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Urbanisation as Key Topic

In the context of increasing globalisation, worldwide processes of urbanisation are of growing importance for research, teaching and capacity enhancement, particularly in regard to development policy and economic cooperation. While international development cooperation until today has focused and still focuses mainly on rural developments, the necessity for closer examination of the challenges and problems of urban and peri-urban regions is becoming more and more apparent. Cities offer substantial socio-economic potential for sustainable development, but are also places with considerable ecological and socio-economic challenges and subject to increasing socio-economic vulnerability as well as socio-spatial and institutional fragmentation, segregation and disparities. The close proximity of a great variety of local lifeworlds and lifestyles in urban areas as well as different ethnic and social groups, may disintegrate and destabilise urban societies.

History of the Network: Topic, Vision and Steps of Realisation

The German Scientific Working Group on Southeast Asia (Arbeitskreis Südostasien, within the German Geographical Society) was founded in 1996. The participants include scholars from more than 20 German and Asian universities and non-university experts ( Individual exchange in research and teaching takes place between German and Southeast Asian universities since the 1960s, including activities such as joint research, institutional partner-ships, PhD supervision, teaching exchange, joint fieldwork and excursions. Based on this platform, in 2005, a new key initiative emerged which focuses on one of the major challenges for recent development in Southeast Asia: “Urbanisation – Challenges and Conflicts” was identified as core topic.

The DAAD Summer School in October 2005 has been the starting point of further intensification of the existing cooperation and dialogue between experts, alumni and non-alumni to make an active contribution to the “North-South-South” dialogue in the conflict-ridden field of worldwide urbanisation. With the financial support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), we were able to further strengthen cooperation and dialogue with more than 30 partners from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. A separate workshop in 2005, funded by the Daimler Benz Foundation, focused on “Megacity Yangon” strengthened the connections to and within Myanmar; a book publication was issued in October 2006.

During a supplementary DAAD seminar, which was hosted by the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta in September 2006, an innovative strategy and structure for an official, new coherent and competitive Southeast Asian-German Alumni Network focusing on urbanisation, was jointly worked out. Here, the participants decided upon a vision and steps of implementation of a subsequent construction of the network: Since there is until now no organised group of scholars worldwide focusing on urbanisation in Southeast Asia, we agreed upon the vision of becoming the leading international expert group in this field, with particular focus on challenges and conflicts - in research, teaching and for engaged, applied policy recommendations. The network shall be carried out as lively, self-organised, decentralised, participatory interaction among international scholars and experts from Southeast Asia and Germany. The Network was given the name "ForUm - Forum of Urban Future in Southeast Asia".

After discussions on “traditional” sectoral and regional concepts of realisation, we opted for a completely new approach as steps of implementation: We will follow a process- and actor-oriented, interdisciplinary approach, in which subsequently and step-wise first the key drivers of urban change, second the major problem of urban social coherence and third the question of how to activate and strengthen urban civil society will be addressed.

Objectives of the Network:

Platform for a North-South-South Dialogue

Forum for Urban Future is a network of partners from Southeast Asia and Germany of different cultural, religious, socio-economic and political origin and is a platform for continuous North-South-South dialogue focusing on urban challenges and conflicts. Network partners from the following Southeast Asian countries are at present connected: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. Under the supervision of the Department of Geography, University of Cologne, the network is providing a forum for exchange on concepts, research and application of Southeast Asian and German universities, institutions, the private sector, practitioners and civil society’s groups, including local partners and non-university partners.

Capacity Building by Knowledge and Expertise

The overall thematic focus of our network – urban challenges and conflicts – aims at contributing to the global discussion concerning complex and manifold urban and peri-urban development, key challenges, conflict structures and potential solutions, particularly within Southeast Asia. The comparative analysis of examples leads to an exchange of different experiences and a joint elaboration of possible methods and means of transfer of main experiences of single Southeast Asian cities to those of other states. The specific national and cultural contexts have to be taken into account, discussed and documented.

Sustainable Research and Development Cooperation

The joint development and substantiation of ongoing cooperation is a continuous main part of the agenda, supported by presentations and discussions of proposals and the development of future integrated teaching and research projects. Concrete agreements of mutual support and academic exchange, e.g. visiting lecturers, joint curricula development, e-learning, joint super-vision of scientific research, in combination with project-based cooperation with non-academic partners from the private sector and civil society, is carried out by all network partner.

Activities: Expert Seminars and Summer Schools

During the last alumni seminar in Yogyakarta, all partners elaborated a conceptual framework for our activities in the next three years: Regularly Summer Schools will be conducted, two in each of the three years 2007-2009.

The participants of the programme will be alumni and non-alumni, scientists and experts from local communities , organisations and institutions of administration, development agencies, economic and social sectors and NGOs from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as well as German scientists and German partners of development cooperation. All activities will be undertaken in close cooperation of all net-work partners under the coordination of the University of Cologne.

The Summer School Programmes will provide an intensive demand- and application-oriented, continuing (postgraduate) training - in which conceptual and strategic thinking will be connected with regional case studies, in particular in respect to problem and conflict resolution and crisis prevention. Since the network consists at present of 9 partner countries (Cambodia, Germany, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) we decided to have two summer schools per year with a special thematic focus for every year: In the first period the focus will be on “Urban driving forces” (with Summer Schools in the Philippines and Cambodia) on which the next step of “Urban coherence” (Summer Schools in Vietnam and Thailand) will follow in the second year, and in the third year “Urban civil society” (Summer Schools in Malaysia and NN) will be the focus.

All Summer School programmes include four major issues:

  1. Scientific presentations and discussions about key issues, research findings and best practices in regard to urban challenges and conflicts. Field excursions in the urban and peri-urban areas will complement the theoretical discussions with deeper insights in the development and decentralisation policy of the area and connect with local institutions and organisations
  2. Extend contacts to local organisations and institutions of administration, development agencies, economic and social sectors and NGOs as well as to other Alumni Networks will seek closer cooperation with the local German cooperation bodies and private sector.
  3. A participatory approach will make use of the Summer School meetings for applications and demand oriented preparation and organisation of upcoming network activities
  4. Persistent evaluation of the progress will continuously help to improve our activities.

Offers by the network

  • reports about networking activities
  • contact addresses of the participants and their institutions
  • cooperation offers in terms of student and lecturer exchange as well as internships
  • literature and data reviews
  • subject related internet links
  • regularly newsletters
  • scientific publications