Unilag Housing Centre




The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement have highlighted the fundamental roles played by cities and local urban stakeholders in achieving sustainable development. The Habitat III process and the New Urban Agenda (NUA) provided an important enabling framework for these stakeholders to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDG). Yet, at the beginning of the current decade progress regarding their implementation is lagging behind, and thus requires a serious intensification of action to achieve the goals by 2030. Also, the COVID-19 crisis drastically exposes vulnerabilities and inequalities in urban areas, and it reveals the failures and the unjust outcomes of urban governance systems as well as obstacles to urban development. Under these circumstances, there is a pressing need for urban management to address the resilience of households, of societies, of economies and of systems of governance as well as to explore responses that enable truly transformative actions.

The Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab programme supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) seeks to improve graduate education in urban fields across sub-Saharan Africa. The lead partners, the Habitat Unit at Technische Universität Berlin and the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits University in Johannesburg and the University of Lagos, collaborate in the offering of an urban-oriented graduate training and capacity building programme that seeks to effectively address the challenges and needs outlined above.

Aims and objectives of the PhD programme

This project seeks to contribute to capacity building and empowerment, which it considers key in enabling policy change and action across three areas. It summarizes these as (1) a critically reflected understanding of urban resilience, (2) engagement with inequality and informality in ways that facilitate greater justice in access to housing and urban infrastructure and (3) building on decolonial understanding in line with local realities, and thereby advancing a critical edge towards normative ways to engaging cities.

One of the fundamentals that underpins this programme is the importance of integrating the efforts of policy makers, local urban stakeholders and researchers when aiming at fostering modes of development that are just and adapted to context.

The urban lab has three main areas for research exploration that will inform postgraduate teaching content over the five years from 2021 to 2025

  • Resilience: there is a clear need to critically reflect, improve, but also rethink resilience, not only of technical urban systems of risk containment but also in terms of rights frameworks, governance, cultural and religious systems, and societies as a whole. This presents an opportunity to explore different notions of resilience under varied geographies of urban citizenship.
  • Urban justice: The SDG commitment to leave no one behind has placed the spotlight on the scale of urban inequality and informality, raising renewed questions about humanity’s response to this global condition. This opens the space to examine the relationship between forms of human co-existence and the right to the city, with different forms of socio-spatial segmentation. It also allows us to interrogate urban and peri-urban spaces and how various scales of urbanisation enable and/or impedes access to urban goods.
  • Solidarity: There have been renewed calls for fairer global rules governing trade as well as development assistance. This includes recognizing and valuing plural forms of knowledge production and knowledge systems, promoted through decolonial initiatives as well as through initiatives advancing transformative, transdisciplinary and co-productive approaches. It is crucial that the development of a context specific understanding of urban inequalities, power structures and urban planning responses is enabled.

The Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development has a structured PhD offering in Sustainable Urbanisation. This will include regular support and networking activities for enrolled PhD students across the University of Lagos and the Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab.

One PhD student will be selected through this call. The student will be in digital as well as face-to-face interaction (as and when possible) with the PhD cohort within the project at TU Berlin and University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. They will take part in various project workshops across the three partner institutions, and in 2024 they will have the opportunity to present their work at the project conference at Wits. In 2023, a PhD workshop will take place in  Berlin where the students will present and discuss their work.  Students will be encouraged to develop further activities for digital networking and dissemination (e.g. a blog, podcasts etc.). In the context of the abovementioned activities, they will be encouraged  to contribute to/work on publications during their PhD studies.