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Managing Big Cities

About the program, Members, Publications, Projects

About the program

This research program aims at bridging the gap between two traditional big city studies: those that focus on the intentions of the planners (politicians, city planners, and architects) and those that focus on the citizens, as represented by sociologists, massmedia and artists. In this case, the focus is city management, that is organizational practices within both private and public sector that together built an action net that constitutes the management of the modern big city.

Urban studies dedicate much time and attention to perceptions and models of an (ideal) big city, which change together with societal trends and fashions. One thing does not change, though: those perceptions and models are always centered about the issue of order (or lack of it). Even in anarchistic visions of the city there is an order ­ but organically growing, rather than planned. This issue translates into the language of management into a question, how should a city be run? What kind of order is desirable and how can it be achieved and maintained? While "city users" actively create both chaos and order by the simple fact of living in the city, the "city runners" have, at the end of the day, restore the order so that it can be destroyed the day after. This continuous organizing has always had the same goal, but its means and forms change with management fashions and political ideologies. The present research program attempts to catch this changing logic of organizing both in managerial practice and in the public discourse about the city.


Associate Professor María José Zapata Campos (program director)
Associate Professor Petra Adolfsson (program director)

Professor Barbara Czarniawska
Associate Professor Joakim Forsemalm
Associate Professor Jan Jörnmark
Associate Professor Claes Ohlsson
Professor Rolf Solli

Associated members

Associate Professor Sara Brorström
PhD Claudio Coletta, University of Trento
Professor Peter Dobers
Professor Peter Demediuk, Victoria University, Melbourne.
Associate Professor Anette Hallin
Senior Lecturer Mikael Jonasson
Associate Professor Patrik Zapata


List of publications from Managing Big Cities


  • Compact cities and informal settlements

    Exploring qualities, drivers and strategies for promoting sustainable urban development

    Research and policy argue for more compact cities to respond to sustainable development challenges. However, there is little clarity on what actually needs to be made more compact. This is especially the case for informal settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa, where generic, North notions of urban qualities, are even detrimental to positive urban change. This project contributes to a precise and operational understanding of which qualities should be the result of more compact cities and how such qualities can be promoted.

    It will: 1) Develop a system of metrics for urban qualities linked to urban compactness and informal settlements; 2) Develop an integrated understanding of urban development drivers in contexts of informality and urban compactness; and 3) Develop recommendations for inclusive strategies and strategy-making processes supporting beneficial urban development patterns in informal settlements.

    The project will apply case study methods, including document studies, ethnographic and participatory observations, interviews, focus groups and stakeholder workshops. The focus of the project is on urban change in informal settlements in Kisumu (Kenya), but field studies in other global South cities will facilitate comparative learning and enhanced validity. Insights and recommendations will be useful in wider South (and potentially North) contexts, as they will contribute to the understanding of how to improve living conditions and life opportunities for the urban poor.





    Participating researchers

    Maria José Zapata Campos (Gothenburg Research Insitute)
    Patrik Zapata (Förvaltningshögskolan)
    Jaan-Henrik Kain (Chalmes tekniska högskola)
    Jenny Stenberg (Chalmers tekniska högskola)
    Michael Oloko (Odinga Univeristy of Science and Technology)


  • Recycling networks

    How do grassroots initiatives and networks operate to bring about socio-environmental and economic change?


    Millions of informal waste pickers collect household waste
    daily in cities around the globe to earn a living. In doing so
    they make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon
    footprint of cities, recovering resources, improving
    environmental conditions and health of low-income residents, creating jobs and income among the poor.

    Aim and research questions

    The project aims at examining the challenges that innovative
    grassroots networks encounter and the livelihoods they
    generate, to improve recycling and household waste
    collection in informal settlements of global South cities.
    Strengthening of such initiatives, networks and practices
    promotes grassroots resilience, contribute to reduce both the adverse impact of cities on climate and environmental
    change (UN sustainable development target 11.6) as well as urban poverty (UN sustainable development goal 8).
    The project offers a critical inter- and transdisciplinary
    perspective on the issue of organizing resilience against
    climate and environmental change through grassroots
    initiatives such as cooperatives, associations, communitybased organizations, public-private partnerships and networks.

    The project addresses the following questions
    Q1. Processes: How do these grassroots initiatives and
    networks operate to bring about socio-environmental and
    economic change?
    Q2. Challenges: What are the organizational, institutional,
    social, and material challenges encountered in the creation,
    development and stabilization of these initiatives and
    Q3. Opportunities: How can such difficulties be overcome?

