Posted on January 1st, 2015 by admin

THIS LINK to our “Mega-Cities Year in Images” shows photos of Favela Restaurant in Greenwich Village, NYC; community upgrading Project in Medellin, Colombia, World Urban Forum 2014; Workshop on Sustainable Humanity and Sustainable Nature in Vatican; CITYLAB Summit in LA; Young girls in Rio Favela Upgrading Project; Slum Transformation Challange in Dubai; Center for Social Innovation, part of MC2 Next Gen Convening; MC2 Spring Interns from Columbia University; Santa Fe Institute “Science of Cities” sunset; Site Visit to Lower East Side Movement for Reclaimed Urban Space (w 12 young urban innovators from around the world); and last first sunset of 2015.

Turning Ideas Into Action: A Slum Convening

Posted on August 5th, 2014 by admin

Dr. Perlman took part in facilitating the Slum Summit hosted by Geneva Global and the Legatum Foundation.

25 thought leaders and experts from various philosophical and practical standpoints were invited last month in Dubai to find root causes to turn ideas into action in improving the conditions of slum dwellers. By the end of the event, the group settled on seven potential ideas that will be further explored by the Legatum Foundation and Geneva Global.

Details of this Summit can be found in Storify:

Dr. Perlman contributed to the conversation by sharing findings from her longitudinal study of the Favelas. Video of her presentation below:

ECOSOC Integration Segment on Sustainable Urbanization

Posted on July 7th, 2014 by admin

Invited as a panelist, Dr. Perlman argued for the inclusion of the informal sector in decision-making processes at the first ever UN ECOSOC Integration Segment on Sustainable Urbanization on May 27-29, 2014, held at the UN Headquarters in New York.  With the participation of the President of Rwanda, the Vice-President of Colombia, the United Nations Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Change, a number of ministers and mayors, city planners, the UN system, the African Union, representatives of major groups, non-governmental organizations, academia and the private sector, the ECOSOC Integration Segment was said to have demonstrated the transformative potential of urbanization and identified key policy recommendations that could advance the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and shape the post-2015 development agenda, as well as Habitat III.

Dr. Perlman at the Vatican (NY Times article)

Posted on May 23rd, 2014 by admin

Dr. Perlman joins the Pope, along with scholars and scientists, in a conversation about “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility” held at the Vatican between May 2nd and 6th–featured in The New York Times articles by Andrew Revkin:

Quote: “Janice Perlman’s work reveals the vitality and potential in those caught up in humanity’s astounding high-speed reorganization into a mainly urban species…”

Link to first article:

Link to second article:

Preparing for Population Growth: CCTV America Interview

Posted on April 14th, 2014 by admin

Dr. Janice Perlman was recently invited to interview with CCTV America, the U.S. division of China Central Television. On air, she answered key questions on the risks and opportunities that lie ahead for urbanization, especially in regions as densely populated as China. CCTV is the predominant state television broadcaster in mainland China.

Link to video:

Dr. Perlman speaks at Metropolis Nonformal Anticipation Conference in Munich

Posted on February 23rd, 2014 by admin

Dr. Perlman was invited to the Metropolis Nonformal Anticipation Conference in Munich on November 21, 2013 to present and discuss urbanization and informality trends, her Rio Favela research, and core ideas for the Next Generation MC2 project. Follow the attached link for a full video of her session as the opening speaker.

Presentation video: Janice Perlman on Urban Informality – Marginal or Mainstream?

Given that a billion people are currently living off the grid in the world’s cities and that this number is expected to grow to three billion people (a third of the world’s population) by 2050, urban informality is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Dr. Perlman will report on her 40 years of research in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, following the lives of hundreds of families over 4 generations and tracing the evolution of policy and practice. What has gotten better? What has gotten worse? What are the issue areas for future research? And, what knowledge, innovation and action will be critical in creating inclusive sustainable cities in the future?

Discussion video: Janice Perlman and Rainer Hehl, moderated by Andres Lepik

Updates on the Mega Cities Project!

