Dr Colin Marx

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The Development Planning Unit conducts world-leading research and postgraduate teaching that helps to build the capacity of national governments, local authorities, NGOs, aid agencies and businesses working towards socially just and sustainable development in the global south. We are part of The Bartlett: UCL's global faculty of the built environment.



Dr Colin Marx is the PhD Programme Director and a Lecturer in Land Planning and Management in the Global South.

A town planner, adult educator and geographer by training, I have extensive experience in community-driven struggles against inequalities in African cities. A consistent focus of my work has been how to identify and act in relation to power relations that produce or sustain urban inequities. I explore how power is mobilised, sustained and used to generate urban environments through the conditions of impoverishment and informality that characterise many cities in the Global South.

In the DPU, I lead a module on The City and its relations with a focus on urban land issues as part of the MSc Urban Development Planning and a practice module on Urban Economic Development as part of the MSc Urban Economic Development. I have taught at Kingston University London and lectured at universities in South Africa. I have been an external examiner of PhD dissertations at the University of Cape Town. I am currently External Examiner for the MA in World Cities and Urban Life at Goldsmiths University, London.

Before joining UCL, I directed a large urban advocacy NGO in South Africa in the post-apartheid period. The organisation was involved in innovative and supportive interventions in the urban environment such as community mobilising, architecture and infrastructural planning, project management, community based loan schemes and research.

Research Summary

My current research interests relate to attempts to produce accounts of urban development processes from the perspective of poor and marginalised groups of women and men. To this end, I am focusing on the role of informal land markets in broader urban land markets and development; the relationship between formal and informal land use management practices; the role of property rights in relation to city development; rethinking the urban economies of poor people; validating the economic knowledge of poor women and men working informally in cities, questioning the relationship between poverty and urban economic development; and the mobilisation of power through transnational activist networks.


I teach in the following modules:

  • DPU Research Methods Seminar Series
  • BENVPU1 The City and Its Relations

Research outputs

Governing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Interactions, infrastructures, and institutions 2015 Waage J,Yap C,Poole N,Levy C,Marx C,Bell S,Mace G,Pegram T,Dasandi N,Hudson D,Unterhalter E,Kock R,Mayhew S
Urbanisation and poverty reduction in low- and middle-income countries 2015 Levy C,Marx CE,Satterthwaite D
Governing the UN sustainable development goals: Interactions, infrastructures, and institutions 2015 Waage J,Yap C,Bell S,Levy C,Mace G,Pegram T,Unterhalter E,Dasandi N,Hudson D,Kock R,Mayhew S,Marx C,Poole N
Informal land management and barriers to planning 2014 Marx CE
Re-envisioning informal settlements and HIV and Aids together 2013 Marx CE
The spatial imaginaries of informal settlement, HIV and AIDS, and the State in southern African cities 2013 Marx CE
Circular migration: a view from destination households in two urban informal settlements in South Africa 2013 Posel D,Marx CE
The ‘barriers’ to reducing conflict between formal and informal land use management practices in cities in the Global South 2012 Marx CE
Locating the global governance of HIV and AIDS: Exploring the geographies of transnational advocacy networks 2012 Marx C,Halcli A,Barnett C
Critical urban transformation and informal land use: land biographies in Johannesburg 2010 Marx CE
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Research activities

HIV and AIDS and informal settlements in sub-Saharan Africa
Reducing Relocation Risks
The city in urban poverty
The interactions of elites with informal urban land markets: Durban and Dar Es Salaam
Thinking across boundaries - revisiting the notion of the 'urban global south'
Urbanisation Research Nigeria