In 2009, for the first time in history, more than 50% of the world’s population lived in urban areas, and urbanisation continues apace – driven largely by expanding settlements in the global south. As towns and cities expand, various challenges and opportunities emerge in relation to infrastructure, employment, service provision and the use of public spaces. International Development Planning Review’s special issue on the ‘Contested Terrain of Urban Citizenship’ thus explores how meanings, experiences and outcomes of urban development are entwined with notions of belonging and citizenship.

The contributions to this special issue advance new debates in studies of urban citizenship, not least in the complex interplay of ecological, infrastructural and legal landscapes that mediate the everyday experiences of and claims to being citizens. The vulnerability of marginalisation – from economic activities and a vision of a ‘World Class City’ (as explored in Fadaee and Schindler’s paper on female hawkers in Tehran, Iran), from decision making processes and participatory democracy (as illustrated in Lemanski’s paper on Cape Town, South Africa, and Subadevan and Navqi’s paper on India), from stable and secure land and property (as discussed in Coates and Garmany’s paper on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – remains a key feature of urban citizenship.

Addressing urban citizenship as a ‘contested terrain’ does not assume high profile activism and protests, but rather emphasises the need to think about how to ground the everyday practices through which urban citizens – and denizens – negotiate power, governmentality and state control. Efforts to deny or exclude marginal groups from urban citizenship and spaces are evident in many contexts: sometimes these lead to overtly political responses and reactions, in others simply the continued presence of these groups in urban spaces and covert subversion of efforts to exclude are themselves important (political) statements. In both cases, these practices raise vital questions for sustainability and development.

Urbanisation and urban life are key features in the Sustainable Development Goals and any hopes of realising these. While Goal 11 focuses specifically on the development of inclusive, safe and sustainable human settlements, the urban experience and urban citizenship are integral to SDGs focussing on service delivery, water, peace, social justice, poverty and inequality. As each of the papers in the special issue illustrate implicitly, contestations of urban citizenship speak back to the realisation of the SDGs. The key message across these papers, therefore, is that contemporary mobilisations for urban citizenship are often for both political and socio-economic rights, not only for the realisation of the legal status of citizenship but the delivery of substantive citizenship, and – in keeping with Isin’s (2008, 2012) arguments – begin with claiming the right to claim rights as citizens.

This blog was written by Dan Hammett.

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