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by admin

Apologies for our long pause.  We are back now and look forward to sharing ideas and hearing from you.
The Mega-Cities Project is now working with a several outstanding Graduate Students Interns from the School of International and Public Affairs and the Urban Planning Division at Columbia University. The 4 projects we are doing are: 1. The conceptualization and strategic action plan for MC2;    2)  The impact of Mega-Events in Mega-Cities in terms of social justice —3-year research project focusing on the World Cup and Olympics preparation, actualization  and aftermath in Rio de Janeiro;   3) China’ s Mega-Cities and urban slums; Tier 2 and 3 cities and “ghost cities; and 4) preparation of a paper and talk on Mega-Cities” for a Roundtable at the Vatican on “ Sustainable Humanity and Sustainable Nature”  in May.   Attached are the brief descriptions of each project.

1. Mega-Cities/Mega-Change (MC2) –this is an opportunity to build a sustainable non-profit organization working in the largest cities in the world–in all regions.  It is about what the next generation of urban leaders can do to improve urban inclusion and environmental regeneration, using the earlier cohort of Mega-Cities coordinators as mentors to “shorten the lag time between ideas and implementation”  AND to “shorten the lag time between promising young leaders and their ability to make a difference.  It will involve Strategic Planning, a 3-year plan, outreach, social media and decisions about how participation on open platform will intersect with face-to-face networks. There is a research agenda on the life cycle of innovations and the conditions for new ideas to arise, thrive and adapt to change.  This is the beginning of a 25-year initiative of sharing what works among informal communities and activists and scaling that into public policy.  It is about “system-challenging innovations”, involving new players at the table, new incentive systems and new rules of the game.

2. Mega-Events in Mega-Cities: Social Justice Impacts in the Case of Rio’s Favelas: will be developing a 3-year study of how the favelas are affected in the lead-up, duration and after the World Cup and Olympics and what the reactions are from:  community-based groups and residents, NGOs, student activists working with NGOs and residents, business community and city, state, and national government. Need to conceptualize the study from start to finish and lay out the literature review, analytical framework and research methodology.

3. China Cities Project:  potential planning work on the smaller Tier 2 and 3 cities and on the “ghost cities” –which are newly built, ready for occupancy and remain abandoned;  and on migrants and migrant slum communities in the large cities.   We are in discussions with a non-profit based in Beijing and with a construction company interested in anticipating future urban infrastructure needs.  If this works out, it would be an opportunity to influence the human livability and quality of life in cities and to test various forms of circular rather than linear infrastructure by trying decentralized models for energy, water, sanitation, garbage, road paving and building materials.

4. Vatican Workshop on Sustainable Humanity and Nature: May 2-9, 2014. We will be giving a presentation on THE CHALLENGE/PROMISE OF THE MEGA-CITIES   This will be one of the only presentations on cities in the entire meeting, most of which will cover environmental issues from Oceans to Forests to Climate Change.    We will cover an overview of urbanization and in formalization trends, the implications for environmental sustainability, and ideas for policy, planning and practice and wish to illustrate this with striking images, graphics and up-to-date information.

Mega-Cities Project seeks Spring and Summer Interns

Posted on December 13th, 2013 by admin

We are interviewing graduate students from SIPA at Columbia University and other universities in the NY area. If you are interested, please contact me. Thanks, Janice

New UN Report Reveals Depth of Tenure Security Crisis

Posted on March 13th, 2013 by admin

Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur, has released a new report on tenure security that presents a framework for improving global housing security while outlining the challenges ahead. Rolnik was involved in the Mega-Cities Project in Sao Paulo since its inception. The report, entitled “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, and on the right to Non-Discrimination in This Context” is available at

We are in the grip of a global tenure insecurity crisis. Access to secure housing and land is a prerequisite for human dignity and an adequate standard of living, yet many millions of people live under the daily threat of eviction.” – Rolnik

When are you secure in your home? Do you have to own it? What if you own it but have no government documents to prove it? What if somebody wants you off the land anyway? How about renting?

A new report from the United Nations documents the scale of tenure insecurity around the world. Tenure insecurity is the condition under which a person or family has reason to fear removal from their residence. The report, presented on March 4th by UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Raquel Rolnik demonstrates the myriad ways in which the “security, peace and dignity” of the urban poor are impeded by threats to their living situation.

