Abstracts and bios 8

places “off the map”: bringing to light the hidden locations of urbanisation

Noel A. Manzano Gómez

Informal urbanization and “urban inertia”. The legacy of historical self-built peripheries on contemporary European cities

The development of self-built, unauthorized areas is a phenomenon frequently identified with “global south” urbanization processes, but it was a structural process in most of the European capital cities among 20th century. The development of various regulations illegalizing these areas, tightly related with the “birth” of contemporary urban planning and a general process of increase of the territorial control by the State (Foucault 2006), led mainly between the 1900s to the 1980s to their eradication or transformation through the continent, sinking into oblivion the constitutive role of this kind of urban growth in the continent until recent times.

Based on comparative, historical research, we propose to show the existence of an unrevealed history that challenges an implicit “European exceptionalism” according to which the “successful” northern European states would have avoided that kind of city-growth, only present in the Mediterranean area (Leontidou 1990) and in post-socialist, Eastern countries (Tsenkova 2010). Furthermore, these findings invite to reassess the current situation of the continental peripheries in order to consider the influence of the “hidden threads of history” (Noiriel 2006) on their evolution and current stigmatization.

By one side, comparing current historiography with historical sources, we have found the 20th-century existence of which we would call nowadays “informal urbanization” in Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Hungary, ex-Tzchecoslovaquia, ex-Yugoslavia, Rumania and ex-USSR. Although the local historiography on the subject is an emerging field, their extreme idiomatic and geographical fragmentation has hardened until now their analysis as a continental phenomenon.

On the other side, archival research on two cases of study –Madrid and Paris- reveal, since the beginning of the 20th century, a long-durée process of illegalization of the popular housing self-provision, justified on the “scientifical” racist theories of that time and based on the necessity to ensure urban planning operativity. This process triggered the “informalization” of the self-built practices between the 1920s and 1960s in order to bypass the building restrictions, leading to opaque arrangements and clandestine housing construction.

While the public powers erased these areas during the next decades, their footprint can still be readen in many European cities. Firstly, the peripheral development of popular self-built areas led the upper classes to reside in different locations, polarizing the suburban urban growth. Secondly, the public powers frequently removed “informal urbanization” areas expropriating the lands on which shacks had been built. These areas were used to develop social housing states and rehouse the evicted populations, a process that has been shown in cities as Madrid (Sambricio 2000), Paris (Blanc-Chaléard 2016) or Berlin (Urban 2013) and that consolidated the preexisting geography or territorial stigmas. The rapid marginalization of the new housing states (Wacquant 2009) would have been a consequence of the inheritance of the symbolic capital and racist representation of the previous neighbourhoods. This enduring process of “urban inertia”, could partially explain the nowadays stigmatization and persistence of racist fears about many of the European peripheries.

Asa Roast

Empty land: the production of informal commons outside/within the urban

Utilising data from 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper considers how everyday responses to rapid urbanisation articulate different modes of becoming urban and practicing informal uses of space on the periphery of Chongqing, Western China. Chongqing’s rapid growth over the past twenty years is exemplary of the under-researched state-led urbanisation of inland Chinese cities. The emerging megacity is one of the largest and fastest growing urban areas in China, and has been the focus of several campaigns by the state to develop a more equitable and sustainable urbanism, while also aggressively competing for investment and positioning itself as a key site for global networks of high-tech manufacturing. Despite this, the global city status of Chongqing remains questioned by persistent informality, and its perception as a city ‘lagging behind’ other megacities in China and largely unknown internantionally—‘the largest city you’ve never heard of’ (Roast, 2020).
This paper examines the partial transformation of a rural zone on the northern edge of Chongqing into a residential suburb where large tracts of undeveloped urban land co-exist alongside public housing estates for migrant workers and luxury housing for suburban families. These large tracts of ‘empty land’ (kongdi) provide a space in which the residents who have been displaced to the urban periphery through dispossession, resettlement and migration negotiate becoming urban through the informal and improvised use of land. This informal land use takes the form of farming, small-scale construction, food production, and temporary spaces of convivial sociality. The empty land acts as a peri-urban commons, under constant threat of enclosure from private development. Utilising recent literature on the perception of urban agriculture of as an exogenous public good which offers an escape from or solution to the inequalities and problems of the city (Angelo, 2018; Tornaghi, 2014), I consider how this space allows the subjects of urbanisation to negotiate their relationship to the city. I consider how far the empty land offers a “constitutive outside” to the marketisation of land, labour and health in the city, and how the use of this land expresses the making of urban world without an outside, drawing on the theorisation of planetary urbanism as debated by Brenner and Schmid (2014), Derickson (2018) and Jazeel (2018).
The findings reveal the sharp contours of urban ‘civilisation’, commodity values and subjectivity in a space that stands on the legal and cultural border of the city. Understanding informality as a practice which produces space (Roy, 2011; McFarlane, 2012) I examine how the irregular use of undeveloped land by marginalised populations creates a periphery as theorised by Simone (2008, 2010): a space neither rural nor urban, which unsettles prevailing understandings of the boundary of the city. I posit ‘empty land’ as a concept which illustrates the negotiation of the meaning of the urban in the Global East, and advances our theorisation of the over-extended category of informality by revealing the uncertain edges and porous relationship between informality and the developmental state.

