Urban Inequality and Sustainability in a Globalized World (Working Group “Urban Governance” )

If the last decades of the 20th century were the golden age of globalization, we are now living in ‘the first truly global urban century’ (Parnell and Oldfield 2014: 1). Globalization’s contradictions play out in cities across the world, mediated by national and local interests and power dynamics. These dynamics have renewed debates about the urban in development policies and research, and encouraged conversations around urban theory and practice across both geographical and disciplinary divides. It has also pushed forward an urban agenda in global development policies. The inclusion of an urban target in the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to formulate a New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III conference in 2016 suggest that urban dynamics will take a more central stage in development circles. Cities are perceived to be both a major challenge to, as well as sites of opportunities for realizing sustainable global development. Climate change adaptation and mitigation, the shift towards a green economy, poverty, inequality, migration, governance and citizenship are some of the issues that are central in this global urban agenda.

Cities are hubs of economic growth, global networks and relations, and the sites of urban, national, and global powers. The urban is a space of transnational mobilities such as migration and capital flows. Cities are also characterized by socio-spatial inequality, contestations and conflicts, informality, and social networks that citizens rely upon in their everyday lives. Although a more ambitious global urban development agenda is in the making, a question is how we can plan and govern cities in order to realize these agendas in complex and often contested urban environments. Visions and utopias might be useful, but they tend to be more attuned to the interests of urban elites and middle classes than of those who are excluded or who live at the urban margins.

In this panel, we want to focus on these different layers of urban transformations and the politics of urban governance in a globalized world. A key question is what kind of politics and governance emerge from the intersections of multiple aspirations, networks and interests. This includes a focus on the role of policy discourses and networks, urban institutions and actors, national institutions, and politics and contestations at the local government level, in a globalised world. We invite papers that engage with this key question theoretically and empirically in relation to a broad variety of topics such as:

  • Globally mobile policies and urban futures: The role of urban policies in development agendas, how policies travel across and through global, national and urban networks, and the multilevel governance challenges of realising global agendas in local contexts.
  • Hybrid governance arrangements: blurring of boundaries between state/non-state and formal/informal governance actors and the implications for rights, transparency and democratic accountability.
  • Transnational mobilities: challenges and opportunities associated with migration, capital flows, as well as social movements and networks, and their role in exacerbating or combatting urban inequalities.
  • Urbanisation for whom: Socio-spatial dimensions of inequality (class, ethnicity, caste, gender, generation) and how urban transformations (re)shape different modes of inclusion and exclusion.
  • Urban conflict and insecurity: violent and non-violent struggles over resources, livelihoods and use of space; the negotiation of urban conflict through governance; governance outcomes in terms of unequal access to security.
  • Urban solidarities: various forms of solidarity between and across differently positioned urban residents and social groups; manifestations of such solidarity in urban space, and the extent to which these also link with non-local (national, regional, global) solidarities and networks.


Marianne Millstein, Berit Aasen, Rivke Jaffe, Håvard Haarstad