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Governing The Future City

Governing The Future City

A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg

(This project is now completed - for project publications please scroll down)

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 based on anticipated 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" - we compare 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.

Project Publications

Ballard, R., Dittgen, R., Harrison, P., & Todes, A. (2017). Megaprojects and urban visions: Johannesburg’s Corridors of Freedom and Modderfontein. Transformation Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa, 95(1), 111–139.
Harrison, P., Rubin, M., Appelbaum, A., & Dittgen, R. (2019). Corridors of freedom: Analyzing Johannesburg’s ambitious inclusionary transit-oriented development. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 0739456X19870312.
Robinson, J., & Attuyer, K. (2020). Extracting Value, London Style: Revisiting the role of the state in urban development. International Journal of Urban and Regional Studies, in press.
Robinson, J., Harrison, P., Shen, J. and Wu, F. (2020). Financing Urban Development, Three Business Models: Johannesburg, Shanghai and London. Progress in Planning, in press.
Shen, J., Luo, X., & Wu, F. (2020). Assembling mega-urban projects through state-guided governance innovation: The development of Lingang in Shanghai. Regional Studies.
Shen, J., & Wu, F. (2017). The suburb as a space of capital accumulation: the development of new towns in Shanghai, China. Antipode, 49(3), 761–780.
Todes, A., & Robinson, J. (2020). Re-directing developers: New models of rental housing development to re-shape the post-apartheid city? Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 52(2), 297–317.
Wang, Z., & Wu, F. (2019). In-situ marginalisation: Social impact of Chinese Megaprojects, Antipode, 51, 5: 1640-1663.
Wang, Z. (2020). Beyond displacement – exploring the variegated social impacts of urban redevelopment. Urban Geography.






Project Leaders

Professor Jennifer Robinson (Principal Investigator, UCL Department of Geography)
Professor Fulong Wu (Co-Investigator, UCL Bartlett School of Planning)
Professor Phil Harrison (Co-Investigator, University of the Witwatersrand, South African Research Chair in Development Planning and Modelling)




Shanghai Lingang

Shanghai Lingang is located in the southeastern part of Shanghai and covers an area of 315km2. The Shanghai municipality officially launched the development in 2002. Unlike many other new towns that were developed in Shanghai during the 2000s (such as the ‘one city nine towns’ projects), a large share of Lingang’s urban land was reclaimed from the sea. The Lingang area is divided into two main land uses namely the industrial zone, which covers an area of 240.99km2 and the main residential town with an area of 67.76km2.

Similar to other major urban developments in China, a competition was launched to decide on the final masterplan. The German company GMP Architects won the competition with its masterplan concept, which conceived Lingang as a drop of water falling into the sea, which then created ripples. This concept is reflected in the new town’s circular shape and the large artificial ‘Dishui’ lake that has a diameter of 2.5km. The design of Lingang was also inspired by Howard’s garden city philosophy as the main town is divided into five circular zones. The lake is at the center of the new town and the lakefront area provides commercial and leisure facilities such as water sports and supermarkets.

The final station of the number 16 metro line is also located in this area. The first ring area provides a variety of functions including residential, service and offices. The projected population of Lingang was 800,000 residents although so far only around 200,000 residents live in Lingang of which large proportions are students. State owned development corporations so far have delivered the development of Lingang.

With regards to the governance of Lingang, the Shanghai Lingang Area Development Authority (SLADA) governs the entire Lingang project and is responsible for the masterplan and the allocation of resources and land. SLADA itself does not get directly involved in the development of specific project. Instead, eight major development corporations, each responsible for one section of Lingang, carry out the actual development although there are also some smaller private developers. For instance, the Lingang Harbour City Development Corporation is responsible for the development within the main town whilst the Shanghai Lingang Economic Development Corporation takes charge of developing the heavy equipment-manufacturing zone. These development corporations all belong to the state although they operate as private companies with a mandate to generate profit. For our research in Lingang, we will pay close attention as to why the government wishes to develop the area and how the state interacts with the market as well as local communities in order to carry out the development.


The location of Lingang



Lingang’s land use



Lingang is conceived as a drop of water with the Dishui lake at its center



The Dishui lake covers an area of approximately 5.4km2 and is built on reclaimed land



Due to the vast size of Lingang, much of the areas are still rural although some infrastructures such as this underground station in Shuyuan are already in place.



Metro station in Lingang area (just before the final station of Lingang).



Resettlement housing.



Housing developed by the real estate market, near completion.



