Book review: Cities for Human Development: A Capability Approach to City-Making

Adriana Allen, President of Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and Prof. at UCL The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), reviews Cities for Human Development: A Capability Approach to City-Making by Alexandre Apsan Frediani.

‘One of the most valuable contributions of this book is not only how it connects the capabilities approach with ‘urban’ and ‘planning’ questions, but the way in which it expands the scope and boundaries of the capabilities approach by practicing it.

In its pages, Alexandre Apsan Frediani invites us to take seriously the importance of developing intersectional and spatial sensibilities to approach the questions of whose capabilities we are talking about and where. In doing so, he takes us far beyond the site of individuals and collectives, the city centre and the periphery, to the point where they merge, where they become a messy landscape of collective experiences and actions, shaped by place and intersectional identities, by social norms and formal institutions.

Another crucial contribution in this book, is that of exploring how changes to institutional capabilities can be activated from within and outside formal institutions, through processes that craft a porosity to sensibilities that institutions often lack, sensibilities informed by the everyday and by social mobilisation processes, rather than just by legal and social norms. While doing this he invites us to think about the connections between capabilities and rights, while opening windows into the micro-politics of how capabilities and habitat-related human rights are eroded or developed and with what consequences in the everyday lives of those who are politically and materially unsheltered.

This book also engages with the question of learning, of the critical pedagogies embodied in a reconceptualised practice of the capabilities approach. How do we learn to effect real change? What capabilities need to be nurtured to that effect? Alex’s book is in fact an act of reflexive learning in its own right, through which readers from a vast range of fields can find distilled key principles, methodologies and practices, to enact new capabilities from wherever they work towards a more just world.’

Cities for Human Development: A Capability Approach to City-Making was published in September 2021. Order your copy, in a format of your choice, from the Practical Action Publishing website.


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