The Political Geographies of Urban Polarization: A Critical Review of Research on Divided Cities



This article aims at providing a review of various streams of literature dealing with the spatial fragmentation of cities. In the last two decades many different contributions emphasized the growing fragmentation of the urban environment; the idea of “divided city” covers a multiplicity of approaches, methodologies and field of research. Still, the “divided city” literature tends to elevate a small number of cities to paradigmatic examples and to focus on abstract categories based on single factor explanations of urban fragmentation. The article, while accepting the hypothesis that the urban context is increasingly fragmented, argues that systems of coordinates – more than a taxonomy or a hierarchy – is needed to make sense of this phenomenon and draw significan comparison between cities. The article also maintains that a significant angle to look at urban polarization relates to the configuration of urban governance and political power. The article therefore considers three main areas connected to the distinction between polity, politics, and policy – and the three corresponding ideal-types of partitioned, contested and discrete city – where the conflict focuses respectively on the jurisdictional shape of governance, the degrees and venues of access to decision-making, and frame and contents of public policies.