Urban future of the Global South

July 31, 2022

Engaging essays on contestations faced by South Asian cities and what these processes mean for these cities

Urban future of the Global South


his book is a valuable and timely addition to the literature on issues around marginal communities, forms of contestations, the challenges they are faced with and the resultant changes in the urban spaces of South Asian cities. The book is a compilation of nine chapters, authored by writers from India and Pakistan and has been carefully edited by Nida Kirmani, a faculty member at LUMS. Kirmani’s work revolves around issues related to gender, violence, insecurity, Islam, women’s movements and development and urban studies in India and Pakistan.

The book is set within the premise of neo-liberal and capitalist agendas, and how these processes are driving, developing and shaping our urban centres. As a result of these agendas, the urban experiences are being transformed leading to the emergence of various possibilities as well as challenges for different classes. Being driven by imageries of ‘world class’ and ‘smart cities’, people having decision-making powers often overlook or ignore ground realities, local aspirations and everyday struggles of the common man inhabiting the urban space. Many a time, these decisions are taken by the city managers in an ad hoc manner, without any ground research or reliance on literature debating the peculiarities of global aspirations and local realities. Thus, this scholarship serves as an important milestone in bridging this gap in literature and research.

In this publication, the contestations, contradictions and eventual changes in cities are approached from various vantage points. These range from struggles related to identities, resources, urban space, mobility, governance, access, approach and environment. A prologue underpins these concepts. It introduces the reader to the various condensations that wait to be discovered. The chapter highlights the connection to literature around neo-liberalism and capitalism. The Afterward is penned by Nausheen H Anwar who sensibly summarises the current state of our urban centres and the challenges they face with environmental and ecological depletion - issues of governance, ethnicity and marginalisation being some of them.

The first three chapters introduce case studies of housing displacement, exclusion geographies and loss of place and identity in the process. All three make points about the modernisation of cities in the Global South in the name of development and how in the process a loss of physical, social and communal relations and practices is witnessed. The cases also highlight the importance of land and its ownership acquired within the neo-liberal agenda and how traditional relations are no longer valued. Chapter two uses some creative mapping techniques to explain the state-driven housing projects. These housing projects were aimed at improving life for the underprivileged. Most of these end up promoting exclusivity and deepen the intangible divide between the underprivileged jhuggi dwellers and other citizens.

The first three chapters discuss the marginalisation of the urban poor being pushed to peripheral locations and having only limited access to the city centre. The idea is taken forward in Chapter Four which weaves together a theoretical framework based on the works of Mike Davis, Theresa Caldeira and Landman, and tweezes out the restriction of access within the public realm. Various physical barricades around Karachi have been documented in this chapter and linked to ideas of control and contestation of spaces.

Being driven by imageries of ‘world class’ and ‘smart cities’, people having decision-making powers often overlook or ignore ground realities, local aspirations and everyday struggles of the common man inhabiting the urban space. 

Chapter Five, with in-depth research of Karachi’s public sector, challenges the popular belief that Karachi’s public transport is dominated by a mafia. It puts forth the thesis that the failure of the public sector in the provision of transport has left a void filled by private transport operators. This lack of provision of affordable public transport is attributed to the adoption of a neo-liberal model by the state. As Kirmani states in the Introduction, these chapters demonstrate how the neo-liberal model of privatisation has led to the marginalisation of not only land and resources but also, access to the city.

Chapters Six and Seven are located in Delhi with one chapter critically analysing the city via an environmental lens and the other taking the vantage point of the political arena. Toxic urbanism is the term used in Chapter Six, where activism around environmental pollution and deteriorating quality of air is traced in Delhi, and how this resulted in court decisions in favour of the public. The authors outline several factors contributing to this toxic urbanism, ranging from a massive rise in consumerism in the neo-liberal era to extensive industrialisation and other development policies outlined for cities in the Global South to be recognised as world-class cities. Chapter Seven highlights how election campaigns cash on broken promises of neo-liberal agendas to gain vote bank, yet the promises remain unfulfilled. The process keeps repeating in successive election campaigns. It is in-depth research on various dialogues, contestation, negotiations and exclusion of the urban poor through unfulfilled promises.

Chapter Eight focuses on the vital role of the informal economy in the cities of the Global South. This specific case reviews actors in the waste economy and the dilemma they face in being marginalised from mainstream policies related to formal sector urban development. This chapter brings to the limelight the important role of the marginalised working class of waste pickers in Nayandahalli and paves the path for advocacy of their rights using appropriate means within the market-led urban developments in cities of the Global South.

The context changes back to Pakistan in the last chapter where a thought-provoking exploration of newly emerging middle-class spaces in Lahore is the focus. The investigation of hostels for young men in Lahore, and the role of various actors in everyday processes, resultant spatial and social formations and connection to migration, economics and urban planning, is explored. The focus of the investigation remains on spatial and social cohesion in Lahore.

The various essays in this book bring forth numerous contestations that the cities of the Global South face. They focus on what these processes and procedures mean for the urban future of these cities. The book efficiently reflects upon the contestation and mitigation measures taken by state and non-state actors in various roles in the cities of the Global South. The eventual discourse will prove very useful for academics, researchers and practitioners trying to comprehend these emerging phenomena in cities of the Global South. Most of the chapters add to the existing knowledge, literature and discourses. A viable question, as mentioned in the Afterword, is “does the future of South Asian cities exhibit a radical instability premised on reproducing power structures, inequality and ecological destruction?” (pg. 211).

Marginalisation, Contestation and Change in South Asian Cities

Edited by Dr Nida Kirmani

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2021

Pages: 224

Price: Rs 800

The reviewer is an architect/ urban researcher and associate professor at

the NED University of Engineering & Technology

Urban future of the Global South