Colonial spatialities and contestation in the city

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We are in the midst of the ‘urban turn’ in which cities are often said to be the nuclei of global transformation. ‘sustainable’ cities, ‘green’ cities, ‘green city development’ are only a few of the buzzwords used to talk about the city of the future as the focal point of sustainability.

It is largely recognized that many cities in the 'global south' often have colonial roots as they have been structured spatially but also socio-economically to benefit the colonial project, a structure that is up to this day still influencing urban society. However, when it comes to Western cities, we are much less keen on understanding and actively laying bare the colonial and neo-colonial patterns on which our cities are built. Current urban planning and governance, especially in the midst of all these new technological advancements, are often reproducing systems of production, financing structures and socio-economic spatial patterns that are rooted in neoliberal power structures and modes of capital accumulation in which historically our western cities came to being.

As such does green city development often seem to benefit only particular neighbourhoods and are environmental burdens unevenly carried by weaker socio-economic classes. Cities are often the playground for large disparities in access to health care, education and housing, with segregation, gentrification and marginalisation as a consequence. New advancements in the gig economy, for which the city is often the breeding place, give rise to the emergence of seemingly new or altered forms of labour exploitation. Further are new technological transformations often adding to financial accumulation of the already big capitalist corporations.

Further, while the centre of gravity of the urban transition is mainly situated in the 'global South', it is mostly western knowledge on urbanisation that is informing our debates on future cities and urbanisation. A decolonized and decolonizing perspective on (future) urbanisation is thus vital for tackling modern urban transformations and sustainability questions.

The fact that, especially in cities, patterns of socio-economic inequality and power structures are translated quite literally onto urban space, make these patterns all the more visible. This visibility provides that cities are also a unique breeding ground for social action and can serve as an antidote to the underlying structures that are actively being kept 'in place'. Nowhere do civil movements possess such agency to create hubs of struggle and contestation against this oppression than in the city.

Christina M. Jiménez, Ph.D. is Chair and Professor in the Department of History at University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS). She has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Latin American History from the University of California, San Diego. She teaches a range of classes in Mexican history, Latinx/Hispanic histories, Latin American History, comparative urban history, immigrant histories, and citizenship studies. Her historical research specializes in Mexican History, Latin American History and the history of cities and citizenship. Jimenez is also a workshop facilitator, leading challenging conversations around diversity, inclusion, systems of privilege, systems of oppression/ marginalization, and strategies for social change. She is co-editor (with Ferber, Herrera, and Samuels) of The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege (McGraw-Hill, 2008). For over a decade, she was a lead learner of the Knapsack Institute held at UCCS each June, an intensive workshop for activists and educators working on social justice issues.

Jiménez has received several recognitions and honors, including, the UCCS Chancellor’s Award (2016), UCCS Award for Faculty Contributions to Diversity and Inclusiveness (2013), the “Outstanding Teaching Award” from the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences (2008). More information

The current work of Aaron Vansintjan includes two axes: the urban political ecology of gentrification, and degrowth. He is finishing his PhD dissertation, titled ‘A piece of land is a piece of gold: Gentrification, value, and material life’. Through a comparative ethnographic study of gentrification in Hanoi and Montreal, he explores how people's foodways, community wealth, and use of public space relate to the valorisation of urban space through the gentrification process, and, alternatively, catalyse resistance. He is particularly interested in gentrification as a value conflict between capital and community wealth, enacted through daily life, as well as the different forms that gentrification takes in the Global North and South.

His other research revolves around degrowth. He is currently co-authoring a textbook on degrowth, ‘Degrowth: Pathways to Post-Capitalism’ for Verso Books with Andrea Vetter and Matthias Schmelzer, and has written about degrowth and urbanization, the economics of degrowth, and the politics of degrowth in various venues. More information


Debating Development is a collaboration between the Institute of Development Policy (IOB) and USOS. It receives financial support from VLIR-UOS. Debating Development is part of the Global Minds programme of the University of Antwerp.

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Janus Verrelst Tel. +32 3 265 56 54