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Mobile Phones as a Lens into Slum Dynamics

Copyright © 2012. 19 pages.
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DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0074-4.ch020
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Wesolowski, Amy and Nathan Eagle. "Mobile Phones as a Lens into Slum Dynamics." Online Research Methods in Urban and Planning Studies: Design and Outcomes. IGI Global, 2012. 334-352. Web. 17 Apr. 2014. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-0074-4.ch020


Wesolowski, A., & Eagle, N. (2012). Mobile Phones as a Lens into Slum Dynamics. In C. Silva (Ed.), Online Research Methods in Urban and Planning Studies: Design and Outcomes (pp. 334-352). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-0074-4.ch020


Wesolowski, Amy and Nathan Eagle. "Mobile Phones as a Lens into Slum Dynamics." In Online Research Methods in Urban and Planning Studies: Design and Outcomes, ed. Carlos Nunes Silva, 334-352 (2012), accessed April 17, 2014. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-0074-4.ch020

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The worldwide adoption of mobile phones is providing researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to utilize large-scale data to better understand human behavior. This chapter highlights the potential use of mobile phone data to better understand the dynamics driving slums in Kenya. Given slum dwellers informal and transient lifetimes (in terms of places of employment, living situations, etc.), comprehensive longitude behavioral data sets are rare. Working with communication and location data from Kenya’s leading mobile phone operator, the authors use mobile phone data as a window into the social, mobile, and economic dimensions of slum dwellers. The authors address questions about the functionality of slums in urban areas in terms of economic, social, and migratory dynamics. In particular, the authors discuss economic mobility in slums, the importance of social networks, and the connectivity between slums and other urban areas. With four years until the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals, including the goal to improve the lives of slum dwellers worldwide, there is a great need for tools to make development and urban planning decisions more beneficial and precise.
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For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the countryside. Our world is no longer simply going through the experience of urbanization. Our world has become urbanized. One billion people - or one in every three urban residents - now live in an urban slum, the vast majority of them in developing nations (Kramer, 2006).

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “with more than half of the world’s population now living in urban areas1, this is the urban century” (UN-Habitat, 2008, 2009). By 2015, there will be at least 500 cities whose population is over one million (UN-Habitat, 2002, 2003). It is estimated that by 2050, the world population will reach ten billion, with the majority of those people living in urban areas (Davis, 2002). The brunt of this population growth will occur in developing countries. Ninety-five percent of the growth of the human population will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose population is expected to double to nearly four billion over the next generation (Yeung, 1997). In particular, Africa's urban population is expected to triple in the next 20 years (Kaplan, Wheeler, & Holloway, 2009). As cities continue to grow at such an alarming rate, the level of inequality continues to rise. Africa is experiencing the largest urbanization force without a stable economic basis to sustain this growth. The push of rural landlessness and poverty are driving more individuals, at a rate of 5% per year, to cities. Likewise, there is less correspondence between urban growth and overall economic growth than in other developing countries. As a result, urbanization in Africa will continue to go hand in hand with slum growth and formation. For example, between 1990 and 2000 slum in Africa areas grew at a rate of 4.53%, while overall urban growth rates were 4.58% in the same period (UN-Habitat, 2006). These figures imply that the vast majority of new urban migrants are settling into slums.

While there is no universally agreed upon definition of a slum2, the UN designates an area as a slum if it meets a majority of the following characteristics: lack of basic services, substandard housing or illegal and inadequate building structure, overcrowding and high density, unhealthy living conditions and hazardous locations, insecure tenure, irregular or informal settlements, poverty and social exclusion, and minimum settlement size. The operational definition is restrictive to physical and legal characteristics of slums including: inadequate access to safe water, inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure, poor structural quality of housing, overcrowding, and insecure residential status. Given the complexity, relative nature, and informality of slums, any finer definition is difficult to achieve (UN-Habitat, 2002, 2003).

Currently, almost a billion individuals, or one in every three urban dwellers, lives in a slum. It is estimated that by 2030 there will be two billion individuals living in slums, with a total of 45% of the total urban population living in slums (Ravallion, 2001). In sub-Saharan Africa the statistics are even more staggering. There, nearly two-thirds of city dwellers (or 62%) live in a slum (UN-Habitat, 2008, 2009). Since, urban areas, in particular slums, provide a means for individuals to improve their quality of their life, their growth is inevitable. Slum play a number of roles in a city as a first stopping point for immigrants, a key source of local enterprise and industry, and the most obvious source of low-cost labor. They are the easiest access point for new migrants to a city with affordable housing. Many argue their growth is an inevitable consequence of urbanization. Cities cannot provide housing or social support for the large influx of migrants during rapid periods of growth. Slums are able to ease the housing burden for cities since they provide shelter in an incredibly small area for a large group of people without any governmental aid. With a lack of governmental infrastructure and plans for urban growth, it is unsurprising that slums continue to prosper. Moreover, in many parts of the world local and central authorities do not recognize this large and growing population. This “invisible” population and unplanned part of most cities desperately needs better policy and planning strategies to alleviate the suffering of slum dwellers.


Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Carlos Nunes Silva
Chapter 1
Carlos Nunes Silva
The chapter provides an overview of online research methods for urban and planning research. In examining different digital technologies and... Sample PDF
Research Methods for Urban Planning in the Digital Age
Chapter 2
Randall J. Olsen
Applied social science research has increasingly come to rely on surveys to generate detailed data, especially on firms, persons, and households... Sample PDF
Infrastructure for Survey Data Processing in Urban and Planning Studies
Chapter 3
Sunghee Lee
Web surveys have been adopted as a practical data collection tool notably due to their economic nature and a fast turn-around time. One popular type... Sample PDF
Volunteer Panel Web Surveys in Urban Planning
Chapter 4
Kathleen J. Hanrahan, Mathew T. Smith, Judith E. Sturges
Computer mediated communication is a part of everyday life for much of the population. People rely on email and instant messaging, post to chat... Sample PDF
Online Qualitative Interviews: Opportunities and Challenges for Urban and Planning Studies
Chapter 5
Peter Petocz, Sue Gordon, Anna Reid
Researching people’s ideas and experiences of Urban and Planning Studies can be carried out in a variety of ways, but the most obvious is to ask... Sample PDF
Towards a Method for Research Interviews using E-Mail
Chapter 6
Jason Zalinger
Instant Messaging (IM) programs are powerful and unique tools for conducting semi-structured or unstructured online interviews. However, many... Sample PDF
The Story of Ethnochat: Designing an Instant Messaging Program to Conduct Semi-Structured or Unstructured Interviews
Chapter 7
Joachim Gerich
In video-enhanced computer interviews, questions are presented by virtual interviewers by means of pre-recorded video sequences. To date, two... Sample PDF
Video-Enhanced Self-Administered Computer Interviews
Chapter 8
Bettina Kolb
Using visual material in a participatory interview process allows for broadening communication with users and developing a deeper understanding of... Sample PDF
Unveiling Space by using Participatory Photo Interview
Chapter 9
Mary T. Dzindolet, Paul B. Paulus, Courtney Glazer
Most research is conducted by teams rather than individuals, and due to a variety of technological advances many research teams do not work... Sample PDF
Brainstorming in Virtual Teams
Chapter 10
Nicolas Michinov
The purpose of this chapter is to present an under-used technique for collecting ideas in scientific research teams, namely electronic... Sample PDF
The use of Electronic Brainstorming for Collecting Ideas in Scientific Research Teams: A Challenge for Future Online Research
Chapter 11
Chia-Chien Hsu, Brian A. Sandford
The Delphi research and investigation technique utilizes experts in any given field to generate information in greater abundance and specificity... Sample PDF
The Delphi Technique: Use, Considerations, and Applications in the Conventional, Policy, and On-Line Environments
Chapter 12
Thorsten Gruber, Alexander E. Reppel, Isabelle Szmigin, Rödiger Voss
Laddering is a well-established research technique in the social sciences which provides rich data to help understand means-end considerations... Sample PDF
Designing Online Laddering Studies
Chapter 13
Rosalind Hurworth
This chapter examines the potential of the Search Conference (SC) and a later version, the Future Search Conference (FS), as useful participatory... Sample PDF
Search Conferences and Future Search Conferences: Potential Tools for Urban Planning in an On-Line Environment
Chapter 14
Guido Lang, Stanislav Mamonov, Karl R. Lang
The advent of the Internet has facilitated many new forms of communication and thus has laid the foundation for new forms of interaction and social... Sample PDF
Netnography: An Assessment of a Novel Research Approach and its Underlying Philosophical Assumptions
Chapter 15
Stefano Pace
Videos on YouTube can be analysed at two connected levels: (1) the content of the video, and (2) its context, which comprises viewers’ comments and... Sample PDF
Citizens on YouTube: Research-Method Issues
Chapter 16
Lesley Murray
The recent surge in interest in both mobile and visual methodologies reflects an increasing awareness of mobility and visualization in shaping our... Sample PDF
Online Opportunities for Mobile and Visual Research
Chapter 17
Susan Crichton
Digital tools can help simplify qualitative researchers’ work. They can also add depth and richness by capturing data in a way that can be viewed... Sample PDF
Using Digital Tools in Qualitative Research: Supporting Integrity, Simplicity, Deep Insight and Social Change
Chapter 18
Travis L. Ross, Edward Castronova, Gert G. Wagner
This chapter summarizes current empirical methods in virtual world research. Since 2001, virtual worlds have become an important form of social... Sample PDF
Empirical Research Methods in Virtual Worlds
Chapter 19
Alexandra Millonig, Markus Ray, Helmut Schrom-Feiertag
Mobility and orientation behaviour research often requires the monitoring of pedestrian spatio-temporal behaviour. A number of different empirical... Sample PDF
Monitoring Pedestrian Spatio-Temporal Behaviour using Semi-Automated Shadowing
Chapter 20
Amy Wesolowski, Nathan Eagle
The worldwide adoption of mobile phones is providing researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to utilize large-scale data to better understand... Sample PDF
Mobile Phones as a Lens into Slum Dynamics
Chapter 21
Almut Leh, Doris Tausendfreund
This chapter explores developments in and prospects for the online archival storage and retrieval of oral history interviews—with a focus on... Sample PDF
Archiving Audio and Video Interviews
Chapter 22
Andrew Charlesworth
This chapter provides background to, and a broad understanding of, the legal (and ethical) risks that researchers face in their utilisation of... Sample PDF
Addressing Legal Issues in Online Research, Publication and Archiving: A UK Perspective
Chapter 23
Harsh Suri, Fay Patel
Online research methods are gaining popularity in several disciplines as they offer numerous opportunities that were not feasible before. However... Sample PDF
Ethical Considerations in Online Research Methods