The real lives of urban fantasies


This paper is a response to and a commentary on Vanessa Watson’s paper on “African urban fantasies” in this issue of the Journal, which analyzes new urban master plans developed by international architectural firms and property development companies for many cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Taking Watson’s argument as an opportunity to think about current urban fantasies in Indian cities, this response offers three reflections.
By  |  May 20, 2020

This paper is a response to and a commentary on Vanessa Watson’s paper on “African urban fantasies” in this issue of the Journal, which analyzes new urban master plans developed by international architectural firms and property development companies for many cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Taking Watson’s argument as an opportunity to think about current urban fantasies in Indian cities, this response offers three reflections. The first looks at the scale of renewal in the plans for African cities and argues that they represent a different order to similar imaginations of special enclaves, zones or gated communities that have become common in cities in the global South. The second reads these plans as a yearning not just for particular built environments and the economic lives they represent but also for a controlled and orderly city free of the messiness of democratic politics, guided by the visions of authoritarian city states such as Dubai and Shanghai. The third theme discusses the critical and exclusionary consequences of these plans in cities across the global South, whether or not they are implemented. Implementing them would realize the disconnect between these plans and the actual citizens of the cities they seek to reshape. Yet even if they just remain on paper, these plans play an important political role in shaping aspirations and urban futures, as well as the possibilities of a more inclusive urban citizenship in the present.

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