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Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity). The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre (http://cd.qq.com/a/20101018/000099.htm) in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (zaha-hadid.com).

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (observerindia.com) told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company (mckinsey.com) believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”

Resources

1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website: http://lsecities.net/publications/books/the-endless-city/

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planet_Of_Slums.html?id=FToaDLPB2jAC

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sysimages/Observer/Pix/pictures/2012/01/21/urban2.jpg

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website: http://arrivalcity.net/

5) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website: amazon.com

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-pacific-13800944

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/capitalsconnected-world/

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Energy-Efficient Wooden Houses are also Earthquake Safe

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In Argentina, an innovative housing project has married good design with energy efficiency, earthquake resilience and the use of local materials and labour. As energy resources continue to be stretched around the global South, innovative building designs will be critical to the creation of sustainable housing for the future.

The happy mix of efficient modern design with affordable local materials and labour can be seen in three row houses designed and built by Buenos Aires-based Estudio BaBO (estudiobabo.com.ar) in the El Once neighbourhood in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia, southern Argentina.

The wooden houses are built in a Norwegian style. Estudio BaBO, founded in 2007, discovered that the Scandinavian nation’s housing traditions were well suited to the particular needs of the region and the local government.

The local government imposed a number of planning guidelines and restrictions that needed to be met to receive planning permission. This included creating row houses which must be made of wood – a plentiful local resource. They also had to be earthquake-safe since the region is seismically active and be able to withstand the heavy rains common to the region.

Looking around for the right guidance to tackle this brief, Estudio BaBO discovered SINTEF – Norway’s leading disseminator of research-based knowledge to the construction industry (http://www.sintef.no/home/Building-and-Infrastructure/). The Nordic nation has many wooden homes and also has similar environmental conditions and challenges to Patagonia – though its precipitation tends to fall as rain, rather than snow.

The black-painted homes look typically Norwegian, with a tasteful and clean design that does not clash with the forested surroundings. An air chamber has been created inside the homes’ walls allowing for constant ventilation of the wood, which prevents the wood from rotting and extends the life of the house. With the high rainfall of the region, wood is at risk of rotting if allowed to become damp. The air cavity also insulates the house, providing significant energy savings while keeping the interior warm and comfortable.

Adding to the energy efficiency of the design, the windows are double glazed and heat is also circulated through the floor – an efficient way to heat a home because heat rises.

To keep costs down and the project simple, the palette used for the homes is simple but attractive: black, white, wood and metal. The local wood is cypress and is painted black. The interior walls are all white and the floors are made from black granite on the ground floor and cypress wood parquet on the upper floor. The rest of the woodwork in the house is also made of cypress.

Using locally sourced materials also helps to keep costs down.

The project was initially conceived in 2009 and the houses were built in 2010-2011. While wood is plentiful in Patagonia, traditionally the use of wood in construction was rudimentary and local labour skill levels were low. This meant the design had to be simple and easy to build.

“Despite the profusion of wood as a material in the south of Argentina, the lack of specialized knowledge and of a specialized industry narrow its uses to isolated structural elements and interior and exterior finishes,” said one of the architects, Marit Haugen Stabell.

The three units of two-storey row houses each come with a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet, two bedrooms and a laundry room. Each home also has an outdoor patio. The homes are designed to receive maximum natural light. Deploying this energy efficient design is considered unusual for Argentina and Estudio BaBO has set a new standard for sustainable housing in the country.

It looks like the CLF Houses could inspire others to look again at wood as a building material.

Resources

1) A story on how researchers are perfecting wooden home designs to withstand heavy earthquakes. Website:http://inhabitat.com/wooden-house-can-withstand-severe-earthquakes/

2) A website packed with photographs of wooden and other houses for inspiration and lesson learning. Website:http://www.trendir.com/house-design/wood_homes/

3) A step by step slideshow on how a Norwegian wooden house was re-built. Website:http://www.dwell.com/articles/norwegian-wood.html

4) Inspirational wooden home decorating ideas from across Scandinavia. Website:http://myscandinavianhome.blogspot.cz/

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.

One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.

BioDeposit (http://biodeposit.lv/index.php?page=elixir-3) sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapropel). This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.

It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.

In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.

Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo (southsouthexpo.org) at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (http://ke.linkedin.com/pub/nelly-makokha/29/a08/634), explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.

At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha) in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.

“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.

“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’  – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.

“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”

The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.

Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.

Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.

BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.

Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.

“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”

And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.

“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”

The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.

BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”

BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.

The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.

Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/?id=257).

“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”

Resources

1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8929-soilhealth-crisis-threatens-africas-food-supply.html

2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website: http://www.fao.org/wsfs/forum2050/wsfs-background-documents/issues-briefs/en

3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website: http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11

5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48

6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/marketreport

7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture.  Website: http://www.fibl.org/en/fibl.html

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website: http://www.ifoam.org/

9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website: https://www.facebook.com/BioDepositAfrica

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021


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Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

As the world turned into a majority urban place in the 2000s, cities grew at a phenomenal rate. The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week, according to some estimates. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this new urban world, it seems. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

The danger of building unsafe or makeshift homes can be seen in 2010’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing thousands.