The port used by the manufacturing zone










Old Oak and Park Royal

London is portrayed as facing an unprecedented housing crisis and rapid growth - major new developments are planned in “Opportunity Areas” created by the Mayor of London to accommodate this growth across the city. One of these is the site for the Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), designated planning authority on 1 April 2015 for 650 ha of land in West London, straddling the boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing and Brent. The arrival of HS2 and Crossrail in the heart of this site will make a ‘transport super-hub’ at Old Oak Common; the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the OPDC, both working on behalf of the Mayor, see this as an unprecedented opportunity to spur regeneration in the area and deliver around 25000 new homes and space for 65000 jobs, one of the largest UK regeneration projects of the coming decades. It is also the site of one of the largest remaining industrial areas in London, Park Royal.

Drawing a line around an area, and calling it an Opportunity Area, changing the land use from industrial to residential or commercial, along with the expected vast improvements in accessibility, drastically alters the profitability surface for developers. Within 20 months of establishing the Development Corporation, and many years before transport accessibility improves, proposals for about 11,000 units have already come into the planning system.

Our research project investigates how this ambitious urban development project can illuminate challenges and innovations in urban governance – how is the future city being governed?

Here are three of the issues which have come up so far in our work:

Financing/Land Value Capture: Compared to other London projects, including the development of the Olympic Park, limited central government financial support is envisaged for Old Oak, which sharpens discussions about how to fairly capture/ share uplifts in land value resulting from the granting of planning permission. It seems about £2.5 billion might be needed to bring the site into development! Developers, planners and residents have an interest in how the financial flows are allocated between profit, transport infrastructure, and community needs. However, over 70% of the site is publicly owned land (currently in transport-related uses): a tussle within government over who controls the land and how to allocate the benefits of the development is underway.

Community Participation: The prospect of a new high-density mixed use district being developed on brownfield land close to low-density residential suburban neighbourhoods has generated a number of bottom-up initiatives to shape development, including the setting up of a network of community and residents groups to share information and enhance their understanding of the planning process, as well as support each other to input collectively or individually into various government and developer consultations (called, the Grand Union Alliance). Our project has been closely involved in working with and supporting this network. Other initiatives include the formation of two neighbourhood forums with the ultimate goal of producing neighbourhood plans that reflect their vision for the area, while adhering to policy guidelines set at higher-level. Neighbourhood Plans will be used to determine planning applications on some issues in the area they cover, but the Neighbourhood Forums also provide an important context for residents and community based organisations to formulate shared ideas and generate responses to planned developments. Residents have engaged strongly in consultations over the Opportunity Area Planning Framework and the Draft OPDC Local Plan, and have successfully influenced the OPDC’s Statement of Community Involvement. Less successful have been efforts to influence the determination of specific planning applications – our project is now exploring the difference between these two settings for participation, and thinking critically about how this can inform analyses of the landscape of London politics, such as the idea that it is “post-political”.

Ideas from Elsewhere: We were initially very impressed with how the visions for the future of Old Oak seemed so ambitious, to propose a piece of the city which would reinforce ideas about London’s global reach and enable it to position itself more effectively in relation to its “global city” competitors, now increasingly seen as in Asia. We are exploring the extent to which ideas from elsewhere circulate through the extensive network of experts involved in shaping the project, as well as for residents. Some places seem to be at the top of people’s imaginations – but often these are also quite local, like Kings Cross or Canary Wharf, or closer to home, in Europe. And for many experts, too, the local context of London is a very important sphere of operation. We are puzzling over how to understand this very local format of a highly globalized urban process.


Grand Union Alliance meeting to discuss the Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan, March 2016 (Source: GUA website)


Existing Land Uses in Old Oak Park Royal are largely industrial, business, transport and some residential (Source: OPDC, Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan, p. 50)

Community and Practitioner Engagement

As part of our ESRC-funded research project, ‘Governing the Future City: A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg’, we held two public panels in April 2017 to discuss how "urban qualities" might be produced within the institutional and financial envelopes of contemporary urban development.

The first video is a recording of the presentation and discussion of the recently published book "Urbane Qualitäten"; based on collaborative research in Zurich, it identifies a selection of urban qualities in contemporary urban regions: centrality, diversity, interaction, accessibility, adaptability and adaptation.


The second video shows Lee Polisano of PLP Architecture, lead on the master planning for London and Regional/Car Giant in the Old Oak area, giving a talk on “Pioneering Urbanity in an Expanding Capital”.


Corridors of Freedom

While having maintained – if not expanded – its position as a cross-regional economic hub drawing in large amounts of capital, ideas and people, Johannesburg has also remained very unequal and divided. This materialises both in the stubbornness of spatial segregation and in a very uneven distribution of wealth. As a result, the majority of the urban poor are still living at the margins of this sprawling metropolis, either housed in townships or in informal settlements with limited amenities and far away from job opportunities.

