11.947 | Spring 2009 | Graduate

Urbanization and Development


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2.5 hours / session

Course Overview

The world is urbanizing at an ever faster rate, and much of the change is concentrated in cities of the global south where migration and accelerated flows of global capital are transforming cities into sprawling metropolises extending beyond their formal political boundaries. The course examines the causes and effects of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Using case studies from the world’s four major developing regions, including (among others) Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Managua, Singapore, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Kabul, Beirut, Cairo, Kinshasa, Cape Town and Johannesburg, it explores the economic and political dynamics that grease the wheels of contemporary patterns of growth.  We examine urban growth not just in built environmental terms but also with respect to the shift from an industrial to a service economy, and the importance of real estate developments and urban mega-projects in changing the nature and character of urban governance. In addition to examining both local and transnational forces that drive contemporary urbanization, the course focuses on key issues that emerge in rapidly growing cities of the developing world, ranging from growing income inequality and socio-economic exclusion, environmental challenges and rising violence to fragmented yet sprawling and underserviced landscapes that often lack effective institutions for sustainable metropolitan management.

The course is divided into four modules:

  1. Understanding urbanization and development in past and present
  2. Regional perspectives on urbanization and development
  3. Urbanization and development: selected policy challenges
  4. Critical analyses of urbanization and development


Students are evaluated based on their individual performance in the following categories/deliverables:

Class presentations 20%
Mid-term paper 25%
Final paper 35%
Contribution to class discussions 20%

Class Presentations

Every student delivers two presentations during the course. Each of these will account for 10% of the final grade. Topics will be chosen/allocated in the first class session. The maximum duration is 15 minutes; free speech (no PowerPoint!) but brief hand-out required. Content: review of main arguments (not narrative) of class readings, then focus on responding to one of the two discussion questions (free choice). Students are expected to help guide subsequent class discussion.

Mid-term Paper

A two-week take-home essay. The mid-term should display a combination of knowledge and argument. The first section entails four questions about specific aspects of course content (maximum 250 words per answer).  Section two is a 1,500-word essay (free choice among four topics). MLA citation style mandatory. Written feedback will be provided.

Final Paper

A two-week take-home essay, maximum 3,500 words. Free choice among four topics; Harvard citation style mandatory. Written feedback will be provided.

Contribution to Class Discussions

Quality beats quantity; engage with class readings: what are the most surprising insights, critical findings, contradictions with other texts, methodological innovations? The class participation grade is split into two grades: one for the first 7 weeks of class and another for the last 6 class sessions. Verbal feedback will be provided after the seventh session.


I: Understanding urbanization and development in past and present
1 Introduction: stock-taking and outlook  
2 Urbanization and development in historical analysis: links and ruptures  
3 Exploring ideologies: competing views of urbanization and development  
II: Regional perspectives on urbanization and development
4 Urbanization and development in Central and South America  
5 Urbanization and development in Asia-Pacific  
6 Urbanization and development in the Middle East and North Africa  
7 Urbanization and development in Sub-Saharan Africa Mid-term paper assigned
III: Urbanization and development: selected policy challenges
8 Urban informality: the shifting locus of poverty Mid-term paper due
9 The power of place: environmental sustainability and urban health  
10 Violence in cities: the limits of community and the reign of terror  
11 Governing developing cities: structure and agency in local governance Final paper assigned
IV: Critical analyses of urbanization and development
12 The ‘glocal’ politics of urban development: harmony and havoc  
13 City futures: global predictions and local resurgence Final paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009