The geography of profits and politics – The role(s) of developers in urban development and the implications for urban theory

Throughout history, cities have not been built by politicians or planners but by the pursuit of private interests. While planning and their underlying policies may at best set out the broad spatial and functional vision of a city and its environs, the practical implementation is achieved through the activities of private entrepreneurs, developers, and construction companies. Driven by profits and intimately linked to politics, urbanization processes throughout the world have become more exclusive and more segregated since the promotion of the market enablement paradigm. Such trends represent greater challenges to societal peace and prosperity. Mainstream urban theory, in its Neo-Marxist tradition, has been in the fortunate position to criticize such developments but at the same time struggled to provide indepth explanations of the mutating urban landscape triggered by neoliberal urban politics. Still in the aftermath of the global financial crisis triggered by international real estate practices, the time may be ripe to revisit urban theories and assess their capacities to capture the implications of the global financialization of real estate markets, the proliferation of spatial injustice, and the role of developers played within these processes. Given the importance in steering urbanization processes around the world, research on real estate supply actors remains very thin (Adams & Tiesdell, 2010; Coiacetto, 2009). There has been little effort to understand their influence (Coiacetto, 2007, p. 257), even when considering Western countries and the most prominent supply actors of developers. One of the first books on development and developers was written by Guy and Henneberry (2002). While the state of the literature has broadened since then, the discourse remains fragmented with little dialogue among its many parts. The topics of interests cover the organization of the real estate sector and the firms that constitute it (Coiacetto, 2009) as well as business strategies of specific developers (Brown, 2015) which may include sub-market targeting (Coiacetto, 2007; Henderson & Mitra, 1996), investment decisions/ risk evaluation (Gallimore, Hansz, & Gray, 2000; Gibb, McNulty, & McLaughlin, 2016) and project networks (David Adams, Leishman, & Watkins, 2012). In the Global South, research on the topic of real estate supply actors has for long time been entirely absent and just recently experienced a push (Fauveaud, 2014; Rouanet & Halbert, 2016; Sanfelici & Halbert, 2015; Searle, 2014).  The proposed panel for the 2017 RC 21 conference aims at uniting scholars interested in the geography of profits and politics that underlies the creation of our built environment. We invite contributions that highlight the role of developers in urban development in the Global North as well South in relation to the overall RC 21 conference theme – Urban – Global – Justice.

 The panel organizers are particularly interested in the different roles developers may play in the planning and building of cities and how insights may challenge current urban theories as well as the international enablement paradigm. Contributions in this line of thinking may include empirical or theoretical contributions to (i) the underlying matrix of strategic decision making, (ii) the influence of planning on real estate projects/firm strategies, (iii) the influence of the real estate sector on policy and planning, or (iv) the organizational nature of developers or the real estate market.

 Other interests tangentially related to these will also be welcomed but must include considerations about real estate dynamics and how these could be used to advance urban global justice.

Dr. Anthony Boanada-Fuchs, Center for Metropolitan Studies University of São Paulo (BRA)

Dr. Vanessa Boanada Fuchs, Swiss School of Latin American Studies University of St. Gallen (CH)