About the Project

The Informal City Dialogues is a year-long project supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by Forum for the Future. It homes in on six cities: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila and Nairobi. In each of these cities, it aims to foster a conversation about the informal urban realm, and how it can be cultivated and harnessed for the benefit of all.

These informal realms, from single-chair barbershops to nine-passenger vans to sprawling settlements, are propelling the explosive growth of the urban Global South. They are the neighborhoods, economies and systems that exist beyond the reach of government: the slums, black-market industries and undocumented businesses that fuel these cities’ growth. They’re split off from the formal city, and often neglected or harassed by local authorities.

And yet the informal aspects of these places are also intricately intertwined with the formal. Indeed, many residents have one foot in both worlds: the slum dweller who commutes to her job at a major hospital, the unlicensed microbus driver who lives in a condominium highrise.

The Informal City Dialogues will begin a local and international conversation on these issues, in which stakeholders will imagine and create narratives for their urban future. A series of workshops will bring together such stakeholders in each of the six cities, who will participate in a wider dialogue around these narratives with the goal of inspiring positive change in their communities and institutions.

Over the course of this project, Next City will tell these people’s stories. We have embedded a writer in each of the six cities who will blog about the intersection of formal and informal for the duration of the project. These writers will chronicle not only the project’s workshops, but also report from the street and talk to the people who participate in this remarkable urban dynamic on a daily basis. Their everyday lives tell the story of the informal city, and are the primary sources for what this project hopes to achieve: a more inclusive conversation around urban informality.

Contact us at informalcity@nextcity.org

Meet Our Bloggers

Sharon Benzoni
Accra, Ghana

Sharon is a journalist and writer based in Accra. She first came to Ghana in 2011 on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and has been living in Accra ever since. She is working on an M.A. in African Studies from the University of Ghana, and holds a B.S. in environmental science from the University of Iowa.

Witchaya Pruecksamars
Bangkok, Thailand

Tay is a researcher based at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. He graduated from University College London with a B.A. in urban planning and a master’s degree in development administration. He has been researching the history of Southeast Asian shophouses and has contributed to an online newsletter called Trendnovation Southeast. He lives opposite the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, and prefers to use the city’s two-wheeled taxis for public transport.

Shalini Umachandran
Chennai, India

Shalini writes and edits for The Times of India in Chennai, where she is an assistant editor. She’s been a journalist for 12 years, working for The Hindu and The Economic Times. She also writes a lot of bad limericks and plays the piano occasionally. She is working on her first book.

Manuel Vigo
Lima, Peru

Manuel writes about politics, business, tourism, and culture for Peru This Week, where he is the news editor. A Peruvian-American who grew up between both countries, Manuel moved back to Lima in 2011. He has written for several Peruvian publications, and has been featured on BBC Radio. He holds a B.A in International Relations and Philosophy from Florida International University.

Purple Romero
Metro Manila, Philippines

Purple Romero is a Filipina multimedia reporter. She has done investigative reporting on human-rights issues, climate change and the Supreme Court. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, the Spanish publication El Mundo, the UK-based magazine The New Internationalist and the Polish publication Gazeta. She has also written for Asiaviews, a regional magazine. She lives in Makati, one of the 16 cities that make up Metro Manila.

Jason Patinkin
Nairobi, Kenya

Jason Patinkin is a journalist and photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya. He regularly contributes to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and his work has appeared on the BBC, the Guardian, Lakota Country Times and numerous other online and print publications.

Will Doig (Editor)
New York, NY

Will joined Next City in December 2012 as the organization’s first-ever International Editor and is based in New York City. Previously, he wrote the “Dream City” column for Salon, was a senior editor at The Daily Beast, and served as the editor-in-chief of Nerve. His writing has appeared in New York, the Advocate, Out and many other publications. He graduated from George Washington University (B.A. American Studies).