Urban Studies Border Cities
Eeva-Kaisa Prokkola
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0073


The scholarly fascination with border cities often proliferates with geopolitical events that transform the security and economic and social landscapes of the state’s border areas. The early scholarly interest in border cities arose in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century when new infrastructure initiatives and industrialization policies, the Maquiladora Program in particular, boosted industrial development and activities in northern Mexican border cities and across the US-Mexico border. The US-Mexico border cities have served as paradigmatic examples of how international economic agreements transform border cities and towns. The turn toward open borders and the new international trade agreements in the late 1980s and the 1990s boosted the growth and significance of border cities and towns. Since the turn of the millennium, the study of border cities has become increasingly diverse both geographically and thematically. Research on the regional economic development of Asian and African border cities and towns has mushroomed, reflecting their central position in regional trade systems as well as the rapid growth of border settlements. Another key area of research is the European integration process and the ways in which cross-border governance and collaboration transform European border towns, cities, and metropolises. In this area of interest, the problematic issues around border cities are often approached by combining governance, planning, and innovation studies with border studies. Some new research directions have been more popular in specific geopolitical contexts, but many questions regarding border cities are persistent and worldwide. Similarly, there is a persistent fascination with the imaginaries and myths of border cities, including recent attention to the development of cross-border brands as well as their possible mismatch with the perceptions and identity of border inhabitants. The increasing refugee and migration influxes have highlighted the gateway roles of border cities as well as the agency and strategies adopted in border cities to cope with resettlement, including the utilization of resources and knowledge from both sides. Many studies approach borders in terms of a resource, yet the barrier and even violent effects of borders are also of continuing relevance and interest. In this area, divided border cities with persistent conflict and political violence are of specific interest, but they are also examined in relation to the above-mentioned themes, such as cooperation and planning. The recent trend of border fencing and protectionism has similarly highlighted the need for border city research.

General Overviews

There are few general studies focusing on border cities and towns published before the turn of the millennium. An agenda-setting contribution is offered by Arreola and Curtis 1993, a study of the spatial patterns and landscape characteristics of Mexican border cities and how they differ from US border cities physically and culturally. Since 2000, there has been increased interest in border cities, and several overviews of the phenomenon and related concepts have been published. Buursink 2001 offers an overview on border city terminology, proposing that the city pairs of different national and historical backgrounds are best termed as “border-crossing” cities. Nugent 2012 demonstrates the important position of border towns and cities in regional commerce and points out significant differences in the dynamics and functioning of border spaces. Sohn and Lara-Valencia 2013 contributes to the discussion of border cities by shifting focus from the dominant cross-border regional cooperation perspectives toward urbanization processes. Martinez 2018 investigates the booming of transborder activities in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, located on the Mexico-US border, with a focus on infrastructural development and industrialization policies. Prokkola 2019 provides an overview of contemporary research on border cities and its key themes. The edited collection Medeiros 2021 introduces a territorial development perspective to border cities, covering such themes as planning and policies, history and economy, and cross-border cooperation. Mikhailova and Garrard 2021 offers a geographically and thematically rich overview of twin-city relations and their internal and external pressures stemming from, for example, large-scale migrations, the rise of populism, surveillance, and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Arreola, Daniel, and James Curtis. The Mexican Border Cities: Landscape Anatomy and Place Personality. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1q8tg4f

    This agenda-setting book introduces a border city landscape model and offers a systematic analysis of the spatial patterns and landscape characteristics of the Mexican border cities.

  • Buursink, Jan. “The Binational Reality of Border-Crossing Cities.” GeoJournal 54 (2001): 7–19.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1021180329607

    Offers a sophisticated examination of the vocabulary of border city pairs. Classifies three types of border cities on the ground of their historical processes and local conditions: partitioned, duplicated, and connected cities.

  • Martinez, Oscar J. Ciudad Juárez: Saga of a Legendary Border City. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1zxsmcr

    This prominent book investigates the economic and social development of the city of Ciudad Juárez from 1848 to the present. This is the updated and enlarged version of the influential work that was published in 1978 under the title Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by the University of Texas Press.

  • Medeiros, Eduardo, ed. Border Cities and Territorial Development. London: Routledge, 2021.

    Focuses on border cities and territorial development, bringing together numerous cases studies from Europe and North America.

  • Mikhailova, Ekatarina, and John Garrard, eds. Twin Cities across Five Continents: Interactions and Tensions on Urban Borders. London: Routledge, 2021.

    The most geographically comprehensive collection and comparison of twin cities in different circumstances and environments. Includes numerous empirical studies from five continents.

  • Nugent, Paul. “Border Towns and Cities in Comparative Perspective.” In A Companion to Border Studies. Edited by Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan, 557–572. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2012.

    Offers an overview of the concept of border town/city and compares the historical evolution and dynamics of border towns in three continents: North America, Europe, and Africa.

  • Prokkola, Eeva‐Kaisa. “Border Cities.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies Edited by Anthony M. Orum, 1–5. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2019.

    Provides an overview on the terminology and research on border cities and discusses potential future research directions.

  • Sohn, Christophe, and Francisco Lara-Valencia. “Borders and Cities: Perspectives from North America and Europe.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 28.2 (2013): 181–190.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2013.854662

    Offers a theoretical discussion of the relations between cities and borders in urban context and in relation to global economy.

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