An examination of the quality of urban life of residential neighbourhoods in Lilongwe, Malawi

  • Laura MacLean

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research has designed and tested a theoretical model, framework and toolkit for assessing the quality of urban life (QoUL) within the context of east-southern African cities (ESA). The research emphasises the contribution of context and culture on the scholastic topic of QoUL, underscoring the need to tailor the approach to the conditions of the environment under investigation. This is significant because QoUL can be interpreted differently across cultures. This is due to quality per definition being context-dependent; therefore, an individual's perception of quality will differ depending on the cultural setting. While there are undoubtedly aspects of urban life which are pan-cultural, this research argues that there are also culture-specific features which make urban life unique in each city or setting. Consequently, QoUL studies must balance universal and context specificities when designing measurement tools. Despite this contextual importance, discourse on QoUL shows that the preponderance of existing empirical studies and measurement frameworks have been developed based on Western case studies and standards. Given the differences in urban settings, this thesis argues that a new conceptual model and framework must be developed to examine the specificities within the case-study city. This research addresses these knowledge gaps by first designing a conceptual model which guides the research by underscoring the core dimensions of a QoUL study. This is followed by deriving and validating a tailored indicator list for investigating QoUL in the context of Lilongwe. This indicator list is then translated into a toolkit where all indicators are assessed using a multi-methodological approach. This approach includes gaining primary data through participatory methods with residents and experts in Malawi, direct observations and profiling or urban settings, and thorough literary knowledge, including government documents. Through this comprehensive approach, the research aims to understand the relationship between the resident's subjective perception of their urban environment, and the objective conditions that they reside in. Lilongwe is used as a case study as hitherto cities of ESA have been in the periphery of urban investigations. This lack of scholarly interest has resulted in a gap of knowledge of how residents use space and a lack of understanding of how place impacts people's lives within this context. Lilongwe has experienced an increase in urban population over recent years. This increase has dramatically impacted the use of space, which impacts the QoUL of urban communities. This research addresses this knowledge gap through empirical primary data collection in the case study city. This provides one of the first empirical investigations into how space impacts residents QoUL within Malawi. One of the fundamental aims of this research has been to extend writing on modern African cities while underpinning the significant role that culture and context play in the discourse of QoUL. Through this investigation, the research contributes to public policies to positively resolve urban issues. The recommendations propose methods to improve the quality of the neighbourhoods across a range of small to large scale interventions. These are offered at both a strategic and design level to best resolve the challenges faced. The recommendations include specific methods to improve QoUL based on the multifaceted approach to investigating QoUL, and detail where bespoke indicators are shown to impact residents QoUL considerably. These bespoke indicators would have been overlooked if the research was not tailored to the context under investigation; thus, confirm the importance of modifying the research. This research, therefore, aims to contribute to urban knowledge through
Date of Award14 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorAshraf Salama (Supervisor) & David Grierson (Supervisor)

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