Patricia Capanema Alvares Fernandes

Urban history and theory from “off the map”: the case of Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Planned and founded at the turn of the 19th Century, Belo Horizonte is an emblematic example of city planning in Brazil. Its historiography often compares its plan with others such as Washington D.C., and the Argentinan La Plata. Such comparisons are predominantly made under the North-South / Centre-Periphery perspectives which presents Brazilian or Latin-American urban experiences as lesser versions or distorted copies, being always ‘inspired by’ foreign models. Particularly in Belo Horizonte’s case the idea of a ‘transfer of models’ is heavily weighted (Salgueiro, 2001). Many authors consider its gridded plan a physical outcome of positivist and republican ideals seen the importance given to order, progress and hygiene.(Magalhães & Andrade, 1989; Salgueiro, 1997, 2001)
The focus on ideas and representations about the plan – and particularly on their exogenous origins – has overshadowed a whole body of knowledge on everyday city-building. This is not exclusive for Belo Horizonte but common to most Latin-American cities. Searching for the construction of a Latin-American architectural historiography, the Argentinian Marina Waisman believes there is a distortion between the historical reality serving as the basis for the elaboration of concepts and later their application and exploration in the countries marginal to the centres of intellectual production. This occurs because, in general, concepts used as instruments for the exploration of realities where elaborated from other contexts, the ones of the central countries (2013). Experiencing a mismatch between concepts of urban theory used in central countries and the reality faced in the field Ananya Roy (2015), questions if the dominant cultural theories are adequate for explaining those places that seem marginal and different and how urban theory can explain places “off the map”(Robinson, 2002). Roy proposes therefore the construction of new geographies of theory, meaning, the production of theories from the “global south” as a possible way of reconcentration of critical urban theory, thinking in a relational manner about cities using post-colonial theories as a tool.
In this line, this paper – based on my previously developed doctoral research – proposes expanding the horizon of urban studies beyond the global North, revealing Belo Horizonte as a hidden location of urbanization, overcoming an urban knowledge based only on “world cities” (ibid), as city also stands outside the São Paulo / Rio de Janeiro circuit that dominates Brazilian urban theory. Moreover, the research moves beyond the (locally) over-studied planned central grid towards its suburbs, investigating how, in those peripheral areas, urban knowledge has been locally absorbed, appropriated and recreated, where many plans, social dynamics and practices overlap and interact. This move also requires a methodological shift: dehierarchization allows a rhizomatic approach (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) to historical sources, considering maps, photographs, newspapers and events as equally important sources of urban history acting besides planning. Studying such peripheries contributes to building a body of urban knowledge beyond the West, North, Euro-centrism.

Aireen Grace Andal

Children’s Spaces in Coastal Cities: Challenges to Conventional Urban Understandings and Prospects for Blue Urbanism and Urban Island Studies

Children in Disaster-prone Island Cities: Challenges to Conventional Urban Understandings and Prospects for Urban Island Studies

Urbanity in islands has limited studies, which is dominated by Western urban planning (Grydehø, 2015; Grydehø and Kelman, 2016). Whereas the Western urban perspectives embrace the principles of efficiency and stability (Barnett and Parnell, 2016), sustainable development, preparedness and resilience are the key principles in planning in island cities (UN Habitat, 2015). Such principles are based on the disaster-prone environment in island cities (Kelhman, 2019). For example, Pacific Island urban villages are threatened by increasing water mark on the coast, in wetland areas and on river floodplains (Aisan Development Bank, 2016; Tabe, 2019). Yet, there has been very little research into the island-specific urban development in light of their unique environmental conditions such as taking into consideration urban island culture, resettlement cases and mobility patterns.

With the lack of attention on island cities, it is not surprising that children’s spaces in urban islands are also at the margins of discussion. In search of alternative paradigms and approaches to urban planning, this paper specifically examines the children’s spaces in island cities with extreme conditions. Extreme condition is defined as conditions with elevated risks that threaten human life such as those with health-related, environmental, climate change risks (Fabian, 2012). In these times, children are dependent on other people for special care and supplies at times of emergency. Children are also in need of developmental, physical and psychological support in the aftermath of a disaster (Save the Children, 2015). While the conventional approach on urban planning focuses on the spatial issues such as locations, physical forms, massing and scale, architecture and built environment, extreme conditions allow us to widen our perspectives with reference made to how the children are included or excluded in cities. While there have been efforts to shift within urban studies towards creating spaces that value diversity and inclusivity of children in the city, the picture is incomplete without reflecting on children’s inclusion in extreme conditions.

Children’s subject-position as a lens reveals where children are placed in the priorities of cities under situations we can barely control. This helps to reveal the ethical sides of urban design and policies during extreme conditions. This highlights the need for urban island designs with child-friendly disaster preparation in mind to meet children’s needs in a disaster aftermath.


Asian Development Bank (2016). The emergence of pacific urban villages urbanization trends in the pacific islands. Manila: Asian Development Bank.
Barnett, C., & Parnell, S. (2016). Ideas, implementation and indicators: epistemologies of the post-2015 urban agenda. Environment and Urbanization, 28(1), 87–98.
Grydehøj, A. (2015). Island city formation and urban island studies. Area, 47, 429– 435.
Grydehøj, A., & Kelman, I. (2016). Island smart eco-cities: Innovation, secessionary enclaves, and the selling of sustainability. Urban Island Studies, 2, 1-24
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Save the Children (2015). Foundation for Sustainable Parks and Recreation. Protecting Children in Emergencies: A Guide for Parks and Recreation Professionals. Washington, D.C.: Save the Children Federation, Inc.
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