For nearly two decades now, scholars have been heralding the arrival of new urbanisms. One debate in rapidly urbanizing Southeast Asia concerns the convergence of Western and Asian urban processes, and the riposte that interaction between globalizing processes and the historical momentum of local and regional forces make for complex Asian urbanisms. In recent years, attention has been drawn to the impact of decentralization, with consequences for the reorganization of the developmental state and the growing importance of private capital and urban social movements in driving urban processes and politics. This symposium offers the fresh lens of ‘recentering’ to discuss the urbanisms emerging from decentralization and the triangulating state–capital–social movement politics of the new urbanisms. Drawing on recent discussions of Manuel Castells’ (1983) The City and the Grassroots, we seek to expand the conception of urban activism not just by considering non‐Western cases in the newly democratizing states of Southeast Asia, but also by considering cities as co‐agents of activism. We see the recentering of Southeast Asian cities as referring to political actions that take the city not only as site and repository, but also reflexively as identity in itself to be fought with, for and over.