Complex Challenges in an Urban World (Workshop Series-2)

  • Date:
  • Time:
    9:00-10:45 a.m. JST
  • Location:
    Online seminar (Zoom Webinar)
    The Zoom Webinar URL will be delivered by mail before this event.
  • Title:

    Complex Challenges in an Urban World (Workshop Series-2)

  • Language:

    *Simultaneous translation will be provided with “interprefy.”
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    The token to log in “Inteprefy” and the Zoom Webinar URL will be shared with the participants before the event via e-mail from the IFI secretariat office.

  • Host:

    SDGs Collaborative Research Unit, Institute for Future Initiatives, The University of Tokyo

Registration is now closed for this event.

From the Chicago School to the LA School to the argument of cities serving as nodes within global networks to postcolonial perspectives, urban theories critically interrogate notions of what constitutes the ‘urban’. Or, what one means when referring to a ‘city’. These discussions enrich understanding of the dynamic nature of social spaces that continue to evolve over time in varied ways.

Building on these debates, we explore how urban spaces serve not only as a lens but also as arenas of change. Antecedent social, political, and economic processes are interacting with climate-related risks, internal and external migration, pandemics, and transnational crime-terror networks, etc., shaping complex challenges in an increasingly urban world.

Please join us in this second of the two-part workshop to understand these challenges from the vantage point of four scholars. Please read the concept of the workshop in the flyer.


Prof. Kazuya Nakamizo (Professor, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University)
‘COVID-19 and Migration Crisis: Some Reflections on Urbanization in India’

Prof. Louise Shelley (Hirst Chair and University Professor, Director of Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC), George Mason University)
‘Urban Environments and Transnational Crime’

Prof. Chiharu Takenaka (Professor, Graduate School of Law and Politics, Rikkyo University)
‘Politics of the Growing Cities: A Sketch from Indian History’

Prof. Yue Zhang (Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Political Science, University of Illinois at Chicago)
‘The Rise of Urban Sovereignty: Sanctuary Cities and Global Migration Governance’

Prof. Kiichi Fujiwara (Professor, Graduate Schools of Law and Politics / Director, the Institute for Future (IFI), University of Tokyo)

Dr. Nazia Hussain (Project Assistant Professor, Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI), University of Tokyo)

Complex Challenges in an Urban World

In the second meeting of the two-part research workshop on “Complex Challenges in an Urban World” at IFI, Univ. of Tokyo, scholars discussed the myriad challenges that cities are facing, including the situation brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his opening remarks, Professor Fujiwara raised attention to the conceptual issues and real world challenges when it comes to crime, violence, governance, and potential unrest in an increasingly urban world. With a large number of people moving to cities, urban spaces are constantly changing, and it is becoming more difficult to categorize the type of harmful acts occurring within these spaces. The perpetrators could be the state, informal political power holders, or ordinary individuals. Professor Fujiwara emphasized the need to have interdisciplinary discussions to address and resolve common issues related to violent acts in urban spaces.

Following Professor Fujiwara’s remarks, Dr. Hussain briefly outlined the current situation of cities. She emphasized that cities are not autonomous local systems; instead, they are sites where individuals, ideas, money, cultural influences, groups, and governments converge and interact to shape everyday and processes. Varied contexts from daily social activities of ordinary people to political responses of the local or national government coexist, while being exposed to global issues such as the pandemic, climate related risks, and migration. Complex stresses interact within urban environments. Dr. Hussain also foregrounded the importance of interdisciplinary research to understand how these stresses are shaping urban spaces.

Urban Environments and Transnational Crime

In her presentation, Professor Louise Shelly illustrated how urban environments have been economic centers of both the legitimate and the criminal economy with many concrete examples. Traditionally, urban ports served as key nodes for transnational crime. For example, Karachi in Pakistan was used to export opium to China by the British merchants during the opium wars.
Criminal activity is prevalent on all continents, and one reason urban centers become locales of organized crime is migration. In order to absorb those migrating from the rural areas, shadow economies develop in cities. International immigrants with criminal subcultures also enter cities, such as the mafia from Sicily coming to the US. In some regions, criminal groups even assume a role in governance. For example, a Mexican cartel has distributed aid packages to residents in Guadalajara during the COVID-19 crisis and publicized this act by circulating images and videos on the web.

A recent trend becoming visible is urban to rural migration. Conflict, climate change, and economic disparities between urban and rural areas foster urban to rural migration. These new migrants may be vulnerable to recruitment by crime groups. Under the current COVID-19 crisis, the groups could increase their presence in the local community, and from the individuals’ perspective, participation in crime groups may be an option to achieve social and economic mobility.

