Online seminar:

Policy transfer, diffusion and translation in territorial governance and spatial planning in the Global South

Convenors: Francesca Blanc, Giancarlo Cotella (Politecnico di Torino), Marcin Dąbrowski (TU Delft)

 26 October 2020


The seminar was organised jointly by planning scholars from DIST/POLITO and the Spatial Planning and Strategy section of the Department of Urbanism, Faculty of Architecture at TU Delft under the auspices of AESOP. The event took place on 26 of October 2020 and offered an opportunity to debate and reflect on the cross-fertilisation and adaptation of spatial planning policies in the process of policy transfer in the Global South, focusing on South-to-South and South-to-North transfer of planning concepts and practices. The seminar tackled several research gaps in this field.

First, while it is recognised that cities or states from the Global South are now a source of planning and territorial governance ideas and practices ‘travelling’ to the Global North, as illustrated by the spread of participatory budgeting from Brazil to Europe and beyond, we still know little about how solutions from the Global South travel and are adapted to the local contexts in which they land, how the knowledge is transferred and who is involved in this process.

Second, there is a need for a critical investigation of how ‘urban solutionism’ driven by the mainstream international urban agencies (UN-Habitat, World Bank, etc.) impacts the planning and territorial governance practice on the ground in the cities of the Global South. Does it actually make a difference? Do the solutions imported that way achieve the expected results when confronted with the local institutional, social, or spatial conditions? For instance, the 2030 Agenda and its implementation through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially the SDG 11, offer an interesting framework to inquire the international influences in the field of urban development and spatial planning. Influences of the ‘global philanthropy’ have progressively shaped local and national policies and the ‘urban solutionism’ could be seen as a new form of colonialism. Thus, there is a need for a critical reflection on the transfer of knowledge and/or policies through this channel that may involve hidden power relations.

Third, while there is a growing literature on transnational city networks, there is limited research on the flow of knowledge through formalised or informal inter-city networks and how this knowledge is ‘translated’ locally to drive change in planning and territorial governance. Finally, focusing our attention to South-South and South-North transfer also means bringing into question the hegemonic Western theoretical models and paradigms and opening to a wider range of ‘experimentalism’ in policy transfer, where informal practices could also be the content of the transfer.

The keynote talk by Sergio Montero (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia), offering a critical take on ‘urban solutionism’ set the tone for the debate with a panel of discussants and the audience. The discussants included Francesca Blanc (POLITO), Andrea Carrion Hurtado (FLACSO), Roberto Rocco (TU Delft) and Ryan Whitney (University of Toronto).


Video from the seminar is available here:

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