UCL Urban Laboratory


Urban Extents and Limits: what are the frontiers?

11 November 2019, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

A man walks down a street in Doha next to a construction vehicle

Panel discussion exploring the challenges of (re-)thinking the urban for governance and politics as well as for urban theory.

Event Information

Open to







Jordan Rowe


Cruciform Lecture Theatre 1
UCL Cruciform Building
Gower Street

This is a plenary session of the conference At the frontiers of the urban: thinking concepts and practices globally. Conference ticketholders are not required to book separately. Those not attending the conference are welcome to book for this session as a standalone ticket.

(Re-)thinking the urban means engaging with changing and extending processes of urbanisation, questioning the territorial and analytical limits of the urban at the same time as confronting new and diverse territorial formations.

This panel discussion will focus on the challenges of these processes for urban governance and politics as well as urban theory.

Abstracts and speakers

Dr Michelle Buckley (University of Toronto)

Michelle Buckley (she/her) is an urban and economic geographer at the University of Toronto, Canada. Her research is broadly concerned with the finance and labour that facilitate capital circulation in urban built environments, particularly the labour markets encompassing low-waged construction and home renovation work in Canada and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. This work has sought to develop understandings of the labour-finance nexus of urban development, with a particular focus on how interlocking positions pertaining to gender, citizenship, sexuality and race sustain and mediate contemporary urbanization.

Frontiers of engagement: tracing transdisciplinary insights along the borders of the urban

Considerations of the limits of ‘the urban’ and processes of urbanisation, I suggest, raise opportunities to extend and deepen a host of trans- and intra-disciplinary conversations on these matters. In this plenary I will trace several 'frontiers of engagement' between urban studies and other extant perspectives on urbanisation and capitalist transformation, such as diaspora studies, housing studies and labour studies, to examine the different spatial ontologies and theories of capitalism that animate some of this scholarship. In doing so, I explore three sites for heterodox research and theory on questions of global urban change - namely, those relating to property, personhood and praxis - that further dialogue along these lines might nurture.

Prof Philip Harrison (University of the Witwatersrand)

Professor Philip Harrison is the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, funded by the National Research Foundation and hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand. He served as a member of the National Planning Commission in the Office of the President from 2010 to 2015.  Previously, Prof. Harrison was Executive Director in Development Planning and Urban Management at the City of Johannesburg for 4 years from 2006 to 2010. Prior to that, he held a number of academic positions at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal, including Professor and Chair of Urban and Regional Planning at Wits from 2001 to 2006. He has published in the fields of city planning and regional and urban development. His book publications include the jointly edited Changing Space, Changing City: Johannesburg after Apartheid. Details on Professor Harrison’s publications and projects are available on ORCID.

The mega urban agglomerations of the BRICS: stretching, layering, intersecting, bounding and governing

Far-reaching political and economic transitions since the 1980s have induced composite changes within the urban agglomerations of the BRICS (among other countries within the ‘emerging economy’ category). These agglomerations have become larger, more complex, more spatially diffuse, more interconnected and more varied. The changes are the product of an entangled relationship between demographics, politics, economic process, regulatory regimes, the material production of the built environment and more, across intersected scales. The paper explores, through a comparative lens, the dual process of material expansion and reconfiguration, and of governance formation. The paper shows, firstly, how limited our current analytical constructs (e.g. ‘metropolitan regions’, ‘city regions’, ‘mega regions’, ‘agglomerations’) are against the nature of recent territorial formation. It shows, secondly, that there are, in fact, governance responses in all countries of the BRICS to the enhanced complexity of the urban composite. There is, however, an ongoing tension between the processes of material change which are stretching the urban and diffusing boundaries, and the requisites of governance, which require some level of bounding, but there are, nevertheless, also intriguing pointers from the BRICS to governance practices that may accommodate or mitigate this tension.

Prof Partha Mukhopadhyay (Centre for Policy Research)

Partha Mukhopadhyay is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, which he joined in 2006. He has published extensively, writes frequently for the national media and has also been associated with a number of government committees. Most recently, he was chair of the Working Group on Migration, Government of India, and member of the High Level Railway Restructuring Committee, Ministry of Railways and of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. He received his PhD in economics from New York University and an MA and M.Phil from the Delhi School of Economics. In 2006, he was chosen as one of the inaugural Fellows of the India China Institute, New School, New York. His research interests are in urbanisation, infrastructure, and the development paths of India and China.

Please note, this contribution will be via video link.

Prof Christian Schmid (ETH Zürich / Future Cities Laboratory Singapore)

Christian Schmid is Professor of Sociology at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. He has authored, co-authored and co-edited numerous publications on theories of the urban and of space, on Henri Lefebvre, on territorial urban development, and on the comparative analysis of urbanisation. Together with architects Roger Diener, Jacques Herzog, Marcel Meili and Pierre de Meuron he co-authored the book ‘Switzerland: an urban portrait’, a pioneering analysis of extended urbanisation (ETH Studio Basel). Together with Neil Brenner (Harvard GSD), he currently works on the theorisation and investigation of emergent formations of planetary urbanisation, and, together with Milica Topalovic (ETH Zürich), he leads a comparative research project on extended urbanization.

Extended Urbanisation: Decentering Perspectives on the Urban

Urbanisation has got a planetary reach in the last decades. The boundaries of the urban have been exploded to encompass vast territories far beyond the limits of even the largest mega-city regions. Novel, extended patterns of urbanisation are crystallising in various environments, in agricultural areas, in the space of seeming wilderness and in the oceans, challenging inherited conceptions of the urban as a bounded zone and a dense settlement type. New concepts and terms are urgently required that would help us, both analytically and cartographically, to decipher the differentiated and rapidly mutating landscapes of urbanisation that are today being produced across the planet. This means first of all decentering the focus of analysis and adopting an ex-centric position, one that looks from the periphery and tries to detect urbanization processes. This contribution presents first results of the research project “Territories of Extended Urbanization” (ETH Future Cities Laboratory Singapore) that explores and analyses a range of very different case studies across the globe.

Thanks to UCL Global and the University of Toronto for the financial support for this plenary.


The lecture theatre is wheelchair accessible with designated seating at the front and a hearing assistance system. For detailed information please visit the AccessAble guide.

Due to works to repair the accessible lift serving the Cruciform Building, alternate arrangements have been agreed to provide mobility impaired access. Please access the Cruciform Building as usual and reception staff will provide information.

Further information


£5 tickets for UCL staff and students