Global Parliament of Mayors’ Annual Summit

Global Parliament of Mayors’ Annual Summit

LabGov’s co-founder Pr. Sheila Foster and Pr. Chrystie Flournoy will participate as experts in the Global Parliament of Mayors’ Annual Summit, that will take place this year from November 9-11 in Durban, South Africa.

The Global Parliament of Mayors will gather mayors from all continents who will discuss about their local experience, share their know-how on ways to tackle local challenges resulting from global issues as well as international city experts.

This summit is aimed at raising local voices and knowledge into the global strategy debates and at calling attention on the necessity for practical and action-based solutions.

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Book Review: “Messy Urbanism, Understanding the ‘Other’ Cities of Asia”

Book Review: “Messy Urbanism, Understanding the ‘Other’ Cities of Asia”

Edited by Manish Chalana and Jeffrey Hou  

Grasping the complexity of urban life in dense and chaotic city spaces continues to be one of the main puzzles urban planners, sociologists, architects and urban dwellers alike try to solve. The book aims to provide a deeper understanding of the heterogeneity of the apparent disorder of Asian cities. More than what can be judged by an external eye as messy, Asian urban realities have an order, functioning, cultural meaning, and history of their own that the different authors help us discover.

Central to the book edited by Manish Chalana and Jeffrey Hou, is a reflection on normative dichotomies between formal/informal, order/chaos, legal/illegal and the impact that these dichotomies have on urban planning practices and discourses regarding the complexity of Asian Cities. In the first chapter, Chalana and Hou frame the debate on the notion of messiness and introduce the main tensions at stake analyzed by the articles in the book. Through multiple case studies, from Hong Kong to Manila, Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City, the book deconstructs the meaning of messiness, bringing to the surface the specific colonial, racial, and class underpinnings hidden behind it. Messiness, as defined by the editors in Chapter 1, refers to activities and structures that do not follow institutionalized or culturally prescribed notions of order.

As previously mentioned, different authors throughout the book develop their chapters on a specific reality of messiness. If Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to the collection of articles, Chapter 2 directly presents us with anhistorical account of attempts at controlling the sidewalks of HCMC. Kim unveils the consequences on street life caused by colonial city building, regulation, independence and war, post-war nationalism and recent economic liberalization in Vietnam. Kim points out that the desire to order the streets has been constant through the various historical periods, and so has been the failure in controlling their fervent activities.

Chapter 3 similarly reflects on the power relationships that inform the practices of ordering and messiness. Kusno presents an historical understanding of Jakarta’s urbanism to show how the organization of knowledge changes in time in order to make of messiness a pretext for governing. The author moreover uses the example of the growing presence of motorbikes to highlight how messiness and informality can become an insurgent practice in itself, a re-appropriation of the urban space through mobility. 

Chapter 4 and chapter 5 bring us to Manila and Bangkok, putting forward the importance of space and the embedded cultural and historical meanings that define it. Indeed, the disordered layering of multiethnic urbanity in Manila assumes a new significance through Gomez’s account of the semiotics of urban space. When looking at the urban mosaic of Manila we realize that its messiness is in reality a form of cultural concordance and dynamicity, of layered and intermingled realities.  In the case of Bangkok, Noobanjong also highlights the embeddedness of urban space in cultural and historical contexts through the example of Sanam Luang or Royal Field. Showing how the symbolic role of the Royal Field has changed during royal, military and democratic rule, the author joins other writers in the book in defining space as a device for the State to manifest and implement its hegemonic powers.

Similar to Gomez’s analysis of Manila, chapters 6 and 7 highlight the multiple layering of urban life. Exploring the theme of urban development and its effect on pre-existing structures, Oshima walks us through the long history of Shinjuku’s transportation and commerce node. The vernacular urbanism of Shinjuku provides an example of urban stratifications provide the dynamicity of urban experience. It is the production of meaning and practices springing from messiness that is highlighted by Daisy Tam in Chapter 7. Little Manila in Hong Kong becomes the spatial embodiment of insurgent planning in that the domestic Pilipino workers that occupy the CBD’s space on Sundays resist and redefine the ideal use of the urban space.

Chapter 8 also deals with contested urban space. Presenting the example of Mong Kok Flower Market in Hong Kong, the chapter points to the tension that exists between policy makers’ top-down planning decisions and the needs of citizens’ everyday lives. The conflicts at the Flower Market therefore also show how urban actors manage to compromise and act in a strategic way so to ensure their existence within the formal and institutional structures.

Chapter 9 returns to a post-colonial perspective in order to advocate against formalization and relocation policies with regards to informal settlements in Delhi, India. Through examples of livelihoods in Kathpuli Colony the authors show that formalization practices erase local knowledge and the local cultural structures based on which housing was built.

