Transforming water governance in Delhi

The election of the “Common Man” government in Delhi has rocked Indian power politics. Their unconventional approach is refreshing but inexperienced.

Today, Duncan Green’s blog hosts Biraj Swain of the Right to Water Coalition, explaining the transformations happening because of the party’s fulfilling their promise to provide free ‘lifeline’ water to all households. It is a process of the remunicipalisation of water – taking back power in public-private partnerships, to better serve the urban poor.

In an era where PPP is touted as the silver bullet for all essential services challenges, the state is often forced to retreat. The chief minister is resisting by re-drawing the boundaries of the state itself, re-introducing citizen-state oversight over utilities and their functioning.

Whether this experiment will succeed in bringing down power bills sustainably while keeping the access equitable, is yet to be seen. But it has already prompted unprecedented public debates and education on the workings of the power and water sectors, hitherto inaccessible to the general public. We can be agnostic about whether public or private provision works best, but there can be no debate on greater accountability and transparency of utilities and their operations.

More here.

Water Republic 2025

If you’re in the Amsterdam area and can get by with Dutch, I recommend the Water Republic 2025 discussion this Friday. It’s the kick-off to a series of debates on the potential of transforming water for urbanism. The idea is to make Amsterdam fruitful testing ground for innovative water projects, which they are openly inviting.

It’s Friday 14th Feb at 8pm at Pakhuis de Zwijger, who’ve had some really cool events before. Free entrance.

More here.

Campaign for Boring Development


A new cut-the-crap blog on raising incomes in smart ways to combat development bloat.




I. Development Does Not Photograph Well

The real work of development is not glamorous. It’s not exciting. It doesn’t photograph well. It doesn’t make for great cocktail party chatter.

The real work of development happens under a bucket of sweat in a small African farms, as a farmer sows a high yield hybrid seed variety, adds a micro-dose of fertilizer and contemplates the prospect of feeding her family comfortably every day for a whole year for the first time in her life.

It happens in the dusty hubbub of deafening bulldozers as they build a road that will bring a previously inaccessible community within easy reach of a market where they can sell their harvests and buy the necessities of life for the first time.

Development is not the sum of our fantasies about development, because….

h/t: Marc F. Bellemare

Why is the physical representation of information important?

A recent blog post at Transparent Chennai highlights important issues  in knowledge management, which I also found to be critical in the way that flood management happens embedded in context:

It is no wonder then that officials do not rely on this unreliable data for planning new projects for the city. Instead they depend on their exhaustive informally-held knowledge of the city […]

Another official in the Storm Water Drains department said of contractors that had been blacklisted for irresponsible work: “We have an idea about blacklisted contractors, but it is not a physical list. We all know which contractors are blacklisted and which are not”. A senior official succinctly summarized this reliance on informal knowledge: “all the documentation is in the junior engineer’s head”.

Another issue is that of the physical forms in which information is held and presented. With the rising pressure for e-governance, particularly as a funding conditionality for the JNNURM, how digitisation changes the ways in which bureaucrats work creates interesting dynamics.

For instance, digital databases are being built, but documents are still mostly printed.  When the documents are shifted between offices, colour-coded flaps act as visual indicators of importance.

Pictures of the file with the ‘urgent’ and ‘not-urgent’ flaps: Source: Transparent Chennai

In the designing of storm water drains, risk assessment is mostly through satellite and ground level data input into digital elevation models. This is printed onto paper plans for discussion and drainage design, and then carried into the field and assessed for feasibility. The results of facing street realities are then fed back into the central office database.

Combined with informality, the implications mean that knowledge is translated from physical forms: from digital, to paper, to minds, and back again, in a myriad of connections. At each juncture, transformations occur. There are also significant consequences for collaboration; collaboration becomes partially dependent on how easily one can follow the interconnected system of knowledge transformations.

Thus, these junctures are the critical intersections, places for possibility of inclusion and innovation, and the role they play in the process of knowledge management needs to be underlined in each particular context.

Things I wish I knew during my Master’s in International Development

It’s finally over – I have finished my MSc. in IDS!

(… and thus will be posting much more frequently.)

In the spirit of reflection, below is a presentation I gave today to the new students in IDS at my university. It’s questions and suggestions I wish somebody had told me when I was choosing a research topic, supervisor, fieldwork etc., and generally just getting stuck in.  It doesn’t relate so much to the thesis writing process, but I’ll definitely get round to that.

Note – this is aimed particularly at students that are already in a research-based Master’s in International Development Studies. For those considering their options, I recommend


Event on urban informality at TU Delft.

Spatial Planning in Latin America


symposium informality wanted -19 03 2014 - save the dateStudents of the EXPLORE LAB GRAD STUDIO of TU Delft with the support of the CHAIR SPATIAL PLANNING AND STRATEGY will promote an event about the tools of knowledge and methodologies that can be applied in the built environment where informal processes are closely interrelated to formal building.

In a time when the development of an understanding of the informal and formal became more important we question ourselves how formally minded planners such as Architects, Urbanists and Engineers are able to make use of the potentials of (in)formal developments. Moderated by Roberto Rocco, we will explore the opportunities for interacting within our profession through case studies from the fieldwork of graduate students and international guest lecturers; CAMILLO BOANO, MARCO FERRARIO and RAKHI MEHRA. An opening introduction on formality and informality will be given by Alexander Vollebregt.

The symposium will be followed…

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What happened to Amsterdam?

Swyngedouw reflects with nostalgia on a recent trip to Amsterdam, which I unfortunately had to miss:

Isn’t the most eloquent manifestation of this death of the urban the fact that the most radical recent guerrilla intervention in Amsterdam was the unauthorized placement of a copy of the Wall Street Bull by artist Arturo DiModica on Amsterdam’s Beursplein (Exchange Square), just a little while after the site was cleared off a small coterie of Occupy! activists, too small in numbers to even itch the powers that be or attract international attention […]  While the square was cleared of its protesters, the unauthorized intrusion of the Bull was quickly legitimized and approved by the city administrators.

From cities@manchester,originally on the UvA Urban Studies Blog (which for some reason doesn’t have a comment section – doesn’t that defeat the purpose?).

Indeed, the bull was regularized, appropriated and just moved to “a nice lil’ spot” (Dutch article).

Bull at the Exchange Square, from

Bull at the Exchange Square. Source:

Amsterdam is not “my” city, but I do spend a lot of time there and have a pretty good feel for the place. Certainly the radical fringes of society are just that, unfortunately, especially with the illegalisation of squats a few years back.

The newest manifestation of the general trend is the criminalisation of youth’s guilty pleasures: the age limit for buying all forms of alcohol and cigarettes has been raised to 18, and ID is asked for anybody under 25. Originally I thought it was just a campaign, but yesterday I was ID’d in the supermarket.

As half Belgian I find it ridiculous, going entirely against the general lowlands culture of acceptance in order to better keep an eye on the young’uns. Albeit a national rather than urban trend, I can’t help but feel it’s the most recent facet of the changing of everyday life.


“Niks” = “Nothing” in Dutch. “No smoking, No Drinking”. Source: