Studying urban policies in global South cities

Dr. Paola Pasquali, EHESS – UMR Géographie-cités, CNRS Pasquali.pao Paola.pasquali

Studying urban policies in global South cities

Over the last decade or two, several urban scholars have emphasised the underrepresentation of global South cities in urban theory, predominantly based on a based on a small sample of Euro American cities, the original heartland of urban theory. New scholarship has nevertheless become to emerge, inspired by a different selection of cities from those which have informed urban studies in the twentieth century. This displacement from North to South is made particularly necessary by current and near-future urbanisation trends: virtually all population growth in the world in the next 30 years will take place in cities of the global South. The goal of this paper is twofold. First, the aim is to provide a general overview of the current debates in urban theory and policy studies with reference to cities of the Global South (Part I). Second, to discuss current literature on policy analysis in the global South and sketch an open list of policy themes for comparisons across cities of the global South.




  1. Background

UN forecasts show that virtually all population growth in the world over the next 30 years will take place in cities of the global South. In just a generation, Latin America has become the world’s most urbanised region, with an urban population which grew from 30% to more than 85%.1 As far as future projections go, the majority of urban population growth is expected to take place in the Asian and African continents, which are projected to become 64% and 56% urban, respectively, by 2050. While Africa presently remains the least urbanised continent, it is urbanising at the fastest rate: in the next 35 years, the continent will need to accommodate almost 900 million new urban dwellers, which is equivalent to what Europe, USA and Japan combined have managed over the last 265 years.2 This trend also pertains to city sizes. For example, by 2025, China will have 8 megacities with over 10 million citizens and more than 220 cities with a population over 1 million.3 These trends are dissonant with the current state of urban theory and policy scholarship, predominantly based on case studies from cities of the global North. The latter still function as the basis to define what a city is, how should it be governed and how should it be planned. Given current and future global urbanisation trends, a growing number of scholars has called for a rebalancing of the weight case studies from the global South have in global urban theorising and analyses (Robinson 2006, Parnell et al. 2009, Roy 2009, Chen and Kanna 2012).




2 Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2015 Accessed 10 October 2019

3    Accessed 10 October 2019


2.          Urban theory in the XX century: “global North” cities as the essence of modernity

The first literature on urban studies dates to the early and mid-twentieth century. At that time, urban studies were centred on the work of the Chicago School of urban sociology. According to the latter, the city was to be primarily conceived as a jumble of socially differentiated neighbourhood communities, implicated in a process of natural evolution and sequences together with associated mentalities and codes of conduct. This approach shifted in 1970s, when the discipline of urban studies – based on case studies of North American and European cities – moved in the direction of Marxist-inspired approaches, which – from different perspectives – emphasised a concept of the city as the privileged realm of class struggle where land markets are to be seen as machines for distributing wealth upward (Lefebvre 1970, Castells 1977, Harvey 1973). This trend changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where new avenues of investigation burgeoned. These included topics such as neighbourhood development, displacement and the different ways in which socially differentiated (gender, ethnicity, race) groups are spatially clustered in cities (Massey 1991, Jackson, 1989). Other topics included the impact of globalisation on the structure of cities (Sassen 1991 and 2008) as well as the re-conceptualization of notions such as urban politics and governance and the pervasiveness of neoliberal imperatives on a global sphere (Brenner 1999, Harvey 2007 and 2012). This last strand of literature has naturally extended the urban sphere to a more global realm and audience. Yet, these urban theories have been based all along on Euro-American case studies, rooted on the idea that global North metropoles are at the forefront of global urban transformations, with southern cities following in their steps (Myers 2011).

3.          Global South cities: from chronic factors of underdevelopment to growth engines

It is not that over the last fifty years or so, southern cities have not been studied at all. Rather, because of their supposedly un-modern status as compared to northern cities, their issues were tackled as another discipline altogether, namely, development studies. The assumption among urban scholars being that urban studies is primarily concerned with “modern” cities. As Jennifer Robinson has shown, the notion of southern cities being in a condition of “underdevelopment” has been largely responsible for the binary thinking about “Western” developed cities and “Third World” cities as hierarchically less important to urban theorists (Robinson 2006). This conception is somewhat reflected in development literature, where the notion of urbanisation in cities of the global South has been traditionally conceived as detrimental and unhealthy to development until recent times. Traditional international development literature’s depictions of strongly growing urban areas in the global South are revealing in this respect. As Éric Denis notes, the notion of “Third-world city”4 emerged at the end of the 1960s in international development literature as “an unproductive scourge, always nearing explosion, poor, violent, uncontrollable and above all overcrowded” (Denis 2015: 310). Swamped by rural migrations unmet with a proportional creation of formal employment, southern cities would have fostered a low-added value informal economy clashing with the formation of a modern industrial sector (Lewis 1955 in Denis 2015: 311). Cities in the global South would be “parasitic” rather of generative of growth (Hoselitz 1955 in Denis 2015: 311). Some development scholars went as far as to define urban growth as a severe obstacle to development in the global South (Bairoch 1971, Linn 1982 in Denis 2015: 310), a “chronic factor of underdevelopment”


4 As Denis points out, the expression “third World” did not have a negative connotation when it first emerged, as it related to the non- aligned countries movement as materialised at the Bandung conference, as an alternative to the bipolar world charactering the cold war period.


