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Regular version of the site

Article

Exploring agency of change in small industrial towns through urban renewal initiatives

Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography. 2021. Vol. 103. No. 3. P. 218-234.
Gunko M., Kinossian N., Pivovar G., Averkieva K., Batunova E.

This article brings attention to the diversity of urban conditions, actors, agency, and development paths in contrast to the imperatives of urban entrepreneurialism and competitiveness. Rather than presupposing the critical role of exogenous sources of growth, the aim of the current paper is in exploring empirically the role of local agency in achieving continuity or change through the lens of urban renewal. The data is drawn from three case studies of small, company towns (monogorods) in Russia. The paper concludes that in small towns local actors and endogenous resources play a strong role in achieving positive change. For Russian monogorods there is a tendency to ‘merge’ different types of agency into an all-embracing local-based leadership which despite the hierarchical power relations allows for certain decision-making autonomy from the central government. The study indicates the need to better account for diverse forms of human agency in various fields of urban development. While conventional approaches tend to prioritize formal hierarchies and derive agency from static positions of authority and economic power, we demonstrate that actors may assume different roles that do not neatly reflect their positions in a fixed and pre-defined manner or narrowly determined economic interests.