Combining approaches from urban geography, gender studies, software ethnography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), this ArcGIS mapping initiative is a unique interdisciplinary international collaboration between King’s College London and ‘Gendering the Smart City’ #GSCProject project network societal partners Safetipin and Jagori in India.

⬇ PLEASE CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE OUR STORY MAP.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 01.21.00
#AanaJaana storymap by Ayona Datta

The Story Map contains data that has been collected in collaboration with our participants, the ‘Khadar Ki Ladkiyan [Khadar Girls]’ living in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony (one of Delhi’s many slum resettlement colonies on the urban peripheries), and follows on from our #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing]: Curating Women’s Digital Stories of the City‘ exhibition funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UK and hosted in partnership with our societal partners Safetipin and Jagori, institutional partners King’s College London and the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. The exhibition was part of the ‘Art in Public Places’ initiative led by India Habitat Centre and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and was shown from 1-31st January 2019 at Mandi House Metro station, New Delhi.

The Story Map presents different perspectives of a digital age by young women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries – resettlement colonies, urban villages and border towns. Using visualisations of selected data – participatory maps, photographs (click here for Rohit’s photo essay on his photos included in the exhibition), videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained by these women over a period of 6 months, #AanaJaana curates women’s everyday stories of comings and goings in the city. It explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from their mobile phones. It provokes us to think what mobility means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It also shows us how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving (aana) in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out (jaana) into the city, or the constraints of entering (aana) online space with the constant control over their bodies even when they leave (jaana) home for the city.

Indian women from the outskirts of Delhi are taking selfies to claim their right to the city

Indian women from the outskirts of Delhi are taking selfies to claim their right to the city

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Ayona Datta., Author provided

Ayona Datta, King’s College London

Taking selfies and posting them on social media is often derided as a narcissistic, self-absorbed and attention-seeking practice. Filters come in for particular disdain due to the role they play in reinforcing unattainable beauty standards, by making faces lighter, slimmer and wider-eyed than is natural.

Yet feminist, minority and queer activists have argued that selfies can be a way for people to represent and take pride in their identity, sexuality and gender orientation. And recently, my own experiences researching gender, smart cities and urban citizenship in India have led me to see the value of selfies in a new and surprising way.

As part of a recent research project, my team and I were interested in understanding the lives of young women living in slum resettlement colonies on the outskirts of Delhi’s sprawling metropolis. To that end, we created a WhatsApp group, and asked 11 women to send in diary entries of their daily experiences in the form of images, text, audio or video as they travelled from their homes to the city over the course of six months.

Our participants turned out to be avid selfie takers. But there’s much more to this than a simple rendition of a millennial trend. Their selfies are digital, visual stories from the margins which capture their struggles and accomplishments as they step out from women’s traditional role in the home and navigate the largely male-dominated realm of the city.

Phones for fun and freedom

Getting a personal mobile phone is a significant event in the lives of these women. Families only permit the women to have their own phone after a series of difficult negotiations, as families are anxious that the phones could lead to what families perceive as “transgressive” behaviour, such as disobeying parents, breaking curfew, talking to men, or wearing Western clothes. Our participants convinced their families that having a phone is essential for keeping safe and staying in touch, when they have to go into the city for “legitimate” reasons such as work or education.

Smart phones usually come at a price which their families cannot afford, so when women start working they often spend their first salary to get one of the cheaper Android devices and pay off the full cost in monthly instalments. Data is affordable and connectivity can be instantaneous. Having a personal phone gives women the ability to leave the home and communicate with others away from the gaze of the family, so they see it as giving the gift of freedom.

Collage of fun selfies.WhatsApp diary entries.

Women celebrate this freedom using the phone’s front-facing camera. Of course, they take selfies for fun, using filters to transform their faces with amusing and outlandish templates.

WhatsApp me aana, facebook me jaana, yeh hai smart zamaana – translated as ‘coming on WhatsApp, going to Facebook, these are the smart times’. – WhatsApp diary entry, 2018.

But they also take selfies to record their visits to different places, celebrate their friendships and mark their coming of age as smart, connected young women, enjoying urban life – even when poor network connectivity means phones frequently crash and apps fail.

The city at arm’s length

Our participants didn’t really regard taking selfies as a political act. But when you consider how, when and where they take selfies the images are a barometer of their social, economic and political exclusion from the city. They speak to the paradoxes experienced by women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries, as both technology – and the city itself – can be at once liberating and dangerous.

In some ways, the selfies show that being in the city is liberating for women, as they represent a new-found freedom outside the home and the constraints of traditional gender roles. Through these selfies, women curate the city at arm’s length, placing themselves in the centre of the frame as they stage their own arrival in many different public places.

Collage of selfies in the city.WhatsApp diaries

But by recording women’s presence at a particular time and place, these selfies also give away what, when and where the women cannot be. For example, selfies are mostly taken during the day, or when they are with a group of friends, in places where there are fewer men, or in familiar neighbourhoods where they feel comfortable and confident. Very rarely do these women take selfies when they travel alone, – because sexually predatory male attention remains a constant feature of their journeys.

Uploading selfies to Facebook also exposes these women to the dangers of online and offline stalking, harassment and bullying. A disturbing picture entry in the WhatsApp diary, captioned “my selfie in a bus full of men”, evoked the Nirbhaya case of 2012 – when a young woman was fatally gang raped on a bus – and suggested that the selfie is also a way for these women to witness and record danger in their everyday life.

Phones between the home and the city

Selfies inside the home are largely absent in the WhatsApp diary entries. Although home is valued by their families as private – and therefore safe for women, our participants often viewed it as a place of confinement.

Home is where the women’s daily struggles with poor infrastructure for drinking water, sanitation, waste collection and transport take place. More significantly, family control over women’s bodies – through strict curfew hours and restrictions on where they can go – highlight older and younger generations’ very different understandings of freedom and danger.

While older generations who grew up without mobile phones are mainly concerned about women’s physical safety, the young women in our research have to deal with daily invasions of privacy, sexual harassment and abuse both at home and in the city, online and in real life. Their selfies tell a story about what it’s like to navigate the journeys between home and the city, as the boundaries between public and private, freedom and danger become increasingly blurred in these “smart times”.The Conversation

Ayona Datta, Reader in Urban Futures, King’s College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This article has also been republished in Scroll.in, QuartzYahoo news, The PrintQrius, SabrangIndia,