Urban and Urbanization

World class from within: Aspiration, connection and brokering in the Colombo real estate market

This paper explores how the aspirational urban form of the ‘world-class city’ is produced from within the city itself. Rather than focusing on global competition between cities, the analysis considers how local actors in key industries discursively and materially produce the world-class city through their labor. The analytic of connection is introduced as central to understanding how world-class city-making projects are achieved. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Colombo’s high-end real estate sector, the article examines how a successful broker creates and manages connections across different scales and registers. It focuses on three key areas: (1) the rhetorical connections drawn between luxury real estate and national development; (2) the connections created between wealthy foreign clients and local property owners and (3) the work of connecting disparate narratives about supply and demand for luxury housing. I highlight that against the backdrop of considerable economic and political uncertainty, connections are valuable even if they do not result in immediate profit. Offering a glimpse into the world of white-collar professionals in the luxury real estate industry, this paper underscores that world-class city-making projects are embedded in local realities even as they reflect generalized patterns of urban development.

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Volume 40 Issue 1

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