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Pacific Island cities have some of the most rapid rates of urbanisation in the world, attracting rural migrants, particularly youth, in search of a better life. Within these cities significant political and social transformations are occurring. How well these transformational processes are handled will determine whether Pacific cities become drivers of economic growth and inclusive development, or sources of social unrest.
Making cities work is a regional imperative that requires governments, communities, donors and researchers to put urbanisation squarely on the agenda. Since 2015 SSGM has expanded its urbanisation in Melanesia research program, with a strong focus on Honiara—one of the most rapidly growing cities in the region. The Urbanisation in Honiara: Managing Change, Creating Opportunities study aims to better inform policy makers about community priorities concerning rapid urbanisation in Honiara and to identify opportunities to improve urban living environments and development opportunities. To enrich our, and policy makers’, understanding of urban issues in Melanesia we have undertaken case studies of urbanisation in Suva, Port Vila and Port Moresby, mainly to draw out the lessons for Honiara and to lay the foundations for future research. These studies have identified useful lessons about urban land management, public housing and urban governance.
The Urbanisation in Honiara project is engaging with a diverse range of urban stakeholders to identify their priorities for the city and pathways for future development (see references below for In Briefs and Discussion Papers). In March 2016 we held a workshop with the Honiara business community to identify economic challenges and opportunities arising from urban development. The workshop highlighted the increasing difficulties facing urban businesses stemming from poor urban infrastructure and services, but also the opportunities that could arise from better urban management.
In August 2016 we commenced a partnership with World Vision Solomon Islands, working together in three urban communities—Lord Howe, White River and Sun Valley—to better define settlers’ priorities for improving living standards and livelihoods in informal settlements. This ongoing research collects information on the impact of rapid urbanisation on the lives of men, women, youth and people with disabilities living in urban and peri-urban settlements. Working in partnership with World Vision provides SSGM with access to information from communities in which World Vision has established relationships and programs. World Vision’s Program Quality Manager Osborn Cains explained that “[t]he findings from this study will not only help fill the information gap on urbanisation. It will also be useful for those formulating national policy…and also help organisations that work directly with communities like World Vision to better tailor their programs.”
“SSGM and World Vision conducting focus group discussion with Lord Howe community members, Honiara.”
In August we also held a workshop with a broad range of representatives from Guadalcanal Province who have been impacted by the expansion of Honiara beyond the city boundaries and have much to gain from better-managed urban expansion. The workshop underlined how Guadalcanal communities want to engage with urban issues, but have found it difficult to do so because of weak urban institutions and limited resources. This was the first workshop of this nature since the Tensions period.
The research program is ongoing. We are examining issues related to: political biases hindering urban development; business priorities for stronger urban economic development; issues of exclusion affecting informal settlements and opportunities for engagement; urban youth needs; and civil society challenges and leverage points when engaging with policymakers. Preliminary findings from our research on urbanisation in Melanesia were presented in a session of State of the Pacific 2016, Rapid Urbanisation: Managing Change in Pacific Cities The panel drew on the work of academics and practitioners currently working in cities around Melanesia to gain a better understanding of urban change processes, land management initiatives, and new institutional arrangements that have the potential to improve urban development prospects. Our research has also been presented in a number of other forums, including the Australian Association for Pacific Studies conference in Cairns this year and the recent RMIT Public Forum on Places and Spaces in the Pacific.
Following on from State of the Pacific, SSGM hosted a strategic policy discussion on Urbanisation in the Pacific to explore some of the key issues and priorities for urban research in the Pacific. The discussion between Australian government officials, multilateral development partners, and Pacific researchers established the foundations for future information sharing and collaboration.
Our urbanisation research is designed to help urban communities in the Pacific engage constructively with the challenges and opportunities of urban development. Our final research report will make recommendations on urban governance, services, livelihoods, and strategies to support more inclusive forms of urban decision-making.
Discussion Paper 2016/6 Sharing the City: Urban Growth and Governance in Suva, Fiji
Tarryn Phillips and Meg Keen
In Brief 2016/13 After the Floods: Urban Displacement, Lessons from Honiara
Meg Keen and Alan McNeil
In Brief 2016/9 Urban Politics in Melanesia: Shallow Roots
Julien Barbara and Meg Keen
In Brief 2015/ 64 Pacific Urbanisation: Changing Times
Meg Keen and Julien Barbara