Visiting Scholars

Welcome to the Urban Action Lab. Visitors may be requested (not mandatory) to co-teach course(s) or deliver talks to staff and students in the Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climatic Sciences and related departments across the university. Visitors should participate actively in the intellectual life of the department while pursuing their own research projects. They will find mentors and conversation partners within the Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climatic Sciences in one or more of the department’s key areas of focus— human geography, environmental geography, climate change and meteorology, urban sciences, mobility studies, demography, regional development planning, disaster risk science, among others. They will likewise be embedded in interdisciplinary, cross-departmental networks constellated around, for example, Urban Sciences, climate risk management, planning etc.

Clémence-de-WoutersClémence-de-Wouters.

Hi, my name is Clémence de Wouters, I am 24 years old and I come from Belgium. I am a second year student in the ICP Master of Science in Sustainable Development at KULeuven. I first completed a bachelor’s degree in management and business engineering but then I realized I needed to move toward something more concrete, something that was more connected to nature and people. After taking a gap year and traveling abroad, I thus changed direction. This master program now offers me the chance to follow complementary courses in the fields of environment, geopolitics, economics and social sciences. It has enabled me to acquire an overall view of the global trends governing our societies and to better understand the challenges that await us in the face of climate change.

My stay in Kampala takes place as part of my internship and my final dissertation. The latter aims to understand to what extent urban agriculture in Kampala can contribute to food security and dietary diversity. I will also analyze alternative agriculture practices embraced by Kampala’s urban farmers. To achieve my goals, I will conduct interviews with local households and food vendors in order to understand the food consumption pattern in Kampala. This research is placed in the context of the larger program called Food4Cities that explores food system transformations in rapidly changing African cities. My internship will consist in gathering additional data intended for this program.

Agriculture is in my opinion a crucial sector in the fight against poverty and climate change. It lies at the center of our daily lives and impacts us all, either in negative or positive ways. Food is at the intersection between biodiversity, global warming, poverty, health, urban planning, etc. This is the reason why I think this topic is so interesting and why I want to dive deeper into it. I hope to be able to better understand the stakes behind food production in Kampala and consequently propose sustainable solutions that can ensure food security in the city region. In the meantime, I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to discover Uganda and its capital.

I am now living in Utrecht, The Netherlands and completing my Geography Master’s in International Development at Utrecht University. My field study research in Uganda is in collaboration with the Urban Action Lab and will look at the differentiated impact of development corridors on local communities. Inherent to most large-scale infrastructure is the displacement of local populations. This fact, coupled with an increased interest in development corridors from the international development community and investors mean that the implications for the livelihoods of local communities is of paramount importance. Development corridors are thought to be a means of sustainable development and economic growth, with benefits expected to trickle-down. However, these benefits are not shared equally. While local communities are often considered as homogenous groups, individuals within a community are positioned very differently to benefit from development corridors and in their capacity to cope with displacement and pursue sustainable livelihoods.

As such, the objective of my research is to explore how the experiences of local communities affected by the construction of the Kampala Jinja Expressway are differentiated by power-dynamics during the pre-displacement phase. I aim to give voice to the diversity of interests and aspirations within a local community, understand how people have been included in project planning and contribute to an understanding of livelihood restoration that considers the complexity of local needs. This research will be qualitative and allow for the social impacts of displacement to be analyzed from the bottom-up perspective of intra-community local stakeholders.

Clémence-de-WoutersSofie Versmissen.

Hello, my name is Sofie Versmissen. I am 23 years old and I am a master’s student in Sustainable Development at the geography department of the University of Leuven, Belgium. My undergraduate degree is in sociology, so I have a particular interest in dynamics and relations between individuals, social groups and institutions.

For my master thesis research, I am studying the importance of informal food vendors in rapidly growing cities. As money is a necessary means to survive in a city, the lack of formal jobs in rapidly growing cities often pushes urban dwellers into the informal economy. Informal subsistence trade of food products is dominant in the informal trade sector and it contributes significantly to the diet of urban dwellers. This urban food security nexus involving gaining a daily wage and access to low-cost food is what I will be assessing, with Kampala as my case study. My research is quantitative and as for the data collection, I will be conducting structured interviews with households and food vendors in several parishes of Kampala. My master thesis is part of the Food4Cities project, in which both KU Leuven and Makarere University are involved. This project explores food system transformations and scenarios in rapidly changing African cities with the goal of reducing risks of urban malnutrition and food insecurity. The interviews that I will carry out in Kampala will primarily contribute to data collection for this entire research project.

