Featured in International Development Planning Review 43.3: Towards a comparative research agenda on in situ urbanisation and rural governance transformation

The editors of International Development Planning Review (IDPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in IDPR 43.3.

This paper will be free to access for a limited time:

‘Towards a comparative research agenda on in situ urbanisation and rural governance transformation’ by Donald Brown

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

The motivation for this article stems from my experience as an urban planner in Malawi, a low-income country at the initial stages of its urban transition. Most of Malawi’s urbanising dwellers live in settlements with less than a million inhabitants, including a growing number of small towns at the bottom of the urban hierarchy. This trend is not unique to Malawi – in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and other urbanising regions, entirely new urban centres are in the process of emerging in historically rural settings. Yet urbanisation debates tend to overstate the demographic importance of the largest cities, even though there are relatively few of them and many are not growing especially fast.

This article calls for a comparative research agenda to explore and compare how rural settlements become urban, and how rural governance transforms in the process. In doing so, a framework is developed based on the concept of ‘transitional spaces’ – i.e. spaces in the process of becoming urban. The agenda is operationalised through a detailed case study of Karonga Town, one such emerging urban centre in Malawi. The findings reveal the highly context-specific factors (endogenous and exogenous) propelling the emergence of entirely new urban centres, the resiliency of customary institutions and their institutional complexities, and the implications for establishing urban planning systems in this context. The article identifies the conditions (demographic, spatial, geographic, economic, socio-cultural, institutional and administrative) particular to emerging urban centres for future exploration and comparison, positioning Karonga Town at the forefront of the proposed agenda.

The agenda has the potential to make a significant contribution to the literature seeking to reveal the informality in different governance landscapes and the forms of urbanisation in which these landscapes are embedded in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. It is the hope that this article will help to provide the empirical, conceptual and methodological way forward.

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