Urban Megaprojects: A Worldwide View: Volume 13


Table of contents

(24 chapters)
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Page xi
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The intellectual origins of this book date back to the time when I was researching globalization in the Basque region of Spain in the early 2000s. My research about the city of Bilbao’s revitalization process led me to investigate the Abandoibarra megaproject, a new Central Business District aiming at reconfiguring Bilbao’s linkages with the global economy. I presented my work at the 2006 ISA congress in South Africa, and I later published my book Bilbao. Basque pathways to globalization (London: Elsevier, 2007), which features a chapter devoted to Abandoibarra. One of the lessons of my research about Bilbao was that urban megaprojects (UMPs) cannot be understood in all their complexity from the perspective of a single discipline, not even from the broader angle of the social sciences. Another lesson learned during my research was that the ambitions of local elites to rebuild cities via urban megaprojects often met severe resistance from civil society, particularly in a context where the meaning of public and collective action is being redefined. Both lessons had an impact on the planning of this book, which is a work including specialists from several disciplines (sociology, architecture, planning, geography) and one where the role of local elites in urban revitalization is severely questioned. I continued working on UMPs after my research on Bilbao ended. In 2008 I taught a graduate seminar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on “Cities, Regional Restructuring and Globalization” where I devoted several sessions to discussing urban megaprojects and benefited from feedback by my MIT and Harvard students. More recently, in 2009, I participated in the Arrested Development conference at The Cooper Union in New York City and gained insights allowing me to better understand the fate of UMPs under constrained economic conditions. My graduate class in New York, “Urban Projects and the Architectures of Globalization,” attempts to reconcile research on UMPs with larger social-scientific concerns about globalization, as does the book that you have in your hands. I was very fortunate to have been able to put together an outstanding group of scholars with whom I share a deep intellectual curiosity about urban megaprojects. If this book creates any interest, it will be because of their passion, commitment, creativity, and professionalism.

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The aim of this book is to understand the causes and consequences of new scales and forms of territorial and spatial restructuring in a context of accelerated globalization by focusing on a diverse array of urban megaproject developments that, in various forms and with various objectives, are transforming the global urban landscape at the outset of the 21st century. The contributions to this volume explore the architectural design, planning, management, financing, and impact of urban megaprojects, as well as the social actors and innovations driving them. The contributions also articulate the various socioeconomic, political, and cultural causes and consequences of UMP development, thus providing a context to understand the reconfiguration of urban spaces in the new millennium.

New towns deserve renewed attention as today's urban megaprojects in the developing world. They are increasingly built amid governments’ attempts to connect their rapidly growing metropolises to the global economy and to promote them as world cities. This chapter revisits Korea's Bundang and Ilsan new town projects on the outskirts of Seoul. Their fast and lucrative development outcomes established an ill-founded expectation of Korea's new towns being profitable projects and even inspired emulation by other developing countries. To comprehend why the two city-scale new towns differed from those in the West, which often faced difficulties of long timeframe, financial risks, and uncertain outcomes, the chapter examines both their development causes and processes, considering Korea's political, economic, and housing situations of the late 1980s. Rather than long-term planning goals, Bundang and Ilsan served short-term political motives of Korea's first democratic regime, which saw in them a quick fix for some of its political and economic challenges. This determination bore fruit – but with two important prerequisites: (1) Korea's institutional order, marked by state involvement and control over housing development; and (2) Seoul's unique housing market conditions at the time, especially for new apartment units. Planners and policymakers, whether in Korea or elsewhere, should understand the major contributors to Bundang and Ilsan's success before attempting to replicate an experience of fast and profitable development that may no longer be attainable.

This chapter outlines and explains the development of the Abandoibarra megaproject, focusing in particular on the key role of the Bilbao Ría 2000 – an innovative cross institution, public–private partnership, responsible for coordinating the transfer of land between public and private agents. The chapter critically assesses the impact of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the centerpiece in the Abandoibarra scheme. The narrative is based on fieldwork conducted by the author in the city of Bilbao. The chapter utilizes scholarly research, official sources, and reports in the news media to support the arguments. The chapter questions the viability of revitalization schemes based on urban megaprojects. Applying some of the elements in the revitalization mix to most cities may be unavoidable due to rapid and acritical adoption of policy discourses from center to periphery, but expecting to replicate one city's success in another context may prove extremely hard. The motivations of the Basque political elite to attract a Guggenheim museum go beyond the potential (and we might add, limited) urban regeneration benefits of a building, and can only be understood within the political context of the Basque Country and its relations with Spain. The case of Bilbao's revitalization has attracted significant attention as of late. This chapter uncovers the key issues surrounding Bilbao's transformation and puts the process in the context of capitalist globalization and the formation of globalizing cities.

