Urban Research Institute

Talking urban in Lilongwe.

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Today was an exciting day for Lilongwe’s urbanites with the first ever urban_net meeting taking place. The brainchild of myself (as Urban Governance Advisor for ActionAid Malawi), the Urban Research Institute (URI), and the Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE), urban_net is a monthly informal forum for urban enthusiasts to come together, share experiences, and network.

We had a dozen or so participants at the first meeting, including representatives from UN-HABITAT, Land and Shelter Advocacy, Kusamala, and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network (LUPPEN), in addition to the organisers. The meeting featured three presentations; Dan Schlupp from Kusamala Institute of Agriculture & Ecology started off with a talk about GIS and participatory mapping, which generated lively discussion about the uses of both tools in urban settings. I followed on with a querying presentation regarding the exact local of so-called informal settlements in Lilongwe and how the areas they occupy are zoned in the 2030 Land Use Plan.

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Last but not least Wonderful Hunga from URI talked about shit. Literally. His presentation discussed the growing sanitation crisis in Malawi’s cities, where residents are running out of space on which to build traditional pit latrines (which 90% of people rely on). The solution? Composting toilets.

Overall, it was great first meeting featuring very lively discussion that’s hopefully just a sign of things to come; urban_net aims to be a monthly event taking place on the first Thursday of every month. The next meeting is therefore on Aug. 7 – anyone and everyone is welcome to attend, and we welcome suggestions for presentations. Get in touch!

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Mind the (gender and age) gap.

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The latest Urban Talks even took place last night at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe. Sponsored by UN-Habitat and organised by the Urban Research Institute, the public debate took on the topics of inequality, women, and youth in the city. On the panel were Pamela Mkwanda, UN Women; Harvey Chimaliro, Concerned Youth Organisation; Maggie Banda, Women Legal Resource Center; Justin Saidi, Principal Secretary Ministry of Youth Development and Sports; and Annie Chinoko-Soko, a community leader from Mtandire settlement.

The debate focused on lack of employment opportunities for youth, and challenges in accessing quality education facing both boys and girls, but girls to a larger degree. Panelists also spoke about the many challenges facing women in the city, including access to water, adequate housing, and safe and affordable transportation. Given the upcoming tripartite elections in May, women’s participation in political processes and indeed standing for elections also came up, with panelists noting that cultural conservatism discourages women from entering the political arena. The debate was broadcast live on Zodiak radio.