UCT Planning graduate receives top international research award

20 Sep 2016 - 15:15

Adam van Heerden from the School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics at UCT has won the Student Award at the 2016 Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Research Excellence.The RTPI is the UK's leading planning body for spatial, sustainable and inclusive planning and is the largest planning institute in Europe.

Adam graduated from UCT in 2015 with a Master of City & Regional Planning degree and his wining dissertation was entitled Valuing Waste and "Wasting Value: Rethinking Planning with Informality by learning from ‘Skarrelers’ in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs.

This research involved genuine engagement with a highly marginalized subset – a group of homeless 'waste pickers'/'skarrelers' in Cape Town, who eke out a survival on the margins of prime urban spaces by either selling or re-using discarded waste material with value. Emphasis was placed on learning from research participants and planning 'with' informality rather than 'for' it, while exploring the multiple and complex variety of ways in which skarrelers' actions and movements are circumscribed, consequently impacting their abilities to transcend current living conditions. At the heart of this enquiry lay questioning the assumed value that models of participatory planning could contribute to both process and outcome, with findings suggesting that these particular values and desires may in fact be less universally applicable than planners have previously considered. Equally important however, was the finding that an ethic of care and justice may in fact be more broadly applicable base values when engaging and mobilizing marginalized groups around public planning agendas.

 “Being recognised for this research on the international stage validates the midnight oil burned, and the longer term psychological investment that one makes when undertaking social research with a highly marginalised group such as this.  But importantly, it's exciting for planning as a profession, because it demonstrates a recognition among top professionals in our industry, of the need for alternative approaches to planning in the South, as well as for planning with marginalised groups in the North.  This humbles the profession into learning from the communities they plan with, adopting a truly relational approach,” said Adam who is currently living in Amsterdam.

His supervisor, Associate Professor Tanja Winkler said, “This international award demonstrates a recognition of the need for alternative approaches to planning in, and from, Southern contexts. Adam's research challenges mainstream and taken-for-granted approaches of participatory planning by learning from communities who are marginalized.”

The Awards for Research Excellence are run by the RTPI to recognise and promote high quality, impactful spatial planning research from RTPI accredited planning schools, and planning consultancies around the world.  Dr Michael Harris, RTPI’s Head of Research, said: “The winners and highly commended entries have demonstrated how academic researchers can positively reach out to practitioners and policymakers with insights and finding to inform and influence their work. I am pleased these awards have been able to celebrate such impactful, high quality research again this year.”

Kate Hogarth, the other UCT finalist, received a commendation from the judges for her dissertation entitled Leveraging the Private Sector to Enable the Delivery of Well-located Affordable Housing in Cape Town.

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