The Urban Academy comes out of a collaboration between the African Centre for Cities and UNITAC, a partnership between the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the United Nations Office for Information and Communication Technology (UN OICT), and the CityScienceLab @HafenCity University in Hamburg (CSL) and is informed by a shared interest in unpacking the intersection between technology, space, and society, and in particular an action-oriented approach to research on democratic decision-making, new models of service delivery and the future of work. We are interested in collaborating on research within and at the intersection of the following three research themes:

  • Open, transparent and participatory governance: This theme focuses on localized examples of digital governance, as well as the kinds of ‘digital worlding’ that enables new and multi-scalar civic constituencies and activism, asking how is local accountability and transparency effected by digital worlding? This theme engages practically with how people use digital technologies to shape democratic spaces in and across cities. Conceptually, it engages with how people use digital platforms to make meaning, shape new forms of identity and community (even globally), and mobilise often-silenced voices.
  • Socio-spatial analysis, digital data and new forms of work:  This theme is is interested in methodological innovations (e.g. counter-mapping) and connecting them with local-global spatial analysis of social, cultural, political and economic inequality. Connecting this to how youth are forging new economic paths is crucial (particularly in an African context). How emergent platform economies can be better understood and configured for equity and wealth sharing is essential. Our Young and Online in African Cities project is anchoring this thematic stream.
  • People-centred smart cities and service delivery: In order to avoid falling into the trap of techno-optimism and narrow frames of smart cities, this theme looks at how digitised services and platformed practices are enabling new forms of access to service delivery. In this context, services should not be reduced to municipal services, such as water or energy, but include social and cultural services (churches, libraries, cultural life) as well as access to health services (doctors, reproductive health etc.).
  • AI, algorithms and techno-ambivalence: Recognising that AI and algorithms are shaping digitisation of and in cities, this theme explores a techno-ambivalent approach to emplaced politics and practices at the intersection of cities and technology 

Programme details

Duration: 2021-2025
Location: ,
People: , , , , , Gesa Ziemer (CityScienceLab @HafenCity), Hilke Berger (CityScienceLab @HafenCity)

UNITAC, City Science Lab @HafenCity


Robert Bosch Stiftung, BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt