Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Themes for future issues

Environment and Urbanization does not take unsolicited proposals for special issues.

October 2024: Forced displacement and the city

Deadline for submissions has passed.

This special issue has an explicit focus on towns and cities in low- and middle-income countries hosting refugees and IDPs in protracted displacement.

Although statistics are unreliable, it is generally accepted that the majority of forcibly displaced people – around 60 per cent of refugees and more than half of all internally displaced people (IDPs) –   now live in towns and cities around the world. Globally, 76 per cent of refugees are living in low- and middle-income countries, and urban areas of the global South are thus disproportionately affected by these trends. Many displaced people arrive with limited assets, and find that without humanitarian assistance or the legal right to work, these are quickly depleted. Locating to areas of the city with the cheapest rents, refugees and IDPs often live alongside low-income and marginalized households in informal settlements, where they may experience additional vulnerabilities linked to their migration status.

Statements on the urbanization of displacement now appear with regularity in international policy documents or on the websites of humanitarian organisations. However, programming and assistance for urban refugees and IDPs still lags behind the attention and funding focused on camps.  Recognition that displacement trends are mirroring broader urbanization trends are only slowly translating into in-depth research on the urban experiences of displaced people, and the impacts of displacement on the urban fabric, its economy and systems of service delivery.

In many countries, cities of refuge are intrinsically linked to camps. In some cases, displaced people will have transited through or lived in a camp, or move between the camp and an urban centre, often to nearby secondary cities. Aid agencies and hosting governments present the camp as an alternative for those who are unable to achieve ‘self-reliance’ in the city. In addition, there is a body of scholarship that posits that camps, over time, develop social and economic systems – as well as infrastructure – that are urban in nature. The idea that remote camps could become autonomous urban centres, functioning without the support of humanitarian assistance, has also caught the imagination of some international policymakers and donors.

Despite the co-existence of refugees in urban areas and in camps, and the flows of people, goods, capital and information between them, comparative research on the experiences of these populations is rare. An exception is IIED’s Protracted Displacement in an Urban World study, that has used mixed methods to compare the wellbeing and livelihoods of refugees and IDPs in camps and urban areas of Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Jordan and Kenya. Building on IIED’s research, this special issue of Environment and Urbanization will provide a platform for original research on the intersections of urbanization and displacement, experiences of displaced populations (including comparative work between camp and urban spaces), actual and potential roles for municipal authorities responding to the arrival of forcibly displaced people, and policy and programming innovations promoting inclusive environments for refugees and IDPs in towns and cities.

We invite submissions in the form of academic articles or Field Notes based on original research or innovative practices. Themes may include:

  • How displaced people navigate formal and informal city systems to find shelter, achieve livelihoods and access basic services;
  • Reflections on refugee/IDP self-reliance and/or wellbeing in towns and cities, their economic and social contributions, and the opportunities and barriers to a decent standing of living in exile;
  • Municipal responses to forced displacement that promote refugee and IDP inclusion, including innovations in participatory city planning and expanding service provision and protection;
  • Experiences of international, national and community or refugee-led organisations in supporting municipal authorities and local service providers to promote an inclusive, safe environment for displaced people in towns and cities;
  • Explorations of the relationships between camps and cities, and how displaced people navigate the humanitarian system to maximizse benefits to themselves and their families;
  • The role of secondary cities and small urban centres in providing opportunities for refugee livelihoods and protection.
  • Analysing the experiences of refugees and IDPs in the context of theories related to urban inequality and intersectional disadvantage including stigmatization and social exclusion.

Please visit https://www.iied.org/forced-displacement-city for details of an academic symposium related to this special issue.


Please contact Jenny Peebles, E&U Managing Editor, to submit an expression of interest or with any queries: Jenny.Peebles@iied.org.

Guest editors

Dr Lucy Earle, Principal researcher and Director of Human Settlements group, International Institute for Environment and Development

Dr Alison Brown, Professor of Urban Planning and International Development, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

April 2025: Urban reform coalitions

Deadline for submissions: 15th July 2024 for complete submissions; expressions of interest welcomed before 15th June 2024.

This special issue of Environment and Urbanization will engage with a political strategy long used by both advantaged and disadvantaged groups, that of urban coalitions. While the role of such reform coalitions in effecting broad-based urban change in the global North is widely recognized, there is little comprehensive analysis of their formation and work in the global South. Coalitions, at least in part, may be understood as a response made by agencies to reposition a reform agenda, managing state–society relations to benefit excluded groups. Faced with potentially hostile urban development processes, diverse groups of citizens and professional support agencies have invested in coalitions to ensure their voices are heard and their interests secured. This volume seeks to address that gap by asking questions about the political role and purpose of coalitions, their contribution to advancing specific types of state–society interaction, and practices that underpin coalition-building and maintenance. We are not differentiating between coalitions and alliances in this discussion; we are talking about groupings that come together with shared values and common purpose in anticipation of achieving mutual benefits through activities that are sustained over the time required.

There is a myriad of different ways in which groups are disadvantaged and marginalized. Some are related to exploitation, others to dispossession, and still more to denial, discrimination and misrepresentation. Other NGOs and/or academic groups are committed to advancing public interest issues such as improving tax collection or improving access to public services. These are coalitions and alliances that come together to manage political outcomes to secure mutual advantage through building relations across class lines. For those who are disadvantaged, these relations offer ways to source recognition, information, knowledge, emotional support and advice. Coalitions and alliances emerge as effective in multiple ways; however, one of their most significant contributions evident in the existing literature is that they enable voice, and to amplify that voice as it emerges.

