The Urban Question under Planetary Urbanization


  • An earlier version of this article was presented as the IJURR Lecture at the 2011 meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Seattle, USA. The lecture is available on the IJURR website at I am grateful to Louis Moreno and Bob Catterall, whose ongoing dialogue with me around this theme continues to prove invaluable.


In Le Droit à la Ville (1968), Lefebvre projects the urban trajectory of his day into the sci-fi imaginary of Isaac Asimov's remarkable Foundation series, recognizing the germ of ‘Trantor’ in our midst, the planet of 40 billion inhabitants where urbanization has reached its absolute maximum; all 75 million square miles of Trantor's land surface are a single city. In La Révolution Urbaine (1970), Lefebvre had already begun hinting at a new reality, not only an urban society, but of planetary urbanization. Today, four decades on, Asimov's extraterrestrial universe seems closer to home than ever, and closer to Lefebvre's own terrestrial prognostications: planetary urbanization is creating a whole new spatial world (dis)order. But how shall we reclaim the shapeless, formless and boundless metropolis as a theoretical object and political object of the progressive struggle? If the arena of politics has no discernible form, what would be the form of these politics? What, exactly, are urban politics? This article tries to rethink theoretically the urban question and the question of urban politics in our era of planetary urbanization, working through the political role of the urban in the light of recent ‘Occupy’ mobilizations.