UCL Urban Laboratory



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Blog Posts

News Articles

New forms of urban planning are emerging in Africa - The Conversation by Sylvia Croese & Philip Harrison

Academic Publications

Robinson, J. 2021. Reconfiguring the Spaces of Urban Politics: Circuits, Territories, and Territorialization. in Million, A., Haid, C., Castillo Ulloa, I. and Baur, N. (eds) Spatial Transformations. London: Routledge, pgs 269-284.

In the wake of both post-colonial critiques of urban studies and the emerging realities of “planetary urbanization,” there is a need to revisit theories of urban politics. As urban forms across the globe are becoming fragmented and often extend across vast areas, earlier theoretical analyses of urban politics that focused closely on the municipal institutions and configurations of actors in a North American idiom have become increasingly redundant. Rapid urban growth and extending urban forms give rise to new territories of urban politics, including city-regions, operational landscapes, and large-scale developments. In reconfiguring the spaces of urban politics, attention needs to be directed to the wide range of transnational actors and practices, circulating policies as well as material and financial flows, which are key drivers of urban development and compose the field of urban politics. This chapter reviews accounts of the spatialities of urban politics. It then draws on empirical research on city strategies and on large-scale urban developments to propose ways in which the circuits, territories, and territorializations of the politics of urban development might be conceptualized. At the same time, emergent territories of urban politics provide the justification and grounds for wider comparative analyses and theory-building across diverse, specific urban contexts.


Harrison, P and Croese, S. (2022) The presistence and rise of master planning in urban Africa: transnational circuits and local ambitions, Planning Perspectives, DOI:10.1080/02665433.2022.2053880 (available open access)

Master plans have long been criticized by critical planners who have argued in favour of more strategic, collaborative and relational forms of spatial planning that can more adequately respond to local needs and realities, especially in the context of the global South. Rather than critiquing master planning, this paper seeks to interrogate its recent rise in urban Africa. Building on a review of international planning trajectories, the paper seeks to challenge dominant narratives in the Western literature around the rise and decline of master planning. Planning experiences from across the African continent illustrate how master planning was a limited practice under colonialism and emerged more strongly in early post-colonial years, while persisting through a quiet period of planning and proliferating in recent times. By exploring the diversity in the influences and approaches to master planning for new and existing cities in Africa over time, the paper positions master planning as the product of a complex array of transnational circuits and multiple local actors and ambitions which intersect across different scales. The study of master planning should therefore be considered as an important entry point into understanding and rethinking the contemporary politics of urban planning, implementation, and development in Africa.


Sylvia Croese & Yohei Miyauchi (2022): The transcalar politics of urban master planning: the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Africa, Area Development and Policy

This article sheds light on the growing, but understudied role of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in supporting the local production of master plans across the African continent as a tool for guiding long-term investments in urban development. To explore the multiple logics, actors and interests driving the conception, preparation and implementation of these plans, we approach urban master planning as a transcalar process, through which diverse investment, planning and governance arrangements are produced and mobilized in ways that transcend the city scale. We illuminate these dynamics by building on an analysis of the history of Japanese development cooperation and drawing on case studies of JICA master planning in Malawi, Ghana and Tanzania.


An open access version is also available.

S. Croese, J. Robinson, K. K. Amedzro, P. Harrison, W. Kombe, E. Mwathunga, G. Owusu (2023): Persistent, pragmatic and prolific: Urban master planning in Accra, Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe, Land Use Policy, Volume 133

This paper interrogates the persistence of urban master planning in African cities. Critiques of master planning in Africa label it as a stifling product of colonial legacies, an inappropriate imposition of external ideas, or a device to achieve the goals of global actors, all seen as being at odds with the rapidly changing settlement patterns and needs of many African urban contexts. This paper instead focuses on the role of local planning actors in the demand for and the production of master plans and proposes a different analytical perspective on the role of master planning in African urban contexts. Notably, we point to the weak presence of master planning in colonial contexts, in contrast with the strong activation of master plans to shape the ambitions of newly independent governments. We observe also the nuanced interactions between local actors and transnational circuits and influences in devising and implementing plans. The paper presents three case studies which demonstrate the persistence of master planning practices through the post-independence period and their proliferation in contemporary moments. We document the diverse range of local actors who have chosen to retain or revise colonial planning legacies, initiate new city-wide master planning, or solicit, shape and assume responsibility for master planning promoted by transnational circuits of development and planning. We find that actors embedded in local or national institutions, and a wide variety of transnational actors, are driven by a range of, at times conflicting, interests and ideas about what planning is and is meant to do. Historical surveys and in-depth interviews with current actors, as well as those from the recent past in Accra (Ghana), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Lilongwe (Malawi), help us to identify three aspects of urban master planning which challenge existing interpretations. We observe that master planning has been a persistent presence, although often taking a more ephemeral form in extended “silent” periods when outdated but valued plans remained operative. We note that complex political tensions and institutional landscapes shape enthusiasm for, and control over the nature, preparation, adoption and implementation of master plans, including their being side-lined or resisted – local-national dynamics are crucial here. This leads to a pragmatic engagement with transnational actors to bring forward different kinds of plans. The prolific production of master plans supported by multiple transnational actors in poorly resourced contexts constitutes a dynamic, although at times counterproductive, terrain of visioning and practical planning initiatives seeking to grapple with the pace and unpredictability of urbanisation. Our analysis provides an opening for considering the politics of urban planning from an African-centric perspective and as an active part of African urbanization.