The value of an interdisciplinary approach and mixed samples
As a preliminary idea, what do you think livability is? You may say each and every thing that makes your living easier. Mongla and Noapara were the two study areas for one of ICCCAD’s recent projects intending to find out what livability means to the inhabitants of these two towns.
The study was conducted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Bangladesh; the Institute for Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR), Durham University, UK; the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning (SA&CP), University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and it was funded by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC)’s Capacity Development Acceleration Fund and Glasgow University. SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation, and administered through the Economic and Social research Council, as part of the UK government’s Global Research Fund. The study was conducted in October and November of 2019.
The research sought to contribute to understandings around the concept of liveability in the context of secondary cities which are expected to experience considerable urbanisation in the coming years. Similar to the global trend, urbanisation in Bangladesh is also rising and by the year 2030 nearly 46% of the total population is expected to live in the cities. One of the central motivations of the study was to understand why the two selected regional cities were attractive to existing residents and how they could become more ‘liveable’. We emphasized people’s context and their perspectives: could they continue to live in this city or not in the face of future challenges such as climate change? Did they think their children could live in the city in the future with a balanced, sustainable, ‘liveable’ life?
The project team intended to capture residents’ views and personal experiences as regards to eight different aspects of liveability: livelihoods and food security, utilities and transport, health and natural environment, education, housing, central and local government, safety and security and, lastly, social and leisure. To this end, we used multiple research methods: we conducted questionnaire surveys, semi-structured key informant interviews, focus group discussions, storytelling workshops and street theatre.
To capture a wide range of perspectives on the basis of socioeconomic clusters, we interviewed lower and middle class people in both cities. Locals varied in how they prioritised these different factors as making their city liveable. Having multiple research tools and sources of information served to triangulate our findings and provided a more detailed view of each city from multiple perspectives.
Throughout our fieldwork and subsequent analysis of the collected data we acquired interesting information. For example: Prior to starting the study, we assumed that locals would prioritise livelihood and food security, but most people were more concerned about other components like utilities or places for social gathering. Some said they were not satisfied with their current jobs and wanted to shift to different kinds of work.
Food security was an issue. In both cities, over 29% of low-income residents spent over 50% of their monthly income on food. Through the use of other research tools, this information became more nuanced. Most of the people are not involved in agriculture and foodstuffs were brought from outside of the area. We also observed that the pay in industry positions was considered low by residents and discouraged some locals from seeking employment in this sector.
Working with officials and locals, middle class and lower income residents, discussing a range of concerns that might fall under the concept of liveability and using a variety of research tools all helped to surface and explore differences in opinion on the perceived liveability of each city. For example, in the storytelling workshop in Noapara, participants expressed that they face problems regarding ‘eve-teasing’ and women feeling safe in public spaces. However, according to the questionnaire survey, Noapara locals said they felt safe at night. Our research tools were able to accommodate the ideas of different people, enabled us to gather greater detail of information and to crosscheck local opinions on important issues.
Conversely to uncovering differences in perspectives, many people expressed similar experiences and opinions on key issues. On the subject of fresh water, a person from Mongla said, “If we had fresh water, we wouldn’t have any issues to complain about”, which was echoed by almost all the interviewees. In Noapara one resident’s optimistic opinion was similarly echoed by all the locals involved in our research: “Noapara will be way better in ten years”.
Our other key finding was insights into how these cities attract people from all-over the country. We spoke to a number of people in each city who had moved there from other places. Mongla has work opportunities as a port and EPZ area. Noapara is attractive for business which in turn attracts others to come and work in those businesses.
Our mixed sample group and a variety of interdisciplinary research tools enabled us to develop a detailed, nuanced sense of how locals find Mongla and Noapara to be liveable or not. These findings are useful in thinking through how these cities might support their existing residents and expanding urban populations in the future.
Sumaiya Binte Selim is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as Research Officer.
Istiakh Ahmed is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as Coordinator for the livelihood resilience program.
Alexandra Halligey is working in the National Research Foundation at South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa as postdoctoral fellow.
Hanna Ruszczyk is working in the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience and the Department of Geography , Durham University as Assistant Professor (Research).