UCL Department of Geography


Alan Gilbert

Alan was born in London. He was educated at Birmingham University, where he obtained a first-class honours degree in Economics, Geography and Politics, and at the London School of Economics where he obtained his doctorate.

After brief interludes in advertising and economic consultancy, he obtained a research post at the Institute of Latin American Studies and then took up a lectureship jointly at UCL and the Institute. Subsequently, he was promoted to a Readership and then a Chair at UCL.

More about Professor Gilbert

His research is concerned with urbanisation and poverty in developing countries and particularly in Latin America and South Africa. Over the last ten years he has undertaken projects on housing subsidies in Chile, Colombia and South Africa; on the influence of Washington on the diffusion of knowledge about development policy; on information flows among asylum seekers in the UK; on secondary housing markets in Colombia and South Africa; on the impact of globalisation on urban life in Latin America; on rental housing in informal settlements in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and improving urban governance: an evaluation of the ‘success’ story of Bogotá, Colombia.

He has published extensively and has authored or co-authored nine books, edited four others and written well over one hundred academic articles on these topics. On the basis of this research, the University of London awarded him a Doctorate in Literature and he was elected to the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences.

In recent years, he has served on the editorial boards of several journals and acted as an external examiner in many universities. He has also been Head of the Geography Department at UCL.

He has also worked as an adviser to several international institutions over the last ten years including the Inter-American Development Bank, UN-HABITAT, United Nations University, United Nations Population Fund, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the World Bank.

Academic record

  • BSocSci (Birmingham)
  • PhD (London School of Economics)
  • DLit (University of London)
  • Academician of the Academy of Learned Societies for Social Science, elected 2003

Academic career

  • Research Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies, London 1969-70
  • Lecturer at University College London and Institute of Latin American Studies, London, 1970-85
  • Reader in Geography at UCL, 1985-90
  • Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of US Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1987
  • Professor of Geography at UCL, 1990-2010
  • Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Development, Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC, 2000

Outside responsibilities

  • Founding Secretary of the Institute of British Geographers, Developing Areas Study Group, 1970-77.
  • Chair of the Institute of British Geographers, Developing Areas Research Group, 1985-87.
  • Chair of the Society for Latin American Studies, 1985-87.
  • Coordinator of the Network-Association of European Researchers on Urbanisation in the South (N-AERUS), 1998-9.
  • Economic and Social Research Council, Member of the Environment and Planning, and the International Affairs Committees, 1982-87; Advanced course recognition exercise, 1992-date; Advanced course and research scholarships, 1991-93.
  • Wellcome Foundation, Member of Population Studies Panel, October 1998-September 2001; Health Consequences of Population Change Panel, October 2001-September 2003.
  • Editorial boards: Bulletin for Latin American Research, 1981-1989, Geographical Magazine, 1991-95, International Development Planning Review, 2002-date, International Planning Studies, 1994-date, Singapore Journal of Tropical Research, 1993-date, Planning Perspectives, 1986-2000, Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California publication series, 1988-91, International Development Planning Review (formerly Third World Planning Review, 1991-2002, Revista de Estudios Urbano-Regionales, 1992-2004, Latin American Research Review, 2003-5, Habitat International, 2005-date, Cuadernos de Vivienda y Urbanismo, 2008-date.
  • Noriko Hataya (2008): The myth of community participation: experience in the irregular settlements of Bogotá
  • Manuel Navarrete (2008): The Maya in transition: is the maquila industry in rural Yucatán a sustainable development alternative?
  • Katherine Gough: 'From bamboo to bricks: self-help housing and the building materials industry in urban Colombia.'
  • Manuel Arguello: 'Housing policy, democracy and revolution: Costa Rica and Nicaragua during the 1980s.'
  • Ben Richards: 'A home of one’s own: housing policy under neoliberalism in Chile.'

Major Research Grants

  • 1978-80 Director of a major research project financed by the Ministry of Overseas Development 'Public Intervention, Housing and Land Use in Latin American Cities' (budget £105,000).
  • 1985-87 Director of a research project financed by the Overseas Development Administration on 'Housing Tenure in Third World Cities' (budget £49,500).
  • 1988-91 Coordinator of a research project financed by the International Development Research Centre of Canada on rental housing in Latin America (total approved budget CAD$453,000).
  • 1993-94 Coordinator of a research project on mega-cities in Latin America financed by United Nations University, Tokyo (approximate budget US$100,000).
  • 1997-98 Director of a research project financed by the Department of International Development on 'Secondary housing markets in third world cities' (total approved budget £36,790)
  • 2000-1 Director of a research project financed by the Economic and Social Research Council (Future Governance Programme) ‘The diffusion of housing subsidy programmes: adoption or forced feeding?’ (budget £41,900).
  • 2001-2 Co-Director of a research project financed by the Home Office on 'The dissemination to potential asylum seekers of information about UK immigration and asylum policy and practice' (£96,088).
  • 2004-2005 Director of a research project financed by the Leverhulme Trust on ‘Improving urban governance: an evaluation of the ‘success’ story of Bogotá, Colombia’ (Budget £81,313).



Alan has worked on projects concerned with employment, housing, urbanisation and regional development in developing countries for the Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, UNESCO, United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the United Nations University and the World Bank.

He also acts as an expert witness on behalf of asylum seekers from Colombia.

Major consultancies since 1991

  • 1992 Business Monitor International on the Colombian Economy.
  • 1993 Inter-American Development Bank on Housing Policy in Latin America.
  • 1993 United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT) on rental housing policy in Egypt, India and Nigeria.
  • 1993-94 United Nations University: Mega-cities in Latin America.
  • 1994 Population and Quality of Life Independent Commission Human resources (UNESCO).
  • 1996 United Nations Population Fund: Urbanisation prospects in Latin America.
  • 1999 World Bank: Squatter upgrading programmes in Latin America.
  • 2000 Inter American Development Bank: Training programme for public officials on housing.
  • 2000 Isandla Institute, Cape Town: Rental housing in South Africa.
  • 2002 World Bank Institute: Workshop on urban management in South Asia, Jaipur.
  • 2002 Inter-American Development Bank: Rental housing policy in Colombia.
  • 2002-3 UNCHS (Habitat): Rental housing policy in less-developed countries.
  • 2002-3 Home Office: Knowledge of asylum seekers.
  • 2004-5 World Bank: Urban development on Bogotá and Medellin.
  • 2007-8 UN-HABITAT:  Rental housing policy in poor and transition economies.
  • 2009-10 UN-HABITAT/ROLAC: Population and urbanisation in Latin America.
  • 2011 Engineers against poverty: Transparency in contracting.
  • 2010-11 Institute of Housing Studies, Erasmus University: Urban governance in Bogotá.
  • 2011-12 UN-HABITAT: Global Shelter Strategy 2025.
  • 2011-13 Inter-American Development Bank: Rental housing in Latin America.
  • 2013  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rental housing and tenure rights
Research Interests

General areas of research expertise

  • Low income shelter
  • Rental housing
  • Water and infrastructure
  • Urban and regional development
  • Urban governance
  • Poverty
  • Globalisation, employment and urbanisation
  • Development studies
  • Latin America (particularly Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela).
  • South Africa
  • Geography of football