Against the backdrop of this continuous and multi-layered legacy of apartheid, the Corridors of Freedom (CoF) Initiative is therefore presented by the municipality of Johannesburg as a tremendous chance to stitch the city together and to break with the past. Since the initial introduction by the previous mayor in 2013, the CoF has featured as the City’s flagship project seeking to radically change the ways in which Johannesburg functions.

The initiative is expected to transform several pre-existent areas by connecting parts of the city via large transport corridors linked to interchanges around which the focus will be on mixed-use development and increased levels of accommodation density. Through the promotion of a combined ‘work, live and play’ function, the main objective of this large-scale and long-term undertaking is to help produce an integrated, ‘people-centred’ and compact city. The Bus-Rapid-Transit (called Rea Vaya), gradually rolled out along selected routes, forms the backbone of the Corridors and builds on the belief that an effective and interconnected public transport system will improve people’s access to amenities, facilities, work and leisure activities.

In contrast to the more ‘typical’ and contiguous urban mega-projects (such as new town developments, satellite cities or the regeneration of existent areas), the layout of the Corridors of Freedom initiative is quite different. The spatial footprint of the Corridors is extensive and the project itself is subdivided into distinct segments tied to specific temporalities. In the medium-term perspective, the focus of investment is presently directed at a route that is starting in the southwest (near Noordgesig and Pennyville), running past the Inner City CBD (this whole segment is referred to as Empire-Perth Corridor) before taking a sharp northern turn towards the financial centre of Sandton and the nearby township of Alexandra and Marlboro in the northeast (this segment is called Louis Botha Corridor). The third identified Corridor (Turffontein) sits south of the Inner city taking the shape of a square-like bloc without a direct link to the other two aforementioned corridors. If Soweto and the Mining Belt are flagged as current target areas, the former benefited from a range of investments and upgrades in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup whereas the latter has, thus far, only been identified as a priority investment area for future developments. In the long term, the CoF project is projected to establish further connections in the northern parts, between Sandton/Randburg and Diepsloot as well as between Alexandra and Ivory Park.

Apart from the goal to move away from the negative effects of urban sprawl and of a car-orientated city, the ambitious CoF project is underpinned by a strong social and developmental agenda. As such, the idea is to render neighbourhoods more multi-functional and complete while transforming the societal character and have ‘rich and poor, black and white living side by side’.[1] The Corridors of Freedom initiative, as implied by the name, therefore intends to provide not only increased freedom of movement for residents but also improved economic freedom by bringing poorer and marginalised population categories closer to the urban core, offering better opportunities for work, education, leisure and recreation.

However, changing overly rigid spatial characteristics and entrenched societal habits is challenging and requires a long-term approach as well as buy-in from other players. If the City of Johannesburg is the main driving force behind the project and currently rolling out the necessary bulk infrastructure and maintenance work, the implementation of the second phase of the project (i.e. densification of the housing component) is heavily dependent on the interest and involvement of private developers. Given the discrepancy of a socially motivated impetus on the one hand and a purely market-driven approach on the other hand, it is crucial to reach an alignment of interests (as well as of temporalities) between the municipality and a very heterogeneous property industry that remains highly risk adverse and location focused. Communities along the corridors, although portrayed at the heart of this initiative, usually sit at the bottom end. Nonetheless, due to the spatial spread of the corridors, running through a significant number of neighbourhoods with differentiated socio-economic realities, communities are very diverse and have been engaging more or less actively in the process.

Composed of local government structures, segments of the property industry and a wide range of communities, the success of an initiative of this scale will rely on the level of commitment and embeddedness both within and between each segment of this complex nexus. This becomes even more evident following the change in government after the recent local elections in August 2016, introducing a realm of uncertainty and questions about the continuity of political support for the project.


Location of the different segments of the Corridors of Freedom (Source: City of Johannesburg)



View of a BRT Station in downtown Johannesburg (Picture: Mark Lewis)



A snapshot of Orange Grove, an old suburb that forms part of the Louis Botha Corridor (Picture: Mark Lewis)



Community upgrades in Westbury, a largely coloured neighbourhood (and falling within the Empire-Perth Corridor), (Picture: Mark Lewis)



Picture of the BRT lane running in-between Westbury and Coronationville (Picture: Mark Lewis)



Projection of densification in Orange Grove, Special Development Zone (Source: City of Johannesburg)



Picture of a public engagement meeting organised by the City of Johannesburg about the Special Development Zone, Orange Grove, February 2017

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