The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


The DPU, COVID-19 and global solidarity

Implications for teaching, research and the practice of development planning


We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded an immediate response from academic institutions as well as individuals and countless other institutions in ways never seen before. Meanwhile, appalling recent events of police brutality in the US have highlighted the experience of racialised violence perpetuated in cities across the globe. The DPU’s response has brought to the fore the need to engage in the politics of collective solidarity, care and responsibility, and in doing so shifting some of the ways our department operates today and in the future, while also reinforcing others. Never before has it been more relevant and necessary to think about the inequalities entrenched in our current model of urban development, as those suffering the most are living in the most vulnerable urban conditions.

This current emergency highlights the kinds of major shared global challenges, emphasising the fundamental need to tackle social, political and climate emergencies shaping inequalities and injustices today and in our future. DPU stands in solidarity with movements internationally bringing anti-racism and environmental justice to the forefront of our common agenda. We share UCL and the Bartlett commitments to address racialised injustices and commit to “doing better, and to breaking with the traditions of our past and present”. This current situation gives us the chance to test the kinds of global and local responses that we might need to deploy to successfully face such long-term existential challenges. 

In this writing, we would like to share with readers some of the activities that DPU staff and students have engaged in with the crisis in the last few months, and encourage anyone who is interested to join us in this critical learning process. For us, it is fundamental that we are able to nurture and participate in mechanisms that allow us to share, feel, think, learn and act together in this moment.

In relation to COVID-19 social distancing measures, we have had to adapt to a rapidly changing situation, including being shut out of university buildings and shifting to online teaching and assessment. Within our post-graduate teaching activities, we had to radically and quickly re-think the pedagogical strategy of the Master’s programmes’ overseas fieldwork engagements. Instead of physically joining our partners in cities of the Global South, we have had to design equally valuable pedagogical exercises for our students by means of remote collaborations. This has been extremely challenging for staff, students and partners alike, and we thank our students for their patience and openness, while dealing with the uncertainties of their own daily lives.

We also had to re-think our research activities, with various research projects redirecting their efforts to support on-going responses to COVID-19 in the cities they are working in. Through our research efforts we have also tried to make community-led responses to COVID-19 more visible. The DPU-led research project Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality (KNOW) has created a web page to share experiences associated with COVID-19 to which our partners have been contributing from their own cities. Additionally, the COiNVITE research project has redirected its focus by creating a global mapping of organisations and collectives developing community-based initiatives to address the COVID-19 crisis and its effects beyond the emergency.

DPU staff have been active with international bodies and networks seeking to offer a space for discussion and concrete answers to the urgent problems faced by national and local governments, as well as low-income communities and NGOs. Our staff have been providing inputs and helped coordinate webinars and other forms of engagements with networks of government authorities, other representative bodies and civil society in cities of the Global South. This includes engagements with the Cities Alliance LAV initiatives in Latin America and South Africa, with organised civil society organisations defending habitat rights, such as the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and the Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C), as well as various United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) webinars, contributions to local forums and appearances in mass media outlets.

Beyond the immediate response to this ongoing pandemic we have also felt the need to reflect on the lessons from the crisis to the future of urban transformations. We have launched a DPU blog and webinar series entitled Post COVID-19 Urban Futures, which seeks to provide an open platform to reflect on the longer-term implications of this pandemic for the thinking and practice of urban development.

Meanwhile, DPU’s alumni have also shown a fantastic capacity to act collectively and create a space for exchange and learning online, such as the initiative, Think-Fast: A Collective Urban Response to COVID-19, an open-source online platform for specialists and practitioners in urban development, design and planning, along with public health and other relevant sectors.

While we, like so many institutions and individuals around the world, are constantly learning about this rapidly changing situation, we know that over the next academic year we will continue engaging in these various processes of learning and action. In addition to applying to one of our Master's or PhD programmes, we would also encourage you to reach out to us to share your own views and experiences, join our regular webinars, or engage in joint initiatives.

The DPU staff are determined to jointly work towards a better and fairer future for humankind, and for us this means teaching, researching and practicing development planning bringing to the forefront the need to work with communities and other key local actors in the global south while tackling the structural inequalities and injustices that have proved so persistent in cities. One of the important steps towards this direction has been the efforts of our staff together with colleagues at the Bartlett in putting together a new curriculum with the objective of revealing and addressing racism embedded in the ways we produce our cities. We believe that, despite its enormous challenges, the present crisis offers opportunities to re-think and challenge the structural factors that lie behind such inequalities and injustices.


Links and Resources



Post COVID-19 Urban Futures
DPU's blog and webinar series

COVID-19 Stories
Collection of resources put together by Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality (KNOW) Programme



Chile: Protect the campamentos! 
Dr Francisco Vergara Perucich and Prof Camillo Boano

Covid-19, urban mobility and social equity 
Prof Julio Davila

Gaza and the COVID-19 “Crisis”: Breaking the cycle of structural vulnerability first 
Prof Haim Yacobi, Michelle Pace, Ziad Abu Mustafa, Manal Massalha

‘Stay at Home’: Housing as a pivotal infrastructure of care? 
Dr Catalina Ortiz and Prof Camillo Boano

Urban economics in the time of Covid-19: What happens when the thing that makes cities great also makes them dangerous? 
Dr Alexandra Panman


Watch – Post COVID-19 Webinar series

No. 1 - From crisis to radical change
Dr Robert Biel

No. 2 - Coping with the urban impacts of COVID-19 and imagining the aftermath
Dr Catalina Ortiz and Giovanna Astolfo

No. 3 - Learning from African post-pandemic experiences to tackle deep inequalities
Prof Adriana Allen and Dr Rita Lambert

No. 4 - The COVID-19 “Crisis” in Contested Cities and Divided Societies
Prof Haim Yacobi

No. 5 - The pedagogy of the catastrophes and intergenerational justice
Dr Andrea Rigon

No. 6 - Remote pedagogies for social learning
Prof Adriana Allen & Julia Wesely

No. 7 - Urban mobility: responses, challenges and prospects for urban transformation
Dr Daniel Oviedo & Prof Caren Levy


International engagement

Insights from HIC to face the Covid-19 - DPU's Prof Adriana Allen on COVID19 response and the Right to the City

DPU contribute to debates on COVID-19 in precarious settlements and social housing in Latin America - Dr. Catalina Ortiz was invited as academic advisor of the Urban Housing Practitioners Hub led by Cities Alliance, UN Habitat,  InterAmerican Housing Group, Habitat for Humanity.

Addressing COVID-19 in informal contexts – UCLG life learning experience initiative with the participation of Prof Adriana Allen and Dr Barbara Lipietz

Key Considerations: COVID-19 in Informal Urban Settlements – policy brief by IDS with inputs from Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani

Approaches to Slum Upgrading in a COVID-19 Era: A Dialogue between South Africa and LAC countries – Event led by Cities Alliance with coordination team including Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani and featuring participation from Dr Catalina Ortiz



Living Heritage Atlas

Synergies for Solidarity




'Race' and space - New curriculum


Participation in media and forums

Prof Julio Davila (Spanish) appearance on Cámara de Comercio de Medellín -
Ciudades: respuesta del territorio a empresarios y ciudadanos en el nuevo contexto