(Denis 2015: 310). These positions resonate with a general “anti-urban” attitude in development literature (Beall 2019: 154) exemplified by the work of Michael Lipton, according to whom an urban bias versus rural areas in economic policies would be the main responsible for enduring poverty in developing countries (Lipton 1977 and 1984 in Beall 2019). While the view of a coherent divide between rural and urban classes has been subsequently rebutted, the view that development interventions should focus on rural areas is one which still influences development scholars and policy makers (Beall 2019: 153).

On the one hand, such negative view of southern cities has given way in the 1990s to a new paradigm which now conceives of them as engines for development (Harris 1988, Osmont 1995).5 This idea is exemplified by the 2009 World Bank Development Report which posits that “growing cities (…) are integral to development” (2009: XIX)6. On the other hand, according to this new discourse poverty and burgeoning informal economies and settlements would be a temporary phenomenon (Beall 2019: 153). Remarkably, comparisons and classifications in this field are heavily reliant upon the development model of industrial western democracies and are based on the supposedly universal principle of a single development trajectory, translating into a need for developing world cities to catch up with the rest (Denis 2015). The notion that there is one urban modernity – of which northern cities would be the illustration – has been put into question by several development and urban theory scholars. Perhaps even most importantly, this single development trajectory nowadays is being put into question by the success of modes of development which differ from the Western model, China being perhaps the main case in point for this.

4.          New approaches to urban theory and the place of global South cities

Starting from the early 2000, urban theory has been the object of a postcolonial critique. A key departure point of postcolonial scholars is the concept of “ordinary city” proposed by Amin and Graham: the idea is that cities are all equally distinctive and unique: no city can be maintained to work as a privileged archetype or an example for the others (Amin and Graham 1997). Earlier-mentioned Jennifer Robinson has drawn on this notion to assert the necessity of putting all urban centres across the North-South divide on an equal standing (Robinson 2006). According to her view, notions of urban modernity – predominantly rooted in the global North – and development have engendered a conceptual and practical binary thinking about “Western” developed cities and “Third World” cities, hierarchically less important to urban theorists due to their underdevelopment (Ibid).

An even more radical view is put forward by Ananya Roy. Roy draws attention to the tendency to consider the history of European urbanisation as a universal trajectory, unavoidable at any latitude, as a recipe to progress and unlimited growth (Roy 2009). She deprecates how traditional urban theory tends to be produced “in the crucible of a few ‘great’ cities: Chicago, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles – cities inevitably located in Euro America” (Roy 2009: 820). On the contrary, most urban studies cities of the global South tend to be treated as anomalous empirical cases in comparison to a paradigm of the city which adopts European and North American metropoles as what a city is or should be (Ibid). This tendency would be further apparent in “apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum” (Roy 2005: 224). In Roy’s view, the poverty, informality, marginalization, and extensive slums of Southern cities should be


5 Although some authors continue in this line by depicting global South cities as dangerous (Graham 2010) or at risk.

6      “World    Bank.   2009. World   Development   Report   2009   :    Reshaping    Economic    Geography.   World    Bank. Accessed 15 October 2019


seen as a mode of urbanization rather than anomalies to a norm (Ibid, emphasis in the original, 2011: 224). Instead of being regularly assembled under the label of underdevelopment or being reduced to “that last and compulsory chapter on ‘Third World Urbanization’ in the urban studies textbook”, for Roy southern cities experiences should become central to urban theorising: “the centre of theory making must move to the global South” (Roy 2009: 820).

A second approach which at times overlaps with the postcolonial approach mentioned above advocates for urban research to be based on assemblage and actor-network theory.7This approach builds up on images of the urban by assembling descriptions of urban situations or phenomena marked by their own particularity. The main feature of this approach is to avoid a priori theoretical abstractions. According to one of the main proponents of this theory, Ignacio Farias, the city should be conceived as “… an object which is relentlessly being assembled at concrete sites of urban practice, or, to put it differently, as a multiplicity of processes of becoming, affixing sociotechnical networks, hybrid collectives and alternative topologies” (Farías 2010: 2). Examples for this include city as “a transport system”, as “a playground for skateboarders and free-runners”, a “landscape of power”, “a public stage for political action and demonstration” and so on (Ibid: 14). While a priori characterisations are to be avoided, at times generalisations are allowed among the proponents of assemblage theory through the creation of typologies based on the links between the phenomena it describes. An example for this is the notion of “worlding cities” by Roy and Ong, which describes an effort to bring more cities into theoretical frameworks and to adequately account for the urban-global interactions shaping contemporary cities (Roy and Ong 2011).

