(Re)thinking the Off-Grid City

This research is designed to help improve the lives of the poorest residents of cities in Africa and Asia by focusing on how they are meeting their basic needs and accessing infrastructure, particularly when they are living ‘off-grid’.

The research is led by a consortium including experts in urban research from Africa and Asia, brought together by the Institute of Development Studies.

We will focus on five cities which represent different types of urban environment: Tamale, Ghana, Mossel Bay, South Africa, Epworth, Zimbabwe, Bangalore, India and Colombo, Sri Lanka. They were chosen because, while planning and infrastructure design and provision is improving for some parts of these cities, such provision is not expanding fast enough to keep up with urban growth and provision is not evenly distributed for all.

We focus on five main types of infrastructure – water, sanitation, energy, transport and communications. In most poor neighbourhoods people meet their needs in a variety of ways – informal access to formal grids such as illegal energy hook ups; ‘off-grid’ forms such as latrines or bore-wells; hybrid forms such as reliance on water trucks when urban supplies run dry; or local vehicles providing ‘last-mile’ connections to public transport. A particular concern in these cities is whether such critical infrastructure is sufficiently robust and stable to weather the multitude of human/political and environmental shocks and stresses facing cities, ranging from droughts and floods to political and financial crises which can literally ‘turn off the lights’.

In order to gain a better understanding of these systemic urban issues and how they are affecting the poorest and most marginalised, we focus our research on one key way of measuring whether basic needs are being met – whether people have stable access and availability of sufficient, diverse and nutritious diets – their ‘Food and Nutrition Security’. This provides us with a way of researching how these various infrastructures combine at multiple levels, in order to achieve a more ‘systemic’ understanding of infrastructure provision and the implications for people’s lives. This has been little researched to date, but is critically important to understand for urban planners and infrastructure providers.

Key contacts

Image of Sofaya Hussein
Sofaya Hussein

Project Support Officer


Project details

start date
1 April 2020
end date
30 September 2023


About this project


Image of Dolf J.H. te Lintelo
Dolf J.H. te Lintelo

Research Fellow and Cities Cluster Co-Leader

Image of Hayley MacGregor
Hayley MacGregor

Research Fellow

Image of Jodie Thorpe
Jodie Thorpe

Research Fellow

Image of Nicholas Nisbett
Nicholas Nisbett

Cluster Leader Research Fellow

Image of Tom Barker
Tom Barker

Senior Health & Nutrition Convenor

Jane Battersby
Gareth Haysom
Mercy Brown-Luthango
Percy Toriro
Issahaka Fuseini
Sudeshna Mitra
Neha Sami
Krishna Balakrishnan
Divya Ravindranath
Pooja Rao
Teja Malladi
Iromi Perera
Meghal Perera