Associate Professor


Room 4.09

Tel: +27 21 650 4306

BSc (University of Natal), BSc (Hons.) (University of Natal), MSc (University of Natal), Ph.D. (University of Cambridge)

Research Interests

My research addresses the politics and practices of achieving just and sustainable urban transitions. The roles of knowledge and power shaping urban transitions was a key theme of my PhD in Geography, entitled Rethinking Sustainable Development: Power, Policy and Practice in South Durban, University of Cambridge (2002). The distinctive focus of my scholarship is the simultaneous use of transdisciplinary approaches to navigate alternate insights and responses to complex urban issues in southern contexts, whilst foregrounding the diversity of forms of knowledge that are recognised as authoritative within these debates. My research is marked by its concern to develop southern theorisations on urban transitions, and is framed through a commitment to engaged and socially responsive scholarship.   In 2018, I was the recipient of the UCT Faculty of Science Engaged Scholarship Award; in 2019, I was a recipient of the UCT Engaged Scholarship Curriculum Development Grant. 

International collaborations and research leadership have been developed through the Mistra Urban Futures Programme (2012 - 2019), the Global Futures Council on Cities and Urbanisation (2019), and Pan-African collaborations through the Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030, known as LIRA 2030 (current since 2017). I am editor-in-chief of Urban Forum and serve on the editorial boards of Local Environment: the International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, and njp Urban Sustainability. I currently hold a Visiting Fellowship with the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield (2019-2021).


Current Teaching

EGS 4047F: Environmental Policy and Practice (Honours and Masters)

EGS 1003S: Geography, Development and Environment – Inequalities in resource access in urban areas (1st year undergraduate)

EGS 3022S: Geographical Thought – Environmental Knowledges (3rd year undergraduate)

EGS 3022: Course Convenor

Engaged Scholarship Programme: Core Team (University-wide programme for staff)




Recent Peer Reviewed Publications (past 5 years)

Journal Articles

Culwick, C and Patel, Z. 2020. Building just and sustainable cities through government housing developments. Environment and Urbanisation, pp. 1-22 (DOI:10.1177/0956247820902661)

Day, K., Patel, Z., Rother, H.A. 2019. Applying Social Risk Theory to competing constructions of risk in Environmental Assessment.  Environmental Impact Assessment Review 79 pp. (DOI:10.1016/j.eiar.2019.106312).

Culwick, C., Washbourne, C., Anderson, P., Cartwright, A., Patel, Z., Smit, W. 2019. CityLab reflections and evolutions: Nurturing knowledge and learning for urban sustainability through co-production experimentation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 39 pp. 9-16. (DOI:10.1016/j.cosust.2019.05.008).

Perry, B., Patel, Z., Noren Bretzer, Y. and Polk, M., 2018. Organising for Co-Production: Local Interaction Platforms for Urban Sustainability. Politics and Governance, 6(1) pp. 189-198. (DOI:10.17645/pag.v6i1.1228)

Miszczak, S., and Patel, Z. 2018. The role of engaged scholarship and co-production to address urban challenges: A case study of the Cape Town Knowledge Transfer Programme. South African Geographical Journal pp. 1-16(DOI: 10.1080/03736245.2017.1409649)

Greyling, S., Patel, Z., and Davison, A. 2017. Urban sustainability disjunctures in Cape Town: learning the City inside and out. Local Environment: International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, 22(NoS1) pp.52-65 (DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2016.1223621)

Patel, Z., Greyling, S., Arfvidsson, H., Moodley, N., Primo, N., and Wright, C. 2017. Local responses to global agendas: the benefits of breaking with best practice in piloting the urban sustainable development goal in Cape Town. Sustainability Science, 12 pp.785-797 (DOI:10.1007/s11625-017-0500-y)

Culwick, C., and Patel, Z. 2017. United or divided: comparing approaches and achieving transdisciplinarity in disaster risk management, Area, 49(1) pp.43-51.

Oldfield, S., and Patel, Z. 2016. Engaging Geographies: Questions of power and positionality in knowledge production. South African Geographical Journal, 98(3) pp. 505-514.

Davison, A., Patel, Z., and Greyling, S. 2016. Tackling wicked problems and tricky transitions: Change and continuity in Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Landscape. Local Environment: International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, 21(9) pp. 1063-1081.