A third attempt at making the foundations of urban theory and research more “inclusive” is the notion of “planetary urbanisation”8 proposed by Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid (2011, 2014). The latter rebut the traditional assumption in urban theories that cities represent a territory that is qualitatively specific, different from “non-urban” spaces (Brenner and Schmid 2011: 10-11). In their view, over the last thirty years or so, worldwide socio-spatial transformations compel a radical revision of existing approaches. These transformations would pertain to: the formation of new scales of urbanization; sprawling urban clusters that stretch beyond a metropolitan region and at times even traverse multiple national borders (Ibid: 13); “the disintegration of the hinterland” to the continued expansion of industrial urbanization and its associated planetary urban networks (Ibid: 14) and the transformation of wilderness spaces through the growing socio-ecological consequences of unregulated worldwide urbanization (Ibid). These geohistorical developments would point towards a new state of the urban, as an increasingly global condition in which political-economic relations are entangled. According to Brenner and Schmid, the current situation of “planetary” urbanization entails that even spaces that are located beyond the traditional city borders or peripheries are part of the urban. The solution would be then to embed the urban on a global scale “within a fluidly extending landscape” (Brenner et al 2013).

7Assemblage theory, as derived by the work of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, is an ontological view of the world as a mass of shifting networks binding together human and non-human objects representing the current state of the visible world. Assemblages become set by “territorialization” (as opposed to the disrupting act of deterritorialization) when they are fixed to specific configurations of geographical space. According to this perspective, every theoretical principle supposedly ordering reality in a top down manner can be de-constructed into the variegated and partial relations that have established it in the first place (Deleuze and Guattari 1972). Actor network theory as developed by Bruno Latour partially draws on these insights to explore the relationships between human and non- human objects. Latour argues that all objects are capable of agency to the extent to which they wield effects on other agents (Latour 2005).


8 “Planetary urbanization” is an expression and concept that originally comes from the work of Henri Lefebvre (1968, 1970, 1989).


The question at this point is how then a “truly global” urban theory could be grounded, from a methodological and conceptual perspective. In other words, how might we work constructively with existing theories while maintaining conceptualisations open to inputs from any city, that is, how might we “provide a rigorous foundation for the possibility of beginning conceptualisation anywhere?” (Robinson 2016: 3). The following section considers a few examples of how urban scholars have attempted to put into practice a more global urban theory.

5.          Building “a more global” urban theory: which methodology and concepts?


  1. Globalisation and world cities network

An attempt to include more cities in theorising the impacts of globalisation and urbanisation is the work of the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) research network, a research group founded in 1998 by Peter Taylor together with scholars such as Manuel Castells, Peter Hall, Saskia Sassen and Nigel Thrift. The network focuses on the study of interconnections between cities in the world economy and it operates a bi-annual categorization of world cities, based upon their international connectedness. The concern for inter-city relations intersects with research on issues concerning international business, sustainability, urban policy, and logistics. The GaWC group classifies cities according to a city’s integration into the world city network. The GaWC databank focuses in particular on office networks for advanced producer services, such as finance, advertising, accounting and law firms. Cities are ranked on a scale which uses the Greek letters Alpha, Beta and Gamma (with both plus and minus signs) with Alpha++ counting as the highest score indicating the cities which are most integrated with the global economy (London and New York currently detaining such primacy), with the ranking continuing all the way down to a rank below “lettered” cities, High sufficiency and Sufficiency. Insofar as this ranking system includes cities from the global South, the claim by its advocates is that such system incorporates the postcolonial critique and overcomes its vagueness in putting forward concrete alternatives. On the other hand, as critics of this ranking system – dominated by some global North cities – have highlighted, the Globalisation and World Cities ranking is based on a very specific and narrow economistic understanding of globalisation, which once again has been shaped by European criteria (Myers 2018: 232).

  1. Urbanisation through the lenses of planetaryneoliberalism

Another attempt at making urban theory more aware of global South urbanisation is the notion of “planetary urbanization” mentioned above (Brenner and Schmid 2011, 2013). For Brenner and Schmid contemporary “planetary” urbanization entails three mutually constitutive moments, which they define as “concentrated”, “extended”, and “differential” urbanisation (Brenner and Schmid 2015). They argue that in the current era, ‘the city’ as we traditionally understood it, as “concentrated urbanisation” is but one of three processes of urbanisation taking place in the contemporary world. Urbanisation worldwide would extend beyond the realm of city agglomerations, urban regions and even mega city-regions and within such process, differences come to light. A central analytical concept of this framework is the nexus between forms of urbanisation and the global pervasiveness of neoliberal capitalism, impacting on urbanization across the North/South divide. On the one hand, Brenner and Schmid view importantly includes global North and global South contexts contra postcolonial urban theories’ emphasis on descriptions of everyday life and the particularism of global South specificities (Brenner and Schmid 2015: 162). On the other,


scholars such as Garth Myers have criticised their approach for erasing differences among cities and ending up locating, once again, the essence of urbanity in big metropoles of the global North (Myers 2018). Another critique of their account has been moved by Roy on the fact that such framework does not adequately consider the rural aspect (Roy 2015).

