Spectacular Failure? Unpacking the Financial Life of an Unrealized Urban Fantasy in Vientiane, Lao PDR

Authors: Wanjing Chen*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Asia
Keywords: speculative urbanism, financialization, worlding city, ethnographic methods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent years, speculative urbanization processes backed by foreign capital are increasingly observed in late-development contexts. While mostly resulted in urban forms like unfinished, unused, or underused built environments, mega property development regimes continued to emerge in frontier cities. By reducing their outcome simply as crisis of over-accumulation in Marxist formula, these projects are deemed failed, leaving their underlying financial logics and practices in black box. The latter however, is the key to understand the reproduction of such urbanization schemes across global south. It also contains invisible transnational linkages that provide the seemingly stranded projects with life on global capital market. Against this background, the paper examines the financialization of a high-profile urban development project in Vientiane Laos, which remains on blueprint so far. While only a minimum of construction works took place over the decade after it was first proposed, various strains of capital from Malaysia and mainland China have been able to extract profit from it by strategically inserting the project into different regional financial markets. By employing often deceptive financial tactics, the array of private sector actors joining the project development at various moments have been pushing speculative momentum forward, maintaining a vibrant life of the materially dead project in global capital chain.

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