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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Existing Content - 5 JULY 2016 15:18  /  Research  /  Comparative Urbanism

Comparative Urbanism

The majority of social and economic life across the globe is now shaped by urbanisation, and cities are central to the prospects of some of the poorest and most rapidly growing parts of the world. Urban studies is undergoing a major re-orientation to address the analytical challenges posed by these trends and UCL geographers are at the forefront of initiatives to promote the internationalisation of urban studies, establishing and contributing to different strands of Global Urbanism. This includes reformulating comparative approaches to build understandings of cities across the world, as well as generating regionally-based theorisation to inform wider debates. A number of researchers specifically address the theoretical implications of the changing balance of global urbanisation towards the global South, especially in India, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Nigeria, while there is also a strong engagement with London and with European and North American urban histories and contemporary experiences.

Innovative international comparative studies across the UK and Canada (Richard Dennis), the UK and India as well as India and Argentina (Andrew Harris), Nigeria, India, Germany and the UK (Matthew Gandy),  and Johannesburg in relation to the range of cities it co-operates with (Jennifer Robinson) exemplify these new directions in urban geography. Comparisons over time are also important to recasting the theorisation of urban processes (Richard Dennis). Regionally-based theorisations are also being developed with work on vertical urbanism in Mumbai (Andrew Harris), popular urban movements in Chennai (Pushpa Arabindoo) the politics of water and modernity in Chennai (Pushpa Arabindoo) and Mumbai (see Matthew Gandy’s Liquid City film), land and housing in Mexico (Ann Varley) and housing and wider urban development politics in South Africa (Jennifer Robinson) and Nigeria (Matthew Gandy).

This international and comparative approach to cities has stimulated new approaches to key themes in urban studies, including the politics of neoliberalisation (Jennifer Robinson, Matthew Gandy), urban infrastructure (Andrew Harris, Matthew Gandy, Pushpa Arabindoo), inequality (Jurgen Essletzbichler), housing and informality (Ann Varley). Gandy’s agenda-setting work on cyborg urbanism and urban infrastructure, Alan Latham’s innovative materialities approach to public space and Andrew Harris critique of western-based approaches to gentrification exemplify this theoretical contribution.  Innovative research in urban cultural politics includes analyses of the role of art and cultural practices in gentrification and urban regeneration (Andrew Harris and Louis Moreno’s Creative City Limits project), literary geographies (Richard Dennis) and religion and ethnicity (Claire Dwyer).


As a result of our international approach, we have close links with researchers in the different cities in which we work, as well as with various public bodies and organisations. (Sue Parnell visited from the African Centre for Cities, Cape Town, in 2012 as a Leverhulme Visiting Professor). The group has been successful in obtaining funding for research (ESRC, AHRC, EPSRC, British Academy, British Council, RGS), and in participating to policy and public engagement and wider debate on global urban futures  (including with CABE, ICA and the Royal Academy) as well as working closely with the extensive network of urban scholars at UCL. Interdisciplinary collaborations are a feature of this group (notably with Planning, Architecture, DPU, Engineering, Art, English and other areas) including initiating and supporting University-wide initiatives like the Urban Laboratory (hosted by Geography, with Matthew Gandy as founder and Director, and Dennis, Robinson, Latham, Arabindoo and Harris as co-directors and members of the Steering Committee), the Cities Methodologies public event, UCL’s Grand Challenges on Sustainable Cities (for which Gandy served as member of the Steering Committee), as well as the literary focussed UCL City Centre (of which Dennis is an associate member) and its Leverhulme-funded ‘Bloomsbury Project’ (2007-11). The group co-founded and co-organises the London-wide seminar series on cities, the Urban Salon.