We are particularly interested in papers that address the following questions:

  • What are the benefits that result from working with this modality? And how do groups manage their internal power dynamics to achieve these benefits? When do disadvantaged groups avoid coalitions and/or walk away? Answering these questions will help us to understand the motivations for such strategies and “why” groups choose to invest in coalitions.
  • While coalitions and alliances are not unique to the urban context, there are specificities in the urban context that appear to favour these approaches. One of these specificities is the need for reforms at multiple points in the process. What can we learn from coalitions that work at multiple scales including both the city to the neighbourhood?
  • Diverse groups in the global South including academics, civil society organizations and community groups have practical experience in coalition-building to effect an urban change. This collection seeks to advance our understanding of the formation, composition, operation and evaluation of urban reform coalitions working towards broad-based, equitable and sustainable outcomes. We are particularly interested in lessons around how political elites and state officials (at all levels) can be draw into formal and informal alliances. How can coalitions and alliance be developed such that they are used to have the greatest effect – i.e., how to do this to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs? These papers will answer the “how” question.
  • We are conscious that building coalitions and alliances is only one option for urban social movements. Organizations that nurture insurgent citizenship may see dangers from engaging with coalitions, and/or may try and fail with this strategy as they are pressured to avoid antagonizing the state. What are the challenges to this approach and when is it not an effective use of resources? Or, looked at another way, what are the motivations (such as perceived political opportunities) that trigger coalitions (rather than an alternative strategy), and when are coalition strategies abandoned in favour of another approach? Addressing this question will help us understand the “when” question.
  • As might be anticipated in any relatively new field of enquiry, there appear to be a plethora of distinct initiatives. But are they really so distinct? Is it possible to group efforts and experiences of a similar type together? And if so, what are the typologies that can help bring together such a categorization?
  • There are both material and ideational realities that have to be addressed for urban transformation to be secured. That requires public goods to be provided to the benefit of all including the most disadvantaged groups; it requires identifying strategies that enable prosperity to be secured through building capabilities and supporting enterprise development; and it necessitates new governance models that nurture citizen engagement and an accountable state. If it is the idea of urban development that has been re-visioned and alternative, and more new solutions to address urban challenges need to be identified, developed and tested, then what is the role of coalitions in this? How do coalitions understand the nature of urban development challenges, and how do they identify and develop their own contributions to these processes? If the questions above are about the “what, why, how and when” questions related to coalitions, then this final question is about the self-identity of coalitions and the construction of their public persona. 

Finally, there are no panaceas or “cookie-cutter” approaches to short cut development. And we do not want to present reform coalitions through such a lens. Rather we are looking for critical perspectives on the questions above.


Please contact Jenny Peebles, E&U Managing Editor, to submit an expression of interest or with any queries: Jenny.Peebles@iied.org.


Diana Mitlin, Professor of Global Urbanism, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester; Senior associate, Human Settlements Group, International Institute for Environment and Development; Editor-in-Chief, Environment and Urbanization.

October 2025: Addressing socio-technical assistance for socially and environmentally just cities

Deadline for submissions: 15th January 2025 for complete submissions; expressions of interest welcomed before 15th November 2024.

The aim of this special issue is to discuss how professional practices can contribute to more sustainable and emancipatory forms of city-making. While today’s cities are characterized by unequal relations of power driven by exploitation and value extraction, they are also spaces where grassroots and civil society networks establish emancipatory and environmentally regenerative city-making practices based on principles of care and solidarity. Professionally grounded spatial practices often play a crucial role in supporting these initiatives by offering allyship and support to communities and their organizations.

This special issue aims to highlight and examine community socio-technical assistance in the fields of architecture and urban planning. We want to focus on the work of organizations such as architectural and planning NGOs, technical advisory offices, design clinics, and technical assistance networks that support residents in informal settlements and social housing initiatives. Our goal is to critically reflect on the positions, approaches, and methods of these practices, as well as address the challenges related to negotiating questions of power, voice and expertise between professionals and communities. We are interested in examining these relationships from the viewpoints of both practitioners and residents, considering both local and networked experiences. As per E&U’s scope, we encourage diverse contributions, especially from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, focusing on critical reflections on experiences such as those of the Community Architects Network in Asia or the Fórum de Assessoria Técnica Popular in Brazil.

This project goes beyond the usual research–practice divide and serves as both an editorial undertaking and a coalition-building effort. Through co-editing this special issue, we aim to weave together a trans-local network of researchers and practitioners in architecture and urban planning who have supported the work of social movements in different locations, scales and temporalities.

We invite submissions in the form of academic articles or Field Notes based on original research or innovative practices responding to questions that include:

  • What is the role of professionally grounded spatial practices in promoting socially and environmentally just cities in specific locations, scales, and timeframes?
  • What are the guiding principles, partnerships, methods, and tools that define the work of these practices? Additionally, what concepts and frameworks can help us better understand their operational methods?
  • How do professional practices contribute to the collaborative creation and dissemination of urban knowledge? What are the explicit and implicit forms of knowledge production involved in these practices?
  • Finally, how can research support the work of professionally grounded spatial practices, and what does such research involve?

By addressing these questions, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the potential impact of professionally grounded spatial practices on promoting just and sustainable urban development, and how research can assist their efforts.


In addition to submissions in the form of academic articles or Field Notes based on original research or innovative practices, we will encourage and support co-authoring with non-academic contributors, as well as interviews or edited dialogues with practitioners and social movement representatives.


Please contact Jenny Peebles, E&U Managing Editor, to submit an expression of interest or with any queries: Jenny.Peebles@iied.org.


Beatrice De Carli, Reader in Urbanism at the School of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University and Managing Associate at Architecture Sans Frontières UK.

Jhono Bennett, Doctoral Candidate in the TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing Network, University College London, and Co-founder of 1to1 Agency of Engagement.

Tanzil Shafique, Lecturer in Urban Design, University of Sheffield.