Instead of studying the urban as a homogeneous subject we try and pick broad themes related to the urban. Every theme lends itself to scrutiny from multiple perspectives and we try and examine them as exhaustively as we can. If a certain theme has no takers at some point, we resume working on it when a new entrant to the team expresses interest to do so.

Enlisted below are some of the prominent themes that HUL’s work has covered since its inception in 2012 November.

Each theme is accompanied by a short note on the thrust of our work along with samples / excerpts of reports and other outputs. Further details are available in the archive section of the website.


*Please hover over the large rectangular images under the digits to see the titles of each section.

*The encircled numbers at the base of each theme are the images related to that theme.



Dense localities and planned upmarket residential areas together give a city its real texture. We look at different ways of understanding neighbourhoods with a view

  1. To familiarize ourselves with the city
  2.  To assess gaps in infrastructure and services
  3.  To engage with the communities in meaningful ways
  4.  To enable the creation of resource pools that can be made available to those with least access and opportunities.
  5.  To document the process through which the local connects to the regional
By Ravi Kawre
By Dipon Bose
By Kabeer Arora



Through our work at HUL we have tried to demonstrate that there is no clear cut boundary between the formal and the informal. The two intersect and overlap all the time and contribute in equal measure to the sustainability of the urban. The informal is not necessarily aspiring to “grow” into the formal. We have found in the course of our work that informality exists in every aspect of the urban, be it housing, economy, transport, health care or finance.


Waste and Value

The generation and management of waste is an essentially urban phenomenon. Scrap markets draw waste from different segments of society, segregate and process the material, add value to it and place it back in the cycle of production and consumption. Bholakpur in Hyderabad has been one of our main sites and we have studied it not just from the perspective of value addition but also the fraught life of the waste dealers, waste handlers, the hierarchies therein and the hazards of the work.

Circuits of Waste in Hyderabad

This map is the first layer of a map of the circuits of waste in Hyderabad. It consists of all the government provided or sanctioned infrastructures relating to solid waste. But the circuit of waste is not as simple as waste leaving a home or industry and making its way through the points in the map. At every stage, people go through the waste and extract anything of value, or anything that can be given new value. These are the informal waste economies of third-world cities, consisting of rag-pickers, scrap traders, scrap recyclers and so on. The numerous dustbins on the map are actually the sites where the city is produced and reproduced! Waste collected from each doorstep makes it to the dustbin, and from the dustbin rag-pickers salvage things which enter informal markets as renewed commodities, or the government truck piles it up and takes the waste to an energy plant. The dustbin is a much hated object in the city, every neighbourhood fights to have it moved away from them. Nonetheless, these dustbins are an essential infrastructure of the city.

By Harsha Devulapalli



Apart from HUL’s flagship gender programme, A Place for Her, gender is a core component of all our work. Whatever the vertical or theme that the team is working on, a conscious effort is made to ensure that the gender dimension is included. At HUL, gender is not all and only about women. It is about the structural injustices that are inherent in rigid gendering of society. We remain as conscious of the pressures on men as we are of the harassment of women.

Visual: Neha Vaddadi
Animation: Ishwarya Teeparthi
Picture Credits: Vaibhav R



For all the glib talk around the demographic dividend, developing nations are able to do precious little to address the needs and aspirations of youth, especially when large numbers of them happen to fall outside the resource rich club. From the beginning HUL has been interacting at depth with young adolescents, early and late youth individuals from minority groups and other marginalised sections of urban society. We have made occasional low cost interventions to engage young people in learning and sports activities. Unsuccessful attempts have compelled us to study the structural issues that act as challenges for youth to attain their potential.

By Neha Vaddadi


Urban Commons

There are at all points of time in any unit of human settlement, resources that are accessible to all members of a society. These resources are held in common, not owned privately, and may be natural, social, cultural or any other that may be managed optimally for collective benefits.

As allocations for welfare and well being shrink the world over and every tiny bit of resource gets monetised and appropriated, HUL looks closely at ways in which people claim their entitlements and put them to effective collective use.

