Urban Lectures

In April 2014 UN-Habitat launched the Global Urban Lectures – lecture packages focused on subjects related to cities and urbanization.

Each package consists of a 15 min video, a synopsis of the topic, a biography of the speaker and links to in depth study.

The speakers are associated with UN-Habitat’s work, recruited from universities, think-tanks, governments, NGO’s, and private sector institutions. The series wishes to demonstrate a sound evidence-based analysis of a given problem and issues at stake, identify propositions to address them and provide examples that demonstrate how such propositions actually work, are being tested or have been implemented.

All lecture packages are available free of charge, find them in the tabs below.

The Global Urban Lectures continuously launches new materials. To receive notifications of our newly released lectures, do either of the following:

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How to apply the series in your work or studies

Season One

Season Two

Following the success of the first season, which quickly became the top viewed and shared outreach initiative of UN-Habitat, the second season continues with 8 new speakers working with UN-Habitat in the urban arena.

The urban lectures are a free resource of video lectures, including synopsis, biographies and additional reading materials, open to use for academic, professional or personal purposes (see ‘how to use this series’ above for more details on this). Meeting the feedback from the first season, this season also brings the opportunity to download the series as MP3s, to listen to on the go. You’ll find these by clicking on the lecturers below.

Download the full pdf with all synopses, biographies and links here.


“Principles of Planned Urbanization”

Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director, UN-Habitat

In this opening session for the second season of the Global Urban Lecture Series, Dr. Joan Clos introduces three fundamental principles behind planned urbanization: Rules and Regulations, Urban Design, and a Financial Plan. Together they form a three legged approach towards sustainable cities. Starting point for the lecture is the distinction between spontaneous and planned urbanization. Dr Clos goes through the above three essential principles to bear in mind as the world urbanizes, in order to achieve planned urbanization and avoid the pitfalls of spontaneous development.


Jane Weru

“Too Pressed To Wait”

Jane Weru, Akiba Mashinani Trust

Jane Weru is the Executive Director of Akiba Mashinani Trust, a nonprofit organization working on developing innovative community led solutions to housing and land tenure problems for the urban poor in Kenya. Her lecture ‘Too Pressed To Wait’ is based on the realization that the water and sanitation hygiene systems in informal settlements in Nairobi are greatly lacking or inadequate, and that this state of affairs is causing a strain on both the physical and psychological health of people who live and work in these settlements, in particular women and girls. This situation is compounded by other challenges facing informal settlements such as land tenure insecurity, poverty and gender-based violence.


Clarissa Augustinus

“Addressing global land challenges”

Clarissa Augustinus, UN-Habitat

UN-Habitat’s Clarissa Augustinus in this lecture focuses on the global challenges relating particularly to land issues. An analysis of the land systems of over 25 developing countries in all regions has shown that current systems are not coping and that this is a world wide problem. Serviced land cannot be delivered at scale. Planning is either not implemented, or not implemented as planned, at scale. Slum upgrading is piecemeal and not city wide, including fixing underlying delivery systems. To deliver at scale, a gap of 18 missing tools was identified. Global Land Tool Network partners have been developing these land tools to find solutions. Each tool is developed with a reference group of partners including the profession involved, civil society, research and training institutions, also to build its robustness, legitimacy and use.


robert Buckley

“Urbanization & demographics: The coordination problem”

Robert Buckley, The New School

Robert Buckley from the New School bases his lecture on the realization that little attention is being paid to the inexorable increase in urban populations, particularly in very low income countries. Almost all of the world’s next 2 billion people will live in these already slum-invested cities, with likely adverse effects on economic development as well as increased social exclusion. Instead of focusing on the issues involved with coordinating a coherent policy response to this demographic trend, the development agenda has focused on how coordination problems in supporting industry can be overcome. Buckley argues that these industrial coordination problems are no doubt important, but so too is the avoidance of increasingly dysfunctional cities.


Michael Cohen

“Urban economy in the new millennium” 

Michael Cohen, The New School

Michael Cohen in this lecture illustrates that data about economic growth demonstrates that cities act as engines of national economic development. In 2008, for the first time in human history, half the world’s population lived in urban areas. Due to agglomeration economies, approximately 80 percent from global GDP is coming out of urban-based economic activities; 600 urban centers generate about 60 percent of global GDP. Yet, without the right focus, agglomeration economies can have deleterious negative externalities, such as harmful environmental effects, urban poverty, and intra-urban inequalities. In addition, the lecture addresses the issue of climate change, which represents a major threat to cities.


Marja Smit

“Mass housing requires mass housing finance” 

Marja Hoek Smit, Wharton Scool, University of Pennsylvania

In this lecture Marja Hoek Smit argues that housing finance is critical to solve the housing problem, increasing, as it does, the number of households that can afford to acquire a house in the formal market, which in turn will make large scale development of middle and lower middle income housing possible. Access to housing finance is described as equally important for investors in rental housing of all types. The lecture discusses the positive characteristics of mortgage lending compared to alternative housing finance options, as well as the reasons for mortgage systems to remain small in many urbanizing emerging market countries. It calls for changes in policy to address these constraints. 


Chris Jefferies

“Urban Drainage & Green Infrastructure”

Chris Jefferies, Urban Drainage specialist

Urban drainage expert Chris Jefferies in this lecture addresses the need to reduce the impact of city development on flooding of residents in other places and the worsening of the water quality in streams, rivers and lakes caused by the city expansion. The most appropriate current solutions involve Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) but SUDS can only be implemented with good policies, supportive stakeholder groups and partnership working so that these new ideas, which cut across existing methods and practices, can be accepted.



“Densification in consolidated informal settlements”Peter Ward

Peter Ward, University of Texas

Peter Ward from University of Texas in this lecture presents data drawn from a multi-country/city collaborative study to examine self-built housing in old established low-income neighborhoods. The location of many of these consolidated settlements makes them increasingly desirable locations sand a likely target for back-to-the-city densification and urban regeneration governmental policies. This threatens to generate pressures for displacement and to enhance gentrification.  The challenge will be to ensure mixed-use and mixed income residential development associated with densification and infilling.  


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