Accepted Paper:

Making and remaking Port Vila on Facebook  


Maggie Cummings (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I explore the ways that the residents of Port Vila, Vanuatu, are using a Facebook discussion group to create a sense of collective urban belonging that transcends the challenges created by "urban village" settlement patterns.

Paper long abstract:

In "The Emergence of Urban Villages: Urbanization Trends in the Pacific Islands" (2016), the Asian Development Bank identified a settlement trend labelled the "village city": rapidly growing urban areas comprised of many village-like settlements. Here, traditional forms of socio- spatial organization remain central to everyday life. Yet the informal, village-like modes of place-making that make urban life culturally meaningful and economically tenable tend to work against both the creation of a sense of urban belonging and the formalization of urban infrastructures. This is the case in Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu (~45000), where two frequent laments I heard about urban life were that "everyone sticks to their own island so you don't know how to behave when you meet others" and that "the roads [or sewers, or sidewalks] are rubbish". The transformation of Port Vila into a well-functioning municipality that feels like a collective home to its urban citizens provides myriad challenges. Here, I explore the ways that ni-Vanuatu employ an unlikely virtual tool for urban engagement and place-making: Yumi Toktok Stret (or YTS; "Straight talk"), a public Facebook discussion group with over 41000 members. Many ni-Vanuatu have inexpensive mobiles phones with free unlimited Facebook access, and use the forum to discuss urban life with those from other urban villages in the village city. Specifically, I focus on the way that discussions pertaining to urban infrastructure and development create a sense of urban belonging with the potential to surmount the challenges posed by the composition of the "village city".

Panel WIM-WHF05
Making and remaking the city / Faire et refaire la ville