Rolnik, whose mission is to document global issues concerning the right to adequate housing, has travelled the world conducting studies to develop the report. Stating the severity of the problem, she bluntly calls it a “global tenure insecurity crisis”. Every year the number of people with insecure tenure increases due to displacement. In 2011, over 40 million people around the world were displaced by conflicts or natural disasters. Others lose their security of tenure when they move from rural farmlands to informal housing arrangements in cities, either to seek employment or because of land speculation and large-scale acquisition of farmland. Forced evictions are the extreme manifestation of tenure insecurity and are the product of development, conflict, land grabbing and mega-events. “Single and older women, in particular, too often do not have the legal empowerment, education or financial resources to defend their tenure.”

While tenure insecurity is a global phenomenon, Rolnik stresses its variability. Different social, political and cultural contexts shape housing dynamics. For example while some cities only recognize titled property owners, others grant rights to squatters. Many cities deal with competing rights – like occupancy vs. ownership – and resolve them in a variety of ways. Legal and juridical approaches to land rights are so different around the world that even defining security of tenure is a hazardous task. Rolnik settles on a broad definition that is relevant to a diversity of housing contexts from the Favela residents of Brazil to conflict refugees in Sudan: “Security of tenure is understood…as tenure of land and/or housing which ensures a secure home and enables one to live in security, peace and dignity.”

After examining the variety of tenure arrangements, Rolnik came to a major flaw in the international response to the crisis. While on-the-ground realities of tenure security are diverse, the response has been too one-dimensional. She critiques UN-Habitat’s conception of tenure (which is shared by many governments) arguing that it is limiting to see “individual freehold” land rights as the ultimate form of secure tenure. According to Rolnick this legal model reflects the dominant market ideology and not necessarily the best way to offer security.

She suggests that in the future the goal of those looking to improve the lives of the vulnerable urban poor should be to transition them from tenure insecurity to security rather than from informality to formality. That would mean considering alternatives to individual freehold, such as collective tenure rights and “more flexible and expansive ways of recording and recognizing tenure forms and tenure rights.” She concludes that  there is “an obvious need” to develop a “more specific and comprehensive human rights guidance on security of tenure” that is applicable to the myriad legal and managerial systems around the world.

Rolnik’s conclusions challenge the dominant focus on formal property rights as a way to provide secure tenure. However, she can only cite a few examples of alternative rights arrangements and acknowledges that neoliberal economic policy has limited the response of most governments to untitled city dwellers. While the number of people lacking secure tenure is sure to rise, the report offers little hope that governments and trans-national institutions will get much better at helping them.

The report is also light on a point of major concern for the urban poor in the developing world. With sea levels projected to rise three feet in the next one hundred years and more frequent violent storms a certainty, many cities in vulnerable locations will face planning scenarios that could necessitate the depopulation of hazardous areas. Rolnik’s proposed comprehensive human rights approach will have to take into account situations where governments use coercive force to ensure the long-term safety of a climate-threatened neighborhood.

Who is Most at Risk from Sandy-like Storms?

Posted on February 21st, 2013 by admin

Ten Cities with the Largest Populations Threatened by Coastal Flooding

From: Ranking of the World’s Cities Most Exposed to Coastal Flooding Today and in the Future – OECD 2007. Available at:

As New York City grapples with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is instructive to consider the situation of coastal cities around the world. New studies from leading climate scientists suggest that we can expect a three foot increase in global sea levels by the year 2100. Such growth will increase the frequency and violence of destructive coastal storms like Sandy.

This chart, based on data from the OECD, shows that New York City is just one of many cities with a large population at risk from coastal storms. Numerous urban areas in India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia have massive numbers of impoverished residents at or even below sea level. Unlike most New York City residents, these communities live in flimsy housing with little access to modernized rescue and evacuation services. Furthermore, because of projected ongoing urbanization and sea level rise, many of these cities will house much larger vulnerable populations in the decades to come. The OECD projects that cities like Dhaka will contain up to 11 times more at-risk residents by the year 2070.

This highlights the dual challenge facing coastal cities in the developing world: accommodating booming populations while adapting to rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms. The scale of the challenge demands innovative solutions rather than old answers.