We may be witnessing a ‘Southern turn’ in urban studies, but the implications for urban theory are only beginning to be worked through. In this article, I argue the need for urbanists to engage with a variety of ‘shadows’ on the edges of urban theory. The article engages with literature that theorises the interactions between urban materiality and social change, from community development literature to more expansive sociomaterial theorisations of the urban fabric. I invoke an expansive conception of the relations between the urban fabric and social change, and draw on a variety of examples through which infrastructures come to matter politically in the creative destruction of capitalist redevelopment. The article ends with consideration of how comparison might be conceived as a strategy of indirect and uncertain learning that entails the possibility of transformation in a predominantly Euro-American-orientated urban theory.