Extracting Value, London Style: Revisiting the Role of the State in Urban Development


The focus of urban politics in many contexts has shifted from municipal regimes ‘competing’ for circulating capital to a wide range of actors, including states, competing to extract value from the built environment. Analyses of the role of states in urban development therefore need to be revisited. To do this in a way which can support a global perspective in urban studies that is alert to the great diversity of state forms and urban outcomes, we propose starting not from assumed globalizing processes such as neoliberalization or financialization, in which urban politics is then brought in as ‘context’, or as ‘variegations’ on an overarching and already conceptualized process. Rather, with a comparative imagination in mind, we want to draw attention to the diversity of the politics of the extraction of value from developments, as a starting point for expanding our understanding of the role of states in urban development. The case of a large‐scale urban development in London—Old Oak Park Royal—exposes an idiosyncratic regulatory regime characterized by significant territorial fragmentation and intensifying reliance on highly delimited planning gain incomes to support all the costs of the development, including substantial infrastructure and welfare provision. This regulatory regime has direct implications for the built form, and motivates a sharp formulation of state interests and capacity in relation to value extraction. The complex negotiations between state actors and developer teams lead to a blurring of the roles of these actors in shaping built forms. In such a context, the state may assume roles and perform functions associated with securing ‘public’ benefit. But, partly in their efforts to achieve this, state actors also intensify the function of the developer to generate the resources needed to realize state interests. The case study presented invites a broader review of the role of the state in urban development.