I am a geographer who conducts work on adaptation to climate change in cities. My research and practice is based in southern Africa, where I live. I am particularly interested in the tensions around social development and climate adaptation, particularly in cities with high levels of inequality.

Climate hazards are increasingly being felt in cities, and are experienced quite differently by the rich and the poor. I am interested in how all groups experience these impacts and respond to them. The high levels of inequality have driven my interest in social justice. I think we have an opportunity to use climate adaptation responses to do things differently and shift away from a neo-liberal agenda to a more inclusive development agenda. More specifically, I think the urban poor need to be part of driving adaptation responses, as they are the ones most exposed and vulnerable to climate hazards.

My work has a strong applied focus, where I work collaboratively with actors to explore problems and think about responses. As an academic, I write about these processes and understandings of the problem, but as an applied researcher, I collaborate around running processes to reflect on issues and find ways to work differently.

Recently I have been working on water issues in Cape Town, related to the 2015-2018 “Day Zero” drought crisis, but also to issues of flooding. I have worked both at the city level and at the neighbourhood level. At the city level I have sought to understand water and climate adaptation governance, and at the neighbourhood level I have worked with NGOs and social movements to understand water access and sanitation challenges. The shadow spaces concept resonates with my work because of how hard it is for the urban poor to be seen and heard when it comes to their concerns around flooding, water access, service delivery and climate change adaptation. Equally, at the City government level, there is a recognition of the scale of the problem, but difficulty in transforming approaches to be more inclusive, due to the constant demands of generating revenue and prioritizing the needs of the rich.

For me, the biggest chance of adapting well to climate change is to focus more on connection to place and to others, particularly others who are different. Creating space for diversity to flourish is what is needed, yet so many fear. Innovation and solutions exist in unlikely places. We need to find ways to listen to these voices and support them.

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, and a Research Chair at the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.