Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Overlooked Cities: Power, Politics and Knowledge Beyond the Urban South

Hanna A Ruszczyk, Erwin Nugraha, Isolde de Villiers




Early-career researchers authored the chapters in Overlooked Cities, which builds on decades of research on urban centres that have variously been labelled ‘small’, ‘intermediate’, ‘secondary’, ‘peripheral’ and ‘ordinary’. In this book’s view, overlooked cities aren’t necessarily tiny cities. Some of the 13 cities explored in this book have over a million inhabitants each; a couple are capitals. There is no simple checklist for determining an overlooked city.

What unites them is that these cities are neglected in global research. This neglect also extends to material conditions: “It is inevitable that growth strategies, development agendas, fiscal transfer arrangements, and restructuring and reform processes are designed with certain places and cities in mind, implemented unevenly across vast territories and with unresolved questions of equity and justice at their core.”

The chapter on Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, describes the growth of rural to urban migration under the Indonesian occupation, and continued informality as the country has emerged from post-independence conflict. The authors paint a picture of a city pulled in different directions by heavy pressures on real estate, limited government capacity and disjointed planning. Recent evictions in recent years encapsulate the tensions.

The contexts of the various chapters are very different, spanning cities in China, Nepal, South Africa, Jordan, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Yet certain themes – power relations and the complexities of knowledge generation – recur throughout the book, making for a repeated argument for attention to both these themes and to smaller urban areas more generally.


Further reading:

Hardoy, Jorgelina, Ebru Gencer and Manuel Winograd (2019), “Participatory planning for climate resilient and inclusive urban development in Dosquebradas, Santa Ana and Santa Tomé”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 31, No 1, pages 33–52, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247819825539.

Lassa, Jonatan A And Erwin Nugraha (2014), “From shared learning to shared action in building resilience in the city of Bandar Lampung, Indonesia”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 27, No 1, pages 161–180, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247814552233.

Ruszczyk, Hanna A, M Feisal Rahman, Louise J Bracken and Sumaiya Sudha (2021), “Contextualizing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on food security in two small cities in Bangladesh”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 33, No 1, pages 239–254, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247820965156.

Wesely, Julia (2021), “Towards understanding enabling environments for good practices in disaster risk management: an analysis of critical junctures in Manizales, Colombia”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 33, No 2, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/09562478211008873.

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