This chapter considers the ways in which city images “travel” and are consumed at a distance. A significant body of existing research has examined UMPs in terms of attempts to produce particular images of cities for global circulation. Much less attention has been paid to assessing the “success” of imaging strategies – the means by (and extent to) which city images actually circulate and are consumed. Focusing on the travel of UMPs constructed in and around the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL) in the 1990s, the chapter seeks to provide a corrective to the production-centeredness of existing scholarship. Extending fieldwork-based research carried out in Malaysia in the 1990s, the chapter focuses on a series of accidental “encounters” with KL's UMPs outside Malaysia. Part of the aim of the chapter is precisely to begin to think about how the “consumption” side of UMPs, and associated effects, could be examined in more systematic ways in the future. Extra-Malaysian encounters with KL-sited UMPs such as the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) project are examined in terms of a range of means through which city images circulate: in film and TV performances, as tourist souvenirs and planning models, in building height charts and commercial advertising, and even through academic practices. Most instances in which UMPs are “consumed” at a distance might be banal and seemingly unworthy of study but, collectively, they can serve to forge new imaginings which, in turn, can have profound material implications for the cities concerned.

This chapter looks at the changing politics of urban redevelopment in a politically divided democratic regime following the end of state socialism in 1989. It contrasts the emergence of two cultural institutions of national importance, the Palace of Arts and the National Theatre, as part of a megaproject in Budapest. They emerged almost at the same time as part of the Millennium City Center, a large-scale urban redevelopment project, but have come to stand for two radically opposed worlds dividing the nation and pitting against each other – the cosmopolitans and the nationalists. The research design is that of incorporated comparison; the two case studies are embedded in the analysis of the larger redevelopment project. The study mixes primary and secondary sources; draws on interviews, extensive discussions with architects and planners, as well as an analysis of planning documents, expert reports, and media coverage. It describes the dynamics of private–public partnerships in urban politics pointing to the changing role of the post-socialist state and the new power relations among the various groups involved in urban development in a newly democratizing regime. On the one hand, the analysis shows how local and national-scale political fights make sense from a larger political–economic perspective of waterfront regeneration; on the other, it argues that party politics in politically divided regimes have serious implications on the processes of large-scale urban development, ultimately making them even more under-determined than suggested by the literature. The chapter breaks the assumed unity of the state in studies of urban megaprojects and demonstrates the usefulness of both a scalar analysis and that of the changing political content of the state, which ultimately account for much of the variation in this global genre.

This chapter discusses the combination of structure plans and urban megaprojects. It shows the characteristics and shortcomings of this combination in different urban contexts, in Western as well as in emerging countries. The chapter draws on case studies of megaprojects and urban planning processes in different cities: Abu Dhabi, Milan, and others. This chapter suggests that the tensions between branded megaprojects and structure plans are not due only to economic, planning, and political constraints. The publicly stated rationale of this combination is to trigger and harness the real estate market in order not only to create private revenue, but also to contribute to the overall city development. In many cases, this rationale induced significant changes not only in terms of architectural design and financial arrangements of individual projects, but also in terms of the urban structure. Reflecting over current global trends in urban development, these findings seem relevant both for reconsidering the roles of architectural branding and the weakening of large-scale urban planning devices in Western cities and for allowing emerging countries to learn from past experiences in this field.

This chapter analyzes the role of new local planning frameworks in the development of urban megaprojects (UMPs). It argues that the way projects are integrated with existing planning controls and statutory procedures influences how its costs and benefits are distributed. Drawing on the case studies of the Special Hudson Yards District in New York City, the “Zone d’Amenagement Concerte Clichy-Batignolles” in Paris and the Operacao Urbana Agua Branca in Sao Paulo, it compares how the legislative reforms and strategic plans enacted in each city impacted development programs, implementation process, and public benefits delivered by each project. This is a comparative case study analysis using quantitative and qualitative data collected through planning documents, press articles, interviews, and field research on the planning process of the three case studies, their administrative and institutional frameworks focused combined with quantitative analysis of the development proposals and outcomes of each project. The research shows how the articulation between the new plans and the underlying zoning districts as well as willingness by the city to commit public funds to finance the required upfront investments influence the ability of cities to extract public benefits from urban megaprojects and improve integration with surrounding neighborhoods, transport infrastructure, and regional policy. Based on a succinct review of the related literature the chapter illustrates the evolving role of public agencies and land-use regulation in the development of UMPs, illustrates the material expression of strategic planning on legislative reform and policy statements, provides a comparative analysis of contrasting legal systems, and suggests policy formulations that can improve the “public return” generated by UMPs.