  1. Comparative urbanism

The construction of knowledge and new theoretical frameworks for all cities based on experiences of the cities of the global South is related to what has been called “the comparative gesture” as a basis for building knowledge about cities and for circumventing the dangers of a priori theorizations, especially when they are based on a small sample of Euro American cities (Robinson 2011). The idea is to employ comparisons between cities in order to create a new mode and style of theorisation. In lieu of “an authoritative voice emanating from some putative centre of urban scholarship”, comparisons should lead to “a celebration of the conversations opened up amongst the many subjects of urban theoretical endeavour in cities around the world, valorising more provisional, modest and revisable claims about the nature of the urban” (Robinson 2016). This comparative urbanism would distinguish itself from efforts to employ a “quasi-scientific rigour” to case selection based on trying to control for difference across cities (Ibid). Moreover, comparative urbanism should counter the attitude of certain scholars to draw comparisons with “elsewhere” as evidence to support current analytical agendas. In Robinson’s view, if we reformat urban comparativism in this way, we can find in comparative analyses offer global scholars “an agile theoretical practice, certainly eager to engage with existing conceptualisations, but committed to revisability, to thinking through a diversity of urban outcomes and to being open to starting to theorise from anywhere” (Robinson 2016). Critiques of the comparativist approach question the theory-generating capacities of the comparative method insofar as it would lead to privilege particularities in urban outcomes rather than more general taxonomies or conceptual abstractions (Scott and Storper 2014).

As Parnell and Pieterse have posited, a key point for the creation of a more global urban studies is to take into account that global financial bases of global urban scholarship are deeply unequal and efforts must be made to work against “the destructive consequences” of this reality (Parnell and Pieterse 2016). The debate on the role that cases from Southern cities should assume in urban studies and conceptualisation remains open and prolific. Some might think that this querelle among a selected group of particularly theory- oriented scholars has little practical use. Yet, I believe that having a general idea of these debates is useful: they are an important reminder that the categories or concepts we use in urban analyses always come from somewhere. The idea that brought this School together is not to get rid of current categorisations or reinvent all urban theory from scratch. Rather, the idea is to highlight the limits of existing theories and develop new concepts from it. In other words, the main contribution of these debates is to draw attention on the fact that taxonomies and concepts are always created having a particular urban space in mind, even when they claimed to have universal validity. The idea is thus, when we use a certain concept, to ask ourselves, where does it come from? Based on which evidence and context was it created and for what purpose? Is it useful to describe the phenomena I am looking at? How does the observation of my context corroborate it or rather invalidate it? Does this dissonance call for a new theorisation? It goes without saying that this line of questioning does not imply that a taxonomy or a concept cannot apply beyond its contexts of origin. Rather, the idea is to keep current taxonomies and concepts open to revision,


hybridisation and discarding when needed. The very notion of policy can be used as an example for such reflection, as shall be seen below.




  1. Defining policies in a global context

According to the traditional definition, a public policy is “anything a government chooses to do or not to do” (Dye 1972: 2). The classic “pluralist” model of Theodore Lowi distinguishes between regulatory, distributive, redistributive and constituent policies. The first provides the rules of the game to the players, the second distributes resources to the public, the third redistributes resources according to criteria of equity, the fourth establishes new institutions, agencies, etc. In Lowi’s typology, distribution policies take on a primary role: they act on individuals according to the patron-client relationship. The aim of these public policies and of the agencies that implement them, is to respond to political conflicts by disaggregating them: treating each decision or benefit, each unit of output, as separate and distinct from all the others (Lowi 1969). Another traditional reference in policy literature is Albert Hirschman. Hirschman explores the issue of the connection between policies and those who are affected by policies (Hirschman 1970). According to his exit, voice and loyalty model, members of a human grouping (whether a state, a city, a business or organisation) detain two possible responses to what they as a decrease in quality or membership: exit (withdrawal from the relationship) or voice (attempt to mend the relationship through voicing grievance and/or proposing changes). Exit and voice represent a union between economic and political action and are reminiscent of Adam Smith’s idea of an invisible hand guiding buyers and sellers “freely” auto-regulating through the market.9 The general understanding is that insofar as these typologies are based on macro-variables (i.e. the distribution of costs and benefits and the possibility of the use of coercion) they can be used to analyse any level of government – so national but also urban policies – and any domain of public policy (Allulli and Tortorella 2013).

At this point one could reasonably wonder whether Lowi’s four typologies or Hirschman notion of exit and voice do apply to urban policies in a southern context, for example, in a situation where the economy is predominantly informal. Or in a context where civil society is not unified. Or again, in a situation where the state does not have the primary resources to implement urban policies. Regardless of the answer to these questions, what emerges is that Lowi’s and Hirschman’s typologies have been built presupposing certain features – namely well-resourced and capacitated state institutions, strong civil societies, predominantly formal economies and low levels of poverty.


The case of social policies is exemplary of a disconnect between current social policy theories – which have been shaped by certain features of global North regions, such as the predominance of a formal economy regulated by the state – and the absence of southern experiences informing them. A key challenge for researching social policy at a global level is the fact that over one third of the population in the global South lives in informal settlements and gains their livelihood from the informal economy, more specifically from activities such as trading food or other merchandises on the street, machines or vehicles repairing,

9 According to Paolo Perulli, Hirschman’s fruitful distinction between exit, voice and loyalty is no longer remembered in the global North: “only the economic behaviour of the exit is now contemplated, like that of any dissatisfied consumer who passes from one produ ct to another, while the use of the voice (protest) is no longer part of the language of politics. It is reduced to the domain of consumer objects.”


rag picking, agricultural work and so on (Pellissery 2013). In this context, the power of the state to reach through the informal economy is limited. Despite what is put down in official statements, the informal economy, which in many cases represents the largest part of the economy,10 is not affected by state regulation and is regulated instead by private contracts and social identities (Harriss-White 2003: 74). In the informal economy, authority and legitimacy reside in individuals’ private social statuses and the line between state and society is fuzzy (Appadurai 1996). On the one hand, to the extent in which it escapes the state’s regulatory framework, the informal economy questions the very notion of social contract, which is the foundation for state legitimacy (Pellissery 2013a: 81). On the other hand, the informal economy is crucially the only source of livelihood and welfare for most households in the global South (Ibid). Following Hirschman’s theorisation about voice and exit, which presupposes a formal economy as a complement of the state system, one could reasonably wonder at this point whether voice and exit are still an option for somebody who’s livelihood depends on an informal economy.


