Occupancy Urbanism: Radicalizing Politics and Economy beyond Policy and Programs


This article proposes a narrative of city contestations beyond policy and programs. It considers why Indian metro elites, large land developers and international donors paradoxically lobby for comprehensive planning when confronting ‘vote bank politics’ by the poor. Poor groups, claiming public services and safeguarding territorial claims, open up political spaces that appropriate institutions and fuel an economy that builds complex alliances. Such spaces, here termed ‘occupancy urbanism’, are materialized by land shaped into multiple de‐facto tenures deeply embedded in lower bureaucracy. While engaging the state, these locality politics remain autonomous of it. Such a narrative views city terrains as being constituted by multiple political spaces inscribed by complex local histories. This politics is substantial and poses multiple crises for global capital. Locally embedded institutions subvert high‐end infrastructure and mega projects. ‘Occupancy urbanism’ helps poor groups appropriate real estate surpluses via reconstituted land tenure to fuel small businesses whose commodities jeopardize branded chains. Finally, it poses a political consciousness that refuses to be disciplined by NGOs and well‐meaning progressive activists and the rhetoric of ‘participatory planning’. This is also a politics that rejects ‘developmentalism’ where ‘poverty’ is ghettoized via programs for ‘basic needs’ allowing the elite ‘globally competitive economic development’.