This chapter explores the role of iconic architecture in the development and promotion of urban megaprojects (UMPs) in globalizing cities. Iconic architecture is defined in terms of fame and aesthetic/symbolic significance. The argument is framed within the concept of the culture-ideology of consumerism. While the focus is on two case studies – the grands projets in Paris and UMPs in major Chinese cities since the 1980s – the chapter seeks to demonstrate the increasing importance of iconic architecture for UMPs around the world. The chapter utilizes official sources, scholarly research, and reports in the mass media to support the arguments, all within the context of a theoretical framework developed over the last two decades and widely published by the author, to explain how capitalist globalization works. Within the context of the culture-ideology of consumerism, the widely accepted rationale for capitalist globalization, the production and marketing of what has been increasingly identified as iconic architecture is the main route to achieving the profits – financial, political, and cultural – deemed necessary for the success of UMPs all over the world. The chapter presents the first available analysis of the key role of the transnational capitalist class in the production and marketing of iconic architecture in urban megaprojects, thereby offering a systemic explanation of the growth and characteristics of urban megaprojects in the era of capitalist globalization.

This chapter explores how architecture is used as a signifier in the development and promotion of urban megaprojects (UMPs). It argues that these projects rely on architecture to gain visibility. First, UMPs need to be highly visible in order to justify their exceptional status and second, they have to be visibly new and different in order to initiate the desired symbolic transformations with which they are attributed. Drawing on the case studies of HafenCity in Hamburg and Donau City in Vienna the chapter traces the logics of using architecture as a signifier and means of legitimizing the UMP. Data on the planning history of the two case studies, their administrative and institutional frameworks and the overall urban development strategies is combined with a qualitative text and image centered analysis of marketing material, planning documents, and press articles. The discussion shows how visibility is achieved by very different means. The question of how to distinguish the UMP from other projects and of how to make it uniquely identified with the particular city guides the debate in both cases. However, the lines of argument are not predictable or easily comparable from city to city and “global architecture” emerges as a contradictory and relative concept. Based on a succinct review of the related literature the chapter disputes the alleged uniformity of UMPs and argues for a meaning and discourse-oriented approach to the analysis of architecture as vehicle of urban change and political legitimation.

This chapter examines megaproject design and planning in two “shrinking cities” – Philadelphia, PA and Detroit, MI – and concludes that megaproject “metastasis,” or repeated expansions into surrounding urban fabrics, is promoting the reduction of downtown into a series of self-contained enclaves. While political coalitions are constructing megaprojects, or large public works and/or single buildings, in cities around the world, in the United States, single-building megaprojects motivated by “growth coalitions” of public and private development actors have proliferated in downtowns since 1990. The urban design impacts of these megaprojects on the surrounding urban fabric have been little studied. Data on the institutional history, physical expansion, and relationship of the megaprojects to the urban fabric is combined with a qualitative analysis of megaproject theory and its application to the American condition, as well as to the political economy of development in American shrinking cities. The chapter concludes that megaprojects such as convention centers and casinos tend to expand inexorably once they are introduced into the American downtown. This metastasis results in the destruction of existing older buildings and street networks, the consolidation of street blocks into ever-larger superblocks, and the eventual physical restructuring of downtowns into enclaves of older fabric amidst clusters of megaproject superblocks. Applying Jacobs’ (1992) theory of “moral hybrids” between “commerce and politics” to megaproject metastasis, the chapter argues that while megaprojects may be inevitable in American downtowns, they should be sited away from active, small-scale urban fabrics to reduce the negative impacts of future metastases. The chapter takes a design-oriented perspective on a phenomenon that is almost always understood from a political economy perspective alone. Megaprojects are significant physical entities, and the chapter clarifies their physical impacts on the urban fabric while indicating urban design policy directions to reduce these impacts in future.

