20 September

Open Urban Seminar with Jonathan Silver: “Extra-territorial urban development and the ‘new’ state capitalism: Entanglements of national and local states in the UK and Abu Dhabi”

  • 16:00 - 18:00
  • Niagara, Room NI:A0607

New state capitalist actors including from the Gulf are increasingly involved in urban development beyond their own jurisdictions. For the ruling elites of those regimes, there is a pressing need to diversify out of oil and their domestic economy in order to protect their accrued wealth. In many cities, this impetus has been experienced as an inflow of overseas finance into property assets, profoundly reshaping the geographies of investment, the built environment and global urban relations. This talk advances debates on urbanisation and the new state capitalism to consider the ways in which a range of state actors have become involved in this extra-territorial urban development. 

The talk develops this argument through a case study of Manchester Life – a £350m public-private Build to Rent residential property joint venture between Manchester City Council and the Abu Dhabi United Group, a private equity group with close ties to the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. It outlines the history of the partnership, how investments in Manchester’s sporting assets were used initially to garner local support and ‘city-wash’ the international image of the Emirate state. It then conducts a forensic accounting analysis of the Manchester Life deal itself, its legal structure and financial flows, including the way that loans, public land and resources were offered on terms which seem unduly benign to the Abu Dhabi partners. It concludes that tax havens like Jersey act as conduits of soft power for Abu Dhabi in this period of rapid portfolio diversification. Finally, it assesses the implications for the future politics of urbanisation in changing global power geometries, local contestation and resistance and the ways in which these types of investments impact on local inequalities. The talk aims to contribute to the recent work on the geography of state capitalism as well as to the longer-standing debates around global-local urban relations and the financialization of property assets.


Jonathan Silver is an urban geographer based at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield, with a doctorate from the Department of Geography, Durham University and work at LSE Cities, London School of Economics. He has an interest in the uneven ways in which infrastructure has come to be planned, operationalised and experienced. This work has taken him to a range of cities  paying attention to the ways in which finance, urban politics, everyday interactions and visions of futurity come to shape the infrastructural terrain. Over the next few years he will be leading a ERC project, GlobalCORRIDOR investigating the role of new infrastructure corridors in shaping the urbanisation process and inequality in a series of global regions. He is also part of a team examining how agglomeration economics have shaped the transformation of UK cities in recent years.

Open Urban Seminar co-organized by IUR.