Beyond variegation: The territorialisation of states, communities and developers in large-scale developments in Johannesburg, Shanghai and London

Jennifer Robinson*, Fulong Wu, Phil Harrison, Zheng Wang, Alison Todes, Romain Dittgen, Katia Attuyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Large-scale urban development projects are a significant format of urban expansion and renewal across the globe. As generators of governance innovation and indicators of the future city in each urban context, large-scale development projects have been interpreted within frameworks of ‘variegations’ of wider circulating processes, such as neoliberalisation or financialisation. However, such projects often entail significant state support and investment, are strongly linked to a wide variety of transnational investors and developers and are frequently highly contested in their local environments. Thus, each project comes to fruition in a distinctive regulatory context, often as an exception to the norm, and each emerges through complex interactions over a long period of time amongst an array of actors. We therefore seek to broaden the discussion from an analytical focus on variegated globalised processes to consider three large-scale urban development projects (in Shanghai, Johannesburg and London) as distinctive (transcalar) territorialisations. Using an innovative comparative approach, we outline the grounds for a systematic analytical conversation across mega-urban development projects in very different contexts. Initially, comparability rests on the shared features of large-scale developments – that they are multi-jurisdictional, involve long time scales and bring significant financing challenges. Comparing three development projects, we are able to interrogate, rather than take for granted, how a range of wider processes, circulating practices, transcalar actors and territorial regulatory formations composed specific urban outcomes in each case. Thinking across these diverse cases provides grounds for rebuilding understandings of urban development politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1715-1740
Number of pages26
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number8
Early online date2 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all those who agreed to be interviewed and who supported our engagement in the three developments. We also thank those who worked on the project with us, notably Allan Cochrane and Margot Rubin. In London, we thank Sharon Hayward of the London Tenants’ Federation, Robin Brown together with others at Just Space, as well as members of the Grand Union Alliance and Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum. In Johannesburg, we acknowledge the partnership and engagement of Planact, especially Mike Makwela. In Shanghai, Prof. Yuemin Ning of East China Normal University was an intellectually inspiring and most helpful host for project activities. His close knowledge of the Lingang case shaped our research questions and informed our analysis from the beginning. Phil Harrison also gratefully acknowledges the support of the South African Research Chairs Initiative of South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: We acknowledge funding from the ESRC for an Urban Transformations grant ES/N006070/1, ‘Governing the Future City: A Comparative Analysis of Governance Innovations in Large Scale Urban Developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg’.

Publisher Copyright:
© Urban Studies Journal Limited 2022.


  • comparative urbanism
  • developers
  • financing
  • large-scale urban development
  • state–community relations
  • urban politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies


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