The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Informality in the global city

Contested landscapes of development and resilience-building in Metro Cebu, the Philippines

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12 December 2022

This project seeks to initiate research into how the gendered political economies of urban development, resilience-building, and displacement in Metro Cebu are affecting workers in the informal economy, with the ultimate aim of informing more inclusive planning practices. It will do so by exploring how the jeepney modernisation and Carbon Market modernisation plans are impacting jeepney drivers and market vendors respectively.

Project outline

It is widely accepted that many planning interventions – in the name of modernism, sustainability or, more recently, building resilience to the effects of climate change – have negative effects on poorer and marginalised groups whose dwellings and livelihoods are often targeted by modernisation programmes that seek to eradicate informality and free up land for new forms of development. Yet we know that cities would not function effectively without the urban poor, whose labour, daily transactions and people-to-people interactions are fundamental to the generative qualities of urban economies. We also know that the viability of a city to provide for its population, and the ability of ‘the informal’ to adapt to what is required for survival and development, are deeply classed and gendered yet remain largely unacknowledged.

Critiques of planning interventions that seek the modernisation or ‘formalisation of the informal’, tend to miss these intersectional dimensions because they approach these issues and dynamics in dichotomous terms and/or worry about the end outcomes rather than focusing on the actual processes and power relations that underpin why they occur. Because these entanglements are relational and constantly being negotiated, it is important that planners understand what happens as they transition from one state to another. In exploring the (un)intended gendered, socio-economic impacts and displacements emerging from contemporary urban renewal and resilience-building interventions in Cebu from the viewpoints of marginalised informal workers, this research contributes to a growing body of literature on environmental gentrification (Fox, 2019; Gould and Lewis, 2016), offering a Southern perspective to consider the erasures and emerging urbanisms produced when ‘worlding’ and sustainable development ambitions collide. By tracing these dynamics as they are happening rather than analysing them in their aftermath, this research will also capture a moment of transition, with potential to inform more intersectionally attentive, socially just approaches to urban (re)development.


Outcomes will include: an ESRC New Investigator Grant Proposal; a literature review on urban renewal, environmental gentrification and informality; establishment of new relationships with groups representing market vendors and jeepney drivers in Cebu, as well as with local government departments, officials and private sector developers engaged in the Bus Rapid Transit System and Carbon Market Redevelopment plans; data from preliminary interviews/focus groups with relevant stakeholders to scope diverse perspectives, interests, and concerns relating to these interventions and to identify thematic entry points and priorities for further research; methodologies that track dispossession/displacement as it happens; a working paper summarising these findings.


Dr Jordana Ramalho
Principle Investigator