Zarina Patel

Visiting Research Fellow


Zarina Patel is a Visiting Fellow with the Urban Institute from 2 September 2019. She was recently appointed associate professor in human geography in the department of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town. Zarina joined UCT in 2012, on a four year joint contract with the African Centre for Cities. In 2016, she was appointed senior lecturer in urban sustainability. Prior to moving to UCT, Zarina spent 9 years at the University of the Witwatersrand. During this appointment, she spent a sabbatical in 2010 in the Geography Department at the University of Sheffield on a British Academy Fellowship.


Zarina’s international collaborations and research leadership have been developed through the Mistra Urban Futures Programme (2012 – 2019), Pan-African collaborations through the Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030, known as LIRA 2030 (current since 2017), and most recently through the Global Futures Council on Cities and Urbanisation.

Zarina is the editor-in-chief of Urban Forum and serves on the editorial boards of Local Environment: the International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, and Frontiers Sustainable Cities.

Research interests

Zarina’s work addresses the politics and practices of achieving just and sustainable urban transitions. The three pillars on which her research is built are: urban knowledge; urban governance; and decision-making. The roles of knowledge and power shaping urban transitions was a key theme of her PhD in Geography, entitled Rethinking Sustainable Development: Power, Policy and Practice in South Durban supervised by Professor Susan Owens at the University of Cambridge. The thesis raised searching questions around the relationship between the roles of democracy, governance, identity and power relations in generating competing rationalities in the implementation of sustainable development policy ambitions. Her engagements with urban knowledge have since developed to focus on the politics of knowledge co-production in shaping just urban transitions. Her work is marked by its concern to develop southern theorisations on urban transitions.  


The distinctive focus of Zarina’s work is the use and role of transdisciplinary approaches in southern contexts, reaching across and beyond academic partners and knowledge brokers, to navigate alternate insights and responses to complex urban issues. Her research is committed to deep engagement between scholarly and practitioner communities, in South Africa and internationally. Publications in transdisciplinary teams and with practitioners foreground the diversity of forms of knowledge that are recognised as authoritative within these debates.