Remarkably, processes of globalisation have intensified the phenomenon of informal economy (Ibid). Moreover, while urban economies in the global South have been growing, so have the levels of urban poverty and inequality: according to some, much of this depends on the way urban governance in specific contexts has or has not been able to address such issues (Obeng-Odoom 2017). In contexts where societal forces (often at a subnational level), are stronger than state capacities, policy can be perfectly stated on paper but the practice might be “hugely distant or contradictory to what is promised in the policy” (Pellissery and Zhao 2016: 10). In other words, in a context where implementation is absent, “understanding what is done in the name of policies is more important than understanding what the policy in itself is” (Ibid).


Apart from institutional capacities, the implementation of urban policies has also to do with the availability of resources. As it has been noted in the Indian case, while the Indian constitution endows city governments to translate the urban development agenda into action, Indian cities are not sufficiently empowered by Indian states to take on the challenges of providing public services and managing the process of urbanization (Ahluwalia 2017). Financial constraints represent a huge implementation setback also in the African context, where in many cases local governments never know their budget until the last minute (Mo Ibrahim foundation 2015). It should also be remarked how municipal authorities in rapidly urbanising regions of the global South typically also have the smallest per capita budgets. For example, looking at budget data between 2010-2016 it has been showed that the municipal budget of a city such as Accra, Ghana, was just $12.50 per person per year as compared to the $9,500 per capita of New York City (Beard et al. 2016). In the African context, scholars have noted that the budgetary issue is particularly severe in secondary cities, due to their smaller economies and less capacitated local governments compared to capital cities (Smit 2018).


Urban policies are a field where urban governance is often fragmented among different government stakeholders with reduced capacities and often conflicting interests. Moreover, although governments at various levels take decisions, the determination and outcomes of urban policies is very much dependent



10 For example, in Accra the informal economy accounts for as much as 74% of the economy, statement by the mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah at 2019 Urban Age Developing Urban Futures– Delivering inclusivity Accra Accessed 10 October 2019


upon those individuals and groups that participate in the processes of city building, planning and self- production. Until the 1970s. urban policy and administration were commonly seen as a top-down process of dealing with control of land planning, tax collection and the delivery of few services (Freire and Stren 2001). This general view of urban government progressively changed in the 1980s, where the notion of urban management, investing local governments with the responsibility of providing services and being more receptive to the demands of local citizens, became increasingly popular (Ibid). From the 1990s onwards, a more bottom up perception of urban governance has developed, whereby local governments are invested of the task of promoting good urban governance by fostering accountability and transparency as well as being more willing to engage proactively with different actors (Watson 2016). Yet in practice, scholars have noted how urban strategic planning approaches normally fail to account for the views of low-income citizens and often prove inadequate at the implementation stages, particularly in contexts where urban governments lack key financial resources and capabilities (Horn et al. 2018).


6.         Policy planning and analysis in cities of the global South


According to Vanessa Watson, who works on urban planning in contemporary South Africa, urban planners in cities of the global South face a particularly severe clash of two concomitant rationalities. On the one hand, a “governing” rationality, including “techno-managerial and marketised systems of government administration, service provision and planning” (Watson 2009: 2259). On the other, planners in the global South are deeply cognisant of the existence of a “survival rationality” permeating their everyday experience of the city with a population “surviving largely under conditions of informality” (Ibid). Watson emphasises that the resolution of this clash requires urban planning in a global South context to tap into development studies literature, which has long dealt with themes such as informal settlements for example (Ibid: 2273). Watson argues that this clash might further require a radical departure from the approaches to urban planning currently in use in cities of the global South, modelled on urban planning which arose in Europe and the US in the early 20th century (master planning and zoning, removal of informal settlements and so on).11


In the field of social policies, Ian Gough and others have explored the conditions under which social policy function in developing countries and have created new conceptual frameworks for analysing welfare regimes in the global South. The authors illustrate how the evolution of welfare policies in the West has relied on several key features that are mostly absent in a development context, such as an independent, legitimised and capacitated state, a widespread labour market and division of labour, strong financial markets and an effective legal and judicial system – that is, a capitalist economic and a democratic political type of regime (Gough and Woods (eds.) 2004). The historical experience and legacies of colonialism have entailed that from the beginning, global South states emerged as a weak institution in terms of both democratic processes and functional capabilities (Surender 2013: 26). In terms of social policy, historically