Chapter 10 distinguishes itself for introducing a new analytical framework. The author indeed interprets messiness as a result of transnational networks and connections that were formed in the making of the city of Chandigarh, India. Chandigarh’s architectural identity represents an example of a modernism that has been reappropriated by non-western cities.

Finally, chapter 11 and chapter 12 return to the analysis of messiness as a contested political notion. Hou in chapter 11 introduces the concept of tactical urbanism, that is, temporary tactics like the setting up of night street markets that allow the activities of these temporary urban dwellers to thrive in the cracks, so to speak, of the formal and institutional structure of the city. To conclude, Chapter 12 discusses the impact of Chinese paternalistic and developmentalist modern State practices in Quanzhou on community participatory practices and environmentally sensitive planning.

“Messy urbanism” develops a deep analysis of the meaning and historical underpinnings of urban informality. Though as hard as it can be because of the different locations and nuances of messy urbanism they deal with, the chapters lack a continuity of analysis between them. The organization of the book would have benefitted from a grouping of chapters according to their thematic and analytical framework. Because of this internal messiness the reader sometimes tends to get lost in each abstract and very specific production of knowledge without understanding what are the main narratives.

On the other hand the editors have succeeded in tying together the chapters to the overall thematic focus on messy urbanism. Analyzed in its totality, the book does a good job at reminding the reader of the importance of cultural subjectivity, historical contexts and power relationships built in urban practices.

While entering the very congested academic debate on urban informality this book provides a refreshing approach to the question of “disorderly” urbanism, cleverly using messiness as both a prism and a conceptual limit to overcome when reflecting on the chaotic nature of urban life. If the book does focus on specific contextual and historical circumstances in South-East and North-East Asia, its thematic interests contributes to answer the question of how to govern informality in today’s megalopolises of the world. It joins other authors like Castels, Portes, Roy, Al Sayyad, and Simone[1] in explaining that informal practices are not limited to survival strategies and rational economic behaviors of the urban poor but rather, they represent and are embedded in cultural and historical patterns. It is important to underline such a refusal of the liberal economic analysis of urban informal practices as framed by authors like De Soto[2] because they often end up completely ignoring the political significance of informal practices. Following Asef Bayat’s famous essay on the politics of the informal people, this book succeeds in recognizing the inherent political nature of the informal order.


Al Sayyad N., Roy A. (eds), 2004, Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia, Lanham and London, Lexington Books

Bayat, Asef. “Un-Civil Society: The Politics Of The ‘Informal People'”. Third World Quarterly 18.1 (1997): 53-72. Web.

Chalana, Manish, and Jeffrey Hou. Messy Urbanism: Understanding The “Other” Cities Of Asia. 1st ed. HKU Press, 2016. Print.

De Soto H., 1986, The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World, New York, Harpercollins [English ed., 1989]

Portes A., Castells M., Benton L. (eds), 1989, The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press

Simone, A. Jakarta: Drawing the City Near, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014

Photo credits:
Photo by Roberto Verzo via Flickr Creative Commons,

[1] Portes A., Castells M., Benton L. (eds), 1989, The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.

Al Sayyad N., Roy A. (eds), 2004, Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia, Lanham and London, Lexington Books.

Simone, A. Jakarta: Drawing the City Near, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014.

[2] De Soto H., 1986, The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World, New-York, Harpercollins [English ed., 1989]

LabGov Summer Reads

LabGov Summer Reads

Happy summer everybody!

Whether you are relaxing on a beach or you are lacking ideas for books to read this fall, have a look at LabGov’s random and inexhaustive summer reads suggestions.

Feel free to share this article and comment with your favorite city reads on our social media pages using the #LabGovReads hashtag!

The Co-Cities Open Book  by LabGov

The result of years of research and experimentations on the field to investigate new forms of collaborative city-making that are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation.

  • The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

  • The Fate of Rome. Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper

  • Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

  • Calcutta: Two years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri

  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

  • The Municipalists by Seth Fried

  • Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods by Florent Chavouet

  • Delirious New York by Rem Koolhas

Radical Cities. Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture by Justin McGuirk

For some more committed readers and a more serious beach vibe:

  • All That is Solid Melts into Air by Marshall Berman

  • Alger, Capitale de la Révolution (French) – Algiers, Third World Capital (English – Verso) by Elaine Mokhtefi

  • A Moving Border. Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change by Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato

  • Extreme Cities. The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by Ashley Dawson

  • Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City by Derek S. Hyra

  • Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg

  • Patients of the State. The Politics of Waiting in Argentina by Javier Auyero

  • Invisible in Austin, edited by Javier Auyero

Other great sources for books:

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