Track A: Re-thinking Urban Economies


Explaining the growth and development of cities has been called 'one of the great challenges for social science' (Storper, 2011, p.33). But what is specifically 'urban' about the range of problems facing economies today? The increasing recognition of the partiality of urban development and growth policies (e.g. global cities; creative cities), the decoupling of economic growth from social and environmental development, the ongoing financial crisis and the emergence of austerity urbanism, as well as decreasing confidence in mainstream economics more generally, suggests that the scope for new ways of theorising, measuring and intervening in urban economies is significant. Contributions are welcomed from PhD students who are exploring some of the diverse ways in which we might re-think urban economies.

Key Words: urban economies; re-thinking economy; global cities; creative cities; ordinary cities; development; well-being; financial crisis; austerity urbanism

Chairs: Alvaro Sanchez Jimenez, Louis Moreno, Myfanwy Taylor


Juliana Martins, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London - 4th year of study

Re-framing creative cities research: lessons from the spatiality of digital production in Tech City, London

Research on creative cities has been largely influenced by the concept of creative class (Florida, 2002) and the idea that cities should try to retain or attract these professionals has had a great impact on urban policy. Following from a PhD research that examines the spatiality of the work in the digital media industries located in Shoreditch, London, this paper explores how this research approach can contribute to critically reassess creative cities research and thus urban economic development strategies targeted on the creative industries economic sector. The paper argues for (1) more attention to production in these industries, examining their industry specific characteristics and needs, and including the range of organizations, people, and activities involved in those processes in lieu of focusing solely on an idea of creativity; (2) the study of everyday work practices rather than creative class consumption patterns, recognizing the diversity within creative workers both in terms of lifestyle and role in production processes; (3) finally a focus on space and the material, examining the role of multi-scalar spatial conditions in supporting those processes and the multiple spaces that constitute the creative places of the city. Findings from this research suggest that an approach based on these three aspects provides alternative ways to rethink urban economies and the role of urban planning and policy in supporting place-based economic (and creative) strategies.


Melissa García Lamarca, University of Manchester, Department of Geography, First year PhD candidate

Re-thinking urban economies: exploring the city as a common(s)

Seeking an emancipatory, truly democratic urban politics arguably requires rethinking urban economies and other elements constitutive of urban life. Moving towards this aim, my contribution will explore the city as a common(s), focusing on "the commons” as a socio-historically produced configuration – the city as an oeuvre, as a process of socio-ecological-political configuration, among others – as well as touching on "the common” as a politics around the construction of being in common. Such a conceptualisation of the city as a common(s) fundamentally rethinks neoliberal political economic orders as it disrupts and indeed shatters notions of private property, urban commodification and capital accumulation, the dominant drivers of urban development in most cities across the globe. Through this exploration I argue that we must move beyond the public-private binary that underpins the existing political economic system, and outline a possible path towards this that seeks to create an alternative counterhegemonic project on economic, political, social and ecological terrains. My theoretical examination will be complimented by preliminary empirical work investigating Spain’s 15-M movement and the Platform for Mortgage Affected People in Barcelona and Madrid, whose insurgent practice is disrupting the existing political economy in efforts to promote social justice, equality and democracy, towards a bottom up re-coupling of social and economic development in urban planning and politics.

ThienVinh Nguyen, University College London, Department of Geography

Sedonki-Takordi, Ghana is a site of territorialized economic development, given its local-dependency on natural resources and site as a port for Ghana. Despite it’s ‘run-down’ reputation, global lines of production flow and international capital weave into the city. The Ghanaian state insists that oil production off the cost of Sedonki-Takordi, will bring the city and state unprecedented wealth. Narratives about the potential for growth highlight how the city will be “one of the modern cities of the world,” with “ skyscrapers, six-lane highways and malls” (Walker 2011). Alongside this hypothetical landscape, key investment players—from the Ghanaian state to international investors from the UK, US, and China—posit that the urban poor will be the major benefactors, as they reap the rewards of economic growth and new social programs. Yet, these visions have yet to be realized.

Three main themes will emerge from this paper: 1) the exploration of the potential trajectories of development vis-à-vis the burgeoning oil industry; 2) the scrutiny of the rhetoric of the Ghanaian state, developers, and investors thus far; and 3) the recognition of ways in which the the urban poor and people’s movements are articulating their interests within this context. It will examine the rising land and property prices, job speculation, and the complex workings of governance, investment, and development.

Given the uniqueness of the engagement by varied actors seeking to benefit from the supposed economic transformation of the city in a country known for its ‘good governance,’ this research hopes to contribute to the growing literature on ‘cities of the Global South’ by exploring the articulation and fruition of ‘development’ fueled by the promise of a natural resource.  


Jacob Salder, Doctoral Researcher, 2nd Year, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

The city and its ‘edges’ in the post-regionalist era: reinterpreting the core-periphery attachment

Recent debates within economic geography have moved toward relational interpretations of space and definitions of the region. This shift away from notions of sub-national political economy has situated networks and flow as principle agents in development and competitiveness. Increasingly in both theoretical and policy terms the locus of these flows has been interpreted as the city, this relational turn changing the regional question into a city-regional one and placing the city at the vanguard of sub-national growth aspirations. The regional space outside of the urban core has been cast in a subordinate role, providing core amenity to supplement this potential.