11 This approach to urban land use usually includes a detailed land use plan describing the desired future of an urban area some 20 years hereafter, supported by a regulatory system (zoning) which allocates use rights in land, and handles any alteration of these according to a ‘master plan’ (Ibid: 2261). The latter has almost everywhere, brought with it a specific ideal of the ‘good city’ drawn on the work of early urban modernists such as Le Corbusier. According to the latter, urban form is designed following a concern with aesthetics, efficiency and modernisation (removal of informal settlements, vertical or tower edifices, connectivity, abundant open green spaces) (Ibid). In the early 20th century, master planning and zoning, were vigorously adopted by middle classes who were able to use them as a way of preserving property prices and avoiding the influx of lower-income residents, ethnic minorities and petty traders (Ibid).


the prevailing discourse has been one of “growth first” and “welfare after” (Mkandawire 2004). In other words, mainstream development theories have historically stressed that in a developing context economic growth should come before social spending, which was generally seen as a wasteful diversion (Surender 2013: 20). The idea being that there is good public debt, spent in infrastructure and investments that can generate revenues, while the rest – debt used to pay for instance for public sector salaries or welfare services – is bad debt. Another issue has to do with the lack of trust, especially among those living in conditions of poverty, in developing countries’ state institutions, seen as tools for pursuing the interests of the dominant groups (Collier 2007). Such lack of trust in official policies strengthens in turn reliance on strategies to secure welfare through informal channels such as family, kinship, communities and other civil society-based systems of welfare as well as those intermediated by global actors (Davis 2001). The management of social welfare in countries of the global South takes place under a diverse set of institutional conditions: formulated and implemented by a wide range of actors, it is delivered through multiple mechanisms and instruments, many of them informal.


Several of these actors do not exist in the governance of cities in the global North. An example for this are traditional leaders, who play a key role on matters of land allocation in urban and peri-urban areas in the African context (Smit 2018). The ownership of land by chiefs is just an example of how Western notions of land ownership, usually framed in terms of the binary public/private, are inadequate to wade through the complexities of land ownership in African cities, for example. Other uncommon actors of urban governance in Europe or America but common in an African and most generally global South context are multilateral and international donor agencies, given that most global aid and loans to developing countries are linked to the international ‘good governance’ agenda (Ibid). Moreover, it could be argued that in some respects, civil society groups (ethnicity-based networks, home-town associations, youth associations, savings groups and so on) are to some extent more active that what is normally understood as a civil society activity. As a matter of fact, often these associations perform roles undertaken by the state in cities in the global North, such as providing basic services, distributing land, guaranteeing safety, delivering social security nets and so on (Ibid).


A policy analysis category under discussion in urban policy literature is the distinction between “place policies”, that is, policies targeting particular cities or parts of cities, and “people policies” targeting specific socio-economic categories regardless of the location (Glickman 1981, Glaeser and Gyourko 2005, Freedman 2012). Particularly among urban poverty scholars, this distinction has led to the identification of the potentialities and limitations of policies focused on place (for example policy interventions that try to reduce the spatial concentration or the isolation of the poor in selected neighbourhoods) versus those policies focused on the population as such (for example, interventions aimed at correcting factors like family or educational failure). According to some, this distinction is an example of how policy analysis of the urban and socioeconomic roots of poverty could go beyond the North-South distinction (Scott and Storper 2014: 13).


Another theme that intersects that of urban policy is the relationship between government and governed. Based on case studies in the global North, scholars such as Edward Soja and David Harvey have emphasised the emancipatory role of the urban, in other words, the urban as a principal source of emancipatory political trends and movements (Soja 2010, Harvey 2012). The question of politics as “voice”


is a very actual topic in the cases of mass mobilization in cities such as Santiago de Chile or Hong Kong. In these places, current mobilisations are aimed at expressing dissent towards governments which continue to “see like a State”, that is, to plan in an authoritative way, as James Scott has documented (Scott 1998).12 Scott’s account importantly sheds light on how state building in the 20th century in contexts such as Russia, Brazil, Tanzania, and so on has heavily relied upon the notion of “high modernism” to design society and centralise power. I agree with Paolo Perulli’s suggestion that, the method of tracing an “archaeology” of these state powers operated by Scott could also be used to look with disenchantment at the alleged “modernity” of contemporary urban and national governance tools, whether they are political market technicalities or economic contracts. For neither of these tools can provide adequate responses to bottom-up requests of sociality, development and sustainability. Urban policies are an exemplary field to observe the interactions between bottom-up and top-down requirements: both are necessary to each other, neither can stand on their own. Next section attempts to sketch a list of urban policies which could be explored through comparisons in our school of the Souths of the World.


7.         A sketch of urban policies typologies in the global South


The aim of this subsection is to sketch an open list of policy themes which could intersect and offer platforms for comparisons across cities of the global South.