-By Dipon Bose
-By Ravi Kawre
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-By Neha Vaddadi



There is a lot more to a city’s and a country’s economy than digits, graphs and charts that we see on the business pages of newspapers and in the writings and speeches of economists. On the ground we encounter disappearance of livelihoods, loss of jobs, low wages, hazardous work and countless other disturbing aspects of the economy. We have focused on a small but significant aspect which is the informal sector and its contribution to the city’s economy in retail, waste and scrap trade and local markets.

Understanding Informal Economy in the city: A study with reference to Muslims in Hyderabad

Muslims are one of the most urbanized community in India (Gayer and Jaffrelot: 2012) and according to NSS 66th round survey report, in urban areas the proportion of workers engaged in self-employment was the highest for Muslims, followed by Sikhs (NSSO). With respect to this context, it is very important to see how they operate their trade in urban areas. Consequently it will enable us to understand the various strategies they adopt, the support system they use and to get sense of pressure they face while earning their livelihood. Periodic violence in the urban spaces has led to formation of clusters of Muslim ghettos. So how does then these neighborhoods shape their employment pattern will also be looked. So, Sajjad’s paper is result of interviews with 30 entrepreneurs dealing with different traders and few key person who have a good sense and can give overview of these trades which has huge presence of minority population.

Therefore, his paper first looks at four different occupation sector like manufacturing sector, trade and processing, service sector and at street vendors. It argues that these traders need a wide range of support system in terms of skill training, entrepreneurial skills, credit facility, access to market and work space for them to carry out their trade.


Ecology, Environment and Ecosystem

Of all living creatures known to us, humans are the only ones that have the capacity and the prerogative to destroy the environment and we have done so with great gusto.

Partly to atone and partly to educate ourselves we try to remain connected to the non human ecology of the region and to study the visible eco systems. Our chief advisor and mentor in these explorations and studies is Arun Vasireddy an avid environmentalist by passion and a systems analyst by profession.

By Ratnam

On September 12th, 2018, residents of Himaja Residency, at the foot of Bojagutta, in Gudimalkapur, Hyderabad woke up to a nightmare. Their compound wall was pounded by tons of mud that came down the hill due to the previous night’s rain. The apartments in the ground floor and basement were inundated – not just by water but by thick sludge and gravel. It took them a whole 24 hours to get the mud removed and at last count it was ten truck loads.

In the lives of middle class families, this is a brief interlude. But if this had happened to poorer families, it would have taken them months, and may be even years to recover. There is nothing mysterious about what happened at Bojagutta on the night of September 11th. It is not a natural disaster. It is a disaster that was carefully crafted by human action.

Everyday, such human action is crafting disasters by the dozen everywhere in the city. Nothing short of concerted policy making, rule making, training of regulators and education of the public and the bureaucracy can reverse this trend.

By Ravi Kawre



HUL believes strongly that the present cannot be studied in a vacuum and heritage therefore is of interest to us. It tells us the current status of past assets and enables us to assess the need if any, of restoring structures or preserving ecosystems by arresting the rampant appropriation and destruction of heritage. Somewhat removed from the general approach to conservation, HUL has started to look at laws and regulatory directives related to Heritage , both natural and man-made, at the State and central levels.

-By Sneha Visakha


Maps and Data

One of the biggest challenges in understanding urbanization in India is the paucity of accurate data. Where data is available it is not spatialized. You know the number of bus stops but not their location. Where data is spatialized it is not updated periodically and cannot be compared across time. Even if all this is done, mostly, said data is not available for public use or reference. At HUL, we believe that good data equals good questions and good answers. So, we invest in learning and teaching how to collect data, make it open access and curate it into beautiful visualisations.

