Massive Urbanisation

Re-tooling mobilisation and advocacy in contexts of massive urbanisation


Comprised of researchers from Lagos, Johannesburg, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Karachi, Delhi, Manila, Istanbul, and Jakarta, this collective considers modalities of urban politics and collective life in mega-urban regions of the Global South. 

Throughout the global south, many urban regions have become massive. In the familiar renditions of this notion, urban regions, mushrooming in population and spatial footprints, teeter close to chaos, environmental disaster, and ungovernability. Populations are being reshuffled, moved from one area to the other, something which an extensive landscape of built projects that never really worked has allowed as buildings are repurposed for other uses as they also take advantage of contiguities with new developments—sub-cities, new industrial zones and logistical centres. The sheer heterogeneity of developments at all scales, from thousands of small developers to large real estate corporations have equipped regions with a large volume of warehouses, housing estates, mega residential developments, industrial zones,  commercial centres, and small enterprise districts that either never got off the ground, only partially fulfilled the intended functions or rates of occupancy, or quickly fell apart.

When these “projects” are coupled with large swathes of squatter settlements, temporary migrant housing, and the conversion of older residential neighbourhoods into mass boarding houses, it is possible to grasp the extensiveness of a circulating population that anchors residency across multiple tenuous residencies, remains completely unanchored in serial short terms occupancies, or is continuously displaced as a function of different instantiations of urban renewal, the migration of employment opportunities, or an increasingly opportunistic-cantered sensibility of residents themselves. Yet, massiveness may be the very thing that provides a kind of “safety net.” All kinds of discrepant environments become momentary bastions of largely improvised collectivity, where people try to make some functional use of each other without any pretence of long-term commitments. Momentary, sporadic, and makeshift become the defining metaphors of many collective formations. In conditions of anticipated intensifications of displacement, enforced mobilities, temporary residence, heightened reliance on extended family networks, and the reworking of solidarities, what does a progressive urban politics look like? How can it address the massiveness of the urban in its two countervailing connotations, as debilitating disregard and collective lives worth living trying to be born?

The collective has developed a three-part article for the magazine of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, and is preparing a special issue for the Geography Journal.


AbdouMaliq Simone Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

Dian Tri Irawaty Rujak Centre for Urban Studies, University of California-Los Angeles

Kristian Saguin University of the Philippines

Mariana Calvacanti State University of Rio de Janeiro

Momen El-Husseiny American University of Cairo

Murat Guney Strategic Planning Unit, Municipality of Istanbul

Nitin Bathla Delhi Without Borders, ETH Zurich

Caroline Wanjiku Kihato Woodrow Wilson Institute for International Scholars

Sobia Ahmad Kaker Goldsmith College, Karachi Urban Lab

Steve Ouma Akoth Tangaza University College

Taibat Lawanson University of Lagos

Find out more