  1. Urban growth


As already mentioned at the beginning of this paper, a key concern of urban policies in the global South is the growth of the urban dimension. This theme affects cities in Africa and Asia mainly. Earlier we observed that while until recently urban growth in the developing world has been tackled as an inherently undesirable and unhealthy phenomenon in development literature, most recently the literature and policy makers have shifted to a more positive view of such phenomenon. This phenomenon is characterised by a strong component from below, in that urban sprawl is in the first place the result of people settling in the city and peri-urban areas. Yet, urban growth is increasingly a phenomenon which national and local governments have been governing, more or less effectively, through policies such as metropolitan plans, agglomeration schemes, creation of urban regions. This is also the case of national urban policies, leveraging on the central role that cities undergoing rapid urbanisation have in accelerating growth and creating economic growth for the whole national economy. As Mohanty, who writes about planning urban growth in the Indian case, posited: “Planned urbanisation offers a colossal opportunity for India’s development in the coming decades. The future of the rural poor trying to escape poverty, the urban poor, and slum dwellers struggling to secure a dignified living, the rural areas striving to access basic services, the cities contributing to economic growth, and the nation endeavouring to come out of the riddle of under-development will crucially depend on the national policy to harness urbanisation as a resource” (Mohanty 2014: 1).



  1. Regulation of relations among different levels of governance


12 These developments clash with Huntington’s depictions of a democratic and pluralist West versus an authoritarian and fundamentalist East, characterised by the lack of political contestation.


Connected to the regulation of urban growth through policy planning is the regulation of relations among different levels of governance. Governance can be defined in different ways.13 In contrast to the hierarchy and clear separation between state and society typical of traditional government, the notion of governance indicates a blurring of the boundaries between public and private and an increased role of different actors other than local governments in the realisation of public goals (Pierre 2005). For example, in the context of sub-Saharan Africa cities, actors such as traditional leaders play a fundamental role in urban governance

– particularly as far as land use management is concerned – and have been incorporated into formal governance structures. Apart from the government, other key actors of urban governance in the sub- Saharan Africa context would include large private sector organisations (i.e. property development or food production companies), international agencies and civil society (Smit 2018). The regulation among different levels of governance can be investigated from the perspective of different levels of government, from urban to national to federal government. We mentioned earlier the Indian case, where at the federal level the Indian constitution endows city governments to translate the urban development agenda into action, yet Indian cities are not sufficiently empowered by Indian states to take on such task (Ahluwalia 2017). The regulation of different actors and levels involved in urban governance has been the object of initiatives such as covenants and agreements between cities and these groups and cities and central governments. These initiatives could be an interesting object of comparison among our cities.


  1. Identification of a competitive role for the city in the global space

Another important urban policy trend in some cities of the global South is the identification of a competitive role for the city in the global space, as financial or technological hubs. This trend is apparent for instance in the urban plans and policy making of certain Chinese mega-cities, where city governments have been implementing policies aimed at “upgrading” urban areas and attracting “talents” and investors through migration policies, start-up incentives and tax exemptions. When considering the latest edition of master plans of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, a common rationale is discernible in their governance, one that “actively imagines and fabricates a purified neoliberal urban space centered on financial and high-technology sectors and up-scale residency, while seeking to remove or invisibilize low- skilled sectors and persons” (Zhang 2018: 871-2). The purpose of these plans is two-fold: on the one hand to requalify the structure of the urban economy and its human capital in the name of security, beautification and global competitivity.14 These policy initiatives, aimed at promoting Chinese mega-cities as global hubs for start-ups and cutting-edge tech innovation, have already reconfigured China’s role in the field of tech on a global scale.15 Apart from the Chinese example, other interesting case studies of cities striving to become global hubs for tech could include Bangalore and Pune in India, Santiago and Buenos Aires in South America.

  1. Population management


13 The term became to be widely used in the 1990s to describe a neoliberal turn in government, indicating “a new process of governing; or a changed condition of ordered rule; or the new method by which society is governed” (Rhodes 1997: 652‒653). Since 1989, the notion of “good governance” has been particularly promoted by financial institutions such as the World Bank as a normative development paradigm (Obeng-Odoom 2017). Such conception of governance is predominantly concentrated on efficiency and accountability and has been critiqued for being overly focused on the promotion of a neo-liberal agenda.

14 A key concept and principle of urban development policies in the Chinese context is that of ‘functional dispersal’ (gongneng shujie) to indicate the removal of functions, sectors, and industries that do not follow the city’s development goal (Ibid: 872).

15 For example in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), where China now disputes a global primate with the US (Lee 2018).


Another key policy theme is that of population management. This might have to do with the management of large influxes of internally migrant population (from rural areas or other cities) as well foreign migrants. Apart from managing migration to the city, policies dealing with population management might be aimed at managing and finding solutions to population decline, an issue affecting some South European and South American cities. While some countries have traditionally governed these issues through specific policies, such as China with the hukou system – aimed at controlling rural to urban migration to prevent overpopulation of cities -, most global South cities have not been traditionally characterised by such concern. Another related theme is that of international migrants in the cities and the way in which legal categories affect their management (refugees vs economic migrants). Our comparative analyses could further look at how national and urban policies legalise/illegalise certain segments of the migrant population in cities. This question is deeply related to the question of selective granting of rights to different sections of the urban population – be them internal or international migrants – as well as notions of a “right to the city”, its foundations and the political effects of its recognition. On the one hand, the Lefebvrian interpretation of it rests mainly on the case of Western European and North American cities and prioritizes the question of value and private property (Morange and Spire 2019). On the contrary, the notion of a right to the city in the global South is oriented towards issues of access to basic social and economic rights, urban inclusion, participation and local democracy (Ibid). Analyses in this direction would have to encompass actors such as civil society, public security authorities, state contractors, development agencies and other stakeholders.

