Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: November 16th, 2020

Article Discussed: Connell, J., & Lea, J. (1994). Cities of parts, cities apart? Changing places in modern Melanesia. The Contemporary Pacific, 267-309.

Lucas Watt

Connell and Lea (1994) remark that today, Pacific cities resemble “cities of parts”. On the most basic level they argue that there are areas in the Pacific city where Islanders live, and other parts where Europeans live. The reading group resonated with the example described in the article of Tuaguba Hill in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where Europeans live on prime elevated land, behind walls, segregated from Papua New Guineans. The group also made a parallel between Tuaguba Hill and other urban areas across the Pacific, including the area around the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, although it was emphasized that is a less extreme example to Tuaguba Hill. In contrast to these protected and privileged European zones, a growing number of Pacific Islanders are forced to live in informal settlements on marginal lands far from the city center. Connell and Lea (1994) argue that these “cities of parts” have materialized due to policies and attitudes that have persisted from the colonial period. Pacific cities were first built by and for European colonial administrations. During that time, the role of Pacific Islanders in the city was to service it and its European occupants. This disjuncture between what the city originated to be for Europeans and what it should now be for Pacific Islanders has never been bridged, even after the independence movement in the Pacific.  

Connell and Lea (1994) argue that this legacy of “cities of parts” is maintained in ways that uneasily parallel colonial methods of urban exclusion. Connell and Lea (1994) highlight that Pacific Islander’s presence in the colonial city was highly regulated with curfews to protect its European inhabitants. Today, urban regulation persists in more covert ways, but justified by similar moral panic. Pacific Islanders living in the city are often portrayed in media and in politics as criminals that reinforce the mentality of protection and segregation. Similarly, the notion that the city is not a permanent place for Pacific peoples to inhabit is reinforced by policy that disproportionately denies urban Pacific inhabitants the basic services of water and electricity which permanent resident should be entitled. These were just a few of the many examples that were presented in the article.

Connell and Lea (1994) argue that any equitable change in how Pacific cities operate will be difficult to achieve due to egregiously limited resources of Pacific city councils. However, the article clearly highlights that the dismantling of the exclusionary colonial urban legacy is well overdue. Connell and Lea wrote this article in 1994, and this goal has only been marginally pursued across the Pacific up until 2020.


  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

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