On February 11th, the Center for International Development hosted Dr. Jacqueline Klopp, Co-Director and Research Scholar at Columbia University's Center for Sustainable Urban Development, Earth Institute. Dr. Klopp discussed how evidence-aligned investment decisions in transportation systems are critical and will likely have enormous impacts on African cities, which are facing unprecedented growth in urban populations and service delivery needs in the age of climate change. The conversation was moderated by Maryam Tourk, a CID Student Ambassador.

Focusing on Nairobi, Dr. Klopp stressed the need for bottom-up insights and grassroots realities to replace politically-driven, top-down transportation planning processes. Current priorities in Nairobi are skewed towards carbon-intensive and large-scale road infrastructure due to the political economy that has emerged around large projects. Even though a vast majority of citizens walk and opt for popular modes of informal group transport, also called Matatus, these modes of transportation are invisible in Nairobi’s planning. Data regarding usage, modelling, carbon footprint, or integration with other modes of transport for these popular systems does into exist, thus making it difficult to plan for resiliency. The Digital Matatu Project, designed in collaboration with MIT, addressed this gap by using GPS and cellphone generated data that can render these popular and dominant systems more visible in planning.

Finally, Dr. Klopp shared how locally built Digital Data Commons can enhance transparency and enable cities to make more inclusive and sustainable planning and investment decisions, not only in transportation, but across planning concerns. Given that collectors and owners of data hold the most power, using digital commons and pushing for data sovereignty can give legitimacy to informal systems, reveal existing injustices, and encourage more equitable and sustainable planning practices.

The Center for International Development Speaker Series continues on February 25th at 12:00 pm featuring Debbie Aung Din, Co-Founder of Proximity Designs. In her presentation, Aung Din will address the question, Can Social Enterprises Fill the Market and Public Sector Gaps in Tough Places? Register here to attend.


CID Student Ambassador Author:

Manasa Acharya, a Master of Urban Planning candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design


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