  1. Creation of networks of cities and urban corridors between cities

A fifth topic of urban policies in cities of the global South which is gaining popularity in urban literature is urban corridors. The latter are generally described as “a number of large, linear urban areas linked through a well-developed transport network” (Georg et al. 2016: 2). The concept of economic corridor became popular in the late 1990s through an Asian Development Bank (ADB) project to develop the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) in Southeast Asia (Ishida and Isono 2012). Corridors typically include three complementary elements: cities, a transport corridor and industrial production centres. The transport corridor defines the geographical space of the corridor and enables the flow of goods and services, while the urban centres along the corridor provide a key source of labour and local development. Scholars have classified corridors according to trade type: domestic, transit (transporting the shipments of another country), foreign (transporting mainly imports and exports of a country), and hybrids, which depend on its service catchment area (Fraser and Notteboom 2014). Some countries have specific development policies for urban corridors, as in the case of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). The latter represent an attempt by the Indian central government – in cooperation with various stakeholders – to openly connect economic and industrial development to urbanisation (Anand and Sami 2014). The goal of this corridor policy includes doubling up the employment capacity, tripling up industrial outputs and the quadrupling of exports from the region through the creation of industrial infrastructure and clusters (Indian Institute for Human Settlements 2015: 6). Corridors as a development strategy are gaining increasing importance also in the Sub-Saharan Africa context, the leading example being the Maputo Development Corridor (Mulenga 2013). The theme of urban corridors policies leaves a lot of room for the development of comparative analyses. These would have to take into account the variety of domestic and international stakeholders from the private and public sectors, across different scales.


  1. Land Use Management

Land is a key lever of urban policy in cities of the global South. The control and valorisation of land by local governments is an important resource of revenues for local governments’ limited budgets. The question of land within cities of the developing world also means making sense of phenomena such as settlements and areas of illegal residence, which affect large parts, in some cases the majority, of the urban population. On the one hand, local governments often seek to make the most of this resource by raising property taxes and the value of public assets. On the other, investigations of land access policies entail a careful study of the strategies put in place by urban residents – especially low-income residents – to legitimize their presence in the city and gain recognition of their land rights. As it has been noted in the Indian case (but could also apply in the case of Ghana, for example), the act of turning land into a source of revenue is not the preserve of big institutional actors or private investors but it is also for private citizens on a smaller scale (Denis 2018). As a matter of fact, the purchase of plots of land is often considered as a safer investment than the purchase of financial saving products. The growing value of this land, normally divided into lots to meet the potential needs of individuals with highly fluctuating income levels, is based on the hope that the city will soon arrive at – and assimilate – these lots (Ibid). A tangible example for this growing speculative economy is the phenomenon of unoccupied new housing, which is connected to the development of real-estate bubbles. China is possibly the country where this phenomenon is most visible, but as just mentioned, this phenomenon is widespread in many cities and peri-urban areas of the global South.

  1. Provision and Management of Basic Infrastructure/Services

Another key type of urban policy in cities of the global South has to do with the provision and management of basic infrastructure and services. The provision of services such as water, sanitation and waste management are typically a key function of urban governance. While this is the main official role of city governments, in many cities of the global South state-provided services cater for a very small proportion of urban residents. The gap in infrastructure provision is in part been filled by the provision of services by private operators, self-organised communities and NGOs. The access to services such as energy provision, sanitation, water, are key to fostering economic development and poverty alleviation. A big sub-theme in this respect is the creation of sustainable energy to fill such infrastructural and service gap which is a big impediment to urban development.

  1. Urban mobilities

Another key topic of urban governance in global South cities is urban mobility. Urban mobilities are essentially about how people and goods can move from one part of the city to another. Urban mobility is a vital enabler of development insofar as it makes economic activities and labour across the city possible. This is especially the case for low-income residents, often living in peri-urban areas and spending several hours daily commuting to get to the city’s business centres, on vehicles or on foot. The reduction of times of commuting has economic and livelihood impacts. At a basic level, urban mobility consists of roads and footpaths, while at a higher level there will be buses, trains, taxis and so on. Urban mobilities are a domain that is shaped by both local government policies, private operators as well as commuters’ behaviours. In the context of global South cities, urban mobilities are often heavily enabled by private providers rather than urban governments, whose finances are limited. The absence of government also entails that the role


of ensuring some basic level of service provision and maintenance of footpaths is taken up by residents’

associations in informal settlements (Smit 2018).

  1. Sustainable Development Goals

One typology of policies which cuts across all our cities is urban and central governments’ pursuit of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal No.11 of the SDGs aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. However, other SDGs, such as those tackling poverty, health, sustainable energy and inclusive economic growth, are intimately linked to urban areas and often policies stress an integrated approach for progress across the multiple goals.

Other possible themes to develop:

  1. Selection of sites to be protected, with the solution of local and environmental conflict: Environmental plans, plans for the protection of Unesco’s heritage,
  2. Involvement of the business community: Donors, Philanthropy, Public-Private Partnerships






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