The purpose of the chapter is twofold. First, it discusses the causes and characteristics of the current proliferation of rail station area redevelopment megaprojects around the globe, revealing them to be an important subset of the new generation of megaprojects discussed in this volume. Second, it offers a detailed and timely account of recent struggles surrounding “Stuttgart 21,” a massive, hugely controversial rail station redevelopment megaproject in Southern Germany, drawing lessons from the controversy over Stuttgart 21 for urban megaprojects more generally. This study is a qualitative case study analysis that involved interviews and document analysis. The experience of “Stuttgart 21” validates previous criticisms of megaprojects regarding transparency and public accountability in decision-making, environmental challenges, and cost-overruns. The political conflicts over “Stuttgart 21” are intimately tied to fundamental disagreements over future urban development and transportation policy, the costs and benefits of multibillion Euro megaprojects, and related democratic decision-making procedures. Rail stations emerge as an important, as-of-yet underexplored subset of urban megaprojects. Rail stations, especially those serving new high-speed rail corridors, are crucial development nodes within complex postindustrial urban–regional restructuring processes. But they also have a distinct character and historical identity. As the mass protests in Stuttgart show, they also clearly serve important identification functions in citizens’ lives.

This chapter examines the physical embodiment of “conflict globalization” in the Afghan Ring Road megaproject by illustrating the Road's ability to produce close connections between localized and transnational powers while bypassing the Afghan state entirely. A multi-scalar spatial case study of megaproject development is utilized in this chapter. It encompasses a historic and current analysis of the interaction of the Afghan Ring Road's form with local, state, and transnational political economic structures. The chapter argues that the international nation-building strategy in Afghanistan constitutes a “mega-megaproject,” a package of reforms that relies on physical transformation of Afghan infrastructure to win the trust of the population. It uses the Afghan Ring Road to examine the ways in which even preexisting structures have been modified to fit into this megaproject-based system. It also examines the scalar implications of the Afghan Ring Road megaproject using examples of economic benefit to local militias and regional geopolitical energy interests. The chapter provides a starting point for further research on megaprojects’ role in mediating the countervailing forces of “nation-building” strategies and globalization. This chapter examines issues that constitute a critical component of the ongoing, multinational attempts to build a functioning Afghan state through global intervention.

Using the case of a failed airport project in metropolitan Mexico City, this chapter explores the political and economic reasons for urban megaproject failure. It examines the nature of the oppositional alliances; the larger political, economic, institutional, and spatial conditions under which these alliances were forged; and how they forced project proponents to abandon a planned megaproject. In searching for the factors responsible for project failure, the study employs theories of political party competition, bureaucratic–institutional conflict, and social movements. It uses qualitative and historical analysis to focus attention on divisions within and between the political class and citizens driven by democratization, decentralization, and globalization. The case suggests that the historical and institutional legacies of urban and national development in Latin America have created bureaucratic ambiguities and tensions over who is most responsible for major infrastructure development in countries experiencing democratic transition. The failure to successfully build the Mexico City airport megaproject reflects a precarious transitional moment in the country's political and economic development as much as the validity of claims against the project itself. If planners can better situate megaproject development in the context of changing institutional relations between citizens and the state, they may be better able to find common ground.

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The chapters by Joo, Gerardo del Cerro Santamaría, and Bunnell have shown that UMPs go beyond the local scale regarding development, implementation, and consequences. In fact, as they argue the projects in South Korea, Bilbao, and Kuala Lumpur obey a logic of reterritorialization à la Brenner, whereby the regional or national state actively participates in urban development by designing urban policies and projects which, in turn, exhibit political, economic, and visual dimensions going beyond the frontiers of the urban realm. This tendency has implications for the role of local politics in UMPs. Local political conditions (e.g., a housing shortage or a desire for global visibility) play a prominent role in the implementation of UMPs, as shown by the Bundang and Ilsan new towns in South Korea as well as Bunnell´s recounting of the reimagining of Kuala Lumpur. In Korea, strong central government control over the real estate market led to addressing the housing shortage and preventing real estate speculation; the chronic housing shortage, with the increased economic power of individuals, resulted in distinctive advance-sale and dual-pricing systems for new apartment units. The huge unmet housing demand in Korea during relative economic prosperity quickly filled Bundang and Ilsan’s housing units with new residents, contributing to the new towns’ successful outcomes.


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About the Authors

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Judit Bodnar is an associate professor of sociology, anthropology, and history at the Central European University in Budapest. She is a U.S.-trained sociologist with a degree from Johns Hopkins University. The author of Fin de Millėnaire Budapest: Metamorphoses of urban life (University of Minnesota Press, 2001) and co-editor of Critical urban studies (L’Harmattan, Budapest, forthcoming), she has written on cities, public space, urban theory, postsocialism, globalization, food, and alterglobalization movements. Her research and teaching interrogate larger themes such as modernity, capitalism, uneven development, and comparative thinking. She is working on a co-authored book that examines local histories of global urban restructuring through a comparative analysis of new housing in Chicago, Berlin, and Budapest.

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Research in Urban Sociology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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