Theorising urban studies on/from China/Asia

Date and time
21 April 2016
5.30-7.30 PM GMT

Room G07, UCL Pearson Building, London WC1E 6BT (See UCL Maps)

Urban Development by Project: Comparative Perspectives


  • Richard Ballard, Romain Dittgen, Phil Harrison, Mike Makwela, Alison Todes (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
  • Stan Majoor (University of Amsterdam)
  • Gilles Pinson (Sciences Po, Bordeaux)


  • Fulong Wu


  • Jenny Robinson

This seminar is associated with the beginning of a new ESRC Urban Transformations funded comparative study of large scale urban development projects in London, Johannesburg and Shanghai – Governing the Future City.

There will be drinks and snacks after the seminar, to provide an opportunity for informal discussion and networking.


Conflicting spatial visions: mega projects in Johannesburg, South Africa

Richard Ballard, Romain Dittgen, Philip Harrison, Mike Makwela & Alison Todes (University of the Witwatersrand)

The City of Johannesburg in South Africa is located within a complex set of inter-governmental relations, and also within the temporal framing of declining state coherence and political factionalism. Over the past few years distinctive and competing urban spatial visions have evolved within the Metropolitan City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government which governs a city-region which includes Johannesburg. Within the city administration a vision has cohered which draws largely on conceptions of the compact city, urban densification and transit-oriented development. In the provincial government, however, the vision is of large-scale urban expansion, with large new residential investments beyond the existing urban edge, and especially in areas of vulnerable or declining economies. The paper explains the emergence of these competing visions before exploring the ways in which the divide is revealed through large scale mega projects. The first project, Modderfontein, is on the spatial edge of Johannesburg although it is centrally located within the city-region. It is the site of a major private investment by a Shanghai-based developer, Zendai Properties. It has been welcomed enthusiastically by provincial government but has received a more ambiguous reception from city government, which has been involved in complex negotiations with the developers and Zendai’s London-based consultants. The Corridors of Freedom, by contrast, is a flagship initiative of the city government which is viewed warily by provincial government. It is an attempt to stitch together the fragmented apartheid city through densification (mainly) along the routes of the new Bus Rapid Transit System. Both developments reveal an entanglement of competing state and private interests, and both have uncertain futures which relate in part to market conditions but also to a fluid political context.

Urban Megaprojects as journeys in a changing landscape

Dr. Stan Majoor (Professor Coordination of Urban Issues, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)

Their long trajectory of decision-making and execution makes urban megaprojects particularly prone to the effects of changing political, economic, technical and social conditions. We claim therefore that it is crucial to take a dynamic perspective on urban megaproject delivery, with a focus on how political and economic parameters and actor-constellations evolve over the stages of a project delivery lifecycle. Successful megaprojects have the capacity to use this turbulence in a positive way to change and adapt programmatically and organizationally. This lecture critically analyses three contemporary urban megaprojects, Amsterdam Zuidas (the Netherlands), Copenhagen Ørestad (Denmark) and Melbourne Docklands (Australia) that not only faced extensive turbulence, but also initiated strategies during their delivery phase to change and adapt.

Governing by Project

Gilles Pinson (Sciences Po, Bordeaux)

Abstract to follow