Deal-making, elite networks and public–private hybridisation: More-than-neoliberal urban governance

Publication Name

Urban Studies


In this commentary, we argue that augmented concepts and research methods are needed to comprehend hybrid urban governance reconfigurations that benefit market actors but eschew competition in favour of deal-making between elite state and private actors. Fuelled by financialisation and in response to planning conflict are regulatory reforms that legitimise opaque alliances in service of infrastructure and urban development projects. From a specific city (Sydney, Australia) we draw upon one such reform – Unsolicited Proposals – to point to a broader landscape of hybrid urban governance, its reconfigurations of power and potential effect on cities. Whereas neoliberal governance promotes competition and views the state and private sectors as distinct, hybrid urban governance leverages state monopoly power and abjures market competition, instead endorsing high-level public–private coordination, technical and financial expertise and confidential deal-making over major urban projects. We scrutinise how Unsolicited Proposals normalise this approach. Commercial-in-confidence protection and absent tender processes authorise a narrow constellation of influential private and public actors to preconfigure outcomes without oversight. Such reforms, we argue, consolidate elite socio-spatial power, jeopardise city function and amplify corruption vulnerabilities. To theorise hybrid urban governance at the intersection of neoliberalism and Asia-Pacific state-capitalism, we offer the concepts of coercive monopoly (where market entry is closed, without opportunity to compete) and de jure collusion (where regulation reforms codify informal alliances among elites connected across government and corporate and consultancy worlds). We call for urban scholarship to pay closer attention to public–private hybridisation in governance, scrutinising regulatory mechanisms that consecrate deal-making and undermine the public interest.

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