When this research project was introduced to me, I was very much motivated to put my shoulder into it. During my master’s degree, I really enjoy courses related to urban studies because it involves an analysis of complex situations with various stakeholders and their connections. Different perspectives are considered and contextually appropriate solutions must be found within this puzzle. In addition, urban studies often deal with concrete situations in which current and relevant problems are addressed and studied. I am very pleased that with my master’s thesis I can also investigate a current situation that increasingly requires additional consideration, under the good supervision of a multi-university research group.

Emily Strong.

I am a student researcher from Canada. After completing my bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies in Canada in 2014, I have had a wide variety of work experience, including a three-year role with an innovative software company that facilitates corporate charitable giving in Calgary, Canada, and an 8-month internship with a youth development hub in Surabaya, Indonesia.

I am now living in Utrecht, The Netherlands and completing my Geography Master’s in International Development at Utrecht University. My field study research in Uganda is in collaboration with the Urban Action Lab and will look at the differentiated impact of development corridors on local communities. Inherent to most large-scale infrastructure is the displacement of local populations. This fact, coupled with an increased interest in development corridors from the international development community and investors mean that the implications for the livelihoods of local communities is of paramount importance. Development corridors are thought to be a means of sustainable development and economic growth, with benefits expected to trickle-down. However, these benefits are not shared equally. While local communities are often considered as homogenous groups, individuals within a community are positioned very differently to benefit from development corridors and in their capacity to cope with displacement and pursue sustainable livelihoods.

As such, the objective of my research is to explore how the experiences of local communities affected by the construction of the Kampala Jinja Expressway are differentiated by power-dynamics during the pre-displacement phase. I aim to give voice to the diversity of interests and aspirations within a local community, understand how people have been included in project planning and contribute to an understanding of livelihood restoration that considers the complexity of local needs. This research will be qualitative and allow for the social impacts of displacement to be analyzed from the bottom-up perspective of intra-community local stakeholders.

 Ian Plekker.

My name is Ian Plekker, from the Netherlands. I am 24 years old and a masters student in International Development Studies at Utrecht University. For my masters thesis research I am conducting fieldwork research here in Kampala with Urban Action Lab to study the impacts of the Kampala-Jinja Expressway. My undergraduate degree was in human geography and spatial planning, so I have particular experience with and interest in studying spatial phenomena.

When I heard about this research project and the Urban Action Lab, I was immediately intrigued. The Kampala-Jinja Expressway is part of a larger development corridor, and is framed as important for Uganda’s further development and increased interconnectedness with the rest of the world. When looking at Kampala’s jammed-up main roads, the importance of a new highway to connect the suburbs and other cities with Kampala seems self-evident. However, local effects such as development-induced displacement can disproportionately negatively impact vulnerable people living in urban informal settlements, such as Kinawataka and many others. These impacts are as of yet not fully addressed or researched. Therefore, me and my colleague Emily Strong are collaborating with Teddy Kisembo at Urban Action Lab to find out who will be impacted by the construction of this highway and how.

My research will focus on two particularities within this project: people’s mobility and the intra- and inter-slum dynamics. Mobility is increasingly thought of as key to people’s livelihoods. Indeed, in our currently globalized world it would be almost impossible to conceive of a completely immobile life. However, mobility is also rooted in power and inequalities and therefore, some people are more vulnerable than others. In my research I will look at what people’s current mobility patterns are, using techniques such as cognitive mapping and walking interviews in these informal settlement communities.

Another issue that I want to look at is the diversity within and between informal settlements. These intra- and inter-slum disparities and dynamics are not taken into account in policy, which instead usually refers to “the slum” as a homogenous local community. For my bachelor thesis, I did a literature review on interventions targeting basic service improvement in informal settlements, and I found that these informal settlements are characterized by diversity rather than uniformity. Taking into account these diverse livelihoods and looking at people’s complex mobilities in the pre-displacement phase of the Kampala-Jinja Expressway, my research seeks to inform later research conducted after the displacement as a kind of pre-assessment, as well as inform policy on displacement and resettlement caused by the construction of such development corridors.