The Urban Question in the Global South

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population is living in urban settings. In many parts of the Global South, countries have experienced or are undergoing what some have termed an “urban revolution” as secondary, primate, and megacities rapidly grow and expand. Historically, urbanisation is a process associated with structural economic change, whereby countries shift from a reliance on primary sectors such as agriculture, to manufacturing and other secondary industries that benefit from the scale and scope economies that accompany the growth of cities, and in turn drive the process forward. Such transitions can generate formal employment, create new trading opportunities and base industries, and facilitate social upgrading. In the Global South today, however, generative pathways such as these remain generally elusive as many places have not experienced a growth in manufacturing sectors and other value-adding industries capable of providing employment for rising urban populations. Instead, urbanisation without industrialisation has occurred in many countries, marked in particular by expanding informal economies and settlements. Moreover, many cities are ‘imploding’ due to infrastructure overload, marked by a lack, and highly uneven distribution of, basic services and collective goods (e.g., water, sanitation, housing). At the same time, many cities have experienced construction booms and real estate speculation in middle and high-income markets, manifest in shopping malls and luxury housing projects that do little to expand wealth distribution or ameliorate the material challenges facing the poor. Such splintering effects are widening inequalities and further complicate attempts to improve the distribution of collective goods and services. The futures of Southern cities are thus at a crossroads with respect to the roles they will play in development processes and outcomes at the urban, regional, and national scale.

This special session will feature papers that deliver economic-geographical insights regarding pressing urban issues/questions in the Global South today. Relevant topics include, among others: