The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Prof Caren Levy

Prof Caren Levy

Professor of Transformative Urban Planning

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Oct 1988

Research summary

My research is focused on interdisciplinary and applied knowledge production in the context of development theory, policy and planning practice in a range of organisational landscapes, both institutional and geographical.  The common theme in all is that of methodology development, focusing on the institutionalisation of social justice in policy and planning in the context of inequalities in the global South.  My interests fall within three distinct but interrelated areas:

Gender in Policy and Planning: Since 1984 I have been involved in two lines of inquiry related to incorporating a gender perspective in policy and planning.  Firstly, I have contributed to the international critique of gender mainstreaming in international development policy and planning (Levy, 2009).  In relation to this, I have developed conceptual tools to address gender mainstreaming in development policy and planning, in particular, ‘the web of institutionalisation’ (Levy, 1996, 1997).  This process of knowledge production has been supported by a range of knowledge transfer and action research projects in-country (eg Egypt, Namibia) and in bi-lateral aid  (eg SIDA, SDC).   I have also applied this tool in the context of planning and participation in human settlement development (Levy, 1996, 1998), and it has been taken up by academics and practitioners in other fields where it fills a gap related to the institutionalisation of urban change (eg  Allen and You, 2002).  Secondly, I have contributed to the critique of ‘gender blind’ planning and provision of transport, housing and other infrastructure (primarily water and sanitation) in cities of the global South (Levy, 1992b, 2013a, 2013b; Levy & Taher, 2000).

Urban development planning: Addressing the reality of an increasingly urbanized world, my applied research has focused on methodologies and institutional frameworks necessary to address inequality in cities of the global South through the exploration of two challenges for planning in 21st century cities: doing socio-environmentally just planning in societies with increasing social cleavages (Levy, 1992a, 2002, forthcoming); and planning responses to insurgent social movements and organisations of the urban poor.  Building on the early work by DPU colleagues, I have developed the notion of Strategic Action Planning in the context of contemporary urban conditions (Levy, 2007).  The knowledge production underpinning this is ongoing and rooted in my teaching, consultancy and applied research, recently particularly in the context of in India (Mumbai, Bangalore and Madurai), Thailand (Bangkok), Colombia (Medellin) and South Africa (Cape Town).

Education of development planning practitioners: Since 2009 I have engaged with two major projects related to the education of development practitioners. The first is as joint PI in a partnership with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (2009 to-date).  This has involved curriculum and research development.  The second is as PI in a review of planning education in the Commonwealth, which identifies the continuing problematic influence of the British colonial planning system and a serious lack of investment in planning education in the context of growing urban challenges in Commonwealth countries of the global South (Levy et al, 2011).

Teaching summary

MSc Teaching

BENVPU2:  Urban Development Policy. Planning And Management: Strategic Action In Theory And Practice

BENVPU3:  Practice In Urban Development Planning

BENVPU4:  Gender Policy and Planning

Certificate course 

Gender, Citizenship and Social Justice”  (funded by Chevening Programme, FCO,  and managed by the British Council; Course Co-director) (2005-09)

Supervision of PhD students – research topics

A Gendered Spatial Analysis of the Relationship between Women’s Productive Work and Women’s

Autonomy in the Household: Understanding Women’s Agency in Public and Private Space in Bangkok, Thailand

Empowerment and Gender in the Workplace: Experiences in Accounting and IT Firms in Mexico

Gender and Class in Welfare Organisations: The case of Egyptian Private Voluntary Organisation

The Impact of Household Relations on Decision making Outcomes over the nature and Scale of Housing Improvement in Newtown, South Africa

An Examination of Changes in Housing Submarkets: The Case of Shanghai, China, 1994-2005

Sustainability of urban social projects: the case of the Social Investment Fund in Chile

Architecture for the Urban Poor, the 'New Professionalism' of 'Community Architects', and the Implications for Architectural Education: Reflections on Practice from Thailand

NGOs as mediators: Their Role in Expertise, Language and Institutional Exemption in Urban Development Planning in Recife, Brazil

Government Support Policy, Interfirm Linkages and the Success of Small Firms:  the case of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


University of Cape Town
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 1973


Urban development planner working on planning, community-led development and governance, with a focus on housing, infrastructure and transport in urban areas in the global South. She has a special interest in the institutionalization of social justice in policy and planning, particularly related to the cross-cutting issues of gender, diversity and environment.  In these fields, she has 25 years  experience of teaching, research, training and consultancy in mainstreaming social justice in organizational development, and exploring innovatory approaches to planning methodology, planning education and capacity building.  She works both in London and abroad with communities, governments and international organizations, including UN Habitat, ILO, EU, DFID, SDC, SIDA. Country experience includes Egypt, Namibia, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Chile, Colombia and Brazil.