One of the Philippines’ leading architects and urban planners,
Felino A. Palafox Jr. of Palafox Associates (www.palafoxassociates.com), is passionate about re-making the slums in his country’s capital, Manila. The city is prone to devastating and sometimes deadly flooding. Palafox believes the vulnerability of slum dwellings and poor urban planning are placing lives at risk.

“We can’t wait for another tragedy,” Palafox told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2010. “We have seen how an unprecedented volume of rainfall like what (storm) Ondoy had brought could prove too much for Metro Manila’s river and drainage system. We have also seen what a massive earthquake could do to an unprepared city like Haiti.

“While there is nothing that we could do to control the destructive power of these natural phenomena, there are steps that we could take to limit the amount of damage.”

If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

The UN Challenge of Slums report from 2003 (www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=1156) broke with past orthodoxy that slums must be cleared, arguing that slums should be seen as positive economic forces, incubators for budding entrepreneurs that offer a gateway to better things for new migrants.

Muhammad Khadim of UN-Habitat summed up the new thinking:

“Ten years ago, we used to dream that cities would become slum-free,” he said. But “the approach has changed. People see the positives. The approach now is not to clear them but to improve them gradually (and) regularise land tenure.”

The arguments behind embracing slums come from the economic changes across developing countries since the 1970s. Growing informal economies combined with fewer social provisions and the shift to urban from rural communities have all contributed to the explosion in slums and informal housing.

Manila is a city of stark and startling contrasts: there are glitzy shopping malls and high-rise office buildings, but also large slums and hungry people begging and selling trinkets on the city’s roads.

It’s a place where the slum clearance-vs-renovation debate is hot and current. The Philippines is currently in the midst of a campaign to clear slums in Manila and move people back to the countryside.

“Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back,” Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council, told the New Statesman magazine. “If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget.”

Palafox has a different vision – rebuilding a slum community from top to bottom.

An architect, environmental planner, urban planner and development consultant, Palafox runs one of the top architecture firms in the Philippines, employing more than 100 staff and consultants.

Usually occupied with office buildings in the go-go new business centres of the Middle East and Asia, Palafox has turned his attention to Estero de San Miguel, a Manila slum that is home to some 1,200 families, or 6,000 people.

Families are packed into tiny rooms in a labyrinthine slum complex beside a canal. The rooms are made of wood and floored with linoleum and have to be accessed through a narrow tunnel and tight connecting corridors.

Palafox’s plan is to work with the residents and rebuild it in its current location. In place of makeshift shacks will come modular homes, 10 square metres in size with space for shops and bicycle parking.

The design has the homes extend above a walkway, imitating the way the original slum structures were built.

Palafox is applying innovative thinking to the problem: taking his design direction from the dwellings slum residents build:  “The slum-dwellers,” he explained to the New Statesman, “are experts at live-work space design. They spontaneously do mixed-use! We just have to learn from them.”

Re-housing the residents on site means they can continue to play their role in the city’s economy, and do not have to make a long commute to jobs and opportunities.

Palafox also rebuts complaints about the cost of his plan, arguing the scale of corruption in the Philippines costs just as much.

“OK, the total cost of rehousing slum-dwellers in situ is 30 per cent of GDP (but) I calculate we lose about 30 per cent of the country’s wealth through corruption. If we didn’t have corruption, we wouldn’t need to tolerate slums.”

Another passionate advocate of working with slum dwellers is Father Norberto Carcellar from the Homeless People’s Federation (http://sdinet.org/countries/philippines.htm).

“We have to recognize the value of slum-dwellers to the city,” he said. “These are the ones who drive your car, clean your house and run your store. If these people were cleared from the city, the city would die. Slum-dwellers add social, political and economic value to the city.”

Even in its current form, Estero de San Miguel is a vibrant place, with an Internet café and a volunteer police force.

A BBC report found it lively and economically viable because it has educational and communication technologies that improve living conditions. The residents make their living working as cheap labour for the city.

Oliver Baldera, a carpenter, lives with his wife and four children:

“We’ve been here more than 10 years,” he told the New Statesman. “There’s no choice.

“It’s easier to get a job here and I can earn 400 pesos a day. I can send the kids to school and they eat three times a day – but it’s not enough. I need more space.”

Resources

1) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website:http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=649
2) Slum Populations in the Developing World: See a breakdown of the urban/slum population in developing nations. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5078654.stm
3) Architecture for Humanity: An NGO to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Website:http://architectureforhumanity.org/
5) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:http://www.bshf.org
6) NGO called Map Kibera began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Website: http://www.mapkibera.org
7) ArrivalCity: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders. Website: http://www.arrivalcity.net
8) Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: http://www.slum-tv.org
9) A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth. Website: http://www.jamiibora.org
8) Cities for All shows how the world’s poor are building ties across the global South. Website:http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south.aspx

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021