This conception of peripheral space may cast it too narrowly. Whilst the edges have played a key role in city evolution these may extend beyond the core-periphery hierarchy. Industrial and post-industrial dispersal trends have repositioned not only key economic activities but also a set of networks and flows to a space outside of the urban core. This has fundamentally shifted the relationship between city and periphery, extending it beyond simple hierarchical notions.

Using the changing relationship between the city of Birmingham and the peripheral space of Southern Staffordshire, this paper discusses how economic development and industrial evolution have reshaped the core-periphery model. Using a relational approach it analyses the changing forms of transaction, interaction, and dependence between the city and the periphery. Through this it examines the evolving nature of spatial attachment and the changing role of space within the city-region.        


Neoclassical economics, crises, austerity and the experience of governments across north and south since the 1980s

Alvaro Sanchez-Jimenez; UCL Geography (year 1)

In the 1980s, most Latin American countries were plagued with severe macroeconomic problems, high inflation and unsustainable debt. The largest economies were the most affected. Economic growth stalled and urban areas were the first ones to show the symptoms of what became a ʻlost decadeʼ. As a response, IMF recommendations were adopted throughout the region in the form of SAPs. These economic interventions were largely associated with orthodox economy and neoliberalism. The dramatic austerity measures introduced across many Latin American countries were costly due to their profound and longterm socioeconomic consequences. However, they were said to be necessary to address increasing macroeconomic pressures. European countries also underwent important economic transformations in the 1980s. Although such changes were not mainly driven by widespread macroeconomic crisis, they were linked to orthodox and neoliberal choices accompanying economic restructuring.

The adoption of policies drawn from orthodox economics either to address macroeconomic debacle or to foster growth has produced satisfactory but limited results worldwide. The ongoing and widespread economic crisis in Europe suggests that mainstream economics has flaws that even in the ʻbestʼ circumstances produce deep socioeconomic disillusionment. Given the pervasive nature and relative dominance of neoclassical economic thought worldwide, how can we re-think urban economies? This paper will explore the implications and experience of a “truly imaginative strategy” that according to Massey (2007) could redefine the way we think about the economy of cities in an increasingly globalised world. This might help us to uncover the potential of international cooperation between cities rather than competition.


Tools for commoning: Collectively renegotiating value with the ‘Little Mesters’

Julia Udall, Sheffield School of Architecture

What alternative futures are available to communities wishing to develop economies, and safeguard their assets, which are sustainable, just and equitable? What strategies can be developed that empower people to take control of their resources and to engage in collective activities and actions to create wealth and prosperity? Can architects design tools that create economic agency in an urban context whilst renegotiating what might constitute value?

Tools are a way of mediating a relationship; they employ head and hand, and perform differently according to the skills, motivations and knowledges of the person handling them. You can borrow or modify a tool, use it as intended or experiment with it in order to learn something new. I would like to use this workshop to codesign and modify tools for creating collective economic agency in relation to the use or ownership of contested urban spaces.

To do this I will bring examples of tools we have co-created at Portland Works, a metalwork factory threatened with closure and the conversion into bedsit flats. For us the pressure of gentrification would have meant the loss of over 30 ‘maker’ tenants, including many ‘Little Mesters’, musicians and artists who could not relocate their studios, and workshops. We need tools to propose an alternative future to the one narrowly defined by the market and to enable us to safeguard the Works as a place of making. I would like to understand how we can refine these tools and share them with others faced with similar challenges.





This study explores appropriation of prime location and regulation of informal activities using the lived experiences of the stakeholders involved. Little is known about the process of appropriation and other regulation strategies used by the municipality in the designated and undesignated areas, and the spatial ramification of such processes. The theoretical framework which guided the examination of such issues is through reciprocal relationship between operator and prime location, informality and built-environment, social relations and policy frameworks which are embedded in poverty, land use, location and governance discourses.  This study used a mixed method approach to arrive at its findings. Information from secondary data is used together with primary data in the form of questionnaires, in-depth interviews, mapping and observations. Through a focus on prime locations the thesis investigates how appropriation of such locations contributes to social and material transformation. The process of accessing and using prime locations and the operators’ ability to innovate various means against municipality is explored along Msimbazi/Uhuru road and Mchikichini market as a lived experience of informal livelihood operators in Dar es Salaam.

The study offers insight into the socio-economic characteristics and changes in economy and policies that influence their participation in the informal activities. It shows how these processes allow for social and material transformation which impact on the operators’ social, economic and environmental relationship. The municipality uses two main strategies to regulate the informal activities i.e. in-space arrangements and the in-time arrangements. The use and regulation of prime locations bring together stakeholders such as the municipality, operators’ organisations, and other non-governmental organisations. The ineffectiveness of municipal regulatory model leads to their inability to distribute planning outcomes to the disadvantaged operators. It is argued that a fuller understanding of these processes of appropriation and regulations could provide a lesson for future programmes of relocation elsewhere. Instead of fighting the informal operators the initiatives should consider the shared experience provided in the process of producing spaces and implementation of policies for informal livelihood activities in Dar es Salaam.