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Moving Forward: Opportunities and Experiences Gained During My Fellowship

by Nagwa Kady

Being awarded the Centre for Urban Studies Fellowship Writing Grant in 2019 gave me the opportunity to kickstart my career as a PhD student. During the 3-month fellowship, I worked closely with my supervisors Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok, Dr. Sara Özogul, and Dr. Gert-Joost Peek to develop my research proposal. My research focuses on exploring planning instruments to capture social value in the governance of property development.

The idea came to me during my master thesis when I read Kimmet’s (2009) article on Comparing ‘Socially Responsible’ and ‘Sustainable’ Commercial Property Investment for my Contemporary Approaches in Property-led Urban Planning course with Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok. The term ‘socially responsible’ triggered my curiosity and I started to wonder: What makes a development ‘socially responsible’? What does a ‘socially responsible’ developer even look like? And most importantly, can planning benefit from market instruments, such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), that drives private actors to act socially responsible? 

After interviewing property industry actors, public sector actors and residents for my master thesis, I found various interpretations of ‘social responsibility’. Each actor group expressed how difficult it was to turn an intangible notion (i.e., the ‘social’) into something tangible. Actors interpreted the concept based on their own values, backgrounds, perceptions, and overall goal of their organizations’ agendas. For example, public sector actors perceived it as the provision of different housing types and the quality of public space. Private sector actors, on the other hand, often perceived it as the ability to create functions that attract different segments of the society; addressing tenants’ and existing residents’ needs; and creating an (environmentally) sustainable high-quality development. Lastly, existing residents perceived it in terms of how well the developer communicated with them and how far their needs were taken into consideration.

The complexity of the above stated scenario drove me to further explore CSR in property development, and more  specifically, if and how it can enable the advancement of social values  in the governance of property development. During my 3 months fellowship, I was fortunate to engage with urban scholars and industry professionals on my topic in the Property Webinar Series - organized by Dr. Sara Özogul and myself in collaboration with Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok, Dr. Gert-Joost Peek, Andre Legarza, and Mariam Hussain; and supported by the Centre for Urban Studies. The discussions revealed that CSR is in fact evolving rapidly in the property industry but the direction towards which it progresses remains unclear, especially when focusing on the social aspect. Furthermore, in order to develop a deeper understanding of social responsibility and share a common goal, closer collaboration is required from the public sector (read more about it in the webinar blog post).

As simple as it may sound, CSR’s voluntary nature and the multidimensional understanding of social value adds a new layer of complexity to the property development process. The role of planners becomes integral at this point: Planners can mediate and negotiate with property industry actors, based on their CSR agendas, to ensure that social values are encapsulated in property development processes. Thus, serving their overarching objective of improving the social and economic conditions of urban areas.

What started as a small step turned into a large leap forward in my academic career. Towards the end of my Fellowship Grant, I secured a permanent position as an external PhD student at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam and am currently working on building my research concept further in my extensive 8-months proposal. Furthermore, these 3 months have given me a valuable opportunity to network with industry professionals and well- established urban network organisations through the Property Webinar Series, as well as through the Urban Governance Research Network (UGoveRN) established by Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok. I am grateful to the Centre for Urban Studies for this opportunity, and to my supervisors for their continuous guidance and support.

Nagwa Kady is a PhD student at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on exploring planning instruments to capture social value in the governance of property development. She obtained her Master Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam and has a background in architecture and design.