-By Swarna Dutt
-By Swarna Dutt
-By Ishwarya Teeparthi, Neha Vaddadi and Vanshika Singh


Spatial Transformation

Places change all the time due to a combination of factors which may be political, economic or any other. Sometimes the transformation is gradual and occurs over a long period, revealing the process to those who wish to understand. Other changes are more sudden and drastic and less transparent. We draw on oral histories and old maps and new maps and drawings and constant interactions with people so that we can share the stories of how places change and how the changes impact lives around.

-By Saeb Ali
-By Akash Burman
Change in settlements over two decades
-By Kabeer Arora


Mobility, Access and Transport

Cities are places of opportunities, where aspirations are realised. People come to a city and live for a life time and for generations. Yet, as more and more people come to the city, opportunities become more and more difficult to access. Commuting for two hours to work or to school and back home leaves people with little energy and often the pollution and dust and the anxiety leaves them too exhausted to explore anything. Good cities are easy to navigate for everyone. Our work on mobility and access takes a close look at how infrastructure and services are often provided by informal actors. How these mobility options shape lives differently for men, women, children or elderly.

The review of existing studies concerning mobility, gendered mobilities, and policy responses indicates the need for a holistic account of the concept of mobility. Understanding mobility as something beyond the movement from point A to point B and recognizing mobility as a function of social, economic, and cultural factors is crucial.

Likewise, in the context of gendered mobilities, divorcing future researches from the notion that women have uniform mobility needs is equally important. Such a recognition, however, will become possible when respectability of women’s varied lifestyles, jobs, and travel needs is developed in a society. Increasing the number of research on the mobility of the middle-­class professional women does not suffice an improvement in mobility of diverse groups of women who commute. Rather, the way in which gendered mobilities research has been progressing could simply enable narrowing of the field of gendered mobiltiies by limiting one’s understanding to women’s commute to work of a particular kind. Finally, in the context of policy responses to address women’s mobility needs, addressing the root causes of mobility restrictions and barring from stopgap solutions such as seat reservation that further narrow the field of gendered mobilities is highly recommended. Although addressing women’s mobility needs via policy responses can be challenging, identifying the complications involved should be the first step. Meanwhile, incorporating the voices of women into transportation planning, policy formulation, and policy evaluation will be equally important to create a scenario of women friendly transportation.



What is a house to people? Is it an asset to be sold at the right time? Is it a status symbol? Is it a place for eating and sleeping? It is all of these and much more? Is it an anchor from where people imagine their lives, their futures. And it is never in isolation. It is part of the neighbourhood in which it is located. With this broad empathetic understanding of housing, HUL has catalysed a number of studies on housing and housing policy and house construction. Our insights are documented in multiple formats.

Self-built, self-financed and self-paced Housing,
and changing neighbourhood

-By Arshiya

The premise of this research is demonstrate the manner in which housing is created in the city by different people in different neighbourhoods. Simply put, it is through the act of modifying and expanding the existing structures or by rebuilding the old and constructing new houses. Most of these are built by people themselves, without help from an external agency, by saving over decades to fund their housing project. Apart from the primary need for shelter and living in community, the reasons that bring about such changes in a house are often complex, and a determinant of individual household’s socio-cultural and socio economic status/practices. Often, families engage in making choices reflective of their immediate priorities, and seldom with an aspiration to have a house of their own. The three aspects that are essential to this kind of building are i. scale of housing, ii. funds for development, and iii. character of the family. This mode of housing provision that escapes the formal planning mechanism is not always informal, but it is affordable and it enables the neighbourhood to keep the construction activity in control.

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-By Abhishek Paul


Water and Sanitation

“This research memo is an attempt to compile the stories of water that I encountered at different sites. Here, I have tried to touch on stories of people on both sides of the tap. In Part I, ‘Water People’, I’ve collated my observations with various functionaries of the parastatal – Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) entrusted with drinking water supply in the city since 1989. In Part II, ‘Water Time’, I describe the different experiences that marked the process of collecting water when valves augmented the flow of water in city’s pipelines. Its movement is enlisted through dominant themes that made water knowable to different informants. These notes carry at their end some questions on water that I wish to hone further.”- Vanshika Singh