Governing the future city – A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg

Jennifer Robinson

A large proportion of urban development in different regions of the world is taking place in mega-urban projects, such as new cities, satellite cities, or large new suburbs within existing cities. These developments are building the future city. They are also important sites of experimentation in new ways of developing and governing the city as they often stretch across multiple jurisdictions and can take decades to bring to fruition.

At the same time as new urban areas are built, then, innovations in urban governance often result. Some of this relates to the ongoing search for new models for linking state investment with private forms of development financing. Most large urban developments rely on financialising future gains through expansion in economic activity, or enhancement in land values to fund the infrastructure investment needed to enable the development. In the face of these ambitious plans, cities must often find new sources of finance, and assume enhanced responsibilities for providing infrastructure, housing and services as well as for enabling economic growth crucial to national political interests. Leveraging the finances for development can be at odds with other pressing agendas, including ensuring sustainability, addressing social exclusion, and maintaining or insisting on political legitimacy and accountability.

Based on in-depth case studies of three large scale developments in different contexts – the Mayoral Development Corporation in Old Oak Park Royal in London; Lingang a new town in Shanghai; and the ambitious Mayoral project to stitch together segregated Johannesburg through the “Corridors of Freedom” – our research project (Governing the Future City: A Comparative Analysis of Governance Innovations in Large Scale Urban Developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg) compares the ways in which the governance of cities is changing. The three projects we have selected to study share similar challenges in terms of financing developments through enhancing land values, designing liveable and sustainable new urban areas, and fostering spatial planning models which integrate the new developments into the wider metropolitan region.

In addition, the developments are linked in to shared international policy and development networks. Thus we feel it is productive to compare the range of different kinds of governance outcomes generated by large-scale developments across different planning and development contexts. Our cases consider different models of urban development: state-led new town construction in China, property-led planning-gain development in the UK, and the developmental models balancing service delivery with economic growth agendas in South Africa. This gives the research a very innovative academic component, as it is not common to compare development experiences in cities in different regions of the world; doing so means we can speak to the diversity of urban experiences across the globe, which are increasingly influencing each other. Contrasting the declining scope for public participation in planning in the UK with the now well- established democratic urban planning process in South Africa, and growing property rights awareness and concerns to generate vibrant urban communities in China expands our perspective of urban transformation to its full spectrum.

Updates on our research in each of the three case studies will be posted here.

Professor Jennifer Robinson is Principal Investigator of the ESRC-funded Urban Transformations project, Governing the Future City: A Comparative Analysis of Governance Innovations in Large Scale Urban Developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg.