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Have a quick look at the book

Updated: Apr 13, 2021


David Satterthwaite

Excerpt: The city studies in this volume enrich us by adding to the number of case studies but also by the needed depth and detail mentioned above. Not so much comparative studies but more on how in each unique local context, common issues are addressed. Also showing the reality on the ground - real-life examples. The city case studies also point to or give examples of the importance of city governments both through what they did and what they failed to do. Perhaps the main point of difference between our work in the 1980s and the cities covered in this book is its greater attention to political issues, both on the government in the city or cities in question and in its relations with higher levels of government.

On a more pragmatic issue, it is easier for researchers to make sense of what is happening in smaller cities. In the many small cities I have worked in, it was easier to engage local politicians and civil servants and local researchers.

Perhaps the future holds out more prospects for overlooked cities, if the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences can be brought under control. A renewed recognition of the needed role of all city governments in good public health (obviously including overlooked cities) and in both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Active global networks such as United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) promoting and supporting local governments role and highlighting innovation in a wide range of cities. ICLEI championing the role of all city governments; C-40, if it extends the range of members (it is currently very much the role on large and well-known cities). UN agencies following UNISDR’s example of strong engagement with local governments. Sometimes it is these international networks highlighting good practice in cities such as Santa Fe and Manizales (see Chapter 5, Wesely et al., this volume) that makes them less overlooked.


Hanna A Ruszczyk, Erwin Nugraha, Isolde de Villiers and Martin Price

Excerpt: ‘Overlooked-ness’ Looking at cities – whether to explain, understand, or merely to observe – inevitably involves a degree of ‘overlooking’. Some cities and urban processes always seem to be kept out of view, and remain removed from familiar ways of seeing, thinking, questioning and engaging. And yet, these cities are still subjected to the various assumptions made and the categories and labels devised by scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners alike. Critical urbanists have long emphasised the partiality of urban theory, demonstrating how patterns of urban knowledge production reflect particular historical, institutional, political, economic, cultural, and (post-)colonial formations. To overlook is not merely to ignore. Overlooking is not defined by a silence or an absence, but is itself a process filled with presuppositions, prejudices, prioritisations, and expectations. Overlooking may be intentional or unintentional, but it is a form of neglect all the same. It may involve a conscious choice to look elsewhere, or it may constitute an act of simultaneously knowing but not caring. Either way, overlooking produces its own hierarchies, impacts urban political economies, and even plays a constitutive role in what urbanism means in cities out of the spotlight, nor under the microscope. Overlooking, then, embodies heterogenous temporalities, relationalities and forms of socio-spatial configuration in cities throughout the urban South.

Chapter 1

Sanxian: Re-/un-thinking Chinese urban hierarchy with a medium-sized city

Yi Jin and Yimin Zhao Abstract: A new trend is now emerging in Chinese mass discourse that categorises cities and formulates a hierarchical system. Labelling different “tiers” of cities, this new hierarchy also gets historical echoes, when the country was divided into three “fronts” to respond to geopolitical tensions during the Cold War. Ironically, the Chinese character of both “tiers” and “fronts” is identical: xian. In this chapter, by referring to Luzhou, a medium-sized city in Western China that bears the same label as “sanxian” (third tier / front) in different periods, we interrogate the change of urban political economy and governing techniques that are underlying these two labels, and to develop recent reflections on comparative urbanism and ordinary cities. The “third front” produced during the Maoist era rendered the local state a passive political subject. In contrast, the rise of “tiers” discourse has a lot of purchases from the local state. Situating in inter-city competitions, they are empowered yet also impelled to be more active in promoting the urbanisation process and boosting “urban-ness”. We are then invited to further reflect on what and how the development trajectory of an overlooked city could shed lights on our understandings of global urbanism and anticipations of alternative urban worlds.

Chapter 2

The changing logic of urban planning in Nepal: From informal to incremental

Hanna A. Ruszczyk

Abstract: Often times, in the global South urban planning guidelines and land use plans exist. The difficulties lie in implementation. Specifically, who must follow the law and where in the city must urban planning be implemented is being negotiated between the government and residents in Nepal. This chapter presents an evolving logic of urban planning practice evident in newly urbanising metropolitan cities. Nepal matters because it is in such spaces where fertile agricultural land is disappearing and houses are being built. This chapter argues that Nepalese urban planning efforts are highly dependent on the local authorities’ relationships with elites in different parts of the city. From 2002-2017, a central government with non-elected officials espoused informality while after 2018; a federal government with newly elected local government officials is adopting incrementalism as an urban planning logic. By utilising the concepts of informality, incrementalism and learning, a space is opened to think and consider the limits of knowledge and power of the local authority. The following questions are raised: For how long will the rural areas and their elites be allowed to circumvent urban planning laws? If and when will the balance of power shift in favour of the government?

Chapter 3

The marginalised centre: overlooked cities in South Africa’s interior

Isolde de Villiers

Abstract: South Africa has become an important site of inquiry and locale for the production and application urban theory. But there are absences and silences. By drawing historical similarities between the cities of Pretoria/ Tshwane and Bloemfontein/ Mangaung in central South Africa, the agument of this chapter is that overlooking these cities has been and continues to be political. I further point out how this can perpetuate the reproduction of unequal urban spaces in South Africa because of a lack of critical engagement with these cities that still fulfil important governmental functions. Drawing from feminist critiques of dominant discourses on spatial justice as well as calls for a rediscovery of the ordinary, I show how shifting the scale of urban inquiry can change the perceptions around the roles that the overlooked cities of Pretoria/ Tshwane and Bloemfontein/ Mangaung play and can potentially play in addressing spatial injustices of the past.

Chapter 4

Debt and developmental impasse in the secondary city: Geographies of municipal finance in Zarqa, Jordan

Martin Price

Abstract: While urban geography has produced important and timely work on the impact of financialisation on the city (e.g. Kirkpatrick, 2016; Peck, 2012), the condition of municipal ‘indebtedness’ in the global South remains critically under-researched. Public debt crises tend to be seen as problems for nation-states rather than cities and, in a context where the majority of urban knowledge is produced in the North and the major metropolises of the South, the experience of indebtedness in secondary and smaller cities is continually overlooked. This chapter explores the politics of municipal indebtedness in Zarqa: a post-industrial and relatively impoverished secondary city in Jordan. Drawing on first-hand correspondence with key actors in the city and supplemented by various secondary sources (press articles, financial data), the dynamics of indebtedness are told through the temporary suspension of municipal service provision in September 2018, when Mayor Ali Abu Sukkur demanded the release of centrally-held funds to ease the city’s developmental impasse. The chapter explores the political and spatial dimensions of municipal indebtedness in the context of secondary cities, and argues that a critical finance approach is crucial to understanding the political, economic and developmental logics operating within overlooked cities.

Chapter 5

Intermediate cities as urban innovators. An analysis of disaster risk management in Santa Fe, Argentina, and Manizales, Colombia.

Julia Wesely, María Evangelina Filippi, Cassidy Johnson

Abstract: This chapter analyses the potential of intermediate cities to become recognised frontrunners in policy innovation and diffusion. It draws from research in the field of disaster risk management (DRM) in two Latin American cities, Santa Fe in Argentina and Manizales in Colombia. The authors depart from acknowledging that innovative DRM practices in these cities have been overly looked at in research and policy. However, the contribution of these consolidated and innovative cities to discourses of intermediate and medium-sized cities remains overlooked. The literature on intermediate cities provides a useful lens to analyse Santa Fe’s and Manizales’ policy innovation and diffusion because it helps revealing underpinning governance capacities. Through comparative analysis, the chapter triggers a nuanced and relational conversation about the mechanisms that have enabled these two intermediate cities to build and operationalise their capacities while becoming champions in DRM. The chapter finds that capacities in both cities are inherently relational, linked to economic connectivity and mobility, a compact social and institutional fabric, and well-established educational and knowledge networks. These findings contribute to nurturing situated learning from innovative cities which are overlooked in dominant narratives around vulnerabilities and growing development challenges in many medium-sized cities in the global South.

Chapter 6

Comparing Secondary Cities. Holistic Evaluation of Urban Development in Arequipa and Trujillo, Peru.

Christian Rosen

Abstract: This chapter introduces the approach of holistic evaluation of urban development and investigates local actors and their perspectives on urban development in two Secondary Cities of the Global South. Using qualitative material from case studies in Arequipa and Trujillo in Peru, it is shown on the empirical level, how stagnating decentralization processes, resource management under personnel and financial shortages, problems with the institutionalization of knowledge, policies at the local level that are not oriented towards the long term, difficult conditions for civil society participation and problems with the social inclusion of new residents challenge the success of urban development in both cities. While in Arequipa professionalization and institutionalization of relevant planning tasks has led to progress in urban development, Trujillo shows that there is a high pressure to act in urban development policy, which is not always addressed by the relevant actors, especially due to political grievances. This chapter makes a contribution to a better understanding of the individual development paths of Secondary Cities and to complement the working definition for this type of city by comparing two cases. It draws attention to the perspective of local experts and the projects, resources and actors that are important for them.

Chapter 7

Post-conflict Dili: an overlooked urbanscape reaching out for development

Joana de Mesquita Lima, João Pedro Costa

Abstract: The conflict-stricken city of Dili holds circa 20% of the national population of Timor-Leste. The city is wrought with inequality and caters poorly to the needs of its ever-increasing population, stretching the city beyond its physical limits and pushing recent arrivals into areas of environmental vulnerability. It is a city now characterised, by government and civil society, as a “cidade de lata” (tin city) in reference to poverty and poor living conditions felt across it. Governance structures change with political cycles, impacting on the continuity of plans and strategies, as well as on the operative capacity of institutions. This chapter is the result of an analysis of project plans, programmes, legislation and policies, and reflects upon interviews carried out with different actors. Results demonstrate that there is a need for integrated planning and strategy development, noting that such circumstances require governance to reflect the flexibility and an understanding of the value of the level of intervention, while recognising the need to work across multi-sectoral processes. It also reflects the need for coordination of interventions and enforcement of legislation, and a need to focus on the national and local needs through processes across the different scales of governance.

Chapter 8

Middle cities: The politics of intermediary of Bandar Lampung, Semarang, and Bontang city in Indonesia under climate crisis

Erwin Nugraha

Abstract: This chapter critically examines the roles of three small and intermediate cities, Bandar Lampung, Semarang and Bontang city, in Indonesia. This chapter evaluates and examines the potentialities of these neglected ‘middle cities’ in the context of the global South. This chapter’s central concern is around the politics of urban knowledge and relational power of ‘middle cities’, also known as secondary cities, to encounter the global circuit of ideas and practices of urban climate experiments that flow nationally and internationally. This chapter exemplifies the geographical scale, as a network power, that is initiated, conducted, and negotiated by these cities in Indonesia. There are three different politics of intermediary interplay in these middle cities: (i) a politics of navigating in between circuits of dominance, (ii) a politics of negotiating with urban knowledge, and (iii) a politics of resisting against marginal attendance. This chapter contributes to debate and discussions on how secondary cities, often overlooked, which are underrepresented in the global literature on urban and climate change, have been involved in productive and critical engagements that challenge the dominant discourse by the mega and capital cities.


Excerpt: Once again, we would like to emphasize that this is not the end of this intellectual journey; rather it is the beginning of the journey. Even though we do not wish another book about "overlooked-ness" should share the light of the day in the decades to come, Overlooked Cities is an invitation for more attention from scholars, academics, and practitioners to analyse and examine regional, middle, secondary, and overlooked cities beyond questions of economic development or urbanisation analysis, but more critically to evaluate the conditions of people living in these cities. We suggest that future research projects need to engage with several topics, such as grassroots level organisations, the environment, livelihoods, and deep ethnographies to uncover the social processes and dynamics in overlooked cities. We would like to invite future research to engage in various creative and engaging projects to analyse overlooked cities that include mixed quantitative-qualitative methods, comparative analysis, and visual methods. We think these different analytical inquiries would develop an understanding and analysis that would not only uncover similarities and differences in dynamics and processes from which overlooked cities emerge, but also commonalities between case studies and causalities of different processes.

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Book note published in Environment & Urbanization

"Early-career researchers authored the chapters in Overlooked Cities, which builds on decades of research on urban centres that have variously been labelled ‘small’, ‘intermediate’, ‘secondary’, ‘peri


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