Simon, D., Arfvidsson, H., Anand, G., Bazaz, A., Fenna, G., Foster, K., Jain, G., Hansson, S., Evans, L.M., Moodley, N., Nyambuga, C., Okolo, M., Ombara, D.C., Patel, Z., Perry, B., Primo, N., Revi, A., van Niekerk, B., Wharton, A., and Wright, C. 2016.  Developing and testing the Urban Sustainable Development goals, targets and indicators – a five-city study. Environment and Urbanisation, 28(1) pp. 49-63.

Rose, J.T., James, A.K. and Patel, Z. 2016. Contesting the Edge: Analysing environmental decision making as it is represented in the media. South African Geographical Journal, 98(2) pp.235-253.

Patel, Z., Greyling, S. Parnell, S., Pirie, G. 2015. Co-producing urban knowledge: experimenting with an alternative to ‘best practice’ for Cape Town, South Africa. International Development Planning Review, 37(2) pp. 187-203.

Book Chapters

Patel, Z., Marrangane, N., Smit, W., and Anderson P.M.L. 2020. Knowledge Co-production in Sub-Saharan African Cities: Building Capacity for the Urban Age. In Eds. A. Gasparato, M. Naidoo, A. Ahmed, A. Karanja, K. Fukushi, O. Saito, and K. Takeuchi, in Sustainability Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa II. Insights from Eastern and Southern Africa,  Springer, Singapore, pp. 189-215.

Scott, D, Anderson, P., Davison, A., Greyling, S., Patel, Z., Thesen, L and van der Merwe., 2019. Chapter 4: Responding to Climate Change and Urban Development through the co-production of knowledge? In Eds. Scott, D., Davies, H. and New, M. in Mainstreaming Climate Change in Urban Development: Lessons from Cape Town, UCT Press, Cape Town, pp. 62-82.

Smit, W., Lawhon M, and Patel, Z., 2015. Co-producing knowledge for whom, and to what end? Reflections from the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town. In: Ed. M. Polk. Co-producing knowledge for sustainable cities: Joining forces for change. London: Routledge, London, pp.47-69.

Popular Media 

Patel, Z   Cities of Tomorrow with Zarina Patel. Series commissioned by the World Economic Forum, Council on Cities and Urbanisation,  September 2019.

LIRA 2030, Recorded in Dakar, Senegal, March 2019.

Patel, Z. The difference between urban intelligence and urban knowledge – and why we need to bridge the gap. Commissioned by the World Economic Forum, Council on Cities and Urbanisation,  August 2019.

Patel, Z. The triumphs and trials of transdisciplinary research: reflections on the un-disciplining of disciplines. Blog published on social media by the International Science Council, May 2019.


Postgraduate Supervision (past 5 years)



Kirsten Day, Adding value to Environmental Assessment: The role of risk communication in assessing the impact of risky technologies.  Co-supervisors:  Prof Hannah-Andrea Rother and Dr Michelle Audouin.

Christina Culwick, Deconstructing sustainability and justice in housing: Knowledge, power and competing rationalities in the global south. 

Alice McClure, Exploring learning during co-production of climate knowledge. Co-supervisor, primary supervisor: Assoc Prof Gina Ziervogel 


Saul Roux, Pathways to low carbon cities in the global South: Governance and policy development in the City of Cape Town’s energy discourse. Co-supervisor: Prof Clifford Shearing. 


2020        Natasha Bieding, Exploring the ways in which Environmental Impact Assessments can contribute towards water resilience: a case study of the upgrade of the Monwabisi Park Informal Settlement, Khayelitsha. University of Cape Town (registered 2018).

2019        Deidre Botha, An analysis of Urban Form as an approach to Social Sustainability. A comparative study of contrasting housing developments. ESS Masters, University of Cape Town.

2017        Zachariah Glasser, Low carbon energy transitions for informal settlements: a case study of iShack South Africa. ACDI Masters, University of Cape Town.

2015        Sonia Miszczak, The role of engaged scholarship and co-production to address urban challenges: A case study of the Cape Town Knowledge Transfer Programme. University of Cape Town (PPI Grant – 1 journal publication).

2015        Karl Buckton, Cape Town’s Smart Living Campaign: Assessing the transferability of waste management strategies from the Corporate to the Household levels.  University of Cape Town.