Southern Urbanism as a negotiation of past, present, and future

IPS special issue editors

SURGE: Christine Mady, Sadaf Khan, Joumana Stephan, Claudia Ortiz, Ohoud Kamal, Kundani Makakavhule, Michelle Meza

Call for abstracts

The ‘global South’ notion has been a source of critical investigation for the past decades. Many see it as a fuzzy term that took on many interpretations. Some see it as a critical concept (Bishara, 2012), a geolocation, a critique of Eurocentric urban scholarship, but also a complementary perspective depicting alternative urban dynamics and processes. Alongside these diverse interpretations, the ‘Southern narrative’ is not a counter-narrative, it is a story on its own. Cities of the Global South are dynamic, multilayered spatio-temporal entities. They combine past local heritage, culture and knowledge that are transplanted and often normalised concepts of colonial pasts, post-modern urban planning mixing between root-causes and prevailing models, migrant building practices, with emerging urban planning processes – such as informal settlements, gated communities, and so on – that require questioning agency, engagement, funding with prescribed approaches, and dominant policies. This reality reflects the complexity for interactions among residents, planners, developers, and policymakers, and calls for deeper explorations in alternative Southern palimpsests where etymologies and ontologies from the past and present are negotiated to create revisit epistemologies and methodologies that address global challenges within urban contexts at the local, everyday scale. The special issue addresses the struggle to envision cities that have used past concepts and methods, are at present in a constant state of negotiation for legitimacy and contextual relevance, and strive for alternative and resilient futures facing societal, political, economic, and environmental crises. It embraces the hybridisation of ideas from alternative narratives to advance more inclusive urban theories and leverages the reversal of perspectives starting from the south to provide ‘pluriversal’ knowledge.

Revisiting the past, evaluating the present and aspiring for alternative futures, this special issue addresses topics within different spatio-temporal frameworks:

  • Colonial pasts and alternative understandings. Exploring alternative stories of coloniality’s legacies through dialogues of erasure, persistence, and re-imaginings, and discussing histories and knowledge creation tools with differential and asymmetrical timelines (for example, Ekpo & Sidogi, 2021; Mbembe, 2015; Sinclair et al., 2013). Challenging understandings of the present based on different ontologies, and their resurfacing or reproduction in urban spaces, with implications for citizenship, knowledge, politics, aesthetics, and urbanisation are addressed (Ekpo & Sidogi, 2021; Mbembe, 2015; Ndlovu, 2022; Sinclair et al., 2013).
  • Everyday Urbanism and Community Perspectives. Situating and requestioning north-south classifications of everyday urban dynamics within public spaces through cross-cutting experiences – which do not necessarily have clear geographic distributions through multidisciplinary perspectives – and reflecting on previous concepts, current local needs, knowledge and practices and the possible mismatch of public space supply and demand (Landman & Mady, 2022). The everyday urban dynamics of ordinary city dwellers are essential to understand and develop meaningful public spaces. Questions arise regarding drivers of public space provision, and the extent to which it is influenced by past (colonial) ideas and concepts, current local needs, knowledge, and practices, and the possibility of shifting towards alternative futures, while mitigating possible conflicts, contestations, or learning from disruptions, such as COVID-19 (Bild et al., 2022; Kamal, 2022; Kouros, 2022; Makakavhule, 2022; Nikšič , 2022; Vanka, 2022).
  • Climate Crisis responses. Understanding and creating knowledge about the climate crisis locally from different global South contexts, as it relates to, and manifests situated practices. Through the themes of political ecology, vulnerability, community agency, and resilience, a more divergent post-colonial and transformative version of Southern urbanism emerges. Many sources of climatic stress are linked to market-based mechanisms rather than contextualised realities of local or indigenous communities, which reproduce and exacerbate imbalances and inequalities between countries causing and countries tolerating the repercussions (Mishra et al, 2023; Ecksteinet al., 2021; Streule, 2022). Deeper investigation into traditional knowledge and local craftsmanship may offer new lexicons, concepts, and alternative responses that more inclusive responses to climate crises (Jasanoff, 2007; Ruiz & Magaña, 2022).

About the editors

SURGE is a response to the call to unlearn how certain geographies in the global South have been researched, represented, documented, and how to search towards acknowledging, understanding, and learning from differences. SURGE’s aim is to address global challenges, and investigate the multidimensional evolutionary dynamics of southern processes, including historical colonial influences, emergent knowledge, local know-how, and cultural urban terminology. This endeavour is a continuation of ongoing efforts that have been undertaken by scholars to induce analytical and synthetic approaches, and push for more pluriverse urban studies and terminology. SURGE seeks to build upon efforts and continue to create knowledge from this rich southern multiplicity.



  • Bishara, A. (2012). Revolutions, Reforms and Democratic Transition in the Arab Homeland from the Perspective of the Tunisian Revolution. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture18(1), 22.
  • Bild, E., Steele, D. and Guastavino, C. (2022) Revisiting Public Space Transformations from a Sonic Perspective during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 244–263.
  • Eckstein, D., Künzel, V. & Schäfer, L. (2021). Global Climate Risk Index 2021. Who suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Germanwatch.
  • Ekpo, D., & Sidogi, P. (Eds.). (2021). The de-Africanization of African art: towards post-African aesthetics. Routledge.
  • Jasanoff, S. (2007) Technologies of humility. Nature 450, 33 (2007).
  • Kamal, O. (2022) Temporary urbanism in times of COVID-19: Creating Refuge in Temporary Urban Spaces of Amman: A Comparative Reflection. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 222–243.
  • Kouros, T. (2022) Reaping the Fruits of Informal Urbanism: An Ethnography of Tactical Gardening in Limassol, Cyprus. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 188–205.
  • Landman, K. and Mady, C. (eds) (2022) Uncovering Different Faces of Public Space in the Global North and South, editorial. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 148
  • Makakavhule, K. (2022) What can a Game of Football in a Public Open Space tell Us about Our Socio-Economic and Political Condition? A Case of the City of Tshwane, South Africa. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 155–168.
  • Mbembe, A. (2015). Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Africa is a country.
  • Mishra, S.K., Upadhyaya, P., Fasullo, J.T. et al. (2023) A need for actionable climate projections across the Global South. Clim. Chang. 13, 883–886.
  • Ndlovu, H. (2022) An Agenda with no gender: 2021 local government elections and patriarchal domination in South African politics. Politikon, 49(4), 396-410.
  • Nikšič, M. (2022) The Participatory Design and Management of Public Open space through the Digital Portal. Built Environment 48(2), 280–291.
  • Ruiz, N. & Magaña, V. (2022). Marco metodológico para atlas de riesgos orientados a la planeación metropolitana para la gestión de riesgos. Aplicación al Área Metropolitana de Guadalajara. IMEPLAN / UNAM.
  • Sinclair, Paul, Gullög Nordquist, Frands Herschend, and Christian Isendahl, eds. The Urban Mind: Cultural and Environmental Dynamics. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University, 2010.
  • Streule, M. (2022). Urban extractivism. Contesting megaprojects in Mexico City, rethinking urban values, Urban Geography, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2022.2146931
  • Vanka, S. (2022) Park Politics in a Postcolonial Indian City Planning (and) Public Space in Bangalore. Built Environment 48(2), pp. 169–187.