    The project's methodology is inspired by participatory action
    research through a combination of:
    a) a multiple case study on waste picker initiatives in
    Managua (Nicaragua), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania),
    Buenos Aires (Argentina) Sâo Paulo (Brazil) and Kisumu
    (Kenya), based on interviews, observations, workshops
    and document analysis.

    b) joint knowledge co-production with regional and global
    waste picker networks performing as knowledge hubs for
    the project

    c) an in-depth case study of the city of Kisumu, where the
    learnings from the multi-case studies will be integrated

    d) international joint research and waste picker seminars to
    co-produce knowledge to conceptualize solutions to the


    Theoretically, the project will contribute to applying and
    expanding a combination of theories of socio-environmental
    (e.g. Mair & Marti 2006) and institutional entrepreneurship
    (e.g. Hardy & MacGuire 2008) with resilience (e.g. Folke,
    2006) and grassroots innovation theories (e.g. Smith et al,

    Preliminary results

    •The potential of informal recycling networks to create green
    employment growth and recycling jobs among low-income
    •Waste management pilot projects supporting social
    entrepreneurs have transformed city management practices
    in informal settlements, leading towards hybrid models that
    combine formal and informal practices, with modern and
    traditional technologies.
    •Small-scale waste pickers initiatives providing household
    waste collection in informal settlements provide innovative
    solutions driven by a rationality to address social and
    environmental challenges in their neighborhoods.
    •They also transform the institutional arrangements improving
    political, legal and organizational conditions for the delivery of
    environmental services; challenge notions of the public and
    responsibility in environmental governance .
    •Unlike the standardized knowledge generated by donors
    and international organizations through ‘best practices’, easy
    to pack but often difficult to replicate in other contexts, these
    South-to- South bottom-up networks bring in locally
    developed, innovative and flexible solutions, and also
    learnings from their failures.
    •The co-production of novel knowledge by practitioners and
    scholars, that help understanding the challenges of
    grassroots resilience for a low carbon society, in the context
    of Southern cities.

    Participating researchers

    Jutta Gutberlet, Professor in Geography, University of Victoria, Canada, and Federal University of the ABC Region in São Paulo, Brazil

    Jaan-Henrik Kain, Professor in Urban Transformation. Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

    Michael O. Oloko, Senior lecturer in Environmental Engineering. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology Kisumu, Kenya

    Goodluck Charles, Coordinator of Centre for Policy Research and Advocacy at the University of Dar es Salaam Business School, Tanzania

    Jessica Pérez Reynosa, Associate professor in Business Administration, University of Central America, Nicaragua

    Patrik Zapata, Professor in Public Administration, School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

    Sebastián Carenzo, researcher at CONICET; senior lecturer at the Institute for the Study of Science and Technology, National University of Quilmes, Argentina

    María José Zapata, sociologist, Associate professor in Business Administration, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, (project leader)

    More about this project (english)

  • The urbanization study

    Effects of urbanization on small and large municipalities

    In Sweden and all over the world there is an ongoing urbanization process. In 2050 aproximatly 75 percent of the worlds population will live in urban environments (Roberts et.al., 2014; Vallance et.al., 2012). This puts pressure on the organization of cities to cope with growth and adapt its services and infrastructure in order to create the sustainable, resilient and liveable city of the future. More and more people also tend to stay in the city for longer periods of time, opposed to the 1970's and 1980's when people, when they reached a certain age, moved out of the cities and into suburbs.

    The backside of urbanization is that many areas are experiencing population decline. These areas are trying to find tools to manage and cope with the decline and to try to become more attractive both in the long and short run. In this study we will examine both the areas that are growing and those that are shrinking.


    The main purpose of the study is to analyze the effects of urbanization on the three dimensions of sustainability - economic, social and ecological sustainability - in small and large municipalities in Sweden. The purpose is also to see what role the size of the municipality plays when it comes to coping with the effects of urbanization. 


    What effects of urbanization can we identify? Which tools are used to to handle theese effects? What role does the size of the minicipality play. 



    Participating researchers

    Sara Brorström (Gothenburg Research Institute)
    Anders Parment (University of Stockholm)

    More information

    Read a blogpost about this study on GRI-bloggen (swedish)


  • The realization of Vision Älvstaden

    From vision to action

    On 11 october 2012 Vision Älvstaden was adopted by the politicians of the municipality of Gothenburg. The final vision that took two years to put together is: Gothenburg  - open to the world, inclusive, green and dynamic. To this three strategies are attached: meet the water, whole of the city and strengthen the core. Now the work to realize this vision begins. Now is the time to go from vision to action.

    Researchers aswell as those who are actively working with city development have an intrest in documenting and critically analyzing this work. 


    This project aims to follow, document and support the realization of Vision Älvstaden. The research should be useful for the actors of the city, for researchers and practicians in both a national and an international context. The main research question is: how does the city organize internally and how does the city collaborate with the surrounding society in order to realize Vision Älvstaden?


    The city of Gothenburg, Mistra Urban Futures 

    Participating researcher

    Sara Brorström (Gothenburg Research Institute)

Page Manager: Agnes Faxén|Last update: 9/22/2017

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