Paying attention to the workings of organized crime is important. Not only have gangsters involved in crime in cities been depicted in movies and novels, but their activities have also been recognized as an ongoing phenomenon even by the public

COVID-19 and Migration Crisis—Some Reflections on Urbanization in India

The second presenter, Professor Kazuya Nakamizo, focused on the migration crisis in India in relation to COVID-19 pandemic to analyze problems of urbanization. Internal migrants in India have been rapidly increasing since the economic liberalization in 1991, totaling in 600 million in 2020. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Indian government suddenly declared an all-India lockdown on March 24, 2020, affecting nearly 40 million internal migrants. In fear of losing jobs and incomes, around 10.4 million migrant laborers in urban regions headed back to their hometowns during the month of May, producing a huge wave of reverse migration.

Although policies dealing with the migration crisis were implemented, such as securing transportation and housing for migrants, these measures were insufficient and ineffective. In the rural areas, unemployment rates were high, poverty worsened, and social unrest rose. The policies were also unsuccessful as anti-COVID-19 measures. Crowded trains allowed the virus to spread among the migrants, and the migrants carried the virus back home. In Bihar, one of the largest states that sends out migrant laborers, a quarter of migrant laborers coming back were positive with COVID-19.

Despite the failure of anti-COVID-19 measures, in the 2020 Bihar state assembly election, the first major election after the COVID-19 crisis, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured a dominant position in the ruling coalition for the first time since independence. According to the 2020 Bihar survey conducted by Professor Nakamizo’s team, the 193 laborers that responded showed strong support for anti-COVID-19 policies. It was also revealed that the laborers supported the BJP more than other parties. The results may reflect the voters’ anticipation for a strong leadership, eagerly waiting for future delivery from the Prime Minister rather than being disappointed by previous failures. Another important issue Professor Nakamizo pointed out was the possible exclusion of migrant workers from the democratic process. Returning to their hometown to cast their votes would be difficult for many workers, which makes this issue a major problem that urban studies must deal with.

The Rise of Urban Sovereignty: Sanctuary Cities and Global Migration Governance

The third speaker, Professor Yue Zhang, discussed how the international influence of cities is increasing, especially on issues such as global migration, and how tensions between cities and national governments are growing. The increase in the number of international migrants continues to outpace the world’s population growth (80% of the world’s immigrants live in urban areas). Many of the irregular or undocumented migrants are also staying in cities, and while there are international arrangements to support these immigrants, they are not legally binding. Cities, being the first responders to the migration issue, usually choose inclusive urban policies, such as sanctuary policies, based on a humanitarian view with the expectation that immigrants will eventually contribute to the local economy. Yet, on the other hand, nation states usually have restrictive immigration policies because of concerns for national security, welfare state retreat under neoliberalism, or other political reasons. Therefore, cities are becoming more visible in the issue of global migration governance, and challenge national sovereignty over immigration and citizenship.

Sanctuary cities basically expand the “right to the city” and offer protection to immigrants even with irregular status. San Francisco became the first sanctuary city in 1985, and since then, there are 186 sanctuary cities worldwide. A recent example can be found in Gaziantep, Turkey, where public facilities for immigrants were built with the support from the EU. The city also allowed formal citizens to access these facilities. The population has increased, and with improved welfare standards for all citizens, the city is actually booming. The meaning of citizenship is shifting from the traditional, formal citizenship to a new urban one.

These cities have started to share knowledge and best practices with each other. Both national and international political debates on the issue of immigrants are being influenced by networked cities. As cities are claiming autonomy, there are confrontations between cities and their national government, but the nature of sovereignty in a global world is changing. Professor Zhang stressed the importance of researchers and policy makers thinking beyond the local-national divide and collaborating to achieve a better global migration governance.

Politics of Growing Cities: A Sketch from Indian History

In the final presentation, Professor Chiharu Takenaka traced the recent history of India, and illustrated how cities have been the birthplace of new movements. Central cities have four main basic functions; a political theater, a cultural hub, a residential society, and an economic center. Colonial Bombay in the nineteenth century started out as a political theater, economic center, and cultural hub. These functions cause formal or legal forces and informal or illegal forces to intersect in cities, leading to the rise of new movements. In Bombay, after the cotton green mills were established, labor unions emerged within the city. Around when the first Indian National Congress was held, a mass demonstration in Bombay by the Gandhian Movement took place during the salt satyagraha. After the Partition of India in 1947, refugees headed for urban centers. Also, a right-wing Marathi regionalist and ultranationalist political party Shiv Sena, founded in 1966, began with a speech by the founder Bal Thackeray addressing the public in an urban space.

In recent years, cities are targeted by terrorists, and COVID-19 impact has affected slums in urban spaces where it is the most crowded and vulnerable to infection. In an era when globalism, the nation state, and democracy are all under greater strain than ever before, cities are becoming more visible. Professor Takenaka insisted that cities need to re-situate themselves and reconsider how to pursue a global, civil society. She also referred to Gandhi, sharing her insights from her previous research that he was a “global traveler” who understood immigrants’ politics, implying that his philosophy is all the more relevant today.

The presentations were followed by a discussion among panelists and also a Q&A session accepting questions from the audience.

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